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January/February 2015


to the Irish “does him great credit.” Picking up on the story,

the English religious magazine

Church and State Gazette


April 23 lauded Abdülmedjid as a ruler “representing multi-

tudinous Islam populations,” for his “warm sympathy with

a Christian nation.” The article went on to express hope that

“such sympathies, in all the genial charities of common hu-

manity, be cultivated and henceforth ever be maintained be-

tween the followers of the cross and the crescent!” Six years

later, during the Crimean conflict, as some in England ques-

tioned the appropriateness of a Christian nation coming to the

aid of a Muslim one to thwart Russian ambition, others dem-

onstrated that those “genial charities of common humanity”

were indeed not forgotten.

“There seems to be great stress laid upon the argument that

the Sultan, not being a Christian ... why should we support him,

&c.?” wrote Jack Robinson of Wolverhampton in a letter to the

editor of the

Daily News

in November 1853. “I beg to remind

some people ... how very like a Christian he behaved when the

famine raged in Ireland.”


hat Abdülmedjid sent £1,000 to Ireland, then,

is well documented. But what of the ships

loaded with grain? Here, teasing fact from

fiction becomes more difficult, yet there is

circumstantial evidence to suggest that his

gift may have exceeded £1,000.

A July 21, 1849, article in the American news weekly

The Albion

stated that “the Sultan originally offered to send

£10,000 to Ireland,

as well as some ships laden with provi-


” (emphasis added). A similar story, “Royal Etiquette

and Its Consequences,”

on page two of the Sep-

tember 29, 1849, edi-

tion of

The Brooklyn

Daily Eagle

, reported

that “whilst famine was

doing its deadly work

in Ireland, the Turk-

ish Sultan, Abdul Med-

jid Khan, proposed to

make a donation of ten

thousand pounds,


to send vessels laden

with provisions

, for

the relief of the starv-

ing Irish” (again, em-

phasis added). In the

fourth volume of


and Times of Sir Rob-

ert Peel

, published

in 1851, biographer

Charles Mackay makes

the same claim: that the

Sultan intended to send

£10,000 “besides some

ship-loads of provi-

sions.” Some years later,

in 1880, Irish patriot

Charles Stewart Par-

nell—no friend of the British Crown—put an even finer point

on the matter: Victoria, he claimed, had the Turkish grain

ships intercepted along with their cargo, valued at £6,000.

Parnell further declared that Victoria sent Ireland no money

at all—which does cast doubt on his whole story. His false

claims were immediately rebuked by none other than Lord

Randolph Churchill—father of Winston—as part of an on-

going feud between the two men that played out in the pages

of the English and Australian press. More recently, Irish au-

thor Ted Greene, in his commemorative volume

Drogheda: Its

Place in Ireland’s History

, published in 2006, makes the un-

attributed assertion that Victoria “stepped in by preventing

the ships entering, first Cobh [Cork], and then Belfast harbour

but they finally succeeded to dock secretly in the small port

of Drogheda and deliver the food

’” (original emphasis).

From “some ships laden with provisions” to three ships

“secretly” docking in Drogheda, the story has grown over the

years from what may have been an unrealized gesture on Ab-

dülmedjid’s part—to add some food to his donation of money—

to a covert operation to slip shiploads of grain past British cus-

toms authorities. In either case, this particular chapter of the

story raises doubts in Kinealy’s mind.

“It just doesn’t make sense. If he was asked not to give more

than the Queen, and wanted to have a closer alliance with Great

Britain, why would he risk sending three ships surreptitiously

with the potential to offend his ally?” she contends.

But from a Turkish Muslim point of view, says Ahmet

Ö reten, assistant professor of history at Kastamonu University

in northern Turkey, the move made sense.

“It was a common custom among Muslims that if you said

you are giving a dona-

tion, but are only per-

mitted to give part of it,

you don’t take the rest

of the money back. You

find a way to deliver the

whole donation, one

way or another,” says

Ö reten, who is prepar-

ing a study on the epi-

sode. His belief that

the Sultan would have

made good on his origi-

nal pledge out of a sense

of religious duty is re-

flected in the Reverend

Henry Christmas’s 1854

biography of Abdülme-

djid. “I am compelled by

my religion to observe

Today, nearly 70,000

people live in Drogheda

and its environs, including

many who commute to

Dublin. As a historic port,

it has long been infused

with influences from

abroad, such as fast-food

grilled kebab—a staple of

Turkish cuisine.