Raising a toast to the Protestants of New York…

About the time of the 150th anniversary of the onset of the Famine I spent about 6 or 7 hours in the newspaper archive of the Central Library in Belfast digging into contemporary accounts of the famine. Although there had been a Nationalist paper called the Vindicator, only copies of the Newsletter were to be found in the library’s collection. I kept mostly to reading the spirited editorials, and what emerged was a spirited battle going on between the Belfast paper and the Times of London, in which the former consistently fought the corner for the dignity and humanity of “its fellow countrymen in the South and West”. Only when the short lived rebellion of the Young Irishmen in 1848 did its defence weaken. Peter Duffy in the Wall Street Journal notes that the Famine called out similar compassionate responses in contemporary New York.

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  • Reader

    Greenflag: It was and without which O’Connell could not have continued with his Emancipation campaign
    So, do you want to revisit this bit then? “…was the huge number of ‘middlemen’ who had to be paid off as the ‘Catlick rint’ mades it’s way from the poor sod who dug his acre of potatoes…”. Did the “poor sod” hand his penny to the “middlemen”, or did O’Connell manage his campaign without administrative overhead? (or “seven layers of parasites”, as you put it.)

  • Greenflag

    ‘do you want to revisit this bit then? “

    What’s your point ?

    We all know what and who caused the Irish Famine .

    Here’s a clue .
    It was’nt O’Connell .

    The ‘middlemen’ referred to were not those who collected O’Connell’s penny a month . The reference is to the intermediate layers of ‘collectors’ who lived off the poorest class in Ireland and who had been living off them for the previous century as land continued to be subdivided into ever smaller plots on ever poorer soil . The whole system was corrupt from top to bottom . Not until it collapsed around them did HMG do anything and by then it was too late .

    First they ‘stole’ the land from the people . Then they charged the people ‘rent’ for the stolen land and when even that could not provide enough revenue for the parasites they drove the people from the land . Any number of social commentators on conditions in Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries will tell you the same story .

  • janeymac

    Garibaldy:
    “I think O’Connell was a prick because he sought to link Irish identity to Catholicism. James Connolly thought that too. Unlike him, I was born in Ireland, but my own analysis of O’Connell was influenced by his. Maybe it was British racism on his part.”

    So what do you think of the Duke of Wellington who despite being born in Ireland, did not consider himself Irish (hardly influenced by O’Connell’s supposed linking of Irishness to catholicism!) Wasn’t Connolly an atheist anyway and probably would have been equally critical of the linking of protestantism with the British State.

    What’s your point about where you/Connolly were born?

    “And I wonder on what grounds you are making the Anglo-Irish not Irish natives? The Irish aristocracy saw themselves as exactly that. Irish. Any divisions of the people of Ireland for religious or reasons of where they ancestors may have come from are invidious.”

    On the grounds that most Landlords at that stage were absentee. Most would have been born and educated in England. Take Lord Rosse of Birr, (who was one of the good ones at the time – he wrote Letters to the English Times at the time complaining about absentee landlords that were never published). He was born and educated in England as was his wife but he spent most of his time in Birr, unlike his contemporaries.

    The Duke of Wellington did not see himself as Irish.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    These ‘middlemen’ are intreging characters. I wonder who they could be?

    Pope Gregory XVI died on June 1, 1846, and the Papal states needed to recoup their wealth after his lavish spending left the states in an embarrassing financial mess, and with Garibaldi breathing down the Popes neck, the Vatican needed finance, security and soldiers prepared to fight for the vicar of Christ.

  • Greenflag

    ‘Only the Irish could take money from their own impoverished people and then blame the British for starving them.’

    Nonsense . The system was created by Britain, originated in Britain and was administered by Britain. Even in the 18th century Jonathan Swift made the point that half the capital that was raised from ‘rents’ in Ireland (the single major source of wealth at the time ) was going to England. Ireland was a cash cow for degenerate English and Irish aristocrats and minions until the the Famine intervened and the cow could give no more !

    Those Irish yes even the middle men were victims of British neglect of what Britain pretended was a part of their ‘realm’.

