By early 1847, the potato crop that the majority of the Irish people depended on had failed for two years. The main official famine relief was outdoor relief where people have to labour hard to earn a little money to buy food at inflated famine prices. Many died over the winter of 1846/47. The temporary measure of soup kitchens was brought in to help the population survive to the harvest of 1847. Up to three million people were fed this way for a short few months. Death rates fell substantially and the kitchens were closed down before the harvest. The harvest was poor and the winter saw desperate half-starved people fleeing the country, many in ships with such a high death rate that they were known as coffin ships. Over the famine period 1 million people died and 1 million people emigrated
In the summer of 1847 up to 3 million people received a free meal costing less than 1p (one and a half old pennies).