1916: a Catholic revolt against Redmondite elite?

Paul Bew argues that Mary McAleese’s speech in Cork recently was a retrospective explusion of John Redmond from the Irish body politic. He goes on to tackle the President on her critical mention of that former haven of the Anglo Irish elite, the Kildare Street Club:

Harvard University Press has just republished Gustave de Beaumont’s celebrated and highly sympathetic 19th-century text Ireland – Social, Political and Religious. As early as 1863, de Beaumont is able to point out that eight of the 12 High Court judges in Ireland were Catholic.

It is true that even in 1916 there were pockets of anti-Catholic discrimination in Dublin but the fact remains that the peculiarity of the Rising lies in the fact that it is a largely Catholic revolution, one of whose principal targets was the Catholics who had already gone through the glass ceiling.

John Redmond, for example, who had turned down a position in the British cabinet; those dozens of UCD doctors who served in the British army and were highly decorated in the first World War; those Catholic officials who worked at the apex of British administration in Ireland. These were the people who were about to inherit the political leadership of a home rule Ireland, and these were the people who were knocked out of place by the insurgents.

Inevitably the insurgents had to gain popular appeal by intensifying the sense of religious and historical grievance, the reasons for which are outlined in de Beaumont’s book. The Redmondite elite, on the other hand, believed that the moment was coming which would allow a genuine reconciliation between Ireland and Britain and Protestant and Catholic.

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  • Roger

    The leaders of the Easter Rising may not have been fascist, but- with the exception of Connolly, whose theories and beliefs were opposed to those of everyone else- they were undoubtedly elitist. They were acting as the “true” Irish people and would transform the rest in their image. They even succeeded partly, changing the non-Unionist political ground to terms that they defined, even if they had little cultural impact.
    The claim to truly represent the “Irish people” and what they ouhght to want and to override or remake democracy continued in republican circles- see Ernie O’Malley for a very good example

  • aquifer

    “I have a strong impression that to its enemies, both in Ireland and abroad, Irish nationalism looked like a version of the imperialism it opposed, a sort of ’imperialism lite’ through which Ireland would attempt to be what the Great European powers were – the domination of one cultural and ethnic tradition over others.”

    A fair view of Devalera’s Republic? Even its early go slow solo economic policies and belfast boycotts could have been calculated to promote the exit of protestants even more than the exit of the catholics travelling to England to achieve a living.

  • “As early as 1863, de Beaumont is able to point out that eight of the 12 High Court judges in Ireland were Catholic.”

    Interesting statistic. If a headcount is a satisfactory indicator of equality then I would like to see a wider range of samples across the professions and, perhaps more appropriately, amongst the poorer sections of society.

    “It is true that even in 1916 there were pockets of anti-Catholic discrimination in Dublin but the fact remains that the peculiarity of the Rising lies in the fact that it is a largely Catholic revolution, one of whose principal targets was the Catholics who had already gone through the glass ceiling.”

    This is extrapolative conjecture. There is no documentation to suggest that the above was the agenda of the 1916 proclamation signatories.

    “and these were the people who were knocked out of place by the insurgents.”

    As far as I aware, the civil service and professions remained largely unchanged after independence. Many of the political elite moved on to post-independence parties (Cumann na nGael). I would argue that displacement of the kind discussed by Bew was minimal, which is remarkable for any revolution.

    “The Redmondite elite, on the other hand, believed that the moment was coming which would allow a genuine reconciliation between Ireland and Britain and Protestant and Catholic.”

    The Irish Parliamentary Party was working along the lines that it was ludicrous to believe that anything more ambitious than Home Rule would be conceded by the British.

    Ideas of reconciliation, if they were to be realised, would have had to have been shared amongst the British Tories and Unionists (who most certainly did not share those ideas) as well as the Redmonites (who may have had a hopeful attachment to abstract notions of reconciliation) and those who still maintained the ideal of resistance to foreign rule (who regarded British rule as fundamentally beyond compromise).

  • hovetwo

    “A fair view of Devalera’s Republic? Even its early go slow solo economic policies and belfast boycotts could have been calculated to promote the exit of protestants even more than the exit of the catholics travelling to England to achieve a living.”

    A fascinating question. I think DeValera’s economic policies were obtuse rather than sectarian – there is evidence that Henry Ford would have located ALL of their European car business in Cork rather than Dagenham, had the Irish government been pursuing a free trade policy. The affluent Anglo-Irish business community suffered, but less than the poor.

    It’s fair to say that DeValera was consciously trying to change the zeitgeist, by trying to encourage pride and local self-sufficiency. For him this meant emphasising Gaelic culture over a more inclusive identity, although DeV himself was a rugby man, who would not wear the fáinne of the fluent Irish speaker because he didn’t believe mathematics should be taught through the medium of Irish.

    The unsung victims of the War of Independence were less the Redmondites or the Anglo-Irish gentry (in Behan’s definition, a Protestant on a horse)than the Castle Catholics or West Brits who were footsoldiers in the RIC. Many of them fled north to give the new RUC a decidedly more balanced make-up, confessionally speaking, than it would have in later years. Even so, a large number of Garda Commissioners were the sons or grandsons of old RIC men.

    DeValera’s Republic was a cold house for pluralists of any kind, but it’s fair to say that political leaders of all parties in the south were conservative, religious, and predominantly Catholic. DeValera himself was certainly willing to take on the Catholic Church e.g. by refusing to endorse Franco’s Spain. For all their faults, this generation founded a stable parliamentary democracy that, despite its youth, is already the fourth or fifth oldest democracy in continuous existence in Europe.

    1916 was enacted by a broad group of revolutionaries who had a sincere belief in cherishing all the children of the nation equally. They fought gallantly, in uniform, but without democratic mandate. The 1918-21 revolutionaries had a democratic mandate of sorts, but resorted to guerilla warfare to achieve their aims. They created a state that observed the forms but not the substance of pluralism, a kind of Rome Rule lite.

    Got to stop now, I’m about to conclude that everyone was right!

  • Brian Boru

    “A fair view of Devalera’s Republic? Even its early go slow solo economic policies and belfast boycotts could have been calculated to promote the exit of protestants even more than the exit of the catholics travelling to England to achieve a living.”

    The Belfast boycott was a reaction to pogroms against Catholics and was intended as I understand it to pressure the Northern govt to put a stop to them. It lasted from 1921-23. It was ended by the Craig-Collins pact whereby Craig agreed to take action to protect Catholics from Loyalist violence in return for an end to the boycott. Which was a pack of lies on his part. By the way we were not “De Valera’s republic” at this stage. Indeed it was not Dev who declared the republic after independence but Costello (Fine Gael) in 1949 – against Dev’s advice. Dev created republican institutions like the Presidency but it was not strictly speaking a republic yet – at least de jure.

    What do I think of Redmond? Very ambivalent. I think his heart was in the right place, in that he genuinely believed that Home Rule was the best that could be achieved, and indeed he seems to have believed that it was in Ireland’s interests to be a devolved part of the UK rather than separating outright. The latter belief on his part is one I would find impossible to agree with – especially given the South’s poverty after 753 years of British rule. The autonomy on offer was far too weak. Having read the Government of Ireland Act 1920, it is clear that the Southern Home Rule was to exclude taxation, postal-services, justice policy, foreign and defence policy. Even land-reform was not to be completely under Dublin’s control. In short, more like a Welsh Assembly than a Scottish Parliament – and totally inadequate after 46 years of voting for Home Rule. Parnell would have turned in his grave at such terms. I would also chastise Redmond for his enthusiasm in calling on Nationalists to join the British army in WW1 in the naieve view that this would gain All-Ireland Home Rule. Irishmen had already served in the British army for centuries but it did not make them any more well-disposed towards us during the Famine or other episodes in our history, so why would this have been different?

    Redmond – heart in the right place but naive to a quite unbelievable degree. His party got what it deserved in 1918. It had lost touch with its base. It continued after 1916 trying to recruit Irishmen to serve as cannon-fodder at the Somme. Playing with fire that was.

  • Dread Cthulhu

    Brian Boru: “The autonomy on offer was far too weak. Having read the Government of Ireland Act 1920, it is clear that the Southern Home Rule was to exclude taxation, postal-services, justice policy, foreign and defence policy. Even land-reform was not to be completely under Dublin’s control. In short, more like a Welsh Assembly than a Scottish Parliament – and totally inadequate after 46 years of voting for Home Rule. Parnell would have turned in his grave at such terms. ”

    And the alternative was, what? Collins and the guerillas were on their last legs — it was time to take the peace offer and move forward — get something out of the fighting. Everyone knew that a 32 county Republic wasn’t going to happen — why else did DeValera, one of the earliest “lens lice” on record, opt not to go to the negotiations?

  • Brian Boru

    “And the alternative was, what? Collins and the guerillas were on their last legs—it was time to take the peace offer and move forward—get something out of the fighting. Everyone knew that a 32 county Republic wasn’t going to happen—why else did DeValera, one of the earliest “lens lice” on record, opt not to go to the negotiations?”

    You’ve got the wrong end of the stick Dread. I am talking about what the Home Rulers were prepared to accept, not Collins. I actually would have supported the Treaty as the best achievable outcome given the circumstances.

  • Fidel O’toole

    And as early as 1917 Dev was talking about a 23 county Republic, in fact he would have settled for a two county republic, as long as it was a Republic.

    Dev basically established the Republic with his 1937 or whatever constitution, a Catholic state for a Catholic people, but insisted on still pretending that he was was worried about the North, and he had done most to cement the border.

    His declaration of neutrality in 1939 gave full legitimacy to the border, so Costello was only being honest in 1948.

  • casey

    to the 1 who shall be one shall be the one whos the 1 to be. because the 1 person thatb is the 1 will become one of the! so when will u become 1 of the person of the 1?