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.

The Battle of Hastings and the Birth of the English Language (1066)

Adventus Saxonum: The Backdrop

When Rome abandoned ‘Britannia’ in 410 AD, the British Isles were open to invasion. Sure enough, Germanic tribes such as the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes (among many others) invaded and settled along the eastern coast of modern-day England. This mass migration of Germanic tribes became known as the Adventus Saxonum, which is Latin for ‘Arrival of the Saxons.’

The Saxons eventually rose to power as the most prominent of the other settlers and would become mostly united by the middle of the 900s. Think of it this way, do you remember how the American colonies were settled? The Dutch came over and founded New Amsterdam, and then the English who had already ruled all of New England took over Manhattan and renamed it New York after the Duke of York, then eventually claimed everything else. It’s pretty much the same kind of thing. Only here, in early Britain, the Angles and the Saxons had mostly intertwined, giving birth to the term ‘Anglo-Saxon.’ Although we have no evidence to say that there were more Angles than Saxons or vice versa, the land eventually became known as ‘Anglialand’ over time, which became ‘England’ and there they spoke the Anglo-Saxon language that we call Old English. It was slightly similar to the language we speak today and we still use some Anglo-Saxon words. In fact, you’ve probably spoken a few of them today, such as above, apple, awake, back, blood, body, daughter, ear, evening, ice, king, man, open, queen, quick, right, say, shadow, walk, winter, yes, and you (just to name a few).

England was ruled by the Anglo-Saxons until the last Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, died in 1066. Edward is described in the Vita Ædwardi Regis as

“…a very proper figure of a man—of outstanding height, and distinguished by his milky white hair and beard, full face and rosy cheeks, thin white hands, and long translucent fingers; in all the rest of his body he was an unblemished royal person. Pleasant, but always dignified, he walked with eyes downcast, most graciously affable to one and all. If some cause aroused his temper, he seemed as terrible as a lion, but he never revealed his anger by railing.”

EDWARD THE CONFESSOR Reigned 1042-1066

EDWARD THE CONFESSOR
Reigned 1042-1066

The Imperial State Crown - the blue sapphire in the cross on top of the crown was once a ring worn by Edward the Confessor. The crown also has the Black Prince's Ruby, the Cullinan II , the Stuart Sapphire, and Queen Elizabeth I's pearls.

The Imperial State Crown – the blue sapphire in the cross on top of the crown was once a ring worn by Edward the Confessor. The crown also has the Black Prince’s Ruby, the Cullinan II, the Stuart Sapphire, and Queen Elizabeth I’s pearls.

There is no denying that Edward was a great king. He was the first and only Anglo-Saxon sovereign of England to be canonized. He was exceptionally pious and unworldly for a man of power of his time, and when he died in January 1066, England suffered a succession crisis between several claimants to the throne.

After the Death of Edward the Confessor

Edward slipped into a coma before he died, never naming his plans for succession. Historians debate Edward’s intentions as to who he believed should have been his successor as king. Some say William, The Duke of Normandy was his rightful heir, others argue that the rich and powerful aristocrat Harold Godwinson was the rightful one.

Regardless of what Edward may or may not have wanted, Harold became king. The Witenagemot* intervened and elected him to rule.

*From the seventh to eleventh centuries, the Witenagemot was an assembly of the ruling class whose function was to advise the king. It was comprised of a group of England’s most powerful noblemen. Harold was crowned on January 6, 1066.

Once word reached Normandy that Edward was dead and Harold had succeeded him, Duke William of Normandy was absolutely furious.

Death of Harold as depicted by William Blake in his work Visionary Heads.

Death of Harold as depicted by William Blake in his work Visionary Heads.

The Bayeux Tapestry, which is one of the most well-preserved documentation of this story, is showing here the coronation of Harold as King of England.

The Bayeux Tapestry, which is one of the most well-preserved documentation of this story, is showing here the coronation of Harold as King of England.

Norman Interest in the Throne

(I’ll be honest, it’s starting to get confusing, even for me. So, take a peek at the family tree if you’re really interested in this section, especially if you are a visual learner like I am.)

