Oliver MacDonagh (1924-2002)

CriticismNotes


Life
[Oliver [Ormond] Gerard [Michael] MacDonagh]; b. 23 Aug., Carlow; son of a National Bank official, later mgr. in Roscommon town; ; ed. Clongowes Wood; publ. a poem in Carlow Nationalist, aet. 10, and later in Irish Monthly, while at Clongowes, grad. BA, UCD 1944; bar 1945; attempted to write a novel; acted as occasional racing tipster for Irish Times; his MA thesis appeared in R. D. Edwards & T. W. Moody, eds., The Great Famine (1956); proceeded to Peterhouse, Cambridge, and wrote a PhD on A Pattern of Government Growth 1800-1860: The Passenger Acts and Their Enforcement (1961); issued Early Victorian Government (1977);
 
elected Fellow of St. Catherine’s, 1952-64; m. Carmel Hamilton, 1962, with whom seven children; appt. Visiting Fellow to Australian Nat. Univ., 1963; Foundation Professor of History, 1964; Chair of Modern History, UCC, 1968; contrib. to modernisation of syllabus under M. D. McCarthy; gave the O’Donnell lecture, The Nineteenth-century Novel and Irish Social History (1970); issued Ireland: The Union and Its Aftermath (1977); appt. to W. K. Hancock Chair in Research School of Social Sciences, Canberra, 1973-89, when he retired;
 
issued The Inspector-General: Sir Jeremiah Fitzpatrick and Social Reform 1783-1802 (1981); issued States of Mind: A Study in Anglo-Irish Conflict (1983), a study of Irish ideas about nation and history and winner of Ewart Biggs Memorial Prize, 1985; issued Daniel O’Connell (1988-89), a biography; with S. R. Dennison, issued a history of Guinness 1886-1939 (Cork UP 1998); gen. ed. of 10-vol. Australians: A Historical Library (1988), considered his magnus opus; issued Jane Austen: Real and Imagined Worlds (1991), a tribute to a novelist he greatly admired;
 
awarded D. Litt. by NUI, 1989; retired from chair in Inst. of Advanced Studies in Australia Nat. University, Canberra, 1989; d. 22 May 2002 [aetat. 77], in Sydney; survived by wife Carmel, and children Clodagh, Oliver, Mary, Emer, Frank, John and Melissa; Looking Back, ed. by Tom Dunne (2008), is a posthumous collection of writings on his Roscommon childhood, his student days at UCD, and visits to Australia and England, with two interviews - one with Roy Foster [video], the other with Trevor McLaughlin and David Moyton; as a historian, MacDonagh was tempermentally averse to defending a ‘fixed position’; the Irish Review published two short memoirs of early days in Autumn 2000.

