#Women1916 “…the war broke out in families as well as society…”

This discussion is worth taking time to listen to, not just because it looks at the Rising from the point of view of women’s history, but it also considers why the social radicalism of many who took part seemed to vanish so quickly.

The panel consists of Prof Roy Foster, Carroll Professor of Irish History, Hertford College, Oxford, Prof Senia Paseta, Professor of Modern History, St Hugh’s College, Oxford and Dr. Lauren Arrington, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool. The discussion was moderated by Carolyn Quinn, BBC.

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  • Nevin

    Dan Mulhall [4m 55s]: “I would say my view now is a liberal nationalist view; it’s a view, it’s a nationalist narrative but it’s very broad pluralistic and respectful of other traditions, other narratives.”

    Dan might like to reflect on this observation from the Embassy website:

    Ambassador Mulhall became Ambassador of Ireland to Great Britain in September 2013. He presented his credentials to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on 11 December 2013.

    Would it be asking too much for a little respect to be shown to the use of the name of the host state viz the United Kingdom [of Great Britain and Northern Ireland]? The website branding is more a reflection of irredentist nationalism than a liberal pluralist form.

  • Robin Keogh

    Talk about looking to find offense !

  • Nevin

    You misunderstand, Robin, I was having a quick look at Dan’s background – and the Embassy website was the first place I looked.

  • terence patrick hewett

    “and it is the middle class that keeps diaries and write letters” and no-one remembers the courage of the Irish factory workers of the first and second world wars in Britain and in the US sundered from their families that built their world again in spite of their emotional loss of country and family.

  • mickfealty

    I get your point Nevin. I suspect it is because from an internal point of view the DFA focus much of their resources in NI via the institutions originally set up by the Anglo Irish Agreement.

    I doubt if it reflects more than the bureaucratic legacy of those times. In all other regards he is an Ambassador to the Court of St James, just like his US counterpart.

    I must admit that whilst understanding your point that that is all people found to talk about from a great discussion. Ah well, I suppose it’s the old horse, water, drink, not problem.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    You’re off topic.
    What are your views on, say, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington’s radical feminism? Remember her mission was not as narrow, petty and selective as your post above (even after the ultra vires execution of her husband). By all means discuss some of the other figures instead or as well while remembering the internationalism of universal feminism.
    Anyway, the discussion was not only informative and stimulating, it also avoided any trivial pique despite the influence and vision of these women being diminshed even traduced by their inheritors.
    Maybe you’d like to pause for reflection and formulate posts that are at least relevant and stop imagining the call to attention of every apparent anti-unionist dog whistle.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Not being familiar with official arrangements in international diplomacy and foreign delegations, the use of GB instead of UK could indeed be the product of some historical anomaly emanating from say the Governement of Ireland Act (1920)? It seems to me to lie at the root of quite a number of unresolved issues.

  • Nevin

    Calm down dear. Do try to show a little respect.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    You might be the one in need of calming. Many or all of your sacred cows might be nothing more than sources of meat and dairy products. Might some of them only be sources of methane?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Carolyn Quinn asks “What about the women?”, but perhaps an even more pointed question would be “what about the Northern Women?”

    One of the most interesting aspects of this panel presentation is the entire absence of northern women in the model that pervades the version of the history that we are offered. Of course this event has a narrow remit, but even if one goes to published work the problem still persists. For example, one searches through Senia’s “Irish Nationalist Women” for any trace of those women who were very active in the north. To take three very active and culturally significant northern women, Margaret Dobbs gets one mention, and Casement’s friends Ita McNeill and Helen Macnaughten are not mentioned at all, and although Ballymena born Ella Young gets 5 mentions, its simply as an aspect of a very Dublin-centric interpretation. Roy’s “Vivid Faces”, while primarily developed out of a rich block of textual evidence such as contemporary diaries of mainly southern nationalists, predictably mentions none of them, except Ella. Alice Milligan gets more mention after 

Catherine Morris’s recent book, but even here one feels that neither historian knows what to do with her, as she seems to slip out of their models.

    And all this just a few months after “The North Began, Ulster and the Irish Revolution 1900-1925” conference at Trinity College!!! Notably none of those speaking at the Embassy presentation spoke at, or even attended, the conference. Of course their research reflects readily available sources, and having to troll through the northern archives is admittedly going to be more onerous than simply dipping into the rich sources available at the National Library in Dublin, or at TCD or UCD. But with the larger portion of those attending the 1898 Oireachtas of Conradh na Gaeilge coming from the northern branches of the League it is interesting that the historians being selected to “explain” our history should be seen to have left potentially such a massive gap in the focus of their researches. As Senia herself says towards the end of the event, “These people wanted us to remember them, they left us stuff…..it’s a choice not to find it”

    There are a whole range of potental “counterfactuals” for the development of Irishness in the early 20th century suggested by any examination of these northern careers of women who were not alienated from Unionist family members and understood the need to develop a more inclusivist approach in their “Irish Irelander” models. But those women Senia and Roy study, even the most radical such as Hanna Sheeny Skiffington, can much more easily be interpreted to fit with the Ireland that we all know today, and the canonic interpretations of that history that this Ireland has found useful, both nationalist and revisionist. Such an approach does not stretch understanding in the way that is required in any serious examination of that northern movement which developed around Frank Bigger and others, and of the necessity for those involved in the north to engage with the role that those who had supported the Union would play in any future Ireland, rather than capriciously imagining that violence alone was needed to resolve the matter. Alas, a problem still unresolved to this day, as the recent bomb shows us all, should we need any reminder.

