Thomas Davis: Commentary


C. G. Duffy
Richard D’Alton Williams
Samuel Ferguson
William Carleton
W. B. Yeats
John Eglinton
John Mitchel
D. J. O’Donoghue
Patrick Pearse
Padraic Fallon
Denis Donoghue
Dominic Daly
Frank Tuohy
Patrick Rafroidi
W. B. Stanford
Daithí Ó hÓgáin
Cairns & Richards
Barbara Hayley
Seamus Deane
Mark Storey
Gerard O’Brien
R. F. Foster
Conor Cruise O’Brien
David Lloyd
Jacqueline Hill
S. J. Connolly
Gerry Smyth
Selina Guinness

Malcolm Brown on Davis’s poetic method: ‘[…] artifical and mechanical manipulation of standard Irish emotional cues of heroic site, actor, and incident […]’ (The Politics of Irish Literature, Allen & Unwin 1972, pp.64-65; quoted in Callum Boyle, Essay, PG Dip., UU 2004.)

 
Philip Edwards, Threshold of a Nation: A Study in English and Irish Drama (Cambridge UP 1983), incls. chapter on Yeats’s Irish Theatre, with remarks on Thomas Davis: ‘The creator of cultural nationalism in Ireland was Thomas Davis ...’ (pp.193-94.)
—See attached.

Charles Gavan Duffy: ‘Davis desired a national existence for Ireland that an old historic state might be raised from the dust, and a sceptre placed in her hand, that she might become the mother of a brave and self-reliant race. Dillon desired a national existence primarily to get rid of social degradation and suffering, which it wrung his heart to witness without being able to relieve.’ (Quoted in Stephen Gywnn, Irish Lit. and Drama, 1936, p. 90.)

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Richard D’Alton Williams, “Lament for Thomas Davis”
Hast thou fallen from our band,
Purest spirit of the land?
Hast thou perished while thy glory yet was young?
While more than mortal fire
Sprang intensely from thy lyre,
And love and wisdom flowed from thy tongue?

O think, with grief and pride,
How he laboured, thought, and died.
To knit our souls together in love’s chain;
And shall the nations say,
Reproachful o’er his clay,
That his great heart throbbed, and broke at last, in vain?

Oh! could his gentle eyes
E’er know sorrow in the skies.
This — this would mar his glory in the spheres;
His crown would grow less bright.
And before the angels’ sight
For once would Eden’s floor be dewed with tears. [82]

No! humbly kneeling here,
Around his early bier,
His spirit smiling o’er us from above,
With clasped souls and hands,
Where our hero’s marble stands
We’ll rear a lasting shrine to him and love.

Arise! spread shamrocks round —
This earth is holy ground;
May seraphim watch fondly o’er his grave,
And curses scourge away
From this consecrated clay
The hypocrite, the tyrant, and the slave!

Let him sleep in Irish ground,
At his feet the Irish hound,
The harp of battle broken by his side,
And let his willing hand
Embrace the half-drawn brand —
Oh! had he but unsheathed it ere he died!

With laurel shade his clay
From the amber light of day,
And be thou his ceaseless caoiner mournful wind!
For ne’er a nobler heart, "World-seeing" though thou art,
In all they boundless kingdom shalt thou find.

But his deathless name shall be
Still a rainbow to the free —
A promise slavery’s deluge to control,
And our children, yet in strife
For love, liberty, and life,
Shall feel the inspiration of his soul.

The morning’s golden hair
Shall be grey, with time, in air —
The constellated host pass away —
The angel-bearing spheres
Shall grow sterile in their years,
And the pillars of the universe decay.

But natures all divine,
Bard and Patriot! like thine.
Pure spirit of imperishable flame!
Exult in native light,
Inextinguishably bright.
Immortal as the soul whence they came! [84]

 
Poems, ed. P. A. Sillard (Duffy 1894), pp.82-84.

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Samuel Ferguson, ‘Our Portrait Galley’, No. XLII, in Dublin University Magazine, Vol. 29 (Feb. 1847),pp.190-99: ‘The young mind of the country, starting as from a trance - or from that fabulous spell which our legends tell us keeps Finn’s mighty youths asleep under the green hills, waiting for the advent of an Irish Arthur - came out of its forgotten recesses, strong and eager for any achievement to which he might desire to guide it.’ ‘[…] his influence […] among the upper classes was even more remarkable [than his literary leadership …]. Their great fault had been want of a want of national sentiment. Habituated to the spurious Irishism of self-abasing detractors on the one hand, and of ignorant exaggerators on the other, they saw nothing but danger in any identification of themselves with a nationality which had been accustomed to exhibit itself only in its provocations to ridicule and contempt.’ Ferguson appended to this notice his elegy on Davis, written in 1845; see ‘Lament for Thomas Davis’, under Ferguson, Rx. [infra].

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William Carleton: ‘his [Davis] brief life and appearance here were not a thing of ordinary being, but a miracle and a mystery.’ (Quoted in Benedict Kiely, Poor Scholar, 1947; 1972, pp.109.)

