Irish Nationalists and the Making of the Irish Race
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Since the Irish were a dispersed people, this process unfolded not only in Ireland, but in the United States, Britain, Australia, South Africa, and other countries.
Many nationalists were determined to repudiate anything that could interfere with the goal of building a united movement aimed at achieving full independence for Ireland. But others, including men and women who are at the heart of this study, believed that the Irish struggle must create a more inclusive sense of Irish nationhood and stand for freedom everywhere.
Nelson pays close attention to this argument within Irish nationalism, and to the ways it resonated with nationalists worldwide, from India to the Caribbean. Project MUSE promotes the creation and dissemination of essential humanities and social science resources through collaboration with libraries, publishers, and scholars worldwide. Forged from a partnership between a university press and a library, Project MUSE is a trusted part of the academic and scholarly community it serves. Built on the Johns Hopkins University Campus.
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Irish Nationalists and the Making of the Irish Race
Part 1. The Making of the Irish Race pp.
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Prologue: Arguing about the Irish Race pp. A sec- ond school of history was tied into the cultural momentum associated with the resur- gence of interest in the Irish race and nation2. As the debate on the floor of the House of Commons showed, the use of history in relation to Ireland in the period under study was as much a political issue as it was an academic one.
This chapter will begin by examining the major Unionist historians of Ireland in the 19th century, J. It will then examine the growth of popu- lar history in Ireland and the politicisation of history in the later 19th century by both Unionists and Nationalists, and the impact of this on the writing and teaching of his- tory.
Finally it will examine the development of Irish nationalist historiography in the early years of the 20th century, subsequently enshrined as othodoxy by the Irish Free State after its foundation in A central figure in the development of Irish historiography in the later 19th century was James Anthony Froude.
Born in Darlington Rectory in Devon in , after a harsh upbringing he found his way to Oxford University. Influenced by J.
Newman and the Tractarian movement, he soon rejected it, choosing to approve of the English Reformation and its doctrines, as well as German theological scholarship. He visited Ireland a number of times. A second sojourn in Ireland in coincided with his decision not to become an Anglican priest: he chose instead the role of writer. Heavily influenced by Carlyle, he wrote a history of the English Reformation.
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The s were given over to a wide range of writings, including a novel based on his reading of Irish history, The Two Chiefs of Dunboy, published in It was because of his lonely childhood, a sense of moral righteousness, and a need to defend the British Empire that, in the summer months of , he took a house in the south-west of Ireland and wrote The English of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century.
The twin problems, the Irish perceved as inferior to the English, and the inefficiency of English rule in Ireland were seen by Froude as being at the heart of the Irish problem. These basic points were set out at the beginning of the book, and the three volume his- tory that followed was simply written to reinforce those views. He viewed the Irish, by which he meant everyone on the island except the Ulster Presbyterians, as being innately incapable of self-government and destined to be ruled by a superior race, the English.
The one person who had meted out true justice to the Irish, accord- ing to Froude, was Oliver Cromwell, who had protected the industrious, the honest and the worthy4. It is also true to say that Froude was reflecting not only the racist views of his intellectual mentor Thomas Carlyle, his own sense of what it meant to be an active citizen in the British Empire, but also the long legacy of history-writing associated with English colonists in Ireland stretching back to Edmund Spenser in the 16th century5.
If Froude is perceived as the great offender in 19th century Irish historiography, then W. Lecky was something of the grand old man of Irish history. He was the first to use the archival sources from the State Paper Office in London as well as the archives of Dublin Castle, and he also introduced the extensive archives at Brussels and Simancas to an Eng- lish-reading public.
Natural- ly this antagonised the Dublin establishment, and Froude was heavily criticised, most notably by the historian W. Lecky in particular attacked Froude, considering his history flawed, a polemic against liberalism and reform, and a panegyric to unbending author- ity and brute force. What is clear from all three reviewers is that, while they were politically close to Froude and his views on the Union and the place of Ireland and the Irish within the United Kingdom, they felt he had written a failed polemic that was in danger of discrediting their own position.
Furthermore, his use of history had debased it, and there was a need to restore history writing on Ireland to a more objective and scientific level. Lecky was born on 26 March in Newtownpark, County Dublin. His father lived comfortably off landed estates in south-eastern Ireland, and Lecky, after moving through a number of schools in the British Isles, arrived in Trinity College Dublin in , and became good friends with a number of men who would become the political and judicial elite in Dublin during the later 19th century.
His most enduring work was his History of England in the Eighteenth Century eight volumes, , for which he did a lot of archival work, particularly in Dublin, where he crafted his chapters on Ireland to refute Froude. In particular, he viewed the constitution of , and the independent Irish parliament of the time as the highpoint of English rule in Ireland, where careful aristocratic government shielded the country against more radical and blood-thirsty elements.
Indeed his views on 19th-century politics come to the fore in many passages, indicating his own political viewpoints very clearly. Few things can be more grotesquely absurd than to suppose that the merits or demerits, the failure of the success, of the old Irish parliament has any real bearing on modern schemes for reconstructing the government of Ireland on a revolutionary or Jacobin basis; entrusting the protection of property and the maintenance of law to some democratic assembly con- sisting mainly of Fenians and land-leaguers, of paid agitators and penniless adventurers However, in seeking to provide a balanced and objective history of Ireland, Lecky pro- vided both Nationalists and Unionists with plenty of ammunition.
It is, perhaps, telling that in the s, as the political landscape became more divided between Nationalists and Unionists, Lecky was the first to congratulate Froude when he got the Regius Chair of History at Oxford in While history was progressing slowly in the universities and very much along the lines enunciated by Froude and Lecky, bemoaning the lack of integration of Ireland into the wider British polity , other forces were at work, utilising Irish history for their own mainly political ends.