Family tree showing Edward the Confessor's relation to his brother-in-law, Harold, and his cousin, William, The Duke of Normandy.

Family tree showing Edward the Confessor’s relation to his brother-in-law, Harold, and his cousin, William, The Duke of Normandy.

Present-day Normandy in France was settled by Viking invaders from the North (hence the term ‘NORmans’), and a duchy was established there. In 1002, King Æthelred II of England married Emma, the sister of Richard II, then-Duke of Normandy. Their son was King Edward the Confessor. Edward’s Norman roots created a very strong interest in English politics for the Normans, especially since Edward had continually called on them for support throughout his reign. It is believed that Edward even encouraged William to succeed him on the throne. Some historians even suggest that William was promised it.

According to the website of the British monarchy, “William’s claim to the English throne was based on his assertion that, in 1051, Edward the Confessor had promised him the throne (he was a distant cousin) and that Harold II – having sworn in 1064 to uphold William’s right to succeed to that throne – was therefore a usurper.”

Were the Normans ‘barbaric’ and trying to invade England just to gain more power, or were they men of honor with a legitimate claim to what they were promised?

William had a lot of support for his vision of England. Not only did he have the allegiance of Emperor Henry IV, but he also had the approval of the pope. The pope has always been considered the closest man to God. In 1066, this was exceptionally true, and to have the pope’s help meant that you also had God’s.

A map depicting the locations of where the King of Norway's forces landed in York in the north, and where William and the Norman forces landed in the south for the Battle of Hastings.

A map depicting the locations of where the King of Norway’s forces landed in York in the north, and where William and the Norman forces landed in the south for the Battle of Hastings.

The Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of England

On September 28, 1066, William landed on the south coast of England and within a week had raised fortifications at Hastings. By this time, Harold’s army was exhausted. They had just fought off a Norwegian invasion in the north (near York) that month, eliminating the King of Norway’s claim to the throne. Learning that the Normans had landed and were setting up camp and getting ready to fight, Harold and his army were forced to march south. They covered 250 miles in about nine days to meet William. Many people died or had to stop marching along the way and were replenished by completely inexperienced soldiers. This was a major advantage for William and his army.

On October 14, 1066, fighting began around 9am and lasted until the sun was setting. Harold’s army was still weak not only from the battle against the King of Norway’s army up north, but also from the trek down to where the Normans were waiting for them. However, they had the advantage of being based uphill from the base of Duke William’s army. Also to the advantage of the English was that their army included Europe’s best infantry equipped with two-handled battle axes.

The Normans made the first move by having their archers shoot uphill at the English shield wall. This failed. The arrows probably bounced off the shields or flew over them completely, since the arrows had to be shot uphill. Historian Matthew Bennett writes in his Campaigns of the Norman Conquest (2001) that William then sent the spearmen forward to attack the English, who were met with a barrage of missiles and not arrows but spears, axes, and heavy stones. They couldn’t break the shield wall and after failing to make headway, a general retreat began. As the Normans were slowly withdrawing, Harold’s army suddenly charged after them.

It was rumored that William had been killed. To dismiss all confusion, he raised his helmet on the battlefield to show his troops that he was still fighting alongside them.

As the English charged after them (which may not have been an order given by Harold, since a contemporary source relates that Harold ordered his army to stay in formation), the Duke then led a counter-attack against them. Some of the English then rallied on a hillock before facing the massive forces of William’s army.

The Bayeux Tapestry shows that Harold’s brothers Gyrth and Leofwine were killed just before the confrontation by the hillock. The fact that they were even depicted on the tapestry suggests that they may have started the initial charge against the retreating enemy. The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio (Song of the Battle of Hastings, ca.1067), one of the earliest written sources of the battle, states that William slew Harold’s brother Gyrth in combat.

