by  Cecil  Woodham-Smith



IT seems, in retrospect, a remarkable determination. Ireland, was in the grip of famine in the west and south-west, and deaths from starvation were occurring daily; less than a year before, there had been an attempt at armed insurrection, and British journals and spokesmen in both Houses of Parliament never ceased to reproach the Irish for their rebelliousness, ingratitude and 'dogged dissatisfaction with British rule'. Assassinations were notoriously frequent in Ireland, and already, in May of this year, a pistol had been fired at the Queen, when she was driving in London, by a man from Adare, County Limerick. 'Half-way down Constitution Hill the report of a pistol was heard ... Her Majesty stood up, and said to the page accompanying her, "Renwick, what is that?" "Your Majesty has been shot at," replied Renwick. The Queen then, he stated in his evidence, 'resumed her seat'. True, the pistol had been either improperly loaded or not loaded at all, the man mentally deficient, and the Queen, calm, but the incident was not reassuring.

In addition, there was a risk from Asiatic cholera, which had broken out in Dublin, where she intended to stay.


Lord Clarendon, however, believed that a visit from the Queen would act as a tonic for trade, and certainly a tonic was badly needed—trade was almost at a standstill in Dublin. In the middle of June demand for 'many important articles' had fallen so low that the correspondent of the London Times had difficulty in getting prices to quote for the newspaper's commercial columns. Cholera was spreading out of the filthy courts and alleys for which Dublin, in spite of its beauty, was infamous, had indeed broken out in the garrison, among the troops in the Ship Street barracks, and in the ranks of the 75th Regiment, who were encamped in Phoenix Park. In the country trade was disastrous; the famous cattle fair at Ballinasloe, for instance, was a total failure in 1849, and beasts, kept alive and fed at what sacrifice only their owners knew, were either sold at a loss or driven away unsold. In Dublin on the last day of Trinity Term, the Court of Queen's Bench had risen before noon, 'there being literally no business'; and during the previous week seventeen Queen's Counsel were counted 'walking the hall', unemployed.


The original plan had been for the Queen to come to Ireland in 1848: she was to visit Dublin for a few days, after Parliament rose, in August. That plan was given up only because an insurrection was expected, and even after the insurrection Lord John Russell, who believed in the magic of the Royal Presence as devoutly as Clarendon, wrote that he would have advised the Queen to go all the same, if the people had been 'penitent and sobered, but they are not'.


The attitude of the Irish people to the Queen was, on the surface, all admiration; the Repealers were professionally loyal, perhaps, however, with tongue in cheek; O'Connell's tributes to the 'darling little Queen' and the fervid protestations of Repealers in the House of Commons and Conciliation Hall must be treated with reserve. Nevertheless, Clarendon could write, in October, 1847, 'Distress, discontent, hatred of English rule, are increasing everywhere', yet add, in the same letter, 'Whatever may be the political feelings or animosities of the Irish, their devotion to the Queen is unquestionable and whenever Her Majesty shall think proper to come to Ireland I am convinced she would be received with enthusiastic loyalty'.

Complete separation from England had not yet become the only solution for Ireland. Most Irish patriots, as in 1782, wanted freedom for Ireland to conduct her own affairs and settle her own destiny— they asked for a Parliament in Dublin, the equivalent of Dominion status; and the long road to an independent Irish republic had yet to be trodden. The Queen was still young, just thirty, agreeable, and the Queen of Ireland, and as such the people of Ireland were ready to give her a cheer. At one of the largest meetings of the Young Ireland party, in the Music Hall, Dublin, on April 15, 1848, when John Mitchel's invective was at its height, the health of the Queen, as Queen of Ireland, was proposed and drunk in tea, and 'God Save the Queen' played on an Irish harp.


On June 6, 1849, in a letter marked 'Confidential', Lord John Russell informed Clarendon that the Queen intended to visit Dublin that summer. 'She will live at Vice-Regal Lodge for a week in some splendour and hold a levee and a drawing-room ... Carriages and horses must be sent over, but she will make no visits, what will it cost?' A little later the visit was extended to include Cork as well as Dublin, but 'in such a manner as to occasion the least display and expense'; and Clarendon was asked to 'consider what the Board of Works should do at the Vice-Regal Lodge'; he was to forward an estimate of the total cost of the Queen staying for four days and holding a drawing-room, with music, refreshments, etc'.


The official intimation, dated June 23, emphasised that the visit was not to be a State visit. 'The general distress, unfortunately still prevalent in Ireland, precludes the Queen from visiting Dublin in state, and thereby causing ill-timed expenditure and inconvenience to her subjects.' For the sake of economy, she would travel by sea, in the Royal yacht, Victoria and Albert, first, across the Irish Channel to the Cove of Cork, and then along the coast to Dublin, 'at some sacrifice of personal convenience', wrote Lord John Russell—the sacrifice was genuine, as the Queen was a very bad sailor and always 'suffered dreadfully' while at sea. As a further demonstration of the Queen's wish for economy and informality, Sir Charles Wood, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, sent an intimation that Her Majesty 'does not desire State beds'.


The announcement received a mixed reception in Ireland. The Freeman's Journal, remarking that one visit to a hut in Connaught, one view of a 'cleared' estate in the south, a pencil sketch, of the kind Queen Victoria was fond of executing, showing an unroofed cabin with the 'miserable emaciated inhabitants cast out and perishing on the dung-heap beside it', would be a better portrait of Ireland than the beauties of Killarney.


The Dublin Evening Mail, a Tory paper, representing the landlord's interest, was sarcastic; since it was desirable that Her Majesty should see as little as possible of the decay of Ireland, the houses in the Dublin streets through which she would pass should be occupied, for the time at least, by decently dressed people; 'the greater number of good houses in Dame Street, Grafton Street and other principal thoroughfares are in a dirty and dilapidated condition, the windows broken, patched with brown paper, or here and there ... stuffed with an old hat, the shops closed and the wooden shutters covered over with auction bills, railway tables, quack advertisements and notices from the Poor Law Commissioners or the Insolvent Court'. It would also be 'highly expedient that such houses were cleaned as well as the short time allows and fully furnished with window curtains, muslin blinds and flower pots'. The Queen was going to travel from Westland Row railway station, and the newspaper suggested that as there were 'sundry back settlements in the purlieus which will not fit with the magnificent carriage provided for her' there should be a screen of boards 'from the first flourishing suburb at Beggar's Bush all the way to the platform'.

A letter in the Ezesmg Mail also demanded, 'Is it possible that Her Majesty could be gratified by a wretched display of wealth when thousands of her subjects are starving?' One huge lie was to be acted, and this the Queen would find out 'if she goes one mile from the paces prepared for her'.

Lord Monteagle and Lord Fitzwilliam refused to have anything to do with the visit. 'If you will not go to the pageant in Dublin Cask I think you are quite right,' wrote Lord Fitzwilliam, 'a great lie is going to be acted there ... false impressions are going to be made and false conclusions will be drawn ... then false government will ensue ... I would not have had her go now unless she went to Kllarney workhouse, ... Galway, Connemara and Castlebar. That would have been my tour for her instead of Cork, Dublin, where she will have nothing but falsehoods, unless she draw the right conclusion by seeing the Cove of Cork without a ship in it.'


