John Mitchel and the ironies of a 21st Century ‘economic Famine’

Continuing some reflections about my rebel relative John Mitchel (1815-1875) (sparked off by A Young Irelanders commemoration event in Newry this week)

The quote that John Mitchel is most remembered for is this,

‘The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine’

He blamed the English for allowing the Famine to progress while Irish grown grain was exported to Britain. Mammon trumped justice. The only solution to Ireland’s ills was the violent removal of English rule. England took advantage of Ireland’s distress to develop large scale commercial agriculture

Historians like James Quinn judge Mitchel to have been mostly wrong in his invective and rhetoric.

But Mitchel’s damning assessment, combined with his famous polemic telling the story of his transportation, Jail Journal, powerfully shaped generations of Irish nationalists and their interpretation of the Famine.

It helped forge a determination that Ireland would be never again be at the mercy of bigger nations who would put their economic interests before hers. The ‘holy grail’ of Irish nationalism, espoused unwaveringly by de Valera in the 20th Century, was sovereignty, self-reliance and independence.

So to Ireland in November 2010:

Ireland once again is in crisis – this time not starvation but an economic one.

Ironies abound;

– The British Govt is offering billions to help bailout its nearest trading neighbour.

Potatoes, far from being scarce are being exported to Russia by the ship load.

– Ireland is once again at the mercy of bigger nations (like Germany), and organisations like the IMF, more concerned about the stability of the Euro than Ireland’s woes.

– After 90 years of independence, this time there is no-one else to blame. The fault lies with inept government, a Fianna Fail party led by a succession of corrupt or weak leaders, excessive greed in banking and property, and a culture which elected, tolerated and co-operated with all of the above.

I wonder what sort of speech Mitchel would be writing …

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