[Sir] Jonah Barrington


Life
1760-1834; b. Knapton, Abbeyleix, fourth of six children of John Barrington, landowner in Queen’s Co.; ed. TCD; bar, 1788, silk, 1793, and admiralty judge, 1798; MP for Tuam by purchase of seat, 1790-97; then Clogher, 1798; [DIB Bannagher]; received sinecure of £1,000, 1793; declined to repurchase his seat, 1797; reentered parliament, 1798, and voted against Act of Union, rejecting Lord Clare’s offer of solicitor-generalship in 1799; unsuccessfully contested Dublin, 1802; bribed other members on the issue; knighted 1807; while living in Dublin he occupied end-of terrace with the bow window on mid-Harcourt St., where Lady Barrington used overlook the garden of Lord Clonmel, his chief adversary; moved to France around 1815 to escape his creditors, but retained his office and emoluments;
 
deprived of office for appropriations of funds during 1805, 1806 and 1810 on discovery by a parliamentary commission in 1830; his Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation (1833) provided the basis for the idealisation of ‘Grattan’s Parliament’ taken up by the Irish Parliamentary Party; issued Personal Sketches of His Own Times (1827-1832), extolling the ‘glow of well-bred, witty, and cordial vinous conviviality’ of the age and especially the more eccentric characters such as Sir Boyle Roche and Borumbad, the pseudo-Turk; the book includes his ‘red’ and ‘black’ lists of the voters for and against the Union; d. 8 April, Versailles [var. Paris];
 
a portrait of Barrington appears, with Sir John Parnell tapping his shoulder and speaking to him, in the engraving of the Irish House of Commons of 1790, now preserved in Bank of Ireland (College Green) [as figure No.145 in key]; the British Library holds a correspondence between Barrington and Rev. L. Battersby on matters of family finance in 1810; there is an open letter to Sir Jonah Barrington in Walter Cox’s National Asylum (July 1810); commonly spoken of as unreliable historian; his Personal Sketches reissued by George Birmingham as Recollections of Jonah Barrington (1918). ODNB JMC RAF DIW DIB DIH FDA OCIL DIL WJM
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Works

  • Historic Anecdotes and Secret Memoirs of the Legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland (London: G. Robinson 1809); Do. [1809-33; rep. in 1833 with a 2nd vol., as] Historic Memoirs of Ireland, Comprising Secret Records of the National Convention, the Rebellion, and the Union, with Delineations of the Principal Characters Connected with These Transactions, 2 vols. (London: R. Bentley & H. Colburn 1833), ports. & facs., 4°.; Do. [3rd edn.] with a memoir of the author, an essay on Irish wit and humour, and notes and corrections by Townsend Young, 2 vols. (London: G. Routledge & Sons 1869), 8°; Do. [another edn.] 2 vols (Glasgow & London: Cameron & Ferguson 1876), x, 498pp., 8°;
  • Personal Sketches of his Own Times [3 vols. 1827-32, of which Vols. 1 & 2 (London: Henry Colburn 1827); Vol. 3 (London: Henry Colburn & R. Bentley 1832); and Do ., reissued as Recollections of Jonah Barrington, with an introduction by George Birmingham [Every Irishman’s Library] (Dublin: Talbot; London: London: T. Fisher Unwin [1918]), xx, 485pp., frontis. port. [see contents];
  • The Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation (Paris: G. G. Bennis 1833), 8, xiii, 837pp.; Do . [another edn.] (Dublin: James Duffy 1853), xix, 26-399pp.; Hugh B. Staples, ed., The Ireland of Sir Jonah Barrington: Selections from His Personal Sketches (Washington: [Catholic UP] 1967).
Digital editions
  • Barrington'sThe Rise and Fall fo the Irish Nation (1833] (Dublin: Eneclann 2008) - online.