  • Nevin

    The AIA was thirty years ago. I tend to think in terms of the relationships across these islands whereas Dan appears to focus more on the relationship between the islands, with Dublin speaking on behalf of the citizens of the island of Ireland.

    Maud Gonne’s name came up during the course of a little piece of research I was doing last year on the little known but quite remarkable Martha Craig, a native of Carneal, between Carrickfergus and Larne. Martha was in favour of Home Rule but she thought education was a better strategy to advance the cause than Maud’s agitation.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Perhaps, Nevin, in the light of Martha, you might find my comments above on other Northern Women, with more moderate models of Irish Ireland, useful?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Mick, of course we are all used to people simply bringing out their own particular concerns and perhaps not even listening to the actual linked piece! I have my own beefs, but should perhaps mention that in spite of my criticism above, I still find both what the historians are saying here and certainly their recent published researches, most helpful if not uncritically so. It’s a pity that the discussion has not picked up on some of the possible themes that the piece suggests, although the point Nevin skirts below about the wide range of interpretations of “nationalisms” in existence up to 1916, both here and across Ireland would offer a potential opening for productive discussion.

  • mickfealty

    Nev, the institutions established under the AIA are still there, and like it or not that’s how the DFA organise their still substantial considerable budgets and outreach into NI.

    I’m merely pointing out that bureaucratic reality, and I would suggest that that’s more a matter of form rather than the content of Mr Ambassador’s estimable personal belief.

    But please, whatever you do, don’t talk about the subject matter of the podcast panel? Sure we are always talking about women’s history. Nice of you to give us a break from it!

  • Nevin

    Seaan, Macnaghten is the more familiar spelling for the Dundarave and Runkerry families. Dublin-centric point noted.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I am corrected! that will teach me to not consult my notes! And now fully corrected. My wife went to school with a Macnaughten, bye and bye…….

    Helen was a Runkerry girl, just for the record.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    the talk though was about the Easter Rising, which was in Dublin – would that perhaps explain why discussion around it had a relatively small part for northern nationalist women? Perhaps they weren’t that closely involved?

    In nationalist terms, there was surely way more going on in Dublin – both as a centre for political activity due to its role as the focal point of government and politics on the island at the time, and as a population centre (the sheer numbers of nationalist women there). And particularly in the context of the Rising taking place there. Belfast, though a sizeable city, was of course predominantly unionist, so only a smallish section of it was part of the nationalist world. Surely no surprise then that Dublin was where it was at in terms of the development of Irish nationalism in that period?

    I’ve read Prof Paseta’s book, there are lots of references to activity in Belfast, though not perhaps to the figures you mention. She’ll be aware of them though. If she didn’t include them, might it be because they weren’t as interesting or significant as the women she does write about? You can’t include everyone. But I really don’t know. Bear in mind though that Irish Nationalist Women started life as a bigger book that got split into two, so what you’ve read is just the first part; the second part will be published in a year or two I gather. Perhaps there will be more on the North in there.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Please forgive me for suggesting this, MU, but did you actually listen to rather more than an hour of material on the link? Even after about 10 minutes it becomes obvious that “The Women of 1916” has been very broadly interpreted. The contributions were very general, with a broad “Woman in the Independence movement and Easter 1916” theme certainly, and what was actually said was closely informed by the recent published work of the historians. It was to this body of work I was relating, and how the three talks and the question and answer related to this, rather than simply looking at the threads title. The talks more accurately could have been described as “Women in the political versions of the Irish Ireland movement before and after 1916”. Accordingly in dimly referring to the thread title you’ve entirely missed the point I was trying to make. Yes, there was a great deal of activity going on in Dublin at Easter 1916, but the ferment of ideas that led to, and nurtured the rising were far, far more complex than the very selective representations we have inherited, those preconceptions which inform the canon of how our history has consistently been written, and that were employed without serious challenge by all three historians in their interpretations of their research.

    The leadership of the rising was from a very small part of the Irish Ireland movement, and that distorted how most future historians, the three participating here included, would evaluate a much more complex debate within Irish Ireland. A considerable contribution to this debate was northern, and even occasionally “protestant” (whatever that means)! The Dublin-centric character of how 20th century history would be written until recently was a perfectly natural thing in the climate of partition, but enough research is out there now to challenge what was always a “history for” rather than a “history about” approach. And don’t get me wrong, Senia’s work is excellent in what it covers, what I’m saying is that there is an enormous gap where one very important factor that would inform the events of 1916 is not actually covered because the new Irish state centred on Dublin conveniently “forgot” the significant northern contribution which it had guiltily turned its back on in accepting partition. But this approach is governed by politics, rather than the history itself, and the fact that our modern and often quite brilliant historians continue to follow this primarily political model is something that should not go without mention.

