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The Great Irish Famine And Changing Attitudes Towards Nationalism And

2160 words - 9 pages

Was the Great Famine the turning point in attitudes towards Irish nationalism between 1815 and 1937?

The Great Famine (1845-48) was possibly one of the most cataclysmic events of the 19th Century marking a significant turning point in Irish nationalism. The rise to prominence of the Catholic Association, with Daniel O Connor as its leader, signified the emergence of a nation-wide organization promoting Irish nationalism by constitutional means. Despite some early success and the growing popularity of the Association, the disastrous impact of the Famine put a stop to further developments in the short term. Longer term, the Famine has come to be viewed as a critical turning point in the ...view middle of the document...

The Famine was a catalyst for the growth in militancy and arguably was the key factor in changing attitudes towards nationalism, and in particular provoking an increase in militant nationalism and the emergence, longer term, of the Fenian movement and the IRB . The Famine opened up a space for the growth of militant ideas, represented by the emergence of Young Ireland and its leader John Mitchell. Following O’Connell’s death in 1847, the Young Irelander’s saw an opportunity to become more radical by rejecting previous rapprochement with the Whigs, however, until the1848 rebellion they represented a marginal influence. The first real show of militant nationalism occurred with the 1848 rebellion. Beckett writes of the rebellion, that it was a “shambles”, with a turnout of less than 100 poorly armed insurgents, most of whom left once they realized there was no food. Yet, despite its failure it nonetheless marked the first signs of changing attitudes towards nationalism. After the failed rebellion many members of the Young Irelanders were exiled or fled to America where they remained dedicated to the continuing struggle for Irish freedom and some of whom went on to form the Fenians (1850s). The Famine embedded a ‘culture of exit’ within Ireland which had consequences for the subsequent development of Irish nationalist politics. Figures estimate that in the years of the Famine over one million Irish peasants emigrated to America. These people, freed from the political scrutiny of an oppressive British state, could now meet, gain political influence and join with the Fenians. The Fenians were instrumental in changing attitudes towards militant nationalism evidenced by an increase in popularity, membership and influence. For militant nationalists, particularly the Fenians and IRB members, the British response to the Famine was worse than inadequate, and they began to advance the view that the Famine, far from being a natural occurrence, was actually an act of genocide perpetrated by the British. John Mitchell famously said “God sent the blight but the English made the Famine”. This emotive quote played an important role in the changing attitudes towards nationalism as it demonstrated the scant regard that the British had for their colonial subjects. The Fenians later became influential in other militant uprisings such as the Easter Rising (1916). Although in the short term the Famine acted as a dampener on nationalistic progress, longer term consequences were indeed huge, provoking major political change; from attitudes to constitutionalism to then conceiving the idea of an Irish Republic. This latter belief is a re-occurring theme in Irish history - when it becomes clear that the constitutional approach is not working, or change is too slow, there is a pattern of changing attitudes from political to militant.
Cultural nationalism decreased significantly as a direct consequence of the Famine. One of the heaviest casualties was the Gaelic...

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