seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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The Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848

young-irelander-rebellion-1848The Young Irelander Rebellion, a failed Irish nationalist uprising against the British led by the Young Ireland movement, takes place on July 29, 1848 in the village of Ballingarry, County Tipperary. The rebellion is part of the wider Revolutions of 1848 that affect most of Europe. It is sometimes called the Famine Rebellion (since it takes place during the Great Famine) or the Battle of Ballingarry.

In 1846, William Smith O’Brien, alongside John Mitchel, form the Irish Confederation with the Young Ireland movement which is dedicated to direct action against the British. Two short years later they are already calling for open rebellion, despite the fact that Ireland is now in the third year of the devastating famine which is leaving millions of the country’s people in brutal starvation.

Just a year after Black ‘47, the worst year of the Great Famine, the Young Ireland movement is hoping to uprise and overthrow the British but with the starving Irish just struggling to stay alive, dying or emigrating in their thousands, their revolutionary talk does little to act as a call to arms for the average Irish person.

Whereas the mistreatment of the Irish people by the British had rightly led to an increased radicalism in Irish nationalist movement, without the general Irish population able to think of anything other than staying alive, it seems doomed to failure, especially after the arrest of Mitchel before the rebellion is even started. He is convicted of sedition and transported to a penal colony in Australia before the revolt begins, a move that leads to an increased furor to revolt among the leaders that remain.

On July 29, 1848, O’Brien launches his rebellion. After being chased by a force of Young Irelanders and their supporters, a Royal Irish Constabulary unit takes refuge in a house and holds those inside as hostages.

It was evident to the rebels that the position of the police is almost impregnable. When a party of the Cashel police are seen arriving over Boulea Hill, the rebels attempt to stop them even though they are low on ammunition. The police continue to advance, firing up the road. It becomes clear that the police in the house are about to be reinforced and rescued. The rebels then fade away, effectively terminating both the era of Young Ireland and Repeal, but the consequences of their actions follow them for many years. This event is colloquially known as “The Battle of Widow McCormack’s cabbage plot.”

In O’Brien’s subsequent trial, the jury finds him guilty of high treason. He is sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Petitions for clemency are signed by 70,000 people in Ireland and 10,000 people in England. On June 5, 1849, the sentences of O’Brien and other members of the Irish Confederation are commuted to transportation for life to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania in present-day Australia). In 1854, after five years in Van Diemen’s Land, O’Brien is released on the condition he never return to the United Kingdom. He settled in Brussels.

(Pictured: The attack on the Widow McCormack’s house on Boulagh Common, Ballingarry, County Tipperary)


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The Londonderry Tragedy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the most tragic events of the Great Famine occurs on December 1, 1848 when 72 people suffocate in the small aft cabin of the paddle steamer Londonderry, which often sails between Sligo and Liverpool.

One hundred seventy-two men, women, and children, mostly impoverished farmers from County Mayo and County Sligo, and their families, fleeing the ravages of the Great Famine, board the Londonderry in Sligo in late November. As the steamer is approaching Derry on the first leg of its journey to England, a sudden storm prompts Captain Alexander Johnstone to order his crew to force all the passengers into a small aft cabin, measuring about eighteen feet in length and, at most, twelve feet wide. The situation is exacerbated when the only ventilation available is covered with a tarpaulin to ensure that water does not get into the cabin. As a result, many of the passengers begin to suffocate.

The captain seeks refuge from the storm in the harbour at Derry on December 1. When the hatches of the Londonderry are opened it reveals a horrific scene. The corpses of 31 women, 23 men and 18 children are found in the grossly overcrowded hold. Soldiers are called to the docks as public rage intensifies. The public outcry that follows belatedly forces the British government to publish guidelines for the safe transport of Irish Immigrants, too late unfortunately for the victims of the coffin ship Londonderry.

After the tragic voyage, the master and two mates are arrested. During an inquest, survivors accuse the Scottish crew of being cruel and savage. The captain says that he had given orders for the decks to be cleared for the passengers’ safety while the storm raged.

The coroner’s jury returns a verdict of manslaughter, commenting that more consideration was shown to the cattle than the passengers entrusted to their care.

In 1996 six coffins are found by workmen on a building site in the Waterside area of Derry, in grounds close to the former workhouse. They are believed to be the remains of some of the poverty-stricken travelers from the ill-fated paddle steamer.

(Pictured: The Great Hunger Plaque, Derry, near Derry County Borough, Derry, Clooney Park, Creggan and Boom Hall)


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The Forest of Dunbrody

forest-of-dunbrodyIn tribute to emigrants who sailed to the New World on coffin ships, Coillte, a state-sponsored company in Ireland, announces on October 29, 1998 plans for the establishment of a forest plantation, the Forest of Dunbrody, on the outskirts of New Ross, County Wexford. The public, and particularly Irish Americans, are invited to buy a tree in the name of their loved ones. A total of 25,000 trees are planted, comprising species such as ash, oak, larch and Douglas fir.