Some patriotic hotheads contemplated a plot to seize the Queen's person and hold her as a hostage in the Wicklow mountains. The scheme was communicated to Charles Gavan Duffy, who pointed out that there were ten thousand British troops in Dublin, and even if the Queen was successfully snatched out of their hands there would not be a glen or a dell in the Wicklow mountains which, within twenty-four hours, would not be as well-trodden as Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street). However, 'a muster of volunteers', to carry out the deed, was announced for 9 p.m. on the banks of the Grand Canal. Only about two hundred men came to the rendezvous, and as this was considered insufficient to beat the garrison, 'they dispersed and the adventure came to an end'.


Mr. Timothy O'Brien, Lord Mayor of Dublin, 'hailed the Queen's visit with joy and satisfaction', offered his house for the use of members of her suite, and hastened to propose festive plans, including illuminations and a banquet at the Dublin Mansion House; £300 from the Borough Fund was to be spent on the Mansion House, to make it 'clean and decent', and a further £1,000 allowed for food and wine. It was suggested that he hoped for a baronetcy.


Ireland was hardly in a condition to rejoice. On the day the Mansion House banquet was proposed, the Marquess of Kildare, eldest son of the Duke of Leinster, head of the Geraldine family, announced that the Dublin Central Relief Committee, a different body from the Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends, had 'completely exhausted' their funds, while they had over 200 urgent applications from all over the country waiting for attention, and local secretaries had been instructed to bring before the public 'the present frightful state of the country'. Two-and-sixpence, the Marquess stated, would keep alive a family of five for a week, by enabling them to buy a little meal to mix with cabbage and other vegetables. 'If we have funds to spare let them be spent not on illuminations but on Her Majesty's starving subjects,' declared the Evening Mail.


Among the tradesmen and middle classes of Dublin, opinion was divided. At a meeting of the burgesses of the Post Office Ward, which included Sackville Street, one member, Mr. Coyne, said he would rather have his windows smashed than illuminated; another, however, declared that the Queen's visit would be 'a great godsend to raise the country from its present deplorable condition'. At a meeting of the Linen Hall Ward a speaker pointed out that there was scarcely a poor family in Dublin who had not lost a cholera victim, and what family, in the Linen Hall Ward, could look forward, as a certainty, to daily food? Why should the people be called on to rejoice when gaunt famine and cold poverty reigned? It was an insult to the misery of Dublin, and illuminations and festivities should be repudiated. Another speaker, however, reminded the meeting of the deplorable condition of trade in Dublin and the good effect which would be derived from the money spent during the Queen's visit. 'Give Her Majesty a charming and loyal reception which would induce her to forget any prejudice she might entertain, and perhaps fix royal residence for a definite period every year in Dublin.'

Gradually the advantages expected from a royal visit won the day. On July 17 die Dublin Corporation, a Repeal body, convened a meeting to pass a resolution informing the Queen that '... the people of every class are suffering many privations, and ... the humblest of your Majesty's subjects here are dying for want of food ... we still feel the only hope left is in a Parliament which shall be local ... we most solemnly protest that we do not seek for separation between the two countries but we cling with anxious hope to you our beloved Queen and sovereign.' Only eighteen members attended, and the meeting was not held. 'So much for the Repeal Corporation,' remarked The Times.

The once-powerful Repeal movement was now, in fact, extinct, and the contents of the committee rooms at Conciliation Hall, the headquarters of the movement on Burgh Quay, had been auctioned off.

On July 25 a meeting of 'influential citizens of County Dublin of every shade of opinion', called by the High Sheriff, passed a unanimous motion of welcome to the Queen, proposed by Viscount Monck, a Conservative and a Protestant, and seconded by the Hon. Mr. Preston, son and heir of Lord Gormanston, a Whig and a Catholic.


Plans were now made and notices issued; the Queen was to be welcomed by an 'undress procession' of gentlemen wearing white trousers, blue coat with silver or silver-plated buttons, and a blue sash over the shoulder—a pattern of the sash might be inspected at the Mansion House. Gentlemen intending to join the procession were requested to state whether they would be on foot or on horseback, and an organizing committee was formed to make the arrangements.

Tiers of elevated seats were raised at the Rotunda and Rutland (now Parnell) Square, and six triumphal arches erected between Ball's Bridge and the Phoenix Park Gate. Five hundred pounds was advanced out of the Borough Fund to pay for welcoming the Queen, and £300 for repairs to die Mansion House; £200 was placed at the disposal of the Lord Mayor for 'general and public demonstrations'. 'Devices', letters and crowns for illuminating with gas, and 'illuminating candles' were offered for sale, and 'several thousand bucket lamps' were for hire. Some protests continued; at an 'aggregate meeting of the Trades of Dublin', in the Fishamble Street Theatre, Dublin citizens were besought to show that 'they would not have an illumination over the corpse of Repeal', and a member asserted that 'if his own family attempted to waste tallow he would smash his windows'. The Lord Mayor felt uncertain whether he should issue an official order for illuminations, and though the 'general illumination of the city on the night of Her Majesty's entry' had been advertised a week before, the official announcement was not made until August 3.

Meanwhile, Lord Clarendon's own preparations were not going smoothly. There were, in his own words, 'a vast many kind friends, both here and in England ... denouncing the "premature and hazardous experiment", and declaring that I alone was responsible for whatever mischief happened'. Moreover, he had at his elbow Charles Wood, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, insistent on economy, and supported by Prince Albert.

Lord Clarendon had begun his preparations in a spirit of optimism. The furniture of Vice-Regal Lodge, he wrote to Charles Wood on June 27, 'is not handsome but it is clean and good, and I am sure the Queen and Prince will be as comfortable as if the Board of Works was allowed to run up an enormous bill ... Our children will be sent away, but Lady Clarendon and I shall probably remain in some corner or other; for I should not think things were properly superintended if I were living in another house ... And then as to the expense—I shan't give myself the airs of a millionaire or pretend I am not a poorer man for being Lord-Lieutenant, but I don't mean to bring you in a bill for entertaining the Queen here. The refreshments for the Drawing-room are not strictly my department, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer may take cognisance of them, but as I am to have the charge of providing them, they won't ruin you.'

The arrangements for the Royal party, however, turned out more complicated than Lord Clarendon anticipated. True, the visit was to be private, the Queen wished it to be without any state or expense whatever, there was to be no banquet at the Mansion House in Dublin, and the 'compliment of a dejeuner' was declined at Cork. Nevertheless, the Queen's landing at the Cove of Cork was not to be private; as many people as possible were to be 'gratified' by the opportunity of seeing her, and though the State coach was not to be brought over fox the entry into Dublin, a special carriage was to be built in Dublin and a 'cortege like that at Ascot', the famous racecourse, arranged. The Queen expressed herself as quite ready to receive 'any demonstrations of loyalty the people of Dublin may wish to display.'

In addition, while Lord Clarendon was informed that both the Queen and the Prince were anxious that the visit should be 'well done', at the same time Colonel Phipps, the Queen's secretary, sent a warning that no bills were to come in afterwards. Moreover, the number of persons attending the Queen turned out unexpectedly large; four Royal children were to accompany their parents, and the total of the party, with servants, was thirty-six. Thus when, at the end of July, Lord Clarendon went over the Vice-Regal Lodge with Mr. Owen, of the Irish Board of Works, he looked at the house with different eyes. '... I am always most anxious to avoid putting the public to any expense in which I am personally concerned,' he wrote to Charles Wood, 'and it may be partly owing to this ... that the furniture, etc., of this house is in a condition I should not have tolerated in my own ... I found the carpets and chintzes in such a disgusting condition from dirt and old age that they were quite unfit for decent people, let alone a Royal family requiring seventeen lits de maitre and bringing with them nineteen servants!' He had done his best to be economical, taking care that existing furniture was made use of in 'inferior apartments', and had 'only allowed three rooms to be new papered where our children had been with the whooping cough'.

