Irish Land War

I’m posting this on behalf of one of our hard-working volunteers, Heather Schubert.

During my time volunteering at the Archives, I’ve been cataloging miscellaneous pamphlets from the late nineteenth century into PastPerfect, which are now accessible in the PAHRC’s online catalog. Within these hundreds of pamphlets are speeches given by members of the clergy, last will and testaments, and booklets on a variety of topics. I recently came across a number of documents related to the “Irish Question.”

The Irish Question, concerning Irish nationalism and independence, spanned the time period from around the mid 19th to the mid 20th century. Religion and politics were both prominent topics in this time of conflict, but most of the pamphlets I’ve cataloged so far relate to the Land War in Ireland over the centuries old landlordism system.

By 1879, about 800 families owned half of the country’s land and acted as landlords, renting small plots of land out to the majority of the population (an estimated five million people). The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and the American Civil War created an economic depression that spread to Ireland. This depression, combined with the collapse of the potato crop and a poultry cholera epidemic, led to a great deal of tenants falling behind or not being able to pay their rent. Despite the grave difficulties renters faced, land owners continued to increase their rent. These crises led to the Irish Land War.

By the fall of 1879, tenants organized to create The Irish National Land League with the ultimate goal of abolishing landlordism. Members acted out through protests, militant riots, and even assassinations. Possibly the most famous tactic used was boycotting: landlords and people who opposed the league were socially ostracized, and people refused to work or sell produce to landlords and their supporters.

Many of the pamphlets I’ve come across were either published by or discuss the Irish National Land League; others were published by or for subgroups of the land league like the Irish National Land League of the United States. The content of the pamphlets include support and endorsements for the movement, reports of the league’s annual conventions, and booklets discussing the Irish Land War from different viewpoints.

There are several ways to find documents associated with the Irish Question and its many subtopics, like the Land War, using PAHRC’s online catalog. Users can perform a keyword search for a particular term of interest. The Click & Search function can sometimes be more helpful, since it allows users to browse the subjects and names assigned to these documents.


Reference: Fin. “An Introduction to The Land War 1879-1882.” Irish History Podcast (blog). May 20, 2011. (Accessed November 14, 2011)

Redpath’s Illustrated Weekly: a rare find

In late 1879, James Redpath looking for a project that would both interest him and provide a living. For 25 years Redpath had a varied career as an abolitionist, reporter, publisher, lobbyist, superintendent of schools in the reconstruction south, social activist and entertainment mogul. Redpath had sold his Lyceum booking agency several years earlier and was recuperating from an accident. He proposed to The New York Tribune that they send him to Ireland where he could regain his health while reporting on social conditions in that country.

Though born in Scotland, Redpath became interested in uncovering the causes of the famine that had swept Ireland in the late 1870’s. The Tribune agreed to his proposal and during 1880 and 1881, Redpath made three trips to Ireland, sponsored in part by The Tribune and The Boston Pilot, to ascertain the causes of the famine. While in Ireland, he became a supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell and the Irish Land League, and a staunch opponent of the landlord system that kept the Irish people in poverty.

During these years, Redpath wrote numerous articles and delivered lectures throughout the United States supporting the cause of Irish land reform and, eventually, Irish freedom.

Reacting to the pro-English stance of most American newspapers concerning Ireland, in July 1882 Redpath bought the New York based newspaper McGee’s Illustrated Weekly from its publisher, Maurice Francis Egan and determined to make it a vehicle to support land reform in Ireland and promote Irish independence.

July 15, 1882 issue of McGee's Illustrated Weekly noting the sale of the paper to Redpath.

The first issue of the newly named Redpath’s McGee’s Illustrated Weekly appeared July 22, 1882.

Redpath’s editorial comments in the first issue clearly declared the pro-Irish temper of the paper:

“I shall try to make this journal an interpreter between American and Irish friends of liberty. As soon as Americans know the true story of Ireland they will support her in every wise effort to overthrow the despotic rule of England.”

By the third issue, published on August 5, 1882, Redpath had deemed the title too confusing and shortened it to Redpath’s Illustrated Weekly. Though founded as an activist newspaper devoted to the cause of reform in Ireland, the paper also covered Irish culture in general with sections such as “Pictures of Irish Life” and illustrations of prominent Irishmen, Irish-Americans and “friends of Ireland.”

Redpath’s opposition to English rule in Ireland and the large Anglo-Irish landlords he saw as responsible for Ireland’s misfortune branched into other articles in his newspaper such as anti-landlordism in New York City and opposition to English imperialism in Egypt. The paper also supported other social causes such as women’s suffrage, civil service reform and the labor movement.

Depictions of tenement housing in New York City


Illustration showing British imperialism in Egypt

Redpath also realized that a newspaper devoted primarily to Ireland and social reform may have  limited appeal, so he tried to broaden its readership by including humorous pieces, domestic and foreign news blurbs, sheet music, poems and serialized novels. At times the paper also included a Boys and Girls Department and a Ladies Department.

Section devoted to women's fashion

Changing financial circumstances and lack of interest in Ireland and social issues caused gradual changes in the newspaper’s format and content. With the February 24, 1883 issue, the name of the newspaper was shortened further to Redpath’s Weekly. This reflected the reduction in the number of illustrations due to rising publication costs.

By August 1883, the paper had become more literary and less a vehicle for Irish freedom and social activism with more space devoted to serialized fiction, including French and Russian works translated by associate editor, Jeremiah C. Curtin. Included were perhaps the earliest serializations of stories by Jules Verne. These changes, however, were not enough to save the paper and the last issue of Redpath’s Weekly was published on August 23, 1884.

This 1883 issue included Part II of Verne's "The American Robinson Crusoe"


PAHRC has the most complete run of Redpath’s Illustrated Weekly.

The paper has also been digitized as part the Digital Library @ Villanova University. To view the digitized issues click here.



McKivigan, John. Forgotten Firebrand: James Redpath and the Making of Nineteenth Century America. Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London. 2008.