Bulmer Hobson (1883-1969)


Life
b. Hollywood, Co. Down [var. Antrim], son of a Quaker from Monasterevin, Co. Kildare, and a suffragette Englishwoman; ed. Quaker School, Lisburn; started Ulster Debating Club for boys and later set up Protestant National Society with William McDonald; joined Tír na nÓg branch of Gaelic League, 1901; sec. of Antrim County Board of GAA; started boys’ organisation Na Fianna Eireann, Belfast 1903; joined Irish Volunteers, 1904; expanded to national association with Constance Markiewicz in 1909; co-founder Ulster Literary Theatre, with David Parkhill [pseud Lewis Purcell], contrary to Yeats’s discouragements when they travelled to Dublin in 1902 (‘Damn Yeats! We’ll write our own plays!’), opening with his verse drama, Brian of Banba (7 Dec. 1904) and Purcell’s The Reformers; with Joseph Campbell and others, fnd. Uladh (1st iss. Nov. 1904);
 
joined Cumann na nGaedheal, and started the more radical Dungannon Clubs with Denis McCullough, an IRB organiser, Belfast March 1905, issuing To the Whole People of Ireland, Manifesto of the Dungannon Club (1905); fnd. the Republic (1906-07); merged with the Peasant in Dublin; invited to American by John Devoy to introduce Sinn Féin; amalgamation of Dungannon Clubs with Cumann na nGaedheal; vice-president of Sinn Féin; edited shortlived County Dublin Observer; collaborated with F J Bigger on ‘United Irishmen’ series (producing only a volume on William Orr); Defensive Warfare, a Handbook for Irish Nationalists (West Belfast Branch of Sinn Féin 1909); resigned from Sinn Féin over policy issues, 1910; started his Freedom clubs, and edited Irish Freedom for the IRB, 1911-May 1914;
 
chairman of Dublin centre of IRB, and member of the Leinster executive; later Supreme Council of IRB; became gen. sec. of Irish Volunteers, on the secession of the National Volunteers, 1913, persuading MacNeill to serve as Commander-in-Chief through intercession of The O’Rahilly; organised the Howth gun-running with Thomas MacDonagh, July 1914; supported the demand of John Redmond for half the seats of the Provisional Committee of the Irish Volunteers; believed that general mobilisation of Volunteers would follow on attempted conscription for the Front; dismissed from The Gaelic American by John Devoy; forced to resign from Irish Freedom and from the Supreme Council of the IRB, 1914; informed of plans for the Rising by J. J. O’Connell and Eimar O’Duffy, and notified McNeill; joined McNeill in actively opposing 1916 by circulating countermanding orders;
 
held under ‘arrest’ by IRB members but released after the start of the Rising; formed publishing house of Martin Lester and produced the books of Eimar O’Duffy, et al.; withdrew from politics after the rising, and worked for afforestation, social credit, Gate Theatre, &c. Chief Sec. of Revenue Commissioners’s Stamp Department, Dublin Castle, 1922; ed. Saorstat Éireann Official handbook (Dublin 1932); retired 1948 [var. 1946 DIH], and settled at Roundstone, Go. Galway, and later lived in Limerick; participated in the discussion of 1916 in W. R. Rodgers 1950s broadcast series, published as Irish Literary Portraits (1972); d. Aug. 1969; bur. by the sea in Connemara. DIB DIH DUB OCIL FDA

[ top ]

Works
  • Ed., with P. S. O’Hegarty, The Creed of the Republic (Belfast: Republican Press 1907), 42pp.;
  • The Voice of Freedom: A Selection from ‘Irish Freedom’, 1910-1913 (Dublin: Freedom Office 1913);
  • A Short History of the Irish Volunteers, Vol. 1 (Dublin: Candle Press 1918), 205pp. [no other vol. appeared];
  • The Life of Wolfe Tone (1919);
  • A National Forests Policy (1923);
  • A Book of Dublin [The Corporation of Dublin] (Dublin 1929), 90pp.;
  • ed., Saorstát Eireann: Irish Free State Official Handbook (London: E. Benn [1932]), [contents];
  • ed., The Gate Theatre, Dublin, ed. (Dublin 1934), 140pp. [ports.]; also Ireland Yesterday and Tomorrow (Tralee: Anvil Books 1968).
 
See also editorial prospectus in Uladh, No. 1 (Nov. 1904), pp.1-3, rep. in Brian Walker, ed., Faces of Ulster (Belfast: Appletree Press 1992), p.52.
 

Saorstát Eireann: Irish Free State Official Handbook, ed., Bulmer Hobson (London: E. Benn [1932]), 2p. 1, [9]-323pp. incl. ills. & pls., with front., maps [1 fold., in pocket], 25 cm. Irish Year Book [c. 1919] Sinn Féin, notice on Conradh na Gaedilge, pp.461-[4]69 by Cathal Brugha, ‘The Ethics of Sinn Fein’ by Riobard Ua Floinn, et al. “This book has been written under the general direction of a committee appointed by the Minister for Industry and Commerce.”

