Maurice Headlam

British civil servant in Ireland; descended from Denis Cumberland, Bishop of Clonfert, who was f. of Richard Cumberland; ed. Oxford; failed to qualify in Indian Civil Service exams; appt. Treasurer Remembrancer and Deputy Paymaster for Ireland, 1912, posts due for abolition with Home Rule, and which he held to May 1920; issued Irish Reminiscences (London: Robert Hale 1947), autobiography.

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Irish Reminiscences (London: Robert Hale 1947), 244pp.; ded., to ‘Those Who Have Loved Ireland and Do Not Care Much for Eire’; CONTENTS; Preface [11]; I: To Ireland as a Tourist [I7]; Appointment as Official in Ireland II: First Impressions of Dublin [29]; III: Ireland in 1912 [42]; People, Clubs and Personalities; [IV] Work and Officials [57]; V: Irish Sport [88]; VI: Irish Problems and Politics [118]; April 1912 - August 1914; VII: The War [145]; VIII: The Irish Rebellion and After [163]; IX: Last Years in Ireland [192]; X: Irishmen - Irish Speech and Irish Language - The Irish Country [218]; Index [237]. See extracts in Quotations, infra.

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Irish Reminiscences (London: Robert Hale 1947) - Extracts:

Headlam poses the question why the English government, so set against an Irish republic, capitulated to the Sinn Féin leadership just when the latter was about to cave in, and attributes much to Lloyd George’s inveterate lack of judgement (remarked by Sir Frederick Pollock). He considers it an great error not to have consulted those in the ‘right quarters’, – viz.:

‘Now the “right quarters” in dealing with persons of the calibre of Griffith and Collins and De Valera and Co. would have been the advice of those who know these types - not uncommon in Ireland - their provenance, their ingrained prejudices, their one-sided view of history, and the right answer to all their distortions of fact. There were two men who knew Ireland thoroughly arid Irish people; and who - Irishmen themselves - could have shown the Cabinet how to deal with Sinn Féin “mentality”. Those men were Sir Henry Robinson, Vice-President of the Local Government Board, and Sir Henry Wynne, Chief Crown Solicitor. So far as I know, these men were not consulted and Mr Lloyd George had only the advice of his Private Secretary, Philip Kerr, afterwards Lord Lothian, who, estimable as he was, had no experience of Ireland or of the type of man with whom the Cabinet was dealing; though it was rumoured that Lionel Curtis, with equal Irish experience, was consulted.’ (p.12.)


He regards that capitulation and later ones, such as the surrender of the Treaty Ports and of the annuities for Irish Land Purchase, as part of a policy of appeasement, later discredited in relation to Germany [13]. He holds that the ‘Sinn Féin’ govt. proclaimed neutrality in 1939 ‘to curry favour with the Germans if they should win’ [14], and urges negotiations to get back the Treaty Ports against the necessity of saving lives in the Atlantic crossing during time of future war; ‘is it too much to hope that that large enlistment [of Irishmen in WWII] may have promoted the unity of the Islands?’ [14].


(From personal diaries:) ‘It is hard to get an idea of Dublin society. Lady Lyttelton quotes John Morley as saying that it is the only capital he knows where you always meet on intimate terms and at all functions everyone who is worth knowing. On the other hand, some of the Dublin people give themselves airs and say that the Castle entertainments are “sadly mixed” nowadays, that the best people do not go there, and so on. I am bound to say that the people seem all pleasant but not much more, and all of about the same social standing, a sort of professional level with no “nice clever” people and rather of one type, even when, as in the case of my Chief Clerk, they have “places” in the country. On the other hand, there seem to be none of the smart American rich who make the inner ring of London society.’ (p.36) [See also under Yeats, Commentary - supra].


Headlam narrates the story of Edward Martyn’s action against the Kildare St. Club, and his subsequent profession: ‘Resign? Resign from the only place in Dublin where I can get a decent dinner? Certainly not.’ (p.43.)


