Shan Van Voght (1848), The
DESCRIPTION: We'll defeat the Tories in this year of 1848. Pitt and Castlereagh "stole our Parliament away." The French drove out the royalists. Smith O'Brien and John O'Connell will do that here. The French are on the sea "to be here the 10th of May"
EARLIEST DATE: 1848 (Zimmermann)
KEYWORDS: rebellion France Ireland nonballad patriotic
1848 - The Young Ireland uprising fails
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Zimmermann 7C, "A New Song Called the Shan Van Vocht" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "John Mitchel" and references there for the 1848 Irish uprising
cf. "Lament of John O Mahony" and references there for the 1848 Irish uprising
cf. "Skibbereen" and references there for the 1848 Irish uprising
cf. "The Wee Duck" and references there for the 1848 Irish uprising
cf. "The Shan Van Voght" (1828) for Shan Van Voght song on another subject.
cf. "The Battle of Ballycohy" (1828) for Shan Van Voght song on another subject.
cf. "The Shan Van Voght" and references there, including Shan Van Voght broadsides on other subjects.
cf. "The Game of Cards" (II) for references to the "stealing" of Grattan's Parliament
cf. "The Wheels of the World" for Pitt and Castlereigh
NOTES [1066 words]: Among the European revolutions of 1848 was the French revolt driving Louis Philippe from Paris in February. Once again the United Irishmen looked to France as their model. The Irish famine persisted. When the government suspended Habeus Corpus in July the leaders of Young Ireland -- William Smith O'Brien, John Blake Dillon and Francis Meagher -- planned an uprising that failed. (source: The 1848 Uprising by Donagh MacDonagh at the Waterford City History site, copyright Waterford City History).
The reference "Billy Pitt and Castlereagh ... They stole our Parliament away ... The people's curse, I give my oath, caused Castelreagh to cut his throat" is to the 1801 "Act of Union" -- supported by Pitt and Robert Stewart (Lord Castlereagh) -- that formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland" and abolished the Dublin Parliament. [For the brief life of Grattan's Parliament, see the notes to "Ireland's Glory." Pitt and Castlereigh are explicitly linked in "The Wheels of the World" also. - RBW]
Castlereagh [1769-1822] committed suicide in 1822 by cutting his throat. (sources: Britain and Ireland by Marjie Bloy on the Victorian Web site; Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh on the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos site). [The fault may have been genetic; his nephew Robert Fitzroy, one-time captain of the Beagle who would oppose evolution tooth and nail, would commit suicide in 1845; Herman, p. 437. - RBW]
John O'Connell is Daniel O'Connell's son and led the Repeal Association which differed in tactics but not objective from William Smith O'Brien's Young Ireland but both groups supported Irish independence. "Smith O'Brien led a delegation to Paris. Though rebuffed by Lamartine's new government, the delegates were intoxicated by the revolutionary atmosphere in France. On their return caution was thrown to the winds." O'Brien was one of the organizers of the 1848 uprising. (source:Young Ireland by Richard Davis on the Ohio University site) - BS
As so often, of course, when Ireland looked to other nations for help, they found none. 1848 -- "The Year of Revolution" -- did overthrow kings, but not nations. The Habsburg monarchy replaced the feeble-minded Ferdinand I (reigned 1835-1848) with the less addled by hardly more effective Franz Joseph. France got rid of Louis Philippe and eventually replaced him with Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) -- a man who liked independence movements but didn't like democracy at all. And so it went.
The revolution in France (February 24, 1848) did inspire the Young Ireland leaders, but they could do very little. Young Ireland leaders such as Thomas Francis Meagher (for whom see "The Escape of Meagher") and John Mitchel (for whom see the song by that name) urged revolt, and eventually brought in the more peaceful William Smith O'Brien (1803-1864). (Golway, pp. 115-116).
According to Kee, p. 276, even the beginning of the rebellion was an accident. On July 23, 1848, Smith O'Brien was visiting a friend in Wexford, when Meagher and John Blake Dillon arrived with word that habeas corpus had been suspended; there may also have been a warrant for Smith O'Brien's arrest. He had little choice but to scrape up what strength he could and fight to survive. But there was no organization and no plan; truly Smith O'Brien had been forced into violence. The "rebellion" followed.
Or, rather, collapsed. There was no help from France (presumably the reference is a hangover from one of the earlier Shan Van Voght songs). A few half-armed bands wandered around Ireland, and a few leaders tried to scrape up troops, but no one actually set out to fight the British. Smith O'Brien gave a lot of speeches, but was so cautious that he ended up visiting the same places several times rather than seek new recruits (Kee, p. 280). As Fry/Fry, p. 238 put it, "in July 1848 the 'revolt' collapsed in an inglorious scuffle in a widow's back garden patch at Ballingarry. O'Brien, Meagher and others surrendered, and mercifully were not put to death but transported to join Mitchel in Australia."
According to Golway, p. 121, "The Battle of Widow McCormack's Cabbage Patch" resulted in two people being killed, though they may not have been rebels." And that was it for armed conflict.
Laxton, p. 85, says that "On the last Saturday of July the remnants of O'Brien's force gathered in a field at Ballingarry, in Country Tipperary; there were not more than 40 men, only half with firearms. The rest were armed with home-made pikes or farmers' pitchforks, while others, possibly 80, were prepared to throw stones." Against such a rabble, the available police should have been more than adequate, but they decided to take shelter in the Widow McCormack's home (the widow herself was out, but her six children, from ages ten on down, were there). The rebels apparently prepared to burn the place down -- but, to read Laxton's account, the widow herself told them off upon returning from her shopping expedition, and the rebellion ended with just a few shots fired (Laxton, p. 86).
To give you an idea of how trivial the whole rising was, Foster mentions the Battle of Ballingary -- the site of the siege on Widow McCormack's house -- only in its chronology (p. 607), not in its text. Even its leader Smith O'Brien said that it was an "escapade" and that it "does not deserve the name of insurrection" (Kee, p. 286). OxfordCompanion doesn't even give it an entry, or mention it in its article on Smith O'Brien, though it does include a brief description in the article regarding the Revolution of 1848. Still, it's clear that the whole thing is remembered mostly because Young Ireland was first and foremost a literary movement. Odds are there were more Irishmen writing about the revolt in 1848 than actually participated.
Smith O'Brien's erratic behavior continued at his trial. He was, naturally, found guilty of rebellion, which meant that he was subject to the death penalty. The jury strongly urged mercy -- but Smith O'Brien refused to petition for clemency; it took a special act of parliament to allow him to be transported (Kee, p. 287). Even in Tasmania, he long refused to apply for a ticket-of-leave (parole). He was fully pardoned in 1854, and returned to Ireland in 1856. He generally stayed out of politics after that; people seemed to understand that he was a gifted speaker who somehow couldn't come up with much to say. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- Foster: R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland 1600-1972 Penguin, 1988, 1989
- Fry/Fry: Peter and Fiona Somerset Fry, A History of Ireland, 1988 (I use the 1993 Barnes & Noble edition)
- Golway: Terry Golway, For the Cause of Liberty, Simon & Schuster, 2000
- Herman: Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, 2004 (I use the 2005 Harper Perennial edition)
- Kee: Robert Kee, The Most Distressful Country, being volume I of The Green Flag (covering the period prior to 1848), Penguin, 1972
- Laxton: Edward Laxton, The Famine Ships: The Irish Exodus to America, 1996 (I use the 1997 Henry Holt American edition)
- OxfordCompanion: S. J. Connolly, editor, The Oxford Companion to Irish History, Oxford, 1998.
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