Harold was then killed. Since there are few to little sources that tell us how he died, it is believed that was hit by an arrow and then taken down by a mounted knight’s sword. The Bayeux Tapestry doesn’t clarify much, but it depicts a figure holding an arrow sticking out of his eye next to a figure being hit by a sword. Above this, it says “Here King Harold has been killed”, not specifying which figure. Traditional stories say that Harold really was hit through the eye. The earliest mention of that comes from the 1080s from a history of the Normans by the Italian monk, Amatus of Montecassino. The tradition is later supported by William of Malmesbury who stated that an arrow went through his eye and pierced his brain, and then was hit by a knight’s sword. Other than this one consistent and probably true theory, other chroniclers state completely different and contrasting causes of death for the King.

The Bayeux Tapestry reflects the tradition that Harold was shot in the eye by an arrow, although it is debated that the figure (second from left) with the arrow in the eye is him. (The arrow is very faint, it almost blends with the background).

The Bayeux Tapestry reflects the tradition that Harold was shot in the eye by an arrow, although it is debated that the figure (second from left) with the arrow in the eye is him. (The arrow is very faint, it almost blends with the background). It reads “Here Harold was killed.”

The battlefield. The Abbey was built over the spot where Harold was killed.

The battlefield. The Abbey was built over the spot where Harold was killed.

Without a leader, the English army finally collapsed. Most that remained fled, and those who were close to Harold bravely stayed put and fought off as many remaining Normans as they could before being destroyed by William’s outstanding and already-victorious forces.

The next day, Harold was identified either by the marks on his body or by his armor and officially confirmed dead. Peter Rex, the former Head of History at Princethorpe College writes in Harold II: The Doomed Saxon King (2005) that Harold’s personal standard was then presented to William and sent to Rome.

William, Duke of Normandy. Later 'William the Conquerer.'

William, Duke of Normandy. Later King William I of England, or ‘William the Conquerer.’

William was crowned King of England on Christmas in Westminster Abbey in 1066. It took a total of six years for him to consolidate his conquest of England, and faced constant challenges both there and in Normandy, where he remained Duke. One of his first actions as king was to built an abbey on the site of the Battle of Hastings (or Sandlac, as it is also commonly known) in the modern-day town of Battle, England. The high altar of the abbey was erected on the site where Harold was killed. Battle Abbey was destroyed during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monestaries from 1536-1541. The ruins still stand today.

Battle Abbey on the site of the Battle of Hastings. Photo by Antony McCallum.

Battle Abbey on the site of the Battle of Hastings. Photo by Antony McCallum.

The location where Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings, later the site of the high altar. Photo taken by Néstor Daza.

The location where Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings, later the site of the high altar. Photo taken by Néstor Daza.

Culture Shock: The Birth of the English Language

The Normans did not remain in Normandy. Once they acquired England, many gathered as families and moved there. They took advantage of the land and made it their home. They even married the natives and assimilated. As they slowly over time became English, they also ended up creating a new language. It was a blend of the Germanic Old English and Norman ‘Old French.’ This new language that evolved after 1066 is known today as ‘Middle English.’

As you probably noticed earlier, Old English words were pretty simple. They had one or two syllables and they were rough and to the point. Norman words were much more elegant and less harsh. This culture shock with the language spoken in England created some of the first synonyms of our language. This is why we have two words for almost everything, such as hug: very short and rough; and embrace, which is much more elegant and fitting of the sophisticated Norman culture. Consider these other example of Old English and Old French words that we still use today:

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You’ve probably been told at some point in your life that when you speak English, you’re really speaking a bunch of ancient French and German at the same time. Now you can see exactly what they meant. The reason the French language truly became mixed with the Anglo-Saxon language though is because once William marched into London and forced the English to submit to him, he changed the official language of the kingdom into Old French. The commoners maintained their Anglo-Saxon language at home and the elite or those working with the governing body spoke French. Descendants of both bodies eventually learned both. Over time, the two languages simply evolved into one complex Middle English language, making one of the most common things of our everyday lives today a descendant of the Battle of Hastings. It is only one of numerous profound contributions the Normans made to the world of our ancestors.

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.

King Alfred’s Ambitious Vision For a Secure Kingdom (878-899)

Wessex Under Attack

Alfred possessed all the qualities that only a legendary king would have. His character was one of honesty, courage, brilliance, and piety, and he was just as good at peace as he was valiant in battle. The only thing about his legendary reign is that, for starters, it isn’t exactly ‘legendary.’ Alfred was real, and in many ways, he truly honors his epithet of ‘The Great.’

