Henry Flood

Life
1732-1791; b. Kilkenny, natural son of Chief-Justice, Hon. Warden Flood; ed. TCD and Christ Church, Oxford, MP Kilkenny 1759; introduced Octennial Bill, limiting parliament to eight years; m. Lady Frances Beresford, 1763; led opposition party for legislative independence; mortally wounded James Agar, his election rival, in a duel, 1769; tried and acquitted; contrib. to Baratariana [the squib against Townshend and Macartney]; accepted govt. office as as vice-treasurer of Ireland, in the hope of advancing reform but found it to be a sinecure, and in spite of stern warnings from Charlemont that no such office could be ‘in any degree ministerial’, 1775 [var. 1774], giving rise to immense antipathy from his former associates; MP for Enniskillen MP, 1776; resigned [var. removed] in 1781 on failing to support govt.; found that Grattan had replaced him as opposition leader; criticised for offering support and opposition to government policy by turns; quarrelled with Grattan on Volunteer Movement and Emancipation, and was defamed by him on the floor of the House (‘You have great talents, but you have infamously sold them! ... I declare before your country, before the whole world, before yourself, that you are a dishonest man!’), to which Flood replied in a tone which the Speaker forbade him to use, returning to make his defence several days after; pointed out the constitutional flaws in the statutes of legislative independence won by Grattan, calling for a Renunciation Act of 1783; MP Winchester, purchasing the seat through influence of Chandos, 1783; failed in his first appearance at Westminster, speaking on Fox’s East India bill with insufficient preparation; his style of oratory, modelled on Demosthenes, considered pedantic and ridiculous; lacked Chandos’s support thereafter, and took seat for Seaford instead during next parliament; opposed commercial treaties with France promoted by Pitt, 1787; retired to Farmley, Co. Kilkenny; attempted to introduce a Reform Bill, 1790, instanced by events in France, and faced hostility from the house; took no seat in 1790; d. 2 Dec., of pleurisy, following a fire in his house; bequeathed 5,000 to TCD for setting up of Irish language chair; will overturned by appeal to law of mortmain in favour of his cousins. RR CAB ODNB PI JMC DIB FDA OCIL

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Works
Original Letters, Principally from Lord Charlemont, Edmund Burke [and] William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, to the Right Hon. Henry Flood (London 1827).

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Criticism
W. E. .H. Lecky, Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, 2 vols. [rep. of 1903 edn.; 1st edn. 1861; enlarged 1871] (London: Thoemmes Press [2000]), Vol. 1 [devoted to Grattan and Flood]; James Kelly, Henry Flood: Parties and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Ireland (Dublin: Four Courts 1998), 480pp.

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Commentary
Roger O’Connor, Chronicles of Eri (1822), remarks, ‘So fully sensible was a man of Ireland, who far surpassed all his contemporaries, and in truth, most men, I allude to Henry Flood, that if encouragement were given to bring to light and investigate ancient records of Ireland, still existing, that would be the means of diffusing great knowledge of the antique world ... so convinced was he, I say, of this fact, by means of deep researches he had made, that he bequeathed the whole of his large possessions for the purpose of instituting professorships in the University of Dublin, for the perpetuation of the Irish land, and the purchase of manuscripts therein. In this magnificent design, his views were unfortunately frustrated by the contemptible policy of an incubus that hath long over-lain unhappy Eri; for, a claimant was set up to the estates of the philosophic doctor, to who[m] they were accordingly decreed!’

W. E. H. Lecky (Leaders of Public Opinion), ‘There is something inexpressibly melancholic in the life of this man ... though he attained to a position which, before him, had been unknown in Ireland; though the unanimous verdict of his contemporaries pronounced him to be one of the greatest intellects that has ever adorned the Irish parliament; and though there is not a single act of his life which may not be construed in a sense perfectly in harmony with honour and with patriotism; yet his career presents one long series of disappointments and reverses. A an age when most statesmen are in the zenith of their influence, he sank into political impotence. The party he had formed discarded him as its leader. The reputation he so dearly prized was clouded and assailed; the principles he had sown germinated and fructified indeed, but others reaped their fruit; and he is now scarcely remembered expect as an object of a powerful invective in Ireland and as an example of a deplorable failure in England. A few pages of oratory, which probably at best represent the substance of his speeches, a few youthful poems, a few belaboured letters, and a biography so meagre and unsatisfactory that it scarcely gives any insight into his character, are all that remain of Henry Flood.’ (Cited in Justin MacCarthy, ed., Irish Literature, 1904, p.1212.)

W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (1984), Henry Flood, able scholar; translated speeches of Demosthenes and Aeschines, as well as a version of the first Pythian ode of Pindar; well-judged speeches in the Irish parliament, but his Westminster maiden was disastrous a classical allusion, comparing the India Commissioners to the Roman Decemviri, enemies of liberty, provoking a scathingly sarcastic response; the parliamentary recorder referred to his manner of speaking thus, ‘variety of remarks, delivered with great correctness of phrase, but in a more deliberate and sententious way that is the custom of our parliamentary speakers’; the ensuing speaker John Courtenay, also Irish, referred with heavy irony his ‘profound and unhackneyed story of the Decemviri’, and mocked its implications; Flood, humiliated, is not known to have quoted the classics in Westminster again; left bequest to TCD for the encouragement of Greek and Irish. [213] For the speech, see Parliamentary Debates, xxiv, 56-7 ( Dec. 1783). Bibl., W Flood, Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Henry Flood (Dublin 1838).

