Historical Happenings

Congratulations to President Boyle for his article on Irish Slavery in our last issue.  We should all do our best to educate people to the trials and tribulations, as well as the glories of our predecessors.  The great thing about this article is the interest it inspired.  We received one e-mail from a history professor in Oklahoma who wrote that Shay had mixed up the two Kings James.  The professor noted that James I was really the one who started Irish slavery while James II was the last Catholic King of England and asked for a correction to rescue James II from being an enslaver of Roman Catholics.  We also received an e-mail from a respected historian in Brooklyn that the article looks to be plagiarized from the author, John Martin and the author should have received more credit. We also received several e-mails asking for sources where they could learn more about the subject.  All these e-mails were welcome since it gave us the chance to respond.  First of all, the Kings James are easy to mix up for while James I was, in fact, the one who began  selling the Irish into slavery, it was Cromwell who increased it and James II who kept it going!  In truth, before he was even King, James II was the Duke of York and head of the Stuart family’s Royal African Company which, between 1680 and 1688, sent 249 shiploads of 60,000 slaves to the Indies and American Colonies, more than 14,000 of whom died in passage.  Few realize that for 100 years after the post-Cromwell restoration of the Crown, during the reigns of King Charles II as well as James II, there were more Irish sold as slaves than Africans.  As for the source of the information, Shay credits the Cape May, NJ AOH meeting and he does refer to the book by John Martin urging the reader to look further into the subject.  It should be noted here that the article by John Martin appears in many places on the internet from a Rastafarian News blog to Irish American web sites and not always properly credited.  However, it’s in Martin’s article that we find that, The Irish slave trade began when James II sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World.  His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies.  Factually, in 1625 James II hadn’t even been born yet, and I’m sure that Mr. Martin mixed up the James boys as well.  However, when James II became King in 1685, he had already profited from selling Irish and was unable to overrule his Puritan Parliament.  But our President is right, more people should learn this little-known part of our history.  A good place to begin is with the book, To Hell or Barbados, The Ethnic Cleansing of Ireland by Sean O’Callaghan which is available on Amazon.com.

Back in the September 2007 Hibernian Digest, we told the story of 57 young Irishmen who reportedly died of cholera while working on a railroad spur about 20 miles west of Philadelphia and ended up in a mass grave hastily dug beside the tracks.  In that article we speculated that anti-Irish sentiment at the time may have resulted in a more violent end for these young men and that only the location and examination of the remains would verify that.  A shin bone, found in 2009, convinced diggers that they were at the proper location and exploration continued.   After several years of fruitlessly scouring the area for the men’s final resting place, seven sets of remains have been uncovered and the latest bodies do show signs of a violent end. On 20 August, Lori Murphy reported on Irishphiladelphia.com an update to the story and in the August 24 edition of the Irish Echo, our friend Ray O’Hanlon featured the news under a banner headline IT WAS MURDER!  According to Ms Murphy, two skulls unearthed at a probable mass grave near Philadelphia this month showed signs of violence, including a possible bullet hole. Another pair of skulls found earlier at the woodsy site also displayed traumas, seeming to confirm the suspicions of two historians leading the archaeological dig.  Professor Watson, chairman of the history department at nearby Immaculata University who has been digging for nearly a decade with his twin brother Frank to unravel the 178-year-old mystery said, This was much more than a cholera epidemic.  He told the Echo, their skulls show signs of a violent death.  The men suffered very bad blows to the head while one of the skulls had what appears to be a bullet hole. Anti-Irish nativist sentiment made 19th-century America a hostile place for these workers, who lived in a shanty in the woods while laying track.  It is now believed that when some of the workers fell ill, they sent for help and a group of nuns came to administer to them.  Meanwhile when word got out that some of the workers had cholera, anti-Irish prejudice and fear of the disease prompted an attack by nativist vigilantes.  That theory is now supported by the recovered remains.  Janet Monge, an anthropologist working on the project, said, I don’t think we need to be so hesitant in coming to the conclusion now that violence was the cause of death and not cholera, although these men might have had cholera in addition. She added, Last year, when we only had two skulls to examine, I was a bit hesitant in claiming that we were looking at traumatic death, but this year, in every specimen that we examine, it really seems to indicate that they were victims of blunt-force trauma around the time of death.  Check out Duffy’s Cut on the internet for more information – it’s a remarkable story!  And we agree with our friend Ray, it was murder!