The Vice-Regal Lodge was not the only neglected building in Dublin. Though the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland lived and gave entertainments at Vice-Regal Lodge, his official residence was Dublin Castle, and State functions were held in the magnificent State Apartments. Since the Queen was going to hold a levee and a drawing-room in Dublin, the Castle itself, now dirty and dilapidated, St. Patrick's Hall, where the Knights of St. Patrick were invested and installed, and the adjoining apartments must be redecorated and repaired. No investitute of the Knights of St. Patrick was to be held, however, on account of the expense involved.

The estimate Clarendon received from the Board of Works was £2,500 for the Castle and the Vice-Regal Lodge, with two additional items, £500 for erecting a 'tent', a pavilion, for the Queen's reception when she landed at Kingstown (now Dunleary), and £400 for 'illuminations'—£3,400 in all.

Charles Wood was horrified; '... we never dreamed of anything like this,' he wrote to Clarendon. 'The Prince's idea was some £500 to cover everything, beyond eating and drinking.' Clarendon became discouraged; he was, he told Charles Greville, 'considerably disgusted', as the preparations proceeded, at the 'petty difficulties' raised and the 'want of consideration' he felt was being shown him by the Queen and the Prince.

Eventually, Clarendon submitted a bill for under £2,000, but Lord John Russell, though admitting he had expected as much or more, wrote, 'I do not know where it is to come from.'

The private means of Clarendon, never more than moderate, were, he wrote, being 'heavily drawn upon' to meet the expenses of the Lord-Lieutenancy. 'I have no prospect but the Watford Workhouse before me when I leave this,' he told his brother-in-law, George Cornewall Lewis, 'particularly as I have now to undergo another Dublin season at 3,000 pound a month'. The Grove, Lord Clarendon's country house, was near the town of Watford in Hertfordshire.

Nevertheless, at the end of July, 1849, an army of workmen appeared in Dublin, preparations started in earnest and excitement began to mount. 'Triumphal arches, platforms, devices, meet you on all sides,' reported The Times. The exterior of the Castle was being given 'a clean face' and the windows repainted; St. Patrick's Hall was to be entirely redecorated and all State Apartments 'put in order'. The number of workmen employed was reported to run into hundreds, men and materials both being Irish. Windows, to view the Queen's entry, were hired out at six guineas, lists of noblemen coming to Dublin were published almost daily, an 'influx of visitors' flowed into Dublin, and accommodation in hotels was 'at a premium'.

The Queen's carriage for the visit, which was being built at Messrs. Hutton Summerhill, Dublin, was a light barouche, to take two persons only, royal blue in colour, with royal blue wheels interlined with white; the Royal arms were painted on the panels and the interior was lined with royal blue silk tabinet. It was to be drawn by four horses, with postilions and outriders. The Four Courts were to be illuminated with gas on the night of Her Majesty's arrival, and the Nelson Pillar by electric light, under the superintendence of Professor Gluckmann, 'a grand feature'. The Pillar was being railed in, and a platform erected inside the railing for the apparatus—the light was expected to be so dazzling that, from time to time, it was to be turned off, to avoid spoiling the effect of the other illuminations.

Meanwhile, extra troops to line the route marched in and encamped in Phoenix Park. Though the visit was to be private, notice was issued that the Queen's Levee and Drawing-room, at the Castle, would be full dress, and that the Drawing-room, in accordance with Irish custom, would be held in the evening; further, no lady or gentleman could be presented 'except by someone who has been himself or herself presented to Her Majesty'—presentations to the Lord-Lieutenant at the Vice-Regal Court were not to be recognized for the Queen's Dublin Drawing-room. This announcement caused 'a perfect panic'. Nevertheless, milliners and dressmakers continued to be in urgent requisition, and Mr. J. Hart, of 81, Regent's Quadrant, London, dispatched to Dublin 'a splendid stock of Court dresses, regimentals, naval uniforms, swords, epaulets, etc., for Her Majesty's levees and drawing-room'.


At 9 p.m. on August 1 the Royal yacht, the Victoria and Albert, was reported to be passing Portland Bill, on her way down channel to Cork; the weather was clear, but at sea there was what the Queen described as 'a dreadful swell'. It had been expected that a call would be made at Plymouth or Falmouth, but the voyage was made direct, and at 10 p.m. next day, 'to the great surprise of everyone', the Victoria and Albert steamed into Cove. Ships of the Royal Navy in Cove harbour, including the Ganges, were illuminated, rockets were sent up, blue lights burned, a feu de joie fired, and bonfires lighted by the owners of houses and villas overlooking the harbour. Through over-enthusiasm in the use of tar and kindling wood, the servants of Mr. E. B. Roche, M.P. for Cork, set alight fourteen acres of fir plantation, so that the Royal yacht was bathed 'in a blaze of light, which was more like what we read of the sheet of flame in which an American prairie is sometimes enwrapt, than the usual murky appearance of bonfires, when viewed at any distance from the shore. Her Majesty, we understand, was much pleased with the effect'.


Next day, Friday, the Mayor of Cork hurried off to the Victoria and Albert to beg the Queen not to land until Saturday; it was feared that the preparations in Cork, triumphal arches, etc., would not be ready. Delay was impossible, he was told: the Queen's time-table made it essential for her to move on to Dublin, and she would visit Cork that afternoon, at 4 p.m. This announcement created 'consternation'.


During the morning, numbers of snail craft circled round the Victoria and Albert, with passengers waving laurel branches; about noon the Fairy tender was observed to be getting up steam, and at 2 p.m., to loud cheers, the Queen showed herself, and stepped on board the Fairy. The fleet of the Cork Steam Packet Company, crowded with cheering passengers, now 'swept down' the harbour and saluted the Royal yacht, and 'thunders' of artillery were heard.


The Queen first toured the harbour in the Fairy, with yachts and boats circling round, then landed on Columbine Quay, Cove Harbour, where a 'marine villa', or pavilion, had been fitted up, consisting of two rooms, each 60 feet by 40 feet. Loud cheers and hurras broke out as she stepped on Irish soil, the first British sovereign ever to set foot in the county of Cork, and the roar of the cannon, which had been placed rather too close, shook the pavilion.


'The Queen, the virtuous and honoured embodiment of fashion, steps on ... shore ...' reported the Freeman's Journal, by no means reconciled to the visit as yet, 'Prince Albert follows, honoured and revered of course but at the same time suggestive of ideas of taxation.' ('Ideas of taxation' referred to the humiliating affair of the Prince's annuity, settled on him by Parliament on his marriage to the Queen; £50,000 a year was asked for, but the House of Commons objected and the Prince had the 'mortification' of being granted only £30,000.)


However, a totally unexpected development followed; the Queen and the Irish people fell in love with each other. The affection was brief, the participants unsuited, the episode soon forgotten and the course of history uninfluenced, but for a few days in August, 1849, the attraction was a reality.