Benedict Kiely: ‘[... I]t was for Thomas Osborne Davis that William Carleton reserved the highest, most sincere tribute he ever paid to any man, proving once again the extraordinary personality that was lost somewhere in mediocre poems and patriotic ballads and quiet, thoughtful essays. Davis drew to himself and held under his influence all that was best in the Ireland of his time; and, fresh from the sorrow of that burial scene in Mount Jerome, Carleton wrote of “inexorable death that in the course of one short mad disastrous week extinguished that spirit, to whose pure lustre the eyes of our country would have one day turned as to a leading star.” He made one of the best attempts that has been made to analyse the reasons why men of [108] different types were variously attracted to Davis. He had “a character so full and complete, a mind so large and comprehensive.” He was “not only a man of genius, but a man of genius without the shadow of those errors, which almost always accompany it,” and to the wonderful and varied powers of his intellect, and the purity and strength of his principle, and the ever-living truth which kindled all his purposes, he added the spell of a child-like and loving heart. As a poet, he could have sung a people into freedom; as a statesman, he had capacity to deal with empires; in the field he would have led armies; in the council, he would have balanced and guided the destiny of nations.” The heart of Thomas Davis, wrote William Carleton, was as pure and as easily touched as the drop of dew on the blade of grass; and his society and conversation made you a better man; and “his brief life and appearance here were not a thing of ordinary being, but a miracle and a mystery.” The love of Thomas Davis for the traditional music of Ireland very naturally appealed to a man who had heard his mother sing with all the gathered sweetness of the centuries; and, over that premature grave, William Carleton thought: “That he was my friend is at once my pride and my sorrow. Only on one question did we differ.” (Kiely, Poor Scholar: A Study of the Works and Days William Carleton, 1947; 1972 [10th] edn., pp.108-09; see longer extract in RICORSO Library, "Classics of Irish Criticism", via index or direct.)

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W. B. Yeats, ‘An honest style did not come into English-speaking Ireland until Callanan wrote three or four naive translations from the Gaelic. “Shule Aroon” and “Kathleen O’More” had indeed been written for a good while, but had no more influence than Moore’s best verses. Now, however, the lead of Callanan was followed by a number of translators, and they in turn by the poets of Young Ireland, who mingled a little learned from the Gaelic ballad writers with a great deal learned from Scott, Macaulay, and Campbell, and turned poetry once again into a principal means for spreading ideas of nationality and patriotism. They were full of earnestness, but never understand that, though a poet may govern his life by his enthusiasms, he must, when he sits down at his desk, but use them as the potter the clay. Their thoughts were a little insincere, because they lived in the half-illusions of their admirable ideals; and their rhythms not seldom mechanical, because their purpose was served when they had satisfied the dull ears of the common man. They had no time to listen to the voice of the insatiable artist, who stands erect, or lies asleep waiting until a breath arouses him, in the heart of every craftsman. Life was their master, as it had been the master of the poets who gathered in the Limerick hostelry, though it conquered them not by unreasoned love for a woman, or for native land, but by reasoned enthusiasm, and practical energy. No man was more sincere, no man [viii] had a less mechanical mind than Thomas Davis, and yet he is often a little insincere and mechanical in his verse. When he sat down to write he had so great a desire to make the peasantry courageous and powerful that he half believed them already ‘the finest peasantry upon the earth,’ and wrote not a few such verses as ‘Lead him to fight for native land, / His is no courage cold and wary; / The troops live not that could withstand / The headlong charge of Tipperary’- / and to-day we are paying the reckoning with much bombast. His little book has many things of this kind, and yet we honor it for its public spirit, and recognise its powerful influence with gratitude. He was in the main an orator influencing men’s acts, and not a poet shaping their emotions, and the bulk of his influence has been good. He was, indeed, a poet of much tenderness in the simple lovesongs “The Marriage”, “A Plea for Love”, and “Mary Bhan Astór”, and, but for his ideal of a fisherman defying a foreign soldiery, would have been as good in “The Boatman of Kinsale”; and once or twice when he touched upon some historic sorrow he forgot his hopes for the future and his lessons for the present, and made moving verse.’ (“Modern Irish Poetry”’, in Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature, 1904, Vol. III, p.pp.vii-xiii; p.viii-ix.)

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W. B. Yeats: ‘Thomas Davis, whose life had the moral simplicity which can give to actions the lasting influence that style alone can give to words, had understood that a country which has no national institutions must show its young men images for the affections, although they be but diagrams of what should he or may be. He and his school imagined the Soldier, the Orator, the Patriot, the Poet, the Chieftain, and above all the Peasant; and these, as celebrated in essays and songs and stories, possessed so many virtues that no matter how England, who, as Mitchel said, ‘had the ear of the world’, might slander us, Ireland, even though she could not come to the world’s other ear, might go her way unabashed. But ideas and images which have to be understood and loved by large numbers of people must appeal to no rich personal experience, no patience of study, no delicacy of sense; and if at rare moments some Memory of the Dead can take its strength from one, at all other moments matter and manner will be rhetorical, conventional, sentimental; and language, because it is carried beyond life perpetually, will be worn and cold like the thought, with unmeaning pedantries and silences, and a dread of all that has salt and savour.’ (Essays and Introductions, 1961, pp.312-13; quoted in R. F. Foster, ‘Square-built Power and Fiery Shorthand: Yeats, Carleton and the Irish Nineteenth Century’, in The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland, Penguin 2001, p.122.)

