Guest Author - Tony King
When the Great Irish Famine devasted the country in 1845, the only recourse the native Irish had was to flee the disaster and emigrate around the world.
The potato blight hit so suddenly and with such horrorthat people were left almost overnight with nothing to eat and no way to make money to support themselves and their families. By the end of the worst years of the famine, 1847-1849, more than one million Irish men,women and children had died from starvation or a myriad variety of accompanying diseases.
More than another half a million were evicted by their landlords and most of these were shipped off in overcrowded "death ships" to Canada with no food,little water and no type of medical supervision. Already weak from malnutrition and sick from the many diseases,more than half of these died long before the voyage was complete. The death toll on these ships was so great that it was reported that sharks could be seen following the ships as the bodies were continuously thrown overboard.
Although Ireland was ruled from London and the people were ostensibly British subjects,the English government washed its hands of the "Irish problem" and the burden for the cost and responsibility of famine relief fell upon the shoulders of the Irish property owners. They immediateloy closed down the public assistance programs and soup kitchens which had been established as a "temporary solution" after the first crop failure.
A Society of Friends Quaker, William Forster, had maintained his church's relief for the poor in opposition to the Government's declaration of the passing of the "Poor Law" by which anyone seeking relief who owned more than a quarter acre of land had to forfeit the land in order to get help ---even from private organisations. People could only get relief if they went as destitutes to workhouses already overflowing with widows, children,the elderly and the sick and dying. People were turned away in huge numbers and simply wandered the countryside, living mostly in caves and under bridges. Those who died were left by their relatives or friends just where they lay to be devoured by wild animals and the carrion birds of the air.
Forster reported that "ten thousand persons were found living in a state of degradation and filth which it is difficult to believe the most barbarous nations ever exceeded."
With all the stupidity demonstrated by careless and greedy governments,the British Parliament called for additional efforts to be made in the collection of taxes with the result that tax collectors seized livestock, furniture, clothes and tools from homeless paupers.
It was quoted at the time that "The Almighty indeed sent the potato blight but the English created the famine."
Yet as always--- out of man's inhumanity to his fellow man often come stories of great achievement and success. The most famous "Famine" story is the tale of "The Even if it is square --but the normal is round
Nine Famous Irishmen" which has been reprinted in various forms around the world.
In the 1848 revolt by the Young Irishmen nine men were captured, tried, and convicted of treason against Her Majesty, the Queen, and were sentenced to death: John Mitchell, Morris Lyene, Pat Donahue, Thomas McGee, Charles Duffy, Thomas Meagher, Richard O’Gorman, Terrence McManus, Michael Ireland.
Before sentence was passed, the condemned men were asked if they had any final words for the court. Thomas Meagher, speaking for all of them said, "My lord, this is our first offense but it won't be our last. If you will be easy with us this once, we promise, on our word as gentlemen, to try to do better next time. And next time - sure we won’t be fools enough to get caught."
Immediately the indignant judge sentenced them all "to be hanged by the neck until dead and drawn and quartered" ----the normal "civilized" punishment for anyone offending the English crown at that time. Passionate protests from all over the world forced the sentence to be commuted to transportation for life to the wretched penal colonies of Australia.
Fortunately, the hand of the Almighty often over-rules the plans of even the British Government.
In 1874, word reached England that Charles Duffy who had been elected Prime Minister of Australia was the same Charles Duffy who had been transported 25 years before. On the Queen’s demand, the records of the rest of the transported men were revealed and this is what was uncovered:
JOHN MITCHELL, prominent New York politician. This was the father of John
Purroy Mitchell, Mayor of New York, at the outbreak of World War I.
MORRIS LYENE, Attorney General of Australia, to which office
MICHAEL IRELAND succeeded him
PATRICK DONAHUE, Brigadier General, United States Army
THOMAS D’ARCY McGEE, Member of Parliament, Montreal, Minister of
Agriculture and President of Council Dominion of Canada
THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER, Governor of Montana
TERRENCE MCMANUS, Brigadier General, United States Army
RICHARD O’GORMAN, Governor General of Newfoundland
Often as we go through the heartaches and sufferings that life brings our way, it might be good for all of us to remember these nine men and the sentence of death that hung over them. The old saying is still true: "Man proposes, but God disposes".