Some Forty-Sevens - 15th Mar. 1947


Some Forty-Sevens: Text Version

March 15, 1947


There has to be a worst as well as a best of everything. We seem to forget this; for whenever we get a bad season, for example, we find ourselves quoting the newspapers and saying that nothing like it was seen for ten, twenty, forty, eighty or a hundred years. Up to this the fashion was to find something in the past to beat our present experience. But, I think, the past weeks of ice and snow and howling blizzards have forced one and all to admit that they stand unrivalled for severity; in short, that they have been the worst in the memory of our race. Even should nothing worth recording happen for the rest of the year, 1947 will pass into history as one of the most remarkable years of which there is record.


Forty-seven seems to be a fateful year in Irish history. We were speaking about snowstorms a few seconds ago. Well, here is an account which I recently came across in the 'Annals of the Four Masters' (Annala Rioghachta Eireann ) under the date, 1047- exactly 900 years ago:-

'1047- Great snow in this year (the like of which was never seen) from the festival of Mary until the festival of Patrick, so that it caused the destruction of cattle and wild animals, and the birds of the air, and the animals of the sea in general. Of this snow was said:

'Seven years and forty fair, and a thousand of fine prosperity,

From the birth of Christ, of fame unlimited, to the year of the great snow,

Seacht mbliadhna ceathracha cain acus mile co'nglan bhail

O ghein Criost clu cen tearca co bliadhain an mor sneachta.'


Other forty-sevens noted in the 'Annals' have the following stories to tell:-

'847:- A fleet of seven score ships of the people of the king of the foreigners came to contend with the foreigners that were in Ireland before them, so that they disturbed Ireland between them. (Doubtless, this refers to the Danish invasions.)

1547:- A great wind rose the night before the festival of Saint Brigid. Scarcely had so great a storm occurred from the birth of Christ until then. (...) gur bho suaill ma tainic a comhmor o ghein Criost alle). It threw down churches, monasteries and castles, and particularly the two western wings of the church of Clonmacnoise.'

The year 1147 was a year of strife, but according to the Annalists there was 'great fruit throughout Ireland this year.' One hundred years later, in 1247, war was raging in this, the first '47 to find the Gael endeavouring to hold back the tide of English conquest.


In 1647 Ireland stood on the threshold of a terrible era. Not long was to elapse before the of her champion Owen Roe O'Neill, and the coming of the most of all the invaders, Cromwell. A hundred years passed, and 1747 saw Ireland crushed under the full weight of the Penal Laws. In another hundred years came the greatest tragedy in Irish history. Memories of 1847 - Black Forty-Seven - still cast their sombre shadows everywhere from Antrim to Cork, from Galway to Wicklow. Much has been written about the Great Famine. John Mitchel has left us an account of it in what is possibly the most powerful piece of writing ever penned by an Irishman in the English language. Michael Davitt viewed the tragedy in a slightly different light, as will be seen from the following extracts from 'The fall of feudalism in Ireland,'. This is what he wrote:-


'It is related that Mr. John O'Connell, M.P., eldest son of the Liberator, read aloud in Concilliation Hall, Dublin, a letter he had received from a Catholic Bishop in West Cork in 1847, in which this sentence occurred: 'The famine is spreading with fearful rapidity, and scores of persons are dying of starvation and fever, but the tenants are bravely paying their rents.' Whereupon John O'Connell exclaimed, in proud tones: 'I thank God I live among a people who would rather die of hunger than defraud their landlords of the rent!' It is not, unfortunately, on record that the author of this atrocious sentiment was forthwith kicked from the hall into the sink of the Liffey. He was not even hissed by his audience; so to every sense and right of manhood were the Irish people reduced in those black years of hopeless life and of a fetid pestilence of ed mortality.


'There is possibly no chapter in the wide records of human suffering and wrong so full of shame – measureless, unadultered, sickening shame- as that which tells us of (it is estimated) a million of people - including, presumably, two hundred thousand men – lying down to die in a land out of which forty-five millions worth of food was exported in one year alone, for rent – the product of their own toil –and making no effort, combined or otherwise, to assert even the animal's right of existence –the right to live by the necessities of its nature. It stands unparalleled in human history with nothing approaching to it in the complete surrender of all the ordinary attributes of manhood by almost a whole nation, in the face of an artificial famine.'


That was Black '47, the most tragic '47 in the annals of our race. It was Davitt's belief that the people should not have submitted so tamely to conditions that killed tens of thousands of them by starvation. Archbishop Hughes lecturing in New York on March 20th 1847 was of the same opinion. 'The rights of life,' said the Archbishop 'are dearer and higher than the rights of property, and in a general famine like the present, there is no law of heaven, no law of nature - that forbids a starving man to seize on bread wherever he can find it.' Queen Victoria has been called 'the Famine Queen' and 'the legal-ess of two millions of Irish people'; yet Daniel O'Connell his nephew John O'Connell, already mentioned –and the Repeal Association made the following servile profession when the 'famine' fiend was already waving its wings of over the country.

'Most dutiful and ever-inviolate loyalty to our most gracious and ever-beloved sovereign, Queen Victoria, and her heirs and successors forever.'

Comment would be superfluous.

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