Irish Slavery
March 17, 2017 8:51 AM   Subscribe

This Saint Patrick’s Day essay will briefly review Ireland’s anti-slavery history before focussing on the more representative and troubling issue of slave ownership among those of Irish descent. What could be more appropriate? - “Kiss me, my slave owners were Irish”
posted by Artw (13 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Damn, there is a lot of stuff in this one essay. I only got halfway through it so far. Recommended to all to read.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:30 AM on March 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this. An excellent essay to share in rebuttal to "but the Irish were slaves too" crap.
posted by Miko at 9:44 AM on March 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

So I recently got interested in genealogy. My father's side was already quite well documented, and one half of it was English Puritan, with no record of slaveholding (though one collateral branch had links to the slave *trade*.) The other half was NC mountain folk, who also didn't have any slaves (possibly more poverty than ideology.) But I built my mother's line, and a lot of that was fairly recent immigrants from Northern England, but about a quarter of it was Scotch-Irish colonial-era immigrants. And holy shit so many slaves. So many terrible stories, either explicit (one ancestor was involved in the lynching of a slave in Missouri) or implicit (there's a will where my several-times-great-grandfather coolly directs that since one of his slaves is currently pregnant, one son will get the child when born and another the mother.)

And among those Scotch-Irish slaveholder ancestors were the McClungs, so then I came across this bit from the introduction to William McClung's genealogy:

"It is deemed appropriate to here enumerate some of the qualities that especially characterize the Scotch-Irish. They are preeminently .a liberty-loving race. The sense of equity and fairness is in them developed to a remarkable degree ; and when this sense is horrified by evidences of ruthless oppression, they instinctively throw down the challenge to the oppressor."

Such unbelievable hypocrites. You can see the origins of fantasy of the American South, where the neo-confederate revanchism comes from. What kills me though, is how even modern people who should know better, like Joss Whedon, embrace the fantasy too.
posted by tavella at 9:56 AM on March 17, 2017 [25 favorites]

Previously on the blue here and here.

Great essay, as always from Liam Hogan. He is utterly relentless on this topic, his twitter's worth a look. I should mention that on the whole it is criminally underdiscussed in Ireland (compared to the fawning on JFK and the clean success stories of Irish emigration).
Some of those involved in the slave trade and the plantations in the south being 'Scotch-Irish' protestants has long been used an excuse for folks in the republic to distance themselves from anything negative.

He's put together a compilation of his work about the 'the Irish were slaves too!' idea on medium here.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 10:01 AM on March 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

Apropos of this, the New York Times has an article today, "Debunking a Myth: The Irish Were Not Slaves, Too."
posted by brianogilvie at 10:09 AM on March 17, 2017 [12 favorites]

He viewed American slave-holding society as representing a “Bastard Freedom”, a puffed-up byproduct of self-interest, racism, ignorance and greed, enforced by biased laws and the constant threat of violence.

Not only is this spot on, but the slave-holders infected the rest of the nation, too.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:11 AM on March 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

Not only is this spot on, but the slave-holders infected the rest of the nation, too.

A disease which clearly still ravages us to this day.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:13 AM on March 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

This is an excellent essay.

I should mention that on the whole it is criminally underdiscussed in Ireland

On both sides of the story. When I was in national school what we learnt about Daniel O'Connell was focused solely on the Irish issues of Catholic Emancipation and Repeal, with no mention at all of his anti-slavery efforts.

Totally ignoring the Irish slaveholders abroad follows the same pattern as pretending that everything bad about the British Empire was done by someone else, ignoring the Irish regiments and colonial officials who were taking full part in oppression around the world.
posted by Azara at 10:24 AM on March 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

There was a play I worked on a decade ago that dealt strongly with race relations. The playwright (who also directed the work) also really pushed everyone involved to think about their personal histories with, and experiences of, race; each of us at one point or another got to a point where they got a little overwhelmed and suddenly have to excuse themselves and go hide in the bathroom and then come back red-eyed and sniffling and say "Okay, I'm good now."

I was the stage manager rather than a performer, but I still had my own moment. There was a scene where one character, an African-American one, is being described in very animalistic language - think, like, Leonardo DiCaprio's phrenology speech from Django Unchained cranked up to eleven.

And one day, while watching them run this scene, I suddenly flashed back to a course I took in Irish history, and stories I'd heard about how, in the mid-1800's, the Irish were described in very, very similar language. The Irish were also described as, and often depicted as, being subhuman and apelike. There were even those who argued that the Irish were not actually Caucasian.

Now, I'm sitting there thinking of all of this - but within seconds of that, I glance over at the director, and remember that his last name is "O'Hara". And - let's just say that the guy had a little too much melanin to assume that his ancestry lay in County Mayo.

It's important to remember both sides of that coin, I think, so long as you remember them for the right reasons. The Coffin-ships, Gangs-of-New-York side is there to remind us that the Irish in America lived through a lot to get here, but it's also supposed to be there to remind us that there was a time when our ancestors were the ones getting spat on, so it's ridiculous to spit on this era's newcomers. And the Scotch-Irish plantation-holders side of the coin should be reminding us of what we should be on guard against repeating, and reminding us that the early struggles are no fucking excuse for imposing cruelty on others, and are a sobering reminder that we're no angels (but that no one is).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:30 AM on March 17, 2017 [18 favorites]

And among those Scotch-Irish slaveholder ancestors were the McClungs

Hello fellow McClung! (My grandmother's maiden name is McClung, and at least one genealogical site connects her directly to the branch that William McClung calls the Tennessee McClungs).

Of course, that branch of the family moved to Alabama in the 1810's which means they almost certainly actively participated in expanding the plantation economy to that state. And however-many-times-great uncle Leroy joined up with the Texas cavalry to expand slavery into the mining districts of the West during the Civil War.
posted by firechicago at 10:44 AM on March 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

From Michael Twitty, African-American/Jewish (and Irish) food historian: 'Kiss me, I'm Irish' took on a new meaning when DNA proved that I was:
like many African Americans, I was excited by the possibility of using DNA tests to learn about my cultural roots before they were severed by centuries of slavery, obfuscation and the destruction of records. Today, I’m proud to say that multiple tests have confirmed my roots among ethnic groups living Ghana, Sierra Leone and other countries in West and Central Africa.

But the tests also confirmed the legacy of slavery in quite another way: my family, like most black American families, has not one but several white ancestors – men who took advantage of their access to young enslaved women and, in the process, increased the number of human beings they called property.
Twitty previously on MeFi 1, 2
posted by Miko at 11:08 AM on March 17, 2017 [7 favorites]

St.Patrick was a actually a slave, taken from Britain by Irish pirates. We was also a necromancer of giants.
posted by Damienmce at 1:06 PM on March 17, 2017

I hope this doesn't seem like a stupid comment, but in Gone With the Wind Scarlett's family is Irish and IIRC first generation. I am pretty sure the patriarch of her family is portrayed as having an Irish accent and particularly proud of his families' heritage.

Of course the book is part of the "happy slave" narrative that people try so hard to hold onto. My point being, that Irish slave holders in the US should not be outside of our cultural consciousness.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 7:10 PM on March 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

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