John Mitchel: Commentary & Quotations

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J. S. Le Fanu
John Aug. O’Shea
W. B. Yeats
Patrick Pearse
Douglas Hyde
George Birmingham
Louis Paul-Dubois
Arthur Griffith
Denis Ireland
Benedict Kiely
W. B. Stanford
R. F. Foster
Christopher Morash
Tadhg Foley
Graham Davis
Brendan Ó Cathaoir
Ciaran Brady

Ed. note: Conspicuously missing from this selection is any passage from Malcolm Brown, Literature of Irish Politics: Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats (London: George Allen 1972).

J. S. Le Fanu (in the aftermath of 1848): ‘It is impossible to read his striking speeches and his writings, and not be impressed with the striking evidences everywhere apparent, of that impetuous abandonment of self, which characterises the genuine fanatic […]. Mitchel wrote and spoke irrespectively of display; he gave us no pompous metaphors, no affectedness quaintness, no vapid parodies upon the style of Sartor Resartus. He seems to have been equally destitute of vanity, and of fear. Ireland republicanised and communised was his engrossing idea […]’ (Dublin University Magazine, vol. 31, June 1848, pp.784-86; cited in W. J. McCormack, Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland, OUP 1980; Lilliput 1991, p.105.)

John Augustus O’Shea, Leaves from the Life of a Special Correspondent (London: Ward & Downey 1885) - O’Shea writes that “When he [Mitchel] heard of the death of the first son, he gave a natural sigh, but consoled himself with the expression: ‘He could have had no more enviable fate. He died in honourable company.’” According to O’Shea, Mitchel’s daughter, Henrietta, converted to Catholicism but was “cut off in the bloom of youthful beauty, and lies under a mound in a convent of the Sacred Heart in a Parisian suburb”. (Quoted on Irishmen in Paris, online; accessed 6.11.2010.)

W. B. Yeats: ‘The ... most inspired [of Irish nationalist writers] was John Mitchel, who thundered from his convict hulk ... Mitchel, by the right of his powerful nature and his penal solitude, communed indeed with the great Gods.’ (Uncoll. Prose, I, p.361.) Yeats also remarks on ‘his style [...] shaped by Carlyle’ (‘General Introduction for My Work’, in Essays and Introductions, 1961, p.513).

W. B. Yeats, Autobiographies (London: Macmillan 1955) - “Ireland After Parnell”: ‘[...] Young Ireland had sought a nation unified by political doctrine alone, a subservient art and letters aiding and abetting. [...] a method of writing that took its poetical style from Campbell, Scott, Macaulay, and Béranger, with certain elements from Gaelic, its prose style - in John Mitchel, the only Young Ireland prose-writer who had a style at all - from Carlyle. To recommend this method of writing as literature without much reservation or discrimination, I contended, was to be deceived or to practise deception.’ (pp.204.) See also brief comparison with J. F. Taylor who ‘had used his master’s style, as Mitchel had done before, to abase what his master loved, to exalt [214] what his master scorned.’ (Ibid., p.214.)

WBY - On Duffy’s arguing that Mitchel had behaved badly: ‘But in Ireland personality, if it be but harsh and hard, has lovers, and some of us, I think, may have gone home muttering, “How dare he [Sir Charles Gavan Duffy] be in the right if Mitchel is in the wrong?”’ (Yeats, op. cit., p.226.)

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W. B. Yeats, Autobiographies (London: Macmillan 1955) - “The Death of Synge”: ‘Mitchel wrote better prose than Davis, Mangan, better poetry, D’Arcy Magee better popular verse. Fintan Lalor say deeper into a political event, O’Connell had more power and Meagher more eloquence, but Davis alone has influenced generations of young men, though Mitchel’s narrower and more faulty nature has now and again competed with him. [...] Mitchel’s influence comes mainly, though ot altogether, from style, that also a form of power, an energy of life. It is curious that Mitchel’s long martyred life, supported by style, has had less force than that of a man who died at thirty, was never in the hulks, did not write very well, and achieved no change of the law. [i.e., Thomas Davis]’ (p.516.)

“Under Ben Bulben”, [Pt.] III
You that Mitchel’s prayer have heard,
“Send war in our time, O Lord!”
Know that when all words are said
And a man is fighting mad,
Something drops from eyes long blind,
He completes his partial mind,
For an instant stands at ease,
Laughs aloud, his heart at peace.
Collected Poems (NY: Macmillan, 1951), p.342.

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Patrick Pearse: Pearse called Jail Journal (1854) ‘the last part of the Gospel of Irish nationality as Tone’s Autobiography was the first’.

Douglas Hyde (Diary, 5 March 1881): ‘I read a good deal of The Last Conquest &c by John Mitchel (1861 &c.). I cannot sufficiently praise that author and his work. He is the best prose writer I have read for a long time; his style is forceful, and he would make a rebel out of me if I weren’t one already.’ [See Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde, 1974, p..xviii]

George Birmingham [Rev. J. O. Hannay], Introduction Recollections of Jonah Barrington (Talbot [1918]), ‘to the savage prose of John Mitchel, the strongest prose written in Ireland since the days of Swift’.

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John Eglinton [William Magee], remarks of Mitchel in ‘The De-Davisisation of Irish Literature’, reprinted in Saints and Sage (1908) [and copied in FDA2, though with small variations perhaps from another source], ‘... but in Jail Journal, of Mitchel, written far away from an audience, and in order to satisfy an overmastering need of self-expression, we do at last get literature, a book so successful in giving expression to the instincts and antipathies of Irish nationality, that, in the face of it, any further talk of the inefficiency of the English language in Ireland is somewhat audacious ... M. Emile Montégut devoted to it a lengthy article in the Revue Des Deux Mondes (Tome 10, 1855), an article every Irishman who wishes “to see himself as others see him” should read. Mitchel afterwards wrote of himself as a man who “but once in his life was possessed by a great cause, whose whole life and energy converged themselves once to one focus, and were then dissipated into the general atmosphere”; but it is quite certain that so far as concerns his literary activity - for we are not here concerned with the political principles which brought him into unpleasant relations with two governments, and very nearly with a third, and which allowed him to become [40] the fierce champion of slavery - no other book of his has half the literary value of the Jail Journal, which, for may young Irish patriots, has made him the Defoe of the hulks [40-41]. ‘“[T]he cold chain of silence” will never be lifted from the soul of Ireland save by men using the homely directness of utterance, and, without doubt, the speech of John Mitchel [...] getting rid of the notion that in Ireland, a writer is to think first and foremost of interpreting the nationality of his country, and not simply the burden of what he has to deliver.’ (See also John Eglinton, q.v.) [Note: the cold chain of silence is a phrase of Moore’s.]

Louis Paul-Dubois: Paul-Dubois analysed what Mitchel called the ‘national and anti-English spirit’ in Ireland and pointed out that ‘Irishmen are never tired of anathematising the “pirate Empire”, that “Empire of Hell” to which Presbyterian Mitchel [271] dedicated the three hundred pages of hatred which go to make up his Jail Journal. Nevertheless a large portion of the British empire is administered by Irishmen, who are either members of the Indian Civil Service, or leading politicians in Canada or Australia’ (See Dubois, Contemporary Ireland, 1908, pp.166-79; quoted in D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland, London: Routledge 1982; 1991, p.271-72.)

