Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Home Rule

This is post 4 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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“It is not in accordance with the American doctrine of ‘Home Rule’ that ‘Home Rule’ of any sort for Ireland should be organized in New York or in Chicago by expatriated Irishmen.”
–William Henry Hurlbert

In the early 1880s, agrarian agitator Michael Davitt and Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell partnered in an bid to secure domestic political autonomy for Ireland–Home Rule. The effort got financial and political support from the Irish in America, roused by visits from Davitt and Parnell. Despite the support of Liberal British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, however, the legislation was defeated by unionists in 1886, two years before Hurlbert’s arrival in Ireland.

Charles Stewart Parnell

Hurlbert wrote the 1886 bill would have made Gladstone and the British government “the ally and the instrument of Mr. Parnell in carrying out the plans of Mr. Davitt, Mr. Henry George, and the active Irish organizations of the United States.” Hurlbert also recognized the Home Rule effort was not over:

“How or by whom Ireland shall be governed concerns me only in so far as the government of Ireland may affect the character and the tendencies of the Irish people, and thereby, the close, intimate, and increasing connection between the Irish people and the people of the United States, may tend to affect the future of my country. … [In the wake of the failed 1886 bill] ‘Home Rule for Ireland’ is not now a plan–nor so much as a proposition. It is merely a polemical phrase, of little importance to persons really interested in the condition of Ireland, however invaluable it may be to the makers of party platforms in my own country, or to Parliamentary candidates on this side of the Atlantic. … [It] has unquestionably been the aim of every active Irish organization in the United States for the last twenty years … [and] Parnell is understood in America to have pledged himself that he will do anything to further and nothing to impede.”

Within months of Hurlbert’s visit to Ireland, Parnell would face a special commission called to investigate his alleged links to two 1882 political murders. Though cleared two years later, he soon was scandalized by revelations of his extramarital affair with the wife of one of his parliamentary colleagues. He died in 1891, two years before a second Home Rule bill was raised (and defeated) in parliament.

Col. Edward James Saunderson

During his second and third days in Dublin, Hurlbert met with several members of the British administration and M.P.s who opposed any form of separation of Ireland from the United Kingdom. An unidentified Catholic unionist from southern Ireland told him it would be “madness to hand Ireland over to the Home Rule of the ‘uncrowned king’ (Parnell’s nickname).”

Later, Hurlbert attended a meeting of Irish unionists, where he heard a speech by Colonel Edward James Saunderson. The M.P. for North Armagh (now part of Northern Ireland) asked the audience whether they could ever imagine being governed by “such wretches” as the Parnellite nationalists?

“Never,” the crowd replied in what Hurlbert described as “a low deep growl like the final notice served by a bull-dog.” Ian Paisley and his unionist supporters echoed the response 97 years later outside the Belfast City Hall.

NEXT: Dublin slums

NOTES: This post is based on the Prologue and pages 53 to 70 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an American

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan