Tag Archives: Phoenix Park

A Journey In Ireland, 1921, Revisited: Ulster attitude

Novelist and journalist Wilfrid Ewart traveled through Ireland from mid-April to early May 1921. His dispatches for London newspapers were later collected and revised in the book, ‘A Journey in Ireland, 1921.’ Previous installments of this centenary series are collected at American Reporting of Irish Independence.

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In their “Introduction” to the 2009 UCD Press edition of Journey, Paul Bew and Patrick Maume devote considerable attention to Ewart’s time in what today is Northern Ireland. They note the author’s reference to his September 1913 visit to an Ulster Volunteer Force rally in Newry. It is unclear, they comment, whether Ewart, then 21, “was there for political sympathy, personal connection with the participants, or journalistic curiosity, though he speaks of ‘marching with the Covenanters’ which implies a certain degree of participation.”[1]“Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, pp.xii-xiii. A year earlier, unionists signed the Ulster Covenant to protest Ireland leaving the United Kingdom under home rule, as proposed at the time.

Ewart’s material from his 1921 visit to Belfast, Bew/Maume continue, “is perhaps the most fascinating in the book,” and they provide considerable analysis of the events he covers.[2]Ibid, p. xvii. The author arrives in the northeast portion of Ireland as Ulster Unionist chief James Craig meets with Sinn Féin leader Eamon de Valera, and three weeks before the first general election of the new Northern Ireland parliament.

“All Befast was talking of the Craig-de Valera meeting, girding itself with an illusive expectancy, girding sometimes at its own leader [Craig], tending to lose sight of the major question in the momentary issue,” Ewart writes.[3]Journey, p. 156.

This meeting and the outcome of the election are well documented. More striking 100 years later is the unchanged and unmistakable political and cultural attitude of the region Ewart describes in Journey. It is personified by Sir Dawson Bates, then secretary of the Irish Unionist Alliance, “a downright hardheaded zealot, with a clear-cut horizon and no sentiment to spare,” Ewart says. “He speaks and looks and thinks and is–Belfast.”

At the Orange hall rally Ewart attends in East Belfast, Bates bellows:

We don’t want a United Ireland, we want a United Kingdom. … Some people hope that Ulster is going to make a mess of things. Failure means handing our bodies and souls over to Sinn Féin and the Roman Catholic Church. We’ve had enough of Dublin in the past. If we can crush Sinn Féin at the forthcoming elections, there’s a bright future for Ulster.[4]Journey, p.152-153.

A month later, Bates became Northern Ireland’s first minister for home affairs, a post he held for nearly 22 years. “His conspicuous distrust of the nationalist minority frustrated initial attempts to secure its cooperation, helped to minimize its power in local government, and encouraged an overtly discriminatory administrative style,” the Dictionary of Irish Biography says.[5]Bates, Sir (Richard) Dawson”, by Richard Hawkins, Dictionary of Irish Biography.

Northern Ireland Cabinet, 1921. Sir Dawson Bates at left, James Craig third from left. Others, l. to r, are Marquess of Londonderry, Hugh McDowell Pollock, E. M. Archdale, and J. M. Andrews. Ewart interviewed Pollock, who was finance minister.

Ewart also interviews finance minister-designated Hugh McDowell Pollock,  whom he characterizes as uncompromising and inflexible, a man who “can hardly be described as concessionable.” Pollock proclaims, “English people are stupid” because they fail to see that Ulster is “the only bulwark between them and the complete dissolution of the British Empire.” The people of southern Ireland, he says, are “full of sentimental ideas about nationalism.”[6]Journey, pp. 235-237. Also cited by Maurice Walsh, Bitter Freedom: Ireland in the Revolutionary World. W. W. Norton & Co., New York,  2015, pp. 306-307.

Bew/Maume detail how Ewart selectively reports “his vision of Ulster Unionist intransigence” by excluding moderate portions of the Craig speech he attends. They suggest Ewart was “more at home with the wistful and fearful Southern Unionists” who were willing to accept some form of Dominion status than the “more confident and intransigent” Ulstermen.[7]“Introduction”, p. xviii, and p. xiv.

The attitude expressed by Bates and Pollock prevailed in the region from the 1912 Ulster Covenant through the sectarian Troubles of the late 20th century, when it was personified by Ian Paisley. True, Paisley moderated his views after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, even developed an unlikely partnership with Irish republican Martin McGuinness. Echoes of Bates and Pollock reverberate in current outcries over Brexit’s impact on the region and increased talk of a united Ireland. More hard-line rhetoric is likely to be heard in the months ahead as the Democratic Unionist Party’s replaces resigned leader Arlene Foster.  

The next post in this series will catalog more of Ewart’s interview quotes from Belfast and other parts of Ireland on the two key subjects: the island’s 1921 partition, and the Easter Rising that preceded it in 1916.

