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Dispatched during the ominous buildup to the Crimean

War (1853-56)—when Russian threats inspired an Ottoman

alliance with England—Effendi’s report further speculated that

“[i]f there’s an Irishman” serving under Admiral William Parker,

commander of the British Mediterranean fleet, “we feel sure

that the son of the Emerald Isle will, in the moment of battle,

remember the Sultan’s well-timed and noble generosity; and

be the enemy whom it may, Paddy in mere gratitude will then

strike hard and


While there is no evidence that McCarthy the physician

personally informed the Sultan of the famine, there would have

been no need. Since 1847 the devastation had been worldwide

news that inspired equally global outreach.

“There was an incredible international relief effort, with con-

tributions coming in from all across the world, from Caracas to

Cape Town to Melbourne to Madras,” says Christine Kinealy,

director of Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute at Quinnipiac Uni-

versity in Con-

necticut. While

the British govern-


under Trevelyan’s

more sympathet-

ic predecessor, Sir

Robert Peel—was

providing millions

of pounds of relief

in the form of various programs such as workhouses, Kinealy

notes that private donations also “played a significant part” in

the overall effort. Foremost among private donors were secure-

ly middle-class English and American Quakers who helped es-

tablish soup kitchens in various Irish towns and cities. Yet the

most moving and impressive foreign donations, Kinealy points

out, came from those who were equally as poor as the famine-

stricken Irish.

“In India, there were carpet-sweepers, who were the low-

est-paid workers in the country, who sent money to Ireland. In

America, the Choctaw and Cherokee Indian nations also sent

money,” she says.

Entrusted with channeling

private donations was the Brit-

ish Association for the Relief

of Distress in Ireland and the

Highlands of Scotland, which

was commonly known as the

British Relief Association, or


, and was established in

January 1847. In its annual

report of 1849, the organiza-

tion commended “His Imperial

Majesty, the Sultan, a subscrib-

er of 1,000


., whose munificent

example was followed in his

own and other states by many,

whose sole ties with the peo-

ple of Great Britain were those

of sympathy, humanity and

the brotherhood of mankind.”

Other contributions from with-

in the Ottoman Empire included a general collection taken

up in Constantinople amounting to £450.11s. and £283 sent

by the local chapter of the Conference of St. Vincent de Paul



), a Catholic charity.



report included the transcript of a letter, now ar-

chived in Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace, in which a host of Irish

gentry and clergy thanked Abdülmedjid


for his generos-

ity. The text of the highly stylized document, written on vel-

lum and decorated with shamrock-and-heather motifs, com-

mends the Sultan for aiding “the suffering and afflicted inhab-

itants of Ireland,” and “displaying a worthy example to other

great nations in Europe.” Flattered by the letter, Abdülmedjid


reportedly responded: “It gave me great pain when I heard of

the sufferings of the Irish people. I would have done all in my

power to relieve their wants.... In contributing to [their] relief,

I only listened to the dictates of my own heart; but it was also

my duty to show my sympathy for the sufferings of a portion

of the subjects of

her Majesty the

Queen of Eng-

land, for I look

upon England as

the best and truest

friend of Turkey.”

Not surpris-

ingly, hidden in

plain sight be-

tween the lines of this mutual admiration is diplomacy. The

Irish letter respectfully acknowledges the “vast territo-

ries” under the Sultan’s influence while Abdülmedjid’s warm

characterization of England is a thinly veiled appeal to the

Crown for support at a time when Russia’s Tsar Nicholas


was threatening war against him.

The headlines of the day nevertheless praised Abdülmed-

jid. “Irish Distress—Turkish Sympathy” declared

The Nenagh


on April 21, 1847, while four days earlier Dublin’s

The Nation

had hailed the friendship between “The Sultan

and the Irish People.” Even the cautiously conservative Lon-



that same day declared that the Sultan’s generosity

The Drogheda quay today, along the Boyne River, near its mouth on the Irish Sea.

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