Irish ‘slavery’ a St. Patrick’s Day myth
By Shawn Pogatchnik
DUBLIN — Hundreds of thousands of Irish people were not transported to the Americas as slaves, despite nearly decade-old claims circulating anew online in the run-up to St. Patrick’s Day.
The false articles, trending on social media as Ireland’s national holiday approaches Friday, typically reprint entire sections from a comprehensively debunked 2008 column posted on a website that promotes conspiracy theories.
None of the articles contains credible sources for dozens of invented and misrepresented figures and events. The articles usually claim, for example, that King James II of England in 1625 ordered thousands of Irish prisoners to be sent to the West Indies as slaves. Historians say no evidence of any such directive exists — and James II wasn’t born until 1633 and didn’t gain the throne until 1685.
Reputable historians agree that the social media-driven reports deliberately conflate the extremely different contexts and conditions of African slavery and European indentured servitude. Analysts have noted that the reports gain particular traction among white supremacist sites and commentators seeking to downplay the evils of slavery.
The enslavement of Africans involved abductions, human sales at auctions and lifelong forced labor in a system that defined humans as property and trapped the children of those slaves in the same bondage.
Indentured servitude, while often accompanied by years of deprivation and exploitation, offered a usually voluntary means for impoverished British and Irish people to resettle in the Americas from the 17th century to the early 20th century. Contracts committed the servant to perform unpaid labor for a benefactor or employer for a fixed number of years in return for passage across the ocean, shelter and sustenance.
The most widely shared story this week containing the fabricated slavery claims is illustrated with an unrelated photo of Pennsylvania child laborers taken in 1911. The story quotes at length from the original 2008 post on the Canadian-based Global Research site, which still displays its own article today with a disclaimer conceding it “includes a number of factual errors.” It declines to specify the errors.
Irish-based historians have decried the errors repeatedly to the point of exhaustion.
Last year in the week before St. Patrick’s Day, more than 80 global academics including senior Irish historians sent news sites an open letter urging them to remove versions of the article, which they described as “racist ahistorical propaganda.”
The Irish Times newspaper reported that authors behind the myth of Irish slavery sought “to belittle the suffering visited on black slaves” and had twisted existing records of the emigration of Irish indentured servants “to lunatic effect.”