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Bibliographical details
Recollections of Jonah Barrington, intro. George Birmingham (Dublin: Talbot Press; London: Fisher Unwin [1918]) [in Every Irishman’s Library, Gen. Ed. A P Graves; with William Magennis, Douglas Hyde], port. of Barrington. CHAPTERS: My Family Connexions [1]; Elizabeth Fitzgerald [18]; Irish Gentry and their Retainers [29]; My Education [34]; Irish Dissipation in 1778 [43]; My Brother’s Hunting Lodge [51]; Choice of Profession [58]; Murder of Captain O’Flaherty [63]; Adoption of the Law [74]; Irish Beauties [79]; Patricians and Plebians [90]; Irish Inns [97]; Fatal Duel of my Brother [101]; Entrance into Parliament [112]; Singular Customs in the Irish Parliament [121]; The Seven Baronets [128]; Entrance into Office [139]; Dr. Achmet Borumborad [145]; Aldermen of Skinner’s Alley [154]; Procession of the Trades [161]; Irish Rebellion [166]; Wolfe Tone [173]; Dublin Election [177]; Election for County Wexford [187]; Wedded Life [195]; Duke of Wellington and Marquess of London-derry [201]; Lord Norbury [210]; Henry Grattan [218]; Lord Aldborough [227]; John Philpot Curran [231]; The Law of Libel [238]; Pulpit, Bar, and Parliamentary Eloquence [253]; Queen Caroline [257]; Anecdotes of Irish Judges [261]; The Fire Eaters [278]; Duelling Extraordinary [296]; Hamilton Rowan and the Bar [315]; Father O’Leary [322]; Death of Lord Rossmore [326]; Theatrical Recollections [335]; Mrs. Jordan [346]; Mrs. Jordan in France [365]; Scenes at Havre de Grace [373]; Commencement of the Hundred Days [388]; The English in Paris [398]; Inauguration of the Emperor [406]; Promulgation of the Constitution [422]; Last Days of the Imperial Government [432]; Detention at Villette [443]; Projected Escape of Napoleon [450]; Battles of Sèvres and Issy [456]; Capitulation of Paris [465]; The Catacombs and Père La Chaise [471]; Pedigree Hunting [474].

See extracts - as infra; also ‘Introduction’ by George Birmingham - as infra.

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Criticism
Donald T. Torchiana, ‘The World of Sir Jonah Barrington’s Personal Sketches’, in Philological Quarterly, 45 (1966), pp.321-45; Hugh B. Staples, ed. & intro., The Ireland of Sir Jonah Barrington (Seattle/London: University of Washington press 1967; London: Peter Owen 1968); Pádraic Colum, ‘Landlords’ Ireland’, in Éire-Ireland, 4, 1 (Spring 1969), pp. 109-13.

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Commentary
George Birmingham, ed. & intro., Recollections of Jonah Barrington (Dublin: Talbot Press; London: Fisher Unwin [1918]): ‘It is Sir Jonah Barrington who gives us the first fairly complete and authentic portrait of the rollicking Irishmen of later literary tradition. I should be sorry to quote Barrington as a reliable authority for any historical fact of the cold, stark kind which I wished to establish. Barrington had a lively imagination and a taste for the picturesque, qualities absolutely fatal to the serious historian. He was the victim, moreover of the prejudices of the most vigorous kind. His Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation is probably as interesting, and certainly as untrustworthy, as any history book ever written. His Personal Sketches and Recollections, are, we must suppose, the product of a cheerful mind sporting with facts. But Barrington has this merit. He gives us a picture, not a photograph, of Irish society in his own day. We get the tone, the colour of the men about whom he writes. […] Barrington himself is a witness to the fact that the Irish gentry of his day were capable of idealism. The book by which he is best known is called “The Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation.” That conception of “The Irish Nation” was one which had laid strong hold on the imagination of the Irish gentry. It was a narrow conception, for it took very little heed of the bulk of the people. The Irish nation, as these men thought of it, was the Irish aristocracy, even a narrower thing still, the Irish Protestant aristocracy. The idea was insular, divorced from the main stream of European thought; but it was real. The men who were haunted by it from the days of Lucas till Grattan uttered his triumphant “ Esto perpetua” oration were something more than rollicking squireens. They were able to devote themselves to things more spiritual than fox-hunting and claret-drinking. Their idea perished and they, as a potent aristocracy, perished with it, mainly because they were not wholly true to it, because they were afraid at the last moment to trust themselves and it. The brief and not inglorious existence of their independent Irish Parliament closed with the Act of Union. It is the fashion to speak of that Act as a political necessity. It is, at least, doubtful, whether it was anything of the sort.[…] Barrington.