A modern sketch of Alfred the Great.

A modern sketch of Alfred the Great.

Vikings from modern-day Denmark (referred to as the Danes) ravished the northern kingdoms of England. Northumbria first succumbed to their wrath, then East Anglia, and shortly afterwards, Mercia fell to their control. They were called ‘The Great Heathen Army’ and they were unstoppable, ruining everything in their path like a plague of locusts.

When Alfred succeeded the throne of the southern kingdom of Wessex, the Danes stopped their vast expansion. They probably did so to gather and save their strength for a massive attack on Wessex, which they surely would have known they would need to defeat a recognized war hero like Alfred. Eventually, they did attack. Alfred suffered a major blow after a surprise attack in January 878.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dictates:

…most of the people they [the Danes] killed, except the King Alfred, and he with a little band made his way by wood and swamp, and after Easter he made a fort at Athelney in the marshes of Somerset, and from that fort kept fighting against the foe.

From there, Alfred is known to have forged a massive resistance movement.

Alfred is often depicted, ever since his death, as a victorious hero valiantly moving forward. This is likely symbolic of his victory at Edington after being viciously defeated beforehand. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images).

Alfred is often depicted, ever since his death, as a victorious hero valiantly moving forward. This is likely symbolic of his victory at Edington after being viciously defeated beforehand. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images).

Alfred would rise from the marshes of Somerset to defeat the Danes with a major victory at the Battle of Edington in May 878. According to Alfred’s biographer, Bishop Asser:

‘Alfred attacked the whole pagan army fighting ferociously in dense order, and by divine will eventually won the victory, made great slaughter among them, and pursued them to their fortress (Chippenham) … After fourteen days the pagans (Danes) were brought to the extreme depths of despair by hunger, cold and fear, and they sought peace.’

This contemporary source is extremely important because it ends up providing some credibility of Alfred’s greatest ‘legendary’ traits, which were his brilliance as a warrior, and his ability to stem peace from chaos. Alfred knew that he was unable to drive the Danes from the rest of the land. Instead, he made peace with them in the Treaty of Wedmore. Guthrum, King of the Danes was converted to Christianity. Alfred, a devout Christian, even stood as his godfather.

Alfred then negotiated a partition treaty and a frontier was designed, allowing northern and eastern England to remain under the jurisdiction of the Danes, where most had settled as farmers.

This became known as ‘Danelaw.’

A map of the territories clearly outlined by the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum.

A map of the territories clearly outlined by the Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum.

King Alfred and His Ambitious Vision For a Secure Kingdom

  1. Burghal System
  2. Taxation
  3. A Navy

Although all seemed to be falling into place, Wessex was still very much under threat from the Danes. Alfred used the time of peace following Edington as an opportunity to completely reconstruct his kingdom’s military defense system. He believed that defense and prosperity were interdependent, and so he took on this ambitious project with this philosophy as one of it’s foundations.

The inspiration for his ideas may have come to him on a visit to Rome. According to Richard Abels in Alfred the Great: War, Kingship and Culture in Anglo-Saxon England (1998), Alfred studied how the Carolingian kings dealt with Viking invasions. By learning from their experiences, he was able to design a system of taxation and defense for Wessex. Another influence could have been a system of fortifications that had been built in pre-Viking Mercia.

  • The Burghal System

Alfred designed a network of burhs (later called boroughs) which became known as the Burghal system. These were fortifications that were distributed strategically throughout Wessex. Each one was nineteen miles away from the other, enabling the reorganized military to confront any attack within the kingdom in a single day. The Burghal system was revolutionary because of it’s strategy and how it was supported through taxes.

A Map of the Burhs of the Burghai System. Image based on information 'The Defence of Wessex' by Hill and Rumble. Image by Hel-hama.

A Map of the Burhs of the Burghal System. Image based on information ‘The Defence of Wessex’ by Hill and Rumble. Image by Hel-hama.

An example of what one of Alfred's newly designed burhs would have looked like.

An example of what one of Alfred’s newly designed burhs would have looked like.

