From The Shan Van Vocht, 7th March, 1898. The original article and year of publication is not stated, although judging to its references to America, it was likely written during Mitchel’s residence in the United States.
The Western and South-Western coast, from Derry round to Cork, is surely the most varied and beautiful coast in all the world. Great harbours, backed by noble ranges of mountains, open all around the Western coast of Munster, till you come to the Shannon’s mouth; there is a fine navigable river opening up the most bounteously fertile land in the island – Limerick and Tipperary. North of the Shannon, huge cliff-walls, rising eight hundred feet sheer out of deep water, broken by chasms and pierced by sea-caves, “with high embowed roof,” like the choir of a cathedral; then the Bay of Galway, once thronged with Spanish and Irish ships, carrying wine and gold – but now, it appears, dangerous and fatal (statio mala fide carinis) to steamships bound for America. Westward from Galway, and round the circuit of Connaught, the scene becomes savage and wild, with innumerable rocky islands – deep inlets, narrow and gloomy, like Norwegian fjords – and grim steep mountains hanging over them. But the most desolate region of all is found in Ulster. As you travel northwards from Killybegs, by way of Ardara, Glenties, and Dunglow, you pass for nearly forty miles through the dreariest region of moor and mountain that is to be found within the five ends of Ireland – wide tracts of quaking bog, interspersed with countless dismal lakes, intersected by rocky ridges, and traversed by mountain rivers roaring in tawny foam to the sea. The two or three wretched villages that lie along this road give to a traveller an impression of even more dreariness and desolation than the intervening country; a cluster of ragged-looking, windowless hovels, whose inhabitants seem to have gathered themselves from the wastes, and huddled together to keep some life and heat in them; a few patches of oats and potatoes surrounding the huts, and looking such a miserable provision for human beings against hunger in the midst of those great brown moors; hardly a slated building to be seen, save one or two constabulary and revenue police-stations, and a court-house in Glenties, for dealing out “justice,” and close by that a certain new building – the grandest by far that those Rosses people ever saw – rearing its accursed gables and pinnacles of Tudor barbarism, and staring boldly with its detestable mullioned windows, as if to mock those wretches who still cling to liberty and mud cabins – seeming to them, in their perennial half-starvation, like a Temple erected to the Fates, or like the fortress of Giant Despair, whereinto he draws them one by one, and devours them there – the Poor-house.
This is the estate of a certain Marquis of Conyngham; and for him those desolate people, while health last, and they may still keep body and soul together, outside the Poor-house, are for ever employed in making up a subsidy, called rent; which that district sends half-yearly to be consumed in England; or wherever else it may please their noble proprietor to devour their hearts’ blood and the marrow of their bones.
So it is; and so it was, even before the famine, with almost the whole of that coast region. The landlords were all absentees. All the grain and cattle the people could raise were never enough to make up the rent; it all went away, of course; it was all consumed in England; but Ireland received in exchange stamped rent receipts. Of course there were no improvements – because they would have only raised the rent; and in ordinary years many thousands of those poor people lived mainly on sea-weed some months of every year. But this was trespass and robbery; for the seaweed belonged to the lord of the manor, who frequently made examples of the depredators.
Can the American mind picture a race of white men reduced to this condition? White men! Yes, of the highest and purest blood and breed of men. The very region I have described was once – before British civilization overtook us – the abode of the strongest and the richest clans in Ireland; the Scotic MacCauras; the French Clan-Gerralt, (or Geraldin, or Fitzgerald) – the Norman MacWilliams (or De Burgo, or Burke) – the princely and munificent O’Briens and O’Donnells, founders of many monasteries, chiefs of glittering hosts, generous patrons of Ollamh, Bard, and Brehon; sea-roving MacNamaras and O’Malleys, whose ships brought from Spain wine and horses – from England fair-haired, white-armed Saxon slaves, “tall, handsome women,” as the chroniclers call them, fit to weave wool or embroider mantles in the house of a king. After a struggle of six or seven centuries, after many bloody wars and sweeping confiscations, English “civilisation” prevailed – and had brought the clans to the condition I have related. The ultimate idea of English civilization being that “the sole nexus between man and man is cash payment” – and the “Union” having finally determined the course and current of that payment, out of Ireland into England – it had come to pass that the chiefs were exchanged for landlords, and the clansmen had sunk into able-bodied paupers.