The Origins of the Modern Christmas Tree

The Egyptians, Romans, Celts, and Vikings used spruces (and similar plants) as symbols of everlasting life. These types of trees have always had significance in cultures around the world. The Christmas tree custom as we know it today (as a Christian custom) was developed in early modern Germany, sometime before the 16-1700s.

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Streitz was the wife of King George III (and the mother of both George IV and William IV, and grandmother of Victoria). As such, she was Queen of Great Britain, despite being German-born. She introduced German traditions to England.

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Streitz was the wife of King George III. As such, she was known as Queen Charlotte of Great Britain, despite being German-born. She introduced German traditions to England.

While hanging evergreens around the home was a popular occurrence, King George III’s German wife, Charlotte, brought the practice of decorating trees to London. Their granddaughter, Queen Victoria (and her German husband, Prince Albert) had fond memories of decorating spruces, so they continued the tradition. Unlike George III & Charlotte, Victoria & Albert were extremely popular among their people, and when this picture of them decorating their tree in Windsor Castle was published in tabloids, the public followed suit and brought trees into their homes every year after.

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert decorate one of the first modern Christmas trees with their children. When people saw this in their newspapers, the thought of bringing in trees as holiday decorations became widely popular.

German immigrants in Pennsylvania had been setting up trees as far back as the 1830’s. Community trees in PA had been custom as early as 1747. However, the tradition was largely viewed as a pagan practice and was avoided by most Americans until the late 19th century. This is because of the heavy pilgrim influence that set laws avoiding “pagan mockery” of Christian holidays. The General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making it an offense if anyone celebrated Christmas in any way other than attending mass. People received fines for decorating. However, the domination of German and Irish immigrants towards the middle/end of the 1800’s drowned out these strict notions of “pagan symbolism” and turned Christmas into the jolly, merry, yet still sacred experience it is for us today.


“After dinner… we then went into the drawing-room near the dining-room… There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the trees…” -one of Queen Victoria’s early diary entries.

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The Birth of the English Navy

If I asked you what you think of when I say the word ‘Viking,’ you’d probably think of a Viking warship. You’d know that it looks curly and has a very specific look to it. You know that the people who rode them might have worn helmets with horns. But the real question we never ask ourselves is: why were they riding the seas? And why did this make them famous?

Let’s step outside of history for a moment. Let’s say we live in a cold, harsh place and every year it is becoming increasingly difficult to produce food for our children. However, we know that not too far away is an island rich in soil for food, open land to set up homes, and easy access to mainland Europe. Obviously, we are going to pack our bags and move there, especially if it’s our only option.

The Vikings, however, did not come as peacefully as you might be picturing. In fact, the first records of Viking raids on ancient Britain and France are documented in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle circa 787 A.D. as follows:

And in [King Beohtric’s] days came for the first time three ships: and then the reeve rode thither and tried to compel them to go to the royal manor, for he did not know what they were, and they slew him. These were the first ships of the Danes to come to England.”

By the 830s, the raids on England had become intense. Historically, we do not know exactly why the sudden raids became so violent (and… well, sudden). Some reasons could include overpopulation in Scandinavian regions, wars within their own territories (which resulted in mandatory exiles and ‘adventurers’ hoping to escape that), and new naval technology (the true keel), which allowed for longer ocean voyages. The seas also attracted the less-attractive constituents of society, being that increased trade by sea meant an increase in piracy.

Obviously, as the King of Wessex (later called England), King Alfred had to do something. If anyone would be able to do anything, it would have been him. Unlike most royals of his time, he had a thirst for knowledge. Even as a child, he had always been a curious researcher of things that made him ask ‘how’ and ‘why.’ It is perhaps for this reason that he successfully reorganised the military of his kingdom.

Royalty in the 800s was not as it is today. King Alfred and his ancestors and heirs were warriors that wore uniforms and rode horses and lived inside cold, dark castles designed to keep the realm’s most important figures safe. This is a very different sense of ‘royalty’ as experienced by his 32nd great-granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, whose role has been reduced to a symbolic figurehead of English constitutional democracy. Although, we must consider some aligning facts that make her worthy of becoming the second monarch to take the epithet ‘The Great.’ She is the second longest-serving sovereign in history, a chunk of Antarctica is named after her, she just broke champagne on England’s largest aircraft carrier yet, she is the last surviving head-of-state to have served in World War II, and most importantly – she is the latest Bond girl credited on IMDB.

