There is no greater example in Irish history of the negative effects
of Capitalism and Imperialism than that of An Gorta Mór.
This was not an isolated incident due solely to the failure of the
potato crop, as is often conveniently suggested, but rather the
result of ongoing exploitation of the Irish workers by the landowning
class. This tragic episode clearly exposed how the sufferings of
the people came secondary to the protection of private interest
It was against the backdrop of this stark social landscape that,
in July of 1846, the Young Ireland movement was formed. The Young
Ireland movement was comprised of individuals from a broad political
spectrum, ranging from conservative nationalists to radical social
revolutionaries. Amongst the radicals to emerge during this period
was James Fintan Lalor, described by Connolly as ‘the keenest
intellect in Ireland in his day’. Lalor contributed greatly
to the revolutionary literature of the day through his writings
in `The Nation' newspaper and later in `The Irish Felon'.
Whilst Connolly held Lalor in high esteem, he was scathing in his
analysis of the more conservative leaders, asserting that ‘the
chiefs of the Young Irelanders were as rabidly solicitous about
the rights of the landlord as were the chiefs of the English government.
While the people perished, the Young Irelanders talked’. Taken
out of context, this statement would be a damning indictment of
the Young Ireland movement as a whole. However, it is more accurate
to view it as a critical analysis of the various components which
made up the Young Ireland movement as a whole, i.e. conservative
nationalism and radical revolutionaries.
The contribution of the Young Irelanders has often been overlooked
as nothing more than a few isolated skirmishes. However, the sum
of their contribution to history and revolutionary development in
Ireland is far greater than a superficial examination of their actions
reveals. Lalor's writings were to prove inspirational to Irish republicans
far beyond his death in December, 1849. Indeed, former comrades,
such as John O'Leary and Thomas Clarke Luby, would later go on to
establish the Fenian movement. Furthermore, his radical sentiments
were to be echoed during the Land War of the 1880's. Later they
were further expounded and added to by James Connolly, and were
articulated once more in the Democratic Programme adopted by Dáil
Éireann in January, 1919.
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