Irish Fake News in 1887

The concept of fake news reported in the media is not a new thing. For time immemorial, journalists with the power to promote their opinions to the masses have abused this privilege. Modern-day social media has just highlighted this phenomenon with the likes of President Trump never happy if some journo or blogger dares to question his scary New World Order.

Back in 1887, in Ireland, Tory or Conservative politicians were being bombarded with cries for help from mega-wealthy landlords whose poverty-stricken (mainly Catholic) tenants could not afford to pay their exorbitant annual rents to occupy their ancestral homesteads. Westminster rapidly passed laws to permit violently enforceable evictions of debt-ridden tenants on Irish country estates. The right-wing Press did its bit to convince the world that Catholics were “bad” and part of a dying religion, while Protestantism was the way forward for all God-fearing decent folk. In other words, Catholics deserved what Catholics got, however brutally delivered – because they were not rich and didn’t live in mansions, and establish newspapers and promote capitalism.

I spotted the article below originally written by an Irish Times journalist in January 1887. On first reading, it seems to simply state a few indisputable statistics – but on closer examination, you can see how the numbers were manipulated to present a rosy picture to blinkered Protestant readers which was far from the truth. Fake news at its worst.

Hang on a minute ..

Let’s review those facts:

  • An increase of 45 million Protestants worldwide to 150M represents a quadrupling. Really? More like a tripling, or thereabouts, I’d say.
  • By comparison, an increase of 60M Catholics to “only” 180M total represents a gain of one-fifth. No – there are one fifth more Catholics than Protestants worldwide according to these uncorroborated figures. The Catholic population has actually increased by 50%.
  • 75% of Protestants can speak English in 1881. How wonderful! If only he could get those German founders of the religion to speak English, then the reporter could really boast about his righteous Anglican religion.
  • 168,500,000 of Catholics could not speak English in 1881. How awful. Shocking!
  • In 1801, about a third of the British & Irish population were Catholics. Probably about right – and no problem to any true Christian – BUT …
  • The author of this piece reckons that 91% of the remaining population were Protestant. I would dispute that. There were several religious denominations in 1801, and a fair proportion of agnostics and pagans.
  • The population of the British Isles trebled from 1801 to 1881. The population of predominantly Catholic Ireland halved – but this is not mentioned.
  • Some called it a natural disaster, others genocide – but the mid-19th century Great Famine of Ireland is not referenced in the Irish Times religious survey report. 1.5 million Irish Catholics were wiped off the island’s population statistics within a few years, a million of whom suffered avoidable premature death; a further 1.5 million disappeared during the following decades through continued enforced migration.

A left-wing Catholic reporter in 1887 could have summed up the stats as follows:

Following the cruelest of extermination plots, the Catholic population of Ireland remains at around 3.5 million, as it was at the start of the century. More remarkably, the percentage of Protestants in the British Isles has not changed significantly during this time despite the faith’s followers not having to endure mass starvation.

Which variation is fake news?

Gearoid O’Neary is not aligned with either denomination mentioned above. He prefers to focus on the truth.