Having the sole job of sitting down and pondering ways to better England and protect her from her enemies was beneficial to Alfred, being that he had a brilliant and cunningly strategic mind.

The main thing he realized was that if his people were being attacked by sea, then the sea is where his people needed to focus. And thus, the ancestor to the Royal Navy was conceived and born.

Along with his desires to create a fleet of ships to protect his kingdom, he created the burghal hidage. This was a series of fortified towns along the rivers and pre-existing roads (built by ancient Romans) of Wessex. Picture thirty-something versions of the Village of Bree from The Lord of the Rings – each one close enough to send help to another that might need immediate help.

The Alfredian Navy and the Burghal Hidage were both major parts of Alfred’s design to refortify the kingdom. They might seem like simple fixes, but they had never been accomplished before. And if they had been former ideas, they had not been conducted successfully. Most importantly, they robbed the Vikings of two major pieces of their strategy: surprise, and mobility.

Along with the conception of the general idea of creating a fleet, Alfred himself designed it. In 896, he ordered the construction of a dozen or less ships. His ships were to have 60 oars – making them twice the size of Viking warships. However, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicler is clearly biased (and very excited) in his opinion of the fleet:

“King Alfred had…long ships‟ built to oppose the Danish warships. They were almost twice as long as the others. Some had 60 oars, some more. They were both swifter and steadier and also higher than the others. They were built neither on the Frisian nor the Danish pattern, but as it seemed to him himself that they could be most useful.”

A ship built to the design of Alfred the Great by Dan Escott.

A ship built to the design of Alfred the Great by Dan Escott.

It was important for The King to design larger ships. Back then, warships did not serve to kill, but instead carry as many troops as possible. In contrast to the enormous battleships we have today, ships back then would come alongside an enemy vessel and climb aboard to tackle the enemy by sword or hand.

A visual depiction of a Danish ship clashing with one of Alfred's new English ships. Edited painting by A. Forrester.

A visual depiction of a Danish ship clashing with one of Alfred’s new English ships. Edited painting by A. Forrester.

Ultimately, Alfredian ships were too big to maneuver easily in the waters where any battles would occur.

The first naval engagement in English history occurred in the year 897 – testing Alfred’s new fleet, which was also completely new in design. About six Danish Viking ships were beached, perhaps to replenish them with food. Nine English ships then emerged from the distance and attacked the Danes. According to an edited excerpt from The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

“Then the king (Alfred) ordered [his men] to put out with nine of the new ships, and they blocked off to them [the Danes/Vikings] the harbour entrance from in front of the outer bay. Then they [Danes] came out against them [English] with three ships. And three [Danish ships] were in the upper part of the harbour on dry land…then they [the English] captured two of the three ships at the outside of the harbour entrance and massacred the crews. And one [Danish ship] made its escape, and on that, too, the men were killed except for five, those [five] got away because the ships [of the English] were grounded.”[1]

In summary, the English blocked the Danes’ exit from the bay, and had won their first battle on the sea by advancing on them from there. However, it seems to have been a messy occasion. One ship is credited to have escaped. The reason behind that is mostly because, as mentioned, the ships were too large to maneuver. Ultimately, we can view the Vikings in this light sort of like pirates because of the way that they attacked their enemy at sea. Although it’s not as organized as Johnny Depp might go about it, it’s still the same concept of climbing onboard and taking control.

Although Alfred is considered the ‘father of the navy,’ he was not the founder of The Royal Navy – which wouldn’t exist until the 1500s – and whose power would not be demonstrated at least until the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The creation of the navy during this military reform was vital to the success of England during the reigns of Alfred’s successors. And although we do not know many facts about this era in history, but what we do know is that the establishment of a navy and of a fleet unique in design shows us the power of King Alfred and his willingness to explore new options to protect his people.

[1] Ryan Lavelle. Alfred’s Wars: Sources and Interpretations of Anglo-Saxon Warfare in the Viking Age. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2012. Print.

Could A British Abdication Be Next?

This week, jokes are on the table that Prince Charles is kicking his mother under the table at breakfast following the news of King Juan Carlos of Spain’s abdication “in favor of a new generation.” Twitter and other social media sites flared up wondering the same question – is Elizabeth next?

