Assess the validity of the following statement by John Michel: "The Almighty indeed sent the Potato Blight but the English created the Famine."



"Can we wonder if the Irish people believe that the lives of those who have perished have been sacrificed by a deliberate compact to the gains of English merchants and if this belief has created among all classes a feeling of deep dissatisfaction, not only with the ministry but with English rule. What can be more absurd, what can be more wicked, than for men professing attachment to an imperial Constitution to answer claims now put forward for state assistance to the unprecedented necessities of Ireland, by talking of Ireland being a drain upon the English treasury? If Cornwall (England) had been visited with the scenes that have desolated Cork (Ireland), would similar arguments been used? Would men have stood up and denied that Cornwall was entitled to have the whole country share the extraordinary loss?"

SOURCE: Isaac Butt, a leading Irish Conservative, 1847.



"The (Irish) people have made up their minds to report the worst and believe the worst. Human agency is now denounced as instrumental in adding to the calamity (disaster) inflicted by Heaven. It is no longer submission to Providence, but a murmur (complaint) against the Government...The Government provided work for a people who love it or not. It made this the absolute condition of relief. The Government was required to ward off starvation, not to pamper indolence (laziness). Alas! the Irish peasant has tasted of famine and found it was good...There are ingredients in the Irish character which must be modified and corrected before either individuals or Government can hope to raise the general conditions of the people...For our own part, we regard the potato blight a blessing."

SOURCE: Excerpt from an editorial in The London Times, 1846.



                                    The Famine Year

We are fainting in our misery, but God will hear our groan:
Yet, if fellow-men desert us, will He hearken from His throne?
Accursed are we in our own land, yet toil we still and toil;
But the stranger reaps our harvest—the alien owns our soil.
O Christ! How have we sinned, that on our native plains
We perish homeless, naked, starved, with branded brow of Cain’s?

We are wretches, famished, scorned, human tools to build your pride,
But God will yet take vengeance for the souls for whom Christ died.
Now in your hour of pleasure—bask ye in the world’s caress;
But our whitening bones against ye will rise as witnesses,
From the cabins and the ditches in their charred, uncoffined masses,
For the Angel of the Trumpet will know them as he passes.
A ghastly spectral army, before the great God we’ll stand,
And arraign ye as our murderers, the spoilers of our land!

SOURCE: Excerpt from "The Famine Year" by Lady Wilde.



"On Saturday morning, at an early hour, the powerful Government steamer, Dragon, engaged by the British Association for the Relief of the Distressed Poor in Ireland, sailed from Deptford for the Irish coast, having on board a cargo of several hundred tons weight of articles of food, clothing, flannel, blankets, etc. for distribution in the most distressed districts. This is the very first vessel dispatched by the association, but others will follow in succession as speedily as practicable."

SOURCE: The London Times, January 18, 1847.





SOURCE: Picture taken from "The Irish in America".



"It is a frightful document against of the most melancholy stories in the whole wide world of insolence, rapine, brutal, endless slaughter and persecution on the part of the English master...There is no crime ever invented by eastern or western barbarians, no torture or Roman persecution or Spanish Inquisition, no tyranny of Nero or Alva but can be matched in the history of England in Ireland."

SOURCE: William Makepiece Thackeray, a British writer .



"I must give expression to my feelings by saying that I think I see a bright light shining in the distance through the dark cloud which at present hangs over Ireland. A remedy has been already applied to that portion of the maladies of Ireland which was traceable to political causes, and the morbid habits which still to a certain extent survive are gradually giving way to a more healthy action. The deep and inveterate root of social evil remains, and I hope I am not guilty of irreverence in thinking that, this being altogether beyond the power of man, the cure has been applied by the direct stroke of an all-wise providence in a manner as unexpected and unthought of as it is likely to be effectual. God grant that we may rightly perform our part and not turn into a curse what was intended as a blessing."

SOURCE:  Letter of Charles Trevylan to Lord Monteagle: October 9, 1846.



Rate of Population Decline (%)







1841-51 15.3 22.5 15.7 28.8 19.9
1851-61 12.9 18.5 4.8 9.6 11.5
1861-71 8.1 7.9 4.2 7.3 6.7
1871-81 4.5 4.5 4.9 2.9 4.4
1881-91 7.1 11.9 7.1 11.8 9.1
1891-1901 3.3 8.3 2.3 10.1 5.2
1901-1911 0.8 3.8 0.1 5.6 1.5


41.2 56.8 33.8 57.0 46.4

SOURCE:  Census in Ireland of 1841.



"Mr. John O'Connell, referring to an address delivered by him on the previous evening in the House of Commons, says in his letter--'I also drew attention to a monstrous sentiment prevailing in some quarters here, that it is in the natural order of things for a population to be suffered to diminish down to the diminished supply of food in a country afflicted with scarcity. I implored of the government and the house not to let this cruel sentiment have influence upon them in dealing with the question of relief to Ireland, and expressed my fears, from what I have seen, that inadequate and insufficient as are the measures proposed by the government, yet, in so far as those measures involved the expenditure of money, the government are absolutely in advance of English opinion'...Some Irish gentlemen may be too poor to have much to give away in the present emergency; but the poorest of them might give something. The greatness of the necessity seems to be, for them, an excuse for doing nothing at all--literally nothing at all. Moreover, they might pay wages sufficient to keep work-people out of the public soup kitchen, and in a condition to be able to work."

SOURCE: Alexander Somerville, a British journalist, 1847.



"It has been a popular argument in Ireland, that as the calamity was an imperial one, the whole amount expended in relieving it ought to be defrayed out of the public revenue. There can be no doubt that the deplorable consequences of this great calamity extended to the empire at large, but the disease was strictly local, and the cure was to be obtained only by the application of local remedies. If England and Scotland, and great part of the north and east of Ireland has stood alone, the pressure would have been severe, but there would be no call for assistance from national funds. The west and the south of Ireland was the peccant [guilty] part. The owners and holders of the land in those districts had permitted or encouraged the growth of excessive population which depended upon the precarious potato, and they alone had it in their power to restore society to a safe and healthy state. If all were interested in saving the starving people, they were far more so, because it included their own salvation from the desperate struggles of surrounding multitudes frenzied with hunger. The economical administration of the relief could only be provided for by making it, in part at least, a local charge."

SOURCE: Charles Treveylan, 1847.



Old Skibbereen

Oh, father dear, I often hear you speak of Erin’s Isle,
Her lofty scenes and valleys green, her mountains rude and wild,
They say it is a lovely land wherein a prince might dwell,
Oh, why did you abandon it? The reason to me tell.

Oh, son! I loved my native land with energy and pride,
Till a blight came o’er my crops—my sheep, my cattle died;
My rent and taxes were too high, I could not them redeem,
And that’s the cruel reason that I left old Skibbereen.

Oh, well do I remember the bleak December day,
The landlord and the sheriff came to drive us all away;
They set my roof on fire with their cursed English spleen,
And that’s another reason that I left old Skibbereen.

Your mother, too, God rest her soul, fell on the snowy ground,
She fainted in her anguish, seeing the desolation round,
She never rose, but passed away from life to mortal dream,
And found a quiet grave, my boy, in dear old Skibbereen.

And you were only two years old and feeble was your frame,
I could not leave you with my friends, you bore your father’s name—
I wrapt you in my cotamore at the dead of night unseen,
I heaved a sigh and bade good-bye, to dear old Skibbereen.


SOURCE: Anonymous, mid-19c.


DBQ Question created by::

Kate McCarthy
Class of 2002
Maria Regina H. S.
Hartsdale, NY  10530