Marx-Engels Correspondence 1881

Engels To Jenny Longuet


Source: Marx & Engels on the Irish Question, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1971, pp. 326-329;
Transcribed: by Einde O’Callaghan.

February 24, 1881

My dear Jenny,

Well may the illustrious Regnard recommend his factum to your “charity.” [322] This Jacobin defending English respectable Protestantism and English vulgar Liberalism with the historical appareil of that same vulgar Liberalism is indeed an object of deepest charity. But to his “facts

1) The 80,000 Protestants’ massacre of 1641. The Irish Catholics are here in the same position as the Commune de Paris. The Versaillais massacred 30,000 Communards and called that the horrors of the Commune. The English Protestants under Cromwell massacred at least 30,000 Irish and to cover their brutality, invented the tale that this was to avenge 30,000 Protestants murdered by the Irish Catholics.

The facts are these.

Ulster having been taken from its Irish owners who at that time 1600-1610 held the land in common, and handed over to Scotch Protestant military colonists, these colonists did not feel safe in their possessions in the troublous times after 1640. The Puritan English government officials in Dublin spread the rumour that a Scotch Army of Covenanters [323] was to land in Ulster and exterminate all Irish and Catholics. Sir W. Parsons, one of the two Chief Justices of Ireland, said that in a 12-month there would not be a Catholic left in Ireland. It was under these menaces, repeated in the English Parliament, that the Irish of Ulster rose on 23rd Oct. 1641. But no massacre took place. All contemporaneous sources ascribe to the Irish merely the intention of general massacre, and even the two Protestant Chief Justices[A] (proclam. 8th Febr. 1642) declare that “the chief part of their plot, and amongst them a general massacre, had been disappointed. The English and Scotch, however, 4th May 1642, threw Irish women naked into the river (Newry) and massacred Irishmen. (Prendergast, Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland, 1865.)

2) L’Irlande la Vendée de l’Angleterre. [324] Ireland was Catholic, Protestant England Republican, therefore Ireland-English Vendée. There is however this little difference that the French Revolution intended to give the land to the people, the English Commonwealth intended, in Ireland, to take the land from the people.

The whole Protestant reformation, as is well known to most students of history save Regnard, apart from its dogmatical squabbles and quibbles, was a vast plan for a confiscation of land. First the land was taken from the Church. Then the Catholics, in countries where Protestantism was in power, were declared rebels and their land confiscated.

Now in Ireland the case was peculiar.

“For the English,” says Prendergast, “seem to have thought that god made a mistake in giving such a fine country as Ireland to the Irish; and for near 700 years they have been trying to remedy it.”

The whole agrarian history of Ireland is a series of confiscations of Irish land to be handed over to English settlers. These settlers, in a very few generations, under the charm of Celtic society, turned more Irish than the aborigines. Then a new confiscation and new colonisation took place, and so in infinitum.

In the 17th century, the whole of Ireland except the newly Scotchified North, was ripe for a fresh confiscation. So much so, that when the British (Puritan) Parliament accorded to Charles I an army for the reduction of Ireland, it resolved that the money for this armament should be raised upon the security of 2,500,000 acres to be confiscated in Ireland. And the “adventurers” who advanced the money should also appoint the officers of that army. The land was to be divided amongst those adventurers: so that 1,000 acres should be given them, if in Ulster for £200 — advanced, in Connaught for £300, in Munster for £450, in Leinster for £600. And if the people rose against this beneficent plan they are Vendéens! If Regnard should ever sit in a National Convention, he may take a leaf out of the proceedings of the Long Parliament, and combat a possible Vendée with these means.

The abolition of the penal laws! [325] Why the greater part of them were repealed, not in 1793 but in 1778, when England was threatened by the rise of the American Republic, and the second repeal, 1793, was when the French Republic arose threatening and England required all the soldiers she could get to fight it!

The Grant to Maynooth by Pitt. [326] This pittance was soon repealed by the Tories and only renewed by Sir R. Peel in 1845. But not a word about the other cadeau que faisait à l’Irlande ce grand homme (c’est la première fois qu’il trouve grâce devant les yeux d’un Jacobin[B]), that other “dotation” not only “considérable” but actually lavish — the 3 Million £ by which the Union of Ireland with England was bought. The parliamentary documents will show that the one item of the purchase money of rotten and nomination boroughs [327] alone cost no less a sum than £1,245,000. (O’Connell memoir on Ireland addressed to the Queen.)