[See longer extracts under George Birmingham [q.v.], and at greater extent in RICORSO Library > “Authors” - as attached.]

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Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972): ‘Sir Jonah Barrington noted in 1825, Irish political views were something of a puzzle. The Anglo-Irish independent loyalist could drink the healths of the tory Charles I, the Puritan Cromwell, and the whig William III on the same evening. This was incomprehensible, unless one assumed that “it was only to coin an excuse for getting loyally drunk as often as possible [16] that they were so enthusiastically fond of making sentiments .”’ (Kain, op. cit., p.17.) Note: Kain has further remarks on Barrington, retaling his account of Baron Power in illustration of the skill of the raconteur, on p.77f., and remarks: ‘Barrington shows that Dubliners have long been conscious of playing their parts on the relatively small stage of local society’ before making a similar point about their conduct before a ‘world audience’ (p.78.)

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Quotations
Recollections of Jonah Barrington [Every Irishman’s Library] (Dublin: Talbot; London: London: T. Fisher Unwin [1918]), on FAMILY CONNECTIONS: ‘I was born at Knapton, near Abbeyleix, in the Queen’s County, at that time the seat of my father, but now of Sir George Pigott. I am the third son and fourth child of John Barrington, who had himself neither brother nor sister; and at the period of my birth my immediate connexions were thus circumstanced. / My family, by ancient patents, by marriages, and by inheritance from their ancestors, possessed very extensive landed estates in Queen’s County, and had almost unlimited influence over its population, returning two members to the Irish parliament for Ballynakill, then a close borough./ Cullenaghmore, the mansion where my ancestors had resided from the reign of James the First, was then occupied by my grandfather, Colonel Jonah Barrington. He had adopted me as soon as I was born, brought me to Cullenaghmore, and with him I resided until his death. [/…/] That old mansion, the Great House, as it was called, exhibited altogether an uncouth mass, warring with every rule of symmetry in architecture. The original castle had been demolished, and its materials converted to a much worse purpose; the front of the edifice which succeeded it was particularly ungraceful – a Saracen’s head, our crest [p.1; &c.] (See longer extracts in Ricorso Library > “Authors” > Jonah Barringon - as attached.)

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The Irish gentry: (Recollections, Chap. III): ‘The numerous and remarkable instances which came within my own observation of mutual attachment between the Irish peasantry and their landlords in former times would fill volumes. A few only will suffice, in addition to what has already been stated, to shew the nature of that reciprocal good-will which on many occasions was singularly useful to both, and in selecting these instances from such as occurred in my own family, I neither mean to play the vain egotist nor to determine generals by particulars, since good landlords and attached peasantry were then spread over the entire face of Ireland, and bore a great proportion to the whole country.’

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Second City: ‘Dublin, the second city in the British Empire, though it yields in extent, yield not in architectural beauty to the metropolis of England. For some years previous to the Union, its progress was excessive - the locality of its Parliament – the residence of the nobility and commons - the maginificence of the Viceregal court - the active hospitality of the people - and the increasing commerce of the Port - all together gave a brilliant prosperity to that splendid and luxurious capital.’ (Historical Memoirs, 1835, vol. I, p.7; cited in Constantia Maxwell, Dublin Under the Georges 1714-1830, 1936 [epigraph.]

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Pikemen: ‘The extreme expertness with which the Irish handled the pike was surpassing; by withdrawing they could shorten to little more than the length of a dagger, and in a second dart it out to its full extent. At Old Kilcullen they entirely repulsed General Dundas, and the heavy cavalry, in a regular charge, killing two captains and many soldiers; the General escape with great difficulty, by the fleetness of his horse. At New Ross they entirely broke the heavy horse by their pikes ... Colonel Foote's detachment of infantry was nearly annihilated by the pike at Oulart; only the major and two others escaped.’ (Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation, p.432; quoted in Patrick F. Kavanagh, A Popular History of the Insurrection of 1798 [1884] , p.92; see in Google Books online; accessed 01.09.2010.)