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W. B. Yeats: ‘Certain songs by Davis, Carleton’s Valentine McClutchy, Kickham’s Knocknagow, Mitchel’s History of Ireland, numberless forgotten books in prose and verse founded or fostered the distortion we have not yet escaped…. Dublin had once been a well-mannered, smooth-spoken city. I knew an old woman who had met Davis constantly and never knew that he was in politics until she read his obituary in the newspaper. Then can agrarian passion [… &c.] (Prefatory notes to King of the Great Clock Tower, cited in A. N. Jeffares, A New Commentary to the Poems of W. B. Yeats, 1984, p.334; also cited in part in Alan Warner, A Guide to Anglo-Irish Literature, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1981, p.22.) [See also Denis Donoghue, infra.]

W. B. Yeats: ‘It seemed then as if our new generation could not do its work unless we overcame the habit of making every Irish book, or poem, shoulder some political idea; it seemed to us that we had to escape by some great effort from the obsession of public life, and I had come to feel that our first work must be to close, not knowing how great the need of it still was, the rhymed lesson book of Davis.’ (Speech made at Thomas Davis Commemoration, 1914.) Further, ‘In Ireland above all nations, where we have so man bitter divisions, it is necessary to keep always unbroken the truce of the Muses.’ (Ibid., p.6; quoted in Dublin Magazine, 1966, infra.)

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John Eglinton [William Magee], ‘Island of Saints’ in Saints and Bards (1906), writes, ‘in journalism Davis (who indeed was rather an ideal editor than what Mr T. W. Rolleston has called him, “an ideal Irishman”) succeeded so well that he and his colleagues imposed the tradition of the [Nation] newspaper on Irish national literature.’ (q.p.)

John Mitchel, Essays Literary and Historical [Centenary Edn.] (Dundalk: W. Tempest 1914): ‘To characterise shortly the poetry of Davis - it’s main strength and beauty lies in its simple passion. Its execution is unequal; and in some of his finest peices any magazine critic can point out weak and unmusical verse. But all through these ringing lyrics there is a direct, manly, hearty, human feeling, with here and there a line or passage of such passing melody and beauty that once read haunts the ear and heart forever.’ (Preface, xx.)

D. J. O’Donoghue (Preface, Essays Literary and Historical, 1914): ‘Davis had a clearly defined object in view when he agreed to ally himself to what proved to be the greatest Irish journal of his or any time. He had formed in his mind a constrcutive policy of his country - he saw how many tings were disgracefully neglected, how much mere oratory and poetical flourishes took the place of steady ameliorative effort form within, and one of the many reasons why his essays have always proved so helpful to Irishmen is that they all seek to develop a highter sense of nationality, and to raise thhe charcater of the people.’ (p.ix; quoted in Joseph Lynch, MA Dip., UU 2003.)

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Patrick Pearse, speech on Thomas Davis (1916): ‘Character is the greatest thing in a man, and Davis’s character was such as the Apollo Belvedere is said to be in the physical world - in his presence all men stood more erect. The romans had a noble word which summed up all moral beauty and civic valour, the word virtus. If English had as noble a word as that it would be the word to apply to the thing which made Thomas Davis so great a man.’ (Quoted in Stanford and McDowell, Mahaffy, 1972, pp.114-15.; cited in W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition, 1984.) Note that Pearse was prevented from delivering the speech inside TCD by J. P. Mahaffy.

Padraic Fallon: ‘His poetry served magnificently the only purpose which he allotted to it, that of Nationality’ (‘The Poetry of Thomas Davis’, in Thomas Davis and Young Ireland, Dublin 1945, p.214.)

Denis Donoghue: ‘Yeats thought about the Ireland of his time sometimes in sorrow and often in anger; in those moments he wonders about the curious and fascinating power, issuing not so much in Davis’ poems and speeches as in his public actions, with thier wrm moral simplicity. it was Davis’s privilege to offer Irishmen certain great images for their affects, figures like the Soldier, the Orator, the Patriot, the Peasant; and those images would be understood and loved by many people, and the love and understanding would bind those people together. Yeats knew that such power could easily degenerate into a more [9] casuistry, which would destroy everything noble, high, and austere, all the proud and lonely things he revered. So he was afraid of it. […]’. (’Yeats and Modern Poetry: An Introduction’, in Donoghue, ed., The Integrity of Yeats, 1964, pp.9-10.)

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Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde (1974): On Dec. 3 [in his diary record], Douglas Hyde is at the Mosaic, listening to a paper on Irish poets by Berry. ‘I spoke and said it was a scandal that half the people present had never heard of Thomas Davis, after his poems had gone through fifty editions.’ [91]; for Hyde’s appraisal of Davis’s verse, called by Daly his sincere one, see p.117, ‘those wretchedly weak lyrics ‘Anni[e] Dear’, ‘Love’s Longings’, and ‘Máire Bhán astor’. ‘Still, he cannot be angry with Davis, for his noble and generous treatment of the Irish language contrasts only too favourably with that of some of his followers of the present day’ (Review of Sparling’s Irish Minstrelsy, 1887. 1888.) FURTHER, Davis spent time in Ballaghadereen, near Hyde’s own home, in order to learn Irish but did not make much progress. In the Nation he urged, ‘the language of a nation’s youth is the only easy and full speech for its manhood and for its age. And when the language of the cradle goes, itself craves a tomb. A people without a language is only half a nation. A nation should guard its language more than its territories - ’tis a surer barrier and more important frontier than fortress and river …’ This speech is quoted in T. F. O’Sullivan, The Young Irelanders (Tralee 1944, [2nd. Edn. 1945]), p.451. [Daly, op. cit., p.214, n.]