  • Administration and Taxation

The people of Anglo-Saxon England had to pay a heavy tax for reform based on their landholding for the “common burdens” of the military, the Burghal system, and bridge repair. According to Ryan Lavelle in Alfred’s Wars Sources and Interpretations of Anglo-Saxon Warfare in the Viking Age (2010), the original term for this threefold tax was called trinoda neccessitas. The Old English term for a fine due (if you didn’t pay this tax) was called fyrdwitee.

  • English Navy

In 897, Alfred designed and ordered the construction of a small fleet. This was not the very first English fleet since we have records of a royal fleet long before the reign of Alfred. This was also not the birth of the Royal Navy, which truly flourished during the sixteenth century. This small fleet was, however, to become the first English navy to combat Viking longships.

The entire thought process behind this was that Viking ships should be intercepted before they could reach the coast. This way, Alfred’s navy could spare their kingdom from being ravaged like the other kingdoms had recently been by the invaders, most of whom had come by sea.

And so, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle regarded 897 as a very important development in the naval forces of the kingdom. The chronicler wrote:

…King Alfred gave orders for building long ships against the esks, which were full-nigh twice as long as the others. Some had sixty oars, some more; and they were both swifter and steadier, and also higher than the others. They were not shaped either after the Frisian or the Danish model, but so as he himself thought that they might be most serviceable.

These were perhaps some of the earliest battleships in England. The chronicler is extremely fond of them, clearly pointing out that they were ‘swifter and steadier’ than Danish or Frisian ships. Not to mention, they are also described as rising higher above the seas than the others. With a hero like Alfred on the throne, where better a direction to make an enemy face than up?

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And yes, these ships did rise higher, because Alfred’s designs were based off of Greek and Roman warships with high sides good for fighting, instead of for navigating. However, according to Richard Abels (pp. 305–307), these early English battleships were brilliant in conception, but in practice they turned out to be too large to maneuver well in the waters they were used in, such as rivers, where any naval battles would have likely occurred.

Overall Conclusion

The actions for taken by Alfred were indeed ambitious, but this is extremely dependent on the important factor of trust. Political instability was extremely huge at this time. Several kingdoms surrounding Wessex had completely fallen to invaders in just a short period of overall Anglo-Saxon history. Alfred was one man, just like any other sovereign of those realms. So, in order for this to work, Alfred would have seriously needed to have been trusted by his people. Not that they had a choice in paying taxes (because they would be fined if they didn’t), but it looks like they did because they trusted the proposed system. And even though the nobility is reported to have been iffy about spending their money on what the king considered a ‘common good for the people’ that the court should help provide, no mass protests were demonstrated, and nobody migrated to the Danelaw over the border of Wessex. Alfred’s people had sworn him allegiance, and by doing so, they gave the king who rose from the marshes after a defeat their whole trust to protect them.

An 887 penny forged during the reign of Alfred. It reads "Ælfred Rex." Rex is Latin for 'King' and is still used when referencing a king (or 'Regina' for queen) on English currency. A British monarch still signs their name with "R" after their name for either Rex or Regina. © National Portrait Gallery, London

An 887 penny forged during the reign of Alfred. It reads “Ælfred Rex.” Rex is Latin for ‘King’ and is still used when referencing a king (or ‘Regina’ for queen) on English currency. A British monarch still signs their name with “R” after their name for either Rex or Regina. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Alfred’s success is greatly measured by the way he valiantly carried himself with dignity, completely unwilling to accept defeat, yet absolutely willing to compromise. Perhaps at the end of the day, he simply asked his subjects to do just that. For many, given the fact that the taxes were paid and the burhs and the ships were completed, a compromise was the greatest way to give hearty ‘thanks’ to the hero of their home. And sure enough, when Viking raids returned in 892, Alfred and the Kingdom of Wessex were extremely prepared.