    I too have read Senia’s book, and carefully annotated it (the advantage of having copy in my shelves), and although she mentions the north, I really don’t think anyone who is really familiar with the book would suggest she has exhausted the archives of northern women. “She’ll be aware of them though.” Not necessarily, as a careful examination shows, her references to the North tend to be from published, readily accessible sources primarily as I remember, and she has certainly not digested the recent work on the Northern Revival that has researched actual northern archives to any great degree in what she’s written there. As I said, a bit about Alice Milligan and Ethna Carberry, sure, but hardly any examination of the very distinct versions of “Irish Ireland” thinking in the north which sought for ways to accommodate Unionism in its “Irishness”. But this is perhaps a less “sexy” approach when actual violence is on offer. It depends on what you’d consider “interesting or significant” I suppose, violence or a striving for inclusive accommodation. Also, its really arguable that Belfast was that much more “Unionist” than Dublin before 1916. You are perhaps inferring the modern sectarian situation back a century, and any historian will readily admit that quite different interpretations of what Unionism was, and what Nationalism was, are really needed here in the period leading up to the Rising. In many ways Belfast had as significant a cultural “Nationalist” scene as Dublin, and one encompasing the entire community, as any research into the pre-1916 reportage in the press in the north quickly shows! Being a political Unionist who spoke Irish and supported the home industries aspects of Irish Ireland was far from unknown, and both the influential Unionists Smiley and Dixon in the Larne area enthusiastically supported the 1904 Feis na nGleann, for example. No, the polarised simplifications of today simply do not apply.

    I mentioned the Trinity conference specifically because it examined northern involvement across the entire period (centring on 1916), and while the absence of sizable numbers of Northern figures actually in the rising is of note, this is hardly surprising in an organisational structure that centred round St Endas, the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League and the Irish Citizen Army, but these bodies played rather less of a central role in cultural revival that created the climate for the rising than many other individuals (male and female) up here in the north. As the conference titled itself “The North Began…..”

  • Nevin

    Seaan, there were so many currents and cross-currents in the generation leading up to 1916 that they would be quite difficult to evaluate. Even in women’s history you have participation in the suffragettes and the Gaelic League as well as unionist/nationalist fragmentation. Thanks for flagging up London-born Helen Macnaghten, a member of the Gaelic League and a founder of the Bushmills Society in1912.

    Bushmills Society ‘deeply regretted the policy of the militant suffragettes in attacking property’; letter from Mrs Heron, Holywood; leaving the BWSS to join non-militant local Holywood branch, April 29, 1912 .. [PRONI records]

    Two of her young nephews were killed in WWI in 1916. I also think one of the Macnaghten sisters may have been a member of the Royal Household.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Oh I agree Nevin, very difficult to evaluate! But the complexity of approaches that the northern “Irish Ireland” thinking reveals is a salutary warning to those who would employ twentieth century nationalistic evaluations (both Irish and “British” nationalist) to simplify the often contradictory ferment of ideas that went into the creation of a new Ireland in the early twentieth century. Even the Dublin cadre that both historians I’ve mentioned above primarily deal with offers instances of this kind of uncategorical thinking that simply does not fit with the conclusions they have come to and, consequently, tends to be ignored as “puzzling”.

    I should perhaps mention that Dr Arrington is a Yeats scholar, an associate professor at Liverpool in Irish literature (rather than history) who has recently published important work on Constance Markiewitz and her husband which throws important light on the Gore-Booth sisters, and with her tighter focus falls into a quite different remit to those whose broad category research requires all aspects of the category they are claiming to explain to be examined.

    The suffragette issue is important as an important thread of “Irish Ireland”, although suffragettes were prominent in both political camps in the north. It’s amusing to note that some of the most radical suffragettes in Down were later attracted to the small group of Rotha Lintorn-Orman’s “British Fascists” based in Kilkeel in the 1920s!


    You mention Helen Macnaughten’s family links with the “royal” household (I do not imagine you are referring to the household of King Robert I & IV) but many families were divided in culture and politics while remaining close families, with individuals even showing what would today be unimaginable cross-political interest. Notably Ita McNeill, the most active of Irish Irelanders in the Glynnes throughout her life and sister of the important Unionist Lord Cushendun, herself kept a little scrapbook of cuttings about the Princesses Elizabeth and Mary Rose during WWII (available at PRONI), but had in no way lost her life-long passion for Ireland as a single cultural unit, or her commitment to the Irish Ireland ideals she shared with Casement and Bigger. Difficult for a twenty-first century audience here to understand, I know, but an indicator of the absence of rancour and open mindedness of the pre-1916 generation of Irish Irelanders in the north! Unfortunately this is something the dreary emphasis on conflict that modern studies automatically default to simply cannot seemingly include in their models. But the material is there for any historian sufficiently free of the dead hand of the old canonical models to examine for themselves. As I quote Senia herself saying towards the end of this talk so few seem to have actually listened to, “These people wanted us to remember them, they left us stuff…..it’s a choice not to find it”

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes I did listen to it and I take your point about it covering more than the title – but the title was actually not just the title of this thread but the title of the event itself: “The Women of 1916”, referring specifically to the Easter Rising. To the extent the panel went onto other matters, which was great and interesting, it was strictly speaking off topic. So, on discussing their apparent failure to cover other matters that were also off topic, it’s worth bearing that in mind. There are lots of things they didn’t cover – time is limited.

