Tag Archives: Michael Davitt

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 )

***

“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.”

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

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Ireland Under Coercion, Revisited: Dublin arrival

(This is part 2 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 )

***

“I had expected to come upon unusual things and people in Ireland … ”
–William Henry Hurlbert

Hurlbert arrived in Ireland on 30 January 1888, having departed from London the previous evening. He had been to Rome earlier, which is important for reasons that will become clear later in the book.

“We made a quick quit passage to Kingstown,” (Dún Laoghaire since 1920), across the Irish Sea from Holyhead, Wales, arriving in the morning. “A step from the boat at Kingstown puts you into the train for Dublin,” about nine miles to the north.

Kingstown in the 1890s, a few years after Hurlbert’s arrival.

Hurlbert was accompanied by Lord Ernest Hamilton, elected three years earlier as M.P. for North Tyrone. A dockside news vendor who recognized the Conservative member of parliament “promptly recommended us to buy the Irish Times and the Express,” then “smiled approval when I asked for the Freeman’s Journal also,” the American wrote. The first two papers were unionist; the third moderately nationalist.

Hurlbert’s attention was drawn to the Journal‘s report about the previous evening’s nationalist demonstration in Rathkeale, County Limerick, about 20 miles southwest of Limerick city. Thousands of men from counties Limerick, Kerry and Clare attended the rally, which featured a speech by agrarian activist Michael Davitt. To Hurlbert, it was “chiefly remarkable for a sensible protest against the ridiculous and rantipole abuse lavished upon Mr. [Authur] Balfour by the nationalist orators and newspapers.”

Balfour

In March 1887, just 10 months earlier, Balfour had been appointed Chief Secretary of Ireland by his uncle, Lord Salisbury, then the British Prime Minister. Balfour quickly introduced, and Parliament approved, a tough new law to crack down on resurgent agrarian violence and political protests in Ireland. In September 1887, three people were killed at Mitchelstown, County Cork, when officers of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) fired into a crowd of demonstrators. Thereafter, the Chief Secretary was nicknamed “bloody Balfour.”

According to the Journal‘s page 6 story, Davitt said that Balfour:

“…is not a man who cares very much about the names he is called, and calling names, let me add, is not a very scientific method of fighting Mr. Balfour’s policy. Calling him ‘bloody Balfour’ may be a truthful description … but its constant use in newspapers and on platforms is becoming what the Americans term a ‘stale chestnut.’ … What we have got to recognize is the policy of this man, and what we have got to do is, to beat that policy by cool, calculating resistance.”

Davitt

Hurlbert says that “Davitt has the stuff in him of a serious revolutionary leader … bent on bringing about a thorough Democratic revolution in Ireland. I believe him to be too able a man to imagine … this can be done without the consent of Democratic England [and he knows] that to abuse an executive officer for determination and vigour is the surest way to make him popular.”

In fact, Davitt also criticized Balfour during the Rathkeale speech. Davitt noted that at the current pace of arrests under the 1887 law, it would take the chief secretary more than 500 years to imprison all supporters of Irish nationalism and tenant rights:

“If we judge of what he can do to save the life of Irish landlordism by all he has performed up to the present, we need have very little apprehension about the final result. … He will discover, if he has not done so already, that imprisonment will not beget loyalty, nor plank beds gratitude to the power he represents. It is with a nation, as with an individual, a tussle with persecution brings out great qualities of endurance, the courage of conviction, and a faith which scorns to abdicate to brute force.”

From the Dublin rail station, Hurlbert and Hamilton rode an “outside car,” a two-seat, two-wheeled, horse-pulled carriage also known as a jaunting car, to the Maples Hotel on Kildare Street, “a large, old-fashioned but clear and comfortable house.” (It was mentioned by James Joyce in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1916; then torn down after World War II to make way for the Department of Industry and Commerce building.) Hurlbert also writes of the nearby Leinster Hall theater, “the fashionable and hospitable Kildare Street Club,” a hideaway of Dublin’s Anglo-Irish Protestant Ascendancy, and the Shelburne Hotel, “known to all Americans” and “furbished up since I last saw it.”

NEXT: Meeting Balfour

NOTES: This post is based on pages 35 to 41 of Ireland Under Coercion: The Diary of an AmericanAccess to the Freeman’s Journal via Irish Newspaper Archive. Most hyperlinks on people’s names or places are to Wikipedia for consistency and ease of production. Dublin locations mentioned in the last paragraph are hyperlinked to images in the National Library of Ireland.

The time element of the arrival from Holyhead was revised from the original post.

Copyright 2018 by Mark Holan

Irish history under the Christmas tree

Santa brought me three new Irish history books for Christmas. Two are 2007 titles about late 19th and early 20th century republican political agitation, which came from my wish list. The third book, selected by my wife, covers a range of topics from the 16th to 21st century.

The Princeton History of Modern Ireland 
Edited by Richard Bourke & Ian McBride:

The book is divided into two sections, described by Bourke in the Introduction:

Part 1 contains six overarching narrative chapters dealing with the main developments in society and politics throughout the period covered by the book. The aim here is to present readers with an up-to-date rendition of the course of Irish history. Part 2 then focuses on topics and themes that played a peculiarly important role in the shaping of that trajectory. These chapters range from exercises in intellectual, cultural, and literary history to analyses of formatively significant subjects like religion, nationalism, empire, and gender.

The IRB: The Irish Republican Brotherhood, from the Land League to Sinn Féin
By Owen McGee

This title won the 2009 NUI Centennial Prize for Irish History. McGee “argues that [the IRB] was never primarily an insurrectionary conspiracy; rather it was a popular fraternal organization and propagandistic body, committed to bringing about popular politicization in Ireland along republican lines,” according to publisher Four Courts Press.

Michael Davitt: freelance radical and frondeur
By Laurence Marley

Another title from Four Court Press. In a review for History Ireland, Seán O’Brien described the book as:

…the first substantial biography of Michael Davitt in 25 years and the only book to deal with all of the roles he assumed in public life. It presents Davitt as an ad hoc activist temporarily allied with a number of different movements but ultimately unable to maintain a lasting connection with any of them. Examining the details of the principled positions that led to his alienation from the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Parnellites, British labour and the House of Commons, the book makes a strong case for Davitt’s role as a kind of radical consultant, compelled to struggle by his ethical principles but unable to suppress them enough to remain loyal to an organisation.