Another remarkable story has just been released by Harolyn Enis in her book When Ireland Fell Silent.  As a historian, I rarely, if ever, read fiction.  The only exception is books by Morgan Llyewelyn who creates a fictional person or persons to live out and tell the story behind historical events as did John Steinbeck in Grapes of Wrath.  Well, we have another like author in Harolyn Enis.  I was drawn to her book by its subject – the Great Hunger.  As a student of that subject for many years and having written and lectured extensively on it myself, I thought to do  a critical analysis and expose another revisionist historian who minimizes the catastrophe and calls it a famine rather than the genocide that it was.  Surprise of surprises, I found that I couldn’t put the book down.  It is not only factual in every detail, but her style of writing put me in the cottage beside the Reilly family that she created to take us through the horrors of hunger.  I even welled up tears at her telling of the American Wake.  More than the formal  facts format of most histories, you will find this one easy to read and, more important, easy to comprehend, even though it will never be easy to understand the rationale for the Hunger.  This is so much better than a pure history, it is a true history for even though the family is fictitious, it allows you to experience anxiety, frustration and desperation as they experience the historically factual hardships imposed by a greedy colonial administration.  More importantly, it explains the survival of our Irish culture despite the tragic times.

I contacted the author to offer my congratulations and she told me that her son, Brian, started reading the book and after the first 100 pages expressed the opinion that the Irish should not have died passively without a fight.  After reading more, he offered a profound evaluation: The more I think about it, he said, it was HOPE that kept them passive.  By the time hope was gone and they realized that the British were not going to help them, they were too weak.  If they had known British intentions from the beginning, they would have been more aggressive.  It was Hope that did them in. An astute observation!  To read this book is to experience An Gorta Mor.  It will be available on Amazon.com in October, check out the review in this issue.

Don’t forget to check out the histories on AOH.COM and NYAOH.COM and until next time, keep the tradition alive.

Irish Slaves

Brothers, by the time you read this edition of the Digest, the convention in Cincinnati will be another piece of history. As I write this column today I think of history and our ancestors and what they went through for centuries. We know about the forced famine of the mid 1800’s and about Cromwell and his murderous deeds and more recently about the troubles of the past 40 years. How many of you know about the slavery of the Irish?

Last month I attended a meeting of the AOH Division 1, Cape May County New Jersey and found out more than I really would have liked to know about the slavery of the Irish people. It is one of the least known atrocities against the Irish nation and one that we all should be aware of.

Although I knew about slavery and the Irish, I could not believe the vastness of this issue over so many years and yet we see very little or none of this in our history books in Ireland or here in America.

I am not going to give you a history lesson (that is Mike McCormack’s job and he is excellent at it) but I do want to make you aware of this part of our past and I thank the members in North Wildwood NJ for opening my mind to this part of our history. The following factual events are just the tip of the iceberg and by reading this small part of a book by author John Martin, I hope it makes you feel the need to look further into the subject and pass this information on to your family, children, grandchildren and your friends.

We do take a lot of flack about our nationality and the stereotyping so it is incumbent upon all of us to counter this and this is one way to educate them and possibly shock them by telling the story of the Irish slaves.

They came as slaves; vast human cargo transported on tall British ships bound for the Americas. They were shipped by the hundreds of thousands and included men, women, and even the youngest of children.

Whenever they rebelled or even disobeyed an order, they were punished in the harshest ways. Slave owners would hang their human property by their hands and set their hands or feet on fire as one form of punishment. They were burned alive and had their heads placed on pikes in the marketplace as a warning to other captives.

We don’t really need to go through all of the gory details, do we? After all, we know all too well the atrocities of the African slave trade. But, are we talking about African slavery?

King James II and Charles I led a continued effort to enslave the Irish. Britain’s famed Oliver Cromwell furthered this practice of dehumanizing one’s next door neighbor.

The Irish slave trade began when James II sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies. By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat. At that time, 70% of the total population of Montserrat was Irish slaves.