‘He was succeeded by Sir William Byrne, an Assistant Secretary at the Home Office, who was appointed (as far as I could make out) partly because he was a Roman Catholic. That reason was the usual delusion of English politicians. They would not see that it did not conciliate the extremists to give Government posts to Roman Catholics. On the contrary, such people, called “Castle Cawtholics,” were considered traitors - what we now call Quislings - and despised as such by the extremists. However, appointments were increasingly made on this ground. The successor to Sir Neville Chamberlain as Inspector-General of the Royal Irish Constabulary, Sir Joseph Byrne, though he had had great success, owing to his legal ability, in dealing with Sinn Féin trials, owed his appointment largely to his religion. So did Sir William Byrne’s successor in the Under-Secretaryship in 1918, James MacMahon (afterwards the Right Hon.) who was then Head of the Post Office in Dublin. But by that time every pretence of impartiality was abandoned, and MacMahon’s known strong political affiliations were no doubt taken into account, as well as his religion. Up to his time the Head of the Dublin Post Office had generally been one of the higher officials from St. Martin’s-le-Grand: MacMahon, a Civil Servant in the Dublin Post Office, had succeeded my friend Mr Norway, whose wife wrote a brief, but useful, account of the 1916 rebellion as she saw it. No doubt the appointment of MacMahon as his successor and his early promotion to Under-Secretary were part of the policy of “appeasement.”’ (p.63.)


Headlam reserves special obloquy for F. E. Smith (Lord Birkenhead) who spits fire about the Sinn Féiners, but ‘like St. Paul’ achieves complete conversion: ‘for he apparently took a major part in the surrender to Sinn Féin which culminated in the Treaty.’ (p.72); evinces concern about the control of employment in Primary Schools by clergy rather than the state, though the schools are funded by the taxpayer, giving instance of lady-teacher with brothers in the Army and the RIC who is dismissed by priest for playing ‘God Save the King’ (p.84.)


‘The Catholic hierarchy proclaimed a jihad, or Holy War, against the iniquitous idea of local rates …’ (85); mistakes patrol of Sinn Féiners for ‘Black and Tans’, about whom ‘certain circles in London were getting up an agitation.’ (p.102.)


[…] It was clearly my business to know as much as possible about Irish problems, and especially about the Home Rule questions; and I read everything I could lay my hands on. / It was varied and startling reading; and I soon began to discover various other aspects of the Irish problems, as afterwards summarised so neatly by Professor Alison Phillips. The first and overriding one was the problem of nationality. As I have said, I never looked on Ireland as a foreign country. And I was annoyed when one of my new friends in Dublin told me that I spoke with an “English accent” - just as if there were not fifty English accents or more. I was still more annoyed when, on arriving at Mount Trenchard by the early train from Dublin, I was greeted by Mary Spring-Rice with:- “How marvellous to catch the mail; you English are wonderful.” Now this lady, whom I had known in London, lived nine months of the year in Chelsea with her father, Lord Monteagle. Though her mother was the daughter of an Irish Bishop (with the hardly Celtic name of Butcher), her grandmother was the daughter of the master of Downing College, Cambridge. Her only brother was a clerk in the Foreign Office, one of her cousins had been a former chief of mine in the Treasury, and his brother was the Ambassador Sir Cecil Spring-Rice. Yet, though MacMorris in Henry V vehemently denied that he had a nation - “My nation? Vat ish my nation?” - here was this London young lady, who read the same books, heard the same music, lived with the same circle of friends in London as myself, definitely putting me into an alien nationality from hers. [119]

I am bound to say that I could not understand it. I had read history at Oxford and elsewhere, and knew that no Irish nation [ftn.; but see also infra, 204], as such, had ever taken a place in European history. There was no record of a nation of Ireland going on the Crusades under its own king; no king of Ireland representing the whole country had married into the royal families of Europe like the kings of Scotland; no king of all Ireland had led his whole chivalry against the English, as the Scots king did at Flodden. When Brian, one of the local chiefs, did for a short time obtain a real kingship over all Ireland, he was killed at the Battle of Clontarf, after a victory over Danes and rival Irish; and no other king was able to unite the people; the real victory, as the Irish historian Professor Richey says, was won by anarchy over order.