Within the marine villa at Cove addresses were presented to the Queen, who announced, 'I have much pleasure in giving my sanction to the change of name which has been sought by the inhabitants and directing that this town shall in future be called Queenstown'; and at that moment a flag bearing the name Queenstown was run up over the pavilion. Since Ireland became independent the town has reverted to its native Irish name, Cobh.


The Queen then re-embarked and steamed up to Cork, the Fairy keeping as near the shore as possible. Houses and villas were decorated, and the gunfire from the shore and from steamers on the river was continuous; the Queen commented on the amount of firing and the beauty of the richly-wooded landscape. A pause was made at Blackrock Castle to receive 'a salmon and a very pretty address' from the fishermen of Blackrock, and the Fairy came alongside at the Custom House, Cork Harbour. The whole of the side of the Custom House which faced the water was covered with a rich scarlet cloth worked in gold, with the shamrock the rose and the thistle; above the entrance the famous Irish greeting, Cead Mille

Failte, 'a hundred thousand welcomes', was surmounted by a handsome golden crown. The steps to the water were covered with scarlet, a triumphal arch had been erected on the quay, flags floated both from the arch and the building, and on the quay a stand for 400 ladies, crowded with county notabilities, was covered with an awning of scarlet cloth. Within the Custom House two 'magnificent Grecian vases' stood on pedestals of scarlet, on which the letters V and A were raised in gold, 'supported on true lovers' knots in the same brilliant hue'.


The Mayor, Corporation and other dignitaries came on board the Fairy and presented addresses, and the Queen knighted the Mayor of Cork, 'on deck (on board the Fairy) like in times of old', she wrote to her uncle, King Leopold of the Belgians; she then passed across the quay and through the Custom House, cheered by 'thousands congregated on the wharfs and on board steamers', and at 4 p.m. precisely entered an open landau, drawn by four grey horses, and drove round Cork for two hours. She was accompanied by the Prince and preceded by two outriders, while the Earl of Bandon, Lieutenant of the county, and General Turner, with their aides-de-camp, rode on either side of the carriage, all mounts and chargers being grey. A detachment of the 12th Lancers escorted, and a long procession of carriages and horsemen followed. The shops were closed, the streets decorated with arches, evergreens and banners, a favourite inscription being 'Hail Victoria, Ireland's hope and England's glory'. The Queen had expressed herself to Sir George Grey as being most anxious that no accident should occur to anyone, through excessive crushing, during her progress through the streets, and had asked that special care should be taken to prevent any danger of the people being trampled or hurt by the horses. The Times correspondent described the order as 'admirable' and the welcome 'enthusiastic', though 'many of the people who crowded the streets looked poor and haggard'. The Queen herself commented that the heat and dust were great, the streets decorated and densely crowded, and that 'Cork is not at all like an English town and looks rather foreign. The crowd is a noisy, excitable, but very good humoured one, running and pushing about, and laughing, talking and shrieking. The beauty of the women is very remarkable and struck us much; such beautiful dark eyes and hair, and such fine teeth; almost every third woman was pretty and some remarkably so'.

At 6 p.m., with a punctuality which was to cause some surprise in Ireland, the Queen returned to the Custom House, and rejoined the Victoria and Albert at 7 p.m.


Next morning, by 9 a.m., preparations for sailing were visible on the Victoria and Albert, and numbers of small boats and yachts put off and sailed round her, upon which 'the Royal party ... with an evident desire to gratify an excusable and even laudable curiosity, came on deck repeatedly and leant over the side of the yacht so that the sightseers should be sent away perfectly satisfied'. The Queen wore a morning dress and plain bonnet, with a green veil, the Prince a military cap with gold band, light trousers and shooting-jacket. The Prince of Wales, in a sailor suit, was observed 'bounding about'. At 10 a.m. the Victoria and Albert weighed anchor for Kingstown.

The weather was fair, but with 'a head sea and a contrary wind which made it rough and me very sick', wrote the Queen, and it was decided to put into Waterford Harbour for the night. Prince Albert, with the two boys, went up to Waterford, a distance of about ten miles, in the Fairy, but the Queen felt too 'giddy and tired'.


Next morning the weather had not changed, the wind was still contrary and the sea rough. 'However we went out as it could not be helped and we might have remained some days for no use.' The Victoria and Albert got under way at 8.30 a.m.; 'for three hours it was dreadfully rough, and I and the poor children were very seasick', wrote the Queen. However, after the yacht passed the Tuskar Rock, off the coast of Wexford, the weather improved, and towards evening the Queen was able to admire the beauty of the Wicklow Hills.


Meanwhile, in Dublin a rehearsal of the illuminations had been held on Saturday night, including the pike de resistance, Professor Gluckmann's electric illumination of the Nelson Pillar. The Bank of Ireland, which occupied the old Parliament building, was said to have spent £1,000, and was considered the best effort. For the first time for more than a year the Castle Guard trooped with full band; a false report that the Queen would arrive that day brought crowds into the streets. It was then officially announced that the Queen would make her entry into Dublin on Monday, August 6, at 10 a.m.


Meanwhile, outside Dublin Bay, the Victoria and Albert had been met by the steamers Sphinx, Stromboli, Dragon, earlier employed in the relief service, and the steamer Trident, and at seven o'clock on Sunday evening, 'with this large squadron', wrote the Queen, 'we steamed slowly and majestically into the harbour of Kingstown which was covered with thousands and thousands of spectators, cheering most enthusiastically ... altogether it was a noble and stirring scene. It was just seven when we entered, and the setting sun lit up the country, the fine buildings and the whole scene with a glowing light which was truly beautiful. We were soon surrounded by boats, and the enthusiasm and excitement of the people were extreme'.


Monday was cloudless and sunny. The Queen disembarked 'as the clock struck ten', stepping on shore from the yacht accompanied by the Prince and her four children, the ships in the harbour saluting and bands playing. At Kingstown an old woman shouted, 'Ah, Queen dear, make one of them Prince Patrick and Ireland will die for you'.


The Freeman's Journal, which remained highly critical, reported that the Queen wore a red plaid shawl and a plain Dunstable, i.e. a straw bonnet, and the Prince a blue pilot coat, buttoned high, and a hat of the kind known as 'the Albert hat'. Trains, according to the newspaper, brought comparatively few visitors from the city, and the procession was 'scant, formal, cold'. There were about 200 horsemen and not very many carriages, and the whole passed in about fifteen minutes. The stands were only about a quarter full; there were cheers from windows, but no crowds followed the procession, and the first greeting at Kingstown was the warmest the Queen was given.


The Queen herself, however, received a very different impression; she wrote of immense multitudes, most enthusiastic and excited, flowers strewn in her path, masses of human beings waving hats and handkerchiefs, bursts of cheering which 'rent' the air: the crowd was the most good-humoured she had ever seen, 'noisy and excitable beyond belief, given to 'shrieking instead of cheering', and 'talking and jumping'. The scene was 'wonderful, striking, never to be forgotten', she wrote. 'Our entrance into Dublin was really a magnificent thing.' At the same time, the poverty of Ireland did not escape her. 'You see more ragged and wretched people here than I ever saw anywhere else,' she wrote that evening, and commenting again on the good looks of Irishwomen added, 'En revanche the women are really very handsome—quite in the lowest class ... such beautiful black eyes and hair and such fine colour and teeth.'