Ireland quickly became the biggest source of human livestock for English merchants. The majority of the early slaves to the New World were actually white. From 1641 to 1652, over 500,000 Irish were killed by the English and another 300,000 were sold as slaves. Ireland’s population fell from about 1,500,000 to 600,000 in one single decade. Families were ripped apart as the British did not allow Irish dads to take their wives and children with them across the Atlantic. This led to a helpless population of homeless women and children. Britain’s solution was to auction them off as well.

During the 1650s, over 100,000 Irish children between the ages of 10 and 14 were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In this decade, 52,000 Irish (mostly women and children) were sold to Barbados and Virginia. Another 30,000 Irish men and women were also transported and sold to the highest bidder. In 1656, Cromwell ordered that 2000 Irish children be taken to Jamaica and sold as slaves to English settlers.

Many people today will avoid calling the Irish slaves what they truly were: Slaves. They’ll come up with terms like “Indentured Servants” to describe what occurred to the Irish. However, in most cases from the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish slaves were nothing more than human cattle.

As an example, the African slave trade was just beginning during this same period. It is well recorded that African slaves, not tainted with the stain of the hated Catholic theology and more expensive to purchase, were often treated far better than their Irish counterparts.

African slaves were very expensive during the late 1600s (50 Sterling). Irish slaves were cheap (no more than 5 Sterling). If a planter whipped or branded or beat an Irish slave to death, it was never a crime. A death was a monetary setback, but far cheaper than killing a more expensive African.

The English masters quickly began breeding the Irish women for both their own personal pleasure and for greater profit. Children of slaves were themselves slaves, which increased the size of the master’s free workforce. Even if an Irish woman somehow obtained her freedom, her kids would remain slaves of her master. Thus, Irish moms, even with this new found emancipation, would seldom abandon their kids and would remain in servitude.

In time, the English thought of a better way to use these women (in many cases, girls as young as 12) to increase their market share: The settlers began to breed Irish women and girls with African men to produce slaves with a distinct complexion. These new “mulatto” slaves brought a higher price than Irish livestock and, likewise, enabled the settlers to save money rather than purchase new African slaves.

This practice of interbreeding Irish females with African men went on for several decades and was so widespread that, in 1681, legislation was passed “forbidding the practice of mating Irish slave women to African slave men for the purpose of producing slaves for sale.” In short, it was stopped only because it interfered with the profits of a large slave transport company.

England continued to ship tens of thousands of Irish slaves for more than a century. Records state that, after the 1798 Irish Rebellion, thousands of Irish slaves were sold to both America and Australia.

There were horrible abuses of both African and Irish captives. One British ship even dumped 1,302 slaves into the Atlantic Ocean so that the crew would have plenty of food to eat.

There is little question that the Irish experienced the horrors of slavery as much (if not more in the 17th Century) as the Africans did. There is, also, very little question that those brown, tanned faces you witness in your travels to the West Indies are very likely a combination of African and Irish ancestry.

In 1839, Britain finally decided on its own to end its participation in Satan’s highway to hell and stopped transporting slaves. While their decision did not stop pirates from doing what they desired, the new law slowly concluded THIS chapter of nightmarish Irish misery.

But, if anyone, black or white, believes that slavery was only an African experience, then they’ve got it completely wrong. Irish slavery is a subject worth remembering, not erasing from our memories. None of the Irish victims ever made it back to their homeland to describe their ordeal. These are the lost slaves; the ones that time and biased history books conveniently forgot.

What We Need To Know About 1641

The organized colonization of Ulster by settlers from England and Scotland began in 1609 under King James I.  Half a million acres of the best land in Ulster were confiscated to settle colonists who had to be English-speaking and Protestant and agree to expel the native Catholic Irish.  After 32 years of land theft, the Irish rose in October, 1641 to seek terms and end the oppression.  The rising took England by surprise and to incite support against the rebels, a story of a great massacre of 600,000 innocent Protestant settlers was propagated.

English author John Milton declared, the rebellion and horrid massacre of English Protestants in Ireland, to the amount of 154,000 in the province of Ulster only; which, added to the other three, makes up the total sum of that slaughter, in all likelihood, four times as great. Recent research shows that the number was more like 4,000 killed, though thousands were expelled from their homes as the Irish reclaimed their land.  Some estimate that the total lost could have been as high as 12,000 since many of those expelled died of exposure or disease in the depths of winter just as the Irish did who had been previously dispossessed by them.  Early targets of hostility were the English administrators but violence escalated after a failed rebel assault on Lisnagarvey in November.  Several hundred rebels were captured, after which they were simply executed by the settlers without even a hearing.  After that, the settlers themselves became targets.