It is the fashion of most Irish historians to lay the blame for everything that has happened in Ireland on “the English,’’ though the Norman invaders from Wales, who were not English, were not called in by an Irish chief till over 150 years after Clontarf, and I believe that even Mr De Valera does not count those 150 years of anarchy as a part of England’s crimes. But all the popular Irish historians, I found, identified the few Norman-Welsh barons who went across with Strongbow in 1170, with England. Even in the mythical times the Irish heroes fought with one another and not, as a nation, against foreign foes. And it is significant that the most famous of them, Cuchulain [ftn] fought for Ulster against the rest of Ireland, long before there was any difference of religion or race between Ulster and the rest. I often wondered, while waiting for the big trout at Ardee, which was the exact ford of the little river that the hero had held against them all - of his own “nation.” [120]

Now that I am older, however, I have realised that men are swayed, not by fact, but by sentiment, imagination and propaganda, open or tacit. In one term a boy will begin to believe that his school is the finest in the country, in one term an undergraduate will think his college the best in the university, in six months a young officer will have no doubt that his regiment outshines all others. Almost in my own time I have seen the creation of undoubted nations in Australia, in New Zealand, in the republics of South America: two or three generations of isolation and the thing is done. And how much could unceasing propagandist sentiment do, certainly since the days of Swift - who gave currency to the advice to the Irish to burn everything English except their coal - to create that burning patriotism which has led so many gallant men to their death for their “nation”? But that propaganda was founded on false history. The Irish nation is a new nation, not a “nation once again.” For if anything is established in Irish history it is that, both before and after the Norman-Welsh incursion, the battles of the Irish were nearly always between themselves, and that there was nothing like unity, except perhaps for the six years before the Battle of Clontarf.

Therefore, though the origin of the United States is clear, and a nation was created by the inhabitants of the seceding colonies, mostly men with English names; and though the nations of Australia and New Zealand have developed though not revolted, springing from the same source; there can be no legitimate claim from people who bear names like Collins and De Valera and Griffith (nor could there have been from Mitchell, Davis, and the rest) to represent, or to be re-creating, the Gaelic State when they set up a centralised rule over twenty-six counties of Ireland in Dublin. For the Gaelic race, as history shows, never formed permanently in Ireland more than a collection of petty [121] principalities; and the Norman knights only stepped into the places of the former Celtic chiefs, joining in, but not initiating, the long series of internal feuds and battles which form early Irish history. It is true that the nation which came into being in 1922 made a brave effort to reproduce the Celtic history by internal strife in the old style: it remains to be seen whether there will be a successor to the present “Ard-Ri” who keeps the twenty-six counties together. At any rate the exclusion of the six Ulster counties recognises the traditional distinction between Ulster and the rest of Ireland. (pp.119-22);

On the Curragh Mutiny:

I was beginning to have doubts of the views which I had always held as to the duty of a civil servant, that it was my duty to obey the orders of whatever Government was in power, expressed through my political chief. Did that duty hold good in Ireland if, instead of obedience to one of two parties, both owing allegiance to the King whose servant I was, one party’s ultimate aim was to throw off that allegiance? I had read, as I have said, a good deal of Irish history, not only that provided by English writers, but books such as Mitchell’s [sic] Jail Journal, which showed that the Nationalist sentiment was not the ordinary play of “politics” but an attitude of definite rebellion against the Crown.

Every week I read in the Sinn Féin paper this sentiment, defined and glorified in hatred and contumely, embellished by what I knew to be false history, against the King’s government whatever party was in power. I found it difficult to blame the Ulster people, who knew that the extremists in Ireland would only use the Home Rule Bill as a stepping-stone to separation and the dismemberment of the King’s Dominions, for resisting that Bill, when the Liberal Government, with their small composite majority in the House of Commons, persisted in forcing it through. (p.139);


Headlam alludes to the difference between the phrase ‘Manchester Murderers’, known to him in his youth, and ‘Manchester Martyrs’, associated with memorial on St. Stephen’s Green (p.143). He doubts ability of Redmond to provide enlistments [to the British Army]; characterises Sinn Féin account of the responsibility of the British Govt. for the famine as ‘tosh, repeated every week and never contradicted’ (p.152); quotes James Connolly: ‘the German nation is fighting a necessary fight for the saving of civilisation in Europe’ (p.153); records the casualties inflicted in the unarmed company of Dublin Volunteers Corps - B Company’, known as the ‘Methuseliers’ or the ‘Georgeous Wrecks’ from their insignia (Georgius Rex), who were fired on by Sinn Féin volunters (‘rebels’), with a loss of five dead and 46 wounded (159); alleges on personal evidence of the wounds inflicted on Mr. and Mrs. Bagwell in his presence that the rebels used dum-dum (‘expanded’) bullets (p.170); throws in a footnote citation from M. Escouflaire (Ireland, an Enemy of the Allies?, 1920), in which it is recounted that in the time of William III ‘brothers and cousins cut one another’s throats’ (p.174); adverts to Pearse as ‘the English leader’ (p.175);


