Rihla (The Journey) – was the short title of a 14th Century (1355 CE) book written in Fez by the Islamic legal scholar Ibn Jazayy al-Kalbi of Granada who recorded and then transcribed the dictated travelogue of the Tangerian, Ibn Battuta. The book’s full title was A Gift to Those who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Travelling and somehow the title of Ibn Jazayy's book captures the ethos of many of the city and country journeys I have been lucky to take in past years.
This particular Rihla is about the battles for faith and food during the great Irish famine.
A BITTER UNION
It is just over 220 years since the Acts of Union 1800 entered into force on January 1, 1801, an Act which merged the political destinies of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Kingdom of Ireland for the next 150 years until the Republic of Ireland Act, 1948. The Act of Union was done primarily to allay fears that increased Catholic emancipation – it came in 1829 – would change the character and effect of parliamentary representation in Ireland but to head off the greater possibility, and cause for concern, of Ireland allying its political destiny with France, encouraged by the bloody revolutions in that country in 1789 and subsequently in Ireland in 1798. January 1, 2021 saw, as a consequence of Brexit, the divorce of the Republic of Ireland – give or take the already undermined pre-nuptial conditions of the Good Friday Agreement – from the UK and its headlong dive into the bosom of the French in a greater EU alliance.
The Irish-UK marriage has always been shaky at best. Founded on lust, it was characterised by sustained periods of domestic violence punctuated by reconciliation and shared endeavours, which were then quickly discarded in favour of the English will. After the passing of the Acts of Union the following 30 years showed in particular a distant UK Westminster government, allowing an aloof landed class in Ireland – local and absentee – to permit an unyielding poverty to take root and to establish an almost permanent state of sub-human existence for the majority of the population, most of whom were Roman Catholics and most of whom did not have a political or legal voice. This indifference to the poor in the Westminster corridors of power was influenced heavily by Thomas Malthus’ 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population, which as Christine Kenny in her 2015 essay Saving the Irish Poor: Charity and the Great Famine described, created the notion of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, a separation promulgated in the Irish Poor Law Act of 1838 with an inbuilt deterrent ineligibility which meant all relief had to be provided within the new Workhouses, and that the Irish poor had no “right” of relief.
By 1821 there was a population of 6,802,000 in Ireland – the majority disenfranchised, living in poverty and almost 3,000,000 depending on the potato for their basic sustenance – and by 1841 there were 8,175,000 people on the island and this did not include the 400,000 that had emigrated between 1836 and 1841 following earlier blighted potato crop failures and the parallel failures of promises of political and economic reform. The major crop failures of 1845 and 1846 – when ¾ of the crop was lost – and 1848 precipitated the Gorta Mór, or Great Famine, with almost 1,000,000 dying of starvation and disease and a further 1,000,000 being forced to emigrate. For those that remained for many it was the Workhouse. Following the Poor Law Act of 1838 there came to be established about 163 Poor Law Union workhouses in the country and by 1847 occupancy in these Workhouses was around 417,000 rising to 932,000 or 14% of the entire population in 1849.
Against this background of an imploding single-crop dependent agrarian society manifest in the effects of the Great Famine was a parallel destruction of morality in what could be termed the Great Deception, where religious instruction, religious indoctrination was bartered for food, for existence. Although, as Christine Kenny points out, the relief for Ireland during the peak famine years came from people who could least afford it such as the Choctaw Indians of Oklahoma, and the Indian Coolies of Calcutta, some of pillars of society intentions in providing relief were less honest.
FAMINE, FOOD and FAITH
The 1800 Acts of Union had also united the Established English and Irish Anglican Churches and the newly energised and emboldened congregations in the 1820s, particularly in England, determined to utilise access to education to proselytise amongst Roman Catholics for conversion to Protestantism in Ireland on a missionary basis. They were later during the depths of the famine years to barter access to education and Protestantism as a means of access to food when the missionaries became known collectively as the “Soupers”. In 1826 a census revealed that there were 560,000 children attending 11,823 “schools”. Of these schools 10, 096 were Hedge Schools, which were attended in the main by Roman Catholics.