The answer is no.

Juan Carlos’ intention to abdicate in favor of his son, Georgetown grad Prince Felipe, follows a string of abdications around Europe.

The string began with Pope Benedict XVI, who abdicated for health reasons on February 28, 2013. He was the first pope to abdicate in almost 600 years. Typically, a pope carries out his duties until death.

Benedict XVI was swiftly followed by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, who abdicated two months later in favor of her son, Willem-Alexander. Unlike the papacy, abdication is a tradition in the Netherlands. Beatrix’s mother Juliana abdicated after almost 30 years, as did her grandmother Wilhelmina. Willem-Alexander is the first male leader of the Netherlands since the nineteenth century.

Two months after that, King Albert II of Belgium abdicated. Like the Pope Emeritus, he abdicated for health reasons. He was succeeded by his son, Philippe.

Fast forward a year later, and King Juan Carlos I of Spain announces his plans to call it quits. Juan Carlos was restored as monarch of Spain following the death of Francisco Franco, and was considered a beacon of hope following Franco’s treacherous and oppressive rule. If you’ve seen the film Pans Labyrinth (2006), the film takes place in the early Francoist period, and the general in the film is loosely based on Franco himself.

Juan Carlos, 76, believes the monarchy, which is currently seemingly very unstable right now in the Iberian peninsula, should be taken into newer, younger hands.

Why then, is an octogenarian still leading the British people?

The answer is perseverance. The British monarchy is mostly symbolic, and it is surely a symbol of strength, determination, and finishing the course. Few British monarchs in over 1,000 years of history have abdicated – Richard II and Edward II were forced off the throne, James II is considered to have abdicated, and Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 in favor of a marriage not supported by the government.

If all continues to go according to tradition, Europe will continue to see abdications across the continent, and Britain may very well celebrate her first Platinum Jubilee in 2022.

Queen Elizabeth’s Oak

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Queen Elizabeth's Oak

Under the branches of this tree, it’s been said for centuries that Henry VIII danced with Anne Boleyn and enjoyed private time with her during their courtship. Years later as a girl, their daughter (the future Elizabeth I) enjoyed picnics in it’s shade.

This ancient tree was planted roughly around the 12th century, died in the late 19th century, and remained hollowed out until it finally fell in 1991.

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Victoria’s Secret

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Victoria's Secret

After the unexpected death of Queen Victoria’s beloved Prince Albert in 1861, the monarch was thrown into 40 years of deep mourning. She wore black every single day and had his clothes laid out every morning until her own death in 1901.

Few people noted that Victoria wore colorful, sexy lingerie beneath the deep black layers, as risque corsets were the fashion craze at the time. Whether or not the depressed queen actually did this or not became known as Victoria’s Secret.

In this photograph is pictured The Queen with Mr. Brown, the subject of the movie Mrs. Brown starring Judi Dench.

Henry FitzRoy (1519-1536)

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Henry FitzRoy (1519-1536)

Contrary to common knowledge, Henry FitzRoy was the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII through his mistress, Elizabeth Blount, who was a maid of honor to Henry VIII’s first wife. This made FitzRoy a half-brother to Elizabeth I, Mary I, and Edward VI.

However, had Henry out-lived his father, it is widely accepted that he would not have become king because he was born out of wedlock. Instead, Henry VIII made him the Duke of Richmond in 1525 and he grew up comfortably as if he were an actual prince. He died at the age of 17 from debated causes, the same time Parliament was contemplating an Act that would have disinherited the future Queen Elizabeth I and allowed The King to name a successor, whether legitimate or not.

“Fitzroy” is a Norman-French surname meaning “son of the King” and was a name given to monarchs’ illegitimate sons.

The Politics of The Great Irish Famine

British arrogance among the aristocracy contributed greatly to the Great Irish Famine of the mid-nineteenth century. This famine, which consisted of a mass potato blight throughout the Emerald Isle, was a catastrophe that brought great destruction both physically and politically to the region. It ultimately resulted in high death tolls, mass immigration to the United States and elsewhere, and increased tensions between the Irish and Great Britain. Relations continued to strain long after the initial potato blight because of political events that made the Irish unwillingly reliant on British Parliament, who in turn neglected the starving population on account of arrogance and an overwhelming sense of superiority.

