Chapter 1: 1836-1850 – Youth and Family Influences

1836-1850 – My Arrival – Boyhood Years – My Mother and My Grandfather – “The Big Wind” – The Great Famine – The Russell-Cruises


I was born in September, 1833, at Drynam, Swords, County Dublin. When I arrived there happened to be no one about but my great-grandfather, Thomas Kettle, then blind and in his ninety-third year. My grandmother had gone for the nurse who lived a mile away, but she had only just left the house when I came on the scene of the world unaided. Whether this was an indication of a disposition or weakness I had all through my life of labouring to stand alone, or a mere accident, I am not able to say, but so it fell out anyhow.

The farm I was born on was about thirty acres in extent, in a rather out-of-the-way place, but on an elevation giving a good view of the surrounding country and of the sea at Malahide.[1] Save a couple of herd houses there was no dwelling within a mile, but there were a good many relics of by-gone days about the Hill of Feltrim, with its holy well, windmill, lime kiln, and rabbit warren; also the ruins of a mansion where it was said the king stopped when running from the Boyne. We had a stream at Rathtulk,[2] a fox covert at Marshallstown, a lake at Abbeyville, and the 15th-century house of Russell-Cruise’s at Drynam.[3] On the whole it was rather an ideal place for a dreamer to start from. He could plunge into the world of country life, or retire, when it suited his humour. But, though isolated generally, we were the centre of the rarest visitations in the Province of Leinster. There was no such place to be had for a man-fight, a cock-fight, a football meeting, or a wrestling match as on the neighbouring farms of Rathtulk and Marshallstown. I had only to cross the hedge to witness the sports and pastimes, and to see in all their might and glory the men whom O’Connell justly called the finest peasantry in the world. Our homestead was many a time like the centre of a pattern or fair, with vehicles from city and country, and I witnessed all this holiday-making at a very impressionable time between the age of seven and twelve. Why, I think I can yet see a man about thirty years of age and fifteen stone weight, nicknamed “Bulister Connor,” somersaulting seven consecutive times round, making a wrestling ring for ten pairs of competitors at the same time.


Hill of Feltrim, Swords, Co. Dublin, probably late nineteenth century

Our farm was approached by a genuine Irish boreen with a couple of fairy bushes on the way, which bushes used to give me a good deal of real concern when returning in the dusk from play in the village. I feel almost ashamed to admit up to what age I kept an eye about me when passing these same early landmarks of the imagination.

Our family although not large was a trifle peculiar. At the first census-taking after I was born there was Thomas Kettle and Andrew Kettle, and again Thomas Kettle and Andrew Kettle on the one paper at the same time – four generations in the one house. The Kettles were an intelligent, industrious, honest, hard-working people who came, Dr. Sigerson[4] says, originally from Denmark.[5] Dr. Lyons,[6] one-time M.P. for Dublin City, used to contend that they came from the midland counties of Ireland and that the name was originally O’Keathley.[7] Wherever they came from I did not inherit very much from them except their good name. My mother was an O’Kavanagh[8] and her mother, Mary O’Brien, was a very remarkable woman in her time. Her medical skill was so much availed of that her large business premises at Turvey was largely used as a kind of private hospital. She was well known to the Dublin surgeons and many cases pronounced incurable came right under her ministration. She lived at a time when whiskey, not porter, was the beverage of the people, and she made a private request when dying, that her funeral was to take place a day before the usual time to prevent trouble at the great concourse of people that was likely to assemble round her graveside.

