Over the course of the nineteenth century, the Irish Catholic middle class became more powerful in both political and economic terms. It was this group that became the backbone of Irish nationalism as it emerged in the 1870s and 1880s. But how did the Catholic middle classes respond to what was the greatest disaster in Irish history, Ireland’s Great Famine of the 1840s? This article offers an account, based on a wide range of evidence, of the responses to the events of the Famine years, focusing especially on the role of the rural middle classes and the Catholic clergy, two of the most powerful elements within Irish political and social life. The overall argument is that, while it suited later nationalists to underline the universal nature of the catastrophe, suffering during the Great Irish Famine was concentrated in the ranks of the Catholic rural underclass, which was decimated by death and emigration.