    The Irish Famine has been described by some as a holocaust or genocide instead of just a ‘natural’ disaster . IMO it was both with a 70/30 breakdown for genocide/natural disaster. The genocide was by criminal neglect rather than a deliberate planned policy . HMG had no policy on Ireland other than ‘send us more soldiers and more food ‘ and in return we’ll defend you from the French 🙁

  • Ulsters my homeland

    Here’s a good piece of reading about the Catholic rint: http://url.ie/agl

  • Oilifear

    Ulsters my homeland wrote on the Times’ comments during the famine: “All stirred up from Rome when the Pope in September 1850 promulgated a papal bull restoring the Roman Catholic hierarchy to England and dividing the land into twelve episcopal sees. He certainly knows when to pick his moment and how to direct anger against Protestant England.”

    Some chronological information, UMH, the piece was published in the Times in 1847, the Pope directed that the Roman Catholic hierarchy be restored in England in 1850 (viz. three years after those comments were published). Hardly cause-and-effect.

    While overall my experience of this site has been hugely positive, and has changed my view of Unionism and Unionist greatly, the sight of a man delighting in the suffering of his ancestors (or any people) on account of some perceived slight or another is so wretched, self-devouring and disgusting that it will take a long time for the respect that I had been convinced of to return.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    point taken Oilifear. I should have said something like, “Rome Fueled the growing sectarian problem when the Pope in September 1850 promulgated a papal bull restoring…..”

  • Oilifear

    UMH, undoubtedly there was a sectarian feud brewing all over UK at that time. In most parts it blew over, with little more than a hint of sentiment lingering, almost as a caricature, in each of the constituent counties – except, I’m sure you’ll agree, in the six counties of Ireland that elected to remain part of the UK, where it has taken on a life of it’s own.

  • Mick Fealty

    Point of information:

    Try url.ie to shorten long urls…

  • Greenflag

    ‘and has changed my view of Unionism and Unionists greatly, ;

    Could you elaborate on how it has changed your ‘view’ on Unionism ? It has’nt changed mine an iota 🙂

  • Garibaldy

    Greenflag,

    To say that because part of Ireland now has an independent state (and originally semi-independent) that we can say O’Connell’s repeal movement never died a death with the Clontarf thing is highly ahistorical. Not the least of which is that it was armed republicans and not repealers who achieved semi-independence for part of the island.

    And the British did not ‘create’ the landholding system with middlemen. Population density, land-hunger, higher prices in agriculture etc did that.

    Janeymac,

    You asked if my calling O’Connell a prick came from British prejudice. Hence the references to my birthplaces, and Connolly’s. To say that the majority of landlords were born and educated in England is – to put it simply – utterly wrong. Some of the bigger landlords in particular were but the majority were born and bred in Ireland.
    Wellington did not consider himself Irish. But most of the Irish-born members of his class did consider themselves Irish. And republicans who follow in Tone’s footsteps have always all the people of the island as Irish too. Their version of Irish nationality is a secular one. O’Connell’s, a narrow, reactionary and religious one.

    Connolly was far from being an atheist, engaging in a famous controversy over how religion and socialism could be reconciled, which can be found in his published works. And probably online too.

  • Reader

    Greenflag: as land continued to be subdivided into ever smaller plots on ever poorer soil .
    So, what’s it to be – smaller plots and the risk of famine, or fewer plots and mass emigration?
    Too late; Famine with Mass Emigration.
    But, with the advantage of hindsight, what would have been your response to the population explosion?

  • Dewi

    Reader – I’ve never quite worked out this fixation with Ireland being “over populated” at the time. Before the blight, despite being “poorer” than the average for the islands the Irish were generally healthier – primarily due to the healthy diet of Potatoes and Milk. Over time industrialisation after a fashion would surely have occurred but I can’t rally see why overpopulation wa an issue – Ireland a big place.

  • Michael McDowell
  • Greenflag

    ‘that we can say O’Connell’s repeal movement never died a death with the Clontarf thing is highly ahistorical.’

    No it isn’t. There had been a ‘gradual’ awakening of the misgovernance of Ireland going back to the mid 16th century reference William Molyneux’s ‘The Cause of Ireland’

    As the British imperial crisis came to a climax in the 1770s, Americans suddenly discovered an interest in another and especially relevant kind of history—that of subject colonial peoples. For instance, William Molyneaux’s The Cause of Ireland, which had originally appeared in 1698, became so popular in America that three new editions were published between 1770 and 1776.

    Later Dean Swifts letters and the writings of the so called Patriot Parliament of the mid to late 18th century , Grattan, Flood , etc continued to protest the unfair disadvantages which were restricting Irish trade . Even the Huguenot emigres in the Dublin area protested at the unfair practices imposed by the Exchequer on Ireland’s trade . LAter you had the United Irishmen movement and the Belfast radicals up to 1800 .

