Dublin, August 5th, 1847. The city awakens to the toll of cathedral bells. Dublineers from every level of society, from shoeless boys to princes of the church, course through the streets walking towards St. Mary’s. Men sent as representatives from the farthest towns of Ireland pat their pockets, ensuring they have matches to light a votive candle. They’re all going to see a man buried .And not just any man. Three days before, in a year when so many had died without coffins, thousands of people had watched one be carried through the streets. Inside was the Liberator: Daniel O’Connell. Dublineers wept for the man who’d fought for their religious freedom: the first Irish Catholic to sit in parliament and the man who had come closer than anyone to repealing the Act of Union tying Ireland to Great Britain. A crusader who had denounced Anti-Semitism and slavery, and a man who in death had their forgiveness – for in their greatest hour of need, he had failed them. Intro 1847. The British government caved on its policy of trying to morally reform Ireland via food aid. The Prime Minister Lord John Russell recognized the failure of Trevelyan’s aid program and turned to directly feeding three million in Ireland via soup kitchens and work houses. Private charities joined in with, Irish Quakers trying to fill the gap. Donations to the British relief association came from as far away as India, Mexico and Venezuela. Queen Victoria sent public letters asking the British to donate to relief organizations and contributed two thousand pounds, and large donations came from Pope Pius the ninth and the Sultan of Turkey who had also sent ships full of supplies. It was not enough, but it did save many lives. The 1847 harvest was a healthy one with no signs of blight, yet it was only a quarter the size of a normal harvest. Desperate farmers had eaten their seed potatoes in 1846, leaving few to plant for next year’s crop so, though free of blight, Ireland still needed aid. But British relief started to run into popular opposition: homeless Irish refugees were increasingly showing up in British cities, stranded while trying to make it to a port, and the bubble in railroad construction had recently burst, sending Britain into recession and suddenly a public who viewed Ireland with deep prejudice but some sympathy began to sour. The British press portrayed the Irish as freeloaders. Aid was scaled back and began to disappear. And as that happened an 1847 poor law meant to encourage landowners to act responsibly backfired. The Law charged a tax on landowners that rose along with the rate of poverty among their tenants to keep their taxes down. It was thought the landowners would ensure that their tenants weren’t living in poverty. Instead, you would be shocked to learn the landowners found a loophole: mass evictions. They didn’t have a poor rate, after all, if they didn’t have tenants. With the economy collapsing and many tenants too weak to work, landowners had ample excuse to bring in the constables with their sledgehammers and torches, running families out of their homes by bringing the walls down around them. Whole towns turned out on the road took to living in ditches or flooding into cities to fill work houses and beg on the streets. But this incredible cruelty triggered repercussions: the midnight legislators. Militias like the Molly Maguires ambushed landlords, police and even clergy on the road. Four Irish landowners were assassinated that year and in addition, the poor law had another disturbing component to ensure that only the poorest could claim for relief: Only those with less than a quarter acre of farmland could receive food aid. Therefore, many small farmers had to give up all they had to survive. Ireland needed a champion, an advocate, yet despite their great need Irish political leaders were largely absent from the crisis. Daniel O’Connell, who had ran the Repeal Association, Ireland’s largest political bloc, had been outspoken at first, but in 1845 and 1846 he’d failed to recognize the scale of the disaster. Potato failures and food scarcity were nothing new to Ireland, and he believed it would go away. His focus remained underposing Prime Minister Peel. O’Connell saw him as Pro Protestant, anti-Catholic and anti Irish. Therefore, O’Connell led the Irish parliamentary bloc in ousting Peel and served as the kingmakers in bringing the Liberal Whigs to power. O’Connell was playing the long game. He saw the Whigs as willing to compromise on Ireland and in helping them form a government. He hoped to extract promises to win the Irish greater freedom. So he stayed quiet, only speaking up in private as the starvation deepened. He tried to parlay this Whig Alliance into something useful, even voting for harsh crime bills that increased colonists pressure on Ireland. By the time he realized that he’d been played, it was too late. Members of his Repeal Association were up in arms over his support of the Whigs and splitting into factions. On one side were the Old Irelanders. They followed