The basis for this Protestant proselytising is probably best summed up by a June 6th, 1682 letter of Erasmus Smith detailing the reasons for establishing his foundation grammar schools, a faultline that was to remain in the English educational approach to Ireland for 200 years. It states:
“My end in founding the three schools was to propagate the Protestant faith according to the Scriptures avoiding all superstition, as the Charter and the bylaws and rules established doe direct. Therefore it is the command of His Majesty to catliechize the children out of Primate Ussher’s and expound the same unto them, which I humbly desire may be observed upon penalty of forfeiting theire places.”
This educational proselyting to the Protestant faith however, with prompting from senior Roman Catholic clergy and peers, soon began to cause further concerns in Westminister and in 1812 a Commission was established to create a National Board of Education in Ireland to provide non-denominational education. The earlier 1812 Board put the supervision of the development of the national system in the hands of the Kildare-Street or Place Society (An Anglican society that was initially was “proselytising-light” and which would later exclusively become the Protestant teacher training school on a site that ironically, given its famine poverty origins, is now the Department of Agriculture), because of their apparent non-denominational approach to inclusive education for all children. After a great deal of controversy over the mandatory use of Scripture readings without commentary by the Society the Irish National Model School system established in the early 1830s with vested and non-vested schools under their control.
It was not an easy development however as all sides of the religious divide objected to the non-denominational basis of the schools. The peak famine years were notable firstly for the contribution of the Society of Friends or Quakers and the Anglo-Jewish Lionel and Meyer de Rothschild-led British Association for the Relief of Distress in Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland enormous contribution to helping people “beyond the reach of government aid” and secondly, the enormous opposition from Roman Catholic [the Hierarchy issued a directive in 1863 ordering all Catholic children to be withdrawn from the schools) clergy, resulting in the development of exclusively RC or Protestant schools. As a system the new Model Schools almost buckled under the opposition to fade from history but there still are nine of which the current Minister for Education is patron: 5 of these have a Catholic ethos and 4 have a Protestant ethos and all still discriminate on the basis of professed faith. In addition the current Department of Education is housed in the original headquarters Model School.
Into this maelstrom of misery and mortality that were the 1840s in Ireland, where the famine had throttled the life and soul out-of an entire generation of Irish people, bestrode Alexander Robert Charles Dallas and his “cowboys” or agents of the Irish Church Missions to the Roman Catholics, determined to harvest souls for Protestantism in the midst of a failed potato harvest, and concentrating on the wasteland that was Connemara where people had suffered most.
REV. ALEXANDER ROBERT CHARLES DALLAS
The Reverend Alexander Dallas (1791 -1869) was a former Assistant Commissary-General of Purchases – a procurement accountant – and, ironically given his later "food for faith" endeavours, a supplier of food stores in Wellington’s army during the Peninsular War and then again at Waterloo. He was a strangely driven character from an early age and an assiduous networker – almost parasitic – who placed a great emphasis on trying to cultivate the acquaintance of the better-off in society and rank so that he could use them to bolster his career. His grandfather had once been a rich, slave-owning planter in Jamaica but his own lawyer father, a relative of Lord Byron, left the island because of his anti-slavery views. Deprived of the income from his sugar estates, and although a very prominent writer, the family became somewhat impoverished and distanced from the higher echelons of society. Dallas’ own schooling reflected this detachment; it was mainly at home and very unstructured. Despite this he had a quick brain and later managed to become fluent in Spanish and French and cram the Latin needed to pass his theology exams.
After returning to England following Waterloo he married and then studied for the Bar before turning to train as a minister in the Anglican Church. He was ordained in June 1821 and appointed as Rector of Wonston in Hampshire in 1828. He was a prodigious pamphleteer and came to treat his ministry – as the accountant he formerly was would – as an enumerator of souls captured for the Anglican Church. By the mid 1830s he began moving away from an increasingly inclusive and Anglo-Catholic High Church, having found a voice in an unforgiving puritanical evangelical theology that selectively reinforced his abiding aversion to what he termed “apostate” Roman Catholic “idolatry”. Dallas made it his avowed life’s mission to correct the “errors of the Romish doctrines and the abominations of the Romish practices.”
