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Youth, Generations, and Collective Action in Nineteenth-Century Ireland and Italy

  • Niall Whelehan (a1)

This article examines concepts of youth, maturity, and generations in nineteenth-century Ireland and Italy and perceived connections between young people and political and social unrest. I demonstrate that, rather than being consistent, the involvement of younger generations in radicalism was uneven, and varied significantly with historical contexts. I argue that the authorities frequently exaggerated associations between young people and radicalism as a subtle strategy of exclusion, as a means of downgrading the significance of collective action and portraying it as a criminal, emotional, or even recreational matter rather than a political one, a tendency that has often been reinforced in the historiography. Descriptions of youth and maturity should not be understood as merely reflections of age. They were not value-free, and served as indicators of individuals' social standing and political agency or lack thereof. Yet fighting in a rebellion offered an alternative to marriage, owning property, or education for the achievement of “manhood,” or adult status and political agency. The article also investigates how the Great Irish Famine shaped generational consciousness in the second half of the nineteenth century through an analysis of the participants in nationalist and agrarian violence. In all, over four thousand participants in collective action in Ireland and Italy are examined.

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1 Luzzatto, Sergio, “Young Rebels and Revolutionaries, 1789–1917,” in Levi, G. and Schmitt, J. C., eds., A History of Young People (Cambridge, Mass., 1997), 174231, 179; first published as Storia dei Giovani (Rome, 1994).

2 Morrissey, Susan, Heralds of Revolution: Russian Students and the Mythologies of Radicalism (Oxford, 1998); della Peruta, Franco, “I ‘Giovani’ del Risorgimento,” in Varni, Angelo, ed., Il Mondo Giovanile in Italia tra Ottocento e Novecento (Bologna, 1998), 4152.

3 Hobsbawm, Eric, Bandits, new ed. (London, 2003), 3439.

4 Irish People, 23 Jan. 1864; Irish Times, 20 Sept. 1865.

5 Ó Grada, Cormac, “Mortality and the Great Famine,” in Crowley, John, Smyth, William J., and Murphy, Mike, eds., Atlas of the Great Irish Famine (Cork, 2012), 170–79, 170; William J. Smyth, “The Story of the Great Irish Famine 1845–1852: A Geographical Perspective,” in ibid, 4–12.

6 Sarti, Roland, “Giuseppe Mazzini and Young Europe,” in Bayly, C. A. and Biagini, E., eds., Giuseppe Mazzini and the Globalization of Democratic Nationalism, 1830–1920 (Oxford, 2008), 272–97; Luzzatto, “Young Rebels and Revolutionaries,” 199–200; Guida, Francesco, ed., Dalla Giovine Europa alla Grande Europa (Rome, 2007).

7 Lupo, Salvatore, L'Unificazione Italiana: Mezzogiorno, Rivoluzione, Guerra Civile (Rome, 2011); Molfese, Franco, Storia del Brigantaggio dopo l'Unità (Milan, 1964).

8 Rota, Arianna Arisi and Balzani, Roberto, “Discovering Politics: Action and Recollection in the First Mazzinian Generation,” in Riall, Lucy and Patriarca, Silvana, eds., The Risorgimento Revisited: Nationalism and Culture in Nineteenth-Century Italy (Basingstoke, 2012), 7796; Dogliani, Patrizia, ed., Giovani e Generazioni nel Mondo Contemporaneo: La Ricerca Storica in Italia (Bologna, 2009); Sorcinelli, Paolo and Varni, Angelo, eds., Il Secolo dei Giovani: le Nuove Generazioni e la Storia del Novecento (Roma, 2004); Gibson, Mary S., “The Criminalization of Youth in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Italy,” in Knafla, L. A., ed., Crime, Punishment and Reform in Europe (Westport, Conn., 2003), 121–44; Levi and Schmitt, History of Young People.

9 For more recent discussions see Jeffrey, Craig, “Geographies of Children and Youth II: Global Youth Agency,” Progress in Human Geography 36 (2012): 245–53; Mintz, Stephen, “Reflections on Age as a Category of Historical Analysis,” Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 1 (2008): 9194.

10 Eisenstadt, S. N., “Sociology of Generations,” in Smelser, N. J. and Baltes, P. B., eds., International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 26 vols. (Amsterdam, 2001), ix, 6055–61, 6056.

11 Marquess of Westmeath, House of Lords (HL), Debate, 26 Feb. 1846, vol. lxxxiv, cc. 111.

12 Reidy, Conor, Ireland's ‘Moral Hospital’: The Irish Borstal System, 1906–1956 (Dublin, 2009), 1730.

13 For a summary of how the concept of youth changed in the 1800s, see Kett, Joseph, “Adolescence and Youth in Nineteenth-Century America,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 2 (1971): 283–98.

