Although they are known as Irish potatoes, the white potato plant is native to the Peruvian Andes of South America where it was cultivated for food by various Indian tribes. In the 16th century, Spanish explorers brought the plant to Europe where it was cultivated widely, more as a novelty than food.
Sir John Hawkins introduced the first potatoes to England in 1563, but they were not accepted there for 200 years.
When Sir Walter Raleigh fell from favor in the Queen of England's court, he moved to an estate the queen had given him in Ireland where he planted the first potatoes grown in that country.
The crop didn't catch on immediately, but the Royal Society encouraged the Irish to grow the crop as a provision against famine during the 1600s. They became the staple of the Irish diet, almost to the exclusion of other foods.
In 1845 and 1846, the potato crop was destroyed by blight, and the country was so dependent on the vegetable as the mainstay of their diet that it quickly brought the country to a state of starvation. Thousands died of starvation and thousands of others emigrated to the United States. Today, the potato is a staple vegetable in almost every country in the world.
Along with tomatoes and eggplants, potatoes belong to the Solanaceae family. Oddly enough, it is the same family that produces a number of poisonous or narcotic plants. Other notorious members of the family are the deadly nightshade, jimson weed, and tobacco.