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December 1, 2018 By Mike McCormack
As 2018 ends, we recall that a century ago was a time of great change in Ireland. The Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) goal of Home Rule, an Irish parliament under the Crown, was supported by many before 1916, but Britain's reaction to the Rising struck them like an Irish Pearl Harbor. The British secretly court-martialed and murdered the leaders who should have been treated as prisoners of war; they unleashed nation-wide Martial Law treating every Irishman as a rebel and Loyalists convinced Lloyd George to break off a piece of Ireland and give it to them. The reaction was predictable no longer would Home Rule under the Crown do, for now, like the heroes of Easter Week, they wanted total independence.

Sinn Fein, an insignificant party, gained strength by defending the Easter Week patriots and by 1918, had four local election victories and became a new political force. Further, many Volunteer units re-formed as the Army of the Irish Republic (IRA) and young women joined a reinvigorated Cumann na mBan. The Hibernian Rifles of the American Alliance folded their organization into the new IRA as the First Battalion, Dublin Brigade.

Michael Collins
In 1918, Michael Collins, adjutant general of the Volunteers, became Director of Intelligence establishing a network of spies among the police, the British army and even in Dublin Castle Britain's control center. His spies intercepted messages and Collins often had them before the intended recipient. In April, a British Report confirmed partition and concurrently, conscription was ordered in Ireland. Reaction saw an unlikely alliance of Church and Sinn Fein rally opposition. As America entered the war, reducing the need for more recruits, and Irish opposition growing, conscription was never enforced.

In May, the British blundered again, claiming an attempt by Sinn Fein to import German arms for another rising and arresting 150 of the leaders. The so-called German Plot was found to be black propaganda by Dublin Castle to destabilize growing nationalist sentiment. Collins had warned of the coming arrests and some escaped capture while others chose to be taken to secure a propaganda victory. The internment was significant since it took the accommodating leaders away while militant leaders, heeding Collin's warning, remained allowing Collins to consolidate control and put the organization on a more military footing.

On 4 July, the frustrated British finally banned Sinn Fein, the Gaelic League and Cumann na mBan and forbade public gatherings including GAA games. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), one of the largest organizations in Ireland, had always been nationalist and responded by arranging a program of 1,600 matches at 3PM on 4 August calling it Gaelic Sunday. As many as 4,000 teams with nearly 100,000 players; took the field! The British ended their attempt to dictate to the GAA!

By the end of 1918, nationalism had grown considerably and the final nail in Britain's political coffin was hammered themselves when, at War's end, Lloyd George called for a December election to insure his continued power. However, an act, passed in 1916 to defuse Republican ire after the botched handling of the Rising, extended the vote to men over 21 and women over 30. This put nationalists in a position to take the country by storm and they did making 1918 a year of profound political change. When the votes were counted on 28 December, Sinn Fein won 73 seats as opposed to IPP's 6 and Unionist's 22. The 1918 Election was the last all-Ireland election ever held; it was also the first to allow women to vote; and the first to elect a woman (Countess Markievicz) to the British Parliament.

Then, on 7 January 1919, Sinn Fein's elected members decided not to take their seats at Westminster; instead, they formed their own independent Parliament called Dail Eireann. On 21 January, 24 members of Dail Eireann first met at Dublin's Mansion House; in a roll call 35 names were in British prisons. They declared Ireland an independent Republic based on the principles of 1916, which led to the War of Independence that fought the Brits to the treaty table, resulted in the 26-county Free State and ultimately to a partial Republic of Ireland! That meeting, 100 years ago, was the most defining moment in Irish history! 

Were there Irish slaves?

The Irish slave trade began when James II sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies. By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat. At that time, 70% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves.

Ireland quickly became the biggest source of human livestock for English merchants. The majority of the early slaves to the New World were actually white.

From 1641 to 1652, over 500,000 Irish were killed by the English and another 300,000 were sold as slaves. Ireland's population fell from about 1,500,000 to 600,000 in one single decade. Families were ripped apart as the British did not allow Irish dads to take their wives and children with them across the Atlantic. This led to a helpless population of homeless women and children. Britain's solution was to auction them off as well.

During the 1650s, over 100,000 Irish children between the ages of 10 and 14 were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England. In this decade, 52,000 Irish (mostly women and children) were sold to Barbados and Virginia. Another 30,000 Irish men and women were also transported and sold to the highest bidder. In 1656, Cromwell ordered that 2000 Irish children be taken to Jamaica and sold as slaves to English settlers.

Many people today will avoid calling the Irish slaves what they truly were: Slaves. They'll come up with terms like "Indentured Servants" to describe what occurred to the Irish. However, in most cases from the 17th and 18th centuries, Irish slaves were nothing more than human cattle.

As an example, the African slave trade was just beginning during this same period. It is well recorded that African slaves, not tainted with the stain of the hated Catholic theology and more expensive to purchase, were often treated far better than their Irish counterparts.

African slaves were very expensive during the late 1600s (50 Sterling). Irish slaves came cheap (no more than 5 Sterling). If a planter whipped or branded or beat an Irish slave to death, it was never a crime. A death was a monetary setback, but far cheaper than killing a more expensive African.

The English masters quickly began breeding the Irish women for both their own personal pleasure and for greater profit. Children of slaves were themselves slaves, which increased the size of the master's free workforce. Even if an Irish woman somehow obtained her freedom, her kids would remain slaves of her master. Thus, Irish moms, even with this new found emancipation, would seldom abandon their kids and would remain in servitude.

In time, the English thought of a better way to use these women (in many cases, girls as young as 12) to increase their market share: The settlers began to breed Irish women and girls with African men to produce slaves with a distinct complexion. These new "mulatto" slaves brought a higher price than Irish livestock and, likewise, enabled the settlers to save money rather than purchase new African slaves.

This practice of interbreeding Irish females with African men went on for several decades and was so widespread that, in 1681, legislation was passed "forbidding the practice of mating Irish slave women to African slave men for the purpose of producing slaves for sale." In short, it was stopped only because it interfered with the profits of a large slave transport company.

England continued to ship tens of thousands of Irish slaves for more than a century. Records state that, after the 1798 Irish Rebellion, thousands of Irish slaves were sold to both America and Australia.

There were horrible abuses of both African and Irish captives. One British ship even dumped 1,302 slaves into the Atlantic Ocean so that the crew would have plenty of food to eat.

There is little question that the Irish experienced the horrors of slavery as much (if not more in the 17th Century) as the Africans did. There is, also, very little question that those brown, tanned faces you witness in your travels to the West Indies are very likely a combination of African and Irish ancestry.

In 1839, Britain finally decided on it's own to end it's participation in Satan's highway to hell and stopped transporting slaves. While their decision did not stop pirates from doing what they desired, the new law slowly concluded THIS chapter of nightmarish Irish misery.

But, if anyone, black or white, believes that slavery was only an African experience, then they've got it completely wrong.

Irish slavery is a subject worth remembering, not erasing from our memories. But, where are our public (and PRIVATE) schools???? Where are the history books? Why is it so seldom discussed?

Do the memories of hundreds of thousands of Irish victims merit more than a mention from an unknown writer? Or is their story to be one that their English pirates intended: To (unlike the African book) have the Irish story utterly and completely disappear as if it never happened.

None of the Irish victims ever made it back to their homeland to describe their ordeal. These are the lost slaves; the ones that time and biased history books conveniently forgot.