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Frank Tuohy, Yeats (Macmillan 1976),‘Davis, a young Protestant barrister of great energy, with a new message for Ireland…. Adopting the manner of his English contemporary Thomas Carlyle, he railed against laissez-faire capitalism which produced the blackened cities of industrial England. But he held the belief that the Irish and the English are totally different and must develop in different ways. O’Connell wanted ‘a little something for Ireland’; Thomas Davis wanted a national identity. // Davis wrote propaganda poetry … sincere, succinct, and banal’ [quotes ‘We hate the Saxon and the Dane’ … &c.] (p.12.)

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Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, 1789-1850, Vol. 1 (1980), Davis, ‘Nationality … is the summary name of many things. It seeks a literature made by Irishmen and coloured by our scenery, manners and characters. It desires to see art applied to express Irish thoughts and beliefs. It would make our music sound in every parish at twilight, our pictures sprinkle the walls of every house, and our poetry and history sit at every hearth. It would thus create a race of men full of more intensely Irish character and knowledge, and to that race it would give Ireland.’ quote in Richard J Loftus, Natonalism in Modern Anglo-Irish Poetry, p.6. Further, quotes Davis: ‘The objections to separate education are immense; the reasons for it are reasons for separate life, for mutual animosity, for penal laws, for religious wars. ’Tis said that communication between the students of different creeds will taint their faith and endanger their souls. They who say so should prohibit the students from associating out of the college even more than in them … let them prohibit Catholic and Protestant boys from playing, talking, or walking together … let them establish a theological police - let them rail off each sect … into a separate quarter; or rather, to save preliminaries, let each of them proclaim war in the name of his creed on the men of all other creeds, and fight till death, triumph, or disgust shall leave him leisure to revise his principles.’ (Arthur Griffith, ed., Thomas Davis, The Thinker and Teacher, pp.171-2.) [86] Note, this writing also quoted in J. C. Beckett, Making of Modern Ireland (1966 & eds.), p.332; and note, ‘The tension and ill-feeling produced by difference of opinion over the new colleges in 1845 certainly contributed to the final breach between O’Connell and the Young Irelanders in the following year.’ (Beckett, op. cit., p.333.) Also, Davis’s ‘Lament for the Milesians’ [‘Oh, proud were the chieftains of proud Innis-Fail / Oh! sweet the minstrels of kind Innis-Fail / How fair were the maidens of fair Innis-Fail ..], printed in The Spirit of the Nation (1928 edn., p.140), ends with an Irish refrain, ‘A’s truaghgan oidhir ‘n-a bh-farradh! [pitful the inheritance without it]’.

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Patrick Rafroidi, Irish Literature in English, The Romantic Period, 1789-1850, Vol. 2 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1980), remarks: ‘..universally appreciated at the time, even the ultra conservative magazines like Dublin University Magazine saving their sarcasm for other patriots.’ Bibl.: poems in Spirit of the Nation (1843); ‘Essay on Irish Songs’, in M. J. Barry, ed., The Songs of Ireland (Dublin: Duffy 1845); The Poems of Th. Davis [now first collected] (Dublin: Duffy 1846), viii, 232pp. [1. National Ballads and Songs; 1. Miscellaneous Songs and Ballads; 3. Historical Songs and Ballads; 4. Do., 2nd ser.; 5. Miscellaneous Poems]; Literary and Historical Essays (Dublin: Duffy 1846) [ded. to John B Dillon], x, 252pp.; Thomas Meagher, ed., Letters of a Protestant, on Repeal [printed for Irish Confederation] (Dublin 1847), vii, 36pp.; T. W. Rolleston, ed., Prose Writings of Thomas Davis (London: W. Scott [1890]), 285pp.; Essays Literary and Historical [centenary edn.], prefaces and notes by D. J. O’Donoghue and an essay by John Mitchel (Dundalk: W Tempest 1914), xxiii, 456pp.; Thomas Davis, Thinker and Teacher [the essence of his writings in prose and poetry selected, arranged, and edited by Arthur Griffith (Dublin: Gill 1914), 288pp.; Essays and Poems with a Centenary Memoir, 1845-1945, foreword by An Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera (Dublin: M. H. Gill & Son 1945), xi, 236pp. [Criticism as supra].