Arthur Griffith, Preface to Jail Journal (Dublin: M. H. Gill 1913), pp.ix-xvi: ‘John Mitchel met the crisis of 1848 with a policy. Practical Posterity, from its easy chair, has pronounced the policy extravagant and impossible: even, in unctuous moments, reprehensible. Let the Censor stand in the Censured’s place and declare what its wisdom would have counselled a people whose life was assailed. For two years Mitchel had trod the round of Resolution and Protest, Protest and Resolution against the drafting out from Ireland of the food of twenty millions of people to the famishing of eight millions. A third year dawned on the same programme of calculated destruction and futile remonstrance. Mitchel withdrew his name from the second part of the programme and bade his countrymen defend their lives from attack by the ultimate methods of self-preservation. [...] Thirty years later, Mitchel’s policy, interpreted and applied in a stronger generation by the man whose career Mitchel’s writings moulded - Charles Stewart Parnell - brought the stoutest bulwark of English power in Ireland to the ground. When Parnell bade the farmers of Ireland “Keep a firm grip on their holdings,” he crystallised into a phrase the policy Mitchel urged unsuccessfully in 1848. Mitchel’s generation failed him, his sacrifice seemed vain - but, sixty years after, we can look back to the Ireland of slavish resignation - the land of carcases and ruins - the Finis Hiberniae of the cheering auditors to a British Minister and the leader writers of the English press, and, seeing out of that degradation and misery and ruin new forces grow to encounter and defeat English policy in Ireland, realise that the haughty spirit of a great Irishman though baffled in its own generation may set the feet of our country in the way of triumph in the next. Fifty years passed ere the voice of Swift in the“Drapier’s Letters” spoke winningly to England through the cannon of the Volunteers. Thirty years after Mitchel was borne a shackled prisoner from a cowed country, two strong fortresses of England’s power in Ireland perished in the fires of resistance to oppression he had rekindled in an abject land. / Nature gifted Mitchel with the genius, and more than the strength of Swift. [...; &c.]’ (p.x; see full text - attached.)

Note: Griffith’s Preface contains a well-known defence of Irish independence on grounds independent of Human Rights or racial equality - as given in extract under Griffith, Quotations, supra.

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Denis Ireland (An Ulster Protestant looks At his World, 1930), compares Mitchel to Swift, calling him ‘prose master’ [52], and quotes, ‘In the light of that mock throne on the hull over the Liffey there vibrate now all the dizened atomies of happy Ireland. GlitteringCaptains, silvered Lieutenants, epauletted puppyism in every grade and phase of fashion, wigged debasement fresh from a public hanging and gowned simony flock around delighted at the ‘flourishing condition’ of the state. No whisper of death, no shadow of desolation, breaks over the crowd ... and so begins the third years of uninterrupted famine.’

Benedict Kiely, Poor Scholar: A Study of the Works and Days of William Carleton [1947] (Dublin: Talbot Press Edn. 1972): ‘[...] Carleton’s denunciation of Young Ireland [as “juvenile revolution”], or at least of the romantically revolutionary aspect of Young Ireland, was not governed noticeably by any steady, set political principle. He condemned “the ferocious and brutal violence” of the language of John Mitchel who referred to Lord Clarendon as “Butcher-General of Ireland”, told Lord Clarendon that he expected no mercy from him, as, so help him God, he (Lord Clarendon) might expect none from him (Mitchel) should the revolutionary cause prosper. This, Carleton said, was not the language of common sense or common feeling, but of political insanity. But from Mitchel’s point of view it was the only language possible under the circumstances: the people were dying; the mind of the nineteenth century exhibited in economic theory was responsible; so was the British government of Ireland, and the precariousness of the potato, and the callow selfishness of the landed classes. For an honest courageous man, whose temperament and whose prose-style had come under the influence of Thomas Carlyle, but who acted where Carlyle growled in prophetic self-satisfaction, the only thing to do was stand up before all men and speak the truth. John Mitchel did that, first in the Nation, later more inflammably in the United Irishman, later in the dock when a carefully-selected jury sent him overseas for life. He thought quite sensibly that no trade regulations and no unalterable economic laws should be allowed to take food out of Ireland while the people of Ireland died of hunger. He thought quite sensibly that if men had to die at all they should die like men, not like the plants that rotted around them in the fields. They should fight for food. They should tear down the whole structure that had brought them to such misery.’ (p.105.)

Benedict Kiely, Poor Scholar: A Study of the Works and Days of William Carleton [1947] (Dublin: Talbot Press Edn. 1972): ‘John Mitchel, for all his “political insanity”, had the type of mind that immediately clarified a situation by reducing it to its elements, and one page of his violent words can be infinitely more illuminating than all Carleton’s efforts to be abstract and detached, to lay the exact amount of praise and blame exactly where each belonged. Mitchel saw clearly enough that the killing of odious landlords, agents, tithe proctors and bailiffs had certainly been dreadful atrocities, but the country people of Ireland had regarded them not as murders but as executions. There was no law on either side but, as Mitchel saw it, “more substantial justice, on the whole, is done by the ‘midnight legislators’ than by the judges of Assize.” Because of his own temperament and his memories of first enthusiasm for Thomas Carlyle, Mitchel to the end of his days had no liking for the methods of secret and oath-bound societies. Ribbonism had secrecy and the swearing of oaths, and was, as well, spasmodic and unorganised both in particular action and in general outline. But for Mitchel it had the merit of being a flat negation of British law in Ireland, “a great manufactory of disaffection and rebellion, and one which the government will never be able to reach.” In other words, Ribbonism - a name that meant nothing more clearly defined than discontent expressing itself in violence - kept the fires of rebellion burning until the time and the man would come to fan them into one universal conflagration. No government could effectively smother those fires, for they burned secretly in the hearts of men resenting injustice. Although the violent expression of that resentment could be foolish and terrible, could go awry and destroy the innocent with the guilty, could be twisted to evil purposes by evil men, [118] yet it is on the survival in the human heart of that primitive anger at wrong and tyranny that the cause of freedom must ultimately depend. (pp.118-19.) [...]

See also further remarks, p.118: ‘Because of his temperament and his memories of his first enthusiasm for Thomas Carlyle, Mitchel to the end of his days had no liking for the methods of secret and oath-bound societies.’

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W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (1984), Mitchel was devoted reader of classical, especially Greek literature; at the climax of his trial-speech, he appealed to his audience to remember Scaevola who trust his hand into a brazier to defy the Etruscan invader, ‘The Roman, who saw his hand burning to ashes before the tyrant, promised that three hundred should follow out the enterprise. Can I not promise for one, for two, for three, aye, for hundreds?’ (J. G. Hodges, report of the trial of John Mitchel, etc., Dublin 1848, pp.97-98.)

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R. F. Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch (London: John Lane 1993), quotes Mitchel: ‘The general history of a nation may fitly preface the personal memoranda of a solitary captive, for it was strictly and logically a consequence of the dreary story here epitomised, that I came to be a prisoner.’ (Jail Journal, Dublin Edn., 1918, p.xlvi; see also remarks regarding Pearse’s debt to Mitchel (p.14; see Patrick Pearse, q.v.).

See also Foster, The Story of Ireland [Inaugural lecture ... Univ. of Oxford, 1 Dec. 1994] (Clarendon Press 1995): ‘[... John Mitchel, equally [with Samuel Ferguson] a product of those un-Irish figures Carlyle and Herder, but arguing the nationalist morality-tale with all the zeal of a Presbyterian convert. Today remembered for his Jail Journal, Mitchel’s other narratives of Irish history compel attention. His history both responded to and helped to create the irish emigrant consciousness of a national story from which England, cruel step-mother, had written them out. / By the time of Mitchel’s death in 1875, the story of Ireland had emerged from myriad retellings in its accepted narative form.’ (pp.6-7.)

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Christopher Morash, The Hungry Voice (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989), quoting Mitchel, ‘If one should narrate how the cause of his country was stricken down in open battle, and blasted to pieces with shot and shell, there might be a certain mournful pride in dwelling upon the gallant resistance ... but to describe how the spirit of a country has been broken and subdued by beggarly famine; - how her national aspirations have been not choked in her own blood, nobly shed on the field, but strangled by red tape; - how her life and soul have been ameliorated and civilised out of her; - how she dies of political economy, and was buried under tons of official stationary; - this is the dreary task, which I wish some one else had undertaken.’ Last Conquest of Ireland (perhaps) (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1861), pp.138-9; Morash, p.35-6.

