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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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