As an Irishwoman she held the right faith and played a brave part in 1798.[9] Her family kept an extensive carman stage at Turvey, and she was the messenger and buyer for the establishment. In this way, she armed the men of North Dublin with guns and pikes. Her procedure was on her weekly visit to Dublin to secure an escort for her mission. She was very good-looking and she put her comether[10] on the Barony constable, a handsome active fellow named Leggett, whose headquarters were in Swords. This young Government man met her at Santry on her weekly journey from Dublin, and unconsciously sat on the pikes and guns until he saw her and her driver safely past Lissen Hall, through all the turnpike gates and other obstructions. Her sweetheart, Billy Kavanagh, together with Coughlan of Santry, were the two men in command of the Dublin to Swords district of the United Irishmen. They took part in the opening of the fray at Santry, and Billy Kavanagh and Mary O’Brien were to have gone to Tara when ordered by the Dublin Directory, but the Directory was scattered and the order never came. Kavanagh and Coughlan were arrested and barely escaped hanging, but they were both wealthy men and as keepers of carman stages they had opportunities of getting men to get a long day.[11] They were a long time in jail before they were eventually liberated. Mary O’Brien had a little more to do before she settled down to work for humanity. When the Rising was crushed in Wexford a good many of the scattered remnants of the patriot army found their way to North Dublin. There were a few harboured by the small farmers about Killeek and other places, but the majority found refuge and succour round Turvey Hill. There seemed to be less suspicion of strangers knocking about a carman stage and large farming establishment where there was a business bustle going on. The chief hiding place of the rebels when the Yeos would be scouring the country, was about the estuary at Rogerstown, where horsemen could not follow them. There Mary O’Brien managed to support them until many of them escaped from Ireland.[12]

My mother imbibed all the Irish instincts of her parents and inherited natural abilities of a very high order. The Kavanaghs had one of the largest farming establishments and business centres in the county, but their fortunes were dissipated by a grand but unfortunate marriage of the eldest brother, John Kavanagh. A woman again![13] As far as I know the chief item of my mother’s fortune on her marriage was a large collection of books. They were substantially bound in calf and they ranged from Homer and Horace to Smollett and Sterne, with a good sprinkling of standard modern works thrown in, down to Moore, Burns, and Scott.[14] The pictures in these books were my playthings in childhood, and the contents were a source of abiding interest at intervals ever since.

My paternal grandfather, Andrew Kettle, was a noted athlete in his time, but he was unfortunate enough to get chronic rheumatism and had to move about with handsticks in my early days. This threw the old man and the child greatly together, and although he had only the rudiments of book-learning, consisting of the three Rs, he had a splendid memory and manner, and was considered the best practical farmer, and the best story-teller of his time. He was my first teacher in learning and afterwards in farming. Wherever he got them I had not the sense to enquire, but in addition to all kinds of romances about fairies and witches and robbers and boxers and athletes, he had stories based on many of Shakespeare’s plays, and on the whole he was most instructive, and as lovable a grandfather as any young chap could have in a lonely place like ours.

I was seven years old in 1840 and I had a good view of agricultural Ireland in the pre-Famine time. Our thirty-acre farm was strong land and required four horses to work it, and it may be interesting to take a photograph of the settlement.[15] Grandfather and grandmother, father, mother, and six children, carter and ploughman, boy, chap and servant girl indoor, thrasher and all. We had over 8,000,000 people in Ireland then and our settlement would feel lonely indeed without a lodger or two, and sometimes as many as ten or twelve. Some of these were poor scholars, or pedlars, or deserters, or professional travellers of many kinds, but most commonly they were broken-down agricultural labourers, or labourers in search of employment. So many would turn up sometimes, that a second or third pot of potatoes would have to be boiled to go around the company. The food and clothing of the family was practically all manufactured on the premises. I have often seen in that small community of a winter’s night a woman carding wool, a girl spinning yarn, an old woman knitting, the carter mending harness, the thrasher soleing his brogues, the boy platting a straw hat, the grandfather telling stories or getting some of the lodgers to relate their varied and laughable experiences. The Irish, with all their load of rack rent, and tithe support of an alien church, were then a home-manufacturing and self-supporting people.

The first event of notice I remember was the Big Wind[16] on twelfth night[17] 1839. I was six years old[18] and I was sleeping in the room with my sister Mary and a servant named Betty Bracken, and when I awoke I cried out to the servant. “Betty, Betty! Where did the stars come from? Look at the stars!” It was the stars sure enough. The wind had carried away the roof clean off the room. The servant was a great sleeper and never heard the storm until I shook her. When daylight came, I was in a part of the house still intact, but I could not be kept away from the door. I made a charge out to the yard, but was taken off my feet by the storm, and was saved from destruction by a man catching me flying around the corner of the house. The stacks in our haggard were carried off their stadlings and lodged in the ditches three fields away.[19]

