Views of Ireland
The passage of years brings an increasing cynicism about human nature, particularly about those who would set themselves as moral guardians above others.
It being the 175th anniversary of ‘Black ’47.’ the worst year of the Irish famine. I bought a copy of Tim Pat Coogan’s The Famine Plot.
Insofar as any politician emerges with any degree of credibility, it is the Tory Robert Peel who saw how free trade could bring benefits, but also understood the need for the state to intervene where the market failed.
A surprise came with a reading of social reformers’ reflections on Ireland and the famine.
Charles Kingsley, the novelist, Anglican priest, and social reformer seemed to forget common decency and a sense of humanity when he visited Ireland in 1861 and wrote in atavistic terms:
But I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country. I don’t believe they are our fault, I believe that there are not only more of them than of old, but that they are happier, better, more comfortably fed and lodged under our rule than they ever were. But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours.
Kingsley was not alone in his perceptions of the Irish. Sidney Webb, who with his wife Beatrice was a founder of the London School of Economics and Political Science, believed Home Rule for Ireland meant that England could expel a people that he hated.
116 Lower Baggot St, Dublin.
We both thank you for your very nice letter, which we are quite in capable of answering as it deserves.
All we feel capable of doing is to ask you kindly to ascertain since when the British Museum possesses a Sheffield daily newspaper — that is if you can before the Library closes and you go away. Our emissary in Sheffield wants to know how much he must read there. Send your answer in the enclosed envelope.
We hope you will have the holiday you deserve. B. takes a keen interest in the bicycle.
We will tell about Ireland when we come back. The people are charming but we detest them, as we should the Hottentots — for their very virtue. Home Rule is an absolute necessity — in order to depopulate the country of this detestable race!
So much for reformers.
There was a series of coastal famines throughout the Eighteenth century that corresponded to the ending of the wars. But the war with France and expansion of Empire kept the coastal communities going. They were making the base for gunpowder, and were one long chemical industry. But it was the ending of the Corn Law supports that did for the labourers in the East, South and Midlands.
Have you encountered the Maynooth Grant yet.
The Famine as punishment for the Maynooth Grant was still an idea I encountered in the North in the Eighties!
The grant had been going since about 1795, and Peel more than tripled it. But between it and the corn law repeal set up the splits in Westminster but also the conditions of profound lack of sympathy when the famine really hit.