He opies an extended passage descriptive of the events of Easter 1916 in Kerry, where Austin Stack is being held, including an account of how the RC Dean of Tralee rounds up and surrenders the weapons in the town (some 95 rifles); the narrative includes suggestions that the Irish rising was part of a wide German plot involving Casement and 16 German transports sunk by the Navy, all of this recounted as ‘a prize bit of bluff’ (p.182); quotes John Buchan (John Macnab): ‘Look at the Irish, they are the cleverist propagandists extant, and managed to persuade most people that they were a brave, generous, humorous, talented, warm-hearted race cruelly yoked to a dull, merchatile England, when God knows they were exactly the opposite.’ (p.187); includes a letter from Austen Chamberlain to himself admitting the opinion that conscription could not be forced on Ireland (pp.189-90).


Headlam modifies his former strictures regarding the ancient ‘Irish nation’ in the light of AE [George Russell]’s statement that in 1914 the Irish nation ‘was announced’, and secondly in the light of the recognition that ‘what was talked about was really the Irish race, which, unlike the [203] Irish nation, alleged historical nation, was the real thing.’ (p.204); discusses role of Sir S. Hoare and his address in Parliament welcoming the Treaty (p.204); Headlam remarks, ‘you cannot stoop half-way in a revolution [...] the irreconcilables would always insist on much more’ (p.205); describes release of SF prisoners as ‘Christmas gesture’ in 1917, followed by release of remainder in July 1917 (p.205).


He narrates the story of Chesteron appearing at a recruiting meeting in Ireland and coming near to being lynched when he apologised for the Union Jack (‘I am ashamed to be speaking under it’), unawares that only Unionists were in attendence at the meeting (p.207); Headlam summarises Chesterton’s Irish Impressions (‘great European people’, ‘European peasantry’; ‘intelligentzia that is intelligent’, p.208); further quotations from P. S. O’Hegarty’s Victory of Sinn Féin and from Gogarty identifying the behaviour of the Irregulars (IRA) with barbarism and disillusionment (p.222).


He remarks that Synge’s waking words (‘God damn the English, they cannot even swear without vulgarity’), recounted in Hone’s life of Yeats, delighted ‘Yeats and his pseudo-Gaels’ (p.223); cites Yeat’s objections to the Divorce Bill (p.224); castigates the pseudo-Celtic Lord Ashbourne (p.224); on the Irish language, alludes to Bishop Bedell, an ‘English bishop’ (p.229); returns to the ‘latent savagery’ of the Irish (p.230); severity of Free State with prisoners (p.231); ends by quoting Lloyd George’s announcement to the effect that he feels glad to know that ‘with danger lurking in our midst, Ireland will be by our side … our peril will be her danger, our fears her anxieties, our victories will be her joy’, and remarks: ‘On which side of his ledger will the Recording Angel enter this entirely baseless panegyric of an Agreement which he persuaded Parliament to accept, and which has culminated in “Neutrality” and the declaration of a republic?’ (p.236; End.)


Note: Headlam has read Arnold Bax’s Farewell, My Youth, and marked AE’s saying that 1912-14 was ‘Dublin’s Golden Age’, adding that it certainly was for him (Headlam) - for ‘I had a fuller, more healthy, more interesting life than I could ever have had in the Civil Service in London.’ (p.136).


[For further comments on Arthur Griffith, Countess Markievicz, Captain White, R. M. Fox, Thomas Kettle, Erskine Childers, Katharine Tynan, et al., see respective entries in “Authors”, supra.]

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Headlam-Morley: The Headlam-Moreley Papers - chiefly on World War I - are held in at the University of Ulster (Special Collections).

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