Correction of the day

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St. Patrick's Day, that is… From Michael Grynbaum and Nikita Stewart, "Amid Mayoral Missteps, Irish Eyes Are Rolling in New York City", NYT 3/16/2014:

Correction: March 17, 2014
An earlier version of this article misquoted a comment from Malachy McCourt on St. Patrick. Mr. McCourt said, “My attitude is, St. Patrick banished the snakes from Ireland and they all came here and they became conservatives.” He did not say St. Patrick banished the slaves from Ireland.

In fact, slavery was legal in Ireland (as in the rest of the British Empire) until 1833, a millennium and a half after St. Patrick's time. Though as a slave himself for six years, he might have favored abolition, if the concept had ever come to his mind.



  1. Picky said,

    March 17, 2014 @ 8:38 am

    But perhaps not legal, or not legally enforceable, in England, at least not after 1772.

  2. I'm Picky too said,

    March 17, 2014 @ 9:04 am

    Slavery was still legal and far more widely practised in the US thirty years after it was effectively abolished for good in the British Empire. It took a cataclysmic civil war to settle the issue.

  3. GF said,

    March 17, 2014 @ 9:14 am

    St. *what* Day? ;) Started to celebrate early, I see…

  4. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 17, 2014 @ 9:44 am

    I would assume the legal position in Ireland itself in the century or two prior to 1833 was pretty much the same as that in England (which is to say a bit ambiguous). A separate problem with the original garbled quote is that "banishing" freed slaves is not these days typically taken to be the most sensitive or progressive thing to do post-emancipation, although see the early history of Liberia etc.

    [(myl) Especially as a mythological source for the likes of William F. Buckley, Paul Ryan, Bill O'Reilly, etc.]

  5. Graham Asher said,

    March 17, 2014 @ 1:36 pm

    Slavery was definitely made illegal in England by the Somersett case of 1772, decided by Lord Mansfield. See's_Case.

  6. Picky said,

    March 17, 2014 @ 2:01 pm

    Not absolutely clearly: the case was about forcibly removing fom the kingdom. His remarks about odious nature and no positive law could be called obiter dicta.

  7. Elizabeth Meckes said,

    March 17, 2014 @ 3:15 pm

    It was probably a muscle-memory typo. I often find myself typing really bizarre things because my fingers take over after the first letter or two, typing words that come up often for me (it has happened several times in the course of typing this comment).

  8. KeithB said,

    March 17, 2014 @ 3:20 pm

    I'm Picky:
    Actually, the war did not settle the matter. The war shifted the balance of power (due to the 3/5ths compromise) that allowed the 13th ammendment which abolished slavery.

  9. GeorgeW said,

    March 17, 2014 @ 3:56 pm

    Audrey Smedley ("Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of a Worldview") argues that racism in North America (qualitatively different from South America which also had slavery) has it origins in the English attitude toward the Irish, who they viewed as a lesser form of humans.

  10. Victoria Simmons said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 2:03 am

    Yes, but every nation has someone they feel superior to. The Irish are not unique.

  11. RP said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 5:04 am

    In 1772 when slavery was abolished in England, Ireland was not under English law, although it was under the English crown. It is therefore unlikely that the 1772 judgement automatically took effect in Ireland, unless someone can provide evidence for that. In 1801, though, Ireland was brought into the United Kingdom, which became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with a shared parliament in London. But it is not clear to me whether this meant that the 1772 judgement took effect then either, as I know Scotland retained a separate legal system, separate courts and partially separate statutory law after it entered the UK, so the same might be true of Ireland. If it is then abolition might not have taken effect until 1833. I did google this but found no clear answer.

    However, Mark implies that there was an unbroken chain of legal slavery from (before) St Patrick's time up until 1833. I am not sure that is true. It may be that, as in England, it was abolished and then reintroduced (although in England it was never legislatively authorised and the 1772 judgement implied that it had never been legal in the first place).

  12. tk said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 5:04 am

    Of course, besides being slavers (vide Patrick himself), Ireland itself had been subjected to slave raids, from the time of the Vikings, up to the Seventeenth Century, ironically the latter by Africans (

  13. GeorgeW said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 5:27 am

    @Victoria Simmons: Yes, but. Their attitude toward the Irish was different than their attitude toward the French, Spanish, etc. It wasn't just a feeling of cultural superiority.