Christopher Morash, ‘The Rhetoric of Right in Mitchel’s Jail Journal’, in The Literature of Politics, The Politics of Literature [Proceedings of IASIL Leiden 1993], Vol. 1: ed. C. C. Barfoot, Theo D’haen, and Tjebbe Westendorp, ed., ‘Forging in the Smithy: National Identity and Representation in Anglo-Irish Literary History’ (Amsterdam: Rodopi 1995), pp.207-17. Morash offers extensive remarks on Carlyle’s ‘discourse of power’ and particularly Mitchel’s use of his style (‘writing Carlylese’ - Morash, p.215.) Quotes: ‘Success confers every right in the Enlightened Age; wherein, for the first time, it has come to be admitted and proclaimed in set terms, Success is Right and Defeat is Wrong. If I profess myself a disbeliever in that gospel, the Enlightened Age will only smile, and say, “The defeated always are.” Britain being in possession of the floor, any hostile comment upon her way of telling our story is an unmannerly interruption; nay, is nothing short of an Irish howl.’ (Jail Journal, p.xxxvi; Morash, 208-09.) Morash Quotes Carlyle: ‘The people [Young Irelanders] are great disciples of mine. But I think I have very little credit of them: in fact, they seem not unlikely to get themselves shot, or hanged for treason, by and by!’ (Letters of Thomas Carlyle to His Brother Alexander, Cambridge Mass. 1968, p.648; Morash, p.212.) Mitchel wrote that Carlyle is the only man in these latter days who produces what can properly be termed books. (Jail Journal, p.204; Morash, p.212.)

Christopher Morash (‘The Rhetoric of Right in Mitchel’s Jail Journal’, 1993) - cont.: ‘The Young Irishmen were greatly impressed by the philosopher and his wife. They did not accept his specific opinions on almost any question, but his constant advocacy of veracity, integrity, and valour touched the most generous of their sympathies, and his theory that under the divine government of the world right and might are identical, as right infallibly became might in the end, was very welcome teaching to men struggling against enormous odds for what they believed to be intrinsic justice.’ (Duffy, Conversations, p.4.) Quotes Carlyle, ‘If we examine we shall find that, in this world, no conquest could ever become permanent, which did not withal show itself beneficial to the conquered as to the conquerors’ (Chartism, XXXIX, pp.146-47.)

Mitchel on Thomas Carlyle: ‘Carlyle cannot write rationally about Ireland; and he believes that Carthage [England] has a mission to conquer the world. (Jail Journal, p. 204; Morash, p.214.)

On nations & national life: ‘Neither for man nor nation is happiness the end of living - least of all for those who utter new truths and lead in new paths. Let a nation act with all the energy of its national life - do with its might what its hand findeth to do - the truth it has got to speak in thunder. Therein let it find its “happiness”, or nowhere.’ (Jail Journal, p.81; quoted in Morash, op. cit., p.1993, p.214.)

Christopher Morash (‘The Rhetoric of Right in Mitchel’s Jail Journal’, 1993) - cont.: Morash quotes Carlyle: ‘Man is sent hither not to question, but to work … For truly, if we look into it, there is not a more fruitless endeavour than this same, which the metaphysician proper toils in: to educe conviction out of negation … The Irish saint swam the Channel, “carrying his head in his teeth”; but the feat has never been imitated.’ (Carlyle, “Characteristics, xxviii, p.27; Morash, p.215.); Cf. Mitchel: ‘But what is this? Is it the abyss of metaphysics I see yawning before me? Assuredly, I will not plunge into that bottomless pit again, after having drawn myself out of it, with pain and labour, full fifteen years ago - just so long is it since I endeavoured to walk with my own head in my teeth, like the decapitated Christian martyr celebrated by Mr. Gibbon - to rival that “Irish Saint”, known to Thomas Carlyle, who swam across the Channel with his head so secured - “a miracle”, saith Carlyle, “which has never been repeated.”’ (Jail Journal, 121-22; Morash, p.216.) [See also A Bibliography of Carlyle’s Young Ireland Connection - kindly supplied by Chris Morash - supra.

Chris Morash, Writing the Famine (1995): ‘His basic style might be defined as a disruption of the empiricism upon which Enlightenment depends. If the physical is to be displaced as the ground of truth for reasoning, the relationship between the physical world and the text is brought into question; for, if one accepts the implications of a rejection of empiricism, the truest text is the one with the least connection to the material world, leaving the writer in a universe of pure textuality. […];we should not be led into the mistake of thinking that the separation of the text from the world is gesture of despair. Indeed it is very much much the opposite. Mitchel’s assertion of the textual basis of reality (as opposed to the real basis of texts) merely shifts the ground of battle from the physical world to the discursive world.’ (Cited by Mathew Campbell, review, in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 1997, p.101; note that Campbell is critical of the tendency to read the famine as textuality, comparing it in some degree with the strategy of Charles Trevelyan who attributed to divine wisdom the inclination to bring permanent good out of transient evil.)

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Tadhg Foley, ‘Praties, Professors, and Political Economy’ (Irish Reporter, Third Quarter 1995), pp.6-7, ‘That John Mitchel was an enthusiastic proponent of slavery has been an inestimable boon to liberals from the great John Elliot Cairnes to Roy Foster, enabling them to dismiss his nationalism as racism, and gleefully recognise apostolic continuity between the two ... Mitchel and his colleagues say the campaign [of 1848] as a class struggle of tenant against landlord and labour against capital. Mitchel is usually dismissed as the exponent of a theory which sees the Famine as an act of genocide against the Irish people. That this hypothesis is baseless is interesting; but much more importantly, it is unnecessary.//Frequently, Mitchel identifies political economy as the angel of death. Ireland, he claims, was ‘a nation perishing of political economy’. He frequently excoriated the discipline as ‘English’, or ‘Famine’, or ‘Whig’ political economy. He saw the subject as inherently ideological, while also claiming strict scientific neutrality and universal validity for its laws.. /It naturalised existing property relations ... [&c.]’ (p.6).

Graham Davis, ‘Making History, John Mitchel and the Great Famine’, in Irish Writing, Exile and Subversion, ed. Paul Hyland & Neil Sammells (London: Macmillan 1991), pp.98-115: ‘the theme of starvation amidst plenty, a key part of Mitchel’s nationalist propaganda, may also be seen as an oversimplification.’

Brendan Ó Cathaoir, An Irishman’s Diary (31 Dec. 1999), gives account of John Mitchel and his life with Jenny Verner, dg. of Capt. Verner whom he married in her seventeenth year; quotes, ‘‘Poor Jenny, she might as well have married a homeless Bedouin or wandering Tartar’; her own view of slavery also cited: ‘Nothing would enduce me to become the mistress of a slave household ... My objection to slavery is the injury it does to the white masters.’ She died on 31 Dec. 1899 and was buried in the Bronx.

Ciaran Brady, ‘John Mitchel’, in W. J. McCormack, ed., The Blackwell Companion to Irish Literature (Oxford 1999; 2001) : ‘For Mitchel, southern slavery represented the last vestiges of an economic system that was wholly antagonistic to the brutal international capitalism legitimated, if not celebrated, by the doctrines of political economy. It created a culture whic for all its abuses generated stability and order and did not subordinate itselt to the dictates of a nihilistic determinism. Thus whether slavery could survive or not, its defence as a means of economic production and social organisation alternative to commercial capitalism provided a fine polemical means of demonstrating the viciousness and cruelty of the modern world system, which had brought misery and ruin to Ireland. And so Mitchel, who had already consciously refashioned himself in the pages of Jail Journal as the apotheosis of the Irish patriot, now projected a further image as the unwavering apologist for slavery without any sense of contradiction. It was to prove a fool-hardy and costly commitment; but it is full measure of the degree to which Mitchel was prepared to sacrifice himself in waging war against the dominant culture that he believed was destroying his own native land.’ (p.385.)

