Writing in The Irish Story, Barry Sheppard details how a 19th century American writer and economist influenced Irish land reform. He says in the post:
The name Henry George is not normally one which is automatically associated with Irish land reform, indeed he has been all but forgotten, even by those interested in the history of Irish and international land reform. Yet at various stages his name crops up in relation to Irish land reform from the period of the Land War in the 1880s through to the 1930s and beyond, when a new period of Irish land reform gathered pace under a domestic administration.
George traveled to Ireland in 1881 to cover the Land War for The Irish World newspaper. He spent a year in the country speaking about his views on a single tax on land, which he believed should be nationalized rather than held by individual owners. More about George’s life and views here.
During his stay in Ireland George was arrested twice by the ruling British authorities. He was able to have a letter smuggled to U.S. President Chester A. Arthur, which was published on the front page of The Washington Post on Sept. 17, 1882:
I would not, Mr. President, think of addressing you on this subject were my case an isolated one, as then it would merely show an abuse of power by certain individual officials. But, on the contrary, such cases are constantly occurring, and many American citizens have already in various parts of this country been subjected to similar, and even to much worse indignities and hardships — and this evidently not by accident, but because of being Americans.
The British later apologized for the two detentions, but not before the Land League was able to capitalize for its own benefit. Such incidents, Terry Golway writes in his John Devoy biography “Irish Rebel” (see my previous post) helped “raise the Irish-American movement from its ratholes.”
George’s influence in Ireland lasted decades beyond his death in 1897, according to Sheppard.
That he was for all intents and purposes and outsider makes his impact even more impressive. It is also his status as an outsider which has also kept him on the periphery of Irish history.