Chew Yong Jack of the University Scholar's Programme, created the electronic text using OmniPage Pro OCR software, and created the HTML version. Edited and added by Marjie Bloy, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore. Cecil Woodham Smith, The Reason Why (New York , McGraw-Hill 1953) pp.114-129.
In January  Parliament in London repealed the duties on the importation of foreign corn, the 'corn laws', and an attempt was made to replace the potato by supplies of Indian corn, unknown as a food in the United Kingdom. A start was made too towards establishing a system of public works to provide the people with money with which food might be purchased, since wages in Ireland were almost unknown. It was at this juncture that the Duke of Norfolk suggested that the Irish should substitute curry powder for the potato and nourish themselves on curry powder mixed with water.
Nevertheless, hope ran high in 1846: the Irish had a tradition that when the potato crop failed next year's crop was exceptionally abundant. The growing of crops other than potatoes was not attempted, because the people had no implements, no seeds and no knowledge of how to cultivate anything else. Once again almost all Ireland became a potato-field.
The plants came up strong and sturdy. May and June gave every promise of a bountiful harvest, and through the first weeks of July the plants bloomed richly, and the weather was good. Then disaster struck.
Father Mathew, the famous Temperance reformer, travelling from Cork to Dublin on July 27th, saw the 'plant blooming in all the luxuriance of an abundant harvest'. Five days later he travelled back to find 'one wide waste of putrefying vegetation'. At the edge of their decaying patches the people sat weeping and wringing their hands.
In Clare, Captain Mann, R.N., Senior Coastguard officer 'passed over thirty-two miles, thickly studded with potato fields in full bloom'. A day later 'the whole face of the country was changed; the stalk remained bright green, but the leaves were all scorched black. It was the work of a night'.
The disease appeared first in the form of a small brown spot on the leaf, the spots spread, the foliage withered, and the stem snapped off. In two or three days all was over, and the fields were covered with blackened plants, giving off a sickening smell of decay. The potato tubers, if lifted, were hard, withered and the size of walnuts.
In England, too, the potato crop failed partially, and potatoes became a luxury. In France, Belgium, Holland and Italy both potato and rye crops entirely failed. Prices rose steeply, freight charges more than doubled and such supplies of grain and other foods as were available instead of being sent to relieve Ireland were diverted to the Continent.
Famine began in earnest. The magnitude of the disaster was almost inconceivable. The people of Ireland had no food, no money, were in any case entirely unaccustomed to buying food; in the west of Ireland no organisation existed, no corn-factor, miller, baker or provision dealer, through which to bring food to them. The evils of subletting and subdividing now disclosed themselves with frightful effect. Captain Mann quotes a typical case of a landlord, occasionally resident, who let his land to a middleman at ten shillings an acre. The middleman also re-let it. It was again and again re-let, until the price received for a quarter of an acre was £1 10s. In 1846 the landlord, by no means a hard-hearted man, applied to the Society of Friends for food for his starving tenants. He calculated that he had about sixty to provide for, and was ' terrified' to receive over 600 applications. He had never inspected his farms.
All over Ireland famished multitudes, whose existence was utterly unsuspected and unknown, rose like spectres, from the ground, demanding food.
The Government of Great Britain regarded the starving multitudes with the utmost apprehension. Distress and starvation in Ireland — the very words, woefully familiar, evoked hopelessness. Was the Government to tie the frightful burden of responsibility for the support of eight million people round the neck of the British tax-payer? It was decided to proceed with great caution. Extravagant action, large Government purchases of food from abroad, for instance, would inevitably upset the normal course of English trade. To preserve the normal course of English trade became the first object. No orders for supplies of food would be sent by the Government to foreign countries, they would rely on private enterprise to find food for the starving multitudes. No Government depots for the sale of food were to be established, except in the West of Ireland, where dealers were unknown. Wages were to be earned through the relief works, and new roads were to be made; but works for the improvement of the land were not to be undertaken, through a fear of favouritism and corruption.