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Brendan Ó Cathaoir, "An Irishman’s Diary on John Mitchel, a contentious patriot -Bicentenary of birth of an unrepentant rebel", in The Irish Times (3 Nov. 2015)

The contentious patriot John Mitchel was born 200 years ago today. Having preached social revolution in Ireland during the Famine, his subsequent support for the institution of slavery in America was unambiguous. None the less, FSL Lyons considered he was “among the two or three most forceful and effective journalists to write for Irish newspapers during the 19th century”. His uncompromising rhetoric was, moreover, an influential strand of Irish nationalism. A youthful John Dillon “found two congenial spirits, Mitchel and Davis, enough to turn a race of slaves into the wildest lovers of their country”.
Through Mitchel, and influenced by another French revolution – that of February 1848, republican separatism re-entered Irish politics. It was unrealistic to call on a famished population “to strike for a republic … to raise the Irish tricolour, orange, white and green, over a forest of pikes” – but Mitchel’s conversion to republicanism brought a potent factor into modern Irish nationalism. Crossing “the path of the British car of conquest” involved, however, being torn from his wife and children, convict ships, banishment to Van Diemen’s Land, escape and a restless life as journalist, backwoods farmer and advocate of the slave-owning South during the American Civil War (in which two of his sons were killed).
His formulation that the Almighty sent the potato blight but the English created the Famine was burned into the folk memory of the diaspora. His classic prison memoir, the Jail Journal, became the bible of militant republicanism. Arthur Griffith’s edition was reprinted four times in 1913-21. For Pearse it was “the last of the four gospels of the new testament of Irish nationality …”

Patsy McGarry, “Are we right to honour John Mitchel? - Irish patriot was staunch backer of slavery and the US Confederacy”, in An Irishman's Diary, in The Irish Times (5 Sept. 2017).

[...] John Mitchel actively supported slavery and the confederate side in the US civil war, in which two of his sons died fighting against the union side, while a third son was maimed.
Prior to that civil war, on lecture tours in the US, Mitchel argued that “negroes” were innately inferior people who had lived in a state of barbarism in Africa but had a better quality of life on plantations in America.
 He claimed that a society based on free competition resulted in the exploitation of the weak, whereas the slave system provided for the social well-being of all, and that slaves on southern plantations had more comfortable lives than factory hands in Manchester or starving peasants in Mayo.
In a letter to the Nation newspaper he applauded the bravery of those Irishmen fighting for the union but claimed that they had been fooled by false promises of land in the south and fought for a government that despised them and cared nothing for their lives.
 “They are to be made use of precisely as the poor negroes are – thrust to the front in every fight, and thrown aside afterwards as broken tools. They will never hold land in the confederate country, save that regular fee-simple of six feet by two which many thousands of them now peacefully hold,” he wrote.
 Is it right that such a man is remembered so generously? In club or square or place?

—See Ó Cathaoir & Patsy McGarry - conflicting views of Mitchel in The Irish Times (Nov. 2015 & Sept. 2017) - as attached.

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On this page ...

From the works ...

United Irishman: ‘Clear steel will, ere long, dawn upon you in your desolate darkeness; and the rolling thunder of the people's cannon will drive before it many a heavy cloud that has long hidden from you the face of heaven. Pray for that day; and preserve life and health that you many worthily meet it. Above all let the man amonst you who has no gun sell his garment and buy one!’ (1848; quoted in “John Mitchel” [introductory notice], in Cabinet of Irish Literature, rev. edn., ed. Katherine Tynan, London: Gresham: 1902-03, p.70.)
Dock speech (1848): ‘Neither the jury, nor the judges, nor any other man in this court presumes to imagine that it is a criminal who stands in this dock. [...] The Roman who saw his hand burning to ashes before the tyrant, promised that three hundred should follow out his enterprise. Can I not promise for one, for two, for three, aye for hundreds?’ (26 May 1848; quoted in Cabinet, ed. Tynan, idem.)
Jail Journal (1854): ‘The general history of a nation may fitly preface the personal memoranda of a solitary captive for it was strictly and logically a consequence of the dreary story here epitomized, that I came to be a prisoner.’ ( Dublin 1918 edn., p.xlvi; quoted in R. F. Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish and English History, London: Allen Lane, 1993, p.2. [Cf. his view of Irish history in United Irishman, 13 May 1848 - infra.

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Jail Journal - Online editions

1854 Edition in screen format
at Google Books

1913 Edition at Internet Archive
(all formats)

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From the works ...

[See also longer extracts from Jail Journal and The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps) anthologised in The Cabinet of Irish Literature [ed. T. P. O'Connor, 1880], rev. edn., Katherine Tynan (1902-03), Vol. III - as attached.]

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Life and Times of Aodh O’Neill, Prince of Ulster (Dublin: Duffy, 1846)

Perhaps in no country, but only Ireland, would a plain narrative of wars and revolutions that are past and gone two centuries and a half ago, run any risk of being construed as an attempt to foster enmity between the descendants of two races - that fought so long since for mastery in the land.
  Yet the writer of this short record of the life of the greatest Irish chieftain is warned that such construction may, and by some assuredly will, be put upon the following story and the writer’s manner of telling it. But as to the narrative itself undoubtedly the only question ought to be - is it true? And if so - is the truth to be told, or hidden? Is it not at all times in all places, above all things, desirable to hear the truth instead of a lie? And, for the way in which it is told, the writer does indeed acknowledge a strong sympathy with the primitive Irish race proud and vehement, tender and poetical; with the deep religion and boundless wealth of sweetest song, and high old names and the golden glories of Tradition [v] retiring slowly, and not without a noble struggle before what is called ‘Civilisation’, and the instinctive and unrelenting insolence of English dominion; mostly victors in the field, but always overcome by policy; plucking down the robber standard of England in many a stricken battle; but, on the whole, by iron destiny, and that combination of force and fraud and treachery which has ever characterised the onward march of English power, borne back, disunited, and finally almost swept from the earth, to make way for the greedy adventurers of all Great Britain. And if the word ‘Saxon’ or ‘Englishman’ is sometimes used with bitterness, it is because the writer, carrying himself two hundred and fifty years backward, and viewing events not as from the council chamber of Dublin Castle, but from the Irish forests and the Irish hearths, is sometimes tempted to use the language that fitted the time, and might have lain in the mouth of a clansman of Tyr-eoghain.
  But the struggle is over, and can never, upon that quarrel, be renewed. Those Milesian Irish as a distinct nation (why not admit it?) were beaten - were finally, subdued, as the Fir-bolgs were before them, as the ancient Kymry were in Britain, and afterwards their conquerors the Saxons. A new immigration was made early in the sixteenth century, like that of the Tuatha-de-Danaan and Milesians of remoter times. [vi] Once more new blood was infused into old Ireland; the very undertakers that planted Ulster grew racy of the soil; and their children’s children became, thank God, not only Irish, but united Irish -became ‘Eighty-two’ Volunteers - anti-Union patriots - in every struggle of Irish nationhood against English domination (to which the now impending one shall not be an exception) were found in the foremost ranks, ‘more Irish than the Irish.’ The armies of Elizabeth, the planters and undertakers of James, may have been marauding adventurers, or even robbers - let it be granted that they were; so were the Franks who followed Charlemagne’s empire; so were the vagabonds and fugitive slaves who flocked into the ‘asylum’ of Romulus; and afterwards, offscouring of mankind as they were, begat a progeny that bore the Roman Eagle over nations’ necks, from Indus to the Pillars of Hercules. Whatever god or demon may have led the first of them to these shores, the Anglo-Irish and Scottish Ulstermen have now far too old a title to be questioned. They were a hardy race, and fought stoutly for the pleasant valleys they dwell in. And are not Derry and Enniskillen Ireland’s, as well as Benburb and the Yellow Ford? - and have not those men and their fathers lived, and loved, and worshipped God, and died there? - are not their green graves heaped up there - more generations of them [vii] than they have genealogical skill to count? A deep enough root those planters have struck into the soil of Ulster, and it would now be ill striving to unplant them.
  The writer of these pages boasts to be of that blood himself. No Milesian drop flows in his veins; and therefore he may claim the more easily believed in disclaiming the base intention to exasperate Celtic Irish against Saxon Irish, or to revive ancient feuds between the several races that now occupy Irish soil, and are known to all the world besides as Irish men. [&c.; viii]

[...] and if such reader shall recognise the policy recommended by Bacon, directly by Cecil, and practised by Mountjoy and Carew, in the proceedings of certain later statesmen of England; and if (which is not impossible) he shall arrive at the conclusion that the bitterest, deadliest foe of Ireland (however peopled) is the foul fiend of English imperialism; and, [...] at any time it only needed Irishmen of all bloods to stand together - to be even nearly united - in order to exorcise that fiend for ever, and drive him irrevocably into the Red Sea - surely it will be no fault of the present writer. [ix]

[Here Mitchel cites ‘queen’s bishops’ incl. Jeremy Taylor of Dromore, Ussher, Swift, Berkely (sic for Berkeley), and Bedel (as Bishop of Kilmore) - where he quotes Dr. Sheridan’s famous exclamation, Sit mea anima cum Bedello!]

