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Fully 18 months ago I gave an update on my famine project, which consists of two slim volumes. The first was A Purgatory of Misery and the second The Poor Law Inspector. In that post I indicated that the initial draft of the first, an entirely non-fictional account of the events in British and Irish history that led up to the famine, was complete and that I was then embarking on the second, a fictionalised account of the work of Captain Arthur Kennedy in West Clare between late 1847 and mid 1850.
A Purgatory of Misery was published at the end of 2017 but work on The Poor Law Inspector stuttered on and off throughout last year. I finally reached the end last month and passed it to a first reader. At only 50,000 words it is a novella, rather than the full length novel I had hoped to create. That it is so short after such a long time is down to several factors, the main one being the difficulty of presenting the real horror of conditions in that place and time in a way that is not too depressing to read.
The opening chapters were posted to Chapter Buzz at the end of 2017. The book now has a new title, Called to Account, which relates to the fact that Kennedy and the man who came to be his arch rival were involved, in 1851, in a court case as a consequence of an insult delivered in public by Kennedy to the other, who then sued him for libel. I have now structured the book around the court case and Kennedy’s recollections of significant events in his life up to that point.
Once again, it is being posted on Chapter Buzz whilst I work on revisions, including those suggested by my first reader. Follow this link to find it. Your comments and suggestions are most welcome. You can post them there or here.
There is nothing new about refugee crises. As my followers will know, I have, over the last 2-3 years, been exploring the appalling events that took place in Ireland between 1845 and the early 1850s. These events led to an exodus of people from Ireland to North America, and Australia.
Last week I was privileged to be a (minor) part of the 7th International Famine Conference which took place in Strokestown Park House, home of the Irish National Famine Museum. The event was truly international, with contributions from academics from the USA, Canada, Australia the United Kingdom and Germany.
My link will take you to a film by a Canadian documentary film maker, made as part of Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations last year, it describes the way ordinary Canadians responded to the arrival on their shores of ships laden with refugees from Ireland’s disaster. The film received it’s Irish launch on the opening night of the conference.
There are, surely, important lessons to be learned by legislators in the USA and Europe as they grapple with the 21st century refugee crises – not least the reality that we are all descended from immigrants or invaders. We are, indeed, the world. Closing borders is not a moral option.
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I’m planning a live launch of A Purgatory of Misery next month. I created a Facebook event and have been putting up daily posts about Irish history.
I was going to repeat them here but I hit on a better idea. A quiz!
If you know the answers it won’t take you long. If you don’t, you will find them over on the event’s FB page.
Unfortunately it’s not interactive. I’ve researched several quiz widgets but WP requires me to upgrade to the business version in order to install them.
Here are your questions. You can enter your answers in the comments if you want to show off.
- Workhouses were introduced into Ireland by the 1838 Poor Law (Ireland) Act. How many were built in this first phase?
- The book launch is to be held in a former workhouse. It is one of how many additional workhouses that were authorised for construction during the famine?
- The book’s title is taken from a speech by whom?
- 1848 saw rebellions across Europe. What was the name of the Irish man who led the Chartist rebellion in England?
- My co-author’s ancestor was one of how many orphan girls shipped from the workhouses to Australia?
- One of those girls is an ancestor of which former Australian Prime Minister?
- Name the Island off the coast of England where St. Patrick founded a religious community.
- What is the title of my historical novel based on the Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century.
- In which century did the brother of a Scottish king invade Ireland during an earlier famine?
- Name the English poet who took part in the bloody siege of Smerwick.
All the answers can also be found, along with many more shocking facts, in the book. If you can’t get along to the launch – and I know most of you are too far away – you can download the e-book here for Kindle and here for all other e-readers.
The spring and summer of 1848 saw failed rebellions in England and Ireland, both led by Irish men. And the Irish tricoleur, a symbol of peace, made its first appearance. In May, 170 years ago this month, the leaders of the Irish rebellion were sentenced to transportation.
One of Daniel O’Connell’s proteges*, Cork land-owner and lawyer Feargus O’Connor, was elected MP for Cork in 1832. Shortly afterwards he fell out with O’Connell and in 1835 lost his seat in Parliament. He then embarked on a campaign for political reform in England. Founding a newspaper, The Northern Star, he was joined by William Lovett and others.
Their People’s Charter was published – in May 1838 – as a draft parliamentary bill. It contained six points: manhood suffrage; the ballot; abolition of property qualifications for MPs; payment of MPs; equal electoral districts; and annual elections. Thousands of working people had rallied together on the basis of this charter, and hundreds of them had gone to prison for their beliefs.
In the 1847 general election O’Connor was elected MP for Nottingham. By the spring of 1848, inspired by events elsewhere in Europe, the movement was ready to make it’s mark. A petition had been raised, signed, it was claimed, by over 5 million people. A meeting was arranged for April 10th on Kennington Common just across the Thames from Parliament.
The government were well prepared with 170,000 citizens signed up as special constabulary and army units stationed at the entrance to each of the bridges and protecting ministries and ministers’ homes. Despite an expected turn-out of 200,000, a mere 20,000 congregated.
