They built mud cabins or huts, just as all the other evicted people did, and it was into these dire conditions that both Patrick and Anne were born. The famine had caused nothing but starvation, the sight of loved ones dying, and squalid living conditions, with terrible diseases ravaging people’s bodies. As well, many saw loved ones walking to the seaports to try to escape the awful situation which had ravaged the land and its people. All of this would leave scars in their memories that never healed. Anne and Patrick went on to have five children, the last of whom was Bridget, born in 1884.
The potato famine which had ravaged the country and its people by disease and starvation left only poverty and deprivation in its wake. This potato blight had caused devastation for the masses of Irish people who depended on the potato for a major source of their nourishment. Potatoes, bread, and butter were the only sources of nourishment in their daily diet, which, monotonous as it was, kept body and soul together to enable the masses to function, to feed their families, and to pay their rents. As a consequence of the potato blight, they were unable to do any of these. They were unable to feed themselves or their families; therefore they were unable to work or pay their rent. It was not only the people who depended completely on the potato but also the cattle, who fed on potatoes in the winter.
Subsequently the wealthy English landlords evicted all their tenant farmers, via their henchmen, and left the masses of Catholics homeless without any clothing or food. Diseases such as cholera, tuberculosis, typhus, and infections of all kinds, such as scabies, sores from broken wounds, scurvy, mouth ulcers, and much more, ravaged their bodies. Without nourishment or medical attention, they died in their thousands day after day. Historians are not sure how many people died, as there were no accurate records kept then; however, it is estimated that one and a half million people died, and roughly the same number emigrated during the initial stages of the famine.
Ireland was under British rule, and Queen Victoria had been on the throne since June 1837. Queen Victoria showed a remarkable indifference to the Irish people during this period. She became known as the ‘Queen of the Famine’, due to her lack of care, total lack of understanding, and certainly her lack of responsibility towards a British-colonised country; this left a lot to be desired. However, when told of the plight of the Irish people, encouraged by her government, she sent a begging letter all around the world asking for funds and alms for the Irish people (see Appendix 1).
The Irish people did not want charity. What they wanted was their right to be looked after by the country that had colonised them. The British establishment made all the policies and legislation, and through their negligence, they failed miserably.
What had been obvious to Daniel O’Connell for many years had now manifested itself in a famine, and he was galled by the terrible tragedy of watching it in 1844. He had spent hours, days, and years, even, in Parliament, trying to make his peers understand that Ireland was in a crisis long before the famine had begun. So when he saw the Irish people now at the mercy of wicked landlords, starving to death, and being evicted for non-payment of rent, he was livid with anger (see Appendix 2).
So it was that Daniel O’Connell, MP, who came from a very prominent Irish Catholic aristocratic background, was often referred to as ‘worse than a public nuisance’ by the workers in the Corporation Offices (Dublin Corporation); it was because of his constant campaigns against the British establishment. He was to make his anger very clearly known to Queen Victoria and her government when he stood up in Parliament two years before his death in 1847. His impassioned speech for justice – to seek aid and not charity – was mocked by the rest of the Parliament yet again.
Nevertheless, he did not let this mocking deter him, and he continued his speech under great duress. He told the Parliament in no uncertain terms that the Irish people did not want charity; they wanted Catholic emancipation, infrastructure, and industry, so that they could get jobs and could work to keep their families. First and foremost, in this instance of unparalleled suffering by the Irish people, the masses of Catholics, he wanted aid from those people whom he was holding responsible – the British establishment.
In response to Daniel O’Connell’s impassioned speech, Queen Victoria continued to draft the begging letter around the world.
In Calcutta, Irishmen who were employed by the East India Company, and Irish soldiers based there, responded to this begging letter by collecting and sending a total of £14,000. Pope Pius IX sent many thousands of pounds, as did the United States of America; the Canadian First Nations people sent much money also. The United States continued to send more funds via every Irish organisation throughout North America. It was also rumoured that many Iranian shahs offered aid, as much as £10,000 and cargoes of corn, and that when the Queen heard of this amount being sent, she sent a letter to tell them that their generosity was too much, as she was only sending £2,000 herself. Luckily for the Irish people, these Iranian shahs ignored Queen Victoria’s letter and continued to send money and food. It was also rumoured that Queen Victoria sent the same amount to the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home on the same day! This was never confirmed, however.
Some historians are inclined to differ on what, where, when, why, and how the famine was caused, and who exactly was to blame. Some historians have even tried to exonerate Sir Charles Trevelyan. A notable journalist called W. Mitchell, however, was to write at the time: ‘The Almighty may have indeed sent the blight, but it was the English who caused the Famine.’ Unfortunately for him, his outspoken comments were to get him tried for sedition and sentenced to deportation.
It was, in fact, Sir Charles Trevelyan, First Baronet and Assistant Secretary of State for Ireland during the famine years (see Appendix 3), who believed that ‘little should be done to intervene, as the Irish deserved what was happening to them’, and that ‘the judgement of God has sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson … It is a mechanism for reducing the surplus Catholic population.’ The historical records are littered with quotes written by Trevelyan in the same insulting, insensitive vein. His record of sending cargos of Irish corn all over the world while allowing the Irish Catholic people to starve during the Great Hunger was a travesty that was not ignored - by later historical analysis of these era.
It has now been noted in history and claimed by Francis A. Boyle, Law Professor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, ‘Trevelyan and the British government pursued a race- and ethnicity-based policy aimed at destroying the group commonly known as the Irish people and that the policy of mass starvation amounted to genocide as per the Hague convention of 1948, approximately 100 years after the famine.’
‘Dennis Clarke, an Irish-American historian, claimed that the famine or “Great Hunger of 1844 was the culmination of generations of neglect, misrule, and repression. Not least, that it was of epic proportions of English Colonial cruelty and inadequacy; for the landless cabin dwellers it meant emigration or extinction'. It would now appear that Trevelyan’s in-actions that intentionally exacerbated the famine and can therefore be in no doubt.
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