J. C. Beckett

Commentary


Life
1912-1996 [James Camlin Beckett]; ed. Belfast Acad. Inst. and QUB, grad. 1934 (1st Class Hons. in Mod. History); taught for 11 years at Belfast Royal Academy; MA QUB; lect. in history, QUB, 1945; Protestant Dissent in Ireland 1687-1780 (1948); produced 2-vol. history of QUB, with Theo Moody; Reader in History, 1952; installed in personal chair as Prof. of Mod. Hist. QUB, 1958-75);
 
issued The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923 (1965), and freq. reprinted; MRIA; member of Irish Manuscript Commission; enthusiastic student of Norwegian language and literature; d. 12 Feb.; bur. Ballinderry, Co. Antrim, called ‘the doyen of northern historians’ by W. J. McCormack (Battle of the Books, 1986); issued a history of Queen’s University, Belfast, with T. W. Moody. DIW OCEL FDA

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Works
Literary articles (sel.)
  • ‘The Anglo-Irish Tradition in Literature’, in Lagan, 2 (1944), pp.44-47;
  • ‘The Irish Writer and his Public in the Nineteenth Century’, in G. K. Hunter and E. J. Rawson, eds., The Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. 2 [Mod. Humanities Research Assoc.] (1981), [see extract]
Historical monographs
  • Protestant Dissent in Ireland 1687-1780 [Irish Hist. Studies, ed. T. W. Moody et al.] (London: Faber & Faber 1948);
  • A Short History of Ireland [Hutchinson University Library] (London: Hutchinson 1952; new. edn. . 1964; 1979), 449pp. [see extract]
  • The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923 (London: Faber 1965), rep. (London: Faber 1966), 496pp., maps.; Do., another edn. (NY: Alfred A. Knopf 1966), 496pp., maps. [see contents];
  • Confrontations: Studies in Irish History (London 1972);
  • The Anglo-Irish Tradition (1976; rep. Belfast: Blackstaff 1982) [see extracts];
  • The Cavalier Duke, A Life of James Butler, First Duke of Ormond (Belfast: Pretani Press 1990); also ‘The Irish writer and His Public in the Nineteenth Century’, in g. K. Hunter and E. J. Rawson, eds., Yearbook of English Studies, 2 (1981), pp. 102-116;
 
Edited collections
  • ed. Belfast: The Making of the City (1982);
  • ed., Historical Studies, VII [Papers of Irish Conference of Historians] (London: Routledge 1969).
Collaborations
  • with T. W. Moody, ed., Ulster since 1800: A Social Survey (London 1957);
  • with R. E. Glasscock, Belfast: The Origin and Growth of an Industrial City (London: BBC 1967), 204pp.;
 
 

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Bibliographical details
The Making of Modern Ireland (Faber 1966; reps. 1969, 1971, 1973, 1978; new edn. 1981, rep. 1985, 1987, &c.), 514pp. CONTENTS [chaps.]: ‘Pacata Hibernia’; ‘Ireland in the Early Seventeenth Century’; Protestant and Recusant, the constitutional Struggle, 1603-1641’; ‘The War of the Three Kingdoms’; ‘Confiscation and Settlement; Restoration Ireland’; ‘“The Glorious Memory”’; ‘The Emergence of the Protestant Nation’; ‘The Economic and Social Basis of the Protestant Ascendancy’; ‘The Rise of the Patriots’; ‘The Winning of the Constitution’; ‘Grattan’s Parliament’; ‘The Impact of Revolution’; ‘From the Union to Catholic Emancipation’; ‘O’Connell and the Policy of Repeal’; ‘The Great Famine’; ‘Land and Politics, 1850-1870’; ‘The Beginning of Home Rule’; ‘The Uncrowned King’; ‘The Policy of Conciliation, 1891-1905’; ‘The Home Rule Crisis, 1906-1914’; ‘The Revolution in Ireland, 1914-1923’ [each of the foregoing with numerical subsections and page-head titles, e.g., The Viceroyalty of Fitzwilliam, Balfour and the Land Question, Easter Week, 1916]; also Select Bibliography & Index.

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Criticism
An obituary notice by A. T. Q. Stewart appeared in History Ireland, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Summer 1996), pp.5-6.