When Irishmen consent to let the past become indeed History, not party politics, and begin to learn form it the lessons of mutual respect and tolerance, instead of endless bitterness and enmity, then, at last, this distracted land shall see the dawn of hope and peace, and begin to renew her youth and rear her head amongst the proudest of the nations.’ [End; xi.]

Cf. Preface to the American Edn. (Pref. signed 1868)

Mitchel notes that much ‘very considerable mass of historical material’ has been added in ‘twenty-three years [that] have gone by since the writer composed this small volume [...] undertaken at the suggestion of Thomas Davis for the series called “Library of Ireland”, and which has quite as much popularity as it deserved’; and regretting that he has not leisure to rewrite in the light of it, but drawing attention in particular to new light on the ‘deeply interesting era which saw the Reformation, the great struggle between Irish clanship and English feudalism, and the beginning of the religious wars in our island’, remarking: ‘First in importance is the great work of John O’Donovan - his edition of the Annals of the Four Masters, with copious and learned notes, topographical, historical, exegetical.
  [... I]t is true that the portion of those annals relating to the period embraced in this work was substantially accessible to me in the library of the Royal Irish Academy, in the shape of the MS Life of O’Donnell, often cited in the following pages. This Life of Hugh Roe O’Donnell had been written by one of the venerable Four Masters themselves, Franciscans of Donegal Abbey, who, indeed, were not only annalists of the island, but especially historiographers of the great house of O’Donnell; and it had afterwards been incorporated almost entirely in the Annals. This old MS., however, was but poor compensation for the want of that magnificent repertory of Irish historic lore, which can now be read (amply annotated) by everybody, in the volumes of Dr. O’Donovan, and without the study of which no writer should undertake a piece of Irish history. [&c.]’

Bibliographical remarks
Mitchel calls the Historia Catholica of Don Philip O’Sullivan (Beare) ‘another indispensable Irish authority, a Latin copy of which he has consulted in the TCD library ‘at length’, and cites Abbé MacGeoghegan as making up the third ‘strictly Irish sources from whence I could draw’. He also refers to abundant ‘authorities on the English side, counting Camden’s History of Queen Elizabeth as the ‘most useful’, and rating as ‘exceedingly valuable books’ both Edmund Spenser’s View of the State of Ireland and Sir John Davies’s Historical Tracts’, though both

‘composed with the most virulent hatred and insolence towards the Irish nation, yet cast[ing] a flood of light upon the social condition of the people, the policy of the British Government, about the time of that sad revolution which transformed chieftain and clansman into landlord and tenant’

He calls Carew’s Pacata Hibernia (‘ostensibly by Stafford’), the ‘most singular English authority [...] not only for its documents and maps, but also for the very open and shameless avowal of the system of treachery, fraud, and assassination set on foot by the writer himself, and by which he was enabled to break up the confederacy of the Munster lords’.

Mitchel also refers to the work of Fynes Moryson [Itinerary (London 1617), though ‘extremely untrustworthy’, together with Carte’s Life of Ormond, Capt. Lee’s ‘Memorial’, and Bishop Mant’s ‘History of the Irish Church’. Further cites as sources for revision works including ‘The Life and Letters of Florence MacCarthy Mor’; ‘The Earls of Kildare’; and ‘The History of the O’Briens of Thomond’ by D. J. O’Donoghue.

He also cites ‘Selection of the Family Archives of the MacGillicuddy of the Reeks’, by Mazière Brady, Vicar of Donoghpatrick, on which he discourses at length since Brady refuted the claim that the Catholic bishops of Ireland generally submitted to the Elizabethan Reformation, and that the Catholic prelates in the country since were therefore a new and non-apostolic line [xvi-xviii]:

‘in examining this canonical controversy, the author also sheds light upon the civil transactions ; and as O’Neill was holding the country [xviii] against the English not only as Prince of Ulster, but as chief champion of the Catholic religion in Ireland, the ecclesiastical affairs of the period are altogether relevant, and needful for a due understanding of O’Neill’s true cause and position.’

Further lists Dr. Moran’s ‘Archbishops of Dublin; Dr. Lanigan, Father Brennan OSF, and Father A. Cogan of Navan, author of ‘History of the Diocese of Meath’. Additionally: ‘Ulster Archaeological Journals’, Shirley’s ‘Original Letters’, state papers; Fr. Meehan’s The Fate and Fortunes of Hugh O’Neill [&c.], which ‘professes to take up the narrative where this present writer has dropped it’ yet supplies ‘much authentic information with regard to the chief’s last campaign, &c.

‘It is needless here to speak of the ancient Irish manuscripts and precious materials of our history enumerated, classified, and described in the great work of Eugene O’Curry; for all these documents, except the Annals of the Four Masters, stop short of the time of O’Neill’s wars, and this has no pretension to be a general bibliography of Irish history, but only a sketch of the field to be investigated ...’

Mitchel finally professes his intention as having written the book ‘in part to gratify a dear friend, and in part to aid more or less in the awakening of the minds of Irish young men to the dignity and importance of the history of their native island. [... &c.]’. (pp.xii-xx.)

End Preface; signed at Fordham, NY, 1868

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Life and Times of Aodh O’Neill, Prince of Ulster (Dublin: Duffy, 1846) - Chap. 1: ‘When Con O’Neill, surnamed Baccagh, reigned in Ulster, the far greater portion of this island owed no allegiance and paid no obedience to the king or laws of England. More than two hundred years had gone by since the northern Irish, aided by Edward Bruce of Scotland, had destroyed every vestige of foreign domination in Ulster; an the few Anglo-Norman families that had got footing there, under De Courcy and De Lacy, were long since, by intermarriage, gossipred, and fostering, blended with the Irish tribes, used Irish customs, disdained to ride with stirrups, wore crommeal and coolun, submitted to brehon laws, forgot vasselage, and liege-homage, and all feudal tenure, whether by knight service, escuage, or other - nay, forgot their language and their very names. [...; 13].’

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from Jail Journal (1854)


‘At the end of six years, I can set down these things calmly; but to see them might have driven a wise man mad. There is no need to recount how the Assistant Barristers and Sheriffs, aided by the Police, tore down the roof-trees and ploughed up the hearths of village after village - how the Quarter Acre clause laid waste the parishes, how the farmers and their wives and little ones in wild dismay, trooped along the highways - how in some hamlets by the seaside, most of the inhabitants being already dead, an adventurous traveller would come upon some family eating a famished ass - how maniac mothers stowed away their dead children to be devoured at midnight - how Mr. Darcy of Clifden, describes a humane gentleman going to a village near that place with some crackers, and standing at the door of a house; “and when he threw the crackers to the children (for he was afraid to enter), the mother attempted to take them from them” - how husband and wife fought like wolves for the last morsel of food in the house; how families, when all was eaten and no hope left, took their last look at the Sun, built up their cottage doors, that none might see them die nor hear their groans, and were found weeks afterwards, skeletons on their own hearth; how the “law” was vindicated all this while; how the Arms Bills were diligently put in force, and many examples were made; how starving wretches were transported for stealing vegetables by night [see footnote, infra]; how overworked coroners declared they would hold no more inquests; how Americans sent corn, and the very Turks, yea, negro slaves, sent money for alms; which the British Government was not ashamed to administer to the “sister country”; and how, in every one of these years, ’46, ’47, and ’48, Ireland was exporting to England, food to the value of fifteen million pounds sterling, and had on her own soil at each harvest, good and ample {xxxix} provision for double her own population, notwithstanding the potato blight.’ (pp.xxxviii-ix.)