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W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (Dublin: IAP 1976; 1984), Thomas Davis, grad. 1836, famously addressed College Historical Society in 1840; affirmed that ‘the classics, even as languages, are shafts into the richest mines of thought which time has deposited’ and praised them extensively; but he deplored the time spent on the languages when good translations would suffice, while time spent learning the languages detracted from the allowance for modern literature, ‘Numerous works, English, French, and German, are intrinsically superior to the corresponding Greek, and still more above the parallel Roman works.’ He conceded, ‘If the student knew the politics and philosophy, and felt the poetry, or even appreciated the facts to be found in the Greek and Roman writers, I might forgive the error of selecting such studies in preference to native and modern … seriously, what does the student learn besides the words of the classics? ..’ Stanford remarks that here Davis works himself up to a fine Demosthenic flow, ‘I ask you, again, how can the student profit by study of the difficult literature of any foreigners, ancient or modern, till he learns to think and feel; and these he learns easiest from world or home life, refined and invigorated by his native literature; and even if by chance the young student, fresh from a bad school, has got some ideas of the picturesque, the generous, the true, into his head, he is neither encouraged nor expected to apply them to the classics. Classics! good sooth, he had better read with the hedge-school boys the History of the Rogues, Tories and Rapparees or Moll Flanders, than study Homer or Horace in Trinity College. I therefore protest, and ask you to struggle against the cultivation of Greek or Latin or Hebrew while French or German are excluded; and still more strongly should we oppose the cultivation of any, or all of these, to the neglect of English and, perhaps I may add, Irish literature.’ Davis mainly critical of unfair monopoly held by classical studies, and the dull pedantry of the teaching. [60] Stanford’s bibliographical note on Davis as follows: above quotations from Davis, Address […] &c. (Dublin 1840), pp.14-19; previous members of the College Historical Society had discussed the classical studies in published addresses to the Society, e.g., Isaac Butt in 1833 (notable for its emphasis on the influence of Demosthenes) and T. J. Ball in 1837. Butt published translations of the Georgics and Faste. [70] Further, Thomas Davis mentions with approbation the busts contributed to the Cork Arts Society by the Prince Regent in 1818, in his second Essay on National Art (1843), and mentions a second collection then recently acquired for the teaching of art in Dublin [Chap. notes]. Further, Stanford acknowledges Davis’s antipathy to classics-centred university education, but points out his high estimate of the value of classical knowledge (‘no language of mine shall underrate the value of such a possession’), and the frequency of Greece and Rome as touchstones for nationhood and freedom in his ballads, ‘For Greece and Rome who bravely stood, / Three hundred men and three men … (A Nation Once Again) [&c.; 217].

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Daithí Ó hÓgáin, The Hero in Irish Folk History (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1985) - writes of ‘cultural sentiment being developed into a medium for political philosophy’ and remarks on the Carlyle connection [for which, see under Thomas Carlyle, supra] ‘We can thus understand the fascination shown in his poetry by the Young Ireland leader, Thomas Davis, for the folk image of great Irish leaders. ’They slew with poison him they feared to meet with steel’ he says of Owen Roe O’Neill, and concerning Earl Gerald’s prophesied return: “When Ginckle leagured Limerick, the Irish soldiers gazed [... &c.”, as quoted under Quotations, supra.] As we have seen [Chap. 3], the Geraldine prophecies were applied to a character as recent as Lord Edward Fitzgerald, one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion. On a more purely political level, Davis could apply the imagery to Wolfe Tone also: “In Bodenstown churchyard there is a green grave. / And freely around it let winter winds rave / Far better they suit him, the ruin and the gloom, / Till Ireland, a nation, can build him a tomb.” There is a distant echo here from Robert Emmet’s concluding remarks in his speech from the dock in 1803: “When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then, and not till then, let my epitaph be written.” But the pre-existing folk sentiment was incorporated into the ideology in a way which gave intellectual and emotional appeal at once to what was being said by Davis. The enduring quality of folk ballads which heroise political figures bears ample witness to the success which Davis and his successors achieved. What Frank O’Connor has termed “the backward look” had a venerable tradition within Gaelic literature, which held ancient history and old rhetorical speech in high respect. The literature of the political hero was able to combine this with hope for the future.’ (pp.316-17.)

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David Cairns & Shaun Richards, Writing Ireland: Colonialism, Nationalism and Culture (Manchester UP 1988), quote and comment upon ‘An Address Delivered Before the Historical Society Dublin’ [32]; ‘Celts and Saxons’ [35-36]; ‘Letters of a Protestant on Repeal’ [36, 27]; ‘The Orange and the Green Will Carry the Day’, 37; ‘Udalism and Feudalism’ [32, 33-34], with remarks in other places, most extensively at p.31-44, eschewing a position oriented towards protection of the landlords’ interest, Davis adopted the language and politics of the populist Repeal Movement, led by Daniel O’Connell, disseminating his ideas through journalism, ballad poetry, and the establishment of Repeal Reading Rooms. Attempt to interpellate the idea of ‘the nation’ [~31]. In ‘An Address &c.’ (Davis, Essays Literary and Historical, A Selection, ed. DJ O’Donoghue, 1914), he pointed out to Protestants the passing of the conditions of their superiority with the opening of higher education, previously, ‘the body of competitors for political power were of the aristocracy, for they inherited a monopoly of education … You also belong to what are called the upper classes in Ireland. But you will have competitors from whom your ancestors were free (op. cit. 1914, p.8). You must strip for the race. You will have competitors from amongst the people. The middle classes of Ireland are now seeking, in spite of the most perverse opposition chronicled in the annals of even our Anglo-Irish bigotry to establish colleges - schools for their own education. when the men of the middle classes come into the field they will compel the men of the upper classes … to fight a hard battle for their literary laurels and political renown. Prepare for that time’ (p.8-9). ‘If you would rule your fellow countrymen you must be greater than they … I tell you, gentlemen of Trinity College, the peasant boys will soon put to the proof your title to lead them.’ (Ibid., p.9). On ‘the utility of history’, ‘Is it nothing to warn us against the brilliant vices of an aristocracy? Is it nothing that its beacons gleam to keep the people from beginning to shed blood?’ (Ibid., p.29). ‘GENTLEMEN, YOU HAVE A COUNTRY. The people among whom we were born, with whom we live, for whom, if our minds are in health, we have most sympathy, are those over whom we have power - power to make them wise, great, good. Reason points out our native land as the field of our exertions … to act in politics is a matter of duty everywhere; here of necessity’ (Ibid., pp.46-47). [Cont.]

