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The Irish Question

The Irish Question: Two Centuries of Conflict

Lawrence J. McCaffrey
Copyright Date: 1995
Edition: 2
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Irish Question
    Book Description:

    The many dimensions of the Irish Question, 1800−1922, constituted the most emotion-laden problem in British politics, often to the detriment of other imperial interests -- a Gordian knot only severed by the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. In this volume Lawrence J. McCaffrey presents a coherent view of the evolution of Irish nationalism since 1800 and the impact of the Irish Question on British culture, politics, and institutions.

    The emotional nexus of the Irish Question was the religious issue, but McCaffrey believes that nationalism emerged from the attempt of the Irish Protestant minority, supported by Britain, to maintain religious, political, economic, and social ascendancy over a deprived and resentful majority. Although British concessions to Irish agitation removed many grievances -- granting to Ireland virtual religious equality, along with substantial social, economic, and political reforms -- nationalism, often frustrated in its attempts to secure reform and freedom, assumed an increasingly rigid position. Nationalists were not willing to settle for less than self-government, and as constitutional methods failed to achieve this goal, violence seemed the only other alternative.

    The bitter dissensions created by the Irish Question left permanent marks upon British politics and institutions. The efforts of two Prime Ministers, Peel and Gladstone, to resolve the conflict split their parties, thus contributing to political confusion and instability. But the Irish nationalist−British Liberal alliance achieved improvement in the condition of Ireland and speeded advancement of democracy in Britain. And the attempt of British politicians to deal with the economic and social aspects of the Irish Question undermined laissez faire and encouraged the progress of the welfare state in both islands. On the other hand, the challenge of Irish nationalism sustained and stimulated the no-Popery roots of British nativism, making it an influential factor in politics until early in the twentieth century.

    The Irish Question, McCaffrey believes, has particular relevance in our contemporary world of emerging nations, wars of liberation, and tensions between majorities and minorities. Ireland offers an early example of the dreams of cultural nationalists becoming realities and of the sobering fact that ideological revolutionaries often make poor practical politicians.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4832-8
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    In many ways a study of the experience of the British in Ireland and Irish reactions to their unwanted presence provides insights into our world of disappearing empires, emerging nations, cultural conflicts between affluent and underdeveloped countries, and ethnic and religious feuds within and between nations.

    Traditional and popular versions of Irish history have traced the origins and attributed the success of Irish nationalism to the failure of Britain to react adequately or in a timely manner to the basic religious, political, economic, and social needs that created and encouraged opposition to the Union. They have described most British concessions...

  5. 1 Catholic Emancipation, 1800–1829
    (pp. 13-30)

    Although the English were in Ireland as early as the twelfth century, they never gained effective control until Hugh O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone and the leader of Ulster resistance, surrendered to Lord Mountjoy, Queen Elizabeth’s deputy, on March 30, 1603, six days after her death. Elizabeth introduced the most important factor, religion, into the complexity of the Irish Question. Since his church retained traditional theology, the Mass, and the sacraments, Henry VIII’s defiance of papal authority did not greatly disturb Irish Catholics. Elizabeth’s church, however, was Protestant in doctrine and worship, and she planted Protestants on lands seized from...

  6. 2 Repeal, 1829–1845
    (pp. 31-54)

    When O’Connell entered the House of Commons in 1829, most political experts predicted that he would fail in his new role and disappear as a significant factor in British and Irish politics. They said that since it took years to acquire the skills and influence to become a leader in the Commons, he was too old at fifty-four to launch a parliamentary career. According to pundits, a man had to be a skilled debater to command the attention of other MPs. They predicted that while O’Connell's demagogic style, which combined earthiness, blarney, exaggeration, and invective, might impress Irish peasants, it...