‘Here, then, this narrative leaves the general affairs of the country and shrinks to the dimensions of a single prosecution. From the day that I entered my dungeon (the 23rd of May, 1848), I know but by hearsay how the British Government fulfilled the designs and administered the dispensations of Providence in Ireland - how the Famine was successfully exploited; how the Poor-rates doubled and trebled, and were diligently laid out in useless works; how the Orange Lodges were supplied with arms from the Castle; how the mere Celtic peasantry were carefully deprived of all weapons; how the land lords were gradually broken and impoverished by the pressure of rates, until the beneficent “Encumbered Estates Bill” had to come in and solve their difficulties - a great stroke of British policy, whereby it was hoped (now that the tenantry were cleared to the proper point) to clear out the landlords, too, and replace them with English and Scottish purchasers. In short, how the last conquest was consummated, let other pens than mine describe.’ (p.lxiv.)


‘My preface, then, will explain, at least to some readers, what was that motive, spirit and passion which impelled a few Irishmen to brave such risks, and incur so dreadful penalties for the sake of but one chance of rousing their oppressed and degraded {xlvi} countrmen to an effort of manful resistance against their cruel and cunning enemy. /  It will further help to explain the contumacy and inveterately rebellious spirit evident enough in the pages of the “Journal”; and, moreover, will suggest some of those considerations which lead the present writer to differ from the vast majority of mankind, and to assert that his native country has not been, even this time, finally subdued; that this earth was not created to be civilised, ameliorated and devoured by the Anglo-Saxons; that Defeat is not necessarily Wrong; that the British Providence is not Divine; and that his dispensations are not to be submitted to as the inscrutable decrees of God.’ {xlvii}


Footnote: ‘ Bantry Sessions. - Timothy Leary and Mary Leary were indicted for that they, on the 14th January, at Oakmount, did feloniously steal twenty turnips and fifty parsnips, the property of James Gillman. Found guilty. Sentence, transportation for seven years. This is but one of numerous instances.’

—See full text version in RICORSO Library, “Irish Classics”> John Mitchel - via index or direct.

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Jail Journal [1854] (Glasgow Edn. 1876), remarks on demographic plan entailed in Lord Devon’s Digest of Evidence, which seemed to require a reduction of 326,084 occupiers or 192,368 families from Irish arable soil: ‘that is, the killing of a million of persons. Little did the Commissioners hope then that in four years, British policy, with the famine to aid, would succeed in killing fully two millions, and forcing nearly another million to flee the country.’ (Introductory, p.15). [Cont.]

Jail Journal [1854] (Glasgow Edn. 1876) - cont.: ‘The potato blight and consequent famine, placed in the hands of the British government an engine of state by which they were eventually enabled to clear off not a million, but two millions and a half of the “surplus population” - to preserve “law and order” in Ireland (what they called law and order) and to maintain the integrity of the Empire for this time (p.105). [Cont.]

Exiles: ‘An exile in my circumstances is a branch cut from its tree; it is dead and has but an affectation of life.’ (Jail Journal, q.p.; quoted in O’Hegarty, op. cit., 1917, 121; cited in Malcolm Brown, op. cit., 1972, p.135) [See also quotation on suicide, infra.]

Jail Journal (1854) - cont: ‘If a person of education commit the real crime of endeavouring to subvert the social order, to break down the sanction of law, and to destroy the gocernment under which he lives (supposing order, law and government to exist), how does his education entitle him to indulgence above other felons? But possibly you begin to see, gaffer John Buller, that I am no felon at all, and have committed no crime at all, not withstanding your new “Act of Parliament”, in that case made and provided; and you think it impolitic, or else you are ashamed, to proceed, to the uttermost rigour with me. Cowardly John! You ought either not to take up the vigorous policy at all, or else carry it through with a high hand. This is child’s play. Positively I am either a felon or no felon; that is to say, either I am a felon, or you John, are a felon.’ (Jail Journal, IUP rep. edn., 1982, p.12-13; quoted in Joseph Lynch, MA Dipl., UU 2003.)

Castle Catholics: ‘I do not know what they will do upon being made to learn this lesson. I only know what they ought to do. All Catholic judges, assistant-barristers, magistrates, and other functionaries, ought to resign their employments ; all Cathohc policemen ought to strip off their ignominious livery ; all Catholic soldiers ought to desert - in one word, what the CathoUcs ought to do is to tear up society from its roots, but they will be citizens in their own land. What they will do, for the present, is the reverse of all this. Some of the respectable Castle-Catholics will thank me httle for bringing their degradation so prominently into pubUc view ; they think they are emancipated enough, and will curse me by their gods, if they have any. Heaven! where is the great heart of chief and tanist ? How has the rich blood of O'Conor and O'Donnell Roe grown pale! Is this, the stateliest family of the Caucasian race, indeed, starved and kicked into incurable Helotism? / But young Catholics are growing up - even, I trust, in the Castle-going rank of life - who will shame their fathers, and do honour to their ancestors.’ (Jail Journal, 1913 Edn., p.9 [Chap. I].)

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Jail Journal (1854) - cont.: [“Ego”:] ‘Nature has laws. Because the Irish have been taught peacful agitation in their slavery, therefore they have been swept by a plague of hunger worse than many years of bloody fighting. Because they would not fight, they have been made to rot off the face of the earth, that so they might learn at last how deadly a sin is patience and perseverance under a stranger’s yoke.’ (Jail Journal, IUP rep. edn., 1982, p.88; quoted in Joseph Lynch, MA Dip, UU 2003.)

Jail Journal (1854): ‘The very nation that I knew in Ireland is broken and destroyed; and the place that knew it shall know it no more.’ (Jail Journal, Dublin 1913, p.357; quoted in Declan Kiberd, Inventing ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation, 1995, p.99.)

Moorings cut: ‘So my moorings are cut. I am a banished man. And this is no mere relegatio, Like Ovid's, at Tomi; it is utter - interdiction of fire and water; the loss of citizenship, if citizenship I had; the brand of whatsoever ignominy law can inflict, if law there be. Be it so; I am content. There are no citizens in Ireland; there is no citizenship - no law. I cannot lose what I never had; for no Irishman has any rights at present. As for the disgrace of “felony,” that sits very easy upon me. To make me a felon needs an act of my own. No “Act of Parliament” can do it! and what ignominy London “law” can stain an Irishman withal, I am content to underlie till my dying hour. Be that disgrace on my head and on the heads of my children. But for the thought of those children and their mother, and what temporary inconveniences they may suffer before arrangements can be made for their leaving Ireland - but for that I should absolutely feel jolly to-day. There is something independent in setting forth on a voyage of three thousand miles, with an old brown coat on my back, and a few shillings in my tricolor purse. The onus is not upon me. You Sovereign Lady, Queen Nice [i.e., Victoria compared with the Queen of Carthage], have charge of me now; look you take good care of me. I am in your majesty's hands at last; but you may find, O Queen! that I am too dear at the price you have paid, and are like to pay. I will cost you, most dread sovereign, rather more than my rations.’ (Jail Journal, 1913 Edn., p.15.)

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Jail Journal (1854) - writing of Lieut. Alexander Burnes’s Travels into Bokhara (1934): ‘It is apparent that the value of any book is not in the mere thoughts it presents to you, expressed in black-and-white, but rather in those it suggests, occasions, begets in you, far outside the intentions and conceptions of the writer, and even outside the subject of his writing. If some dull rogue writes you an essay, on what he does not understand, you are not bound to follow his [208] chain of reasoning (as perhaps he calls it) - the first link of his chain may fit itself to other links of your own forging, and so you may have whole trains, whole worlds of thought, which need not run upon the dull rogue’s line, nor stop at his terminus.’ (Jail Journal, 1913 Edn., p.120; quoted in Christopher Morash, ‘The Rhetoric of Right in Mitchel’s Jail Journal’, in The Literature of Politics, The Politics of Literature, ed. C. C. Barfoot, et al. [Proceedings of IASIL Leiden 1993], Vol. 1, Amsterdam: Rodopi 1995, pp.207-17; pp.208-09.)

On the Irish language: ‘There is no name for modern enlightenment in Irish, no word corresponding with the “masses” or with “reproductive labour”; in short, the “nineteenth century” would not know itself, could not express itself in Irish.’ (“The Famine Year”, [reprinted as appendix toJail Journal (London: Sphere Books, 1983), p.415; quoted in Fionntán de Brun, in ‘Temporality and Revivalism’ [UU Research Series, April 2011].)

