Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a signatory of the United States Declaration of Independence, commences a visit to Ireland on September 5, 1771 where he later reports he has “a good deal of Conversation with the Patriots; they are all on the American side of the Question.”
At the time Franklin is based in London attempting to negotiate on behalf of the American Colonies. Franklin details his views of Dublin and Ireland in a letter to Thomas Cushing, a lawyer and statesman from Boston, Massachusetts. Franklin has a keen interest in Irish affairs, writing in a letter two years prior to visiting the country that “all Ireland is strongly in favour of the American cause. They have reason to sympathise with us.”
As Franklin tours Ireland in 1771 and is astounded and moved by the level of poverty he sees there. Ireland is under the trade regulations and laws of England, which affect the Irish economy, and Franklin fears that America will suffer the same plight if Britain’s exploitation of the colonies continues. During his visit, Franklin also attends two sessions of Irish Parliament as an observer.
Franklin is struck by the contrast between the grandeur of Dublin city itself and the intense poverty of those beyond its core.
Franklin writes to a friend, “The people in that unhappy country, are in a most wretched situation. Ireland is itself a poor country, and Dublin a magnificent city; but the appearances of general extreme poverty among the lower people are amazing. They live in wretched hovels of mud and straw, are clothed in rags, and subsist chiefly on potatoes. Our New England farmers, of the poorest sort, in regard to the enjoyment of all the comforts of life, are princes when compared to them. Perhaps three-fourths of the Inhabitants are in this situation.”
In 1977, the United States Ambassador to Ireland Walter J.P. Curley presents a bust of Benjamin Franklin to the Bank of Ireland to commemorate the visit. Speaking at the unveiling of the bust, the Ambassador notes that Franklin’s friendship for Ireland was no fleeting whim. He had said “You have ever been friendly to the rights of mankind and we acknowledge with pleasure and gratitude that your nation has produced patriots who have nobly distinguished themselves in the cause of humanity and America.”