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David Cairns & Shaun Richards (Writing Ireland: Colonialism, Nationalism and Culture, Manchester UP 1988) - cont.: In ‘Udalism and Feudalism’, Davis treats the Irish landlord class as indefensible, and demonstrates that the decline of the English social system is linked with the conversion of the countryside into ‘huge manufacturies of grain and cattle for the landlord’ and the English people into ‘a withered blotched thing, querulous as a sick noble or desperately calm, stunned with noisy mill-work (p.75). Sir Charles Gavan Duffy prints a letter from Davis to a colleague [here unnamed] regarding what he considers the plague of utilitarianism and industrialisation, ‘[…] It is believed in the political assemblies of our cities, preached from our pulpits […] it is the very apostle’s creed of the professions, and threatens to corrupt the lower classes, who are still faithful and romantic. To use every literary and political engine against this seems to me the first duty of an Irish patriot who can foresee consequences. Believe me, this is a greater though not so obvious a danger than Papal supremacy’ (in Young Ireland, A Fragment of Irish History, 1881, pp.299-300). In the Prospectus of The Nation, Davis addressed ‘a nationality which may embrace Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter, - Milesian and Cromwellian, - the Irishman of a hundred generations and the stranger within our gates; hence the motto, to foster Irish Nationality and make it ‘racy of the soil’ [but recte ‘to create and foster public opinion, and make it racy of the soil’: DIH] (see Duffy, 1881, p.80; cited also in F. S. L. Lyons, John Dillon, 1968; and ref. Thomas Davis, Essays and Poems, with a centenary Memoir, Dublin 1945, p.13.) [Cont.]

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David Cairns & Shaun Richards (Writing Ireland: Colonialism, Nationalism and Culture, Manchester UP 1988) - cont.: In an article praising the idea of ‘A Ballad History of Ireland’ [Duffy’s anthology of 1845], Davis - who had read Augustin Thierry’s essay of 1819 on the national spirit of the Irish to be found in their songs - Davis wrote, ‘the first object of the work we project will be to make Irish History familiar to their minds, pleasant to their ears, dear to the passions and powerful over the taste and conduct of Irish people in times to come (Davis, 1914, p.240). Davis never completed the project, but nearly every week he published a ballad in The Nation, and his ballads and poems form a substantial portion of The Spirit of the Nation. Cairns & Richards comment, Davis’s arguments were addressed to Protestants but equally attempted to mediate between Catholics and Protestants and to show the former that the peaceful achievement of Repeal required Protestant participation. He wrote, ‘The real interest of the vast majority of Irish Protestants is (like that of the vast majority of Roman Catholics) to have Ireland governed by and for its inhabitants and by and for them alone … it is the obvious duty of those desiring nationality to try to convey this truth to the minds of the Protestants.’ Further, ‘If you would liberate Ireland, and keep it free, you must have Protestant help - if you would win the Protestants, you must address their reason, their interests, their hope and their pride.’ To this end ‘everything which offends even the prejudices of the Protestants - everything which identifies Repeal and Roman Catholicity as meaning two parts of the same thing, must disguise their true interests from the Protestants and excite their feelings against the restoration of a native government. (Davis, The Nation, 17 Dec. 1842, p.153). [Cont.]

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David Cairns & Shaun Richards (Writing Ireland: Colonialism, Nationalism and Culture, Manchester UP 1988) - cont.: Examples of Davis’s call for sympathy between Catholics and liberal Protestants follow; Davis’s policy of embracing the landlord patriot was, however, challenged by other Nation writers, notably O’Neill Daunt [see supra]. Bibl., Thomas Davis, National and Historical Ballads, Songs and Poems by Thomas Davis (James Duffy 1869); TW Rolleston, ed., Thomas Davis, Selections from His Prose and Poetry, in Every Irishman’s Library (Talbot n.d.); D. J. O’Donoghue, ed., Essays Literary and Historical by Thomas Davis (Dundalgan Press 1914); also Davis, ‘Our Present Policy’, in The Nation, 13 May, 1842; Jacqueline Hill, ‘Nationalism and the Catholic Church in the 1840s: Views of Dublin Repealers’, in Irish Historical Studies, Vol. XIX, no. 76 (1975), pp.371-94; Hill, ‘the Intelligentsia and Irish nationalism in the 1840s’, in Studia Hibernica, No. XX (1980), pp.73-109; Robert Dudley Edwards, ‘The Contribution of Young Ireland to the Development of the Irish National Idea’, in S. Pender, ed., Feilschríbhinn Torna (UUC 1947), pp.115-33; Samuel Clarke, Social Origins of the Irish Land War (Princeton 1942).

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Barbara Hayley, ‘A Reading and Thinking Nation: Periodicals as the Voice of Nineteenth-century Ireland’, in Hayley and Enda McKay, ed., Three Hundred Years of Irish Periodical (Assoc. of Irish Learned Journasl: Gigginstown, Mullingar 1987), pp.29-48, pp.40-41 [critical of inward turning tendency of paper’s policy; see under the Nation, Journals RX.]