Jail Journal (1854): ‘On their passage up the Indus - when at length they were allowed to go up - they found (what the English always find in any country they have a mind to) that the people were cruelly treated by the native government, and would wish to receive the British with open arms, if the villanous Ameers would only allow them.’ (Jail Journal, IUP rep. edn., 1982, p.99; quoted in Joseph Lynch, MA Dip, UU 2003.)

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History of Ireland [1868], ‘In Ireland they found themselves face to face, not two classes, but two nations; of which the one had substantially the power of life and death over the other. When we add to this that one of these two nations had despoiled [cf. supra] the other of those very lands which the plundered race was now glad to cultivate as rackrented tenants, and also that the dominant nation felt bound to hate the other, both as “rebels” who needed only the opportunity to rise and cut their masters’ throats, and as Papists who clung to the “damnable idolatry” of the Mass, we can easily understand the difficulty of the “landlord and tenant” question in Ireland. [...] All the laws were made not for, but against the great mass of the people; the courts of justice were entirely in the possession of the oppressors; the proscribed race saw only mortal enemies on the bench; enemies in the jury-box, enemies everywhere all around, and were continually made to feel that law and justice were not for them. This of course, in times of distress, threw them back upon the only resource of desperate men, conspiracy, intimidation, and vengeance.’ (p.89; quoted in Rosamund Jacob, The Rise of the United Irishmen, 1927.)

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The Last Conquest of Ireland, Perhaps (London 1861): ‘[...] Yet there are some circumstances which perplex an inquirer who derives his information from the English periodical press. That an island which is said to be an antegral part of the richest empire on the globe - and the most fertile portion of that empire; - with British Constitution, Habeas Corpus, Members of Parliament, and Trial by Jury - should in five years lose two and a half millions of its people (more than one-fourth) by hunger, and fever the consequence of hunger, and flight beyond sea to escape from hunger, - while that empire of which it is said to be a part, was all the while advancing in wealth, prosperity, and comfort, at a faster pace than ever before, - is a matter that seems to ask elucidation. / In the year 1841, Ireland, a country precisely half the size of the State of Georgia, had a population of 8,175,124. The natural rate of increase of population in Ireland, through all her former troubles, would have given upwards of nine millions in. 1851; but in 1851 the Census Commissioners find in Ireland but 6,515,794 living souls.’ (Thom’s Official Directory)’. [Cont.]

Remedies for Ireland ...
‘It may seem astonishing that the gentry of Ireland did not rouse themselves at this frightful prospect, and universally demand the Repeal of the Union. They were the same class, sons of the same men, who had in 1782 wrested the independence of Ireland from an English Government, and enjoyed the fruits of that independence in honour, wealth, and prosperity, for eighteen years! Why not now? It is because, in 1782 the Catholics of Ireland counted as nothing, now they are numerous, enfranchised, exasperated; and the Irish landlords due not trust themselves in Ireland without British support. They looked on tamely, therefore, and saw this deliberate scheme for the pauperization of a nation. They knew it would injure themselves; but they took the injury, took insult along with it, and submitted to be reproached for begging alms, when they demanded restitution of a part of their own means.’ (Letter XIII.)

‘And the people perished more rapidly than ever. The Famine of ’47 was far more terrible and universal than that of the previous year. The Whig Government, bound by political economy, absolutely refused to interfere with market-prices, and the merchants and speculators were, never so busy on both sides of the Channel. In this year it was that the Irish Famine began to be a world’s wonder; and men’s hearts were moved in the uttermost ends of the earth by the recital of its horrors. The London Illustrated News began to be adorned with engravings of tottering, windowless hovels in Skibbereen and elsewhere, with naked wretches dying on a truss of wet straw; and the constant language of English ministers and members in Parliament created the impression abroad that Ireland was in need of alms, and nothing but alms: whereas Irishmen themselves uniformly protested that what they required was Repeal of the Union, so that the English might cease to devour their substance.’ (Letter XIV.)


—For longer extracts from the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen. ed. Seamus Deane (Derry 1992), see attached.

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The Last Conquest of Ireland, Perhaps (1876; 1876 Edn.) - cont: ‘Another thing, which to a spectator must appear anomalous, is that during each of those five years of “famine,” from ’46 to ’51 - that famine-struck land produced more than double the needful sustenance for all her own people; and of the best and choicest kind. Governor Wise, of Virginia, was in Brazil while the ends of the earth were resounding with the cry of Irish starvation; and was surprised to see unloaded at Rio abundance of the best quality of packed beef from Ireland. That the people who were dying of hunger did, in each year of their agony, produce upon Irish ground, of wheat and other grain, and of cattle and poultry, more than double the amount that they could all by any gluttony devour, is a fact that must be not only asserted, but proved beyond doubt.’ [Cont.]

‘That with one hundred and five members in the Parliament of the “United Kingdom,” the Irish people (supposing them to suffer any grievance or injustice) could get no redress; that with the British Constitution, Habeas Corpus, and Trial by Jury, as aforesaid, most Irishmen you meet with in America tell you there is no Law or Justice to be had in Ireland; - that to the benevolent exertions on a vast scale, which English periodicals assure us were made by the Imperial Government to rescue the perishing Irish from their sufferings, that people, though [8] “warm-hearted” to a proverb, respond not only with ingratitude, but with imprecations, - that even now, when the country is, we are assured, prosperous and wealthy, there is still an eager, multitudinous emigration, to fly from such prosperity, - that ail this time, be the island hungry or well fed, prosperous or insolvent, more than one-half of Queen Victoria’s army consists of Irishmen, of all ranks and creeds, who fight as zealously for their Queen (or at least for their pay), in Russia, India, and China, as any other of her troops; - all these phenomena together, present a case not paralleled in any other country or any other age.’ [Cont.]
‘A plain narrative of events may throw some light on it. My authorities shall be principally the Parliamentary Reports, as given in the newspapers of the time; Official Returns and Blue Books, as abstracted in the Government Statistical Directories; Speeches of O’Connell and O’Brien, as well as of Palmerston and Russell; Pamphlets and Memoirs which shall be cited hereafter; and my own personal knowledge. / So much by way of preface and programme. [...]’ (pp.8-9; see —full text at LibraryIreland - online; accessed 19.10.2010.)
‘After all, for what has this sacrifice been made? [...] What have I gained? Questions truly which it behoves me to ask and answer on this evening of my last day (it may be) of civil existence. Dublin City, with its bay and pleasant villas - city of bellowing slaves - villas of genteel dastards - lies now behind us, and the sun has set behind the blue peaks of Wicklow, as we steam past Bray Head, where the Vale of Shanganagh, sloping softly from the Golden Spears, sends its bright river murmuring to the sea. And I am on the first stage of my way, faring to what regions of unknown horror? And may never, never - never more, O! Ireland! - my mother and my queen! - see vale , or hill, or murmuring stream of thine. And why?’ (Jail Journal, Dublin: Gill Edn. 1921, p.4; quoted in Malcolm Brown, The Politics of Irish Literature, 1972, p.137.)
[On the state of W. S. O’Brien, Meagher, and MacManus in Clonmel Gaol after 1848]: ‘A few daring spirits, headed by O’Mahony, once contemplated an attack and rescue; but the people had been too grievously frightened by the priests (on account of their miserable pauper souls), and too effectually starved by the government, to be equal to so dashing an exploit; and so that solemn and elaborate insult was once more put upon our name and nation; and the four men who had sought to save their people form so abject a condition lay undisturbed in Clonmel gaol, sentenced to death. Considering which humiliating picture, one might be tempted to repeat the bitter words of Don Juan D’Aguila, “Surely Christ never died for this people!”’ ( p.206; quoted in Malcolm Brown, op. cit., 1972, p.137.)
‘If my Apology [viz., The Last Conquest], then, shall help to convince my countrymen, and the world, that the English are not more sanguinary and atrocious than any other people would being like case, and under like exigencies; that the disarmament, degradation, extermination, and periodical destruction of the Irish people, are measures of policy dictated not by pure malignity, but my the imperious requirements of the system of empire administered in London; that they must go on, precisely as at present, while the British empire goes on; and that there is no remedy for them under heaven save the dismemberment of that empire; - then the object of my writing shall have been attained.’ (Quoted in W. Dillon, Life of J. Mitchel, vol. 2, p.250; cited in Malcolm Brown, op. cit., 1972, p.146.)
[On the Irish Famine [1]: ‘[a] million and a half men, women, and children were carefully, prudently, and peacefully slain by the English government. They died of hunger in the midst of abundance, which their own hands created; and it is quite immaterial to distinguish those who perished in the agonies of famine itself from those who died of typhus fever, which in Ireland is always caused by famine [...] The Almighty indeed sent the potato blight but the English created the Famine.’ [Cont.]
On the Irish Famine [2]: ‘a calm still horror was over the land [...] a dread, silent, vast dissolution [...] inhuman and unearthly quiet ..[T]he birds of the air carolled no more, and the crow and raven dropped dead upon the wing. [...] [T]he soul of the land was faint and dying [...] You stood there, too, in the presence of something unseen and terrible.’ (Excerpt in Frank O’Connor, ed., Book of Ireland, 1979.)
‘Assuming that Ireland and England are two integral parts of an “United Kingdom” (as we are assured they are), it seems hard to understand why district in Leinster should be rated to relieve a pauper territory in Mayo, and a district in Yorkshire not.’ [Cont.]
‘When the new “Outdoor Relief Act” began to be applied, with its memorable quarter-acre clause, all this process went on with wonderful velocity, and millions of people were soon left landless and homeless. That they should be left landless and homeless was strictly in accordance with British policy; but then there was danger of the millions of outcasts becoming robbers and murderers. Accordingly, the next point was to clear the country of them and diminish the poor rates by emigration.’