Dallas had first come to Ireland in 1840 at the invitation of the Irish Branch of the London Jews’ Society (formerly the London Society for Promoting Christianity Amongst the Jews and which still functions as the Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People [CMJ]) to preach to the annual conference of the clergy in Ireland. He was genuinely deeply affected by the poverty and misery caused by famine that he encountered but then warped this empathy in a sense of opportunity or “advantage” to a missionary effort. He became a frequent visitor over the following years contributing in particular to the very valuable work of the “Irish Society” – The Irish Society for the Education of the Native Irish through the Medium of their Own Language – although his views were more aggressive in promoting the value of proselytising for the Protestant faith.. The Irish Society, in Dallas’ own words, became “suspicious” of his strident views in his preaching to its teachers and readers about their value in exposing the errors of “Romanism.”
By 1845 Dallas became more and more determined to use famine relief to hasten the conversion of Roman Catholics to the Anglican faith. He employed agents, or “messengers” who were conveniently part-funded by a Government aided circulation of an agricultural enquiry into the state of crops in the country, to obtain the addresses of every Roman Catholic freeholder in the country. Armed with information on about 20,000 homes he then, in a precisely planned multi-location postal process, decided to use the Penny Post that had been introduced in 1840 to distribute his evangelical and proselyting pamphlets, one translated into Irish, arriving on cue in these households on the 16th January 1846. This was one of the first orchestrated junk-mail drops in history.
In his strident anti-Catholic bias Dallas was not alone. By the time Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837 the tandem, as the Dublin Review pointed out in February 1840, of the notion of “popery and arbitrary power” had been well “inculcated” into the English national creed. By 1850 the confrontational advent of a more aggressive, missionary and organised Catholic Church under Wiseman had the Prime Minister Lord Russell writing in reply to the Bishop of Durham,
“I agree with you in considering the ‘late aggression of the Pope upon our
Protestantism’ as ‘insolent and insidious’ and I therefore feel as indignant
as you do upon the subject.”
AMERICAN COUSINS AND CONTRASTS
In contrast, however to Russell’s political distaste and Rev Alexander Dallas’ pathologic “No-Popery” bias as the basis for famine relief, in the United States his first cousin George Mifflin Dallas, the Quaker-educated 11th Vice-President of the United States – a former US Minister (ambassador) to Russia and future US Minister to the United Kingdom – called a political mass meeting on February 9th, 1847 to establish a national organisation for the coordination of aid to Ireland. It was resolved at that meeting that the mayors of the eastern seaports from Boston to New Orleans were to establish local relief committees to help Ireland and Scotland. George Mifflin Dallas was no stranger to “Irish” Protestant-Catholic antagonism. Indeed in 1831 Mifflin Dallas had famously acted as the lawyer for the Catholics accused of affray for attacking Philadelphia’s first Orangeman’s parade – led by fully Negro American fife and drum band playing “Boyne Water” and “Croppies Lie Down” – on July 12th 1831, outside the Odd Fellow’s Hall.
The local committees established following the national meeting chaired by Mifflin Dallas were enormously successful in raising significant funds and relief and distributing – in the main through the “honest brokerage” of the Quakers – for Ireland (85%) and Scotland (15%). Support came from, as Harvey Strum has pointed out, from “Whigs and Democrats, Catholics, Protestants and Jews.” From Cherokee native Americans to Scotland and Choctaws to Ireland; from free African American’s in Virginia and slave African American’s in Alabama. The non-partisan intent of the famine relief, as imagined by Vice President George Mifflin Dallas, is best summed up in a letter of February 26, 1847 accompanying their contribution, by the residents of Lititz; a small town in Pennsylvania,
“We take it for granted, there will be no distinction made as regards the religious tenets of the sufferers, wishing our Catholic, as well as our Protestant brethren, to be the recipients.”
