R. B. McDowell

Life
1914-2011 [Robert Brendan McDowell], b. 4 Sept., in Co. Louth, son of successful tea-merchant; suffered double-pneumonia in childhood; ed. Belfast Academical Inst., and TCD; grad. BA (History), 1936, and PhD, 1938; worked in Marsh's Lirbrary, Dublin, 1938-42; appt. lecturer at Radley College, Oxfordshire; evacuated to Berkshire during WWII; appt. lecturer, TCD, 1945; elected TCD Fellow, 1951; Junior Dean, 1956-69; ontrib. to RTE “Postbag” in the 1960s; Assoc. Prof. Modern History, 1962-82; famed as a dinner-party speaker, and met with numerous celebrities incl. Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful chez Desmond Guinness; appt. to Chair of Oratory, 1981; emeritus fellow, remaining in rooms at TCD up to 2008 [aetat. 94]; a series of homage-compilations were edited by Anne Leonard, viz., The Junior Dean, and The Magnificent McDowell (2006) also McDowell on McDowell: A Memoir (2008); there is a portrait by Derek Hill; d. 2 Aug. 2011; he retained his British passport throughout his lifetime; the Guardian obit. is by Richard Pine. DIW

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Works
  • with Edmund Curtis, ed., Irish Historical Documents, 1172-1922 (London: Methuen 1943), 331pp.;
  • Irish Public Opinion 1750-1800 (London: Faber & Faber 1944), 306pp.; and Do. [rep. edn.] (Conn: Greenwoood Press 1975), 306pp.;
  • contrib. to R. Dudley Edwards and T. Desmond Williams, ed. The Great Famine: Studies in Irish History, 1845-52 (Dublin: Browne & Nolan 1956) [q.pp.];
  • ed., Social Life in Ireland, 1800-45 (Dublin 1957; rep. 1963, 1973);
  • Public Opinion and Government Policy in Ireland 1801-1846 (1952); British Conservatism 1832-1914 (1959);
  • The Irish Adminstration 1801-1914 (1964);
  • Alice Stopford Green: A Passionate Historian (Dublin: Allen Figgis 1967), 116pp;
  • ed., Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Vol. 8. (Cambridge 1969), and Vol. 9, with J. A. Woods (Cambridge UP 1970);
  • The Irish Convention 1917-1918 ([q.pub.] 1970);
  • The Church of Ireland 1869-1969 ([q.pub.] 1975);
  • with W. B. Stanford, Mahaffy: A Biography of an Anglo-Irishman (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1971; rep. 1975); Ireland in the Age of Imperialism and Revolution 1760-1801 (OUP 1979);
  • with D[avid] A Webb, Trinity College, Dublin 1592-52, An Academic History (Cambridge UP 1982);
  • Ireland in the Age of Imperialism and Revolution, 1760-1801 (OUP 1979);
  • Land and Learning: Two Irish Clubs (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1993)
  • Crisis and Decline: The Fate of the Southern Unionists (Dublin: Lilliput 1998), 240pp.
  • Crisis and Decline: the Fate of the Southern Unionists (Lilliput 1997), x+227pp.;
  • Grattan: A Life (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2001), 288pp.;
  • Historical Essays 1939 -2001 (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2003), 256pp.
Miscellaneous

‘The Personnel of the Dublin Society of the United Irishmen, 1791-94’, in Irish Historical Studies, 2 (1940-41) [q.pp.]; McDowell on McDowell: A Memoir (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2008), 192pp.

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Criticism
Polemic, Daniel Corkery, ‘They Look to London’, in The Sunday Press (2 Aug. 1953); Corkery, ‘The Struggle between Native and Colonist’, in The Sunday Press (30 Aug. 1953) [responses to Irish Public Opinion 1750-1800 and Public Opinion in Ireland 1801-1846].

There is an irreverent portrait of McDowell by Peter Hinchcliffe, a TCD undergraduate (1957-61) and Radleian Old Boy. In it, McDowell asks him to organise a party for old Radleians at which McDowell is unceremonious suspended by the lapel ‘of his tightly buttoned filthy blue overcoat from the hoook at the back of my sitting-room door’ during the proceedings. (Trinity Tales: Trinity College, Dublin, in the Sixties, ed. Sebastian Balfour et. al. (Lilliput Press 2009), p.15.

Homage, Anne Leonard, ed., Junior Dean R. B. McDowell: Encounters with a Legend (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2003), 176pp.; Leonard, ed., The Magnificent McDowell: Trinity in the Golden Era (London: Eccleston Press 2006), xi, 150pp.

See Guardian obituary by Richard Pine - online.