[ Many of the foregoing quotations from The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps) given in James S Donnelly, Jr., ‘The Great Famine, its Interpreters, Old and New’, in History Ireland, 1, 2, Autumn 1993, pp.27-33. ]

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Sundry views

Sundry views
Irish history: ‘You little know the history and sore trials and humiliations of this ancient Irish race; ground and trampled first for long ages into the very earth, and then taught - expressly taught - in solemn harangues and even in sermons, that it was their duty to die, and see their children die before their faces, rather than resist their tyrants, as men ought. [...] But I tell you the light has at length come too them; the flowery spring of this year is the dawning of their day; and before the cornfields of Ireland are white for the reaper our eyes shall see the sun flash gloriously, if the heavens be kind to us, on a hundred thousand pikes.’ (United Irishman, 13 May 1848; cited in Malcolm Brown, The Politics of Irish Literature, 1972, p.110.)

The Famine: ‘In the depth of winter we travelled to Galway, through the very centre of that fertile island, and saw sights that will never wholly leave the eyes that beheld them: cowering wretches, almost naked in the savage weather, prowling in turnip-fields, and endeavouring to grub up roots which left, but running to hide as the mail-coach rolled by: very large fields, where small farms, had been “consolidated,” showing dark bare of fresh mould running through them, where the ditches had been levelled: - groups and families, sitting or wandering on high-road, with failing steps and dim, patient eyes, gazing hopelessly into infinite darkness; before them, around them, above them, nothing but darkness and despair: parties of tall, brawny men, once the flower of Meath and Galway, stalking by with a fierce but vacant scowl; as if they knew that all this ought not to be, but knew not whom to blame, saw none whom they could rend in their wrath; for Lord John Russell sat safe in Chesham Place; and Trevelyn, the grand commissioner and factotum of the pauper-system, wove his web of red tape around them from afar. So cunningly does civilisation work! Around these farmhouses which were still inhabited were to be seen hardly any stacks of grain; it was all gone; the poor-rate collector, the rent-agent, the county-cess collector, had carried it off: and sometimes I could see, in front of the cottages, little children leaning against a fence when the sun shone out, - for they could not stand, - their limbs fleshless, their bodies half-naked, their faces bloated yet wrinkled, and of a pale, greenish hue, - children who would never, it was too plain, grow up to be men and women. I saw Trevelyan’s claw in the vitals of those children: his red tape would draw them to death. in his government laboratory he had prepared for than, the typhus poison.’ (From The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps), given in The Cabinet of Irish Literature, ed. T. P. O’Connor [1880], rev. edn. by Katherine Tynan (1902-03, Vol. 3, pp.70-78; p.76.) [For further extracts from Cabinet, see attached.]

1851 Census: ‘1841-1851: Those ten short years have seen more grievous and overwhelming changes in Ireland than befall to other countries in the course of centuries. Down the long files of figures on the census Table is indexed one of the most mournful histories the eye of GOD has ever rested upon. Within ten years the world has advanced greatly toward its goal - noble thoughts and actions keeping apt harmony with the music of the spheres [...]. But Ireland has struggled and starved for ten years [...]. Of all the wide world, ours is the only country we know of that, during this decade, has retrograded in the scale of national strength and liberty.’ (‘The Age we Live In’, in Irishman, I, 29; 21 July 1849, p.49; quoted in Chris Morash, ‘Mitchel’s Hunger’ [chap.], in Writing the Famine, Clarendon Press 1995, pp.52-78, p.56. Note: [D. P.] Moran quotes this passage in the context of an argument that foregrounds Macaulay’s assertion that the History of England is ‘emphatically the history of progress’; p.52.)

Cf. Séamus Ó Grianna, in Saol Corrach (Dublin 1945): “Bheadh sé creidte agam nárbh fhiú dadaidh an eagnaíocht a bhí ag fealsaimh an tseansaoil le taobh na heagnaíochta a bhí ag Bacon agus ag Macaulay. [I would have been led to believe that the wisdom of classical philosophers was worth nothing compared with the wisdom of Bacon and Macaulay.” (p.18; quoted [and trans.] by Fionntán de Brun, in ‘Temporality and Revivalism’ [UU Research Series, April 2011].)

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British prestige: ‘The British empoire as it stands, looks vast ans strong; but none know so well as the statesmen of tha tcountry how intrinsically feeble it is: and how entirely it depends for its existence on prestige.’ ‘England herseslf that begged for us, that ssent round the hat all over the globe, asking a penny for the love of God to relieve the poor Irish; - and further, that, constituting herself the almoner and agent of all that charity, she, English, took all the profits of it.’ (The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps), Dublin: Glasgow: R T. Washbourne [1861]). p.38; quoted in Joseph Lynch, MA Dip., UU 2003.)

J’accuse: ‘Before the grave had yet closed on Thomas Davis [there] began to spread awful rumours of approaching famine. Within the next month from all the counties of Ireland came one cry of mortal terror. Blight had fallen on the crop of potatoes - the food on which five million of the Irish people had been reduced to depend for subsistence; three millions of them wholly and exclusively. We are at the beginning of the first year of the six years' Famine. / To Sir Robert Peel it would have seemed an impious tempting of Providence to neglect this weapon graciously placed in his hand for the consummation of the conquest on which he was bent. If the “Repeal” could not be crushed out by coercion, nor bought out by corruption, it might now be starved out by Famine. The thing was done by a process of “relieving” and “ameliorating”; - for in the nineteenth century civilised governments always proceed upon the most benevolent motives; - but it was done; and so effectually done for that time, that, a few years afterwards, the London Times (perhaps prematurely) thought it might announce “The Celts are gone - gone with a vengeance. The Lord be praised.”’ (Last Conquest of Ireland, Letter X; rep. in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, gen. ed., Seamus Deane, Derry: Field Day 1991, Vol. 2, p.178. A footnote observes that concluding remark [in quotations] was later afterwards quoted by Michael Davitt and others.) [For longer extracts, see attached.]

Suicide?: ‘If I die by my own hand, I will be worse than forgotten - I will have confessed that England’s brute power is resistless, and therefore righteous - at any rate that I for my part am a beaten man. It will be my last speech and dying declaration, imploring my countrymen to avoid the terrible fangs of British law - my pupils will hang their heads for shame; and, insteaad of an example I shall become a warning.’ (Jail Journal, 1913 pp.48-49; quoted in Joseph Lynch, MA Dip, UU 2003 [citing IUP rep. [facs.] edn., 1982, idem.)

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