1800-1859 | Famine | Ireland | Media propaganda

The Times – lazy and perfidious Irish famine victims abuse our charity

The Irish as depicted in Punch. 22 August 1846 via Wikimedia.
The Irish as depicted in Punch. 22 August 1846 via Wikimedia.

26 July 1848

On 26 July 1848, at the height of the potato famine in Ireland, from which over a million died, The Times published an editorial which was far from sympathetic. The Irish were not only deemed undeserving of the totally inadequate relief measures organized by a reluctant British government, but they were also portrayed as deliberately exploiting their victimhood to raise money for rebellion.

‘Talking all things into account, we do not hesitate,’ The Times thundered, ‘to say that every hard-working man in this country carries a whole Irish family on his shoulders. He does not receive what he ought to receive for his labour, and the difference goes to maintain the said Irish family, which is doing nothing but sitting idle at home, basking in the sun, telling stories, going to fairs, plotting, rebelling, wishing death to the Saxon, and laying everything that happens at the Saxon’s door… The Irish who we have admitted to free competition with the English labourer, and whom we have welcomed to all the comforts of old England, are to reward our hospitality by burning our warehouses and ships and sacking our towns.’1

These accusations of Irish idleness and perfidy delighted Lord Clarendon, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who was well aware of the convenience of the paper’s hateful commentary as a valuable pretext for the government, allowing it to continue on its course of total indifference to Irish suffering. ‘I don’t care a straw what any other paper thinks or says,’ Clarendon declared, adding that the opinions of less prestigious newspapers were virtually irrelevant when contrasted against the ‘extraordinary and universal importance (which) attaches to the views of The Times.’2


  1. Editorial, The Times, 26 July 1848, Issue 19925, p. 5 accessed online at The Times Digital Archive on 30 December 2018.
  2. Lord Clarendon cited in Tim Pat Coogan, The Famine Plot: England’s Role in Ireland’s Greatest Tragedy, Pagrave Macmillan, New York pp. 224-225.

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