Dublin delighted her—Dublin was a very fine city, she wrote that evening; Sackville Street and Merrion Square remarkably large and handsome; Trinity College and the old Parliament House noble buildings. 'At the last triumphal arch a poor little dove was let down into my lap, with an olive branch round its neck, alive and very tame.' The heat and dust were 'tremendous', but when the Vice-Regal Lodge at Phoenix Park was reached at noon, the Queen was again appreciative; the view of the Wicklow Hills was 'very beautiful' and 'we are most comfortably lodged and have very nice rooms'.


Queen Victoria possessed a remarkable capacity for enjoyment and a remarkable readiness to appreciate what was offered for her to enjoy. That afternoon she drove out, incognito, and visited the Botanical Gardens at Glasnevin, 'followed by jaunting cars and riders and people running and screaming', which amused and did not irritate her. That evening the illuminations were lighted; unfortunately it rained, but a vast multitude filled the streets, and no disturbance took place. The inhabitants of Dublin eagerly welcomed diversion, for a long series of drab years lay behind them: Dublin had lost her splendour following the Union, now she was sunk in the despair of the famine, and Dubliners responded with excitement to lights, flowers, band music, uniforms.


That evening there was a dinner at the Vice-Regal Lodge; next morning the Queen rose early and drove into Dublin, in Lord Clarendon's carriage, with the Prince and two ladies, 'without any escort', visiting the Bank, where she admired the old Parliament buildings, the Model School, where she was received by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Archbishop Murray, whose fine, venerable looks she also admired, and Trinity College, where she was once more all admiration. In the library she and the Prince signed their names on a blank sheet of vellum, which was subsequently bound with the Book of Kells.  The legend, current in Dublin, that the Queen and the Prince wrote on the illuminated manuscript is not correct.


The crowd in the streets, wrote the Queen, was immense, and cheered a great deal. She got back to the Vice-Regal Lodge at a few minutes past one, lunched, wrote letters, heard the children at their lessons and then set out again, this time for the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, an institution for old soldiers, conducted on the same lines as Chelsea Hospital. Again, there was no escort: the Queen drove with her ladies and Lord Qarendon in a carriage, the Prince rode behind, and five or six mounted police went ahead, to see that the road was clear. At Kilmainham, the Queen inspected the veterans, admired the hall and made a little speech. 'I am glad indeed to see you all looking so comfortable.' Instead of going back to the Vice-Regal Lodge she then drove, informally, round 'all the principal parts' of Dublin, 'at a leisurely pace', making a circuit of St. Stephen's Green, College Green, the Four Courts and the famous streets and squares. Although she was not expected, large crowds gathered at several points. As the Queen drove slowly through Park-gate Street, Mr. T. Nugent, a guardian of the North Dublin Union, approached the carriage and exclaimed, 'Mighty Monarch, pardon Smith O'Brien'. The pace of the carriage was then quickened. The Queen, however, did not return directly to the Vice-Regal Lodge, she remained in Dublin city; and that night there was another dinner and a ball.

The Queen's simplicity, lack of stiffness and touchiness, and her admiration of Dublin were having their effect. Queen Victoria at this time was pretty, eager, and with a great deal of vitality. Few people can visit Dublin without forming an affection for the most beautiful and hospitable of cities, and the Queen's evident enjoyment and her quick response to the efforts made for her entertainment were irresistible.


On August 8 the Freeman's Journal succumbed. 'The personal demeanour, the frank and confiding manner of the Queen, have won for her golden opinions,' declared a leading article, adding, 'The more the citizens of Dublin see Queen Victoria, the more she wins their affections'; and the Dublin Evening Mail, which had also been hostile, observed that the Queen's 'early rising and habits of punctuality ... held forth to her sex an example worthy of all imitation. From this point onwards the Queen's visit to Dublin became a triumph.


On Wednesday, August 8, after an early luncheon, the Queen left the Vice-Regal Lodge at twenty minutes to one for the first full-dress State occasion of her visit, the levee at the Castle. The Queen and her ladies wore evening dress, the Queen's being of green Irish poplin lavishly embroidered with gold shamrocks; she wore the blue ribbon and star of St. Patrick, and a brilliant diamond tiara; the gentlemen were in full-dress uniform.

The levee was held in the magnificent throne-room of the Castle, with the Queen seated on the great gilt throne; more than 4,000 people were present, 2,000 were presented, and the levee was of inordinate length, lasting 'without intermission until twenty minutes to six o'clock', wrote the Queen. Everything was done exactly as at Buckingham Palace and St. James's, and the Lord Chamberlain had come over especially, to supervise procedure. The indefatigable Queen then returned to the Vice-Regal Lodge for a dinner, an evening party and a concert.


Next day, Thursday, August 9, the streets of Dublin were astir at dawn, as a 'human tide' began to flow towards Phoenix Park for the most popular event of the Queen's visit, described by the Queen herself as the 'great and brilliant review'. Carriages had remained on the ground all night, to secure a good position, and by 9 a.m. not one disengaged carriage or car was to be found in Dublin, for any price; vehicles which had acted as hen-roosts since the Union when, after the suppression of the Irish Parliament, society deserted Dublin, once more took the road, and the crowds continued 'swelling as every hour advanced until the streets were one compact mass of men on horse and foot and every type of vehicle'.


The Queen left the Vice-Regal Lodge punctually at 10 a.m., with the four children and Lady Qarendon, in an open barouche, drawn by four horses, with postilions and outriders; the Prince, in the uniform of a major-general, rode a magnificent chestnut. The march past began at 11 a.m.; cavalry evolutions by Hussars and Lancers, 'the butterflies of war', were followed by infantry movements, an artillery display, and two grand charges by cavalry. The whole body of troops then marched to the extreme end of the review ground, the infantry formed into line, the cavalry in squadrons to the right and left, the artillery took up a position in the centre rear, and the entire mass, about six thousand men, moved forward to the music of their regimental bands. When within view of the Queen, the infantry fixed bayonets and charged forward, in double quick time, to a 'terrible cry, half British cheer, half Irish hurrah', coming to a dead halt about twenty yards from the Royal carriage, when the colours were advanced and three cheers given for the Queen.

The enthusiasm was tremendous; very many of the troops were Irish, as in almost every British regiment, and that 'terrible cry', half English cheer, half Irish yell, had resounded on every battlefield of the century in which British troops were engaged. Not only was it many years since the citizens of Dublin had seen such a show, but no show was more to their taste—few Irishmen are not soldiers at heart, and more than three hours after the Queen had driven away, the roads to Phoenix Park, and the quays, were still blocked, so great had been the number of spectators.


The same evening, at 8.30, after dining alone, the Queen and Prince drove into Dublin for the most important social occasion of her visit, the Drawing-room: 'the Queen of the United Empire holding her court in the second city of her dominions' was the phrase of The Times. Carriages had begun to set down at the Castle as early as 7 p.m., the night was fine, the illuminations 'blazing', with 'every object almost as discernible as if it were day'. Dense crowds, 'perfectly orderly', thronged the streets, the Queen was enthusiastically cheered as she entered the Castle gates—and she sent a request to the Castle authorities that the people might be allowed closer, to have a better view. The Queen and her attendants occupied three State carriages, and were escorted by the Inniskilling Dragoons. The Queen again wore Irish poplin, 'a superb pink poplin dress elaborately figured with gold shamrocks', and the number of ladies at the Drawing-room was very large; the Queen estimated that between two and three thousand passed before her, and 1,700 were presented. After the presentations the Queen walked through St. Patrick's Hall, and other State apartments, conversing with the guests, while the bands of the 2nd Regiment and the 60th Rifles played. Soon after midnight the Queen left; the streets, she noticed, were still densely crowded, and she was loudly cheered.