From 1840 to 1845 things seemed to me to be moving very lively all through Ireland. The land was mostly under tillage and there was a very large proportion of the 8,000,000 of a population employed on the land. Potato growing was brought to great perfection and nearly all the farm work was done by manual labour. The people were trained in a very wonderful way. In the County Dublin I know the labouring people, both indoor and outdoor, were trained in the use of implements and tools and home manufacture of every kind in a way that would rather astonish some of Horace Plunkett’s[20] experts. The gentlemen were all practical farmers and the farmers were all workers, and the herds were all veterinary experts. The head ploughman and carters were wonderful experts. The hours of labour were long in summer, and the amount of work got through in a day or a week would be a revelation to some of the workmen now. But the circumstances were all so different. The food was nearly all home made: wholemeal bread; oaten meal grown on the farm made into stirabout[21]; potatoes, generally all floury; first quality butter; bacon, raised, killed, and cured on the premises; milk unadulterated ad libitum for everyone and everything, and honey bees in almost every garden. I often held the scales for my paternal grandmother to weigh a pound of bacon for each workman’s dinner three days a week, with a quarter of fresh butter and four duck eggs on the other days. No tea, not much butcher’s meat unless at Christmas or Easter, but plenty of pork steaks at the pig-killing periods, and the best of pig’s puddings or sausages. I think the men of the early forties spent more sweat on amusement, dancing, wrestling, weight-throwing, sack-lifting, and boxing without gloves now and again, than they now have to spend on labour and sport. This is a County Dublin picture. From the number of labourers seeking employment at almost all seasons of the year, from several other counties, I must infer that things were different and not so good in other parts of the island. But even from County Dublin, a number of young fellows went to England to help to build the railways. No wonder O’Connell called them the finest peasantry in the world. I believe they really were in the early forties, but there was a terrible time approaching for them.

The potato blight came on like a thief in the night, in the autumn of 1845.[22] My experience of its appearance was positive and particular. I was only twelve years old at the time, and was not able to take a man’s place in cutting the harvest, but I was able to dig fifteen hundredweight of potatoes for market every day by myself in the field adjoining, lovely apple potatoes. When the corn was cut I was wanted at the drawing in, and when that was completed, I went back to the potatoes, but the blight had intervened and I could not get fifteen stone of sound tubers for a day’s digging. Consternation, incredulity, dismay, and despair crept slowly over minds and hearts so free from care a short time before. The people, to a large degree, and the livestock of the whole county, lived mainly on the potato crop, so that the failure not alone left the people without food but without the means of procuring food of other kinds. The people of County Dublin got through 1846 without any great upheaval, and the land was cropped much the same as usual, but when the anxiously awaited harvest arrived and the blight set in again, a shriek of despair rang out over the land and everything was paralysed and struck down. Swords was the labour centre for one half of North Dublin, with a considerable extent of commonage on both sides of it on which houses had been built and gardens enclosed by the labourers. The population at this period was something enormous, and when employment ceased on the land, although within a few miles of Dublin, we had all the horrors of a terrible famine all through 1847. There were no wilful murder verdicts brought in by the coroner’s juries against the Government and landlords, but the rents had to be paid all the same by the starving inhabitants. The working people were driven to seek charity food of such a description as brought on disease and illness of various kinds. There was no money to buy fuel or food of any kind. Private charity ceased to a large extent, as every clan seemed to have grown selfish in self-defence. The very nature and character of the people became sterilised. The bacon and butter had to be sold to make the rent, and small quantities of inferior stuff substituted. There was a terrible rush to the rotten emigrant ships. I visited some of these to see some boy acquaintances away, and I shall never forget the frightful insanitary state of those coffin boats. Many died on the passage, many more when they landed, and just a few struggled to found homes in America.

Histories of this awful time have been written by prolific pens. I am only glancing at what I saw. I do not remember hearing of anyone being found dead on the roadside in the County Dublin but, short of that, we had hunger and sickness and cold and nakedness all round the place. But the rents were insisted on, and I even had the experience of an unfortunate eviction scene in connection with my own family that threw a further burden to my share. Five young cousins of mine were on their way to the poorhouse[23] when my mother took the horse by the head and brought them into her own home. I used to be knocking about the workingmen’s cabins in the evening at this time and saw the men trying to work on Swede turnips and Indian meal. The small farmers were not altogether so much changed, and in our case it was not so bad, as my mother carried away all the spare food and clothes, and much that could not be spared, to the poor women and children about. I sometimes accompanied her on these nightly visits, and it was about this time that my mind became thoroughly imbued with her philosophy of life. The claims of humanity, and her knowledge of the misgovernment of Ireland, convinced her of her duty to teach her children to labour to overthrow landlordism and English domination. There were no daily papers coming our way at that time, but the weekly accounts of the ravages of the Famine in other parts of Ireland used to drive her into paroxysms of indignation, rage, and despair at the soft-handed, ignorant political leaders, the ignorant tyrannical landlords, and the ignorant, tyrannical, hostile British Government. She said: “They will all go down to their graves with the blood of the unfortunate people on their heads, and their pusillanimous conduct in this awful crisis is certain to re-act on themselves.”


