Irish slave myths debunked

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Poor as hell? Well, yes. And until the Celtic Tiger that was still true of the island itself as well. But slaves? That makes me give a person my incredulous face.


I am told that the term “wage slave” originated from pro-slavery advocates in (the South) of the US who compared slaves held responsibly with workers in the textile industry who died of starvation in Ireland.

Again it’s not a sensible comparison, industry in Europe had some horrifying brutal conditions but starvation in Ireland had more to do with land ownership, land clearances, plantation, and imperialism generally.

Mind you there are trafficked sex workers in Ireland now whose passports are held by their gangster overlords. So there are slaves in Ireland.

EDIT: I’ve heard plenty of Irish people bitching and moaning about how the world owes them a living!

Mind you, I think the world owes everyone a living.


And to add something substantive:

There is a difference between being a wage slave (which isnt a slave, and that’s me and probably you!), systemically poor (like the Irish were, and brown/black are disproportionately today), an indentured servant (which there are still cases of in the US, but it has really just moved into human trafficking), and slavery (also still exists, and is largely part of trafficking).

To say the Irish were slaves is to conflate all of those things together in a dishonest, reductionist way. And makes me wonder if proponents of that idea knows which way to sit on a toilet seat.


There’s sadly no shortage of enslaved sex workers in other countries (including the United States) either. The primary advantage slaves of all types have today is that they theoretically have some kind of legal recourse, though there may be big barriers to that recourse in practice.


I very recently had someone put up one of those exact type of pics with the text talking about the poor irish slaves and how they don’t bitch about it and don’t ask for reparations or whatever. I was so blown away by the stupid that i immediately unfriended the person, i didn’t have the energy to call them out on it. Good riddance.


Forced indentured servitude (of which Irish people suffered from in very large numbers, mostly to the Caribbean and Australia, but some to the US as well), is very much a form of slavery (in fact African slaves started off as forced indentured servants too, and were freed after seven years, before the establishment of chattel slavery). It’s certainly true that a lot of racists are going to seize on this and exaggerate and distort the history to their ends, but it doesn’t help to ignore the actual history either. None of this diminishes the suffering of Africans in the atlantic slave trade, it’s not a competition.


Yes, it is a form of slavery. One that you can pay to get out of. As opposed to, uh, pure slavery where you and all your descendent’s belong to someone.

Indentured servitude isn’t uncommon (apparently) among house staff and nannies in the US. They get paid sub minimum wage, so at some point they could leave, but in practice they are stuck.

I don’t want to sound dispassionate about this–it is horrible. These are people. And I’d like to see the white collar slavers along with the hardened criminals pay for what they have done.


Growing up in a Irish Catholic enclave in the 60’s this popped up often, with very little credible evidence given, other than whiskey fueled bar room bluster.


The main difference between slavery and indentured servitude was that you weren’t owned, you were rented. Theoretically, your indenture would someday end, though in the days when it was common those who benefited would do what they could to keep it going as long as possible. There was good reason to include it with slavery in the 13th Amendment. But no, the Irish were not subject to chattel slavery.


As opposed to, uh, pure slavery where you and all your descendent’s belong to someone.

there’s no such thing as ‘pure’ slavery, there have been a variety of different forms of slavery going back to the start of recorded history and before. chattel slavery is one of the nastier forms no doubt, but it’s not a good idea to try and diminish the rest out of some misguided sense of social justice. the stuff I was talking about is not in any way comparable to nannies working in the US, it is people being rounded up and imprisoned without just cause, and transported halfway around the planet to work in horrendous conditions, pretty much with the same chance of death and injury as African chattel slaves, if they were lucky they might survive and end up a peasant farmer at the end of it (and some of them managed to escape and return back home*), something chattel slaves didn’t have the luxury of of course, but again, it’s not a competition.

(*) there was an amazing story about the illegitimate child of some British aristocrat from Dublin who was sold into slavery in America, but escaped after 10 or so years and managed to return home and regain his birthright, unfortunately he died just after doing that, can’t remember his name and my google skills are failing me at the moment, it was from a radio documentary on RTE or Radio 4 or something.


Also, the Irish were colonized and ethnically cleansed during the famines in the 19th century. But slaves… no. Indentured servants, yup, well before the end of the colonial era. Slaves, no. Never. There is little doubt that by immigrating here, my ancestors took a huge leap up. Huge.


Pretty much all the bad things that happened to the Irish came from British imperial rule. Ireland was their colonial laboratory. But once we got here… well, my family seems to have done okay since arriving here. We’re not all rich, but we’re doing pretty fucking good, if you ask me.


yes they were slaves, if you want to redefine the word ‘slave’ to only mean chattel slave, then fine, but you can’t do that, so not fine. Forced indentured servitude is a form of slavery by definition, not all indentured servants went willingly, a lot of the victims were children, convicts (many of whom who were falsely convicted), people rounded up after rebellions and civil unrest, etc.


Except that indentured servants eventually got their freedom (usually, unless they died) and was on the way out as a central form of labor by the 17th/ early 18th century. It’s really not the same thing and in the 19th century, where you got refugees from the famines, it was clearly a step up for the Irish. To imagine other wise is kidding yourself I think. We can certainly acknowledge that indentured servitude and the colonial status of the Irish sucked, while understanding that coming to America created new opportunities that African Americans only recently had access to.


It probably didn’t seem like a huge leap right away. It’s kind of funny that white supremacists would make use of this myth, given that their ancestors likely would have thrown the Irish into the same pit as the blacks, Jews, and Italians. In the words of Edward Freeman, “America would be a grand land if every Irishman would kill a Negro and be hanged for it.”


The Vikings took Irish as slaves. Some of the colonists of Iceland were people scooped up by Viking raiders in Ireland for use as slave labor/concubines. Within a generation or so, they were absorbed into the Viking culture proper.


But we are talking about a specific type of slavery when we’re discussing the Americas and that form is chattel slavery. Understanding that there was a difference I think is important, not to undercut the suffering that emerged from British coloinialism, but not to whitewash Irish Americans who actively cultivated and benefited from slavery and later segregation/racism.

When people say that the Irish were slaves, they are indeed comparing them to chattel slavery of North America. There just isn’t any other way around that. It doesn’t in anyway disrespect the Irish/Irish americans to be historically accurate about this issue.


I never said it was the same thing, but everyone here seems to be denying it’s even in the same ballpark. It is a fact that it was a form of slavery, it was horrendous, and the fact that some of their ancestors are doing well now isn’t much use to them. Also, saying that the life of forced indentured servant from Ireland was a ‘step up’, sounds awfully close to the kind of racist apologism you hear from the ‘we treated slaves great in the south’ crowd.


Right, but Irish Americans worked to whiten themselves and had the ability to do so, where as African Americans never did.