Category Archives: Ireland in 1800s

Republican POWs and the struggle in Maghaberry today

by Nathan Hastings

The following is designed to outline the historical context of Republican Prisoners and their conditions in Maghaberry Jail. This is not aimed at providing a detailed history, but at illuminating the issues which exist in Maghaberry today.

There is a long history of Irish women and men being imprisoned as a result of their opposition to the occupation of Ireland. Through-out this history there has been a recurring theme of Britain and its agents using imprisonment and conditions in the sites of imprisonment to attack and harass those who it has viewed as rebellious or troublesome. This has been carried out as a matter of both direct state policy and the cruelty and resentment of those in control in the sites of captivity.

In response to this there has been the recurring theme of struggle and resistance to oppression amongst those imprisoned through generations. This theme can be seen, for example, in the refusal of members and supporters of the Land League to wear prison clothes, shave or cut their hair whilst imprisoned, opposing the prison uniform. The response to this in the 1880s was an offer of civilian-style clothing.

This is almost identical to Read the rest of this entry

Lenin (1914) on the British Liberals and the historic exploitation of Ireland

What is taking place today in the British Parliament in connection with the Bill on Irish Home Rule is of exceptional interest as far as class relationships and elucidation of the national and the agrarian problems are concerned.

For centuries England has enslaved Ireland, condemned the Irish peasants to unparalleled misery and gradual extinction from starvation, driven them off the land and compelled hundreds of thousands and even millions of them to leave their native country and emigrate to America. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Ireland had a population of five and a half millions; today the population is only four and one-third millions. Ireland has become depopulated. Over five million Irish emigrated to America in the course of the nineteenth century, so that there are now more Irish in the United States than there are in Ireland!

The appalling destitution and sufferings of the Irish peasantry are an instructive example of the lengths to which the landowners and the liberal bourgeoisie of a “dominant” nation will go. Britain owes her “brilliant” economic development and the “prosperity” of her industry and commerce largely to her treatment of the Irish peasantry, which recalls the misdeeds of the Russian serf-owner Saltychikha.[1]

While Britain “flourished”, Ireland moved towards extinction and remained an undeveloped, semi-barbarous, purely agrarian country, a land of poverty-stricken tenant farmers. But much as the “enlightened and liberal” British bourgeoisie desired to perpetuate Ireland’s enslavement and poverty, reform inevitably Read the rest of this entry

“(T)he clearest exposition of the doctrine of revolution, social and political”: Connolly on Fintan Lalor

James Fintan Lalor, 1807-1849

The piece below is taken from chapter 14 (“Socialist Teaching of the Young Irelanders: Thinkers and Workers”) of James Connolly’s Labour in Irish History (1910).  I’ve broken up very big paragraphs.

. . . But the palm of honour for the clearest exposition of the doctrine of revolution, social and political, must be given to James Fintan Lalor, of Tenakill, Queen’s County. Lalor, unfortunately, suffered from a slight physical disability, which incapacitated him from attaining to any leadership other than intellectual, a fact that, in such a time and amidst such a people, was fatal to his immediate influence. Yet in his writings, as we study them to-day, we find principles of action and of society which have within them not only the best plan of campaign suited for the needs of a country seeking its freedom through insurrection against a dominant nation, but also held the seeds of the more perfect social peace of the future.

All his writings at this period are so illuminating that we find it difficult to select from the mass any particular passages which more deserve reproduction than others. But as an indication of the line of argument pursued by this peerless thinker, and as a welcome contrast to the paralysing respect, nay, reverence, for landlordism evidenced by Smith O’Brien and his worshippers, perhaps the following passages will serve. In Read the rest of this entry

Marx, Engels on the Fenians and the British working class: some letters

Based on their direct experience of political work in Britain, in particular within the wokring class movement, Marx and Engels came to the conclusion that the British working class could never develop independent class politics in their own interests unles sand until they learned to support the freedom struggle in Ireland.

While the two great revolutionaries disagreed strongly with some of the tactics of the Fenians (or the tactics of some of the Fenians), they did all they could to support Fenian prisoners in England and to rally workers, especially in England, around the cause of the Fenians.

Below are some letters by both Marx and Engels from early November 1867:

Marx to Engels, November 2, 1867
The proceedings against the Fenians in Manchester were every inch what could be expected. You will have seen what a row ‘our people’ kicked up in the Reform League. I have sought in every way to provoke Read the rest of this entry

Jenny Marx (1870) on landlords, repression and ‘agrarian outrages’ in Ireland

Jenny Marx with her mother Jenny von Westphalen

The following is an extract from one of the articles that Jenny Marx wrote about Ireland in February, March and April 1870.  She was one of the daughters of Karl Marx, the one who had the most to do with ‘the Irish Question’, for instance campaigning in support of the Fenian prisoners.  The full texts of the eight articles appear in Ireland and the Irish Question: a collection of writings by Karl Marx & Frederick Engels (New York, International Publishers, 1972), pp379-403.

In Ireland the plundering and even extermination of the tenant farmer and his family by the landlord is called the property right, whereas the desperate farmer’s revolt against his ruthless executioner is called an agrarian outrage. These agrarian outrages, which are actually very few in number but are multiplied and exaggerated out of all proportion by the kaleidoscope of the English press in accordance with orders received, have, as you will know, provided the excuse for reviving the regime of white terror in Ireland. On the other hand, this regime of terror makes it possible for the landowners to redouble their oppression with impunity.

I have already mentioned that the Land Bill consolidates landlordism under the pretext of giving aid to the tenant farmers. Nevertheless, in order to pull the wool over people’s eyes and clear his conscience, Gladstone was compelled to grant this new lease of life to landlord despotism subject to certain legal formalities. It should suffice to say that in the future as in the past the landlord’s word will become law if he succeeds in imposing on his tenants at will the most fantastic rents which are impossible to pay or, in the case of land tenure agreements, make his farmers sign contracts which will bind them to Read the rest of this entry