From Observer to Participant: James Redpath Covers the Irish Land War in 1880

Patrick Maume
Dictionary of Irish Biography/Royal Irish Academy

The Berwick-born American journalist and former abolitionist James Redpath (1833-91) came to Ireland in February 1880 to report for the New York Tribune on the expenditure of funds by the rival charitable bodies appealing for famine relief. Within a short time he came to see the Land League as a replay of the anti-slavery struggle, writing fierce accounts of Irish poverty and landlord and police oppression. On a second visit in May-November 1880 he combined reporting for American newspapers with making speeches at public meetings, was accused of incitement to murder by British and unionist politicians, successfully popularised the term “boycott” and narrowly escaped being arrested and placed on trial together with Davitt and Parnell. He subsequently became one of the most influential spokesmen for the Land League in America.

This paper looks in detail at Redpath’s commitment to the Irish nationalist cause (of which he had previously been suspicious because of Irish-American hostility to abolitionism, the association of Catholicism with political conservatism, and his experience of reporting on the anti-Chinese populist movement led by Denis Kearny in San Francisco) by detailed examination of his 1880 articles for the Tribune, and discusses how his views reflect nineteenth-century Anglo-American radical critiques of aristocratic influence and how his Carlylean mindset was influenced by his lapsed Presbyterianism, his sense of his Border reiver ancestry, and his view of leading Land Leaguers as prophet-heroes resembling his former associate John Brown (whose official biography he had written).

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900