Seamus Deane, A Short History of Irish Literature (London: Hutchinson 1986): ‘Davis stressed the Irish capacity for nobility of spirit in order to counteract the current British view of them as little more than ramshackle drunkards or, in times of political crisis, savage simiam creatures who were beyond the pale of what Lecky carefully called “the law as it were administered in England”.’ (p.75; quoted in Callum Boyle, PG Essay, UU 2004.)


Mark Storey, Poetry and Ireland since 1800, A Source Book (1988), gives extracts from ‘History of Ireland’ printed in The Nation [‘If Ireland were in national health, her history would be familiar by books, pictures, statuary, and music to every cabin and shop in the land - her resources as an agricultural, manufacturing, and trading people, would be equally know - and every young man would be trained, and every grown man able to defend her coast, her plains, her towns, and her hills - not with his right arm merely, but with his disciplined habits and military accomplishments. These are the pillars of independence …’] [45]. ‘Our national language’ [‘To impose another language on such a people is to send their history adrift among the accidents of translation’ … A people without a language of its own is only half a nation. A nation should guard its language more than its territories - ‘tis a surer barrier, and more important frontier, than fortress or river. […] To lose your native tongue, and learn that of an alien, it the worst badge of conquest. To have lost entirely the national language is death’. (Cites 3 Edw. IV, c. 3; pp.47-8; cf. Breda Dunne, infra.) ‘Ballad Poetry of Ireland’ (Davis’s review of Charles Gavan Duffy’s anthology) [‘At last we are beginning to see what we are, and what is our destiny. Our duty arises where our knowledge begins. The elements of Irish nationality are not only combining - in fact, they are growing confluent in our minds. Such nationality as merits a good man’s help, and wakens a true man’s ambition - such nationality as could stand against internal faction and foreign [52] intrigue, such nationality, as would make the Irish hearth happy and the Irish name illustrious, is becoming understood. It must contain and represent the races of Ireland. It must not be Celtic, it must not be Saxon - it must be Irish. The Brehon law, and the maxims of Westminster, the cloudy and lightning genius of the Gael, the placid strength of the Sasanach, the marshalling insight of the Norman - a literature which shall exhibit in combination the passions and idioms of all, and which shall equally express our mind in its romantic, its religious, its forensic, and its practical tendencies - finally, a native government, which shall know and rule by the might and right of all; yet yield to the arrogance of none - these are components of such a nationality.’ [53]

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Gerard O’Brien, ed., Catholic Ireland in the Eighteenth Century, collected Essays of Maureen Wall (1989), The refusal of the people in general to recognise the law, and their willingness to take direct action in defence of their priests and bishops and their places of worship, were important factors in preserving the Catholic faith in Ireland. Thomas Davis did them less than justice when he wrote, ‘What wonder if our step betrays / The freedman born in penal days?’ Indeed Davis’s poem, ‘The Penal Days’, is perhaps the source of misconceptions regarding the period. His picture of dogs being ‘taught alike to run upon the scent of wolf and friar’ belongs to Cromwellian times than to the eighteenth century…. the eighteenth century witnessed the tenacity of a clergy who were prepared to face the daily grind of poverty and humiliation ministering the needs of an outlawed population. [60]

R. F. Foster, ‘Varieties of Irishness’, in Maurna Crozier, ed., Cultural Traditions in Northern Ireland: Varieties of Irishness [Proceedings of Cultural Traditions Group Conference] (Belfast IIS 1989): ‘Thomas Davis’s unse of anti-materialism as a strategy of distinguishing “Irish” against “English” values, and asserting moral superiority thereby - a line later adopted by Yeats as well as by de Valera. This vein of argument should be investigated …’ (p.13.)

Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Great Melody (1992), O’Brien remarks on the subsequent idealisation of the 1782 Volunteers in the nationalist-militant tradition, quoting Davis, Davis, ‘And vain were words till flashed the swords / Of the Irish Volunteers!’ (Davis) [251] He goes on ‘The reason why nationalists idealise Grattan’s parliament is that the British got rid of it in 1800.’ A little later he refers to Davis’s ‘in-vain-were-words’ dig at O’Connell. [253]

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David Lloyd, Anomalous State: Irish Writing and the Post Colonial Moment (Duke UP 1993), for analysis of Davis’s article on ‘Our National Language’, in which he ‘diagnosed the consequences of imposing a foreign languge on a native population as a primary deterritorialissatin, a decoding of the primitive relation of the Irish to their territory …’ (&c. , p.16); the ensuing discussion is elaborated in terms of ‘patrimony’ in the sense of ‘their possession and his inheritance’ (p.17.)

Jacqueline Hill, review of John Nelson [sic] Molony, A Soul Came into Ireland: Thomas Davis 1814-1845, A Biography (Geog. Publ. 1995), in ILS, Spring 1996, p.9-10: contests the idea urged by Malcolm Brown that the centenary - 1945 - revealed a ‘conspiracy of silence’ regarding Davis (see Brown, The Politics of Irish Literature, 1972, p.141), noting writings of Moody and Robert Dudley Edwards, as well as a PhD by Mary Buckley (UCD 1980); notes also dearth of personal correspondence and autograph material, citing a fragmentary diary; notes enforced separation from his fiancée; notes that in 1844-45 Davis expressed the very fears of Catholic ascendancy that he had long reproached his fellow-Protestants for harbouring, and reflects that the author’s attribution of this to ‘tiredness’ is unconvincing; the whole book is considered readable, making Davis’s own writings accessible through quotation, but insufficiently attentive to the political context and especially the church-state nexus, with a carelessly constructed index. See also Rory Brennan reviews John Neylon [sic] Molony, A Soul Came into Ireland: Thomas Davis 1814-1845 (Geography Publ. 1995), in Books Ireland (Feb. 1996), pp.21-22.