  14. richardelguru said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 5:56 am

    NO one seems to have brought up the terrible ecological disaster of St Patrick's ill considered actions, nor their disastrous consequences (not just for right-wing politics in NY) consider that In the Annales Cambriæ under the year 537 we read “et mortualis in …hibernia fuit”, presumably because snakes eat rats and rats have fleas and fleas can carry plague:
    no snakes -> lotsa rats ->lotsa fleas -> lotsa mortality!
    See here for a scholarly exposition.

  15. Picky said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 6:45 am

    @GeorgeW: It was different from their attitude towards the French; and it was a feeling of cultural superiority. Economically advanced peoples had (have?) a nasty tendency to feel superior to those economically less advanced. English and Irish; white Anericans and native Americans; Lowland Scots and Highland Scots; etc etc. So the English slavers and their American successors learnt from English attitudes to the Irish? Then where did the Irish and Scots and Welsh slavers and their American successors pick up their attitudes from?

  16. mollymooly said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 8:11 am

    @richardelguru: rodents yes, rats no. Rats came over with the Normans, and so were called "French mice" by the Irish, later abbreviated to "French".

  17. GeorgeW said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 8:13 am

    @Picky: Are you suggesting that historical American racism is simply another form of cultural superiority? I don't think so.

  18. Picky said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 8:36 am

    No, GeorgeW, that's not what I said. I do think the oppression of the Irish by what for shorthand's sake we'll call the English was partly a feeling of cultural superiority, partly the lust for conquest, and partly a hodgepodge of other things. Did that add up to or result in something we can call racism? Yes. If you put a sign outside your boarding house saying 'No Blacks, No Irish' you are making the connection clear enough — even if we now know that there is hardly any ethnic difference between the historic nations of the British Isles. Does that mean the racism of North America was generated by English-Irish racism? No. Unfortunately racism is one of the commonest features of human society. I don't pin English racism on the Normans and the attempt to pin American racism on the English is pointless and somewhat rdiculous.

  19. GeorgeW said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 8:57 am

    @Picky: "the attempt to pin American racism on the English is pointless and somewhat ridiculous [sic}."

    North American racism is qualitatively different from that in Central and South America which also had a history of slavery. This difference calls for an explanation. The explanation Smedley (cited above) proposes, based on historical study, is the English attitude toward the Irish, whom they viewed as a lower form on human life. This was carried over to their view of African slaves.

    There are still people who think that Blacks are inherently inferior – even when objectively smarter, better educated, wealthier, more cultured, more accomplished (e.g. Barack Obama). This is deeper than just cultural superiority or ethnic preference.

  20. Picky said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 9:35 am

    And were the Boer republics looking back to ancient dealings with the Irish when they duplicated the segregated system of the South? And aren't there more, and more pervasive, differences between North and South America than rememberance of dealings across the Irish Sea? Haven't the Russians had the odd argument with the Tartars and aren't there some nasty movements in France against North Africans, and haven't the Germans and the Japanese got a bit of history where racism is concerned? There's a lot of it about. You don't convince me that people in the US aren't perfectly capable of concocting their own racism without recourse to us.

  21. GeorgeW said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 10:07 am

    @Picky: "You don't convince me that people in the US aren't perfectly capable of concocting their own racism without recourse to us."

    Of course we are capable, but we were you at the time.

  22. Picky said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 10:49 am

    @GeorgeW: that's nice. Enough!

  23. richardelguru said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 11:06 am

    Interesting. I didn't think the French were all that conservative :-)

  24. J. W. Brewer said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 11:59 am

    The thread got sidetracked onto largely non-linguistic issues, so I was searching mightily for something of more linguistic interest to say. Let me try this. There is a sort of analogy (not a perfect one) between the common law and a natural language, which has been recognized by various theorists. There is also, it seems to me, a similar analogy (perhaps an even more imperfect one) between the regional variations that have developed over time in the various common-law jurisdictions and regional variations in a language. The common law varies among different U.S. and Canadian jurisdictions which in turn vary somewhat in matters of detail from Australia or New Zealand which in turn vary somewhat from the current state of affairs back in London etc., much as the English spoken (or, perhaps more to the point, written — even in certain high-prestige and copy-edited contexts) does. The practical question is whether Irish common law (administered by a system of parallel courts to those in England, with some vary limited ability to appeal in certain cases from Dublin to London, the details of which are not known to me) was in any sense meaningfully different from English common law as of the 18th century, at least except insofar as the context for its application was different because there were e.g. differences in the statutes that might also be relevant to a particular dispute. My best guess is that at the time the self-conscious differentiation into jurisdiction-specific "dialects" that subsequently occurred had not yet occurred (even in the U.S. it was a slow process that took most of the 19th century to fully develop) and both the English and Irish judges thought themselves to be applying one single thing to the best of their abilities. (Note that whatever differences might apply in popular speech between Hiberno-English and various sorts of vernacular English in England proper probably did not flow through to "high-end" discourse contexts, where e.g. formal theological or academic orations or that sort of thing printed in Dublin probably aspired to exactly the same lexical/syntactic/orthographic norms as works in the same genre printed in London or Oxford/Cambridge did.)

    So as a practical matter Ch. J. Mansfield's decision in the Somersett case would likely have been taken to be as authoritative in a subsequent lawsuit in the Irish courts as it would have been in the English courts (with a big bracket as to exactly how authoritative it would have been for what propositions in England proper). To what extent post the 1920's the courts in the South of Ireland have self-consciously declined to go along with English case-law (in contexts where there's no relevant statutory difference) and thus forge their own distinctive "dialect" of the common law is not known to me. It may be relevant that Mansfield in Somersett had refused to follow the well-known analysis of the slavery issue earlier in the century in the so-called Yorke-Talbott Opinion, which on its face had purported to treat the consequences of bringing a slave into England, Scotland, or Ireland as identical.

    Related subject for further inquiry: Scots Law is quite different at a conceptual level from English/Irish/Ontario/New York/New Zealand/etc. common law, and has lots of its own specialized jargon. I expect that if you go back enough centuries, Scottish lawyers and judges did their professional writing in Scots but at some point changed into doing so in the standard/prestige London/Oxbridge etc. register of written English (however regional their pronunciation might be when they spoke aloud), thus being distinguishable from English/Irish legal writing only by the lexical/conceptual differences. When that changeover occurred (e.g. before or after 1707 and how far in whichever direction?) seems like it might be an interesting question for further study. I don't know to what extent Scottish judicial opinions etc from far enough back have been digitized to make this an easy corpus-linguistics project.

  25. jon livesey said,

    March 18, 2014 @ 4:29 pm

    Just a small point. The 1772 ruling did not 'abolish' slavery in England in the sense that slavery was legal until that point. What Mansfield ruled was that English law *already* disallowed slavery.

    To quote Mansfield:

    "The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political, but only by positive law [ statute ], which preserves its force long after the reasons, occasions, and time itself from whence it was created, is erased from memory. It is so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it, but positive law. Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from the decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged."

  26. Dave said,

    March 19, 2014 @ 2:55 pm

    Oh dearie me. It appears that there are people on the internet, like this one: willing to charge the English with the wholesale enslavement of the Irish; but of course what is actually at issue there is penal servitude, transportation and indentured servitude – none of which amount to chattel slavery, and all of which were practised by early-modern penal systems without prejudice as to race or ethnicity [or indeed age or sex, they were indiscriminate swine, we might say]. But slavery, per se, died out in the British Isles some time around the 13th century, and was never revived except in the matter of Africans brought in as servants via the Caribbean. These are basic facts.

  27. Richard Sutton said,

    March 20, 2014 @ 2:29 pm

    All of these examples are but one of the more terrible results of Colonialism. As much as we all wish it were far behind us, and that our species has learned from the past, there are remnants of enslavement (no matter its name, including economic slavery, still practiced in many places) that persist in out-dated attitudes and the cultural superiority spoken of. These remnants will take longer than our lifetimes to fall away completely as dates of legal proclamations have little to do with the hard-wired distrust and hatred that can accrue over hundreds of years. While most European powers practiced Colonialism, it has a history going back even to the first wave of Celtic migrations, as in the case of Ireland, the Gael were not the first residents of the island, but colonized it, bit by bit, pushing the original residents into legend.

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