Eviction on the Vandeleur Estate, Co. Clare, late nineteenth century

It was after reading one of these terrible bulletins from the County Cork, that she made me solemnly and religiously promise that if it was God’s will to give me means or influence through my life, I would use them to the utmost to prevent a recurrence of such ignorant criminality. Without spending much time in religious exercises she was a deeply religious woman. All the occurrences of life seemed to come to her “from God’s right hand,”[24] as Davis has it, but her doctrine of humanity has had more effect on the current of my life than all other influences combined. Some of her maxims were: “Remember that the human race will be judged on the doctrine of humanity: ‘I was hungry and you gave Me to eat. I was naked and you clothed Me.’ The crimes against humanity are seldom forgiven. Never reflect on the fallen or afflicted. Beware of hurting anyone to the heart even though circumstances may appear to justify you.” She was fond of quoting Burns on the doctrine of worth and wit against wealth and station, and Shakespeare and Pope on the various circumstances of life. Altogether, she was a profound judge of human nature and human character. I was not in a position to judge the full extent of her powers of intuitive penetration until I made Mr. Parnell’s acquaintance. I found that there was a strange similarity of views between them on many things. I may say something more on this subject when sketching Mr. Parnell’s character.

My personal work in the forties was attending a National school on and off. I was held by my teachers to be a great learner and a great idler, but the course was brought to a rather strange, abrupt termination. Out of school time I was working at all kinds of practical experiments on the farm. I made a pet of a colt, and when he came to be yoked he proved to be a “hard case.” One day my father and a ploughman were trying to train him to work, but the effort was almost a failure. I was sent in the evening to let my father know that a visitor wanted him. He sent the man to some other job and left me to mind the horses. He was kept about an hour and a half, and when he came back, I had more ploughed in the interval than he and the man had all the forenoon. The colt was satisfied to work at my bidding, so I had to go to plough the next morning, and I never went to school afterwards. I threw myself with great gusto into the study of practical farming, and when about sixteen years old I managed to pull off a first prize from fifty of the best ploughmen in Dublin and Meath. But I got a bad attack of nervous fever about this time, the effect of which lasted for some years.[25] This kept me quiet in the early fifties. Still, I was a keen observer of agriculture and politics, but unless at election times I took no active part.

At a meeting of the tenants on the Russell-Cruise estate, where I was born, I made a public statement as to the line which I thought the tenants should take which brought me into collision with the landlord, but I had the satisfaction of converting the landlord and of laying the foundation of a friendship that lasted while he lived.[26] He laid me under a tremendous obligation on his leaving Ireland in 1860 by giving me the tenancy of a large farm of demesne land, out of which a large proportion of the income of his family should come, although he knew that I had not £5 of my own to work it. But under God’s providence I managed in a few years to repay the compliment by advancing him a considerable sum of money without security to bring his family back to the old home. He was an old ’48 man in politics. His ancestors lost their lands for clinging to the old Faith, and he was personally a genuine Irish gentleman. In this connection, I might mention here that I believe I might have done a little more public work if I could have given more time to it at certain epochs, but I elected to live by tillage farming, a business that requires constant supervision. I had to get land when it was very dear. I had consequently to pay high rents. I was always at war with landlordism and could expect no mercy, so I had to live working with one hand while trying to do a man’s share of public work with the other. That is my position even now.