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S. J. Connolly, ‘Culture, Identity and Tradition: Changing Definitions of Irishness’, in Brian Graham, ed., In Search of Ireland: A Cultural Geography of Ireland (Routledge 1997): ‘[…] Thomas Davis’s attempt to rekindle in his co-religionists an interest in Gaelic culture and an enthusiasm for national rights can be read as an appeal to the Protestant propertied classes to resume the political leadership of a patriotic public opinion that they had allowed to slip by default into the hands of the Catholic middle classes and the Catholic clergy. With Ferguson and O’Grady, the message is stated more openly: the Gaelic Ireland of their imagination, a stable, hierarchical society in which lord and peasant were bound together by shared cultural values and ties of mutual respect, was an ideal to be set against the contemporary reality of an unruly democratic politics and an upstart Catholic bourgeoisie. This appropriation of the Gaelic past as an image of elite hegemony, still evident in the political poetry of W. B. Yeats, is a further illustration of the way in which “tradition” was repeatedly reshaped in the service of current political needs.’ (p.56.); Further, ‘Before this development [the Gaelic League] cultural revivalism had relied for much of its support on two specific groups. One, continuing a tradition going back to Ferguson and the Young Irelanders, consisted of middle- and upper-class Protestants anxious to reaffirm their place in Irish society at a time when they had been politically marginalised, and when an increasingly strident political rhetoric identified Irishness exclusively with Catholicism. The other comprised urban, white-colour workers, often themselves risen from traditional rural backgrounds through the newly developed system of mass education and public examinations these had been the main beneficiaries of the rapid growth in preceding decades of Anglicised and commercialised Ireland, but they also comprised the group most affected by the accompanying sense of alienation and loss of cultural roots.’ (p.59.)

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Katie Trumpener, Bardic Nationalism: The Romantic Novel and the British Empire (Princeton UP 1997): ‘as Thomas Davis will argue in 1843, quoting a traditional Wlesh source, national identity is formed by a common languge, by common laws, and by “co-tillage land - for without these a country cannot support itself in peace and social union.” (“Our National Language”, in The Nation, April 1, 1843, p.394; Trumpener, op. cit., Intro., n.55, p.299.) [Goes on to quote Elizabeth Bowen on Anglo-Irish identity and property in Bowen’s Court, p.455 - for which see under Bowen, Quotations, supra.]

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Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature (London: Pluto Press 1998): ‘Davis opened up the national struggle on a whole new front’ [70]; ‘Davis was a radical decolonising intellectual confronting head-on the difficulties of constructing Irish identity in the terms made available by the colonial power. One means of warding off the implications of this contradiction was through the construction of a critical ideology predicated on the interdependence of culture and geography. After Davis, it would be very difficult for anyone to discuss Irish literature or Irish nationalism without being aware of the ‘common sense’ linking these two seemingly symbiotic categories. The location of this ideological operation was Davis’s own discourse in which he employed the characteristic structures and codes of criticism to consolidate the ideology of a national literary tradition.’ (p.71.)

Selina Guinness, ‘One of the charges Davis made against Irish verse was its debt to “mock sentiment from the heathen mythology”’ (in ‘Essay on Irish Songs’, rep. The Songs of Ireland, ed. Michael Joseph Barry, Dublin: James Duffy 1845, p.32; cited in ‘“To Ireland in the Coming Times”: Exorcising Influence’, in That Other World: The Supernatural and the Fantastic in Irish Literature, [PGIL Conference] Colin Smythe 1998.)

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Desmond M. Clarke & Charles Jones, eds., The Rights of Nations: Nations and Nationalism in a Changing World (Cork UP 1999), Introduction, quotes “A Nation Once Again”, and remarks: ’Readers who are family with the history of so-called Young Ireland and of the period in which Davis contributed to the very popular newspaper called The Nation, may have diametrically opposed reactions to the sentiments expressed here. But, for the students of nationalism, this ballad captures the spirit of nationalism as it was developing in Italy at the time, and as it had developed in other European countries. There are suggestions of a distinctive people, with a long shared history; the “fetters” allude to being conquered and being reduced from the status of an independent country to that of a mere province of some larger political unity; and the verse concludes with a prayer for the restoration of the status formerly enjoyed by the people of Ireland, i.e., that of a nation. However, even on first reading, it is clear that this fervent wish on the part of Davis involves some confusion. If the Irish people had been a nation for centuries, they could hardly have lost that status simply by being conquered. On the other hand if they lost their status as an independent state (in the modern sense), rather than their distinctiveness as a people or a nation, then the author has confused being a nation and being a state. However we read Davis’s ballad, the question arises as to what is meant, either in the nineteenth century or in the late twentieth century, by the concept of a nation. (p.7.)

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