Stanley Ayling, Edmund Burke (1988), Burke’s silence at a sensitive moment in the debate on Irish trade, 1779-80 - “Free Trade or Else” - caused Henry Flood to rise in his defence in the Irish House, and instigated Burke’s letter of defence of 8000 words, published as Letter to Thomas Burgh, Esq., [member for Athy; in Works, V 491-510.0 [94]

Maureen Wall, Catholic Ireland in the 18th c., ed. Gerard O’Brien (1989), writes: ‘The outstanding exception to patriot support for the Catholics at this time [1778] was Henry Flood’ [137]; and further: ‘Flood intervened again and again [in debates on the Catholic Relief bill of 1782] to question the wisdom of a clause which, he feared, went far beyond toleration and gave Catholics a power in the state. This fear had some foundation. The remaining Catholic landowners had been in a position all during the eighteenth century where they could if they wished create Protestant freeholders and thus influence elections, and so make friends for themselves in the House of Commons. There numbers were very few, but ... if the bill were passed ... would increase accordingly ... he asked “could a Protestant constitution survive?”’ (Parl. Reg.) [138]. NOTE also Rutland’s letter to Pitt reporting that ‘Lord Charlemont and Mr Flood seem to exclude them from their ideas of reform’ [see Charlemont, RX supra].

Joseph Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fhíor Ghael (Amsterdam: Rodopi 1986), notes that Henry Flood made a large bequest – the income of an estate – to found a chair of philology at TCD, stipulating that ‘if he shall still be then living, Colonel Charles Vallancey to be the first professor thereof ... seeing that by his eminent and successful labours in the study and recovery of that language [Gaelic] he well deserves to be so first appointed. (Quoted in Parsons, op cit., infra.) The foundation was successfully opposed by his relatives, arguing that it contravened the Anglo-centric 28 Henry VIII (‘Act for the English order, habite, and language’). [427] Bibl., see Lawrence Parsons, Observations on the bequest of Henry Flood, Esp. to Trinity College, Dublin. With a defence of the ancient history of Ireland, Dublin 1795); cited in Joseph Leerssen, Mere Irish & Fíor Ghael (Utrecht 1986) [See Vallancey, RX].

Seán de Fréine, The Great Silence: the study of a relationship between language and nationality (Cork: Mercier 1978), ‘Henry Flood believed that everything which led Irishmen to regard themselves as distinctive people was beneficial to the country. He willed a large sum for Irish studies in Trinity College.’ (p.87.)

Thomas Bartlett, review of James Kelly, Henry Flood: Patriots and Politics in 18th-century Ireland (Four Courts), in Irish Times, 11 July 1998; he signally failed to anticipate the opprobrium that his acceptance of govt. office would bring down upon him; attempt to relocate in English politics ill-advised; attempt to bequeath his estate to set up chair of Irish at Trinity college should be read a a clumsy attempt to disinherit his cousins rather than as a sort of pre-postcolonial act of accommodation.

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, review of Hubert Butler, In the Land of Nod (Dublin: Lilliput [199]), in Times Literary Supplement (18 June 1996), ‘To say that Henry Flood was “the first of the Irish Protestants to consider himself primarily an Irishman and only secondarily as a member of the ruling caste” quite misses the point. Flood favoured relief for the Catholic masses from the savage oppression of the penal laws, but, as Butler is uneasily aware he always opposed extending the franchise to them, was in no sense a democrat, and lived at a time when it did not seem ridiculous to speak - at least, many did so - of the Protestant Ascendancy as the “Irish nation” rather as the Magyar gentry, which composed about a tenth of the population of old Hungary, always thought [of] itself as the “Hungarian nation”; and of Hungary as comprising lands whose common people spoke Slovak, Serb or Romanian.’ (p.13-14; p.,14.)

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References
Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica, Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. II, p.145-51.

Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: Catholic Univ. of America 1904), calls him the distinguished Irish Parliamentary orator; son of Chief Justice Flood; selects Flood’s reply to Grattan’s invective in which the terms ‘intemperate’, ‘venal’, and ‘incendiary’ were applied to him (Parl. speech of 1873); ‘Defence of the Volunteers’ (Parl. speech of 1783); ‘On a Commercial Treaty with France’ (speech in the British Parliament, 1787, in reply to Pitt); bibl., An Ode on Fame and the First Pythian Ode to Pindar (anon. London 1775).

Máire Ní Mhurchú & Diarmaid Breathneach, Beathaisnéis [Vol. 6] 1782-1881 (Dublin: Clóchomhar 2000), incls. entry on Henry Flood, with quotation from Henry Grattan accusing him of dishonesty and leading to a duel: ‘I therefore tell you in the face of your country, before all the world and to your beard, you are not an honest man.’

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Notes
Portrait: There is a portrait of Flood, poss. by Hugh Hamilton (see Anne Crookshank, Irish Portraits, Ulster Mus. 1965). Another in miniature is included in engraving of Irish House of Commons of 1790, now preserved in Bank of Ireland (College Green) [standing in foreground with Henry Grattan, left, with Earl of Charlemont, seated in foreground, right; being figure No. 148 in key];

British senate: ‘an Irish Demosthenes when speaking in the Irish Parliament, yet at Westminster, whither he had removed himself in the 1780s, he suffered the humiliation of concluding “a very able and eloquent speech amidst the yawns and coughs of an English Senate”.’ (Thomas Bartlett, ‘“An Union for Empire”: The Anglo-Irish Union as an Imperial project’, in Hearts & Minds: Irish Culture and Society under the Act of Union [PGIL Transactions], Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2001; quoting A Reply to the Gentleman who has Published a Pamphlet Entitled “Arguments For and Against an Union” [pamph.], Dublin 1799.)

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