    O’Connell’s movement was a part of that trend albeit O’Connell’s political support base was with the most disenfranchised 85% of the population. The emerging Catholic middle class was very thin on the ground and it was only in the post famine era when most of the Irish spoke ‘English’ as their first language that the demand for self government began to be heard. The fact that it was armed republicans who won the measure of independence which we now have was built on the bones of the Repeal movement and on Unionist resistance to Home Rule . History is ‘dynamic’. It is not a series of mutually exclusive events disconnected from each other .

    ‘And the British did not ‘create’ the landholding system with middlemen. Population density, land-hunger, higher prices in agriculture etc did that.’

    Eh ? Following the ‘expropriation’ of Irish land after Cromwell’s successful ‘conquest’/mass slaughter of the papists and the transfer of ownership of 95% of the land to his followers , supporters , adventurers, etc the Irish were reduced to second some would say third class subjects in their own country . The ‘system’ I referred to emanated from the conquest for it began/continued the process of the subhumanisation of the Irish peasantry which of course was replicated in other countries wherever the Empire led.

    ‘Population density, land-hunger, higher prices in agriculture etc did that. ‘

    Of course these were the immediate and easily observable causes of the problem . With virtually no industrialisation apart from a small area around Belfast – experienced what was a Malthusian situation in which it became a mono culture totally dependent on one staple food. Britain had more ‘profitable ‘ ventures to pursue from the mid 18th century on with huge profits being taken from the West Indies sugar trade and the slave trade of course . The returns on investments overseas dwarfed anything that could be ‘earned’ in Ireland . Ireland after the Union was basically England’s tradesman’s entrance and it had to be protected and defended /held down , as cheaply as possible .The Famine was a slight upset in the march of Empire. For Ireland it was and remains a national calamity .

    O’Connell for all his faults remains a giant in Irish History and will always remain so.

  • Greenflag

    ‘with the advantage of hindsight, what would have been your response to the population explosion?

    Had I lived in the South or West of the country in 1845 chances are I’d have no voice , no education , would have spoken Irish and thus would neither have been understood nor been listened to by the authorities . My response would have been to die or be lucky enough to flee the country. Had I lived in the East I’d probably have survived .

    What was needed was foresight not hindsight . I believe an Irish Parliament with control over local matters would have done a better job of ameliorating the worst aspects of the famine .

  • Greenflag

    ‘Over time industrialisation after a fashion would surely have occurred ‘

    Oh yeh ? IIRC we had to wait until the 1960’s before there was any major ‘industrialisation i.e 40 years after political independence . As long as Ireland could be relied on to supply England/Britain with soldiers and food there was no need for industrialisation . Anyway Ireland had virtually no coal or iron resources which of course formed the basis for England’s industrial revolution. IIRC Ireland in the mid 19th century pre famine was the most densely populated but least industrialised country/region in western europe.
    But you are correct in one respect -overpopulation was’nt an issue -until the famine .

    Nowadays Ireland produces enough food to feed 50 million people but the total population is just over 6 million still 30% less than what it was in 1845 .

  • Garibaldy

    Greenflag,

    While it’s certainly accurate to say that there is a tradition of opposition to English interference in Ireland’s government, they are very far from representing a seamless whole. From representatives of Protestant Ascendancy, to the United Irishmen to O’Connell, to Pearse is not an unbroken lineage.

    You may be right about not having a voice had you lived in the south or west during the Famine. Although partly that was because O’Connell sold the 40 shilling freeholders down the river in order to secure access to Westminster for the already substantial Catholic middle class.

    As for industrialisation. Lots of people made rational economic choices where to invest. In agri-business. People in Ireland have always had agency and have made their own descisions.

  • Dewi

    I think my point Greenflag – perhaps industrialisation didn’t occur earlier due to famine?.Ain’t got time at mo but contrast with Wales over broadly same period fascinating at so many levels.Fundamental point is that blight caused depopulation not economic drivers.In modern economic parlance a blight ain’t structural.

  • Greenflag

    ‘they are very far from representing a seamless whole.’

    I was’nt trying to suggest that opposition/resistance was a seamless whole . How could it be given the nature of the political ruling entity of the time and the overwhelming political power of the larger island.

    ‘ From representatives of Protestant Ascendancy, to the United Irishmen to O’Connell, to Pearse is not an unbroken lineage.’

    Of course not . But that’s the nature of political opposition under conditions of imperial rule . Just look at Tibet today . Quiet for a quarter of a century and suddenly it ‘erupts’ . Same with Kosovo under the Serbs .