Ireland had always had a rough history with England, later Great Britain. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, tensions had become so great they resulted in a notorious revolt in 1798. This particular rebellion was an uprising against British rule, lasting from May to September, with over ten years worth of events leading up to revolt. It was one of the most widespread rebellions, as eleven counties in Ulster, Leinster, and Connacht each participated and together lost a total of over 20-30,000 men and women.[1] The revolutionary movements of the Americans and the French in prior decades influenced this specific uprising, and “The United Irishmen” became a significant group inspired by the age of revolution.[2] For this rebellion, the British government had in fact been unfair with the Irish, as Parliament passed laws allowing Catholics with property to vote, but no Irishman could be an elected or appointed as a state official.[3] According to Irish Historian Christine Kinealy, “the 1798 rebellion was an uncomfortable illustration [for the British authorities] of the dangers posed when Catholics and Protestants combined against their authority.”[4] Rioting took place throughout the 1790’s and the country became increasingly angered by British oppression. Religious differences came into focus and religion would later play a major role in the British Government’s understanding of the Famine in the 1840’s. The United Irishmen issued parliamentary plans for reform as early as 1794. According to T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin, these plans suggested that “Ireland should be divided into 300 parliamentary constituencies equal in population, and that every man should have a vote.”[5] The United Irishmen looked to secure reform by looking forward to the abolition of tithe, a reduction in government expenditure, lower taxation, and the encouragement of trade and help for education.[6]

However, by 1798, fighting was widespread. British Prime Minister William Pitt understood that the outcome of rebellion based on nationalism, which involves emotional factors, was too unpredictable.[7] To respond to this, he had the Act of Union passed in 1800 and in 1801 Ireland became a part of the United Kingdom.[8] Ireland was granted a seat in parliament and this gave the country a chance to let her voice be heard.[9] However, this also forced Ireland to forfeit her Parliament to London. When the blight hit in August 1845, this forced Ireland to endure a great deal of hardships that could have been handled much better if they had still governed themselves, since their government might be more prepared for those kinds of situations.

The Famine itself left an immediate, devastating toll on the Irish people. Potatoes were the staple of both the Irish diet and the pre-Famine economy. Not only did they feed people, but also according to the Economist Kevin O’Rourke, they were fed to livestock and were used to keep the live sources of food alive.[10] The blight of 1845 destroyed a large portion of the potato crop, but in 1846 it was completely destroyed.[11] Consequently, very few potatoes were available for the planting season in 1847 (a year when blight was actually absent), however blight struck again as early as 1848.[12] Ireland had gone four years with practically no potatoes. This led the way for mass hunger and disease and took a massive toll on the population. Over one million Irish men, women and children died, and a further two million people fled, never to return.[13]

By 1847, any efforts by the government to relieve the crisis in Ireland had seemingly failed.[14] The winter of 1846 saw many food riots and hunger marches, which “increasingly gave way to despair, exhaustion and flight.”[15] The government did in fact introduce soup kitchens in ’47, however, did not help with medicine, clothing, fuel, shelter, or rent.[16] Disease spread heavily in the entire region in the form of bronchitis, diarrhea, influenza, measles and tuberculosis.[17] Ultimately, the Famine did not even kill solely by means of starvation. A deadly cholera epidemic broke out in 1848-49.[18] The causes for this were malnutrition, food deprivation and unsuitable food, which increased the vulnerability of infection while the people were eating relief food (such as food from the soup kitchens, which they were not accustomed to eating and may not have consisted of much nutrition to begin with).[19] People who were known to have the disease became outcasts in their towns or villages and loneliness (and fear) became common factors during the disaster. The fear of catching cholera made the Irish much less likely to help each other. Kinealy quotes Richard Delaney, who recalled:

When a person in any house got fever the people of the house would hide it from the neighbours [sic]. If the neighbours [sic] suspected there was any fever in the house, they used to steal up to the house at night time to put an onion on the window sill. They would split the onion in two. If the onion turned green they would know that there was fever in that particular house and they would avoid it.[20]