The politics of the forties was, of course, the Repeal agitation[27] organised and led by O’Connell, and the attempt at an armed revolution in 1848.[28] My father was a Repeal warden and I was a member, but I missed going to the meeting at Tara in 1843, by not being called when the party went from our place in some sort of a vehicle the night before. I was booked as a band boy in the Kinsealy band to attend the meeting at Clontarf and was terribly disappointed when it was stopped by order of the leaders. Unfortunately, I never saw O’Connell. The weekly Nation[29] was about all the current literature that came my way in the controversy between O’Connell and the Young Irelanders, but I had a mentor in my mother who grieved that they were both up in the moon – or rather on the platform and in the press, when they should have been organising the people in every parish to seize the food, and stop the whole business of town and country to save the lives of the people, or to force the Government to feed them in the jails and penitentiaries. She used to say that Fintan Lalor was the only man that wrote right, but no one followed his pleadings, and all the movement went down in gloom and death and failure.[30]

The politics of the fifties was the Tenant Right rally in 1852, and the parliamentary petitioning on every conceivable subject. The clergy were held by many to be responsible for the failure of the ’48 men in their armed revolution. I think that is a very mistaken view, but I think they acted in a very shortsighted way with the Tenant Right effort in 1852.[31] To be sure, the outbreak of war between Russia and the European powers in the Crimea[32] gave a smart rise to all kinds of agricultural produce and this must have had a quietening effect on the land agitation. The effects of the Famine and the failure and death of O’Connell, and the dispersion of the ’48 men, cast a kind of paralysis over the body politic during this decade. Petitioning at the chapel doors was the only kind of effort the clergy encouraged, and there were no lay leaders of any consequence.

The agriculture of the fifties was a large curtailment of tillage and the commencement of the extensive pasture system. The free importation of corn ran down the price of cereals after the close of the Russian war. Spade labour was abandoned to a great extent and short methods substituted. The ridging system of cropping was greatly in vogue in nearly every part of the country before the Famine. This was found to be too expensive now with the reduced population, and drill husbandry was substituted. This change could only be made on a flat system of cultivation, and to adopt this successfully thorough drainage, or some kind of drainage, had to be started. Many of the leading farms and progressive landlords borrowed money from the Boards of Works for this purpose. On the whole I think there was more produce raised from the land at the close of the decade than perhaps at any time previously.

