John Mitchel and the slave trade

“When delving into the past Nelson McCausland, you should always make sure to look at the whole picture.”


I always find it intriguing when people exposes the complexities of our past, “Nelson McCausland: Nationalist venerated by GAA clubs was a supporter of the slave trade” (News Analysis 23rd August)

While this exposé is intriguing it is also reminded me of what I was taught as a child: “Half the truth is worse that a lie”.

Nelson rightly exposes the fact that the ‘racist John Mitchel’, as a supporter of slavery, was indeed a Irish republican who, like many modern republicans, did not support ‘respect’ and ‘equality’ in his day.

He has however overlooked some important facts.

Newry hosts a  statue of John Mitchel in the centre of the city, because his father, also John, was a Presbyterian Minister there from 1823-1840.

The most important fact however, overlooked by Nelson, is that John Mitchel married the daughter of a prominent Orangeman, Jane (Jenny) Verner, also an Irish republican, in Drumcree Parish Church on the February 3, 1837.

Jane Verner was one of eight daughters of Sir William Verner of Churchill, County Armagh – the family seat is now better known today as “Peatlands”.

William Verner, who fought with Wellington at Waterloo, was the Grand Master of County Armagh Grand Orange Lodge from 1821 to 1836. Evidently, Jane eloped with John Mitchel while her father was Grand Master of County Armagh.

As well as being a ‘racist’, as Nelson suggests, and evidently pro-slavery, perhaps he was also an early example of political ecumenism?

Yours etc.

Brian Kennaway (Rev)

Author: The Orange Order:A Tradition Betrayed.

This letter appeared as the lead Letter in the Belfast Telegraph on Monday 28 August 2017