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Works
  • Ireland [Modern Nations in Historical Perspective; Spectrum Bks.] (NJ: Prentice-Hall 1968), xi, 146pp.
  • The Nineteenth Century Novel and Irish Social History: Some Aspects [O’Donnell lecture delivered at University College, Cork, on 21 April 1970 (NUI 1970), 20pp. [discusses Maria Edgeworth, Anthony Trollope, Canon Sheehan, and Benedict Kiely];
  • The Irish Famine and Emigration to the United States (1976);
  • Early Victorian Government, 1830-1870 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1977), xi, 242pp.;
  • Ireland: The Union and Its Aftermath (1977; rev. & enl. 1977), and Do., with an introduction by W. J. McCormack [2nd. edn; Classics of Irish History] (Dublin: UCD Press 2003), xxii, 209pp. [19 cm.]
  • The Inspector General: Sir Jeremiah Fitzpatrick and the Politics of Social Reform, 1783-1802 (London: Croom Helm 1981), 344pp., maps [2 facs., 1 form.]; 23 cm.
  • States of Mind: A Study on Anglo-Irish Conflict, 1780-1980 (London: Allen & Unwin 1983, 1985), viii, 151pp. [var. An Essay], and Do ., rep. as States of Mind: two centuries of Anglo-Irish Conflict 1780-1980 (London: Pimlico 1992), viii, 151pp. [see note];
  • ed., with W. F. Mandle & Pauric Travers, Irish Culture and Nationalism, 1750-1950 (1983).
  • with W. F. Mandle, Ireland and Irish-Australia: Studies in Cultural and Political History [Australian National University in Canberra, 27-30 Aug. 1985] (London, N. H.: Croom Helm 1986, 1989), x, 293pp., ill.
  • The Hereditary Bondsman: Daniel O’Connell 1775-1829 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1988), viii, 328pp., ill. [8pp. of pls.], 1 map, ports., 25cm.;
  • The Emancipist: Daniel O’Connell 1830-1847 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson; NY: St. Martin’s 1989), xi, 372pp., ill. [8pp. of pls.]
  • Jane Austen: Real and Imagined Worlds (Yale UP 1991, 1993), xi, 186pp., ill. [on lining papers] [24 cm.]. (note: how the novels illuminate English history between 1792 and 1817, and how an appreciation of history can enrich our reading of the novels themselves)
  • with S. R. Dennison, Guinness 1886-1939: From Incorporation to the Second World War (Cork UP 1998), xiv,282pp.
  • O’Connell and Parnell [Magdalen College, Oxford] (1993) [presum. lecture]]
  • ‘O’Connell’s ideology’, in A Union of Multiple Identities: the British Isles, c.1750-c.1850 , ed.. L. Brockliss (Manchester UP 1997), pp.147-161.
  • O’Connell: The Life of Daniel O’Connell, 1775-1847 (1991).
  • A Pattern of Government Growth, 1800 to 1860: The Passenger Acts and Their Enforcement (London: MacGibbon & Kee 1961), 368pp., and Do. [new edn.] (1993), 368p., ill. [23cm];
  • intro., Emigration in the Victorian Age: Debates on the Issue from 19th Century Critical Journals (Hants: Gregg 1973) [Edinburgh review, Westminster review, Quarterly review, Blackwood’s magazine and Fraser’s magazine, 1802-1870].
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Contributions (sel.)
  • ‘The Nineteenth-century Revolution in Government: A Reappraisal’, in Historical Journal [q.iss.] (1958), q.pp.;
  • ‘Time’s Revenges and Revenge’s Time: A View of Anglo-Irish relations’, Anglo-Irish Studies, IV, 1979, pp.1-19; ‘Parnell and the Art of Politics’, in Two Historical Views of Parliaments: Ireland and Russia (Canberra: Dept. of the Senate 1992), v, 32pp. [with Harry Rigby, ‘Russia’s parliaments’];
  • ‘Envoi: Humanity, Economy, and Policy: on common sense and expertise in the life of Sir Jeremiah Fitzpatrick’ [Chap. 13], in Government and Expertise: Specialists, Administrators and Professionals, 1860-1919, ed. Roy MacLeod (Cambridge UP 1987; rev. edn. 2002), pp.242-53 [2002 edn. ded. ‘in homage to Oliver’;
  • ‘Clouds of Glory’, and World Without End, Amen, in The Irish Review, 26, 1 (Autumn 2000), pp.103-08; 109-13 [memoirs].
 
Memoir
Looking Back: Living and Writing History, ed. Tom Dunne, with a preface by Roy Foster (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2008), 256pp.
 
Query, chap.-essay in The Rise of Colonial Nationalism: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa First Assert Their Nationalities, 1880-1914, ed. John J. Eddy & Deryck Schreuder (Sydney, Boston: Allen & Unwin 1988).

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Criticism
F. B. Smith, ed., Ireland, England and Australia: Essays in Honour of Oliver MacDonagh (1990); Roy Foster, pref. to Oliver MacDonagh, Looking Back: Living and Writing History, ed. Tom Dunne (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2008), 256pp.

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Commentary
Terence Brown notes MacDonagh’s article ‘Time’s Revenges and Revenge’s Time: A View of Anglo-Irish relations’, Anglo-Irish Studies, IV (1979), offers view that the modern Irish historical awareness is the product of developments in early nineteenth-century historiography (Brown, The Whole Protestant Community: The Making of a Historical Myth [Field Day Pamphlets, No. 7], Derry: Field Day1985.)

