Ireland Under Coercion, Revisted: Meeting Balfour

(This is part 3 of my work-in-progress blog serial about the 1888 book Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American, by journalist William Henry Hurlbert. Previous posts and background material are available at the project landing page. #IUCRevisited )

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“What you expect is the thing you never find in Ireland.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Within hours of arriving in Dublin, Hurlbert visited Chief Secretary for Ireland Arthur Balfour at Dublin Castle. The American described the seat of the British government administration in Ireland as “no more of a palace than it is of a castle … People go in and out of it as freely as through the City Hall in New York.”

Dublin Castle

Balfour, then 39, was “in excellent spirits; certainly the mildest mannered and most sensible despot who ever trampled the liberties of a free people,” Hurlbert wrote, tongue only partly in cheek. “He was quite delightful about the abuse which is now daily heaped upon him in speeches and in the press.”

The American asked Balfour about agrarian agitator Micheal Davitt’s statement the previous evening at Rathkeale, where he urged his supporters to stop using the phrase “bloody Balfour.”

“Davitt is quite right, the thing must be getting to be a bore to the people, who are not such fools as the speakers take them to be,” Balfour replied. “One of the stenographers told me the other day that they had to invent a special sign for the phrase ‘bloody and brutal Balfour,’ it is used so often in the speeches.”

This sounds a little dubious, a self-aggrandizing anecdote by the up-and-coming politician to the visiting journalist. It appears from the book passage that the interview did not last very long, but Hurlbert later insisted that Balfour had “obviously unaffected interest in Ireland.”

Historian Lewis Perry Curtis Jr. later noted: “For Balfour the struggle in Ireland was between the forces of law and decency on the one hand and those of organized rebellion and robbery on the other.” A week after Hurlbert’s visit, Balfour wrote to a Parliamentary colleague, “To allow the latter to win is simply to give up on civilization.”

Hurlbert also sought an interview with Davitt, “who was not to be found at the [Irish] National League headquarters, nor yet at the Imperial Hotel, which is his usual resort …” He admitted to “sharing the usual and foolish aversion of my sex to asking questions on the highway” and being confused about the name of the major Dublin thoroughfare then transitioning from Sackville Street to O’Connell Street.

The Imperial Hotel on Sackville/O’Connell Street. Archiseek.com.

When the reporter settled on sending a note to the revolutionary, an unnamed companion warned him to seal it with wax.

Why?

“All the letters to well-know people that are  not opened by the police are opened by the nationalists clerks in the Post-Office. ‘Tis a way we’ve always had with us in Ireland.”

NEXT: Home Rule

NOTES: This post is based on pages 42 to 53 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American. … Page 408 of Coercion and Conciliation in Ireland, 1880-1892, by Lewis Perry Curtis Jr.,  Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1963. Cites letter from Balfour to J. Roberts, 6 February 1888. This citation added May 17, 2018, four months after original post.

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan