|John Arthur Wynne|
"He called for Legislation to enable ‘all to read the entire word of God’, for which Petitions would be presented ‘from all parts’ of Ireland ‘if the influence of the Catholic Hierarchy could be withdrawn for a few months’"
This is from The History of Parliament online - a direct quote, not an adaptation, and while it might sound like something from a Cecil B Demille Epic - in reality and seen in purely secular terms it establishes the philanthropic Credentials of a largely unheard of - but very influential historical Figure!
So who was - and who were - John Arthur and the Wynnes of Hazelwood and Lietrim - Co Sligo, Ireland? A family who trace their origins to a 12th Century Chieftain of Wales who came from Lake Bala - and are related to those of Gwydir? Why was he so influential, but why haven't many People heard of him?
Maybe some of that is answered by the Level of Reactionarism in the Catholic Hierarchy against his campaign to promote literacy. That he had to keep them in check for a few months to be able to enact this Policy suggests that anyone - regardless of Benevolence - was somehow tarred with the same Brush as those not so philanthropic in the interests of a very Black and White depiction of the British presence in Ireland. The Foundation for his work was established by his Father - Owen - an MP in the Gratton Parliament who voted against the controversial Act of Union 1880, everyone from the most ardent Fenianist to Poet Laureat Seamus Heaney has criticized. These things never get mentioned in the Plethora of Stereotypes but even they must concede - Can there be any more substantial force for liberation than helping those Irish People Irish Nationalism always claims to represent than ensuring they can read, not only the scriptures but everything - including the Rent Book and all those other every day things? It's a Paradox isn't it - that Catholics resisted exactly this! There is an unfortunate History of what happened to others who did similarly liberating things - William Tyndale for example..
Documentaries about Irish Immigrants to the Americas might have those Letters to and from Ireland and the Americas, but how did they learn to read and write them?
This might seem trivial to People today but even now how easy would it be to scam someone who couldn't even read what was stamped on a Coin or Banknote?.
For example; Someone says how he thought he gave someone else 20p. He's asked whether it was - or might have been 50p? He says he doesn't know - but he gave the Coin with the Corners on it. They might give someone a £10 - only to be told it was only £5 - so they give them another.
In the 1840's when the worst Landlords wanted to evict a Tenant. The latter could show the former the Rent Book with last weeks Rent written recorded and even signed by the Landlord. That Landlord - with a Justice of the Peace in his Pocket - says I haven't signed or recorded anything in 6 Months. It's the beleaguered Tenants word against the Landlords.
Writing Letters meant you could communicate with Friends or Relatives in Dublin, Belfast - even abroad - like you couldn't before. To realize the significance of this just consider how Email has helped Peoples lives. Being able to write from or to People from the remotest regions of Ireland had the same effect as sending an Email to New Zealand might now.
So it wasn't just being able to read the Bible Wynne was trying to encourage, the ramifications of his Campaign are apparent to anyone. When he says how the Catholic Hierarchy had to be kept in check just long enough to enact this he doesn't just mean a few recalcitrant Priests or a Bishop or two, he means a Structure that goes as far as Rome, in a Europe dominated by Catholicism.
After People had done what others couldn't (or wouldn't) do, teach the Populace how to read Goidelic the Reactionaries condemned not just the Practice but also the Language. Admittedly it was hoped that those now literate Goidelic speakers might become Protestant, but even if they didn't they still had a Skill they were denied before. Teachers recruited from the literate Catholic Community to do this were pragmatic - despite the Conflict in Theology, seeing it as a Job with regular Wages open to them and similarly denied before. So, despite having Blood as Milesian as any Priest they - and those who learnt - were condemned as "Sassanach". (the derisory term Jacobites had for the English).
The Catholic stance on all this is skewed because it forgets how People define their Irishness. How literate Celtic Christian, or Culdean Clerics arrived in Ireland and began collecting the Stories about the Tuatha de Danaan, Firbolg and Partholonians and wrote them down. Had they not done this - or not had the necessary skills - the Stories about Nuada, Cuchulain, Maeve, Ferdia etc would have been long forgotten. Had that Catholic attitude prevailed would Goidelic be spoken at all now?
So, who's doing more to promote and protect Irish Culture - those who wanted to ensure People could at least read and write it - or those who would rather keep them in Ignorance and Superstition for Centuries?