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Commentary
Seán de Fréine, The Great Silence: the study of a relationship between language and nationality (Cork: Mercier 1978), writes: ‘Dr. McDowell says, “it was so instinctive and rooted in his being that he never bothers to analyse and expound it systematically”’ - and quotes further: ‘All the time Ireland, like the rest of Europe, was being quietly permeated by French cultural influences. Translations of French books were printed in Dublin and French authors filled the shelves of Irish libraries.’ (Public Opinion and Govt. Policy in Ireland, 1952; p.87 [?or De Fréine].)

Alvin Jackson, review of Crisis and Decline: the Fate of the Southern Unionists (Lilliput 1997), in Irish Studies Review, 6, 3 (Dec. 1998), calls the author a ‘patriarch of Irish history’ and a ‘survivor of a heroic age’ ; counts Crisis and Decline and important work for its ‘sensitive and fair-minded analysis of the southern Unionist plight, and also for its frank insights into the personal history of the author ... not excessively self-indulgent’; notes remarks addressed to ‘ neo-ex-Unionists’ in present time. Jackson considers that the autobiographical chapter ‘ raises questions of definition which are nowhere systematically addressed, still less answered’ , among them the meaning of the term Southern Unionist. if purely geographical, how can it include Edward Saunderson, Cavan-born Unionist who was MP for N. Armagh, 19885-1906. Concludes that McDowell regards the term as embracing a series of social and political attitudes that marked a ‘ line of division’ which, though marked, was ‘less than perfect’ (in McDowell’s phrases). Jackson calls for an analysis of the continuities of Unionism, given the tendency among historians since the early 1970s to emphasise the distinctions. (Jackson, p.319.)

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Christopher Wheatley, ‘“Our own good, plain, old Irish English”: Charles Macklin/Cathal McLaughlin and Protestant Convert Accommodations’, in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal, 4, 1 (Autumn 1998), disputes McDowell’s claim that working-class Irish immigrants to Britain in the late eighteenth century did not feel themselves to be aliens. (Vide McDowell, Ireland in the Age of Imperialism and Revolution, 1979; Wheatley, op. cit., p.84.)

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Quotations
Grattan: A Life (Dublin: Lilliput 2001), 271pp.; McDowell writes of the period 1803: ‘'Emancipation was a misleading term. the Catholics were not in a state of slavery. The privileges denied them were the right to sit in Parliament and to hold ”the principal situations of trust and power under the crown”, the offices which might be regarded as constituting the government of the country. In short, the Catholics were not asking for civil rights - these they already possessed - but were demanding political power. Was it expedient this demand should be met? / There were two reasons for returning a negative answer to this question. Catholics, members of a hierarchical church whose head was the bishop of Rome, were subject in spiritual matters to “a foreign jurisdiction”.’ Further: ‘the spiritual sphere was surprisingly wide - for instance the decision on a matrimonial case could decide the disposition of property - and the Church of Rome claimed the right to fix its boundary. Secondly, one of the most essential features of the British constitution, “our free and happy constitution”, reflecting the “practical wisdom of mankind, under which we enjoy liberty toleration, wealth, tranquillity”, was the partnership between Church and State. But could Catholic legislators and office-holders be expected to protect an Anglican Established Church and defend its interests?’ (q.p.)

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Protestant parliament: ‘It is remarkable how the members of this proud community were able to ignore the existence of their helots. Furious controversies on Irish politics could be carried on without reference to the Catholic question [...] When Protestants paid any attention to the Catholic question, they usually saw good reasons for preserving both their pride and the penal laws. The papists, they were convinced, hated their religion and coveted their property. And, given an opportunity, they would simultaneously persecute and confiscate.’ (Irish Public Opinion 1759-1800, ed. Moody et al., Faber & Faber 1943, p.10.) Further, ‘The Anglo-Irishman’s resentmen over the subordinate position occupied by his country was confused and mollified by the complexity of his emotions towards his neighbour. After all, to use a phrase that occurs time and time again, England was the mother-country. [...] The Protestant inhabitants of Ireland were intensely proud of their racial links with Britain, and of their share in the English cultural heritage. Great Britain and Ireland it was declared had much the same laws, quite the same language, the same religion, and the same prince.’ (Ibid., p.21; both the foregoing quoted in Pauline Holland, doc. diss., UU 2004.)

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Notes
Thomas Russell’s pocket-books, held in Trinity College Library, were first used by McDowell in a Hermethena article of May 1939, and more extensively in his Irish Public Opinion, 1750-1800 (1944). His transcription of the same was used by Frank McDermot in his Wolfe Tone and His Times [rev. edn.] (Tralee 1968). (See C. J. Woods, ed., Journals and Memoirs of Thomas Russell, 1791-5, Journals and Memoirs of Thomas Russell, 1791-95, Dublin: IAP 1991).

Portrait: Derek Hill (1916-2000), “Prof. R. B. McDowell leaving the Rubrics, Trinity College, Dublin” [painting], was auctioned at Christies S. Kensington (17 May 2001), made £23,500; see Irish Arts Review: Price Guide to Irish Art, Sept 2000-Aug. 2001.

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