This is a very broad question. I will focus on the aspects of Irish society that were most relevant to the famine itself. Some of the most important aspects of Irish society at the time include:
- English destruction of Irish manufacturing. When Ireland and Great Britain joined together in 1801, free trade was established between the two areas and England started dumping cheap goods on Ireland. This destroyed Irish manufacturing because Irish goods were more expensive. This put huge numbers of Irish out of work.
- Most Irish farmers lived and worked on very small plots of land. The farms were so small that only one crop could typically be grown. This was potatoes.
- Many of these farms were owned by absentee landlords. These people and their agents charged very high rents and imposed other onerous demands on their tenants.
These things, put together, meant that the majority of Irish people were trying to make their living by farming under very poor conditions in the years leading up to the famine.