Tag Archives: County Carlow

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Meeting Kavanagh

This is a work-in-progress blog serial about aspects of the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and other background material are available at the project landing page#IUCRevisited

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“…like most people who have paid any attention to the recent history of Ireland, I knew how wonderful an illustration his whole career has been of what philosophers call the superiority of man to his accidents, and plain people the power of the will. But I knew this only imperfectly.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

During his travels in Ireland, Hurlbert met a wide variety of people, from Members of Parliament and Dublin Castle officials, to landlords and agents, as well as Irish nationalists, activist priests, farm laborers and jarvey drivers. None could match the extraordinary personal story of Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh.

Kavanagh

The Irish aristocrat was born with “no arms below the lower third of his upper arm, nor legs below mid thigh. And in consequence, no hands and no feet,” Brian Igoe wrote in The Limbless Landlord, a 2012 eBook, also edited into a related article for The Irish Story. And yet, Kavanagh also was “an expert horseman, a first class shot, a noted yachtsman, an active local Justice of the Peace and administrator, as well as a Member of Parliament.”

In his book, Hurlbert noted that he had corresponded with Kavanagh years earlier when he was a New York newspaper editor. He knew about the Irishman’s physical condition. Upon meeting Kavanagh at his Borris House estate in County Carlow, the American reported:

His servant brought him up to the carriage and placed him on it. This was impossible not to see. But I had not talked to him for five minutes before it quite passed out of my mind. Never was there such a justification of the paradoxical title which [James John Garth] Wilkinson gave to his once famous book, The Human Body, and its Connexion with Man,–never such a living refutation of the theory that it is the thumb which differentiates man from the lower animals.

During a three-day visit, Hurlbert and Kavanagh discussed the agrarian uprising in Ireland, including the host’s effort to support “a defensive organization of the Irish landlords against the Land League.” Kavanagh also told Hurlbert that Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour was doing “great good” at Dublin Castle.

They toured the estate grounds, with Hurlbert walking and Kavanagh “going with us on horseback” and explaining “every hill and clump of trees on this large domain … like a master of woodcraft through all manner of leafy byways to the finest points of view” along the River Barrow. Hurlbert was awed by “magnificent Scotch firs” and “remarkable Irish yews.”

Borris House

Borris House was a “stately and commodious, and more ancient than it appears to be, so many additions have been made to it at different times.” In one room, Hurlbert found “many curious old books and papers” to keep a student of early Irish history “well employed for a long time.”

Hurlbert was among one of last guests Kavanagh welcomed to the estate. According to Igoe, who cited Ireland Under Coercion in his research, it was about this time that Kavanagh developed diabetes and other health problems. He stayed mostly at his London house, perhaps because of access to better medical care. Kavanagh died there on Christmas Day, 1889, three months before his 58th birthday.

NOTES: From pages 301-318 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

NEXT: On Moonlighers

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

All wet: Houston’s Irish slosh through Harvey

Stories of Irish men and women caught in the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey, which continues drenching Houston, are surfacing in media.

“I have never seen anything like it in my life,” County Down (NI) man Chris Bohill told RTÉ (via The Belfast Telegraph.) “Where I live there was a park and a baseball field now it’s just an ocean. It is phenomenal.”

The Irish Echo has a story about a County Carlow girl battling a rare form of cancer who was trapped in an apartment as she waited to see a specialist at the city’s Children’s Hospital.

The Irish Times has a roundup of several first person accounts. Earlier this year, the Times reported on Houston’s “small, but proud Irish community.”

The city is home to an Irish Network chapter, and The Irish Society of Houston.

Photo by Thomas B. Shea/AFP/Getty Images, via abcnews.go.com.

Irish scientist was climate change pioneer

I discovered a connection to Ireland in a New York Times op-ed about the environmental impact of the Civil War. It’s also a reminder of how the past continues to influence the present.

[The Civil War] was an environmental catastrophe of the first magnitude, with effects that endured long after the guns were silenced. It could be argued that they have never ended. … The overwhelming need to win the war was paramount, and outweighed any moral calculus about the [environmental] price to be borne by future generations. Still, that price was beginning to be calculated – the first scientific attempt to explain heat-trapping gases in the earth’s atmosphere and the greenhouse effect was made in 1859 by an Irish scientist, John Tyndall.

John Tyndall from europena blog.

John Tyndall from europena blog.

Tyndall was born in 1820 in County Carlow. He life spanned from Catholic Emancipation through the Great Famine and up the second Home Rule Bill of 1893. Here’s a fuller biography from the Tyndall National Institute, a namesake scientific research center based at University College Cork. There’s also a Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research based in England (plus a mountain in California and a glacier in Colorado.)

This BBC piece by Richard Black details Tydall’s  “far-from-snappy title[d]” study, “On the Absorption and Radiation of Heat by Gases and Vapours, and on the Physical Connexion of Radiation, Absorption, and Conduction.”

What Tyndall had demonstrated for the first time was that gases in the atmosphere absorb heat to very different degrees; he had discovered the molecular basis of the greenhouse effect. … Tyndall’s lab experiments do not prove that humanity’s CO2 emissions are warming the planet … because in the real world, other factors can influence and outweigh those lab findings. But Tyndall did show how man-made global warming can work; and he did so 150 years ago.