The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)

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labour to "mistake." But there was no mistake at all; digging holes and filling them up again was precisely the kind of work prescribed in such case by the principles of political economy; and then there were innumerable regulations to be attended to before even this kind of work could be given. The Board of Works would have the roads torn up with such tools as they approved of, and none other—that is, with picks and short shovels; and picks and short shovels were manufactured in England, and sent over by ship loads for that purpose, to the great profit of the hardware merchants in Birmingham. Often there was no adequate supply of these on the spot; then the work was to be task-work—and the poor people, delving Macadamised roads with spades and turf-cutters, could not earn as much as would keep them alive, though, luckily, they were thereby disabled from destroying so much good road.

That all interests in the country were swiftly rushing to ruin was apparent to all. A committee of lords and gentlemen was formed, called a "Reproductive Committee," to urge upon the government that, if the country was to tax itself to supply public work, the labour ought, in some cases, at least, to be employed upon tasks that might be of use. This movement was so far successful that it elicited a letter from the Castle, authorizing such application, but with supplemental instructions so intricate and occult that this also was fruitless.

And the people perished more rapidly than ever. The famine of '47 was far more terrible and universal than that of the previous year. The Whig Government, bound by political economy, absolutely refused to interfere with market prices, and the merchants and speculators were never so busy on both sides of the Channel. In this year it was that the Irish famine began to be a world's wonder; and men's hearts were moved in the uttermost ends of the earth by the recital of its horrors. The London Illustrated News began to be adorned with engravings of tottering, windowless hovels, in Skibbereen and elsewhere, with naked wretches dying on a truss of wet straw; and the constant language of English Ministers and Members in Parliament created the impression abroad that Ireland was in need of alms, and nothing but alms; whereas Irishmen themselves uniformly protested that what they required was Repeal of the Union, so that the English might cease to devour their substance.

It may be interesting to you to know how the English people were faring all this while; and whether "that portion of the United Kingdom," as it is called, suffered much by the famine ...continue reading »

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Page 123

The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)

by John Mitchel


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