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Diary of an Irish Protestant during the potato famine


Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267

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The author of this diary was an Irish Protestant residing in England and Ireland in the late 1840s. The only confirmation of author's gender comes from an entry on August 11, 1848, in which he described visiting his brother William and wished "that all brothers were as happy together as we are." He was probably from Enniskillen in present-day Northern Ireland, and traveled there in July 1847 to visit his ailing father. He often attended Protestant worship services and criticized Catholic priests for keeping the truth of the Gospels from their congregants, going so far as to describe the Irish Potato Famine as God's vengeance on wicked priests. The author was in Dublin in August 1847 and witnessed the funeral procession of Daniel O'Connell, an Irish political leader who advocated for Catholic emancipation. He was critical of O'Connell and his followers. The author frequently alluded to the turmoil in Ireland, including the devastation of the potato famine, agitation for repeal of the Act of Union, and the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848.

Rathbone, Mark. "The Young Ireland Revolt, 1848: 'Slash Away, Boys, and Slaughter Them All!'" History Review, Vol. 67 (Sept. 2010)Information derived from the collection.

This diary was kept by an Irish Protestant between January 1, 1847 and September 9, 1849, who described the potato famine and other turmoil in Ireland.

In early 1847, the author resided in London, but traveled to both northern England and Ireland. He suggested that he could not reside with his family in Enniskillen due to monetary constraints, perhaps caused by the famine. From July 1847 to September 1849, the author traveled frequently between Ballinasloe, Galway, and Dublin, Ireland, with shorter excursions to Kilkenny, Kilconnell, and Sligo.

The author often attended Anglican Church services and wrote extensively about his Protestant faith, showing anxiety when he felt he did not spend enough time in prayer and meditation. He evinced great hostility to the Catholic Church in Ireland, especially the failure of priests to teach the Scriptures to their congregants. He believed that if the Catholics of Ireland read the Bible they would be more civilized, but instead their superstition made them "abhorred by all other Nations in Europe, and br[ought] the displeasure of the almighty down upon them." Upon hearing of the 1848 Revolution in France, he wished that "the French people were better enlightened and had more Religion or the knowledge of the Gospel for it might make them better content with their stations in the world." The author also criticized Protestants who relied more on conscience than Scripture.

The author frequently chronicled the devastation of the potato famine and the political turmoil in Ireland. In May 1848, he described the results of the famine in Galway, noting that "the poverty of the people in this country is very lamentable. I do not know what they will do if the potatoe crops fails this year, for certainly it is a sad thing to see the poor people picking up the dirty crumbs to eat." He noted that extensive emigration had left the country around Ballinasloe desolate, and observed "what a miserable journey it must be for them who have no means to support themselves going into a foreign land pennyless." Despite his sympathy for the poor, the author did not support the uprisings against the British government. Following the arrest of John Mitchel, an advocate of political revolution, he hoped that tensions would subside "when the people see that the government is determined to hold out and not give up to their wild reaction." He also criticized the Young Irelander Rebellion of July 1848, and was thankful that William Smith O'Brien and his "companions in crime" were tried for sedition.

A note at the end of the final entry on September 8, 1869 reads "End of the 2nd Book," suggesting the author created other diary volumes.

This volume is bound with red leather over boards and has the remnants of a metal clasp on the front and back cover. The edges of the pages are marbled. The front pastedown and flyleaf are printed with the "Almanack for 1847." The volume contains 165 pages of wove paper with horizontal and vertical lines inscribed with handwritten text in black ink. The back flyleaf and pastedown are marbled.

Item 0061: Shelved in SPEC MSS 0097

A digitized copy of the diary is available at the University of Delaware Digital Institutional Repository.

Purchase, 1955

Processed and encoded by Elizabeth Jones-Minsinger, July 2017.

University of Delaware Library Special Collections
Finding Aid Author
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
Finding Aid Date
2017 July 10
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Collection Inventory

Diary of an Irish Protestant during the potato famine, 1847 January 1-1849 September 9.
Item 0061
Physical Description

1 volume

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