The Easter Rising (1916)

The Easter Rising is among the most significant moments in Irish history. It stands out in memory as a profound moment for Irish freedom and lives as an example of the everlasting strength and courage of Irish men and women. Sometimes referred to as the Easter Rebellion, the “Easter Rising” was a revolt staged in Ireland by Irish Republicans with the hopes of ending British rule and establishing an Irish free state. It was prepared for Easter week, 1916 and it lasted from Easter Monday, April 24th, until April 30th. The Easter Rising, apart from its goal of ending British rule, was the first step towards ending almost a thousand years of British oppression and tyranny on the island. It blazed a pathway for Irish independence and had it never happened, the nation may not be the free state that it is today.

Prior to the Uprising, Ireland had a very personal relationship with British sovereigns. From the 12th century until 1542, the British sovereign had been considered the overlord of the Lordship of Ireland, which was a papal possession.[1] In that year, the Crown of Ireland Act 1542 was passed by Irish Parliament, which granted the English sovereign kingship of the Emerald Isle, proclaiming Henry VIII of England the King of Ireland.[2] Following this legislation, true problems did not arise until 1707 when England and Scotland were combined into one Great Britain, which Ireland could not join as it was still under certain restrictions from England.[3] Irish Parliament responded by addressing Queen Anne, stating “May God put it in your royal heart to add greater strength and lustre to your crown, by a still more comprehensive Union.”[4] The exclusion of Ireland while under British rule created a series of events that led to many clashes, particularly the 1798 Rebellion, which is comparable to none other than the Easter Uprising itself.

The Rebellion in 1798 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 participated and together lost a total of over 20-30,000 men and women. The revolutionary movements of the Americans and the French in prior decades influenced this particular uprising, and “The United Irishmen” became a significant group inspired by the age of revolution.[5] 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.[6] Rioting took place throughout the 1790’s and the country became more and more angered by British oppression. Religious differences came into focus.

A propaganda sheet from a book depicting violent massacres of Protestants by Catholics during the events of 1798. ©Hulton Archive.

A propaganda sheet from a book depicting violent massacres of Protestants by Catholics during the events of 1798. ©Hulton Archive.

Above is a sheet from a propaganda booklet describing the bloody massacres of Protestants by Catholics in 1798.[7] 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.”[8] 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.[9] Despite the fact that many of the reasons for clashing with the British were due to clashes between religion and politics, the United Irishmen consisted of people of all different religious backgrounds.

In addition, Britain was still aggravated by the fact that France had helped the American Colonies during the American Revolution from 1776-1783. Napoleon, who was about to become Emperor of a new French Empire, had plans to invade England.[10] England was faced with Irish Rebellion with the help of Napoleon’s forces, and by the end of 1796, a French fleet almost landed on the coast of Ireland with the intent of driving English forces out of the region.[11] According to Moody and Martin, from a military point of view, the efforts were so badly planned that this failed, as it became an isolated struggle and an even worse battle with the weather.

Widespread fighting wracked the summer of 1798. British Prime Minister William Pitt understood that the outcome of rebellion based on nationalism, which involves emotional factors, was too unpredictable.[12] He had the Act of Union passed in 1800 and in 1801 Ireland became a part of the United Kingdom.[13] Ireland was granted a seat in parliament and this gave the country a chance to let her voice be heard.[14]

This however simply gave Britain ‘breathing room’ and is interpreted by some historians as a way that London avoided even worse conflicts between Catholics and Protestants. There were several small uprisings throughout the nineteenth century, particularly during the reign of Victoria. A notable protest of British rule happened during the Great Famine from 1845 to 1847, when the Irish had completely lost faith in the British government because of their lack of aide. Yet still, no other uprising was as demanding as the one of Easter, 1916.

Patrick Henry Pearse, a schoolteacher and barrister, stood outside the Dublin General Post Office after noon on Easter Monday in 1916 to read the proclamation of the Irish Republic.[15] In this proclamation, he reflected on generations past, the ‘dead generations,’ from which a great sense of nationalism and individual pride was born. It was a day that he hoped would finally succeed in breaking eight centuries of British rule over Ireland. Part of the framework that led up to the Rising included the fact that the British government suspended the recently enacted Home Rule Bill because of the outbreak of World War I.[16] The Home Rule Bill had guaranteed a measure of political autonomy to Ireland. Taking it away angered many nationalists who had waited forty years for it to take effect.[17]

The 1916 Proclamation.