IRISH CHURCH MISSION
This non-doctrinal Pennsylvanian demand, and indeed in truth the approach also taken in the main by the Irish Society, to marginalise “conversion” from famine relief and education appears to have fallen elsewhere on deaf ears and bigoted hearts. As the famine raged through Ireland in 1848 the Rev. Dallas was deeply frustrated by the Irish Society’s determination to avoid overt attempts at “indoctrination” in their schools. The Irish Society had instructed its school teachers,
‘Remember that you are not employed to interpret Scripture to the people or instruct them in the doctrines of religion…’
On account of what he perceived to be an erroneous proselytising laissez-faire environment Dallas decided to establish a Special Fund for the Special Exigencies of Ireland,using in a self-serving manner the offices of the Irish Society to give credibility to his appointment as Secretary of the Special Fund to distribute the monies raised towards famine relief. It was at this juncture, at the specific invitation of Mr John D’Arcy, the founder and developer of Clifden town in the west of Connemara, that Dallas turned his attention towards the then wastelands of Connemara.
On the 29th March 1849, the Rev. Dallas freed himself of the “fetters” of the restraints of the Irish Society and with some like-minded members established the Irish Church Missions to the Roman Catholics as a separate Society, with the determination to establish “Stations” – schools, churches and meeting-houses – throughout the country but in Connemara in particular.
In a letter on 27th July 1850 he wrote,
“I am led in a way I cannot refuse to undertake the practical working of a Society which aims at nothing less than the Protestantizing of Ireland…”
This determination to Protestantise was to become his paramount inspiration. A formal working “evangelical” coalition between the Irish Society and the Irish Church Missions came to an end in 1856 and the Irish Church Missions went their own way. In his remaining 20 years the Rev Alexander Dallas was directly responsible for the foundation of 21 churches, 49 schoolhouses, 12 parsonages and 4 orphanages in his work as Secretary for the Irish Church Missions.
On the 13th September 1846 the Rev Alexander Dallas, while on a tour of inspection in Connemara for the Irish Society, pitched up in a reception room of Doon Cottage that had been converted into a schoolroom, in the small hamlet on the northern shore of the north-west part of Lough Corrib known as Castlekirke. Dallas considered “ Castlekerke” as he called it to be the first “station” of his future Irish Church Missions.
Dallas had been invited to preach in the schoolroom by Mrs Frances Blake (nee Kennedy nee McIlree), the wife of Capt. John Brice Blake, of the 47th (Lancashire) Regiment of Foot (1830 -1838), the son of Sir John Blake, 11th Baronet of Menlough (Menlo) Castle by his second marriage to Rose Brice, a descendent of Edward Brice (1569 – 1636), the first Presbyterian minister in Ireland. Capt. Blake had been given the sporting lodge to live in on his retirement from the army in 1838 and he was very proactive in communicating to the Administration in Dublin Castle the devastation wreaked by the famine and the need for urgent relief in both his lands but also in Glan, across the Corrib lake, to the south. Dallas may have encountered Blake through his connection to the Rector of Oughterard Anglican Church and the 47th Regiment of Foot who were stationed in Cadiz when Dallas was posted there in the Peninsular War. After his return to England in late September 1846 Dallas established a special fund to directly aid the building of a school-house.
Castlekirk hamlet, sometimes referred to as Doon or Drumsnauv village, is situated at eastern end of Drumsnauv townland, and was named after the nearby island fortress of Oileán Caisléan na Circe (Castle of the Hen). The island is located in Lough Corrib at the narrow western extension of the lake where the Bealanabrack (Bhéal Átha na mBreac or Mouth of the Ford of the Trout) River enters from the Maam valley into the Corrib system.
You access the village by a narrow winding road that slips off the Maam-Cong road. Rounding the eastern corner of a ridge you enter into a wooded, walled glade of Ascendancy endeavour, where hunting lodges like Delphi Lodge nestled in against otherwise bleak landscapes. There are the entrances to the large house, Doon House (previously Doon Cottage), a converted school, an extended rectors house, one old and one other new house, and a village jetty with three boats moored. There is no village shop or post office, no public house on its knees parched of customers, just a quietness and a desolate graveyard with an unkempt despondency and the robbed-out walls of a former church. It is a place that Wilde once described of other alcoves on Lough Corrib as being held together by ivy.
