This blog serial explored 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.
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 Freeman‘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.”
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 Freeman‘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.”
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 American. Access 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