John Mitchel was born near Dungiven, Ireland, in 1815. His father, a Unitarian Minister and member of the United Irishmen, supported Mitchel’s educational pursuits, and Mitchel began practicing as a lawyer in Ireland in 1840. During this time, Mitchel eloped with and married Jane Verner (Wallace 106).
“England is a truly great public criminal. England! All England!… he must be punished; that punishment will, as I believe, come upon her by and through Ireland; and so Ireland will be avenged… The Atlantic ocean be never so deep as the hell which shall belch down on the oppressors of my race.
-John Mitchel, Irish nationalist, 1856” (qtd. in O’Connor IX)
In the mid-1840s, Mitchel began writing for The Nation, a nationalist newspaper, in which he “wrote masterly descriptions of districts devastated by the potato famine” (Wallace 106). Mitchel and other members of the Young Irelanders split from the Repeal Association headed by Daniel O’Connell, instead founding the Irish Confederation in 1846 (Wallace 106).
Two years later, Mitchel left both the newspaper and the Irish Confederation, instead beginning his own nationalist paper, The United Irishman. Because the paper “openly preached sedition to ‘that numerous and respectable class of the community, the men of no property,’” the English government convicted Mitchel on charges of treason and sent him to a penal colony in Tasmania (Wallace 106).
In 1853, Mitchel escaped from Tasmania, moving to the United States, where he was involved in several new political causes; in his position as editor for the Richmond Examiner, he ironically “championed slavery and the Southern cause” while continuing to write in favor of Irish independence (Wallace 107). Mitchel returned to Ireland in 1875, where he was elected a member of Parliament for Tipperary, Ireland, but died before his election could be contested (Wallace 107).
John Mitchel does not occur as a character in Star of the Sea, but a quotation from him is one of four epigraphs in the novel. Mitchel, along with James Connolly, condemns England for not only its lack of aid to Ireland during the famine, but the country’s role in causing the famine in the first place. Mitchel and Connolly’s quotes are contrasted with those from Charles Trevelyan and Punch magazine, which respectively blame the Irish for the famine and describe the Irish as savage beasts. Mitchel’s quote, dated from 1856, nearly a decade after the worst of the famine, demonstrates the Irish loathing for the English that continued long after the famine came to an end, due to continued colonization and contempt on the part of the English.
O’Connor, Joseph. Star of the Sea. Orlando: Harcourt, 2002. Print.
Wallace, Martin. 100 Irish Lives. Totowa: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983. Print.
Researcher/Writer: Audrey Gunn
Technical Designers: Lindsey Atchison and Sarah Liebig
Back to Political Figures in Star of the Sea