When journalist Laura Trevelyan, was working in Northern Ireland in the 1990s she was ‘constantly surprised by the amount of people who knew about Charles Trevelyan and the impact that the famine has in Ireland, more than 150 years later’.
For instance, when she was interviewing a member of Sinn Fein in south Armagh she was asked if she was related to Charles Trevelyan (she’s his great-great-great-granddaughter). She was then asked ‘how I could live in Ireland when I had the blood of the Irish on my hands’.
Laura Trevelyan, curious about this famous relative of whom she knew so little, went on to investigate his life, and the lives of other members of the Trevelyan family, the result of which was her book A Very British Family: The Trevelyans and their World. Although she acknowledges the British policy toward Ireland as indefensible in the modern context, she points to other more positive examples of his legacy, such as his work on the meritocratic entry system into the British civil service.
At the Irish Famine Summer School, which runs in Strokestown Park House from the 15th to the 19th June, we will be staging a mock trial of Charles Trevelyan at Strokestown Courthouse. There will be an opportunity to take both sides of the argument into consideration in a courtroom setting.
Laura Trevelyan suggests that some historians have portrayed Trevelyan as ‘someone who wanted the Irish to die’ whereas really he was a providentialist who saw the famine as the will of God. He laboured long hours trying to work out how relief policies could be best implemented. And yet, in his own writings, we find statements such as “the greatest evil we have to face is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the Irish people.”
Professor Christine Kinealy, founding director of the Great Hunger Institute in Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, who is speaking at the Irish Famine Summer School this year, said of Charles Trevelyan in her book A Death Dealing Famine: The Great Hunger in Ireland:
“There was a greatly inadequate response from the government – and from Charles Trevelyan – and it is a mistake to see him in a more favourable light than his actions permit.”
Why not come decide for yourself?
The Irish Famine Summer School at evocative Strokestown Park House and the Irish National Famine Museum runs from June 14th to 19th. Various events are free. Others like out of town trips, The Trial of Charles Trevelyan and the Conference Dinner can be paid for separately without registering for the conference. To see our full programme and to book your place please go to http://irishfaminesummerschool.com/