    The woman from Liverpool (well, America, but based in Liverpool) I’m less familiar with, but Profs Foster and Paseta it’s fair to say are the world experts on the period. They achieved that from spending many dark hours in the archives and reading way, way more than I, and I suspect even you, have read of primary and secondary sources as well as spending their careers reading the work of and meeting every other scholar of the period working today. It doesn’t make them infallible of course, but I am a bit uncomfortable with the ease with which you assume superior knowledge and breadth of reading. And I’m really not sure why you think they simply haven’t considered the North – might they just take a different view from you on the significance of what was happening there at the time? There is room to disagree I’m sure, but I think casting aspersions over their scholarship – that they’re somehow in thrall to the assumptions of the political class in Dublin – isn’t justified. As “revisionist” historians indeed, the likes of Foster and Paseta find themselves very largely at odds with that traditional nationalist narrative still largely peddled by most of the politicians down there.

    “She has certainly not digested the recent work on the Northern Revival that has researched actual northern archives to any great degree in what she’s written there …”
    Perhaps she has digested it and doesn’t rate it? And I’d be very, very, very surprised if Prof Paseta had not visited and interacted with PRONI during the course of writing the book.

    You also say “its really arguable that Belfast was that much more “Unionist” than Dublin before 1916.” Is it really? The last elections before then were Dec 1910, when of the 4 Belfast seats, 2 returned unionists unopposed (North and East), another was a fight between 2 unionists (South) and the fourth returned a nationalist by a narrow margin (Devlin in West Belfast, 4543 votes to 4080). When nationalists weren’t even putting forward candidates in three of the four constituencies, it’s pretty unarguable it was a very unionist city. In Dublin, 6 of the 8 MPs elected were IPP, the two unionists being for the university seats. In summary, a very predominantly nationalist city, albeit not the unionist-free zone it is today.

    I’m quite aware of the dangers of projecting present identities into the past. People conceived of themselves very differently then in terms of identities and the inevitable sundering of Irishness and unionism hadn’t yet happened (though all the mechanics of it were by then in place). It’s a good point that unionists of that era before nationalism changed the meaning of Irishness were very attached to their Irish identity and related closely to Irish culture. But in Ulster they already had a very different conception of their history from nationalist Ireland and had a distinct sense of themselves as a people – that has to some extent been there, since the Plantations. I wouldn’t overdo the ‘they were all just one Irish people together’ stuff as had that been the case, Home Rule would not have been the issue it was. They had enough sense of themselves to not to want to be governed by the ‘other’; and on partition, it was Ulster Catholics who felt that. The common thread is that they had a sense of themselves as separate peoples with clashing interests, even back then.

    But yes, it was a lot easier then for Ulster unionists to feel part of an Irish tradition; an Irish tradition that was conceived of as part of the wider British family, not a sovereign nation. Home Rule really killed liberal unionism, starting from 1886, because Gladstone assumed a coalescence between progressive politics and support for Home Rule. Progressives in the unionist camp, like Isabella Tod, were hung out to dry by Gladstone – presented with a false choice between progressive politics and devolution. Anyway, that’s another story! But very happy for other modern day unionists to reclaim their Irish heritage, even if it’s not something that’s for me personally.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Well, on the issue of titles, MU, I’m off topic, the speakers themselves were off topic, and seemingly only you are sticking firmly to the talks topic! Congratulation for being (as I frequently was in the combined cadet force drill) the only one in step. Please remember, I’d started above by discussing what the speakers said (and what they said in the books their talks articulated), rather than what you personally thought they should have said.

    And Senia a “revisionist”, MU, that will be news to her! And even Roy would argue that the title “revisionist” is a caricature of what he is doing (see “Interpreting Irish History” ed. Brady, where Roy is very clear on this). But I see what you are doing, rather than addressing the actual points I’m making, which you have not studied yourself, you are calling on the authority of the “world experts” to dismiss what I’m saying for you, Deus ex Machina. So I’m not supposed to challenge the Gods, ho, hummmm……

    If you check Senia’s book you can quickly discover what she has researched simply by checking her notes and references! Rather than simply stating that she “must have” researched the north, please check this out properly. As I’ve already told you, she uses primarily published sources for what research into the north she does. The sheer volume of her research is impressive, I’m not questing that, and certainly I’ve found her book useful in my own work for what she covers, but she has heavily concentrated on the south and has not really examined northern sources, as becomes clear if you look at the notes and references with which she supports comments on the north! Quite naturally you find her work impressive, I do also, but this does not mean that her analysis of the north is in any way as authoritative as her highly researched analysis of the south. This is a serious gap such as any reviewer should have noticed when a plethora of peer review articles are showing that the activists in the north were an important players in the intellectual debate over the meaning of an Irish Ireland.

    And the Unionism issue! I grew up in contact with an older generation remembered an “Irish Unionism” across the island, and the particular stuffy room of discrete Ulster Unionism that appears to inform your perception of what you claim to be “serious difference” was still something very new to anyone who had actually experienced Ireland before 1916. The extreme difference that partition made to perceptions of identity north and south has been enshrined in all modern Irish historiography, and I cannot blame you (as a non-historian) for seeing it as something handed down from on high (from the “experts” you defer to, if not from the Almighty) but it is a human construct settled over a period between both British and Irish nationalist historians, North and South. As modern research is now disclosing, it distorts our perception of the climate of thought across the island before 1916. The degree to which the Home Rule Crisis of 1911 actually “manufactured” those attitudes locally that then congealed into what we are experiencing today has been well recognised since the 1930s, as George Dangerfield’s excellent “The Strange Death of Liberal England” all too clearly outlines, but what is new today is that those cultural projects that ran counter to this Unionist and violent nationalist “invention of tradition” from 1911 are now being examined by a number of younger historians, but not seemingly by Senia or Roy……..

    I’d mentioned above “The North Began” conference at Trinity last year, but there are many individual researchers opening up knowledge of the central role the north played in the Irish Ireland movement. The problem is that such interpretations seriously challenge both camps, the old nationalist historiography and its pro-British twin, just as early modern research is challenging similar historical canons. Wait a few years, and when the research has filtered through to the consciousness of the general public and you’ve finally encountered it in popular books, I promise not to come back crowing with an “I told you so…”

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I wonder if Prof Paseta likes being called just ‘Senia’ by people who don’t know her …

    And of the younger historians, so you imagine neither Prof Paseta nor Prof Foster have read their work? They may even be supervising some of them … I also think you’ll find Prof Paseta’s “Before The Revolution” did more than almost any other book to change the pre-1916 narrative, so to suggest she’s unaware of the pre-1916 development of nationalism is wide of the mark. I’m sure there are interesting new scholars coming through on the period. I’m also sure Prof Paseta and Prof Foster will have read their stuff.

    The idea that distinctive Ulster unionist thinking was somehow “manufactured” only in 1911, due to the 3rd Home Rule bill, does seem a bit bizarre to be honest, given the Plantations and more specifically the history of the development of political identity among Ulster Protestants in the preceding century. The formation of the Ulster, non-Irish identity as we have it now is of course of more recent vintage – even my Dad’s generation was happier with the word ‘Irish’ than most of my peers who grew up during the IRA’s Troubles campaign. But the UUC was formed in 1905 and before that, Ulster unionists had been the dominant force in Irish unionism, post 1886. Partition had a long gestation, contrary to what some would like us to believe.

    The main weakness in your posts above is in assuming I am subject to fallacies that I’m actually not subject to. You need to read what I write, not what you’d prefer to argue against. I am well aware many more Ulster unionists were once happily ‘Irish’, well into the NI era. But while the expression of ethnicities morphs over time, you can’t talk about the Plantation origins of Ulster Protestant people and the divisive legacy of the Plantations without thereby acknowledging we are talking about at least two groups of people here with different stories of origin, different allegiances and different sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ – what makes an ethnicity, ultimately. It seems a little like you imagine that Ulster Protestants / unionists magicked up as an invented identity in 1911 for short term political reasons. When in reality, a pre-existing group found a new form of expression and sense of who they were, just like Catholic Ireland had been doing (and not unrelated to that development of Irish nation consciousness). The implication of your line, if I have it right, is that this Ulster identity is somehow false because of when it started to be expressed in its current terms – more false than the somehow more authentic Irish identity – and therefore is bound to one day give in to its “true” Irishness. But surely it seems wrong to downgrade the Ulster identity because it doesn’t fit in with someone’s masterplan of what identities people ought to have? Ethnic identities are changeable in how they are expressed but they are not arbitrary – they have anchors too. It’s a cliche but it’s true – there is a large tribal element to both identities in Northern Ireland today. We may not like it but it is ignoring history to imagine these tribes are of recent invention, even if we’ve changed how we describe ourselves.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    MU, I know both Roy and Senia! Some of us actually go out there and participate in historiography ourselves, go to conferences, meet people, exchange ideas, rather than simply encountering people on the page. Again, you’re seemingly assuming things yourself here, such as that I don’t know these people and discuss issues with them, and again that they have fully researched every aspect of material when I’m showing you how to clearly see that they have not. I have every respect for the sound, excellent work Senia has done over a very long period, you really don’t have to defend her honour from me in that respect, but neither she nor Roy would ever claim that they are the utter “End of Irish History”, and that their work has exhausted every possibility of interpretation. Even after their tremendous efforts at researching the period, not every text has been examined and not every possible fact absorbed and integrated into their work. Their very specialisations (in this case principally with the southern experience) will by its remit exclude many things. And while they may well have read what young historians are writing on the matters I raise, (I’d be surprised if they have not), I can only comment on how they may be addressing such material…..or not.