The four days of the Queen's visit, days of 'continual jubilee', were now coming to an end. But before embarking at Kingstown the Queen was to visit Ireland's 'only Duke', the Duke of Leinster: and had consented to accept a dejeuner at his seat, Carton, in Co. Kildare, about an hour's drive from Dublin.

The Duke threw open the demesne of Carton to the public, and from the early hours of the morning lines of carriages, cars and pedestrians streamed towards Carton, special trains were run from Dublin by the Midland Great Western Railway Company to the nearest station, Maynooth, and long before the rime of the Queen's arrival every vantage-point in the demesne and along the road where she would pass was crowded with spectators. On this occasion the Queen appeared in some state. An advanced guard was followed by two mounted servants in Royal livery, next, several files of the 8th Hussars, then two Royal carriages, with postilions and outriders, escorted by more files of Hussars, and, finally, the remainder of the regiment bringing up the rear.

The Queen drove along the valley of the Liffey; at every vantage-point along the route cheering crowds gathered, and students from the Catholic seminary at Maynooth cheered the Queen at Leixlip. About half-way, the Hussar escort was relieved by the 17th Lancers.

The day was brilliantly fine, the sun had shone during almost the whole of the Queen's stay, and a 'vast but orderly' crowd waited in the demesne. Six or eight marquees had been erected for the Duke's guests at the rear of the mansion, an 'elegant entertainment' was spread out on tables, and the bands of the 1st Carabiniers and 2nd Royals played. Precisely at the hour named, the Queen's cortege swept through the gates of Carton; the picturesque spectacle of the Royal carriage 'dashing along over hill and dale through the demesne with its scarlet outriders and lancer escort', was much admired, and 'with her usual punctuality' the Queen drew up before Carton at one o'clock. Simultaneously, the Royal standard was run up over the house.


The Queen wore a 'beautiful pink silk dress' and a blue silk bonnet, both covered with Limerick lace, and carried a parasol. The sole disappointment was that the children did not accompany her. The Queen walked round the garden, and it was observed with pleasure that she leaned on the arm of Ireland's only Duke, while the Prince walked on the other side; the Duke was, she wrote, 'one of the kindest and best of men'. After luncheon some of the Duke's tenants danced jigs to Irish pipes, which the Queen found 'most amusing'; she was struck by the thick blue coats the men wore, with short breeches and blue stockings, and the way one dancer wore his hat tilted over one ear. The Queen and the Duke, the Queen again leaning on the Duke's arm, next ascended a tower which commanded a view of the demesne, then drove in a carriage, with the Duchess of Leinster, to a rustic cottage orne which overlooked a lake made by a tributary of the Liffey. The people, the Queen noted, 'were riding, running and driving with us', but this did not irritate her—they were 'extremely well behaved; and the Duke is so kind to them that a word from him will make them do anything'. It had been intended that the Queen should return to Carton by water, and a pleasure-boat waited, with the Royal standard at the stern; but the Queen had named an hour for her return to the Vice-Regal Lodge, and punctual arrivals entailed punctual departures, so she drove back through the demesne to Carton in a jaunting-car, sitting between the Prince and the Duke. The Queen was delighted with the experience, subsequently commemorated in a popular song a line of which runs, 'Be me sowl,' says she, 'I like the joultin'' of yer Irish jaunrin' car,' and the Duke of Leinster had a car built in Dublin and sent over to the Queen which she accepted with evident pleasure and amusement. Soon after 4 p.m. the Royal cortege left, this time taking the Lucan road, and driving rather faster than in the morning, as the Queen did not want to be late; however, she particularly noticed the fine decorations in the village of Lucan, with arches of bay and laurel, 'every possible demonstration of affection and respect was given by ... persons along the road and as cordially acknowledged'.


Meanwhile, in Dublin, a 'vast concourse' of people awaited the Queen's return at the Knockmaroon Gate to Phoenix Park, including 'vast numbers of fashionably dressed persons in cars and carriages', and she was cheered until she had disappeared into the demesne of the Vice-Regal Lodge. The crowd then hurried round to line the route to Westland Row station, where the Queen was to take the train for Kingstown and re-embark in the Victoria and Albert.

The Queen reached Phoenix Park a little after five, and appeared again at six; to the delight of the crowd the four Royal children now accompanied their parents; the two elder boys were in the first carriage with the Queen, the Prince and Lord Clarendon.


The Queen's visit reached its climax in her departure. It was a personal triumph. For the four days of jubilee Dublin had been 'like a city risen from the dead', and it was then the second city in the Empire, and perhaps the most beautiful. The Queen had, plainly, been delighted with Dublin; she had admired its people, she had driven about almost unattended, she had betrayed no irritation at the people pressing and chasing after her; indeed, at the Drawing-room, she had requested the authorities to let the crowds come closer. She might well exclaim with Charles II, as he passed through the crowds on his way to London at the Restoration, 'How is it they and I have been kept so long apart?'


The Queen's interest and delight were not assumed as a matter of policy. Lord John Russell wrote that she left Ireland with 'real regret'. She would never, she declared, forget the affection and enthusiasm with which she had been received, and at the end of August, at Balmoral, he noted that she was still speaking of her journey to Ireland with 'real delight'.


From the moment the Queen's carriage left the Vice-Regal Lodge the cheers were deafening; the Prince took off his hat and remained uncovered all along the route to Westland Row. The quays were crowded, dense masses of people had gathered on Carlisle (now O'Connell) Bridge, banners and flags were flown from larger buildings, roofs and windows were crowded, and the rigging of ships in the Liffey clustered with people. The Queen 'appeared extremely gratified at the enthusiastic reception which awaited her ... and we can have but little doubt that Her Majesty's present visit is the forerunner of many others of much longer duration' wrote an observer, hopefully.

Crowds had been gathered at the Westland Row railway terminus from ten o'clock in the morning; the station entrance was decorated with scarlet cloth, a white awning trimmed with scarlet had been put up, the band of the 48th Regiment played, and a guard of honour was provided by the 71st Regiment. The Queen left Westland Row at about twelve minutes past six, preceded by a pilot engine, and was cheered all along the line. 'The Queen,' wrote Macaulay, who was in Ireland about a week after she left, 'made a conquest of all hearts.'

At 6.30 p.m. Kingstown was reached. Every pier, every wharf, every roof in Kingstown was black with people, every boat in the harbour was crammed. The Dublin Evening Mail, noting the 'tremendous enthusiasm', could not 'think where the crowds came from'. As the Queen's railway coach drew in, the Royal standard was run up over the station, and a tremendous cheer burst out, first from the ships nearest in the harbour, then taken up, from ship, to ship, as all yards were manned. The Queen and Prince appeared on the upper terrace with the children, were 'recognized by the vast crowd below and throughout that great assemblage one thrilling cheer broke out ... the peals of hurrahs floating from the manned yards like echoes across the water, whilst in the distance the shout was taken up by the dense crowds that thronged the ends of the piers'.