Drumsnauv or Drimsnav derives from the Irish Droim Snámha, the Ridge of the Swim, the “swim” element almost certainly referring to the movement of cattle from winter to summer pastures on the ridge across a narrow but swimmable body of water. In 1838 O’Donovan described the townland of Drumsnauv as “a high ridge of mountain, all healthy and mixed pasture having the village and greater part of tillage on south side, at foot of mountain, and also some arable mountain towards the northern extremity.” There is a well-defined, sheep filled, ancient circular cathair enclosure with a souterrain passage on the most westerly promontory of Drumsnav, that overlooks the ruins of the Caisleán Oileán na Circe.
CAISLEÁN OILEÁN NA CIRCE – CASTLE OF THE ISLAND OF THE HEN – CASTLEKIRK
Following the raids by Limerick Vikings under the control of Jarl Tomrair mac Ailchi onto the Corrib in 927 ce (then known as Lough Orbsen), and the increasing incursions by Munster tribal foes, the O’Conor Kings of Connaught, particularly in the rule of the High Kings of Ireland Turlough O’Conor ( 1088-1156) and his son Rory O’Conor (1116 -1198), determined to protect the lakes that occupied the central part of their Kingdom, by fortifying in the 1140s strategically located islands on Lough Corrib and Lough Mask such as Caislean na Caillighe and Iniscremha as well as building the castle at the mouth of the Corrib river in Galway where an O’Flaherty was given command. Turlough O’Conor had also built in 1120 two bridges over the Shannon, at Athlone and Athcrioch (near Shannon Harbour), and also over the River Suck.
By 1060 the Kingdom of Iar Connacht had established under O’Flaherty rule, subject to O’Conor over-lordship, and Oileán na Circe was initially fortified by them, not so much to counter Viking incursions but to thwart Delbhna Tir Dha Locha (Mac Con Raoi’s) and resurgent Conmhaícne Mara (Ó’Cadhla’s) from raiding into Lough Corrib down the Maam Valley. The Conmhaícne Mara (after whom Connemara is named) in particular, had fought at Clontarf in 1014 and with their O’Malley allies had defeated the Vikings in 923 and again in 928, as part of a confederation with troops belonging to Tadh mac Cahail, King of Connacht 925-956, the son of Cathal mac Conchobair and from whom the Uí Conchobair or O’Conor royal family, including two high kings of Ireland, derives its origin.
It was subsequently the King of Connacht and High King of Ireland Turlough O’Conor’s son (and grandson of the O’Conor blinded by the O’Flaherty), Cathal Crobhderg O’Conor, who in trying to defeat his kinsman Cathal Carragh enlisted the aid of William FitzAdlem deBurgo and stayed in nearby Cong at Easter 1201. Crobhderg asked deBurgo’s to help design a Norman-type keep on Oileán na Circe, to replace the earlier low level fortifications. A keep was subsequently built, and garrisoned by the O’Flahertys, but in 1225 Aedh O’Flaherty had to relinquish it again to Cathal Crobhderg, the Justicar William Marshall and a confederation of Munster and Leinster Normans. The island fortress was to be attacked, and burnt down in 1233 and then rebuilt again in 1235 by King Feilim O’Conor. The island was taken over by Walter deBurgo in 1256 and refortified. The current fortifications date from that time with some evidence of 15-16th century refurbishments and extensive evidence of the stone robbing of 19th century local mainland building.
As an island fortress it remained garrisoned until falling to Cromwellian soldiers in 1656.
LEGENDS and LEGACY
That the island was already called Oileán na Circe (Island of Hen) in 1225 belies the later legend that it gained its name from Grace O’Malley’s “The Hen’s” defence of the castle in 1565 on behalf of her assassinated husband Donal “The Cock” O’Flaherty’s conflict with the Welsh-Norman Joyces for control of the strategic island.