I don't know how much Martin Scorsese knows about our History but has the maker of "Gangs of New York" asked why some of those People arrived pitiful, and who couldn't even read their own Language - let alone Amerenglish? That that Reactionaryism in the Catholic Hierarchy meant that even by the 1840s some People were still illiterate when they got there!
So, not only was Wynne helping to free Irish People from the darkness of a deliberately promoted ignorance - which might have got him burnt at the Stake only a couple of Centuries earlier - he was also one of the Architects of Emancipation. (The Slavery Abolition Act 1833).
|The Act of 1833 and its conclusion in 1838|
This was when he presented Petitions to Parliament lobbying for the Abolition of Slavery.
Did the 13th Amendment cost Abraham Lincoln his life? After all - when it was passed a few disgruntled former Confederate Plantation Owners must have been miffed - just how much opposition would People like Wynne have had 35 years before? When you watch the Film "Lincoln" you see how difficult it was to get the Legislation through a comparatively small Congress - what must it have been like in a Parliament that was then even bigger than it is today - with those Irish MPs there too? Abe Lincoln was a President - those Abolitionists were just MP's and a few Landed Gentry wanting to end something even Royalty were involved with. That needed resolve and not the sort of Courage you drink.
That opposition wouldn't have just come from the Slave Seaports like Bristol and Liverpool. How many associated Industries would have been affected? The Cotton and Textile Mills of Greater Manchester and the North West, the Tobacco Trade in Bristol, those involved in Sugar, Molasses and others catering to the Empires sweet Tooth. There's a superb Documentary by a descendant of a Slave who came from Liverpool - a modest Fishing Village before the Trade started - and he shows you those Street Signs synonymous with the Trade - including Penny Lane! Huge industrial lobbying power buying Votes.
But even after years of a War that had brought America to her Knees there were still those Representatives who wouldn't vote for the 13th Amendment, which suggests just how recalcitrant the Resistance to Emancipation was - even after we'd set the Precedent.
How would 1833 influenced America?
Britain wasn't like it is now and 200 years ago ran most of the known World in its vast Empire - from Canada to Australia and New Zealand. So how long would it have been after the ending of Slavery in most of the Empire before its effects would encourage and boost the Emancipation Movement in the US? The Fact that Tobacco and Cotton was produced by Slaves before the Continental War of the 1700s would resonate with some a Century later.
Fast forward to the 1840's and you have this......
|The Irish Famine|
It's almost become a Cliche but many People know about the Famine in Ireland that killed something like 1000,000, caused by the Potato Blight. Equally cliched is the impression we're given that all the Landlords in Ireland were Robber Barons - plundering and exploiting their Tenants, exporting other Foodstuffs - and taking advantage of their Plight to clear Land for other uses. This is a hugely inaccurate and very misleading Representation of Fact as not all of them were - and some were even helpful.
John Arthur Wynne was one off the helpful ones.
He reduced the Rents, improved the Infrastructure by building a Canal to Sligo - and even paid for Peoples passage to Canada, all of which helped on more than one Level.
What was different to his approach and many others was how those he helped weren't plundered of their Savings by Owners of the so called "Coffin Ships" to a very uncertain future - and they arrived in Canada with some Money. There were very many who didn't, whose Plight was wretched in the extreme.
By improving the Infrastructure not only could People travel to the nearest large Town to ply their Trade (Blacksmith, Wheelwright, Carpenter, Stone Mason, etc) they could also take the Produce of their Wife/Daughters Cottage Industries with them to sell. After all, who are they going to trade or sell to if their only Customers are as broke and starving as they are - trapped in a tiny Village or Hamlet?
That while you were in Sligo Town Ships are bringing in Foodstuffs that you could also access/buy with the Money you have just made. Imported Produce, Sea Food from the Trawlers etc - so you aren't totally reliant on the stricken Potato Crop..
Plus you have less Rent to pay because he reduced it. He also proposed an inquiry into Irish Tenure!
The Tragedy is that he lost his Wife - Lady Anne Wandesforde Butler - while she was involved in Anti-Poverty work during all this.
|John Arthur Wynne with his Wife|
So, occasionally there are People who are quite awesome - some of whom you don't hear very much about - John Arthur Wynne was one of them......
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