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Union Division: ‘The Bishops yielded up their conscience to their interests and but two of the spiritual Peers could be found to uphold the independence of their country, which had been so nobly attained and so corruptly extinguished.’ (Quoted in Don Gifford, Joyce Annotated, 1982, p.148.)

Canvassing: Chief secretary Edward Cooke kept a lavish table for about 30 irresolute members of Parliament in committee rooms during the Union debate so that they could be rushed in to vote in a division. Barrington recounts: ‘with significant nods, and smirking innuendoes, [he] began to circulate his official rewards to the company [until] every man became in a prosperous state of official pregnancy.’ (Historic Memoirs, II, p.336; quoted in Patrick Geoghegan, ‘The Making of the of Act of Union’, in Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, ed. Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, p.43.)

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Verdict on the Union: ‘one of the most flagrant public acts of corruption on the records of history, and certainly the most mischievous to this empire’ reducing Ireland to ‘a withered limb.’ (Personal Sketches and recollections of his own times, Dublin 1997 [Edn.], p.iii; Historic anecdotes and secret memoirs of the legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland, 1809, p.17; quoted in Willa Murphy, ‘A Queen of Hearts or an Old Maid?: Maria Edgeworth’s Fictions of Union’, in Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, eds., Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, p.189.)

… & the Sequel: ‘It is, however, now in proof that twenty-seven years of the Union have been twenty-seven years of beggary and disturbance.’ (Quoted in George Birmingham, ed., Recollections of Jonah Barrington [Every Irishman’s Library] (Dublin: Talbot; London: London: T. Fisher Unwin [1918]), Intro. p. xx.)

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Irish Catholics v. British Govt.: ‘In 1798, they were hanged; in 1799, they were carressed; in 1800, they were cajoled; in 1801, they were discarded.’ (Historic memoirs, vol. II, p.232; quoted in Kevin Whelan, ‘The Other Within: Ireland, Britain and the Act of Union’, in Dáire Keogh & Kevin Whelan, eds., Acts of Union: The Causes, Contexts and Consequences of the Act of Union, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2001, p.17.)

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References
Frank O’Connor, ed., Book of Ireland (London: Fontana 1959 & edns.), selects “Merry Christmas, 1778” [‘uninterrupted match of hard-going till the weather should break up … hogshead of superior claret’ … ‘the pipers plied their chants … I shall never forget the attraction this novelty had for my youthful mind’] (p.139); “Sir Boyle Roche” … the most celebrated and entertaining anti-grammarian in the Irish Parliament’] (p.183); on duelling [‘Ough, thunder! … how many holes did the villain want drilled in to his carcass?’] (p.262); “Crow Street theatre” [‘immediately … on being struck, he reeled, staggered, and fell very naturally, considering that it was his first death’] (p.278). See also under Thomas Sheridan, Rx.

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Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English: The Romantic Period, 1789-1850 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980), Vol 1, cites Personal Sketch es (1827) as well as Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation (1833), which Rafroidi calls the most literary of all his books in which the prose is clear, harmonious and well-balanced; also the ‘more technical’ Historic Records and Secret Memoirs of the Legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland (1844). [97]

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Brian Cleeve & Ann Brady, A Dictionary of Irish Writers (Dublin: Lilliput 1985) lists Historic Anecdotes and Secret Memoirs of the Legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland (1809).

Roy Foster, Modern Ireland (London: Allen Lane 1988), ‘the racy Personal Sketches … confirmed him as the chief historian of the “half-mounted gentlemen” of Ireland’ (p.169).

