Slaveholders in Ireland

After yesterday’s popular blog about Irish slavery, I wanted to write a short one about another issue with Liam Hogan’s work.

Another thread of his work is researching Irish slaveholders. Where he’s traced information those who left Ireland and “became white” and bought into the slave owning population, that’s all well and good.

Where it comes unstuck is when he writes about those still resident in Ireland who owned slaves, without mentioning a key fact – the Penal Laws. Under the Penal Laws, passed in 16th and 17th centuries and not fully nullified until 1832, Catholic Irish (the vast majority of the Irish population) were not allowed to own property.

While the property owning restriction was lifted in 1778, it’s incredibly unlikely that any of the poor Irish, a decade from the disastrous Gorta Mór, were in any position to buy or own slaves in 1832.

The 100 people in the country who were compensated were undoubtedly part of the ascendancy – the Protestant minority who controlled Ireland and profited from their privileged under the Penal Laws.

In a longer piece on the issue, Hogan debunks the division of Irish emigrants into Scots-Irish and Irish and the implication that only the Protestant Scots-Irish, or Irish buying into WASP identity, owned slaves. However, in the case of those in Ireland where those are far more relevant, he makes no distinctions nor any mention of the Penal Laws.

The list includes titled ascendancy names, including Sir George Fitzgerald Hill 2nd MP, Sir Edward Hoare, Admiral Sir Edmund Nagle, Hon. Hercules Robert Pakenham and Sir Edward Tierney. All the list really tells us is that the same people who were exploiting the Irish population with ruinously high rents were also exploiting Black people in far-flung territories.

In fact, a central part of Theodore W. Allen’s argument in The Invention of the White Race is that the system in Ireland was the basis of the system of racial oppression in what became the United States of America. Equating the oppressed with their oppressors is just wrong.


Author: Donnacha DeLong

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Donnacha DeLong is an NUJ activist, journalist and online communications consultant with more than 20 years' professional experience.

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