#1 Daniel O Connell

Myth: Daniel O Connell, the great liberator, the man who lead the charge in achieving catholic emancipation in 1829 was a pacifist.


Whatever his achievements O Connel’s pacifist credentials are a sham. While he appears to have believed it was the best strategy in Ireland he had no problem unleashing horrendous violence on the Chinese as he voted for the Opium War as an MP. The Opium war was, in short a brutal imperial war fought by Britain for the right to sell the drug opium to the chinese after the chinese authorities tried to stop the trade.

#2 The Great Famine

Myth: Ireland’s greatest disaster was a natural unescapable phenomenon.


We’re on well trodden ground here and a favoured topic of revisionist historians and politicians alike. Uncomfortable as it may be the reality is that between 1845 – 51 nearly one million people in Ireland starved to death and millions more fled the island. While this was triggered by the failing of the potato crop the famine was ultimately an economic crisis caused by Ireland’s relationship with the economic system of the British Empire.  The crisis’ roots lay in the reorganisation of the Irish economy particularly after the act of union along lines inspired by the economically liberal ideology of the Empire. This crisis reached its zenith when the potato crop which was the staple diet of millions of peasants failed. There is no way of avoiding the reality that the whig  government elected in 1846 did not intervene due to a commitment economic liberalism combined with racism.

#3 The battle of Clontarf

Myth: Brian Boru was a saintlike hero who drove the Vikings from Ireland at this battle in 1014


Brian Boru was a violent Gaelic Irish King. He fought other violent Gaelic Kings in Ireland to dominate the island of Ireland. They all used violent Scandinavians to help them in their aims. They all lived violently together in Ireland before and after the battle of Clontarf.

Here’s the unabridged history;  In 1013 the Kingdom of Leinster rose against Brian Boru’s dominance of Ireland. In this they were supported by the Viking kingdom of Dublin. By 1014 it was obvious a big show down was on the cards so the Viking king of Dublin went off to seek aid from mercenaries overseas. On Good Friday 1014 Brian’s army supported by Vikings from Waterford and Limerick met the army of Leinster supported by Vikings from Dublin, the western Isles of Scotland and the Irish sea.

The big loser? Brian Boru – he was killed and his families power immediately declined. What about the Vikings? Little really changed. They had lost most independence around 980 after being defeated by the O Neills at the battle of Tara but maintained their dominant presence in the city of Dublin until the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169. You can here this story in detail in this podcast

#4 The death of Michael Collins

Myth: Eamon De Valera was involved in Collins death


This is one simple. Unless you qualify Neil Jordan’s near fantasy film  “Michael Collins” as history there is no evidence Eamon De Valera had any role to play in the death of Collins. Indeed he had been sidelined by the likes of Liam Lynch around the time of Collin’s death.




Myth #5 The 1916 rebellion.

Myth: Your ancestors fought in the 1916 rising


So many have claimed their ancestors fought in the GPO indeed after a enough pints you’ve probably claimed that you fought in the GPO. In reality in or around 1350 people participated in 1916 rising which means the vast majority of us have no connection what so ever to the events…

0 comments on “5 Myths of Irish history

  1. jamesy on

    You could mention that Daniel O’Connell served in the loyal militia establised in Dublin to counter the United Irishmen. In fact he begged his benefactor yo send funds so he could be properly kitted out.

  2. Joseph Mulvey on

    Nice piece, but #5 is a bit out of date! The names of the deceased in the Rising were recorded by their colleagues at the time. The survivors had to apply in person, to receive the Veteran’s Pension in 1932. This military archive was stored for years in boxes, but is now available both in Cathal Brugha Barracks, Rathmines and as an interactive part of the 1916 Exhibition in the National Museum, Collins Barracks.

  3. arranqhenderson on

    I didn’t know that O’Connell, who is and reamins one of my heros, voted for the Opium War, which you are quite right in describing as a brutal imperialist war against the chinese. I’m surprised, sad and disappointed that he did, That was clearly a terrible, mistake, and is now a sad blemish on his reputation. However I would maintain that is an anomaly, just one among all the thousands of decisions and hundreds of votes he was involved in and you have to set it against the entirety of career.
    On balance his remains a moral legacy, for example his advocacy for African Americans and for Jews, and most critically for Ireland he did not encourage the million or so Irish people who followed him towards violence, yes true because he realized that civil mass protest was the better strategy, (nothing wrong with that surely) but also because he did have a real abhorrence of violence, dating back to his students days in France (there is other evidence about his feelings on bloodshed, for example everyone knows the story about the duel, and his guilt and remorse afterwards) I also think you commenter above is being unfair, once you know the background of those times (during the French Revolutionary (later Napoleonic) Wars, you’ll know, as a member of the legal profession, he was almost obliged to be part of this militia, as an expression of basic loyalty. Let’s not forget he did not want to sever the link to the crown, he just wanted equality, land reform, civil rights and equality, (all far, far more important in my view than flags and crowns and coinage)

  4. Pauline on

    #1 Actually neither was Nelson Mandela.. He choose peaceful means as the best way, not the only way. Though Daniel O’Connell did have the worlds 1st million person march and the link between this threat to the Empire and the British reaction to a “natural disaster” doing their dirty work for them a mere 2 years later, has never really been explored. What would also be interesting is Daniel O’Connells reasoning for not continuing on, and the affect this movement had on Gandhi when he studied the Repeal movement as a young law student in 1888..

  5. Séamas Ó Sionnaigh (An Sionnach Fionn) on

    Christine Kinealy’s book “Repeal and Revolution: 1848 In Ireland” touches frequently upon the faction violence of O’Connell and his supporters. This theme is continued in Owen McGee’s history of the IRB and their frequent clashes with the followers of the Irish Parliamentary Party. Nationalist as opposed to Republican violence is the great unexplored political tradition of modern Irish history.

    Any views on the visa refusals for Tim Pat Coogan by the United States authorities as he travelled to publicise his new history of An Gorta Mór? I’m not one for conspiracy theories, and I have a few quibbles about some of the conclusions in Tim Pat’s book, but the reasoning behind the decisions by the US authorities remains rather murky to say the least. It took an intervention by US Congressmen to get the refusals reversed. All very odd.

  6. Willie on

    Nelson Mandela at one stage rejected overtly peaceful means and established Umkhonto we Sizwe as an armed group that engaged in assasinations, robberies, bombings and general shenanigans against the apartheid government. It was only after apartheid began to collapse on its arse did he advocate a peaceful resolution in South Africa.