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Commentary
Gerald Dawe & Edna Longley, eds., Across the Roaring Hill: The Protestant Imagination in Modern Ireland (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1985), Introduction: ‘[John] Hewitt was not gentle, however, to J. C. Beckett’s romantically inaccurate 1945 version [v] of Northern “Anglo-Irishness”. Beckett proclaimed: “We Englishmen born in Ireland must not barter our reality for the specious compensation of a local loyalty or a perverted patriotism.” (‘The Anglo-Irish Tradition in Literature’, in Lagan, 2, 1945, p.47.) Hewitt retorted: “Call an Ulster Scot an Anglo-Irishman and see what happens.”’ (‘The Bitter Gourd’, Lagan 3, 1945, p.96; here p.v-vii.)

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Quotations
The Anglo-Irish Tradition in Literature’, in Lagan, 2 (1944), pp.44-47, identifies quality of tradition as a proud detachment born out of political considerations, occasionally an influence, but not a literary tradition itself.

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The Anglo-Irish Tradition (1976): ‘Every Irish Protestant, whatever his rank, felt himself to be a member of a governing society; and this sense of a common superiority to the Roman Catholic masses tended to weaken the force of class division within the dominant group. It produced a kind of aristocratic egalitarianism - since it was generally safe to assume that an Irish gentleman was a Protestant, there was a temptation to reverse the order and assume that an Irish Protestant was a gentleman. [...]. Swift, the Irishman in England is aggressively conscious of his status as one of a ruling group, very insistent of the respect in which he feels he should be held. Swift, in Ireland, can achieve the same end only in insisting on the status and rights of the country in which he is compelled, however unwillingly, to live.’ (p.65; quoted in part in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, London: Cape, 1995, p.449.)

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A Short History of Ireland [new edn.] (Hutchinson Univ. Lib. 1964), 449pp. ‘[T]he characteristic Anglo-Irish qualities, bred in the special circumstances of Ireland, could find expression, sometimes at least, in a writer’s outlook on the world and on society in general.’ (The Anglo-Irish Tradition, 1976). p.143. Also, ‘So long as Irish writers had no such national public to support them, so long as they had to look outside Ireland to find a market for their work, it was hard to see how Ireland could develop a truly national literature, a literature that would be distinctly Irish irrespective of its subject matter’. (‘The Irish Writer and his Public in the Nineteenth Century’, Yearbook of English Studies, Vol. 2, 1981, p.113.)

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The Anglo-Irish Tradition (1976): ‘A visitor to Ireland in the present day, seeking to recapture the spirit of the eighteenth-century Anglo-Irish, would find their most striking achievement in architecture, in the coutry houses, large and small, the city squares, the public buildings, that still stand as memorials to their wealth, their taste and their sense of power and security. The most striking example of this architectural heritage is, naturally, the cityof Dublin. its very existence as a capital is an expressin of that overflow of English power into Ireland of which the Anglo-Irish was the product.’ (Blackstaff, edn., p.66.)

‘[Jonathan] Swift and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’ ([1971]): ‘The main point of his ironical defence of the Modest Proposal was the utter helplessness of expecting the people of Ireland to make any honest concerted effort to help themselves.’ (Q.p.; quoted in Claude Rawson, ed., Focus: Swift, London: Sphere Books 1971, p.161.)

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The Anglo-Irish Tradition (1976): ‘The resentment that the memory of this ascendancy can arouse in Ireland, even now, does not spring simply from the fact that it was a narrow and selfish class [...] “Protestant ascendency” could, and oftren did, signify something wider than the dominance of the Protestant landed class: it was the supremacy of Protestants, as a body, over the Roman Catholic majority [...] though the distinction that separates the majority from the minority in Irelad must be stated in religious terms, and though there can be no doubt that religious convictions were sincerely held on both sides, we shall misunderstand the situation completely unless we remember that for Irishmen religion was nore than the expression of theological belief. Protestant and Roman Catholic were separated by a gulf deeper than that between the Thirty-Nine Arcticles and the Creed of Pope Pius IV. The formed, in fact, two communities, to some extent intermingled and interdependent, but consciously different; and between them lay the memory of conquest and confiscation, massacre and pillage, conspiracy and persecution. In this log struggle religion had determined the side on which [a] man stood: but the struggle had been one for land and power, and religion had been a badge of difference rather than the main issue in dispute.’ (p.66; quoted in Pualine Holland, Doc. Diss., UUC 2004.)

