Wind that Shakes the Barley - THE PENAL LAWS

This image depicts a work entitled A Statement of the Penal Laws, Which Aggrieve the Catholics of Ireland. Dublin: H. Fitzpatrick, 1812.


The wounds of the potato-crop failure still run deep. The Irish people say the “Great Famine” was really the Great Hunger.

Famines result when most crops fail. Only the Irish potato crop had “the blight.” Other crops, produced in abundance but too expensive for penniless people to buy, were shipped out of Ireland.

A contemporary comment by John Mitchel polarizes how many people felt then, and now:

The Almighty Indeed sent the Potato Blight but the English Created the Famine.

In 1997, Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged the British government failed to effectively help. On the 150th anniversary of what the Irish call An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger), Blair said:

Those who governed in London at the time failed their people through standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive human tragedy. We must not forget such a dreadful event.

The Irish aren’t likely to forget.

At the time, in 1845, people in Ireland no longer owned most of their land. The Irish countryside, with its green pastures and lush farmland, had been turned into British plantations. Land-owning Irishmen, who worked for themselves, became rent-paying tenants overnight.

Worse, “Penal Laws” governing the conduct of Irish Catholics were in effect. Over the decades, those restrictive laws diminished the ability of the Irish people to flexibly manage their own affairs. Perhaps the laws were not enacted to render an entire population “ignorant.” But the list of what was forbidden makes one wonder how the British expected the Irish to function as a cohesive nation:

  • An Irish Catholic was forbidden the exercise of his religion.

  • He was forbidden to receive an education.

  • He was forbidden to enter a profession.

  • He was forbidden to hold public office.

  • He was forbidden to engage in trade or commerce.

  • He was forbidden to live in a corporate town or within five miles thereof.

  • He was forbidden to own a horse of greater value than five pounds.

  • He was forbidden to purchase land.

  • He was forbidden to vote.

  • He was forbidden to keep any arms for his protection.

  • He was forbidden to hold a life annuity.

  • He could not be a guardian to a child.

  • He could not attend Catholic worship.

  • He could not personally educate his child.
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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5189stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jun 01, 2006

Updated Last Revision: Jun 28, 2019

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"THE PENAL LAWS" AwesomeStories.com. Jun 01, 2006. Dec 13, 2019.
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