The people had become too weak to work. In some instances, animals would eat the flesh of humans while they were still alive.[21] However, given that the British media was paying little attention to the gravity of the situation, landlords were wasting no time collecting their money. If a tenant, even if too weak to work, could not product capital for his taxes, he was evicted. This behavior of the elite was a major source of discontent particularly in the year 1847. According to Christine Kinealy, roughly 3,500 families had been evicted from their homes by 1847 and this number was doubled by 1848, reaching over 6,000.[22] The Whig government in 1847 turned back to the Poor Law workhouses as the primary mode for famine relief, and it was heavily stressed by George Nicholls that this type of relief should not be expected in the future.[23] People sought refuge in workhouses throughout the nation, which became incredibly crowded. This ultimately contributed to many deaths, since disease was able to spread quickly in the overly cramped areas.[24]

Relief for the Famine was particularly complicated. According to David Nally, the British were afraid that if relief seemed attractive to the Irish (who again, they considered so low they were almost viewed as subhuman), “Irish laborers would abandon normal employment.”[25] Furthermore, if relief labor were productive, it would unfavorably affect the sanctity of private enterprise.[26] Nally writes that in a letter to Trevelyan, Edward Twisleton confirmed that relief tasks were deliberately designed to be “as repulsive as possible consistent with humanity.”[27]

And though there were many schemes by the government to aid the Irish, the most supported one was the Temporary Relief Act. According to Kinealy, after public works, this Act meant that the soup kitchens were the most generously supported of the government attempts at relief, spending £2,250,000. However, not all of the money agreed to go to relief was spent. The Irish Executive requested some go to medical relief, but the Treasury refused “on the grounds that to do so would only further the ‘unhealthy dependence’ of the Irish people on central government.”[28]

Clearly, causes of the Famine point beyond the natural causes of potato blights towards the British Government. It is argued by Patrick Hicks, an Irish-American, that the grand scheme of the way the British handled the situation was to be expected. The mannerisms, according to Hicks, were buried in history. In the 1800’s, Britain most certainly had a military and economic supremacy over the Irish.[29] However, arrogance and this overwhelming sense of superiority got to the heads of the elite and majority of the people that represented Britain. Hicks writes that the British assumed that “anyone with red hair was sexually deviant and they should not be trusted…[and that] drinking was a sign of moral decay and an inability to make sound decisions.”[30] He also writes that the Irish earned their hot-headed reputation after their land, language, and religion had been stripped from them when they became part of the United Kingdom.[31] The popular stereotype of the Irish (redheads that fight while constantly drunk) is a deliberate caricature promoted by the British to justify taking complete control of the island. Therefore, people would view the Irish as an uncivilized culture, in need of an organized force such as Parliament in London.

In British media, especially the popular newspaper Punch, the Irish were looked down upon so poorly that they were made out to be almost subhuman. Prior to the Famine, the Act of Union was justified by making them look like they needed to be civilized. Following the calamity, once notions of the Irish being a much lesser people than the standard European were made clear, caricatures of the Irish portrayed them as savages stealing food and the like became normal.[32] This kind of behavior by the British outside of the government certainly does not help Britain’s case in defending her ways in dealing with the Famine. Such media attention only draws to the fact that they were not helping them, but instead showing the world that they were right as to maintain their land.

According to Kinealy, “by 1841, Ireland accounted for almost one-third of the population of the United Kingdom.”[33] She mentions that the economies were different and those very differences were noticeable prior to the famine. This is because by the 1840’s Great Britain had well advanced into the Industrial Revolution and had begun to feel an economic impact from it, whereas Ireland was still relying heavily on agriculture.

Author of the Irish Famine Tim Pat Coogan writes that prior to the Great Famine, several smaller famines had occurred and ‘Irish distress’ was a consistent issue in London. According to Coogan, “The horrific poverty of the peasantry was well known but no action was taken.”[34] The British had considered the Irish incapable of handling their own problems and when the Great Famine struck in August 1845, they were reluctant to help much because they did not want them entirely dependent on Parliament. In fact, on the eve of the Famine, the British Lord Grey said: “Ireland is our disgrace. It is the reproach, the standing disgrace, of this country that Ireland remains in the condition she is. It is so regarded throughout the whole civilised [sic] world.”[35]

This however was completely untrue and great evidence for the arrogance of the British during this difficult time. In an 1847 article from The Times London, which reported regularly on the state of Ireland throughout the Famine with a rather condescending manner, writes about the American sentiments of the citizens of New Orleans. The news of the Famine particularly concerned Americans, especially given that many Americans were of Irish ancestry (and increasingly so as more and more Irish left their homeland for the pursuit of happiness). George Bancroft, the American Minister, wrote to Lord John Russell:

My Lord- The people of New Orleans, touched by the accounts of the distress from famine in Ireland, came together in a public meeting… and made a voluntary contribution of 15,000 dollars. From your Lordship’s position in the Government you best know where relief is most urgently demanded…[and] I am compelled to add, that the sympathy of the people of the United States with the sudden and overwhelming calamity which has befallen Ireland is earnest and universal…[36]

What is interesting about this article is that not only does it discuss the American’s willingness to help out of sheer sincerity and feelings towards so many distant relatives overseas, but Bancroft completely canceled out Lord Grey’s comment that the entire world looks down upon Ireland, proving that the comment itself is perhaps a slur rooted in ignorance.

Other than the economy, religion was another major issue at the time. Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom was head of the Church of England and was sovereign over the predominantly Catholic Ireland. According to Kinealy, “the criticism of the Catholic Church and the constitutional nationalists did not linger in the public consciousness…[and] the British government and Irish landlords, aided and abetted by Queen Victoria, were identified in the nationalist memory as the real villains of the Famine years.”[37] It’s a sad truth that economic imperatives triumphed any humanitarian concerns for the poor and famished during those harsh years regardless of the cost of life.[38] Kinealy further argues that contemporary politicians and political economists argued that this was part of the price for Ireland to pay for her economic regeneration.[39] All of this unnecessary harsh attitude towards suffering neighbors was because of the fact that they were of a slightly different faith.

God played a major role in the possible ‘causes’ of the calamity during and after it. Kinealy further writes that nationalist writers refuted the idea of the Famine as a ‘visitation from God,’ which comes from both contemporary accounts and folk memory alike.[40] Kinealy writes: “…throughout the Famine British politicians and paupers alike linked the food shortages with providentialism.”[41] The Achill Missionary Herald claimed that God was punishing the Irish for the 1845 Maynooth Act, which “provided a grant ‘to endow a college for training [Catholic] priests to defend and practise [sic] and perpetuate this corrupt and damnable worship in this realm.’”[42]

Tim Pat Coogan writes in a HistoryToday article that Parliament in London was directly to blame for the high amount of death during the famine that would strike Ireland partly because of the rural state of the land long before the 1840’s. It had been mentioned that Britain had become industrialized over the course of the early nineteenth century, however Ireland was nothing but empty land with a very inadequate road system. When aid came to help the starving, it was nearly impossible to reach them. Coogan writes that this was true in some of the worst affected areas of Ireland. In Connacht in the West of Ireland, for example, “[the area was] so deficient in roads and harbours [sic] that such relief as there was could not be brought to the starving, who died in dwellings that were no more than caves cut into the bog.”[43]

Coogan writes that the calamity did not just extend to the blight and the starvation itself, but the way that the British Government handled the aftermath of the entire situation. Coogan writes that the union of Ireland with Great Britain (because of the Act of Union) was more like a partnership, and when Ireland could not fulfill their monetary part, the political slogan became ‘Irish Property must pay for Irish poverty.’[44]

One hundred and fifty years later, British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly made an effort to achieve peace in Northern Ireland, but publicly apologized for the Famine in Ireland. He said: “…those Irish men and women who were able to forge another life outside Ireland, and [as for] the rich vitality and culture they brought with them…Britain, the US and many Commonwealth countries are richer for their presence.”[45] Blair was in complete skillful knowledge of the events and the oppression that took place because of the British government’s schemes. However, this was criticized by both Ireland and Britain. The Irish were fueled at the notion that he did not use the word ‘Famine’ while the British were irritated that he was letting the Irish put the blame at their doorstep. The peace that he had hoped to achieve was not ideal, but was a step in the right direction.

It can be suggested that the seeds for the behaviors of the British government accumulated over almost a hundred years of tensions, and were fueled by centuries of oppression, tyranny, and even neglect in years more recent to the Famine itself. The people of Ireland were treated like second to third class citizens when they had the spirits and the will of first class nobility. It was not until 2011 that a British sovereign made his or her first state visit to a free Ireland. Queen Elizabeth II made perhaps the most successful state trip of her 60-year reign- immediately striking a peaceful tone when she stepped out of a plane wearing green. In a speech in front of President Mary McAleese at Dublin Castle, she admitted to the harshness and unnecessary brutality of their shared history. Above all, after laying wreaths with the President at the Hunger Memorial, she opened her speech in the Irish language, a language that her ancestors had robbed of many of the Irish people. That itself was a very symbolic gesture.