    But perhaps if you read what I’m saying about “relativity” a little more carefully, you’d not have made the mistake of simply filing what I was saying away as some variant of suspect “anti-revisionism” out to do down Unionism. Quite the opposite, I’m with the people revising the revision, and concerned with far more nuanced approaches to those you appear to be trapped within. Its not a matter of the old see-saw “Nationalist History vs Revisionism” (popularly thought of as ‘lets just bring the old “British version” back’), but in an attempt to examine the Gestalt or whole picture in all its contradictory glory, with all those problematic bits that the others left out addressed. And perhaps a thing to note in what I’m stating above is that the Home Rule crisis of 1911 was used to take existing attitudes and manufacture a particularly toxic form of divisiveness from them to serve Tory electoral needs in a particular time and a particular place, not that these attitudes were magicked from nothing J. K. Rowling style, as the old “false memory” approach yay appear to be identifying me with implied. All identities, everywhere, are always manufactured, “Irishness” and “Britishness” included:


    so all are in that respect “false”, although also potentially “true” perhaps in the heart-commitment that will develop culturally. What I’m trying to describe here is the problem created by the emphasis by most Irish historians on the coming revolution in their interpretation of the pre-1916 period. This approach has privileged one small group from a much wider debate and accordingly effaced the more inclusivist versions of “Irish Ireland” current in the north (for example), which dramatically differed from the much more familiar D.P. Moran version of Irish Ireland that informs, pervades even, both Senia and Roy’s work. The north produced important models of mutable identity Irishness which seriously differed from Moran’s more familiar “tick list” model. This offered a sophisticated possibility of mutable expressions of identity within a new Ireland and came from the local experience of people reluctant to seek conflict with their fellow “unionist” citizens, people who were sometimes even their own family in the northern context. Just one interesting form of this was the committed involvement of the north’s foremost Irish Irelander Francis Joseph Bigger (whom I usually familiarly call “Frank”) in the recruiting committees of 1914/15, something I’d discovered from a personal communication from the “world expert” on the Ulster War effort of 1914, Tim Bowman (I hope that’s not too familiar!) I really don’t understand why you are so seemingly against the possible opening up of a more detailed examination by historians of the much less divisive aspects of the Irish-Ireland culture of the north in these years, and supportive of such a Dublin-centric inherently divisive version of our history!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “Some of us actually go out there and participate in historiography ourselves, go to conferences, meet people, exchange ideas, rather than simply encountering people on the page.” What makes you think I never meet historians? Or anyone else? (My job is moderating discussions, by the way).

    I’m not against any opening up of any study at all and everyone’s open to challenge. I’m just saying that sometimes when a historian doesn’t write about a particular aspect, it can be that they didn’t find it significant enough; or it could be it didn’t work with that particular book or article. I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion they were unaware of it.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    MU, this is getting rather acrimonious for a situation were I’m simply attempting to correct some bizarre misapprehensions you are posting! As I remember it you were accusing me of having the effrontery to attack the all-knowing wisdom of two people I know to be far less “stuffed shirt” about these things! And then assuming that I was rudely using the Christian names of strangers!!! I was simply putting you right on this, so where did I say you were a recluse? I was simply correcting your comments about people I’d assumed from your deference to be utter strangers to you.

    Usually when historians present their research as comprehensive, they run the risk of being called out on what they do not cover, and “distinguished” historians are no exception! The curse of most history is the invisible wall that tends to be put around strong defining statements authoritatively made by those who have not finally exhausted a massive subject. Here, we have distinct 20th century histories for both north and south which tend to exclude one another. The pre-1916 history, if it is to be approached with genuine objectivity, really needs these artificial barriers to be broken down. What I’m saying in a nutshell is that neither Senia nor Roy are doing this to any great extent, and no amount of claiming that the northern experience is inherently “uninteresting” or that it somehow is irrelevant because “Ulster” is overwhelmingly Unionist ( really?) in any way changes the fact that the historical models they are drawing on are hobbled by this long ingrained habit of mutual exclusion, and that this clearly shows a lack of awareness in this aspect of their work of important issues which other historians are beginning to highlight. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, if you read their work an awareness of the significance of major differences present northern cultural nationalism simply is not present in work that evaluates it in Dublin centric terms.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I made my point above, I’d just be repeating it here. You attack a straw man again, I didn’t suggest they had “all-knowing wisdom” just that they will have read the material you refer to and I didn’t buy your assumption they weren’t aware of it. I’m all for everyone having a say – God knows, as I do public opinion research for a living – it’s just that, and this is a bugbear of mine more generally, we all can’t be experts in everything. I regularly rail at experts for missing stuff or skewing a narrative when I’m reading; but living with a historian as I do, I see the other side too. In Irish history, everyone has an opinion which somehow trumps all existing scholarship. It must be a pain in the butt for the actual historians.