Indeed Irish nationalism evolved in an environment with a large number of enthusiastic adherents As part of this rise in popular culture, the act of reading proved to be one of the most efficient ways of imparting and reinforcing a set of cultures different from the metropolitan-centred culture located in London. Reading, both books and news- papers, had long been a political act in Ireland Newspaper reading in particular, as Hegel wryly noted, served modern man as a substitute for morning prayers. The advantages to organizations that were not part of the establishment were clear, and newspapers were just one of the means used to recruit and inculcate na- tionalist values among a wide audience.
Irish literature and Irish history were naturally going to form the bedrock of doctrine for young nationalists, and this history would be at odds with that expounded by Froude and Lecky. One of the central cultural institutions for nationalist organisations was the reading room. It offered not only a convenient location to provide reading material, but also a means of social interaction for Nationalists. From the s, reading rooms were asso- ciated with a number of nationalist associations in Ireland. From the Temperance and Repeal reading rooms, to the literary societies of the s, to the Land League reading rooms of the s, and on to the Gaelic League and more radical organizations from the s onwards, these housed a ready audience for a national as opposed to a pro- vincial or regional reading of Irish history.
From the 16th century the Irish language was excluded from the worlds of commerce, politics, official religion, the professions and the printed word. Although a small number of literate Gaelic Irish language speakers remained, there was no market for Irish language books. Literacy in the Irish language was only maintained through circulating manuscripts, and was chiefly of interest only to antiquarians. As Mary E. The demand for English seemed strongest along the west coast, paradoxically where the least number of English speakers lived. Patrick Keenan, Inspector of National Schools, noted on a tour of schools on islands of the north-west coast of Ireland in the s: On Inishboffin people up to thirty years come to school.
This passion may be traced to one predominant desire — the desire to speak English. Irish people wished to play an active role in the state, and understood that to get on in life they needed English. The National School system the system of primary education established in Ireland in has been associated with the spreading of the English language in Ireland, nationalist polemicists complained that the system had killed off the Irish language21; however, it is clear this process was underway long before the establishment of the National School system, with people needing English to get state jobs, operate businesses and, as was the case for increasing numbers, to facilitate emigration to English speaking areas around the world.
The demand for cheap reading material in English increased dramatically at the end of the 18th century, and one source, particularly in rural areas, was book pedlars who sold chapbooks22 [explain], and private circulating libraries, usually run by literary clubs These chapbooks were usually rip-roaring tales, mainly based on early English novels. Patrick Dublin, — but they fell into the general pattern of adventure stories or morality tales The organization soon became a mass movement, with hundreds of thousands of members across the country.
The ben- efits of sobriety included reading and thinking, and for nationalists this meant a greater understanding of injustice and politics. Many newspaper editors argued for adherence to the Temperance Movement as part of a wider nationalist agenda. The more the masses are educated, the weaker — the more palpable — must become the fraud and villainy of those who have enslaved and plundered them With the main objects of this Society have also been united, in the last year, useful and desirable efforts for the revival of the Irish language, literature and music Every district with 2, members was entitled to levy a fee of one shilling on members to run a reading room, and Repeal wardens would ensure that appropriate newspa- pers and books were stocked in the reading room.
The editor of this newspaper, Thomas Davis, was the strongest advocate of the reading rooms, and in his first issue of the newspaper set out the ideals by which the newspaper operated: Nationality is our great object — a Nationality which will not only raise our people from their poverty by securing to them the blessings of a domestic legislation … a Nationality which may embrace Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, Milesian and Cromwellian, the Irishmen of a hundred generations and the stranger who is within our gates He also called for a history of Ireland to be written in a true and concise style, using history to unify the Irish rather than to divide as heretofore: The writer of such an Irish history must feel a love for all sects, a philosophical eye to the merits and demerits of all, and a solemn and haughty impartiality in speaking of all … Such a work would have no passing influence, though its first political effect would be enormous; it would be read by every class and side; for there is no readable book on the subject … Think, reader!
Has God given you the soul and perseverance to create this marvel? Drawing on a strong antiquarian and romantic tradition, and inspired by similar nationalist movements in Europe, Irish nationalists sought to create a national history that could be used to inspire further generations in the struggle for independence. Foster puts it: In late nineteenth century Ireland, egalitarianism was said to have flowered in the Celtic mists, much as in English democracy was supposed to have flourished in the Teutonic forests. As professional historians we can ignore both myths; as revisionists, Irish scholars have gone so far as to dismiss most of the canon of Irish history as conceived by the generation of In essence, these historians were writing primarily for an Irish audience rather than — as Froude and Lecky had done — for an English audience , and created a history that was nationalist rather than regionalist in outlook.
Books such as A. Cultural nationalism in Ireland made huge strides in the s and early 20th century, and there were a number of movements which pushed Ireland away from being a region or province dependent on London for culture towards being a more irredentist, mono- theistic state which it became in the course of the s and s, and history-writing and the place of Irish history played its part in this process. The development of an Anglo-Irish literary movement was one aspect of this, as was the revival of the Irish lan- guage associated with Connradh na Gaeilge The Gaelic League , and the c.
Academic enquiry and drawing-room antiquarianism combined with street theatre and public festival in the Gaelic League to create a nationalist meta-narrative that was respect- able and defensible, if incomplete. League classes and feiseanna [entertainments] widely disseminated this teleological interpretation of the nation-in-formation, but the long-term impact of the revival on history education was even more direct because of another and less well-known league innovation — the Gaelic summer colleges Established in , primarily to provide a grounding in the Irish language for national school teachers, these Gaelic summer schools also provided a nationalist history for those teachers, and for adult classes in the mainly English-speaking towns.