The winter of 1846 was exceptionally severe. Wages paid by the relief works, eightpence to tenpence a day, were insufficient, and women wept as their men brought home insufficient money to buy food. The Irish peasant was accustomed to spend the cold, wet winter crouching over his turf fire, and the half-starved multitudes caught cold and died. An officer of the Board of Trade said he was ashamed to require men in such an emaciated condition to work. In any case works were slow in starting, and many districts had no relief. By December, 1846, cholera had appeared. On December 17th a Mr. O'Brien wrote a letter to the Duke of Wellington describing a visit to Skibbereen. He found the village apparently deserted, but on entering one of the cabins he discovered
six famished and ghastly skeletons, to all appearance dead, huddled in a corner, their sole covering what seemed to be a ragged horse cloth, and their wretched legs hanging about, naked above the knees. I approached in horror and found by a low moaning that they were alive, they were in fever — four children, a woman and what had once been a man... In a few minutes I was surrounded by at least 200 of such phantoms, such frightful spectres as no words can describe. By far the greater number were delirious either from famine or fever . . . Within 500 yards of the Cavalry Station at Skibbereen, the dispensary doctor found seven wretches lying, unable to move, under the same cloak — one had been dead many hours, but the others were unable to move, either themselves or the corpse.
Josephine Butler, as a young girl, was in Ireland during the famine years.
I can recollect [she writes] being awakened in the early morning by a strange noise, like the croaking or chattering of many birds. Some of the voices were hoarse and almost extinguished by the faintness of famine; and on looking out of the window I recollect seeing the garden and the field in front of the house completely darkened by a population of men women and children, squatting in rags; uncovered skeleton limbs protruding everywhere from their wretched clothing, and clamorous though faint voices uplifted for food and in pathetic remonstrance against the inevitable delay in providing what was given them from the house every morning. I recollect too, when walking through the lanes and villages, the strange morbid famine smell in the air, the sign of approaching death, even in those who were still dragging out a wretched existence
In poverty-stricken and backward Mayo the famine was at its most severe. Starving and dying, the people came into Castlebar and roamed the streets, begging for food. William Forster, the Quaker, who made his headquarters at Castlebar, particularly remembered the children, with 'their death-like faces and drum-stick arms that seemed ready to snap'. It was a common occurrence, when the front door of a house was opened in the morning, to find leaning against it the corpse of some victim who had sunk to rest on the doorstep and died during the night. Dead bodies lay by the side of the roads leading into Castlebar, men and women who had fallen by the wayside were seen struggling in vain to rise until, with a low moan, they collapsed in death, while in remote hamlets, unknown to the outside world, every soul was found to have perished — the people had become too weak to fly from death.
To the Earl of Lucan famine horrors were so many convincing demonstrations of the urgent necessity of clearing the land. The land could not support the people, could never support the people; so the people must go. He did not consider it was his responsibility, any more than the English Government considered it was their responsibility, to arrange how the people should go and where. He was getting nothing from his estates, all his rents and a great deal more were being put back into the land, and on one farm alone he spent £8,000; he was doing his share, and more than his share. To bolster up a hopelessly false economy, to pour out money, badly needed to improve the land, on paupers who could never be anything but paupers, was criminal sentimentality. A large part of the population of Ireland must disappear.
Evictions became wholesale on the Earl of Lucan's estates. Ten thousand people were ejected from the neighbourhood of Ballinrobe, and 15,000 acres cleared and put in charge of Scotsmen. A relieving officer told Sir Francis Head, an English observer, that the destitution caused by Lord Lucan was 'immense'. Pointing to an eminence enclosed by a capital wall and in a good state of cultivation, he said, 'That was a densely populated hill called Staball. All the houses were thrown down'. Several populous villages in the neighbourhood of Castlebar completely disappeared, farms being established on the sites. Behind Castlebar House the Earl of Lucan established a large dairy farm; the yard and buildings of this farm, which covered three acres, were cleared in the town of Castlebar itself — whole streets were demolished and the stones from the walls used to build barns and boundary walls.
Terror seized Mayo. The people, ignorant, starving and terrified, clung desperately to the land. They could not be got rid of — turned out of their cabins they took refuge with neighbours, or crept back in the night and hid in ditches. It was necessary to forbid any tenant to receive the evicted, on pain of being evicted himself; it was necessary to drive them out of the ditches; finally it was necessary to organise gangs, known as 'crow-bar brigades', to pull down cabins over the heads of people who refused to leave them. The Bishop of Meath saw a cabin being pulled down over the heads of people dying of cholera: a winnowing sheet was placed over their bodies as they lay on the ground, and the cabin was demolished over their heads. He administered the Sacrament for the dying in the open air, and since it was during the equinoctial gales, in torrents of rain.
Sick and aged, little children, and women with child were alike thrust forth into the cold snows of winter, [writes Josephine Butler], for the winters of 1846 and 1847 were exceptionally severe and to prevent their return their cabins were levelled to the ground ... the few remaining tenants were forbidden to receive the outcasts ... The majority rendered penniless by the years of famine, wandered aimlessly about the roads and bogs till they found refuge in the workhouse or the grave.
In addition to the crowbar brigade, a 'machine of ropes and pulleys' was devised for the destruction of more solid houses. It consisted of massive iron levers, hooks and a chain to which horses were yoked.
By fixing the hooks and levers at proper points, at one crack of the whip and pull of the horses the roof was brought in. By similar gripping of the coign stone the house walls were torn to pieces. It was found that two of these machines enabled a sheriff to evict as many families in a day as could be got through by a crowbar brigade of fifty men. It was not an unusual occurrence to see forty or fifty houses levelled in one day, and orders given that no tenant or occupier should give them even a night's shelter.
Imprecations and curses were hurled at the Earl of Lucan as village after village was blotted out. He was called the 'Exterminator'. It was said that he regarded his tenants as vermin to be cleared off his land. But he held relentlessly to his view. There was only one solution for Ireland — a large part of the population must disappear.
Meanwhile, in London the Government became seriously disturbed. The number of persons on relief was increasing with terrifying speed: by January, 1847, half a million men were employed on relief work on the roads, and more than two million were receiving food; and each day added fresh tens of thousands. There was apparently no end to the helpless starving multitudes of Ireland. Moreover, the relief works were unsatisfactory, for a variety of reasons persons not entitled to relief were receiving it, the attraction of wages was so strong that the fields were being deserted for the roads, and the construction work was so badly done that the new roads were useless.
Parliament turned angrily on the Irish landlords. How had they ever allowed this state of things to come about? What had they done to prevent or to remedy the disaster? The Irish landlords had come forward with no plan, they had provided the Government with no information, they had assumed no responsibility, the miserable hordes perishing on their very doorsteps had been callously ignored. All they had done was to 'sit down and howl for English money'.
On February 15th, 1847, Lord Brougham attacked the Earl of Lucan in the House of Lords. In Mayo 6,000 processes had been served, 4,000 of which were for rent.
The landlord in Mayo had thought it necessary to serve his tenants with notice to quit in the midst of one of the most severe winters that had ever been known, in the midst of the pestilence too which followed, as it generally did, in the train of famine. He had turned out these wretched creatures when there was no food in the country and no money to buy it.
Six thousand evictions might involve more than 40,000 people, as the average Irish family consisted of seven persons. What, asked Lord Brougham, was the result of this wholesale clearance? A great flood of Irish paupers had begun to pour across the Irish Channel into Liverpool and Glasgow. At Liverpool in the last five days 5,200 paupers were landed, without possessions of any kind, in an advanced state of starvation, and with the cholera among them. They did not come to emigrate, because they had no money and the emigration season did not begin until the end of March or the beginning of April. They came to be fed. Large numbers of these people had come from Mayo.
Lord Lucan's defence was irritable. Anyone who knew anything about Ireland knew that processes were not evictions. The trouble at the present moment was that people made themselves heard who knew nothing about Ireland. Processes were actions for recovery of rent brought usually by middlemen, and he challenged the figure of 6,000.
Lord Brougham informed the House that the figure was an official return quoted in the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It appeared that a new system of clearing land was being adopted in Mayo and that the processes now before the courts were novel in Ireland. There had previously been a right of levying a distress on goods and chattels for rent, but this year in Mayo there were no goods and chattels left, so the person of the debtor was to be attached — that is, he was to be imprisoned. The husband and father was to be removed, and the wife and children were to be left to fend for themselves. It was usual in Ireland to allow three months' grace for payment of rent, but this year in Mayo no such period was allowed. The landlords had calculated that these processes would have all the efficiency of evictions, and they had been proved right. The people were distracted by the loss of their potato crop, feared the land would never produce a similar crop again, were terrified by the evictions all round them, were starving and in despair. Before the processes could be heard, people by the thousand abandoned their holdings and fled. Yet when, said Lord Brougham, he connected the poverty now inundating the ports of England with the legal processes carried on in Mayo, he excited the indignation of his noble friend, and he was told he knew nothing about it.
The Marquess of Westmeath rose to observe that it ought to be known that the people who had so left the country had omitted to give up possession of the tenements they held. The very circumstances of having acted in that way showed great dishonesty of principle. What could be more so than for individuals to leave the country still holding possession — a procedure which threw a great deal of trouble on the injured party in obtaining possession of property thus deserted.
The noble Marquess's complaint did not strike the House of Lords as unreasonable. Was not the starving condition of the peasantry involving the landlords of Ireland in immense losses, and was it not the duty of the peasantry to realise their responsibility and do everything in their power to minimise these losses? No one rose to comment on the Marquess of Westmeath's statement, and the debate on the distress in Ireland came to an end.
Early in 1847 William Forster, a member of the Relief Committee of the Society of Friends, visited Castlebar. The suffering, he noted, was very severe. About 1,200 were being relieved daily in Castlebar by the charity of the townspeople, and some clothing had been made; but the work was stopping for want of funds. Outside Castlebar, out of 460 persons examined, 364 were completely destitute. Nothing, he commented, seemed to have been attempted in the way of relief on the Connaught side of the Shannon, and he cited the case of the Castlebar Union Workhouse. The Castlebar Union was capable of taking 600-700 persons, but the gates had been closed by order of the Chairman of the Board of Guardians. The Chairman was the Earl of Lucan.
Huge and forbidding, the Castlebar Union had opened its doors in 1841. Built from blocks of grey stone, surrounded by high walls, standing outside the town on bare and treeless land, and appearing half fortress and half prison, it was regarded by the people of Mayo with dread. Within were stone walls of great thickness, immense wards with wooden platforms where the paupers lay on straw, bareness, chill, inhuman emptiness. But there was food, however revolting, however meagre; and the Union was besieged. Starving mothers dragged their children to the Union doors and besought that they at least should be taken in, whole families made their painful way from the wild lands and collapsed moaning in the courtyard when they were refused.
On February 15th, 1847, Viscount Duncan asked a question in the House of Commons. It had been reported in the newspapers that the Earl of Lucan, Lord Lieutenant of Mayo and Chairman of the Board of Poor Law Guardians of the Castlebar Union, with twelve other magistrates, had been dismissed by the Poor Law Commissioners for not performing his duties. Was that statement correct?
Viscount Duncan produced facts from the Report of the Assistant Poor Law Commissioners. The Castlebar Union workhouse had been built to hold 600-700 persons, but had never contained more than 140. After the potato failure, when distress became acute, its doors were closed and all relief refused. The inmates still in the workhouse were neglected and starved and commonly left without food or attention for twenty-four hours at a time. Very many died, and since there were no coffins, their bodies were left to rot in the dead house. On October 26th, 1846, the Earl of Lucan, Chairman of the Board of Guardians, had declared the workhouse bankrupt, and, in spite of vehement protests from the Poor Law Commissioner, ordered the Castlebar Union to be entirely closed down. At that time over £1,000 of poor rate were owing, one of the principal debtors being the Earl of Lucan himself. It was customary, when money was urgently required, to 'strike' a new rate, that is, to make a fresh assessment and a fresh collection, but this the Earl of Lucan had refused to order. As a result of suspending relief and shutting the doors of the workhouse, upwards of one hundred persons had died of starvation in its immediate vicinity, and a protest had been made by the coroner who held the inquests upon the corpses.
On February 16th, 1847, the Earl of Lucan defended himself in the House of Lords. He was not a man to evade his obligations; though harsh and pitiless he was not one of the landlords who contributed a penny in the pound from their Irish rents to famine relief and continued to enjoy themselves on the other side of the Irish Channel. It was repeatedly, and unwillingly, admitted in the House that his energies were devoted to improving his Irish estates, and that he spent far more on them than the income from his Irish rents. But, inflexibly determined to get rid of the old system, he allowed no mercy to temper his ruthlessness.
He was very angry. He told the House of Lords that anyone who knew anything about Ireland was aware that the organisation of the country had entirely broken down. The Castlebar Union was not warmed because the fuel contractor had failed to fulfil his contract. He, Lord Lucan, had ordered his own agent to produce fuel, but the reply was that in the present state of the country none could be got. The same situation obtained for bread. The supply failed, a fresh supply was ordered, but none was forthcoming. In September he had been requested to come to London to make a representation to the Government on the state of Ireland. On his return, on September 28th, he took the chair at a meeting of the Board of Guardians. He was then informed that all the contracts for the supply of provisions had expired, that not one single fresh tender had been received by the Board, and even if tenders were received there was not one farthing of money to pay for them. The question at that moment was not merely of closing the workhouse for the future, but of putting out those who were actually in it. He then volunteered to keep the workhouse open at his own expense, and this he had done for four weeks. He would like to know what would have happened if he had not come forward.