    Pre-1916 histories generally do treat Ireland as a unit, though, do they not? To an extent I even find frustrating as someone much more interested in my own part of the world. But I don’t think it’s correct to say “neither Senia nor Roy are doing this to any great extent”. But look, maybe there is more to say about northern nationalism in that period, I’m sure there is.

    I didn’t actually say Ulster was overwhelmingly unionist then, I said Belfast was – and went to the trouble of citing the December 1910 general election results. But the current NI counties were also predominantly unionist then too: http://www.ark.ac.uk/elections/h1885.htm. It’s just to make the point that northern nationalism was a smaller phenomenon than even the relatively small population of the North would suggest – we’re talking, what, half a million nationalists compared to 3-4 million in the south, quite apart from the effect of the cultural and political dominance of Dublin. But I am of course interested in what was happening in our neck of the woods more too. I just think it’s maybe not unreasonable for Irish nationalist history of that period to be fairly Dublin-centric in its focus. Have you read Marianne Elliott’s book “The Catholics of Ulster”? She has a lot more on the northern Irish nationalist angle, though I need to look at it again, I can’t really remember too much of it.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Perhaps I mix more with historians than you do, MU, and realise that even “the great and good” still specialise and ignore what they can. I myself am always delighted when something comes out I may reference, and so do not have to explain something at great length, such as I’m doing here. But I’m also careful not to stray out of the History I specialise in, no matter what the temptation may be. I simply cannot speak authoritatively on what I’ve not researched.

    I agree that none of us know everything (is that not the theme of what I’m actually saying?) but your earlier comment “She’ll be aware of them though. If she didn’t include them, might it be because they weren’t as interesting or significant as the women she does write about?” suggests an omnipresence in every aspect of the period to my mind. I stand by the (admittedly slightly hyperbolic) “all-knowing wisdom” as a characterisation of this kind of comment. I could even start to list Roy’s bloopers to undermine such certainty about “being aware”. Try his rather inaccurate understanding of Gaelic League issues for example, such as referencing James Owen Hannay’s apparently blanket “rejection” by the Gaelic League as an instance of Irish Ireland sectarianism, when if fact far from being rejected, Hannay was strongly supported against Catholic attacks in 1906 by the League which he in turn strongly supported himself (see “Interpreting Irish History”, ed. Brady p. 224). No, we historians are all concerned about possible faulty analysis and haunted by that research we have not yet done that may change important affirmations in our work.

    The figures (your strength, I know) do not really say anything about a situation where culture nationalism (as distinct from a purely political analysis of Irishness) produced a number of significant figures in the north. Its a case of wit and intelligence rather than simple numbers. Yes, I know Marianne, and her book is prominent on my reference shelves but its about “The Catholics of Ulster”, a remit that is far from anything like a neat fit with “Irish-Ireland in the North”. Please remember, all of the women I mentioned in my first posting where protestant. The central point I seem unable to get over to you is that the Catholic/Protestant equation is frighteningly inadequate to articulate any analysis of the situation in the north before 1916 where a most significant portion of the leading intellect of Irish Ireland here was female and protestant. This is not to downplay the strong Catholic involvement, but to suggest that D.P. Moran’s “Irish Ireland = Catholic” equation which fits just a little more closely in the south may be used to explain everything in the north is way of kilter. And when an historian claims to be comprehensively covering an entire zeitgeist, as Roy is doing in “Vivid Faces” this mismatch becomes increasingly glaring as one reads through the work. That is not to underplay the importance of the book, which any historian addressing the period must properly absorb, as it contains a wealth of new material, but I would be here all night if I were to address the list of broad stroke assumptions where Roy has only half digested something, such as his statements about Bigger and Ardrigh which fly in the face of the conclusions of more careful work.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m not going to go on, as we’ve covered it and I haven’t been enjoying your tone in places, but for future reference (and if you’d read as carefully as you claim you wouldn’t have missed this):
    – I’m not a numbers person at all, I am a qualitative researcher so work on the stuff that *isn’t* numerical in social and market research. I don’t touch numbers. I kind of do the opposite of what you seem to think I do.
    – I am married to a historian, and have mentioned that, so you might want to not make so many comments about how I clearly only experience historians on the page, etc. I see them in their cups at 2 in the morning. Not my wife, her colleagues 😉
    – I read law at Oxford, was a lawyer in one of the leading City practices and now run my own research consultancy – so you should assume I can understand what you’re saying. I’ve read and analysed stuff a bit more complex than what’s on here. Talking down to me as if I’m hard of understanding doesn’t really wash.