O’Connell’s principles of non-violence. On the other, the Young Irelanders. While they didn’t advocate rebellion, they believed taking it off the table was a strategic mistake. To force concessions out of London, they argued, they had to at least preserve the threat of taking up the gun. So in 1846, O’Connell had finally had enough. Anxious to consolidate his hold over the movement, he forced a crisis in the Repeal Association by calling a vote: to remain part of the Association, all members must pledge to forswear violence. The Young Irelanders walked out, splitting Ireland’s largest political organization. Over the coming year, Old and Young Ireland were at each other’s throats. One Old Irelander, totally adhering to his nonviolent roots, set his dogs on a political opponent, and Old Irelanders interrupted Young Ireland meetings – in one instance ,smashing in the doors with a battering ram. Ireland was experiencing its greatest existential crisis of the 19th century, and its most powerful political organization was wasting its focus on an internecine feud. The results proved tragic for Young Ireland. Unfettered from the moderates in the Repeal Association, they increasingly talked of rebellion and to their surprise, the wheels of rebellion started to turn faster than they’d thought. An uprising, unthinkable in 1847, started to seem inevitable. Scarcity and political disaffection across Europe boiled over in 1848, kicking off a series of bloodless revolutions: the French overthrew their king, Denmark ended in absolute monarchy, Austria abolished serfdom and the Netherlands instituted democracy. Demonstrations surged through the streets of a dozen major cities, and a heady feeling swept through the Young Irelanders: might it be possible? They traveled to Paris to view the new government and brought back a new flag: a tricolour like the French one, but with Catholic green and Protestant orange, united by a white field of truce. And things started to happen. When a prominent Young Ireland leader got arrested, a mob broke in to jail to save him. Armed men flocked to their cause, and it seemed for a moment that the whole nation might rise and throw off the British yoke. But the Young Irelanders had no plan and the British absolutely did. Soldiers and police scooped up the leaders, imprisoning or transporting them to faraway prison colonies. In fact, the only confrontation was a skirmish so minor it was known as the Battle of Mrs. McCormack…’s Cabbage Patch. The Young Irelander rebellion failed because its leaders failed to grasp a basic concept: Ireland was too enfeebled by famine and disease to rise, too devoid of hope, and in autumn of 1848, blight returned. it wasn’t until the end of 1849 that Ireland saw a healthy harvest. But by that time, at least a million people were dead and up to two million emigrated. The great famine proved a landmark in the history of Ireland. One of the most famous mass migrations in history, it spread the Irish people and their culture across the globe. Escapees from the Young Ireland rebellion would flee to the United States and form the Fenian Brotherhood, a revolutionary organization that would carry Irish Republicanism back to the homeland. The famine itself permanently marred relations with Great Britain, ensuring that moderates like Daniel O’Connell would never get the same kind of traction. Future revolutionaries called on the memory of Black ’47, and it might even be argued that the famine set the island inexorably on the path to the Easter Rising. The Ireland that Whigs like secretary Trevelyan wanted to create, one given over to larger scale farming, never permanently came to pass. In fact, the failure of Russell’s free trade policies proved so total, the Whigs lost power in 1852 and dissolved seven years later. Ireland at least did break its reliance on the potato. 1 million people had died due to prejudiced men writing bad policy, a stark warning of what happens when poor relief becomes a tool for political ideology. Trevelyan, for his part, went on to reform the civil service and serve in India, and in 1848, as Irish women and children died homeless along the road, the Queen Knighted Trevelyan for his service to the government. They would later grant him a baronet. Sorry, folks. Sometimes, bad men die in their sleep. But there’s another legacy of the famine, because the Irish remember when they weren’t the ones far away and forgotten, their suffering no more than a line in a newspaper. Today, the Republic of Ireland is a world leader in international food and development aid. In 2018, it provided assistance to over a hundred and thirty countries with 80% of its relief efforts going to Sub-Saharan Africa, and in 2019, they will spend 817 million euros helping the world’s poorest. In a world where one in eight people are malnourished, Ireland has turned its deepest psychological scar into a call to action, and If after hearing this tale, you’d like to help them, check out the links in the description below and see how you can.