Laura Trevelyan, a descendant of Sir Charles Trevelyan, said her family would have to consider reparations for the Irish Famine if the Irish government made a request to the British government.

Trevelyan, a former BBC journalist now based in the US, was speaking with host Mark Simpson on BBC Radio's "The Nolan Show" on Monday, May 1, a few months after her family issued an apology and promised reparations to Grenada for their ancestors' role in the Caribbean slave trade.

She said on Monday: “I think especially if you do what I’ve done now, which is you go out there and say ‘we need to confront our past’ then, of course, I have to be able to answer questions from people who say ‘well, if you’re going to apologize for the role of your family and enslaving people in Grenada and you’re going to pay reparations, then why aren’t you doing the same with the Irish Famine?'

“That is a completely legitimate question.”

Trevelyan's great-great-great-grandfather Sir Charles Trevelyan was the senior British civil servant in charge of Irish famine relief in the 1840s, the height of the Great Hunger in Ireland which killed one million people and saw another million people leave the country.

In light of the family's formal apology and promise of reparations to Grenada, questions about potential reparations to Ireland have arisen.

“I think if the Irish government said the Trevelyan family are liable for what Sir Charles Edward did, then, of course, that [reparations] would have to be considered," Trevelyan said on Monday.

However, while Trevelyan acknowledged her ancestor's "controversial" role in the Irish Famine, she was keen to point out that Sir Charles Trevelyan and the wider family were acting in a private capacity during the slave trade in the Caribbean, while Charles was acting as a British government official during the Famine.

When asked if the Trevelyan family would consider paying anything to Ireland, she said: “I guess if there was an intergovernmental request, which is the case with the Caribbean.

"The Caribbean has a ten-point plan and it wants the former colonial powers, of which Britain is a chief one, to apologize for enslaving Africans and shipping them to the Caribbean and there’s a formal request for the British government to pay reparations in terms of education, healthcare, and debt relief for the Caribbean.

“Now, to the best of my knowledge, there isn’t an intergovernmental request from the Irish government to the British for reparations to be paid for the Famine because of the action of officials like Sir Charles.

“The distinction I would make is that in the Caribbean, my Trevelyan ancestors were acting for private profit, enslaving people, getting profits from the sugar cane plantations, whereas Charles was acting as an official for the British government and the British government did in 1997 acknowledge his failures and the failures of others as part of a wider jigsaw puzzle leading up to the Good Friday Agreement.”

The Famine Memorial in Dublin, Ireland. (Getty Images)

The Famine Memorial in Dublin, Ireland. (Getty Images)

History facebook
IrishCentral History

Love Irish history? Share your favorite stories with other history buffs in the IrishCentral History Facebook group.

In June 1997, then-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a statement, saying: "Those who governed in London at the time failed their people through standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive human tragedy.

"That one million people should have died in what was then part of the richest and most powerful nation in the world is something that still causes pain as we reflect on it today.″

Trevelyan noted on Monday: “I did publicly acknowledge in 2006 the fraught and controversial role of Sir Charles Edward in the Famine and that 1997 statement by Tony Blair I would wholeheartedly endorse about the Famine.

“When he said those who governed in London at the time, and that is Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan who was the British official in charge of Famine relief, they failed their people by standing by while a crop failure turned into a massive human tragedy.

“There’s absolutely no denying that, and the British government’s statement in 1997 was an important part of the choreography leading up to the Good Friday Agreement. It was part of that reconciliation that had to take place between the British and Irish governments because this was such a painful part of the history.

“I would absolutely publicly acknowledge the fraught legacy and completely support that statement by Tony Blair.”

Elsewhere in the BBC Radio interview, Simpson asked Trevelyan about the Irish ballad "The Fields of Athenry," which references her great-great-great-grandfather and has become hugely popular over the last two decades or so.

The song says in part:

"By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young girl calling
'Michael, they have taken you away
For you stole Trevelyan's corn
So the young might see the morn
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay'"

Trevelyan said that “interestingly” she has not had “The Fields of Athenry" sung to her in Irish America, only in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.