The Queen, with her family, paused; and advancing to the end of the terrace overlooking the whole scene she bowed repeatedly and raised and waved her right hand 'in cordial salutation to her people'.

Below, with steam up, the Victoria and Albert was waiting. After some minutes the Queen stepped on board, and the vessel at once moved off. For some time the Queen, with the Prince and the children, stood aft, where she could be distinctly seen by the people standing on the pier. Her Majesty then 'paced the deck for a little time and, on approaching the extremity of the pier near the lighthouse where vast numbers of people had congregated, she ... looked towards the crowd, ran along the deck and, with the sprightliness of a young girl and with the agility of a sailor, ascended the paddlebox'. On the summit she was joined by Prince Albert and, taking his arm, 'gracefully waved her right hand towards the people on the pier ... After some time she appeared to give an order to the Commandant and immediately the paddles ceased to move and the vessel floated on with the impetus it had already received.' Her Majesty remained in this position (the vessel moving very slowly and as near the pier as was compatible with safety) waving her handkerchief and receiving the plaudits of the thousands who crowded the extremity of the pier.

An occasional revolution of the paddles kept the vessel in motion and in this way the Victoria and Albert drifted rather than steamed past the pier, and until the Royal vessel had passed full half a mile from the pier the speed was not altered, nor did Her Majesty leave the paddle-box....'

'The departure,' said Lord Lansdowne, who was present, 'was quite affecting and he could not see it without being moved'; and John Bright, Radical Member of Parliament for Birmingham, said he would not for the world have missed seeing the embarkation at Kingstown, for he had felt just the same enthusiasm as the rest of the crowd. 'Indeed,' he told Lord Clarendon, 'I'll defy any man to have felt otherwise, when he saw the Queen come upon the platform, and bow to the people in a manner that showed her heart was with them.'

A huge crowd of spectators waited until, as evening closed in, the smoke of the last ship of the Royal Squadron sank below the horizon.


The idyll had been charming, but it brought no result. The days of 'continual jubilee', the enthusiasm, the sympathy, had no effect whatsoever on the fate of Ireland. The Queen had prestige, importance and social authority, but political power belonged to her Ministers, and Ireland remained in the hands of the Cabinet, above all, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his department, the Treasury.


The Queen returned to Ireland three times, in 1853, 1861 and 1900, but the enthusiasm of the first visit was not recaptured. The Queen was less eager, less accessible, and the Irish people, abandoned to laissez-faire and the operation of natural causes, had learnt the frantic detestation and distrust of everything and everyone English which made total separation from England, not merely an Irish Parliament in Dublin, the only solution.


And meanwhile, year after year, decade after decade, hunger continued to stalk through Ireland.


The famine was never 'over', in the sense that an epidemic occurs and is over. The poverty of the Irish people continued, dependence on the potato continued, failures of the potato, to a greater or lesser extent, continued, and hunger continued. Trevelyan had considered the famine to be 'over' in the summer of 1847, when an abundant harvest succeeded the scarcity of 1846; '... the downward progress of the country,' he wrote, 'has been mercifully stayed,' and his book The Irish Crisis, dealing with the Government's relief measures, ends in August, 1847; but in 1848 the potato failed totally again, and in the opinion of experienced relief officials the people suffered more than in 1846. At the end of 1849, Mr. T. N. Redington, Under-Secretary for Ireland, an Irish Poor Law Commissioner and a landlord in Galway, again pronounced the famine over. At that time there were about a million destitute in the workhouses and on relief, and the philanthropist, Sidney Godolphin Osborne, travelling in the west, 'frequently' saw dead bodies lying by the side of the road. In 1852 Harriet Martineau, the political writer, found blight flourishing round Belfast; the people were digging up their potatoes in hopes of finding a few fit to eat, and on the way to Dublin the potato fields were blackened.


In 1879 a disastrous failure occurred; a Mansion House Committee was formed in Dublin, subscriptions raised, and a report published, deploring the state of Ireland, in words which might have been written in 1846.



When Irish people refer to 'the famine', however, they mean the years of concentrated disaster in which blight first appeared; and in rapid succession the partial failure of 1845 was followed by the total failure of 1846 and the second total failure of 1848. The history of what then occurred is deeply engraved on the memory of the Irish race; all hope of assimilation with England was then lost, and bitterness without parallel took possession of the Irish mind.

The treatment of the Irish people by the British Government during the famine has been described as genocide—race murder. The British Government has been accused, and not only by the Irish, of wishing to exterminate the Irish people, as Cromwell wished to 'extirpate' them, and as Hitler wished to exterminate the Jews. The eighteen-forties, however, must not be judged by the standards of today; and whatever parsimony and callousness the British Government towards Ireland, was paralleled seven years later by the treatment of their own soldiers which brought about the destruction of the British Army in the Crimea.


The conduct of the British Government during the famine is divided into two periods. During the first, from the partial failure in 1845 until the transfer to the Poor Law in the summer of 1847, the Government behaved with considerable generosity. An elaborate relief organization was set up, public works were started on a scale never attempted before, and what was, for the time, a very large sum of money indeed, more than eight million pounds, was advanced. Not enough was done, considering the size of the catastrophe, but it is doubtful if any Government in Europe, at that date, would have done more.


But during the second period, after the transfer to the Poor Law in the summer of 1847, the behaviour of the British Government is difficult to defend. 

Lord John Russell and his advisers, in particular Sir Charles Wood and Trevelyan, were aware of the state of the Irish Poor Law. They knew that most of the distressed unions were bankrupt, that the worst unions had never been anything else, that in those districts where poverty, destitution and starvation were greatest the workhouses were badly equipped, or not equipped at all, dirty, understaffed and disorganized. They knew that, in the most distressed unions, rates, in normal times, had been virtually uncollectable, while in others they had to be collected with the aid of police, troops, and sometimes ships of war and, even then, were only partially gathered. They knew that Ireland was, at the moment, in the grip of a major famine, described by Lord John himself in January, 1847, as 'such as has not been known in modern times; indeed I should say it is like a famine of the 13th century acting upon a population of the 19th.

Yet, with these facts before them, the Government threw the hordes of wretched destitute on their local Poor rates, refusing assistance when the second total failure of the potato occurred and even breaking Lord John Russell's pledge to feed the starving children. Since Britain was passing through a financial crisis, the justification of the Government's actions was expediency, but it is difficult to reconcile expediency with duty and moral principles.

The most serious charge against the British Government, however, is not the transfer to the Poor Law. Neither during the famine nor for decades afterwards were any measures of reconstruction or agricultural improvement attempted, and this neglect condemned Ireland to decline. A devastating new disease had attacked the potato; nothing to equal the total destruction of 1846 had been seen before, yet no serious effort was made to teach the people to grow any other crop; and when Lord Clarendon tried to effect improvement by means of 'agricultural instructors', his scheme was ridiculed, Charles Wood writing contemptuously of Clarendon's 'hobby'. Seed rose in price, far beyond the reach of the famine-stricken Irish, but the Government would not assist with seed, inspite of the successful distribution by the Society of Friends. The Irish small tenant was inevitably driven back on the potato; he was penniless, starving, ignorant; the only crop he knew how to cultivate was the potato; generally speaking, the only tool he owned, and could use, was a spade. He had no choice. Yet when the potato failed totally again, in 1848, the Government exploded in fury. 'In 1847,' Lord John wrote, angrily, 'eight millions were advanced to enable the Irish to supply the loss of the potato crop and to cast about them for some less precarious food ... The result is that they have placed more dependence on the potato than ever and have again been deceived. How can such a people be assisted?'