14 Arensberg, C. M. and Kimball, S. T., Family and Community in Ireland (Cambridge, Mass. 1948), 50, 123–44; Guinnane, Timothy W., The Vanishing Irish: Households, Migration, and the Rural Economy in Ireland, 1850–1914 (Princeton, 1997), 9495.

15 Eisenstadt, “Sociology of Generations,” 6055.

16 Mannheim, “Karl, “The Problem of Generations,” in Kecskemeti, P., ed., Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge (London, 1952), 276322; Edmunds, J. and Turner, B. S., eds., Generational Consciousness, Narrative, and Politics (Lanham, Md., 2002), 7; Wohl, Robert, The Generation of 1914 (Cambridge, Mass., 1979), 210; Gillis, J. R., Youth and History: Tradition and Change in European Age Relations, 1770–Present (New York, 1974).

17 Hart, Peter, The IRA and Its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork 1916–1923 (Oxford, 1998), 165; Foster, Roy, “Making a Revolutionary Generation in Ireland,” British Academy Review 21 (2013): 1114.

18 Hart, IRA and Its Enemies, 165.

19 Mehta, Uday S., “Liberal Strategies of Exclusion,” in Cooper, F. and Stoler, A. L., eds., Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World (Berkeley, 1997), 5986.

20 Times, 27 July 1848; See entries in Quinn, J. and McGuire, J., eds., Dictionary of Irish Biography (Cambridge, 2009).

21 Ramon, Marta, A Provisional Dictator: James Stephens and the Fenian Movement (Dublin, 2007), 15; Davis, Richard P., The Young Ireland Movement (Dublin, 1988).

22 Freeman's Journal, 16 Aug. 1848. Prison records were insufficient to derive a generational profile of the Young Ireland rank and file.

23 Ramon, Provisional Dictator, 141–59; Miller, Kerby A., “Emigration to North America in the Era of the Great Famine, 1845–55,” in Crowley, John, Smyth, William J., and Murphy, Mike, eds., Atlas of the Great Irish Famine (Cork, 2012), 214–27. Some studies have argued that “Fenian” was a pejorative label, though the term was widely used by IRB members themselves. See McConnell, James and McGarry, Fearghal, eds., The Black Hand of Republicanism: Fenianism in Modern Ireland (Dublin, 2009); McGee, Owen, The IRB: The Irish Republican Brotherhood from the Land League to Sinn Fein (Dublin, 2005), 3337.

24 Freeman's Journal, 9 and 15 Mar. 1867; Irish Times, 5 Sept. 1865.

25 Irish Times, 1 Nov. 1881.

26 Irish People, 28 Nov. 1863.

27 Dictionary of Irish Biography (Cambridge, 2009); see also Garvin, Tom, “The Anatomy of a Nationalist Revolution: Ireland, 1858–1928,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 28 (1986): 468501, 477.

28 Comerford, R. V., “Patriotism as Pastime: The Appeal of Fenianism in the Mid-1860s,” Irish Historical Studies 22 (1981): 239–50, 242.

29 Census of Ireland, 1861, “Part II, Summary of Ireland,” 922–23.

30 Lee, Joe, The Modernization of Ireland, new ed. (Dublin, 2008), 68; Fitzpatrick, David, “Emigration, 1871–1921,” in Vaughan, W. E., ed., A New History of Ireland: Volume VI: Ireland under the Union, II: 1870–1921 (Oxford, 1989), 631–32.

31 Comerford, R. V., The Fenians in Context: Irish Politics and Society, 1848–82 (Dublin, 1998), 114.

32 Shin-Ichi Takagami, “The Dublin Fenians, 1858–79,” PhD diss., Trinity College, Dublin (1990), 81–88; Ó Broin, Leon, Revolutionary Underground: The Story of the Irish Republican Brotherhood 1858–1924 (Dublin, 1976).

33 Comerford, “Patriotism as Pastime,” 245; Comerford, Fenians in Context, 111–14.

34 Riall, Lucy, Garibaldi: Invention of a Hero (New Haven, 2007), 207–25; Duggan, Christopher, Force of Destiny: A History of Italy since 1796 (London, 2008), 207–11.

