Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Grattan's Failure: Parliamentary Opposition and the People in Ireland 1779-1800 by Danny Mansergh (foreword by Thomas Bartlett), Irish Academic Press, ISBN 0 7165 2815, £39.50/€49.50 hbk
THOSE MORE interested in the popular aspects of Irish history often ignore Henry Grattan (1746-1820) and the impact of the Dublin parliament between 1780 and the Act of Union. The so-called "romances" of the conquests and the various uprisings seize the attention more readily than the parliamentary struggles in Ireland. Grattan is highly important to an understanding of Irish history.
Born in Dublin, graduated as a lawyer from TCD, Grattan agitated for the legislative independence of the Irish parliament, sought Catholic emancipation and strongly opposed union with the London parliament in 1800. He was in England when the uprising of 1798 took place and was accused of sympathising with the objectives of the United Irishmen.
Dr Mansergh has produced a detailed and thoroughly researched account of Grattan's career, posing the question whether he was a far-sighted liberal or a dangerous agitator who mixed parliamentary politics with radical ideology that bordered on revolution.
What becomes clear is that the Whigs in the Irish parliament were not as impotent and irrelevant as is frequently claimed by historians who skip briefly over Dublin's parliamentary endeavours to concentrate on the personalities and actions of the United Irishmen and their enemies.
Grattan's role in broadening popular participation in the Dublin assembly, and his vision of legislative independence, is often considered as the foundation of the Irish constitution of 1782-1800. It is ignored that he also played his part in creating the conditions for the destruction of the Irish parliament as it was quickly subverted by English bribes, both financial and with titles, military ranks and positions of power, so that it would vote itself our of existence.
The Scottish poet Robbie Burns had said of the union of the parliament of his own country Scotland with England: "We're bought and sold for English gold, such a parcel of rogue in a nation."
That was also true of the Dublin parliament of 1800.
This book answers many questions behind the underlying causes of the uprising of 1798 and the Act of Union of 1800.
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2006 Peter Berresford Ellis