As nothing was done to improve agriculture, so nothing was done to improve the system under which land was occupied in Ireland. Tenants at will remained tenants at will; twenty years after the famine, Isaac Butt was still writing, 'The vast majority of the occupiers of land in Ireland are at this moment liable to be turned out at the pleasure of their landlords'; and improvements carried out by the tenant continued to become the property of the landlord. Two Bills, introduced respectively by Sir William Somerville and Mr. Sharman Crawford, in 1848 and 1850, to give tenants a measure of security and some benefit for improvements, were dropped. The Government's one important measure affecting the land, the Incumbered Estates Act of 1849, proved disastrous to the people.

The first Incumbered Estates Act of 1848 was a failure and, almost in desperation, a further Act was passed in July, 1849. This Act was drastic: under its provisions an estate could be compulsorily sold on the petition of a creditor or of the landlord himself. 'At a time of unprecedented depreciation of the value of land, it caused a general auction of Irish estates.' Properties were sold for prices which did not cover the mortgages and debts, and creditors and owners were alike left penniless. No legislation protected the tenant, estates were bought in at bargain prices with a view to profit, and the new landlords proved very hard masters. Many of the old owners, though insolvent and unbusinesslike, had retained traces of feudal feeling, some like the famous Martins of Connemara, who were sold up under the Act, had a great deal, whereas the new mercantile owners of the land had none; rents were raised and estates cleared more ruthlessly than ever before.

These misfortunes were not part of a plan to destroy the Irish nation; they fell on the people because the government of Lord John Russell was afflicted with an extraordinary inability to foresee consequences. It has been frequently declared that the parsimony of the British Government during the famine was the main cause of the sufferings of the people, and parsimony was certainly carried to remarkable lengths; but obtuseness, short-sightedness and ignorance probably contributed more.

To take only a few instances, it did not occur to Lord John Russell and his advisers that, by forcing the famine-stricken applicant for relief to give up every possession, they were creating fresh armies of paupers, even though Lord Clarendon had inquired if it were wise to compel a man to become a pauper, when he was not one already, in order to be saved from starvation. It was not apparently anticipated that refusing to assist the famine-stricken small tenants with seed would result in holdings being left unsown, nor that, unless some means of subsistence were provided, men with families who had lost their winter food must drop the cultivation of the land and crowd on the public works. Even the self-evident truth, that Ireland is not England, was not realized by the Government in Whitehall; the desolate, starving west was assumed to be served by snug grocers and prosperous merchants and to be a field for private enterprise; bankrupt squireens, living in jerry-built mansions, with rain dripping through the roof, became county gentry, and plans for sea transport were made as if the perilous harbours of the west coast were English ports. The ruthless clearances which followed the Incumbered Estates Act of 1849 and subsequent Acts were not planned by the British Government; it was not foreseen that such clearances were bound to happen.

Much of this obtuseness sprang from the fanatical faith of mid-nineteenth century British politicians in the economic doctrine of laissez-faire, no interference by government, no meddling with the operation of natural causes. Adherence to laissez-faire was carried to such a length that in the midst of one of the major famines of history, the government was perpetually nervous of being too good to Ireland and of corrupting the Irish people by kindness, and so stifling the virtues of self reliance and industry. In addition hearts were hardened by the antagonism then felt by the English towards the Irish, an antagonism rooted far back in religious and political history, and at the period of the famine irritation had been added as well. The discreditable state of Ireland, the subject of adverse comment throughout the civilized world, her perpetual misfortunes, the determined hostility of most of her population, even their character, provoked intense irritation in England. It is impossible, to read the letters of British statesmen of the period, Charles Wood and Trevelyan for instance, without astonishment at the influence exerted by antagonism and irritation on government policy in Ireland during the famine.

It is not characteristic of the English to behave as they have behaved in Ireland; as a nation, the English have proved themselves to be capable of generosity, tolerance and magnanimity, but not where Ireland is concerned. As Sydney Smith, the celebrated writer and wit, wrote: 'The moment the very name of Ireland is mentioned, the English seem to bid adieu to common feeling, common prudence and common sense, and to act with the barbarity of tyrants and the fatuity of idiots.'

How many people died in the famine will never precisely be known. It is almost certain that, owing to geographical difficulties and the unwillingness of the people to be registered, the census of 1841 gave a total smaller than the population in fact was. Officers engaged in relief work put the population as much as 25 per cent. higher; landlords distributing relief were horrified when providing, as they imagined, for 60 persons, to find more than 400 'start from the ground'.

In 1841 the population of Ireland was given as 8,175,124; in 1851, after the famine, it had dropped to 6,552,385, and the Census Commissioners calculated that, at the normal rate of increase, the total should have been 9,018,799, so that a loss of at least 2 and 1/2 million persons had taken place. The figures available, however, must be  regarded  as  giving  only a rough indication; vital statistics are unobtainable, no record was kept of deaths, and very many persons must have died and been buried unknown, as the fever victims died and were buried in west Cork, as bodies, found lying dead on the road, were buried in ditches, and as the timid people of Erris perished unrecorded.

In the four provinces of Ireland the smallest loss of population was in Leinster, 15.5 per cent., then Ulster, 16 per cent., Con-naught's loss was greatest, 28.6 per cent., and Munster lost 23.5 per cent. In some respects, death and clearance improved Ireland; between 1841 and 1851, nearly 360,000 mud huts disappeared, the greatest decrease being 81 per cent, in Ulster, which then included the distressed county of Donegal, followed by Connaught, with a decrease of 74 per cent., Munster 69 per cent., and Leinster 62 per cent. Smallholdings under five acres were nearly halved, and holdings over fifteen acres doubled. No advantage, however, was taken of the reduction of small tenants, agriculture was not improved.

In 1866 Isaac Butt wrote, 'Ireland has retrograded ...' Between 1848 and 1864, however, thirteen million pounds was sent home by emigrants in America to bring relatives out, and it is part of the famine tragedy that, because no adequate measures of reconstruction were undertaken, a steady drain of the best and most enterprising left Ireland, to enrich other countries.

The famine left hatred behind. Between Ireland and England the memory of what was done and endured has lain like a sword. Other famines followed, as other famines had gone before, but it is the terrible years of the Great Hunger which are remembered, and only just beginning to be forgiven.

Time brought retribution. By the outbreak of the second world war, Ireland was independent, and she would not fight on England's side. Liberty and England did not appear to the Irish to be synonymous, and Eire remained neutral. Many thousands of Irishmen from Eire volunteered, but the famous regiments of southern Ireland had ceased to exist, and the 'inexhaustible nursery of the finest soldiers' was no longer at England's service.

There was also a more direct payment. Along the west coast of Ireland, in Mayo especially, on remote Clare Island, and in the dunes above the Six Mile Strand are a number of graves of petty officers and able seamen of the British Navy and Merchant Service, representatives of many hundreds who were drowned off the coast of Ireland, because the Irish harbours were not open to British ships. From these innocents, in all probability ignorant of the past, who had never heard of failures of the potato, evictions, fever and starvation, was exacted part of the price for the famine.








Keith Hunt