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The Anglo-Irish Tradition (1976): ‘It is not altogether fanciful to suppose that the Anglo-Irish scholars felt, perhaps, subconsciously, that the further back they went the safer they were. They could be enthusiastic over the valour of ancient Gaelic heroes and the piety of the Celtic church without raising issues that might have an obvious relevance to their own day [...]. But this study of Gaelic antiquity proved more potent and more divisive than those who encouraged it could have foreseen.’ Blackstaff Press Edn. 1982, p.102; quoted in Luke Gibbon, ‘“Some Hysterical Hatred”: History, Hysteria and the Literary Revival’, in Irish University Review, Spring/Summer 1997, p.8.)

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The Anglo-Irish Tradition (1976): ‘[...] it is not altogether fanciful to suppose that Anglo-Irish writers felt, perhaps subconsciously, that the further back they went the safer they were ... But this study of Gaelic antiquity proved more potent and more divisive than those who encouraged it could have foreseen. The popular imagination was caught by the picture of a glorious past, of an Ireland with a distinctive culture of its own, untouched by English influence; and the very vagueness of the outline left the imagination free to shape the picture as it would ... [The Anglo-Irish writers] thus contributed, unwittingly, to the downfall of their own tradition. The ideal of a Gaelic Ireland bred an attitude conducive to cultural, and even to racial, exclusiveness.‘ (p.102; quoted in Georg Watson, Irish Identity and the Liteary Revival, London: Croom Helm, 1979, p.95.)

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The Urban Exception’, review of R. A. Butlin, ed., The Development of the Irish Town (Croom Helm [1977], in Times Literary Supplement (30 Sept. 1977), commends Brian Graham on definition of the urban in medieval context by reference to ‘borough status with a corporation and privileges’, listing 170 such; also notices essay by T. W. Freeman on Irish towns on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; compares statistics acc. which the population of Britain was half urban by 1850, while that of Ireland was only a quarter urban forty years later [1890].

The Irish Writer and His Public’, in The Yearbook of English Studies, 2 (1981): ‘[The romantic movement] attached a particular value to what was unfamiliar or remote and to ways of life that were regarded as less “artificial” than those of contemporary society. Thus the British reading public, still largely concentrated in the southern half of England, was in a mood to explore the periphery and to find unsuspected beauty, heroic courage, natural dignity, and domestic virtue in areas and among people hitherto neglected or despised.’ (p.105; Belanger, p.248. quoted in Jacqueline Belanger, ‘Educating the Reading Public: British Critical Reception of Maria Edgeworth’s Early Irish Writing’, in Irish University Review, Autumn/Winter 1998, pp.240-55 [available at JSTOR online], p.240).

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Notes
Seamus Heaney: Heaney cites Beckett in making his case in ‘The Sense of Place’ [1977], in Preoccupations, Faber 1980): ‘And when we look for the history of our sensibilities I am convinced, as Professor J. C. Beckett was convinced about the history of Ireland generally, that it is to the stable element, the land itself, that we must look for continuity.’ (p.149; quoted in Sophia Hillen King, ‘The Millstone and the Star, Regionalism as Strength’, in Linen Hall Review, Autumn 1994, p.7.)

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D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland (London: Routledge 1982; 1991), relies upon J. C. Beckett in asserting that, ‘[h]ad the Normans not come to Ireland, [High King] Rory O’Connor might have forged some kind of national monarchy of the kind that had already been created in the neighbouring countries; but the Norman intervention introduced the frist of those breaks in a pattern of development which one Irish historian has drawn attention to [viz., J. C. Beckett, in ‘The Study of Irish history’, Confrontations, 1972, pp.11-25]. A genuine [29] national monarchy did not emerge; but neither did the kings of Ireland unite to check and expel the invader. Instead each ruler fought for himself, now allied with, now against, the newcomers.’ (Boyce, p.29-30.)

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