James Quinn is the executive editor of the Royal Irish Academy's Dictionary of Irish Biography.
John Mitchel (1815-75) was born at Camnish, near Dungiven, Co. Derry, the son of a Presbyterian minister. After qualifying as a solicitor, he became a leading contributor to the Nation newspaper and the most militant of the Young Irelanders. Sentenced to 14 years' transportation for attempting to incite rebellion in Ireland in 1848, in captivity he wrote his famous "Jail Journal", which starkly expressed his hatred of the British empire and had an immense influence on later nationalists. Escaping to America after five years, he became a strong supporter of slavery and the Confederate States, and two of his sons died fighting for the South.The harshness of his views, especially his violent hatred of Britain and support for slavery, does much to explain Mitchel's neglect in recent decades. He was, however, one of the most powerful polemical journalists of the nineteenth century and a central figure in the revival of militant Irish nationalism. His portrayal of the famine as deliberate genocide became central to nationalist orthodoxy, and his hatred of British rule and contempt for parliamentary politics did much to inspire Fenianism.This new biography attempts to discover the origins of Mitchel's views, to examine their influence, and to place his anglophobia in a more general critique of the age in which he lived.
Chronology of Mitchel's Life and Times
Youth and early Life, 1815-45
The Nation, 1845-7
United Irishman, 1848
In Exile, 1848-53
Liberty in America, 1853-4 Southern Citizen, 1855-65
Fenians and Home Rule, 1865-75
"Bookworm [History Ireland] is always on the lookout for publications that appeal to a particular type of reader: Leaving Cert and A-level student, languid undergrad, or general readers whose enthusiasm for history is not matched by the necessary leisure time to plough through academic monographs … A case in point was the 'Life and Times' series published by the Historical Association of Ireland in the 1990s, which aimed 'to place the lives of leading figures in Irish history against the background of new research'. The good news is that the series is back, with the same mission statement, this time published by UCD Press."
"It is a phenomenal tale by any standards and must be respected for its long dedication and endurance in the service of Irish liberation. In the end Mitchel served that cause best by his pen and by the example of his life. Many others made immense sacrifices but few had such an able and, it must be said, such a vituperative pen … Discourse is valueless if you are always betrayed. How valid were Mitchel’s views? … Mitchel was out to give the British credit for nothing and so weakened his case. Adaptable in many ways, as in earning a living and finding a place to do so, he was rigid in this. To try to grasp his approach to slavery is not to excuse or endorse it … Perhaps too long a sacrifice did make Mitchel’s heart stony in some crucial respects and rendered him a character it is hard to warm to."
"Quinn, executive editor of the Dictionary of Irish Biography, offers a new biography of Mitchel (1815–75), whose harsh views of the British empire affected later Irish nationalists, but whose support of slavery after he escaped from prison to the US has led to his neglect by scholars in recent years. He places Mitchel’s anglophobia in the context of the times."
Book News Inc
"Also welcome is the new series of the Historical Association of Ireland’s Life and Times concise biographies, which started out some years ago under the Dundalgan Press imprint. It has now been taken over by the excellent UCD Press and given a makeover and smart new livery, keeping the bright blue colour scheme of the originals. The aim of the series is to provide scholarly and accessibly brief biographies of major figures in Irish history by experts in the field, suitable for Leaving Certificate, A level and undergraduate students but also for the general reader."