  1. The once rural landscape described by Andrew J. Kettle in this paragraph is in the heart of present-day, suburban Fingal County in North Dublin. Signalling the enduring impact of the Kettle family, a local road named Kettles Lane extends about two kilometres from the northeast of Dublin Airport in the direction of Malahide. The Kettles Memorial Park (opened in 2017 in honour of Andrew J. Kettle and his son, Tom Kettle) and the birthplace of A. J. Kettle are located on Kettles Lane on land once farmed by the Kettles, who were a Catholic tenant farmer family.
  2. The contemporary standardised spelling of this townland name is Rahulk.
  3. A. J. Kettle was born on the Russell-Cruise estate, which consisted of Drynam (or Drinan) House near Swords on approximately 450 acres. The Russell-Cruise family traced their lineage back to the original ‘old English’ and Norman conquests. After the Protestant Reformation, the Russell-Cruises remained Catholic and as such were disadvantaged relative to Protestant landlords. However, the family retained ownership of the Drynam estate, which passed down to successive generations until it was sold in the 1920s (Irish Family History Centre n.d.; Old Yellow Walls n.d.). As noted by Laurence J. Kettle in his original Biographical Note in this volume, A. J. Kettle also lived in Drynam House for a number of years when he was responsible for running a large part of the Russell-Cruise farm in the 1860s, while the Russell-Cruise family lived in France.
  4. George Sigerson (1836-1925) was born in Strabane, Co. Tyrone, to a well-off family. The youngest of 11 children of a Catholic father and a Protestant mother, he was educated locally and in France at Saint Joseph’s College, Montrouge, where he excelled in European classical and modern languages. Later, Sigerson qualified as a physician but was known mostly as a literary figure and supporter of the Irish language and Gaelic games. J. B. Lyons writes that Sigerson described himself as ‘an Ulsterman and of Viking race,’ framing the ‘Norse’ heritage of Ireland as a counter identity to ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Britain (DIB 2009, ‘Sigerson, George’).
  5. Sigerson’s speculation about the Viking roots of the Kettles became part of family lore. J. B. Lyons notes that Tom Kettle’s juvenile accounts of his remote ancestors characterised them as Norse conquerors (Lyons 1983, 17). Lyons takes this account from a school contemporary of Tom Kettle, Oliver St. John Gogarty, who recounted it in It Isn’t This Time of Year at All! An Unpremeditated Autobiography (1954).
  6. Robert Spencer Dyer Lyons (1826-86) was a physician and Liberal politician, born in Cork to parents William Lyons, a merchant and later mayor and high sheriff of Cork, and Harriet Spencer Dyer of Kinsale. Educated in Hamblin and Porter’s Grammar School in Cork and Trinity College, he qualified as a surgeon in 1849 and served as a British army pathologist in the Crimean War (1853-56). He was professor of medicine and pathology at the medical school of the Catholic University of Ireland (later University College Dublin) in Cecilia St., Dublin, and in 1870 served on a commission of inquiry into the treatment of Irish political prisoners, which enhanced his standing among nationalists in Ireland (DIB 2009, ‘Lyons, Robert Spencer Dyer’).
  7. The basis of Robert Dyer Lyon’s proposition of the O’Keathley origins of the Kettle family lineage is unclear but Kettle’s mention of it suggests his desire to establish the Kettle family’s deep roots and identity in Ireland.
  8. This is most likely ‘Kavanagh’ without the ‘O’ as Kettle uses ‘Kavanagh’ in all subsequent references to his mother’s family and the civil records available online for the time and area (such as at show no returns for the name ‘O’Kavanagh.’
  9. The Irish Rebellion of 1798 was an uprising against British rule in Ireland organised by the Society of United Irishmen, a republican revolutionary group inspired by the American and French revolutions, which is notable for drawing together Irish people of all denominations in common cause. Notwithstanding its swift suppression, the 1798 rebellion is widely perceived to be a formative event in Irish history, the details and significance of which continue to be examined. Centenary celebrations in 1898 played a role in the development of twentieth-century Irish nationalism, while key figures of the rebellion, such as Wolfe Tone, became symbols of later expressions of Irish republicanism (Wikipedia 2022, ‘Irish Rebellion of 1798’).
  10. A seductive spell or charm. An Irish variant spelling of ‘come-hither,’ as in ‘she had a come-hither look in her eyes.’
  11. The expression ‘to get a long day’ in this context refers to the practice of seeking a reprieve from hanging and requesting a prison sentence instead. Kettle is speculating that due to the relatively privileged status of his grandfather, Billy Kavanagh, as a proprietor of a thriving inn (a ‘carman stage’ serving carriage drivers), Kavanagh and his fellow United Irishman, Coughlan, secured such a reprieve for their parts in the 1798 rebellion and served sentences instead of hanging.
  12. Further evidence is needed to support this anecdotal account of the role of Mary (O’Brien) Kavanagh as a celebrated informal medical care practitioner and an activist in the 1798 rebellion.
  13. This patriarchal quip could be a version of the frequently articulated negative view of Katherine O’Shea as instrumental in the demise of Charles Stewart Parnell.