35 Smith, Denis Mack, Garibaldi: A Great Life in Brief (Westport, Conn., 1956), 92; Riall, Garibaldi, 183.

36 Riall, Garibaldi, 184.

37 Over twenty thousand volunteers had joined Garibaldi by the end of his southern campaign in 1860.

38 Mack Smith, Garibaldi: A Great Life in Brief, 91–92.

39 Sommario di Statistiche Storiche 1861–2010, Istituto Nazionale di Statistica (Rome, 2011), Table 2.2, 1861, 99.

40 Cecchinato, Eva, “Stagioni e svolte della ‘Giovane Italia,’” in Dogliani, Patrizia, ed., Giovani e Generazioni nel Mondo Contemporaneo: La Ricerca Storica in Italia (Bologna, 2009), 7880.

41 Ibid., 73–83, 74.

42 Mazzini, Giuseppe, “Manifesto della Giovine Italia,” in Scritti Editi ed Inediti, 18 vols. (Milan, 1861), I, 127.

43 Balzani, Robeto, “I Giovani del Quarantotto: Profile di una Generazione,” Contemporanea 3 (2000): 403–16, 405–9. The volunteers' youth was an aspect of exhibitions marking the 150th Anniversary of Italian Unification in 2011. At: (accessed 18 May 2012).

44 Rota and Balzani, “Discovering Politics,” 89.

45 Lovett, Clara, The Democratic Movement in Italy (Cambridge, Mass., 1982), 87, 90.

46 Rota and Balzani, “Discovering Politics,” 91.

47 Cecchinato, “Stagioni e svolte,” 76, 78–80; Cecchinato, Eva, Camincie Rosse: i Garibaldini dall'Unitá alla Grande Guerra (Rome, 2007).

48 Weekly Freeman, 6 Oct. 1883; Whelehan, Niall, The Dynamiters: Irish Nationalism and Political Violence in the Wider World, 1867–1900 (Cambridge, 2012), 9192; Mansergh, Nicholas, The Irish Question, 1840–1921 (Toronto, 1975), 95102.

49 Mazzini quoted in Rota and Balzani, “Discovering Politics,” 80.

50 Mannheim, “The Problem of Generations,” 307; Turner and Edwards, Generational Consciousness, 180.

51 Smyth, “Story of the Great Irish Famine 1845–1852,” 5, 12.

52 Miller, “Emigration to North America,” 214; O'Grada, Cormac, Black ’47 and Beyond: The Great Irish Famine in History, Economy and Memory (Princeton, 1999); O'Rourke, Kevin, “Emigration and Living Standards in Ireland since the Famine,” Journal of Population Economics 8 (1995): 407–21; FitzGerald, Garret, “The Decline of the Irish Language, 1771–1871,” in Daly, M. and Dickson, D., eds., The Origins of Popular Literacy in Ireland (Dublin, 1990), 5972.

53 Fogarty, L., James Fintan Lalor: Patriot & Political Essayist, 1807–1849 (Dublin, 1919), 4748; Mitchel, John, Jail Journal (Dublin, 1914).

54 Eisenstadt, “Sociology of Generation,” 6058–59.

55 Rossa, Jeremiah O'Donovan, Rossa's Recollections (New York, 1898), 11.

56 Sullivan, T. D., Sullivan, A. M., and Sullivan, D. B., eds., Speeches from the Dock, or, Protests of Irish Patriotism (New York, 1904), 251, 253, 277.

57 Higgins, Padhraig, A Nation of Politicians: Gender, Patriotism, and Political Culture in Late Eighteenth-Century Ireland (Madison, 2010), 18, 160.

58 Delaney, Enda, The Curse of Reason: The Great Irish Famine (Dublin, 2012), 126, 154.

59 Mitchel, Jail Journal, 16.

60 Davitt, Michael, Fall of Feudalism in Ireland (London, 1904), 41, 83; John O'Mahony quoted in Ryan, Desmond, The Fenian Chief (Dublin, 1967), 53.

61 Quoted in O'Leary, John, Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism, 2 vols. (London, 1896), 2, 153.

62 McCormack, Matthew, ed., Public Men: Masculinity and Politics in Modern Britain, (Basingstoke, 2007); Valente, Joseph, The Myth of Manliness in Irish National Culture, 1880–1922 (Chicago, 2010).

63 James Stephens to John O'Mahony, 25 Nov. 1861, New York Public Library, Maloney Collection, 4, 64.

64 O'Donovan Rossa, Rossa's Recollections, 252.

65 Pearse, Padraic, An Oration at the Grave of O'Donovan Rossa (Dublin, 1984).

66 Riall, Lucy, “Eroi Maschili, Virilità e Nazione,” in Banti, A. M. and Ginsborg, P., eds., Storia d'Italia, Annali 22: Il Risorgimento (Turin, 2007), 253–88, 259–63, 287; Patriarca, Silvana, Italian Vices: Nation and Character from the Risorgimento to the Republic (Cambridge, 2010), 2050.

