Unofficial anthem ensures Trevelyan won’t be forgotten

In the 40 years leading up to the Great Famine, Ireland had been governed as an integral part of the UK. Executive power lay in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, appointed by the Crown.

Ireland sent more than 100 MPs to the House of Commons and 28 peers to the House of Lords. This legislature was completely unrepresentative of the country as 70 per cent of the membership were landowners.

Unsurprisingly, successive British governments encountered numerous, intractable problems in governing Ireland. These included a starving population, an absentee landlord aristocracy, an alien, established Church, the legacy of the 1798 rebellion and a weak, feeble executive.

Between 1800-1845 there were numerous commissions and countless special committees inquiring into the state of the country. All, without exception, prophesied disaster.

Sections of the impoverished Irish peasantry were perpetually on the verge of starvation. Risks included Ireland’s archaic and inefficient system of agriculture and land tenure, high unemployment rates, over-dependence on the potato crop and rapid population growth. The potato blight famine was simply an accident waiting to happen and the British had little idea how to deal with it. Two further toxic issues complicated the British response to this crisis.

The Whig/Liberal coalition was fixated on the doctrine of laissez-faire economics and believed that the market could cure all problems and should operate without state intervention. However, it remains a mystery how this unregulated market could provide food to landless, unemployed peasants with no income to purchase these provisions. This misguided policy bizarrely led to the export of food from Ireland when the population was starving and a reduction in charitable donations. Evidently the market was sacrosanct and human life expendable.

There was also the question of divine providence – the idea that the famine was God’s retribution on the “feckless Irish”. Astonishingly, Lord Trevelyan, chief administrator of the British relief programme, proclaimed that “the judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson... that calamity must not be too much mitigated”.

It is instructive that neither he nor the PM John Russell expressed any contrition or remorse for their culpable negligence in failing to prevent the deaths of over one million people in the famine.

However, most reputable historians absolve Britain of genocide in relation to its incompetent, chaotic and ineffectual response to the famine. This exoneration is based on the scale of its relief programme and its public works measures which, although totally inadequate, did not demonstrate any deliberate intent to eliminate the peasantry. But the callous words of Lord Trevelyan still cast a long shadow over British motives in responding to this disaster.

The plaintive refrains of the Fields of Athenry will be drifting across the Irish terraces during the rugby world cup... hopefully in response to Irish victories. This unofficial rugby anthem ensures that the heartless, malevolent Lord Trevelyan will never be forgotten.


Donabate, Co Dublin

In order to forget we first have to forgive

Conrad Baars was a Dutch psychologist and psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. Baars would go on to write some of the most compelling work on emotionally affirmative love with the insight that only those who had received such love could in turn express it.

In Baars’s biography he recounts what happened when news of the Nazi defeat came through and the roles of prisoner and guard were reversed. Baars said that many survivors wanted simply to forget that the Holocaust had happened and wanted nothing to do with the guards. When Baars insisted that the guards were now prisoners and must work as punishment, many responded with distaste.

For Baars to simply forget was incomplete as there could be no healing without justice.

I think of how Baars would respond in our present day. The Holocaust was an atrocity of a magnitude unparalleled yet lessons can be learnt from survivors that apply to situations no matter their size.

Lockdown was a collective trauma for all of us. The isolation, the shutting down of normal life, and maybe most of all the bombardment of fear. Three years removed and the narratives of Covid have collapsed.

The pain created by the wrong policy decisions is seen most clearly in the young. A doubling of children with eating disorders, a doubling of children absent from school. A rise of fourfold of girls with Tourette’s. Emotional development and social skills harmed in just under 50 per cent of children. We were all betrayed by the policies of lockdown but the young most of all.

But we do not call for justice. We would prefer to simply forget. Conrad Baars was not a hard-hearted man. It was rather because he understood the heart so fully that he knew what was required. In order to forget we must first forgive, in order to forgive there must be justice.


Glenavy, Co Antrim

Afghan people are still being denied adequate vital survival resources

International media sources have been counter-intuitively critical of the Afghan Taliban government ban on opium poppy production.

Drug addiction is a huge problem within Afghanistan and worldwide. The US Institute for Peace published a report entitled “The Taliban’s Successful Opium Ban is Bad for Afghans and the world”.

The reality is that the Afghan people are still being denied adequate vital survival resources by sanctions and the damage caused by two decades of US-led war and occupation for which no reparations will ever be forthcoming.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair stated that the drug trade was one of the factors in his decision to intervene in Afghanistan in 2001. However, he should have known that according to the UN Drug Control Program, the Taliban government had banned the production of opium poppies in July 2000, resulting in a reduction of over 90 per cent.

During the US/nato occupation the production of opium poppies increased from about 20,000 hectares in 2001 to about 300,000 hectares in 2018. The renewed Afghan government ban on the production of opium poppies is fully justified.

The Irish government actively supported the unjustified US-led Afghan war for 20 years, leaving the Afghan people in chaos and destitute. The overthrow of the Afghan and Iraqi governments were in breach of the UN Charter, yet there has been no accountability for any of these crimes against the Afghan and Iraqi people. The so-called ‘rules-based international order’ has been causing disorder, international chaos and war crimes.

Edward Horgan

Castletroy, Limerick