  14. This anecdote, and the positive account of all he learned from his grandfather in the next paragraph, underline the informal and self-taught nature of A. J. Kettle’s education. It also reveals the cultural influences that shaped his world view. In addition to the ancient classics (Homer and Horace), the authors recalled are celebrated Scottish writers and poets – Tobias Smollett (1721-71), Robert Burns (1759-96), and Walter Scott (1771-1832) – as well as Irish-born writer Laurence Sterne (1713-68), author of the nine-volume Tristram Shandy, and lyricist and United Irishmen supporter Thomas Moore (1779-1852), who wrote the well-known song ‘The Minstrel Boy.’ Kettle’s choices signal a formation in liberal, Romantic movement ideals and a rebuttal of sectarian ideas of Irishness.
  15. In a 1959 review of Material for Victory, historian Kevin B. Nowlan remarked on the particular value of these passages in Chapter 1 in providing ‘an account of farming life in north County Dublin in the years before and after the famine which should make rewarding reading for the student of social history. It helps to emphasise a point, sometimes forgotten, that a story of uniform misery does not do justice to the pattern of regional differences in pre-famine Ireland’ (Nowlan 1959, 344).
  16. The Night of the Big Wind (Oíche na Gaoithe Móire) was a powerful windstorm that swept across Ireland and Great Britain on 6 January 1839, destroying property and causing hundreds of deaths. Up to a quarter of houses in North Dublin were damaged or destroyed and over 40 ships were wrecked (Wikipedia 2022, ‘Night of the Big Wind’). The press reported: ‘Dublin has […] been visited with decidedly the most awful storm in our recollection, or which perhaps, ever took place in this part of the world’ (Freeman’s Journal, 7 January 1839, ‘Awful Storm’). Another newspaper account described how ‘windows were smashed, doors burst open and roofs blown down [and] slates, stones, and timber were whirled through the air as straws’ (Connaught Telegraph, 9 January 1839).
  17. ‘Twelfth night’ refers to the twelfth night after Christmas Day, 6 January, also known as the Epiphany in the Christian calendar.
  18. As A. J. Kettle was born in September 1833, he would have been five years old on 6 January 1839.
  19. A ‘haggard’ is a farmyard enclosure where ricks of hay or corn are stored. A ‘stadling’ is a stand or foundation used to stack agricultural produce.
  20. Horace Plunkett (1854-1932) is best known for his pioneering work in developing the cooperative movement in Ireland. Born in England of Norman-Gaelic ancestry, his family settled in Co. Meath in the twelfth century. By the late nineteenth century the family possessed a large estate and castle at Dunsany. Plunkett was educated at Eton and Oxford, where he read history and learned about the British movement for consumer cooperation. Partly to fend off tuberculosis, for a decade from 1879, Plunkett spent several months each year ranching in the state of Wyoming in the western United States. Informed by this experience, and keen to contribute to the development of agriculture in Ireland, he established his first cooperative creamery in Co. Limerick in 1891. Gradually, Plunkett won the trust of Irish farmers and in 1894 established the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, which became the coordinating body of a thriving cooperative movement with hundreds of affiliated societies (DIB 2009, ‘Plunkett, Sir Horace Curzon’).
  21. Stirabout is oat porridge cooked in milk or water.
  22. The Great Famine began in 1845 when potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) spread rapidly throughout Ireland, destroying half of the crop in 1845-46 and about three-quarters of the crop over the next seven years. In the context of British colonial rule, the beleaguered poor tenant farmers of Ireland relied heavily on the potato as a source of food. Consequently, the blight had a devastating impact on the country and its population, resulting in the death from starvation and related causes of roughly one million and at least another million forced to emigrate mostly to America and Britain ( 2022). The shock of the Great Famine set in train a downward trend in the population of Ireland, whereby 4.5 million men and women left the country between 1850 and 1911, for America, Britain, Australia, Canada, or New Zealand, leading to a decline in population during this period from 6.5 to 4.4 million (Hatton and Williamson 1993, 575).
  23. The Balrothery Poor Law Union, established in 1839, covered 120 square miles including Swords. The ‘poorhouse’ that A. J. Kettle's five young cousins were bound for is most likely the Balrothery workhouse located on 24 acres close to Lusk. It opened in 1841 with a capacity for 400 ‘inmates’ and a burial ground. During the Famine, a 48-bed fever hospital was erected at the site along with additional ‘sleeping galleries’ (Collins 2005; Higginbotham n.d.).
  24. This is a reference to the poem ‘A Nation Once Again’ (‘For Freedom comes from God’s right hand’) by Thomas Osborne Davis, a founder of the 1840s Young Ireland movement for independence and democracy.
  25. Typhoid fever, a water-borne disease characterised by high temperature, red spots on the chest, bowel pain, and sometimes death, was commonly called ‘nervous fever’ in the nineteenth century. Epidemics regularly occurred in Ireland, where they were exacerbated by the conditions caused by the Great Famine. The biggest killers in nineteenth-century Ireland were typhus, cholera, typhoid, and dysentery (Dorney 2020).
  26. The landlord was Robert Russell-Cruise (1827-c. 1905). Robert married Mary Dillon Smith in 1852. Kettle’s description of his relationship with the Russell-Cruise family exemplifies the ‘more nuanced picture’ of landlord–tenant interactions written about by Terence Dooley (e.g., Dooley 2018, 18).