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Declan Kiberd, Anglo-Irish Attitudes [Field Day Pamphlets, No. 6] (Derry: Field Day 1984), writes in reference to MacDonagh’s ‘recent book, States of Mind’ that he ‘has shown just how many features of the current crisis are re-runs of an earlier historical reel’ (p.15). Further, Kiberd cites MacDonagh’s judgement that the Ulster situation has been re-categorised from ‘serious but not desperate’ to ‘desperate but not serious’ (p.16). Further comments on MacDonagh’s reiteration of the notion that ‘the English are empiricists with a developmental view of history while the Irish are moral absolutists for whom history is never really history unless it exactly repeats itself, dramatising their longstanding moral [16] claim in each generation.’. Kiberd continues, ‘MacDonagh addds such polish to the familiar clichés that the Irish are prisoners of their own past. But his final chapter explodres this opening thesis by proving that it is the English who force such dreary repetitions on the Irish./MacDonagh might have been nearer the truth had be suggested that it is the Engish who are obsessed with their past, while the Irish are futurologists of necessity. Certianlye avesdroppers on Thatcher’s England and Fitzgerald’s ireland could not think otherwise.’ (p.17.)

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J. MacArdle, review of Looking Back, in Books Ireland (Feb. 2009): remarks that Donagh MacDonagh [sic] spoke of Oliver MacDonagh as his brother at UCD [poss. foster-brother]; MacDonagh regarded his The Inspector General as ‘one of my favourite children’, leading MacArdle to quote from the chapter of that title: ‘Humans are not particularly grateful; but - in the same strain - if no more than one in ten of all the murderers, Rightboys, prostitutes, inebriates, assaulters, insolvents, charity children, madmen, transportees, settlers, insolvents, wives, soldiers' families, widows, naval ratings, East Indian fusiliers, French priests and Hanoverian mercenaries, whose sufferings Fitzpatrick tried to lessen, had drawn his funeral carriage, even London itself might have been astonished by the train.’ (Books Ireland, p.14.)

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Quotations
Novelist & historian: ‘The novelist may [...] feed the historian’s imagination and increase his working range [...] Partial, distorting, quite otherwise concerned, the novel may throw streaks of brilliant light across the historian’s reconstruction, switch his perspectives and restore lost elements and fragments of the phemonenon with which he is dealing.’ (The Nineteenth-Century Novel and Irish Social History: Some Aspects, 1970, p.19; cited in Tom Dunne, Maria Edgeworth and the Colonial Mind, O’Donnell Lecture, 1984, pp.3-4.)

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Blind assumptions: ‘Both the radical and more moderate wing of Irish nationalism, each overwhelmingly Catholic in composition from 1800 on, accepted the image of the Irish nation as adumbrated first by the liberal wing of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, and then developed in an inclusive, supra-sectarian direction by the dissenting and bourgeois “left” among Irish protestants. This meant blind assumptions that Ireland was one and indivisible politically, and that religion was a false divider of Irishmen, used as such by British governments intent on maintaining control of the island.’ (States of Mind, 1983, p.23; quoted in Emer Nolan, James Joyce and Irish Nationalism, Routledge 1995, p.53.)

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Sui generis: ‘I had no teachers; I have no disciples, I founded no school; I possess no theory of history; I am master of no field; from time to time I catch a horrid vision of myself as a sort of pinchbeck ultima Romanorum, a last general practitioner among consultants, a chance survivor from a vanished world.’ (1989 NUI DLitt acceptance speech; quoted in obit., The Irish Times, 8 June 2002, p.16.)

Vade mecum: ‘The only library I use is in my head, my memory, which isn’t very reliable.’ (MacDonagh's remark in the course of a response to the papers at the festschrift conference; quoted in J. MacArdle, review of Looking Back, in Books Ireland, Feb. 2009, p.14.)

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Notes
States of Mind (1983): ‘The author explores the causes of the Anglo-Irish conflict over the last two centuries. He considers crucial differences between British and Irish attitudes to time, place and property. He demonstrates the influence of Daniel O'Connell as well as the reactionary effect of violence in Irish history, and he reveals the ambiguity and self-deception in the politics of self-righteous Gaelicism. This book is the winner of the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.’ (COPAC; rep. edn. 1992.)

Jane Austen (1991) ‘[...] an exploration Jane Austen's novels through the eyes of an historian. It demonstrates how the novels illuminate English history between 1792 and 1817, and how an appreciation of history can enrich our reading of the novels themselves. Building a picture of Jane Austen's life and of the world she inhabited in the period during and immediately after the Napoleonic Wars, Oliver MacDonagh analyzes her experience and her reactions, showing how she worked them into her fiction.’ (COPAC.)

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