Griffiths Primary Valuation of Ireland, designed to standardise the basis of local taxation in Ireland and conducted between 1847 and 1864, listed Capt. John B Blake as the owner of 474 acres of the 486 acres, which comprised the Townland. Shortly after 1850 the Irish Church Missions (ICM) built a school, a rector’s house, a church and graveyard in the now expanding village on adjoining land rented out by the Blakes of Doon Cottage. The village soon came to be known as Castlekirke but sometimes called Drumsnauv or Doon village on maps. The Rev William Kennedy was the first ICM rector or “agent” resident in the village.
The Irish Church Missions in their proselytising for food, despite their organisation, and the Rev. Dallas’s opinion of a Providential mission, did not fare well. Part of this was as a consequence, following the Synod of Thurles in 1850, of a very militant Archbishops Cullen and McHale-led Catholic educational counter offensive, but also there was significant undermining of the Church Missions objectives by main-stream Anglican clergy and members. In 1856 for example, in 29 ”stations” established throughout Ireland only 21 reported conversions are recorded, and yet in the same year a minimum of 12 recoded cases returned to “popery” and “Romanism”. A protestant writer reviewing the 1856 report under the headline, ‘ “Souperism,” tested by its own statistics’; was scathing of the remit and supposed results of Dallas’ Irish Church Missions’ efforts. He concluded by saying,
“...it should lead candid Protestants to denounce a system so fatal to religion and morality of every kind, or, at any rate, to give us credit for good intentions, where we warn our people to shun such teachers as they would shrink from reptiles, as insidious in their approaches as they are poisonous in their bite.”
Capt. Blake of Doon Cottage died in 1858 and his wife Frances in 1871, 2 years after The Rev. Alexander R.C. Dallas had died in December 1869 and was buried in the graveyard in Wonston.
By 1901, at the time of the census, Doon Cottage and its lands had been sold to Lord Ardilaun of the Guinness family and the village comprised of Doon Cottage, 5 houses, a Mission School and the Mission Church with an attached graveyard. The village Mission church, sometimes known as Doon Church, closed in 1933 and fell into ruin or was pulled down for its stone. The attached graveyard lays mostly unattended.
The Irish Church Missions still survives in Ireland, holding onto the 39 Articles of Religion, acting as Evangelicals according to a “Jerusalem Declaration” of 2008 and, according to their website, planning to “place” 10 more churches in Dublin by 2028.
Memories of Dallas and his Irish Church Mission “cowboys” rounding up the destitute and starving for corralling and conversion in the “stations” of Connemara and beyond have not quite gone away. However, a little like the Dallas Cowboys of today, the missionary offensive-line never quite matched up to the expectations of their founder.
Christine KINEALY, « Saving the Irish Poor: Charity and the Great Famine », Mémoire(s), identité(s), marginalité(s) dans le monde occidental contemporain [En ligne], 12 | 2015, mis en ligne le 16 avril 2015, consulté le 28 décembre 2020.
URL : http://journals.openedition.org/mimmoc/1845 ;
Francis W. HOEBER, Drama in the Courtroom, Theatre in the Streets: Philadelphia’s Irish Riot of 1831. Penn Mag Hist Biog (2001) CXXV; 3: 191 -232
Walter RALLS, The Papal Aggression of 1850: A Study in Victorian Anti-Catholicism. Church History (1974) 43, 2: 242 -256
Harvey STRUM. Pennsylvania and Irish Famine Relief, 1846 -1847. Penn Hist: J Mid-Atlantic S (2014) 81; 3: 272-299
Anne B. DALLAS. Incidents in the Life and Ministry of the Rev. Alex. R.C. Dallas, A.M., by His Widow. (1872) 2nd ed. London: Nisbet & Co.
IRISH CHURCH MISSIONS at https://www.irishchurchmissions.ie/
Miriam MOFFITT SOUPERS & JUMPERS – The Protestant Missions in Connemara 1848-1937 Mayobooks.ie