The purpose of the plantation is to replace timbers used in the construction of the Dunbrody, a 176-foot-long replica of the Famine emigrant ships which left Ireland in the 1840s. The ship, which weighs 458 tonnes, is the culmination of a two-year, £4 million project, the inspiration of the JFK Trust.

The ship is a reconstruction of the original Dunbrody which operated out of New Ross, in all but its electrical and navigational equipment. It immediately proves to be a tourist attraction with over 30,000 visitors witnessing the traditional skills of 19th-century shipbuilding being carried out by a team of 30 trainees of Foras Áiseanna Saothair (FÁS), the Irish National Training and Employment Authority, and an international team of shipwrights.

One of the trainee shipwrights, James Grennan, is a fourth cousin of the former President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Grennan is also one of the crew of the Dunbrody.

Coillte, which had up to this point already sponsored much of the timber for the project, decides to establish a plantation of the same name as the ship after members of the building crew express an interest and as a demonstration of wood as a renewable resource.

After years of tireless effort the Dunbrody is finally ready to launch. Early on the morning of February 11, 2001 the gates of the dry dock are opened and the Dunbrody floats to her lines, ready to take her pace at the Quay of New Ross. The launch ceremony is attended by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former United States Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith.


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Birth of Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan

charles-edward-trevelyanSir Charles Edward Trevelyan, 1st Baronet, KCB, British civil servant and colonial administrator, is born in Taunton, Somerset, United Kingdom on April 2, 1807.

Trevelyan is the son of a Cornish clergyman, the Venerable George Trevelyan, who becomes Archdeacon of Taunton, and his wife Harriet, daughter of Sir Richard Neave. As a young man, he works with the colonial government in Calcutta, India. In the late 1850s and 1860s he serves there in senior-level appointments.

Trevelyan’s most enduring mark on history may be the quasi-genocidal anti-Irish racial sentiment he expresses during his term in the critical position of administrating relief to the millions of Irish peasants suffering under the Great Famine, an Gorta Mór, as Assistant Secretary to HM Treasury (1840–1859) under the Whig administration of Lord John Russell.

During the height of the famine Trevelyan deliberately drags his feet in disbursing direct government food and monetary aid to the Irish due to his strident belief in laissez-faire economics and the free hand of the market. In a letter to an Irish peer, Thomas Spring Rice, 1st Baron Monteagle of Brandon, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, he describes the famine as an “effective mechanism for reducing surplus population” as well as “the judgement of God” and writes that “The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.”

Trevelyan never expresses remorse for his comments, even after the full dreadful scope of the Irish famine becomes known. His defenders claim that other factors than Trevelyan’s personal acts and beliefs are more central to the problem.

Sir Charles Trevelyan dies at the age of 70 at 67 Eaton Square, London, on June 19, 1886.

Trevelyan is referred to in the modern Irish folk song The Fields of Athenry about an Gorta Mór. For his actions, or lack thereof, during the Great Famine, he is commonly considered one of the most detested figures in Irish history, along with the likes of Oliver Cromwell.


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First Effects of An Gorta Mór, the Great Famine

great-famineThe first effects of a potato blight are reported around Ireland on September 9, 1845. An Gorta Mór, also known as the Great Famine or the Great Hunger, is a period of mass starvation, disease, and emigration in Ireland between 1845 and 1852. It is sometimes referred to, mostly outside Ireland, as the Irish Potato Famine, because about forty percent of the Irish population is solely reliant on this inexpensive crop for a number of historical reasons. During the famine, approximately 1 million people die and a million more emigrate from Ireland, causing the island’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%.

The proximate cause of famine is Phytophthora infestans, a potato disease commonly known as potato blight, which ravages potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s. However, the impact in Ireland is disproportionate, as so much of the population is dependent on the potato for a range of ethnic, religious, political, social, and economic reasons, such as land acquisition, absentee landlords, and the Corn Laws, which all contribute to the disaster to varying degrees and remain the subject of intense historical debate.

The potato is introduced to Ireland as a garden crop of the gentry. By the late 17th century, it has become widespread as a supplementary rather than a principal food because the main diet still revolves around butter, milk, and grain products. However, in the first two decades of the 18th century, it becomes a base food of the poor, especially in winter. Furthermore, a disproportionate share of the potatoes grown in Ireland are of a single variety, the Irish Lumper. The expansion of the economy between 1760 and 1815 sees the potato make inroads into the diet of the people and become a staple food year round for farmers. The large dependency on this single crop, and the lack of genetic variability among the potato plants in Ireland, are two of the reasons why the emergence of Phytophthora infestans has such devastating effects in Ireland and less severe effects elsewhere in Europe.

