“John Mitchel”


"I am a true-born Irishman, John Mitchell is my name... I laboured hard both day and night to free my native land." He is taken, claiming he committed no crime except loving Ireland. He is transported to Bermuda, but hopes a free Ireland will remember him


John Mitchel (1815-1875) was one of the leading literary lights of the Young Ireland movement of the early-to-mid nineteenth century -- a movement which at the start was generally peaceful and liberal, but earnest in its appeal for better conditions.

Mitchel came to prominence in 1847 when he founded the journal _The United Irishman_. This came in the aftermath of the potato famines. (For the background on the Rebellion and the Blight, see the notes on "Skibbereen.") Until that time, Irish nationalism, led by Daniel O'Connell (for whom see "Daniel O'Connell (I)"), had been relatively cautious and had worked in a constitutional framework. There were disagreements -- the Young Ireland party, which published _The Nation_, was a little more radical than O'Connell.

The famines changed that. O'Connell, the pure constitutionalist, was unable to get help from Britain, and then died. Some Irish stayed true to his memory, but the crisis was so severe that many took a harder line. _The Nation_ was one such, but they didn't really have a coherent strategy. That left room for a true radical: Mitchel.

Not only did he found a publication, he also founded United Irish Society. And he used is paper to publish tactical articles on how to fight oppressors.

It is interesting to note that many later leaders were inspired by Mitchel, but they viewed him very differently; some regarded him as a peaceful reformer, others as a fighter for Irish rights at any cost. (In the song, he campaigns for "Repeal," i.e. repeal of the Union with Great Britain; this was the slogan of O'Connell, and supporters of Repeal were generally peaceful.) According to Robert Kee (_The Most Distressful Country_, being Volume I of _The Green Flag_, p. 262), though, even such militants as Meagher (for whom see "The Escape of Meagher") tried to talk him into more peaceful methods.

Kee's comment on the situation (p. 263) seems to me to sum up the disastrous situation pretty well: Young Ireland and Mitchel "can be seen doing the wrong thing when no right thing was discernable. Cautious and sensible as was the main group, audacious as was Mitchel, both were utterly ineffectual. Mitchel was anxious to provoke a climax as quickly as possible. The others... continued to 'bide their time.' What they were really waiting for was a miracle." What they got was a fizzle.

In 1848, almost all of Europe was afire, with revolts in Italy, the Habsburg Empire, France. Few of the revolts were very successful; the Habsburgs, e.g. changed Emperors but not policies, and France got rid of Louis Philippe but soon replaced him with Napoleon III. And, unfortunately for the Irish, Britain was one of the few countries not so afflicted; she had the leisure to crush the abortive rising easily.

Not that it was a serious revolt; a more moderate man, William Smith O'Brien, eventually was pushed to try to raise a mob, but the whole thing ended with a scuffle in a cabbage patch; see the notes to "The Shan Van Voght (1848)."

Mitchel by then was out of circulation. He, Meagher, and Smith O'Brien had all been arrested early in 1848. Meagher and Smith O'Brien were released when the juries in their cases deadlocked (Kee, p. 268). But Mitchel, the most extreme, was convicted May 26 of "treason-felony," and sentenced the next day to fourteen years' transportation.

Despite the song, Mitchel and most of the other leaders of the rebellion ended up in Australia, not Bermuda.

[John Mitchel was indeed exiled to Bermuda in 1848 and subsequently moved to Cape Colony and finally to Van Dieman's Land (source: "John Mitchel of Newry" by John McCullagh (2003) on The Newry Journal site). - BS]

We should note, though, that he suffered far less in Bermuda than most. Although he was taken from Dublin in chains, from the time he went aboard ship he was in "minimum security" -- no shackles, no beating, and, when he arrived in Bermuda, no work ashore; he was allowed to stay aboard the convict hulk. (According to Kee, p. 269, the House of Commons actually inquired into why he was treated so well.)

Ironically, Mitchel was from a Protestant family, as was Smith O'Brien.

Lest someone claim that Mitchel was a man of true liberal principles, it should be noted that, after transportation to Van Dieman's Land, he escaped to the United States, where he edited various journals. And used those journals to advocate slavery -- in fact, according to Allan Nevins, _The Emergence of Lincoln: Douglas, Buchana, and Party Chaos 1857-1859_ (Scribner's, 1950), p. 438, Mitchel in fact produced something called the "honest human flesh program," His plan was to re-open the African slave trade, so as to drive the price of slaves so low that everyone could afford one.

Kee, p. 269, also reports that Mitchel approved of flogging prisoners I'd love to hear him explain how he would reconcile that with the Golden Rule -- or even with his own relatively kind treatment. - RBW

Historical references

  • May 27, 1848 - John Mitchel is "kidnapped, and carried off from Dublin, in chains, as a convicted 'Felon'." (source: Zimmermann, quoting Jon Mitchel's _Jail Journal_)

Cross references


  • Bodleian, Harding B 11(2467), "Mitchells Address," E.M.A. Hodges (London), 1846-1854; also Harding B 11(1908), 2806 b.10(55), Harding B 15(205a) , "John Mitchell's Address"
  • LOCSinging, as108900, "Mitchell's Address," Taylor (Bethnal Green), 19C


  • "Pops" Johnny Connors, "John Mitchel" (on IRTravellers01)


  1. PGalvin, p. 45, "John Mitchel" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. SHenry H179a, pp. 125-126, "John Mitchel's Farewell to His Countrymen" (1 text, 1 tune); H179b, pp. 126-127, "John Mitchell (b)" (1 text, tune referenced)
  3. OLochlainn-More 27, "John Mitchel" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Zimmermann 59, "Mitchel's Address" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Dibblee/Dibblee, pp. 92-93, "John Mitchell" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Dean, p. 36, "John Mitchell" (1 text)
  7. Roud #5163
  8. BI, PGa045


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1848 (Zimmermann)
Found in: Ireland Canada(Mar) US(MW)