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day Co. 1991), Vol. 1, 964 [a fine example of their rapscallion culture, redeemed them and himself for posterity by regarding them in the soft lights of nostalgia for an Ireland that had once been and had forever passed away with the Act of Union, the decline of Dublin’s influence and the rise of nationalist politics, acc. eds., Carpenter and Deane]; selection from Personal Sketches [1005-07, an early passage dealing with his place of birth, ‘an uncouth mass, warring with every rule of symmetry n architecture’, from which his ancestors with extensive estates in Queen’s Co. ‘had almost unlimited influence over its population’]; BIOG 1010 [see Life - supra]

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Library Catalogues
British Library
holds Correspondence of the Rev L. Battersby with Sir Jonah Barrington … on the subject of Family Money, &c. (1810), 8o; Historic Memoirs comprising secret records of the National Convention, the Rebellion, and the Union, with delineations of the Principal Characters connected with these translations [sic, ?recte transactions], ports and facs., 2 vols. (R Bentley & H Colburn 1833 [1809-33]), 4o; with additional titlepage to vol. 1, engraved, Historic[al] Anecdotes and Secret Memoirs of the Legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland (G Robinson 1809) [published in two parts]; 2nd ed., 2 vols. (London: Bentley & Colburn 1833); 3rd ed., with memoir of the author, an essay on Irish wit and humour, and notes and corrections by Townsend Young, 2 vols. (G. London: Routledge & Sons 1869), 8o; another ed., vols. 1,2 (Glas&Lon, Cameron & Ferguson 1876), pp. x, 498, 8o; another ed. 1, 2, Recollections of Jonah Barrington … with introduction by George Birmingham, in Every Irishman’s Library ser. (Dublin: Talbot [1918]), xx, 485pp.; also Barrington, Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation (GG Bennis 1833), and another ed. (Dublin: James Duffy 1853), xix, 26-399pp. [Chk orth.: historic/al]

Belfast Central Public Library holds Historic Anecdotes (1809) which includes Dobbs (q.v.); also Personal Sketches; Recollections; Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation. Ulster Univ. Library (Morris Collecton, holds Comprising Secret Records of the National Convention, the Rebellion, and the Union, 2 vols. (Henry Colburn, 1835); Personal Sketches and Recollections of his Own Times (1827), 498p.

[Emerald Isle Books] The Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation (Paris: Bennis 1833), 494pp. orig. clth. bds.

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Notes
Bonfire of fancies: According to Barrington, the MS of Personal Sketches [1827; reissued as Recollections, 1918] was rescued from a bonfire of ‘letters, papers, and fragments of all descriptions’ which he had decided to destroy, while in another place he calls it ‘a rambling chronicle’ of things ‘which, from time to time, struck my fancy’

William Carleton mentions in his Autobiography that Jonah Barrington was Irish MP for Clogher, and ‘one of the last that sat for it.’ (Autobiography, 1996 Edn., p.16.)

W. B. Yeats: Mrs French, in the first section of Yeats’s poem ‘The Tower’, is a character from Barrington’s Recollections, where it is used to illustrate ‘mutual attachment between the Irish peasantry and their landlords’ [see A. N. Jeffares, W B Yeats, A New Biography, 1988, p.276; Frank Tuohy, Yeats, 1976, p.189).

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James Joyce: Leopold Bloom makes reference to Barrrington's Reminiscences [i.e., Recollections ] in Ulysses : ‘Must ask Ned Lambert to lend me those reminiscences of sir Jonah Barrington.’ (Bodley Head Edn., p.309 [‘Wandering Rocks’ episode]).

John Mitchel quoted Barrington in his History of Ireland: ‘Mr Pitt counted on the expertness of the Irish Government to effect a premature explosion. Free quarters were now ordered, to irritate the Irish population; slow tortures were inflicted, under the pretence of forcing confessions; the people were goaded and driven to madness’. (p.264; quoted in Rosamund Jacob, Rise of the United Irishmen, 1929, 251.)

Mary Cusack cites Barrington’s description of O’Connell in Personal Sketches, ii, p.452: ‘O’Connell, at that day was a large, ruddy, young man, wth a most savage dialect, an imperturbable countenance, intrepid address, et proeterea nihil ’; comments that Sir Joshua [sic] was not gifted with much discrimination of character, or he would not have written the last sentence.’ (Life of the Liberator, 1872, ftn., p.321.)

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