The 1916 Proclamation.

Contrary to the notion that Irish independence had to be shelved because of war efforts, Patrick Pearse felt the complete opposite- he believed that the timing was perfect to throw the British off course while their attention was divided. He wanted full Irish independence and not what the suspended Home Rule Bill of 1912 would have offered him.[19] Pearse helped to organize and lead the Irish Volunteers prior to the outbreak of World War I in 1914, which were the public face of the outlawed Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).[20] The IRB is famously known today as a group that set its face against the danger of political sell-outs, and according to historian Charles Townshend, “rejected all participation in the British political system in favour [sic] of a commitment to ‘physical force’ to remove British rule.”[21] Together, both the Volunteers and the IRB made up a portion of the ‘rebels’ who were committed to full on combat against Britain, and the smaller Irish Citizen army soon joined them. Along with 200 members of Cumann na mBan, they hoped to establish an Irish free state.

Before noon on Easter, the rebels set out to occupy a number of imposing buildings in the inner city area of Dublin, which included the General Post Office, Jacob’s Factory and Boland’s Bakery. The General Post Office was the nerve center of the rebellion, and after it was taken, two flags were hoisted on each side of the building: one was the tricolored flag, the other was a green flag with the inscription ‘Irish Rebublic’ on it. It was just after this that Patrick Pearse read the proclamation outside the General Post Office, the powerful words that called Irish men and women to their feet to claim what was and remains rightfully theirs away from British hands.

In the beginning of the Rising, the authorities had only 400 troops to confront about 1,000 rebels. The British military onslaught did not mobilize at first, but the week ensued several intense street battles. Before noon the rebels set out to occupy a number of imposing buildings in the inner city area of Dublin, which included the General Post Office, Jacob’s Factory and Boland’s Bakery. The General Post Office was the nerve center of the rebellion, and after it was taken, two flags were hoisted on each side of the building: one was the tricolored flag, the other was a green flag with the inscription ‘Irish Rebublic’ on it. It was just after this that Patrick Pearse read the proclamation outside the General Post Office, the powerful words that called Irish men and women to their feet to claim what was and remains rightfully theirs away from British hands.

In the beginning of the Rising, the authorities had only 400 troops to confront about 1,000 rebels. The British military onslaught did not mobilize at first, but the week ensued several intense street battles. By Friday of that week, Britain responded by sending reinforcements to the capital, putting 1,600 rebels against roughly 17-20,000 soldiers.[22] On April 28th, Dublin came under a violent attack that devastated a great deal of the central parts of the city. By the end of the revolt, over 400 civilians had died.[23] The poet AE (George Russell) explained his reactions to the events leading up to this kind of catastrophe in a verse of his writing:

Their dream had left me numb and cold,

But yet my spirit rose in pride,

Refashioning in burnished gold

The images of those who died

Or were shut in the penal cell.[24]

Scavengers Poor children of Dublin collecting firewood from the ruined buildings damaged in the Easter Rising. ©Hulton Archive.

Scavengers Poor children of Dublin collecting firewood from the ruined buildings damaged in the Easter Rising. ©Hulton Archive.

Patrick Pearse surrendered to the British army on Friday, April 28th. According to Patrick Mannion, there is significant historical debate as to how Irish popular opinion of independence shifted following the events of the rising.[26] It is said that most people did not approve of the mass violence that had taken place. However, beginning on May 3rd of that year, 15 influential rebel leaders were shot by firing squads, including Patrick Pearse and his younger brother, Willie.[27] Irish sentiments drastically changed. As one commentator noted, “a few unknown men shot in a barrack yard has embittered a whole nation.”[28]

After the end of the war in November 1918, Sinn Féin secured a majority of 73 Irish seats in the general election. The Sinn Féin was a political party- a manifestation of the Irish revolution.[29] It represented a vast number of different beliefs, traditions, and methods, and it was a coalition between two different forms of Irish nationalism.[30] One was committed to the establishment of an Irish republic by revolutionary measures (which had occurred).[31] The other was aimed at a more limited degree of independence which could keep Ireland a part of the United Kingdom but still have a great deal of freedom from London.[32] Eamon de Valera, co-rebel alongside Arthur Griffith and Patrick Pearse, and future president of the Republic of Ireland, supported the latter.

