Rebellion of 1848

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VII (7) | Start of Chapter

The so-called "Rebellion" of 1848, which sadly sealed the fate of Mitchell and O'Brien, was precisely this law. They had waited and suffered, suffered and waited, till they reached the awful chasm—the famine. They had seen it swallow its thousands, and they saw and felt that this chasm might have been closed; they looked on, they agitated, till their philanthropic love of country and deep sense of justice rushed into a temporary madness, rashness, and an insanity which hurled them headlong into their present abyss. The Tipperary men, who congregated on that hill, with their flocks and herds, gave a rational reply to the priest, who exhorted them to disperse, rational—for uncultivated barbarians, as their enemies call them.

The priest pointed them to the absurdity, the rashness of rising against so formidable an enemy as England and her soldiers stationed in the country. "Better suffer than fight, and fight for nothing, too." They added, "It isn't the likes of us, yer riverence, that looks for the right, or the Repale, but the long winter of the famine will be on us, and we shall die with hunger; the blackguard taxes will take all the cattle, and we took 'em here, plaise your riverence, to ate, and let the soldiers shoot us, and that will be the quick death for us; better than the long hunger, your riverence—better than the hunger." Now, that was certainly, for "barbarians," quite a civilized, if not philosophical answer, and quite in keeping with Irish coolness in difficulty and danger. It was something like a company from a district in the south of Ireland, in the time of the first winter of the famine. They had given up all hope of life, and consulted to go in company to the poorhouse, and die there, that they might be buried in coffins. Such a haggard array of misery had never been seen before in one body, and the soldiers were ordered to be on the spot at the workhouse to keep all in safety. These despairing creatures paused before the red coats and guns, and implored them to shoot them down, and end their long misery at once. This was no false bravado. They were sincere, and not one among them, it is believed, would have shrunk in the face of that death.

This rebellion, it should be told, was not that ungrateful affair as has been represented. It was not agitated, or scarcely known, among the thousands who had been charitably fed in the famine. It originated among the higher classes of well-fed politicians, who were too enlightened not to know the causes of their country's sufferings, and too humane to look on with indifference. They were seconded by a lower class of men, who had not as yet felt the whole force of the famine in their own stomachs, but knew it must speedily come upon them. "Give us death by the bullet," they said, "and not the starvation." All this should be taken into consideration; and beside, this rebellion had nothing to do with the sectarian spirit of the country. Protestants were at the head of it, and many of the Catholics chimed in, but the priests, as a body, stood aloof, and expostulated with their people to do the same. The O'Connells were loud against it, in word and action; and had the Catholics as a body united their forces, Ireland would have been one vast field of blood.