He entirely denied that he was a debtor for rates. All the rates for which he was responsible were punctually paid. What happened was that when his tenants did not pay he was debited, and for those rates he declined to be liable. As for striking a new rate, it was ridiculous and unjust to strike a new rate while so large a proportion of the old rate was still outstanding, and, in any case, owing to the high proportion of very small holdings in Mayo, striking a rate took too long to be efficacious. Distresses should be levied, and those who owed rates should be forced to pay. He observed that he had been favoured with many declarations about the horrors of starvation, but no practical suggestions.
No man was ever more certain of being in the right. But was he justified, was there nothing to be done for the miserable beings lying clown to die as the gates of the workhouse were shut in their faces? The House resented his inhumanity, and the subject was not allowed to drop: the Earl of Lucan and the Castlebar Union were brought up again and again in the Commons, while in the Lords, Lord Brougham, the scourge of Irish landlords, pursued the subject of evictions in Mayo. Within a few weeks however the Earl of Lucan was no longer present to reply; he had gone back to Ireland, where a fresh tide of misfortune was sweeping over the Irish people.
Every effort to keep in check the numbers on relief had failed. By March, 1847, more than three-quarters of a million men were working on the roads; and three million persons were on relief. Since January, in eight weeks, an extra million and a quarter persons had thrown themselves on the Government for support, and on February 19th it was announced in the House of Commons that fifteen thousand persons were dying every day in Ireland. From uneasiness, the Government passed to alarm. The public works were sliding into chaos, and peculation and false returns were reported from all sides. When the Government felt that England was being 'drawn into what threatened to become a gigantic system of permanently supporting one portion of the community at the expense of the remainder', drastic action was taken. The public works were closed. On March 20th, twenty per cent of the workers on the roads were struck off, successive reductions of 20 per cent following until all had been dismissed. At the same time the method of distributing relief was changed and tightened up. Uncooked food was not now to be distributed. Eminent doctors had been consulted, and the daily ration was fixed at one pound of maize meal and rice steamed solid so that it could be carried away, or a quart of soup thickened with meal, along with a pound and a quarter of bread. This ration was to be collected each day in person by everyone except the sick, the aged and young children, and, with a few rare exceptions, there was an additional and severe condition — no one occupying more than a quarter of an acre of land was to be entitled to relief.
That spring the roads to the ports of Ireland became thronged with people flying from certain death. Not half the land had been sown with any kind of crop: the people were accustomed only to a primitive method of potato culture, and though the Government had sent round lecturers to teach them to sow wheat, they had not been able to understand what was said. In some districts the starving peasantry had received pamphlets containing extracts from Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. There was want of everything: implements, manure, seed, knowledge, and, after a year's starvation, energy. Above all, there was a fatal want of goodwill. 'If only,' wrote William Smith, an English engineer in charge of public works, 'the people had been treated with a little kindness.' As the year advanced it became evident that the harvest of 1847 had completely failed, and the throng on the roads steadily grew. The 'quarter-acre' clause proved fatal, and thousands who had clung to their patches were forced to give them up to obtain food. The food was not enough, and women wailed as they carried it home to their children; and a coroner's jury in Connaught, holding an inquest on a woman found dead of starvation, brought in a verdict of wilful murder against the Prime Minister, Lord John Russell. Once the patches had been given up, the landlords would not let the people stay: a new race of beggars must not be allowed to grow up on the land. Flight or death was the choice. The people tramped to the ports, for as little as half a crown were transported across the Irish Channel, and the destitute and starving came into the industrial towns of England like an avalanche. Between January 13th and November 1st, 278,000 Irish poured into Liverpool, 80,000 into Glasgow, while in Manchester outdoor relief was given to 4,000 a week. Nineteen relieving officers and thirty Roman Catholic priests caught the cholera and died.
The dearest wish of these people was to emigrate, to Canada, to Australia, above all to the United States, but the English Government decided not to undertake any scheme to assist emigration. It was felt that 'a burden would be transferred to the tax-payers of the United Kingdom which would otherwise be borne by those to whom it properly belonged, owing to their interests being more immediately concerned'. Considerable Irish emigration had already taken place, however, and those Irish already established assisted their relations and friends with extraordinary generosity. In New York the sum required for a family would be made up from small subscriptions, often from strangers, given by the Irish labouring poor. Between £4 and £5 was charged for the passage, the emigrants providing their own food. The English Government did not inspect or regulate the ships, and the greed of the speculator was subject to no control. Inconceivable miseries were endured on the long voyage across the Atlantic, made in small sailing-ships. The low fare charged resulted in only the worst kind of vessels being used, and in hundreds of cases ships, known as 'coffin ships', which were notoriously unseaworthy were cheaply hired by speculators. The emigrants were crammed in regardless of health, safety or decency, they were in the last extreme of misery and poverty, often had been unable to provide themselves with adequate supplies of food, often had the cholera upon them. Of 89,738 persons who emigrated to Canada during 1847, 15,330 perished.
