In Ireland in the autumn of 1845 when people went to harvest their potatoes, they found the potatoes had been attacked by a fungus called blight which had rotted the potatoes in the ground.
This was very serious as a third of the population of Ireland was entirely dependent on the potato for food. The following year the potatoes were attacked by the blight again and this time the people had nothing left. Most of their resources were gone and they faced starvation.
Famine relief tokens
The government tried to help by importing Indian meal, setting up work schemes and soup kitchens. None of these things worked so in 1847 outdoor relief schemes were set up where cooked food was distributed from the workhouses to the poor. A Famine Relief Token allowed you to have some food.
In the summer of 1847 up to 3 million people received a free meal costing less than 1p (one and a half old pennies).