When it began to rain heavily, most quickly disbursed. O’Connor and his henchmen crossed Westminster Bridge in horse drawn carriages and presented his petition which was found to contain only 2 million names, many of them forged, invented and duplicated. The name of no less a figure than the Duke of Wellington appeared 17 times.
Meanwhile, 1848 was a year of turmoil across Europe, with revolutions taking place in France, Germany, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands. In February the last vestige of the French Royal family fled France never to return. Inspired by this, a Young Ireland delegation led by William Smith O’Brien and Thomas Francis Meagher, went, in April, to Paris to meet with representatives of the new French Republic.
Symbol of Peace
Whilst there, they were given a flag modeled on the French Tricoleur on which the three colours that were represented were green, the colour of Catholic nationalism, orange, the colour of Protestant unionism, separated by white to signify the desire for peace between the two traditions. Since 1922 this has been the national flag of the Irish Republic.
For leaders of the Confederation, the fact that the 1848 French revolution had been relatively bloodless was an inspiration and they hoped to be able to mobilise people from all strata of Irish society in a bid to return government of the Irish to Ireland. One of the ways they set out to achieve this was via a newspaper called The Nation. However, the authorities quickly took action to nip the Confederation’s activities in the bud.
The attempted English revolution descended into farce, but the authorities were alerted to the possibility of something similar occurring in Ireland. Three of the leaders of the Irish Confederation were arrested and charged with treason. In May, having been found guilty, they were sentenced to 14 years transportation. Before this punishment could be put into effect, its imposition provided the impetus for a recruitment campaign leading to a potential rebellion.
On 29th July O’Brien led the siege of a cottage in Ballingarry, County Tipperary, in which some members of the constabulary had taken refuge. One of his men was killed by a random shot fired from within the cottage and O’Brien led his men away. He was arrested shortly afterwards at Thurles railway station.
One of the men who had accompanied O’Brien to Paris in April, Richard O’Gorman, was organiser for the rebellion in Limerick. A few days after the Ballngarry incident, a group of about 200 men, supposedly acting on behalf of O’Gorman, held up the Limerick-Tralee mail coach at Abbeyfeale. They confiscated the arms and official dispatches it contained but returned private mail to the postmaster. They considered mounting a siege of the town but, when they heard the news from Tipperary decided to call a halt.
O’Gorman disappeared. Two different speculative accounts of his escape from arrest, include the possibility that he traveled via Kilrush. Indeed, two men were arrested and accused of transporting him aboard a steamer bound for the town. A less likely tale has him aboard another Kilrush bound steamer disguised as a woman.
Whatever the fate of O’Gorman and the other conspirators, there can be no doubt that the rebellion, if not quite as farcical as that in England, nevertheless fizzled out for lack of support. It did nothing to help relieve the suffering of those who had neither food nor the means to acquire it except by sacrificing what few possessions they had. On the contrary, it served to harden public opinion in England where the Irish were already being viewed as ungrateful.
This post contains extracts from chapters 11 and 12 of A Purgatory of Misery.
*For those who may be unfamiliar with the man who gave his name to Ireland’s central thoroughfare and whose statue stands at its southern end, Daniel O’Connell was the leader of a movement seeking repeal of the Act of Union which bound Ireland to the United Kingdom.
A larger-than-life statue of three Irish figures sits on a round stone base, bordered by a walkway that incorporates the donor-bricks and flagstones. The walkway leads to a commemorative wall that narrates the history of the Great Hunger amid Irish immigration. The sidewalk beneath the wall incorporates an outline map depicting the coasts of America […]
I can’t believe it is 6 months since I first posted about this project of mine. If anyone is interested, here is an update on my progress since then.
First of all I need to explain that this is part of a long term project which includes a non-fiction book about the Great Irish Famine, as well as the historical novel based on the activities of Capt. Arthur Kennedy and Colonel Crofton Vandeleur in Kilrush between November 1847 and 1851.
I have been working hard on the non-fiction work over the summer and have what I consider to be a decent draft ready for sharing. I am looking for beta readers but, meanwhile, I intend to publish it here in installments over the coming days. It will appear as pages rather than posts and those pages will be collected under a new menu item ‘Purgatory’ – see it in the menu bar above. I will post about each new page as it is created. A few elements of it have already appeared here as posts.
Well, I have chosen the working title of ‘A Purgatory of Misery: How Victorian Liberalism Exacerbated a National Disaster’. The words come from the following quotation: “except through a purgatory of misery and starvation, I cannot see how Ireland is to emerge into anything approaching either quiet or prosperity.” said by Charles Wood, Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord John Russell’s Whig government, approving the harsher measures contained in the Poor Law Extension Act of June 1847.
Today’s installment consists of the preface and introduction and you can read it here.
I have now recommenced work on The Poor Law Inspector and signed up to produce 10,000 words during October on Tim Pike’s ‘Chapter Buzz’ site. Why not follow my progress over there and join in by commenting?