Curious errors

In his chapters about Northern Ireland, Ewart’s book contains two historical errors: 

Cecil Doughty image of the 1882 Phoenix Park murders.

He suggests the first deaths of the Irish War of Independence, the Jan. 21, 1919, ambush of RIC officers James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell at Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary, shared an anniversary date with the murders of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Henry Burke in Dublin’s Phoenix Park.[8]Journey, p. 143.

This is incorrect. The Dublin killings occurred nearly 40 years early, on May 6, 1882, during Ireland’s Land War period. 

A few pages later, Ewart quotes an unnamed “high official” in Belfast who criticizes de Valera, citing the quote: “If the Unionists do not come in on our side they will have to go under.” Ewart, in parentheses, attributes the comment to a July 5, 1919, speech at Killaloe, County Clare.

This place and date are correct, but the year was 1917, as de Valera campaigned in a special by-election for the seat opened by the death of Irish Parliamentary Party incumbent Willie Redmond. The Sinn Féin candidate won in a landslide five days later. Two years later, De Valera was in the early weeks of his 18-month tour of America to raise money and political support of the Irish republic.

As with most fact errors–and I have made my share–it is not so remarkable that mistakes were made in the first place, but that they survived the copy editing of other readers before publication.

NEXT: Rising & Partition

References

References
1 “Introduction”, Journey, UCD Press edition, 2009, pp.xii-xiii.
2 Ibid, p. xvii.
3 Journey, p. 156.
4 Journey, p.152-153.
5 Bates, Sir (Richard) Dawson”, by Richard Hawkins, Dictionary of Irish Biography.
6 Journey, pp. 235-237. Also cited by Maurice Walsh, Bitter Freedom: Ireland in the Revolutionary World. W. W. Norton & Co., New York,  2015, pp. 306-307.
7 “Introduction”, p. xviii, and p. xiv.
8 Journey, p. 143.

19th-century Irish railways make 21st-century headlines

Two stories about 19th-century Irish railways have appeared in contemporary news headlines.

In Kerry, descendants of Lartigue monorail workers met for a Gathering reunion at Listowel that also marked the 10th anniversary of the related museum and short demonstration line.

“It was a wonderful event,” Lartigue volunteer Martin Griffin told The Kerryman. “We had descendants of 17 of the original workforce and it was great to establish new links with them and we hope now to keep these bonds alive into the future.”

The Lartigue operated between Listowel and Ballybunion from 1888 until 1924, when the newly created Irish Free State refused to consolidate the monorail into the new national railways system. A 1924 letter to the editor of the Freeman’s Journal suggested closing the line would “ruin the prospects of about 30 employees, with about 130 dependents.”

Lartigue monorail workers at the Ballybunion station. National Library of Ireland image.

Lartigue monorail workers at the Ballybunion station. National Library of Ireland image.

In Dublin, the 1877 railway tunnel underneath Phoenix Park has been drawing attention. The National Transport Authority proposed opening the line for passenger trains between Connolly and Heuston stations, but Irish Rail has balked at the plan. The Irish Times offers a video trip through the tunnel as part of its coverage.

The tunnel opened five years before the Phoenix Park murders of Ireland’ land war period of the 1880s, which also was a time of great expansion for localized railways such as the Lartigue and the Tralee and Dingle Light Railway in south Kerry.

Irish political violence in the 1880s

The Irish Story, one of my favorite Irish history websites, has posted its review of a Dublin conference titled “The Irish National Invincibles, The Phoenix Park Killings and Their Times.” The 1882 stabbing deaths of two senior British officials in Ireland and related events are part of the post-Famine and pre-Rising period of Irish history that is generally unfamiliar to most Irish-Americans. (Maybe many Irish, too?) In his review, John Dorney writes:

The Phoenix Park murders took place against the background of the Land War – a period of intense civil strife in rural Ireland. In 1879 a slump in agricultural prices and a poor harvest had put thousands of small farmers at the risk of eviction, due to not being able to pay their rent, either in cash or in kind, to their landlords.  This raised the prospect of mass evictions and even starvation as had occurred in the bitter famine winter of 1847…Tenant farmers organised in the Irish National Land League to withhold rents and resist evictions. There also followed a widespread campaign of sabotage, burning hayricks, maiming cattle, intimidating and on accession even killing rent-collectors, ‘land-grabbers’ and landlords. The British state in Ireland responded with the Coercion Bill, which allowed for detention without trial. The Land War was at once a social and national conflict.

The killings were carried out by the Invincibles, “a militant group within the Irish Republican (or Fenian) Brotherhood, who emerged in response the coercion of the Land League tenant farmer movement,” conference organizer Shane Kenna wrote in a 2012 post  for The Irish Story. Five men were executed for the crime, which continued to have political repercussions through the decade and beyond.

killings-phoenix

Kenna has published a separate article about the 1881-1885 Fenian dynamite campaign and other books and research on the period.  Here is a link to his website.

My own interest and research in this period continues to grow.