    If you could avoid the patronising stuff, you make some good points and I’m sure you have a case that there is interesting stuff in northern nationalism in that period that hasn’t been much written about. Indeed my historian wife reckoned that was a fair call, though she also reckoned people in Northern Ireland need to get over themselves, they’re not always the centre of everything. But she might have been referring to me there.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’ve always enjoyed your postings, MU, and occasionally reference you in my own posts as an clear example of what Unionist posters can achieve in terms of strong credentials and intellectual credibility, an opinion I have in no way altered. I have no doubt of your academic and personal credentials, I’m simply saying that you are not understanding the points I’m attempting to make here. Certainly you are not discussing them. We appear to be talking at cross purposes. While I’ve been critiquing the talks and published historical work on issues of historical interpretation, you are coming back to me with arguements rooted in what is in essence the political credentials of the historians. You complain ” I haven’t been enjoying your tone in places”, but I’m curious as to how you were expecting any discussion to proceed that opened with the kind of broad effacement that marked your opening post? The overt dismissiveness of this post displayed such an utter lack willingness to actually engage and a complete absence of any understanding of what I was doing! I had raised the issue of the absence of particular historical research in the general work of the speakers which would, if understood, profoundly question their approach, and you were responding with a general dismissal and an argument about the scale of populations, as if that could in any way qualify what I had written! Of course to actually address what I was saying you would have required detailed familiarity with the history I was referring to, so I can see why you were constricted to making general statements about what you imagined to be the case such as the “you are in no position to comment” statement below:

    “Profs Foster and Paseta it’s fair to say are the world experts on the period. They achieved that from spending many dark hours in the archives and reading way, way more than I, and I suspect even you, have read of primary and secondary sources as well as spending their careers reading the work of and meeting every other scholar of the period working today.”

    How does this add anything to detailed discussion of historiographic methodology? And then that silly christian names jibe! All this deflection was simply dismissive of what I was trying to say and from the first showed very scant respect either for myself or for the actual historical issues. It appeared to be a case of using the old lawyers trick of simply ignoring what can’t be answered and attempting to change the argument over to ground you felt secure on, which had nothing whatsoever to do with what I was actually describing.

    I think the problem can be distilled into one sentence:

    “As “revisionist” historians indeed, the likes of Foster and Paseta find themselves very largely at odds with that traditional nationalist narrative still largely peddled by most of the politicians down there.”

    You appear to be framing what I’m saying as “traditional nationalist narrative”, probably because you are approaching the history as something useful to support (Unionist) political theory, a problem exacerbated when the “Revisionist camp” identified their work strongly with the “British” version of Irish history. But I’m not the “traditional nationalist narrative”, either in my historiography or when I comment on Slugger, its not what I’m doing! I’m critical of both the political nationalist narrative and its simple mirror image in hard core revisionism, and would view my own position as an historian as being that of someone researching the intentions of participants in events in order to understand motivation from an historical, rather than a party political perspective. Ironically, I’m probably rather closer to the more radical aspects of Senia, and even Roy, neither of whom are entirely comfortable with the popular label of “Revisionism” themselves. My serious critique is that I still find much of their work remains well within the old nationalist model in many aspects, primarily in their negative mirroring of its political concerns. Any history of the period before the rising should attempt to re-imagine what was going on in the terms of how the people involved actually thought themselves, not what we today need them to have thought in order to fit into nationalist or revisionist models that are going to be of use in modern political polemic. Where I’m coming from is rather a “histoire des mentalités” approach to my research:


    To my mind both Roy, and to a much lesser extent Senia, are still approaching their research from the older “Kings and Battles” history in their privileging of a politicaly weighted analysis of lives engaged not so much in politics per se as in quite a different activity, the cultural re-definition of Ireland during the Third Irish Cultural Revival. While this has political implications, to centre such a study on political models means that the study must become seriously disproportionate.

    This is not something limited to the two historians I’m critiquing. It is a prevaling problem that most historians, even those not themselves Irish, but working from the corpus of existent work, approach the Irish history of the twentieth century still quite mired in the old nationalist models (either pro or con), many driven by political associations in their own lives, and accordingly failing to address those uncomfortable areas they may encounter in their research that cannot be fitted into their models. The northern “Irish Ireland” experience is such a case. As one simple example the Gaelic League in Belfast had on its committee a number of persons such as Rev Dr Richard Rutledge Kane, who was a leading Orangeman, County Grand Master of Belfast and a Deputy Grand Chaplain of the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland. Politically he was a Conservative and Unionist, being a Vice-President of Belfast Conservative Association and Vice-President of the Ulster Loyalist Union. This is simply one image of where the pre 1916 cultural experience in the northern experience confounds our contemporary political shibboleths, but any deep resaerch into the northern expereince throws up endless similar cases that are utterly out of catagory using the models many historians currently employ for their analysis. The history in which I’m interested is attempting to break out of this exhausted model entirely and give a voice to those who have been almost entirely without a voice since the espousal of violent solutions buried their aspirations. But this approach is not evident anywhere in what either Roy or Senia are currently doing, fixated as they are on relating everything to the post 1916 nationalism in the south and inferring its character backwards as an all Ireland experience in a manner relying entirely on hindsight. I find this approach increasingly sterile.

  • Roger

    no, your suspicion is wrong….this goes back the 60 year dispute over names….it is a legacy issue