  7. 3 Famine, Revolution, Republicanism, 1845–1870
    (pp. 55-74)

    At the beginning of 1845, O’Connell, now approaching seventy and no longer energetic or robust, still chaired Repeal Association meetings. While he had lost his zest for mass agitation, he had proved a clever tactician in responding to Peel’s efforts to destabilize Irish nationalism. Beginning with the dispute between O’Connell and Davis over the Colleges Bill, factionalism disrupted the Repeal Association. Young Irelanders distrusted O’Connell’s renewed flirtation with the Whig party as a cynical betrayal of Irish nationalism. They described his Benthamite Utilitarianism as a materialistic “pig” philosophy, inappropriate to Irish needs or traditions, and they decried the sectarian tone...

  8. 4 Home Rule, 1870–1880
    (pp. 75-92)

    Isaac Butt, Home Rule’s founding father, was born in 1813, the son of a Donegal Protestant vicar. While a brilliant student at Trinity College he cofounded and for a time served as editor of theDublin University Magazine,the most intelligent conservative journal in nineteenth-century Ireland. As previously mentioned, in Butt’s time theDUMpromoted Irish cultural nationalism as an alternative to the political variety. After earning his degree in 1836, Butt stayed on at Trinity to teach political economy and, at the same time, studied for the bar at the King’s Inn. In 1838 Butt resigned his academic position...

  9. 5 Home Rule, 1880–1906
    (pp. 93-109)

    When Parnell took command of the Irish party he was, as president of the National Land League, directing an agrarian agitation that bordered on insurrection. The League’s ultimate goal was peasant proprietorship, but it was prepared to accept secure tenures at fair rents as an intermediate step. Generously endowed by Irish America, in March 1880 the League had over £20,000 available to aid victims of evictions.

    In a September 19, 1880, speech at Ennis, County Clare, Parnell told tenants to hang on to their farms and not to pay unjust rents. And he advised against physically punishing the land-grabbers who...

  10. 6 Home Rule Nationalism, 1906–1914
    (pp. 110-132)

    After a long period of negotiations, in 1900, John Dillon, Justin McCarthy’s successor as anti-Parnellite leader of the Irish party in the Commons, graciously stepped aside, and John Redmond, commander of the small Parnellite minority, became chair of a reunited party. As part of the arrangement, William O’Brien’s United Irish League replaced the Irish National League as the Home Rule organization. The UIL was conceived in 1898 as a movement iri the west to buy out wealthy graziers and distribute their land among farmers. By 1901 it had almost a thousand branches. Irish party unity increased its influence at Westminster,...

  11. 7 The Rose Tree, 1914–1922
    (pp. 133-152)

    John Redmond believed that Ireland’s partlctpation in a moral crusade against German authoritarianism and militarism and in defense of the integrity of small nations such as Belgium would convince Britain that it deserved Home Rule and demonstrate its will and capacity for self-government. Redmond urged Irish Volunteers to enlist in the British army, but Sinn Féiners perceived the conflict between Britain and Germany as a power struggle for empire and not a contest between good and evil. They pointed out that it was Britain not Germany that conquered, occupied, and oppressed Ireland. And they told Irishmen to stay home and...

  12. 8 Unfinished Business, 1922–1995
    (pp. 153-176)

    Collins and Griffith were right, de Valera and his friends were wrong: the Treaty was a “stepping stone” to complete political independence. Under William T. Cosgrave’s Cummann na nGaedheal (Community of Irishmen) government, Ireland entered the League of Nations and articulated an independent foreign policy, appointed ambassadors to and established consulates in other countries, and issued passports. Led by Kevin O’Higgins and Desmond Fitzgerald, Irish delegates to Commonwealth conferences joined those from Canada and South Africa in demanding maximum dominion sovereignty. Due to their efforts, governors general became representatives of the Crown rather than the London government, the Westminster Parliament...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 177-188)

    Contradicting George Santayana’s admonishment that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” the Irish obsession with their past has seemed to guarantee repetition. Many Irish share James Joyce’s view that history “is a nightmare from which I am trying to escape.” G.M. Young, the distinguished historian of Victorian Britain observed that what England “could never remember, Ireland could never forget.” Of course it is much easier for victors than losers to have a memory loss. But a number of recent historians insist that what the Irish remember is myth calculated to preserve and incite bitterness and...

  14. Recommended Reading
    (pp. 189-211)
  15. Index
    (pp. 212-225)