Every one’s personal and political philosophy will mature dependent on the influence of other like-minded individuals and groups and of political developments of the time. The early Young Ireland group included landlords…
… and was content to work within O’Connell’s Repeal Movement. Then they were a radical ginger group, hugely influential because of the great popularity of The Nation newspaper.
When Thomas Davis died suddenly in 1845 Gavan Duffy offered the post of assistant-editor to John Mitchel. The tone of the paper became more radical and hinted at the future use of violent methods. The conservative Standard stated that the new Irish railways could be used to transport troops to quickly curb agrarian unrest. Mitchel replied that railway tracks could be turned into pikes and that trains could be easily ambushed. O’Connell publicly distanced himself from the Nation and some believed he thereby set its editor up for prosecution – which happened almost immediately! In court, John O’Hagan of Newry and Mitchel himself successfully defended Duffy.
It is a fact that up to 1846 Young Ireland (including John Mitchel) still believed that the Crown could be the connecting link between England and Ireland (there are those who still believe it today [Paisley just this week, for example!] and certainly it was the early policy of Arthur Griffith, founder of Sinn Fein in the first decade of the following (twentieth) century). Young Ireland held that Protestants would prefer a link with England because they identified with it through history, family links and religion. Mitchel and Martin in particular were anxious to solicit on behalf of their own Northern Protestant fellow-Irishmen.
Young Ireland and O’Connell disagreed over federalism, education (O’Connell condemned the new Queen’s Colleges at Belfast, Cork and Galway as ‘godless’ because they were outside the control of the Catholic Church) the use of physical force and alliance with the Whigs government of 1846. O’Connell introduced a ‘moral force pledge’ for every member of the Repeal Association. This was discussed at length at Conciliation Hall Dublin 27-8 June 1846.
Mitchel’s speech in opposition was, as always, lucid, outspoken and radical.
[The reader might wish to consider modern parallels as he reads these words:]
‘I do not see how native agitation to throw off a foreign government is compatible with holding comfortable places under that foreign government.”
He knew the resolution was designed to expel him and his like, and their followers from the Repeal Association, and went on :
‘I am one of the Saxon Irishmen of the north.
You want that race of Irishmen in your ranks more than any others. You cannot afford to drive even one away from you, however humble or uninfluential.
And let me tell you friends, this is our country as well as yours. You need not expect to free it from the mighty power of England by yourselves – you are not able to do it.
Drive the Ulster Protestants away from your Movement by needless tests and you perpetuate the degradation both of yourselves and of them.
Keep them at a distance from you – make yourselves subservient to the old and well-worn English policy of divide and rule – and England will keep her heel upon both your necks forever.’
There was a split anyway – the Irish Association was formed in January 1847 – and no reconciliation until 1848.
… more later …