The winter of 1847 was again exceptionally severe, with heavy falls of snow, sleet and gales of icy wind. But when spring came a change had taken place. The demolishing machine and the crowbar brigade were no longer needed the period of mass evictions was over. Thousands had died, thousands had fled, thousands were still dying and fleeing, and the problem was solved — the people had disappeared. In Mayo alone it was estimated that 100,000 acres lay without a single tenant. The harvest of 1848 proved a good harvest, and the famine was over.
On November 16th, 1849, The Times published a long letter which was reprinted next day as a leading article. The writer of the letter, the Reverend and Honourable Sidney Godolphin Osborne, had just travelled through Mayo as The Times correspondent and special commissioner. A fearless, indeed a bellicose — philanthropist, he was later to be one of Miss Nightingale's chief supporters and lieutenants in the hospitals at Scutari. Lord Lucan was 'utterly unknown to him', and they did not meet when Sidney Godolphin Osborne was at Castlebar, because Lord Lucan happened to be in England.
Lord Lucan is [he wrote] eminently a practical man; that which he determines to do he sets about at once, suffering no expense of pocket or popularity to interrupt him. He is one of the few landlords left in the West of Ireland who reside on and perseveringly endeavour to improve their property. He has been one of those who, finding their estates occupied by masses of small tenants, the majority of whom could not pay rent or taxes, and were in fact paupers, looked the matter in the face and saw that he had the option either of allowing them to remain, and thus to self confiscate his whole property, or of removing them by legal process, and have at least the forlorn hope that should better times arrive he might have this property prepared for a more wholesome system of occupation. I, it is true, have heard him called by very hard names; he has earned himself the character of 'a great exterminator' ... I saw sufficient remains of his exterminating system, in the shape of roofless cabins and roofless villages, which I was informed were on his property, to make my heart bleed for the suffering these evictions must have created... But if I saw this, I saw also, what is not often seen in Ireland, the so-called exterminator giving his every effort, at any cost, to lay the foundation of a system of cultivation which should give to a future generation, if not to this generation of peasantry, comfortable dwellings, with fair wages for fair work as farm servants, in place of the precarious livelihood that had been the peasant's lot as an occupant of the land himself ... I could have wished and prayed from my heart that the stern law of necessity had not driven him, and many other landlords, to the defence of their property by a course which has wrung the hearts and kindled the worst feelings of hundreds of their fellow creatures... I can believe that had Providence not blighted the potato ... the system of extermination would not have been carried out in the hurried manner it latterly has been, and the transition of the peasantry from the condition of small owners to that of hired labourers would have been attempted with more deliberation. Three successive years of famine, however, brought the struggle between poverty and property at once to a crisis...
Now, Sir, if a Landlord is to be found resident ... cultivating large tracts of land in the best possible manner ... he does appear to me to deserve no little credit ... It matters not whether he is a popular or an unpopular man, what his creed, what his station; there he is, having weathered so far the storm, always called up by one who, careless of present odium, aims at a given end however painful the means of its attainment, and halts not until he as attained it.
Sidney Godolphin Osborne was genuinely a philanthropist, but how little he felt for the Irish people! He was genuinely a liberal but how little he foresaw! He felt no more responsibility for the fate of the doomed and wretched masses of Ireland than the Earl of Lucan. The population of Ireland had to be reduced, that was clear, and as a humane man he felt regret that an unavoidable necessity should also be painful, but he felt no more. What happens to the rabbits when the warren is cleared? What happens to the rooks when the trees are cut down? Somehow, somewhere they disappear — and so must the Irish.
No faintest apprehension of the fatal result crossed the minds of landlords, statesmen and philanthropists. As the 'coffin ships' made their slow voyage across the Atlantic, a voyage said by men who had experienced both to transcend in horror the dreaded middle passage of the slave trade, they bore with them a cargo of hatred. In that new world which had been called into being to redress the balance of the old there was to grow up a population among whom animosity to England was a creed, whose burning resentment could never be appeased, who, possessing the long memory of Ireland, could never forget. The Irish famine was to be paid for by England at a terrible price; out of it was born Irish America.
Last modified 11 October 2002