  27. The objective of Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal campaign of the early 1840s was to re-establish the pre-1800 Irish parliament on more representative lines in the belief that this would enable adoption of measures to improve conditions for all the people of Ireland. A ‘Repeal rent’ raised funds for the campaign on the model of the ‘Catholic rent,’ which financed O’Connell’s drive for Catholic emancipation two decades earlier. As a Repeal warden, Kettle’s father gathered the Repeal rent from subscribers in his locale. The Repeal campaign was remarkable for its signature ‘monster meetings’ through which O’Connell mobilised tens of thousands of supporters in peaceful, festival-style demonstrations. The authorities grew increasingly anxious by these displays and banned the planned monster meeting on 7 October 1843, which Kettle was looking forward to attending as a ten-year-old boy. In line with his commitment to non-violence, O’Connell complied with the ban, which disappointed many followers. This accelerated the decline of O’Connell’s influence as a popular leader (Adelman and Pearce 2005, 42-45). A. J. Kettle’s youthful participation and the influence of his father’s activism in the Repeal campaign illustrate his early socialisation into civic engagement and political organisation aimed at advancing the democratisation and development of Ireland, which would define his life’s purpose.
  28. The failure of the Repeal campaign, the death of O’Connell in 1847, and the unfolding devastation of the Great Famine, set the stage for the more assertively nationalist Young Ireland movement to gain in influence. Among its leaders were Thomas Davis (d. 1845), James Blake Dillon, Charles Gavan Duffy, James Fintan Lalor, John Mitchel, and William Smith O’Brien. While these were mainly writers and intellectuals, in May 1847, Mitchel, who advocated most explicitly for armed rebellion, was arrested and transported for 14 years. A poorly organised rebellion in July 1847 was quickly suppressed. Nonetheless, the Young Ireland movement served to revive the ideal of fighting for an independent Irish republic and, through the writings of Fintan Lalor, in particular, linked the struggle for Irish freedom with the struggle against Ireland’s oppressive land system (Adelman and Pearce 2005, 64-65).
  29. The Nation was a weekly nationalist newspaper of the non-sectarian Young Ireland movement, established in 1842. It ran until 1848 when it was suppressed and was revived again in 1849. Its founding editors were Charles Gavan Duffy, Thomas Davis, and John Blake Dillon.
  30. Here, Kettle again asserts the strong influence of his mother, Alice (Kavanagh) Kettle, as shaping his political commitments, rooted in the ideas of Fintan Lalor (1807-49), a nationalist writer, activist, agrarian reformer, and a leader in the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848. While broadly sympathetic to the goals of the Repeal campaign and the Young Ireland movement, Kettle signals his agreement with his mother’s analysis that both were insufficiently rooted in an understanding of the material conditions that produced immense hardship for the majority and the imperative of transferring ownership of the land to the ordinary people of Ireland.
  31. As Ireland emerged from the Famine, approximately 17,000 families were evicted in 1849 and 20,000 in 1850. In 1849, the first Tenant Protection Society was organised in Kilkenny with 20 similar societies established across Ireland by 1850, mainly in Connaught, Leinster, and Munster. These groups were the backbone of the Tenant Right rally that Kettle refers to here. In parallel to the formation of the Tenant League, Charles Gavan Duffy (one of the Young Irelanders) and Frederick Lucas (a convert to Catholicism and founder of The Tablet newspaper) organised Irish members of Parliament into a short-lived Independent Irish Party (IIP). The 1852 general election returned 48 IIP members who pledged to support Tenant League demands. This included ‘fair rents, security of tenure, so long as the rent was paid, freedom of the tenant to sell his interest and improvements, and relief from the Famine Rent arrears,’ as Laurence Kettle characterises it in his Appendix to The Material for Victory in 1958. As the Tenant Right movement was gathering momentum, in Westminster, Liberal and Conservative parliamentarians engaged in renewed political clashes around the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, which aimed to enforce existing restrictions on the Catholic Church in England and prompted the formation of the Catholic Defence Association in Dublin in 1851. The two sets of issues, Tenant Right and the religious rights of Catholics, became tied together in the agenda of the IIP. In this context, the leader of the Irish hierarchy, Archbishop Paul Cullen, viewed the IIP as a potential threat to the Church’s authority in Ireland and took steps to curtail the political activism of local priests across the board, which had the effect of weakening popular support for the Tenant League (Lyons 1973, 114-20). Kettle’s critical comment that the clergy ‘acted in a short-sighted way with the Tenant Right effort’ and that it only encouraged ‘petitioning at the chapel doors’ (and not in Parliament) reflect his views about this wider political context.
  32. The Crimean War (1853-56), in which an alliance including the United Kingdom, France and the Ottoman Empire defeated the Russian Empire.


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The Material for Victory: The Memoirs of Andrew J. Kettle Copyright © 2023 by Open Press at the University of Galway is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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