Ruaírí Ó Domhnaill reviews Home Rule: an Irish history 1800-2000 by Alvin Jackson, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25 hbk
GENERALLY, HOME Rule is regarded as beginning in 1870 to the 1918 general election, when the Redmondite party lost all but six parliamentary seats. Professor Jackson has extended the idiom to encompass O’Connell’s campaign for repeal of the Act of Union, via The Government of Ireland Act 1920, to the end of the 20th century.
He also demonstrates that some neglected historical events were influential in his longer history of Home Rule. To his “eternal credit,” the author clearly acknowledges what most of his profession ignore, that the loyalists ruthlessly instituted the tyranny of the (ersatz) majority — their feigned great fear in 1911.
“Neglected” events are epitomised by the 1916 Lloyd George negotiations, the Irish Convention of 1917, and the ensuing promotion in Britain of federalism. (Ironically the 1916 talks may have hastened the demise of the nationalist party, but Lloyd George’s War Memoirs claimed that they saved his life, when he abandoned his trip with Kitchener to Russia.)
The account of the Boundary Commission is among the most informative and for those who lived through the post-1967 era of political blood and barter the author presents a comprehensive picture, compared with those of the contemporary news media.
The author’s portraits of Isaac Butt, John Dillon, Walter Long, Terence O’Neill and David Trimble with his “principled pragmatism” are also invaluable, as is the exposition of Parnell’s vision of Home Rule, which reconciles his leadership of the Irish with his membership of the landlord class.
Sensitive souls may detect a degree of condescension in the references to Irish Catholicism and to the “Edwardian” Home Rule movement. Loyalist and British iconography escape comment.
In similar vein, Salisbury’s attack on the Gaeil is dismissed as “genially outrageous loyalist oratory”. It should be judged in context, described in Douglas, Harte and O’Hara’s explicit Drawing Conclusions and in the first chapter of Hickman’s superlative Religion Class and Identity.
The extraordinary claim that this “book documents for the first time the full extent of the Tory involvement in the militant resistance to Home Rule” is, of course, unfulfilled. There is no shortage of first-class accounts of aspects of Home Rule, but none addresses Jackson’s longer history of the topic.
However, in this work, Major-General Henry Wilson’s relationship with Andrew Bonar Law, among others goes unmentioned. “The philosopher and leader of the Imperial movement”, Leopold Amery, Lord Roberts and ‘Galloper’ Smith are but passing references.
Paradoxically, the author is emphatic that the Curragh “episode” is “wrongly” termed a “mutiny”; he contradicts himself within a few pages. The leading authority on this immediate topic manages this within the same sentence.
This valuable contribution to historiography articulates novel interpretations of Irish history. It is underpinned by what must have been painstaking research, but as intimated above, it hardly stands in isolation.
Ireland has been subordinate to the English 'Nod-and-Wink' constitution, which has assumed an iconic status internationally. Bagehot addressed its mythology in 1867 in The English Constitution.
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