In 1919, twenty-seven Sinn Féin MPs assembled in Dublin and proclaimed themselves as an independent parliament of an Irish Republic, ignored by Britain, which ensured the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921).[33] War persisted until a truce on July 11, 1921, and Sinn Féin representatives were sent to London to negotiate.[34] Initially, Arthur Griffith and Eamon de Valera (who both lead the Sinn Féin, or “do it ourselves” rebel movement of Ireland), were at one in the arrangement of the negotiations.[35] A treaty was in fact reached on January 7, 1922, and British troops left Ireland.[36]

And so it is important to understand that people did not wake up on Easter and decide to start a revolution. The seeds for the actions of that week were planted centuries earlier, and fueled by centuries of oppression, tyranny, and even neglect in years more recent to the rising 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, she admitted to the harshness and unnecessary brutality of their shared history. Above all, she opened the speech in the Irish language.

To have done so is the mark of someone who hopes to find peace between two nations that share a rough history. Especially, when a hundred years ago, the Irish would have been persecuted for speaking their own language. One can only hope that the Queen’s visit in 2011 secured Irish freedom and a sense of sympathy from British neighbors, and remain confident that peace will remain intact throughout the new century and forward.

*

”A huachtarain agus a chaired.”

(President and friends).


  • [1] James Loughlin. The British Monarchy and Ireland, 1800 to the Present. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 1.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Ibid., 2.
  • [4] William Cobett and Thomas Curson. The Parliamentary History of England, from the Earliest Period to the Year 1803. London: T.C. Hansard, 1819.
  • [5] T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin. The Course of Irish History. Cork: The Mercier Press, 1967. 239.
  • [6] Edward Hay. History of the Irish Insurrection of 1798. New York: John Kennedy, 1847. 7.
  • [7] Getty. “Scenes from the Irish Rebellion of 1798”. ©Hulton Archive, 1886.
  • [8] T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin, The Course of Irish History, 239.
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] Thomas Packenham. The Year of Liberty: The Story of the Great Irish Rebellion of 1798. Panther, 1972. 392.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin, The Course of Irish History, 246-247.
  • [13] Ibid., 247.
  • [14] Charles Townshend. Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2006. 24.
  • [15] Ibid., 1.
  • [16] T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin, The Course of Irish History, 304-305.
  • [17] T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin, The Course of Irish History, 304-305.
  • [18] Charles Townshend, Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion, Preface.
  • [19] Charles Townshend, Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion, 21.
  • [20] Ibid., 3.
  • [21] Ibid.
  • [22] Patrick Mannion. “Newfoundland Responses to the Easter Rebellion and the Rise of Sinn Fein ,” 1, no. April 1916 (1919): 1719–1726. 2.
  • [23] Ibid.
  • [24] Goddard Lieberson. The Irish Uprising. New York: Hinkhouse, Inc., 1966. 24.
  • [25] Getty. “Scavengers Poor Children of Dublin Collecting Firewood from the Ruined Buildings Damaged in the Easter Rising”. Dublin: ©Hulton Archive, 1916.
  • [26] Patrick Mannion,  “Newfoundland Responses to the Easter Rebellion and the Rise of Sinn Fein ,” 1, no. April 1916 (1919): 1719–1726. 2.
  • [27] Ibid.
  • [28] Michael Laffan. The Resurrection of Ireland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 53.
  • [29] Ibid., 4.
  • [30] Ibid.
  • [31] Ibid.
  • [32] Ibid.
  • [33] T.W. Moody and F.X. Martin, The Course of Irish History, 311.
  • [34] Ibid., 324.
  • [35] Ibid., 324-325.
  • [36] Ibid., 304-305.
  • [37] Getty. “The Queen Observes a Minute’s Silence After Laying a Wreath at the Irish War Memorial Garden in Islandbridge During Her Historic Visit. Picture: Getty Images Source: The Australian.” The Australian. The Australian, 2011.

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.