In 1879, Dr John McDonnell, physician and British administrator in Ireland, refuted Milton’s exaggeration in his book The Ulster Civil War of 1641, in which he wrote, Those really acquainted with the history of the time believed that the myths of an organized, sweeping and wholesale massacre of the protestant men, women and children of Ulster had been relegated to the limbo of exploded falsehoods.  However, the damage had been done and an avenging army under Oliver Cromwell resulted.  A collection of accounts by victims was assembled between 1642 and 1655 and is now housed in Trinity College, Dublin.  That collection is being reviewed to present a revised view of the 1641 Rising.  The problem with examining that collection is that the accounts were taken from the English settlers who had been evicted.  Many subsequent reviews of this material show that they were exaggerated, biased or total lies.  The fairest English historian of the period, the Rev. Ferdinando Warner, examined the accounts and wrote, There is no credit to be given to any thing that was said by these people; which had not evidence to confirm it; the reason why so many idle silly tales were registered, of what this body heard another body say, was to swell the collection to two-and-thirty thick volumes, in folio, closely written, it is easier to conjecture, than it is to commend.  According to Warner, The number of people killed, upon positive evidence, collected in two years after the insurrection broke out, adding them all together, amounts only to 2,109; on the reports of other Protestants, 1,619 more; and on the report of some of the rebels themselves, a further number of 300; the whole making 4,028. Besides these murders, there is, in the same collection, evidence, on the report of others, of 8,000 killed by bad usage (cold and sickness).

English historian Thomas Carte wrote in his General History of England, published in 1747, other uncertain, mistaken, false, and contradictory accounts had been given of the Irish Rebellion, by writers influenced by selfish views and party animosities. That was buttressed by historian Thomas Leland, senior fellow of Trinity College, whose History of Ireland was published in 1773.  Leland wrote that the English were indefatigable in endeavoring to load the Irish with the guilt of new conspiracies and even manifest forgeries were received as solid proof. Nelson McCausland, Northern Ireland’s recent DUP Minister of Culture wrote, Even the lower figure of 4,000 is greater than the number of people killed in the recent Troubles and yet it happened when the Protestant population of Ulster was much smaller – only 100,000.  Furthermore it happened in a much shorter period and in addition to those who were murdered, many others died rather as a result of ill treatment and deprivation. These paragraphs, written by enlightened Protestant historians, after investigation of the subject, should be adequate to refute the exaggerated one-sided statements in the collection of so-called witness accounts.

Matthew Carey, American publisher and patriot, wrote in the 1800s, never, since the world was formed, did forgery, fraud and perjury prevail to such an extent, as in the evidence taken to establish the Irish massacre, as it was termed.  This object was to incriminate the Catholics, sacrifice them on gibbets, and confiscate their property. He also quoted from the works of the Right Honorable Edmund Burke in that They (the English) divided the nation into two distinct parties, without common interest, sympathy, or connection.  One of these was to possess all the franchises, all the property, all the education. The other was to be composed of drawers of water and cutters of turf for them.

Members of the AOH should know that the Rising of 1641 was led by Rory O’More, nephew of Rory Og O’More, who began the chain of defensive societies that led to the organization we serve today.  It was that rising that created the Confederation of Kilkenny.  Patriot and author Charles Gavan Duffy wrote of Rory Og’s nephew and namesake Then a private gentleman, with no resources beyond his intellect and his courage, this Rory, when Ireland was weakened by defeat and confiscation and guarded with a jealous care, constantly increasing in strictness and severity, conceived the vast design of rescuing the country from England, and even accomplished it; for, in three years, England did not retain a city in Ireland but Dublin and Drogheda, and for eight years the land was possessed, and supreme authority exercised, by the Confederation created by O’More.  History contains no stricter instance of the influence of an individual mind. The Irish air The March of the King of Laois, made famous by the Chieftains in the 1970s, commemorates O’More’s exploits in the 1641 rising.  The Way Home video on our National web site (AOH.COM) gives more details on the chain of defensive societies.