It should be understood that no historians blame the British today. Obviously, the Great Famine is long behind us, but those to blame have been gone for longer than a century. Their ideologies of the Irish as lesser people have gone with them, and Ireland herself has gone through many growths and changes and is today on her ninth President in her existence as a Republic, free of British rule.


  • [1] T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin. The Course of Irish History. Cork: The Mercier Press, 1967. 239.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Edward Hay. History of the Irish Insurrection of 1798. New York: John Kennedy, 1847. Page 7.
  • [4] Christine Kinealy. The Great Irish Famine. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Print.
  • [5] T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin, The Course of Irish History, Page 239.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid., Pages 246-247. William Pitt (British Prime Minister under King George III) had become unsure of the results of war based on nationalism after having recently lost the American colonies (despite massive odds) to a similar revolution only fifteen years before to the 1798 Uprising, as well as having witnessed the events of the French Revolution only years earlier. It can be assumed that these successful revolutions (which had small odds of success) during Pitt’s tenure were far too similar to the one that inspired the Irish.
  • [8] Ibid., Page 247.
  • [9] Charles Townshend. Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006. 24.
  • [10] Kevin O’Rourke. “The Economic Impact of the Famine in the Short and Long Run.” American Economic Review 84, no. 2 (2001): 309–313. O’Rourke is a part of the Department of Economics at the University College of Dublin. His peer-reviewed journal article provides insight towards the economic factors of the Famine (before, during, and after).
  • [11] Ibid., Pages 309–313.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] David Nally. ‘That Coming Storm’ – The Irish Poor Law, Colonial Biopolitics, and the Great Famine. 98, no. December 2007 (2008): Pages 714–741. Nally is a part of the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge and uses this journal article as a way to explore the biopolitics and colonialism of the Great Famine.
  • [14] Christine Kinealy. A Death-Dealing Famine. Chicago: Pluto Press, 1997. Chapter 5 discusses in great depth the ‘Black 47,’ which Kinealy writes is the term used when referring to the height of the hunger and distress.
  • [15] Ibid., Page 93.
  • [16] Ibid.
  • [17] Ibid.
  • [18] Ibid.
  • [19] Ibid.
  • [20] Ibid., Page 93. Taken From: Recollection of Richard Delaney, Wexford, in Cathal Póirtéir, Famine Echoes, (Dublin, 1995) Page 102.
  • [21] Ibid.
  • [22] Ibid., Page 94.
  • [23] David Nally. ‘That Coming Storm’ – The Irish Poor Law, Colonial Biopolitics, and the Great Famine. Page 729. The Irish Poor Laws were a series of Acts of Parliament intended to address social instability due to widespread and persistent poverty in Ireland.
  • [24] Christine Kinealy. A Death-Dealing Famine. Page 94.
  • [25] David Nally. ‘That Coming Storm’ – The Irish Poor Law, Colonial Biopolitics, and the Great Famine. Page 729.
  • [26] Ibid.
  • [27] Ibid., Page 729. Nally is actually taking this information from Christine Kinealy’s The Great Irish Famine.
  • [28] Christine Kinealy. A Death-Dealing Famine. Page 104.
  • [29] Patrick Hicks. “Shamrocks on the Prairie”, no. 252 (n.d.): Page 253.
  • [30] Ibid.
  • [31] Ibid.
  • [32] Ibid.
  • [33] Christine Kinealy. The Great Irish Famine.
  • [34] Tim Pat Coogan. “Ireland’s Path to Desolation.” History Today Feb. 2013 : 44–46. Print.
  • [35] Ibid.
  • [36] “The United States and the Irish Famine.” The Times London 1 May 1847 : 8. Print.
  • [37] Christine Kinealy. A Death-Dealing Famine. Page 14.
  • [38] Ibid.
  • [39] Ibid.
  • [40] Ibid., Page 15.
  • [41] Ibid.
  • [42] Ibid.
  • [43] Tim Pat Coogan. “Ireland’s Path to Desolation.” Page 46.
  • [44] Ibid.
  • [45] Christine Kinealy. The Great Irish Famine. Page 14.