67 Lovett, Democratic Movement in Italy, 83–89, 241–45.

68 Pašeta, Senia, Before the Revolution: Nationalism, Social Change and Ireland's Catholic Élite, 1879–1922 (Cork, 1999), 79.

69 Rota and Balzani, “Discovering Politics,” 90; Cecchinato, “Stagioni e Svolte,” 81.

70 Garvin, “Anatomy of a Nationalist Revolution,” 474; Donnelly, James S., Captain Rock: The Irish Agrarian Rebellion of 1821–1824 (Cork 2009), 2021, 174, 365; Philpin, C.H.E., ed., Nationalism and Popular Protest in Ireland (Cambridge, 1987); Clark, Samuel and Donnelly, James S., eds., Irish Peasants: Violence and Political Unrest 1780–1914 (Madison, 1983).

71 Lewis, George Cornewall, On Local Disturbances in Ireland, and on the Irish Church Question (London, 1836), 179.

72 Select Committee on Outrages (Ireland), 19th Century House of Commons Sessional Papers, XIV, 1852, 291, 18.

73 Report from the Select Committee on Westmeath, &c. Unlawful Combinations, 19th Century House of Commons Sessional Papers, XIII, 1871, 19, 118.

74 Freeman's Journal, 13 Jan. 1881.

75 Report of the Royal Commission on the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1881, and the Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act, 1885, 19th Century House of Commons Sessional Papers, XXVI, 1887, 490.

76 Bill for Better Protection of Persons and Property in Ireland, 19th Century House of Commons Sessional Papers, V, 1881, 1.

77 Census of Ireland, 1881: General Report, Maps and Diagrams, Tables, Appendix, 19th Century House of Commons Sessional Papers, LXXVI, Part II, Table 76, 224.

78 Arensberg and Kimball, Family and Community, 131; Connell, K. H., “Peasant Marriage in Ireland: Its Structure and Development since the Famine,” Economic History Review 14 (1962): 502–23.

79 Special Commission Act, 1888, 41–42.

80 Kelly, M. J., The Fenian Ideal and Irish Nationalism, 1882–1916 (Woodbridge, 2006), 21.

81 Corfe, Tom, The Phoenix Park Murders: Conflict, Compromise and Tragedy in Ireland, 1879–1882 (London, 1968), 135–45.

82 Derived from Kilmainham prison register 1883, and the Freeman's Journal.

83 Lee, Modernization of Irish Society, 85.

84 Clark, Samuel, The Social Origins of the Irish Land War (Princeton, 1979); Jordan, Donald, Land and Popular Politics in Ireland (Cambridge, 1994), 166–69, 196.

85 Lucey, D. S., Land, Popular Politics and Agrarian Violence in Ireland: The Case of County Kerry, 1872–86 (Dublin, 2011), 57; Garvin, “The Anatomy of a Nationalist Revolution,” 479; Bew, Paul, Land and the National Question, 1858–1882 (Dublin, 1979), 97, 103.

86 McGee, IRB, 66–102.

87 Comerford, Fenians in Context, 112.

88 Jackson, Alvin, Ireland, 1798–1998 (Oxford, 1999), 126–27.

89 McGee, IRB, 104; Geary, Laurence, Plan of Campaign, 1886–1891 (Cork, 1986).

90 Breen, Dan, My Fight for Irish Freedom (Tralee, 1981), 71.

91 Hart, Peter, The I.R.A. at War (Oxford, 2003), 121; Hart, IRA and Its Enemies, 165–86, 170; Regional studies of the Irish Revolution found similar age patterns: Campbell, Fergus, Land and Revolution: Nationalist Politics in the West of Ireland, 1891–1921 (Oxford, 2005), 261; Augusteijn, Joost, From Public Defiance to Guerrilla Warfare: The Experience of Ordinary Volunteers in the Irish War of Independence 1916–1921 (Dublin, 1996), 354–56; O'Callaghan, John, Revolutionary Limerick: The Republican Campaign for Independence in Limerick, 1913–1921 (Dublin, 2010), 187–90.

92 Hart, IRA and Its Enemies, 178.

93 Ibid., 165, 171.

94 Hart, I.R.A. at War, 49–50.

95 F. Engels to E. Bernstein, 26 June 1882, in Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederick, On Ireland (Moscow, 1971), 333–37, 333.