It is not known exactly how many people die during the period of the famine, although it is believed that more die from diseases than from starvation. State registration of births, marriages, or deaths have not yet begun, and records kept by the Roman Catholic Church are incomplete. One possible estimate has been reached by comparing the expected population with the eventual numbers in the 1850s. A census taken in 1841 records a population of 8,175,124. A census immediately after the famine in 1851 counts 6,552,385, a drop of over 1.5 million in 10 years. The census commissioners estimate that at the normal rate of increase the population in 1851 should have been just over 9 million.

The famine is a watershed in the history of Ireland. Its effects permanently change the island’s demographic, political, and cultural landscape. For both the native Irish and those in the resulting diaspora, the famine enters folk memory and becomes a rallying point for various Irish Home Rule and United Ireland movements, as the whole island is then part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

The massive famine sours the already strained relations between many of the Irish people and the British Crown, heightening Irish republicanism, which eventually leads to Irish independence in the next century.


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The Jeanie Johnston Begins 4-Month Voyage Around Ireland

jeanie-johnstonThe Jeanie Johnston, a replica of a three-masted barque that was originally built in 1847 in Quebec, Canada, by the Scottish-born shipbuilder John Munn, begins a four-month voyage around Ireland on June 9, 2004.

The original Jeanie Johnston makes her maiden emigrant voyage on April 24, 1848, from Blennerville, County Kerry to Quebec with 193 emigrants on board who are fleeing the effects of the Great Famine that is ravaging Ireland. Between 1848 and 1855, the Jeanie Johnston makes sixteen voyages to North America, sailing to Quebec, Baltimore, and New York. Ships that transport emigrants out of Ireland during this period become known as “famine ships” or “coffin ships.”

The project to build a replica is conceived in the late 1980s, but does not become a reality until November 1993 when a feasibility study is completed. In May 1995, The Jeanie Johnston (Ireland) Company Ltd. is incorporated. The ship is designed by Fred Walker, former Chief Naval Architect with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England.

The original plans are to launch the ship from her shipyard in Blennerville, but a 19th-century shipwreck is discovered by marine archaeologists while a channel is being dredged. To preserve the find, on April 19, 2000 the hull of the Jeanie Johnston is hauled to the shore and loaded onto a shallow-draft barge. There she is fitted with masts and sails, and on May 4 is transported to Fenit, a short distance away. On May 6 the barge is submerged and the Jeanie Johnston takes to the water for the first time. The next day she is officially christened by President Mary McAleese.

In 2003, the replica Jeanie Johnston sails from Tralee to Canada and the United States visiting 32 U.S. and Canadian cities and attracting over 100,000 visitors.

The replica is currently owned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority who bought it in 2005 for a reported 2.7 million Euro, which were used to clear outstanding loans on the vessel guaranteed by Tralee Town Council and Kerry County Council. It is docked at Custom House Quay in the centre of Dublin.


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The Ballinglass Incident

ballinglass-evictionsDuring the Great Famine (An Gorta Mór) in Ireland, the Ballinglass incident occurs in Ballinglass, County Galway, on March 13, 1846, when 300 tenants are evicted by their landlord, a Mrs. Gerrard who wants to use the land for grazing purposes.

During this period, Ireland is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, governed directly by its parliament in London. Many working class Irish farmers are tenants under landlords, producing cereals, potatoes, and livestock. But only the potatoes remain as food for the farmers themselves. A portion of the other products are used for paying the rent while the remainder is exported from Ireland to Great Britain. These exports continue even after the potato crop fails in 1845.

Farmers who are not able to pay the rent during this period are evicted from their homes and land. It is estimated that tens of thousands are evicted during the famine.

The 300 inhabitants of the townland of Ballinglass in Galway County, in the Barony of Killian, northeast of Mountbellew, are relatively “wealthy” and able to pay their rent. But despite this fact, they are evicted because their landlord intends to establish a grazing farm where the village is situated.

The houses of Ballinglass are demolished by army and police. The evicted tenants sleep in the ruins that night. The next day, police and army return to evict them permanently and their neighbours are not allowed to take them in.

The eviction of the entire village receives wide publicity. Even the London Times, never a supporter of Irish rights, rails against this particular injustice. Lord Londonderry “personally investigates” the evictions and issues a statement on March 30, 1846 saying, “I am deeply grieved, but there is no doubt concerning the truth of the evictions at Ballinglass. Seventy-six families, comprising 300 individuals had not only been turned out of their houses, but had even – the unfortunate wretches – been mercilessly driven from the ditches to which they had been taken themselves for shelter…these unfortunate people had their rents actually ready…” Despite widespread condemnation, the eviction order is not rescinded.