Nick Wilson, "Political Ecology and the Irish Potato Famine"


E. Rebellion: O'Brien, Mitchel, and "Famine Fatigue"

In the early period of the famine, there was little organized resistance to the British imperial administration. Most indigenous Irish resistance had been focused on the repeal of the act of union, which bound Ireland into the United Kingdom. However, during the famine the Irish political resistance split into two parties: the Young Irelanders, and the Old Irelanders. The thrusts of this split were the retirement and death of the messianic Irish patriot Daniel O'Connell in 1847 and the repudiation of the non-violent clause in the Irish Repeal Association charter by the Young Irelander movement.42

Following the split between Old and Young Irelanders, the Young Ireland movement, led by William Smith O'Brien and John Mitchel, began to agitate for an agrarian revolution as a solution to the famine. Following the economic theories of Fintan Lalor, a quasi-intellectual farmer from central Ireland who proposed that foreign ownership of Irish land lay at the root of the famine,43 Mitchel and O'Brien seized land reform as the basis for a popular uprising. Encouraged by the success of the French Revolution of 1848, the Young Irelanders decided on armed rebellion.44

As Woodham-Smith writes, "seldom can a revolutionary movement have been conducted with more idealism and less sense of realism."45 The leaders refused to conduct their operations secretly or to develop an underground revolutionary organization before beginning their

42. Woodham-Smith, 329-330.
43. Woodham-Smith, 332-333.
44. Woodham-Smith, 335.
45. Woodham-Smith, 338.
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