In these days when students often have a bad press, Famine, Fenians and Freedom, is dedicated to the sixth form students whom I taught and tutored in the two years before I retired. They were a witty, interested and interesting set of over fifty students who challenged both their own ideas and mine in lessons that combined the best of learning: achievement of the skills and understanding necessary to do well in examinations and in education in its broadest sense. They were amongst the most affable, brightest and certainly the most challenging (in the nicest sense of that word) individuals I had ever taught. Their collective success, something that continued at university and beyond is something I have followed with intense interest.
Famine, Fenians and Freedom is a detailed and nuanced study of the exodus of the impoverished and persecuted from Ireland before and after the Great Famine of the 1840s as they emigrated, or in some cases were transported to, America, Canada and Australia as well as to the British mainland. The critical question for many Irish men and women was whether Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom, or whether they should seek greater freedom through devolved power or separation. This was an Ireland dominated by personalities such as Daniel O’Connell, James Stephens, Isaac Butt, and Charles Stewart Parnell, and by movements such as the Repeal Association, Young Ireland, the Fenians and Home Rule, and by rebellions against British domination in 1848 and 1867. It examines how those who saw themselves as exiled sought to restore Irish independence from what they determined as British tyranny. This led to unsuccessful Fenian invasions of Canada by Irish-Americans in 1866, 1870 and 1871, the attempted assassination of a member of the British Royal family, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, in Australia in 1868, and the murder of two British politicians in Phoenix Park, Dublin in 1882. It is a story replete with dramatic events; the monster meetings of the Repeal Association, the battle of Ridgeway, the voyages of the Erin's Hope and the Catalpa, the Manchester ‘outrages’, and the Clerkenwell bombing, and considers developments in Ireland in their global colonial context and setting.