96 Times, 6 Feb. 1863.

97 Davis, John A., “Le Guerre del Brigantaggio,” in Isnenghi, Mario and Cecchinato, Eva, eds., Fare l'Italia: Unità e Disunità nel Risorgimento (Turin, 2008), 738–52; Adorni, Daniela, “Il Brigantaggio,” in Violante, Luciano, ed., Storia d'Italia. Annali, 12: La Criminalità (Turin, 1997), 283319, 288; Molfese, Storia del Brigantaggio, 385; Pedio, Tommaso, Brigantaggio Meridionale, 1806–1863 (Cavallino di Lecce, 1987); Scirocco, Alfonso, Il Mezzogiorno nella Crisi dell'Unificazione, 1860–1861 (Naples, 1981).

98 Lupo, L'Unificazione Italiana, 99–129; Dickie, John, Darkest Italy: The Nation and Stereotypes of the Mezzogiorno (New York, 1999), 2552.

99 Lee, Joe, “The Ribbonmen,” in Williams, T. D., ed., Secret Societies in Ireland (Dublin, 1973), 2635, 32.

100 Dal Lago, Enrico, “‘States of Rebellion’: Civil War, Rural Unrest, and the Agrarian Question in the American South and the Italian Mezzogiorno, 1861–1865,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 67 (2005): 403–32, 405.

101 Vaughan, William, Landlords and Tenants in Mid-Victorian Ireland (Oxford, 1994), 194.

102 Hobsbawm, Bandits, 34–39.

103 de Felice, Loretta, “Introduzione,” Fonti per la Storia del Brigantaggio Postunitario Conservate nell'Archivio Centrale dello Stato (Rome, 1998), xiii; Davis, John A., Conflict and Control: Law and Order in Nineteenth-Century Italy (Basingstoke, 1988), 180–82, 223.

104 di Saint Jorioz, Alessandro Bianco, Il Brigantaggio alla Frontiera Pontificia dal 1860 al 1863: Studio Istorico-politico-statistico-morale-militare (Bologna, 1864), 63.

105 Quoted in “Il Brigante nei Documenti d'Archivio,” in de Felice, ed., Fonti per la Storia del Brigantaggio, 446.

106 Dickie, Darkest Italy, 39.

107 La Nazione, 19 Aug. 1861; Il Brigantaggio nelle Province Napoletane: Relazione della Commssione d'Inchiesta Parlamentare letta dal Deputato Massari (Milan, 1863); Bianco di Saint Jorioz, Il Brigantaggio alla Frontiera Pontificia; Bourelly, Giuseppe, Il Brigantaggio dal 1860 al 1865 nelle Zone Militari di Melfi e Lacedonia (Venosa, 1987 [1865]).

108 Times, 6 Feb. 1863; and 21 Sept. 1866.

109 Wood, John Carter, “A Change of Perspective: Integrating Evolutionary Psychology into the Historiography of Violence,” British Journal of Criminology 51 (2011), 479–98; Wiener, Martin, Men of Blood: Violence, Manliness and Criminal Justice in Victorian England (Cambridge, 2004).

110 Luzzatto, “Young Rebels and Revolutionaries,” 209.

111 Gatrell, V.A.C., “Crime, Authority and the Policeman-State,” in McLaughlin, E., Muncie, J., and Hughes, G., eds., Criminological Perspectives (London, 1996), 386–88.

112 Wiener, Martin, “The Victorian Criminalization of Men,” in Spierenburg, P., ed., Men and Violence: Gender, Honor and Rituals in Modern Europe and America (Columbia, 1998), 197212.

113 Pearson, Geoffrey, Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears (London, 1983); Davies, Andrew, “Youth Gangs, Masculinity and Violence in Late-Victorian Manchester and Salford,” Journal of Social History 32 (1998): 349–69.

114 Reidy, Ireland's “Moral Hospital,” 17–30; Osborough, Nial, Borstal, in Ireland: Custodial Provision for the Young Adult Offender, 1906–74 (Dublin, 1975).

115 Conley, Carolyn, Melancholy Accidents: The Meaning of Violence in Post-Famine Ireland (Lanham, Md., 1999), 5.

116 Swift, Roger, “Heroes or Villains? The Irish, Crime, and Disorder in Victorian England,” Albion 29 (1997): 399421, 399, 404; Pearson, Hooligan, 74, 255–56.

117 Stack, John A., “The Provision of Reformatory Schools, the Landed Class, and the Myth of the Superiority of Rural Life in Mid-Victorian England,” History of Education 8 (1979): 3343.

118 Mehta, “Liberal Strategies of Exclusion,” 67.

119 Ibid., 75.

120 Kiberd, Declan, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (London, 1996), 105.

121 Ibid., 114.

122 Trollope, Anthony, The Landleaguers, 3 vols. (New York, 1981), I, 2–3, 63.

123 Ibid., I, 163, 166; III, 122.

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