Lord Derby instituted le système des écoles nationales.[328] Very true but why did he? Consult Fitzgibbon, Ireland in 1868[C], the work of a staunch Protestant and Tory, or else the Official Report of Commissioners on Education in Ireland 1826. The Irish, neglected by the English government, had taken the education of their children into their own hands. At the time when English fathers and mothers insisted upon their right to send their children to the factory to earn money instead of to the school to learn, at that time in Ireland the peasants vied with each other in forming schools of their own. The schoolmaster was an ambulant teacher, spending a couple of months at each village. A cottage was found for him, each child paid him 2d. a week and a few sods of turf in winter. The schools were kept, on fine days in summer, in the fields, near a hedge, and then known by the name of hedge-schools. There were also ambulant scholars, who with their books under the arm, wandered from school to school, receiving lodging and food from the peasants without difficulty. In 1812 there were 4,600 such hedge-schools in Ireland and that year’s report of the Commissioners says that such education was “leading to evil rather than good,” “that such education the people are actually obtaining for themselves, and though we consider it practicable to correct it, to check its progress appears impossible: it may be improved but it cannot be impeded.”

So then, these truly national schools did not suit English purposes. To suppress them, the sham national schools were established. They are so little secular that the reading-book consists of extracts both from the Cath. and Prot. Bibles, agreed upon by the Cath. and Prot. Archbishops of Dublin. Compare with these Irish peasants the English who howl at compulsory school-attendance to this day!


A.. The second Chief Justice of Ireland was Borlase. — Ed.

B.. Present made to Ireland by that great man (this is the first time that he found grace in the eyes of a Jacobin). — Ed

C.. G. Fitzgibbon, Ireland in 1868, the Battle-field for English Party Strife, London, 1868. — Ed.

322. The fact that A. Regnard, a French petty-bourgeois journalist and historian, approached Marx’s daughter, Jenny Longuet, about his articles on Irish history, is explained by the popularity she had won by writing articles censuring Gladstone’s policy towards the Fenians for the French newspaper La Marseillaise.

323. The Scottish Covenanters — supporters of the National Covenant, the agreement signed in 1638 in Scotland after the successful uprising in 1637 against the absolutist government of Charles I. Under the banner of protection of the Presbyterian (Calvinist) religion against bishopry, the participants in the Covenant fought for Scotland’s national autonomy, against all attempts to implant absolutist ways in the country. The war accelerated the outbreak of the bourgeois revolution in England.

324. Vendée — a department in the west of France, where a counter-revolutionary uprising flared up in March 1793, during the French bourgeois revolution. The rebels were mostly backward peasants, incited and led by counter-revolutionary priests and noblemen.

The uprising was put down in 1795, but attempts to renew it were made in 1799 and in later years.

Vendée has become a synonym for reactionary uprisings and counter-revolutionary hotbeds.

325. Penal Code or penal laws — a set of laws passed by the English for Ireland at the end of the 17th and in the first, half oft. the 18th centuries on the pretext of struggle against Catholic conspiracies. These laws deprived the indigenous Irish, the majority of whom were Catholics, of all civil and political rights. They limited the right of Catholics to inheritance, to the acquisition and alienation of property, and introduced the practice of confiscating property for petty offences. The Penal Code was used as an instrument for the expropriation of the Irish who still owned land. It established unfavourable lease terms for Catholic peasants, promoting their dependence on the English landlords. The ban on Catholic schools, the stern punishment meted out to Catholic priests; and other measures were intended to stamp out Irish national traditions. The penal laws were abrogated, and then only in part, at the end of the 18th century under the influence of the growing national liberation struggle in Ireland.

326. In 1795, Pitt’s government helped to found the Irish Catholic college in the town of Maynooth and granted heavy subsidies to it. This policy was intended to draw the elite of Irish landowners, bourgeoisie and clergymen over to the English side and thereby split the Irish national liberation movement.

327.Rotten boroughs” — the name given to the electoral districts in rural areas in England where there were very few voters (mainly because the rural population was moving to the towns), and where the local landowner arbitrarily disposed of the votes of people dependent on him.

328. A reference to the school system introduced in Ireland in 1831 by Stanley (Earl of Derby), the then Chief Secretary for Ireland. Joint schools were set up for Catholics and Protestants and only religious subjects were taught separately.