    ‘O’Connell sold the 40 shilling freeholders down the river in order to secure access to Westminster for the already substantial Catholic middle class.’

    O’Connell was a politician . He knew it was the art of the possible . Just like Collins in 1921 or Craig in 1920 who sold Southern Unionists down the tubes . I’ll not mention the current NI incumbents recent ‘sale’ 🙂

    ‘perhaps industrialisation didn’t occur earlier due to famine?’

    Possibly but I would have thought that in temrs of competitive advantage given the circumstances of the time Ireland had little advantage other than it’s ‘land’ and cheap labour . Given the huge corn surpluses being produced in the colonies etc etc and cheapening food and the lack of natural resources such as coal and iron Ireland circa 1845 was between a rock and a hard place. Only the Belfast area due to the advantage of the local climate for flax production/linen industry , gave that area a competitive advantage atthe time .

    ‘Ain’t got time at mo but contrast with Wales over broadly same period ‘

    Fair enough . South Wales SFAIK had plenty of coal and benefitted from the industrial revolution . Also being contigous with the huge English market and having several deep sea ports close to it’s industrial region Wales generally was better placed as was Scotland . Also both smaller countries did not have a huge rural population to ‘feed’ or which was living at subsistence level . Probably half or more of Ireland’s 8.5 million were outside the ‘cash’ economy . Most of Wales population then and now was concentrated in the newly industrialising areas in the South or moving there . Same with Scotland in the Clyde /Rift valley .

    The glaring contrast between the dynamic growth of Cardiff , Glasgow, Edinburgh , Manchester , Liverpool and other British regional cities and even Belfast in the period 1800 to 1960 is there for all to read up on if they are inclined . Dublin was the second city of the Empire in 1800 . After the Act of Union it quickly declined to the poorest of all major cities within the Kingdom . My great great grandmother lived in Dublin in the 1840’s and my mother recalled her stories of the thousands of starving wretches dressed in rags crowding through the city to the nearest ship.

    ‘Fundamental point is that blight caused depopulation’

    I would say that blight caused the immediate depopulation i.e those who died during the famine and those who had to flee the country . The continuing depopulation up to recent times was caused by not just economic drivers but also by social, political and religious factors brought about by the overall change in the politics of Ireland and it’s over dependency on England in the period 1850 through to the recent past . As an example just look at Northern Ireland’s population experience (relative stagnation) over the past 40 years ? or the Irish Free States 1922 to 1960 population experience.

  • Dewi

    Gf – let me answer tomorrow – away from data and busy – just raw mats not everything.

  • Greenflag

    ‘let me answer tomorrow ‘

    No problem .

  • joeCanuck

    Thanks for that reply, BfB.
    I assumed the first and wondered about the second; bit like a homeless person committing a petty crime in October to get a berth and food for the winter.
    It’s fascinating that you have documents from that period. Should they or copies be in an archive?

  • janeymac

    Garibaldi:

    “You asked if my calling O’Connell a prick came from British prejudice. Hence the references to my birthplaces, and Connolly’s.”

    I was thinking more on the lines of Irish people being depicted as sub-human, stupid etc. that it might be attractive for people born in Ireland to distance themselves from being Irish if they could. I bet some of them never imagined that one day it would be ‘cool’ to be Irish!

    “To say that the majority of landlords were born and educated in England is – to put it simply – utterly wrong. Some of the bigger landlords in particular were but the majority were born and bred in Ireland.”

    I didn’t say the MAJORITY. It is well documented that there were a lot of Absentee landlords. Even the minor ones born here would have spent most their lives in the British Army looking out for the interests of the British Empire in other parts of the world!

    “Wellington did not consider himself Irish. But most of the Irish-born members of his class did consider themselves Irish.”

    In England they were thought to be Irish, and in Ireland they were thought to be English. Who does this remind you of!

    And republicans who follow in Tone’s footsteps have always all the people of the island as Irish too. Their version of Irish nationality is a secular one. O’Connell’s, a narrow, reactionary and religious one.”

    A pity that no protestant followed in Tone’s footsteps. O’Connell’s leadership (as a catholic) would have been rejected by the very sectarian Orange Order anyway!

    “Connolly was far from being an atheist, engaging in a famous controversy over how religion and socialism could be reconciled, which can be found in his published works. And probably online too.”

    Wonder what Connolly would think of the Christian fundamentalist leadership in NI now?