It is easy to misunderstand or to misinterpret John Mitchel’s contribution to the history of Irish Republicanism. Every writer (including of course the present one) has his own viewpoint.
Certainly he was the foremost and most influential of the Young Ireland group, arguably even after his transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. His name alone represented a rallying cry for later generations of rebels. He established and promulgated what came to later Republicans (even to the present day) to be seen as core principles and strategies: British withdrawal from Ireland: an end to the ‘British system’: the establishment of an independent Irish Republic (in other words, the end of the monarchy in Ireland) founded on the efforts of – and in the interests of the ‘lower orders’, the dispossessed, cottiers, peasant farmers and labourers and the unskilled in the towns and cities – what would later be developed into the ideal of an Irish Socialist Republic : armed rebellion, availing of the dictum, ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’. Espousal and forceful championing of the issues closest to their hearts, social and cultural as well as economic: Mitchel envisioned a nation of small, self-sufficient farmers. He was then, before everything a Revolutionary, though he (naively, as it soon proved) believed that at the opportune time, the rebellion would happen spontaneously.
He took no active part in an insurrection or armed rebellion yet he was recognised as a huge threat to the state: the Government passed a special law in Parliament to find excuse to arrest him. He was arrested under this new act, tried before a packed jury (not a single Catholic served, though they were more than 80% of the population) and sentenced to fourteen years transportation.
The Times of London thundered that ‘to the best of his abilities Mitchel has been guilty of horrors surpassing the accumulative crimes of all the convicts in Australia.’
Yet it is Mitchel who is remembered and often derided (even by historians as eminent as Bardon) for gross exaggeration in his reading of the Irish situation, regarding for example the continued export of foodstuffs while the population starved to death!
… more later …