[ top ]

Criticism
Marney Hay, Bulmer Hobson and the Nationalist Movement in Twentieth-century Ireland (Manchester UP 2009), 287pp. See also M. Hay, ‘The mysterious `disappearance' of Bulmer Hobson’, in Studies, 98, 390 (Dublin: 2009), pp.185-95.

For an ascerbic account of Hobson’s part in the Howth Gun-running see George Dangerfield, The Strange Death of Liberal England (?1932; and rev. ed. 1972) [see also under Darrell Figgis, q.v.]. D. E. S. Maxwell (Modern Irish Drama, 1984), cites Brian of Banba as heroic but deficient in imaginative scope.

[ top ]

Commentary
Sean O’Casey [as P. Ó Cathasaigh], The Story of the Citizen Army (Maunsel 1919) - Chap. IV identifies Bulmer Hobson as the ‘one man’ who persistently opposed ‘any corporate union beteen militant Nationalism and Labour’, calling him a man ‘whose personality was ... almost worshipped in the National camp’, whose attitude was that of ‘the witches towards the intrusion of Faust and Mephistopheles [‘Who are ye ... The plague of fire into your bones!’] - and ‘whose warmest appreciation of all things pertaining to Labour was a sneer, and whose influence, which was powerful and potent, even with those whose sympathies were undoubtedly working class, was always directed towards the prevention of an understanding ... &c.’ (p.31.)

[ top ]

Leon Ó Broin, Protestant Nationalists in Revolutionary Ireland: The Stopford Connection (1985), p.34: Bulmer Hobson ... rightly described in The Dictionary of Irish Biography [by Harry Boylan] as a revolutionary ... one time regarded by British Intelligence as the most dangerous man in Ireland; b. Cromwellian planter stock in Hollywood, Co. Down in 1883, Gladstonian Liberal a member of Society of Friends until 1914, when he resigned over physical force [pacificism]; ed. Quaker School, Lisburn; present at centenary of 1798; Tone’s statement of his object won his instant assent; his mind peopled by characters from readings of Standish O’Grady and Yeats; also influenced by Alice Miligan, Ethna Carbery, James Fintan Lalor, and Arthur Griffith; founded Ulster Debating Club for boys, and a Protestant National Association, leading to the Ulster Literary Theatre to which he contributed one of the early plays; joined GAA and Gaelic League, secretary of Antrim County Board of one and the Coiste in Belfast of the other; friendship with Casement began in the League; member of Cuman[n] na nGaedeal [IRB], sworn in by Denis McCullough; started a Dungannon Club in Belfast, 1905; published The Republic, and collected money; put Sean MacDermott, IRB organiser, on the road; P. S. O’Hegarty began writing for the Republic; amalgamation of Dungannon Clubs with Cummann na nGaedheal, as Sinn Féin League and subsequently Sinn Féin, 1907; dropped out of Sinn Féin quietly in 1911 to concentrate on IRB planning; active IRB member since 1904; produced Irish Freedom paper, The Republic collapsing through lack of funds; encouraged IRB drilling; started the Fianna on the Falls Road, giving it a Constitution; moving to Dublin, his Fianna was supported by Con Markievicz and Casement. [Cont.]

[ top ]

Leon Ó Broin (Protestant Nationalists in Revolutionary Ireland: The Stopford Connection, 1985) - cont. [quoting from Hobson’s autobiography]: ‘On the afternoon of Good Friday I was asked to attend a meetin of the Leinster Executive of the IRB at Martin Conlon’s house in Phibsboro. I was reluctant to go, and did not see any purpose to be served. At the same time I yielded to the importunties to attend, and was not greatly surpirsed when, as I entered the house, a number of IRB men who were armed with revolvers told me that I was a prisoner and could not leave the house. I felt that I had done all I could to keep the volunteers on the course which I believed essential for their success [i.e., as a back-up force for demands for an all-Ireland parliament after the war], and that there was nothing further I could do. My principal feeling was one of relief. I had been working under great pressure for a long time and was very tired. Now events were out of my hands.’ (Ireland, Yesterday and Tomorrow, Tralee 1968, pp.76-77; Ó Bróin, pp.122.)

[ top ]

Patrick Henchy, The National Library of Ireland, 1941-1976: A Look Back: A Paper read to the National Library of Ireland Society (NLI 1986): re. acquisition of Library of Bulmer Hobson, Rathfarnham: ‘this time [i.e., in comparison with Joseph Holloway] I met a man who talked freely of experiences and was uninhibited in his comments and criticisms of his contemporaries.’ (p.9.)

[ top ]

Roy Foster, review of Charles Townsend, Easter 1916, in Times Literary Supplement (231 Oct. 2005), pp.3-4): ‘[...] Hobson's Defensive Warfare was, in fact, a major contribution to revolutionary tactics, helping to shift the Irish movement from passive resistance advocated by Sinn Féin (which in turn influenced Gandhi) to something more predictive of intifada. The extremeness of this formulation suggests a people groaning on the wrack of tyranny, but many contemporaries saw the relaities of the situation very differently; and it is hard to disagree. The mentality of the 1916 rebels rejected the comfortable bourgeois Catholic or declassé Protestant backgrounds whence so many of them came; they also denied the adequacy of the Home Rule formula for a restored local Irish parliament whcih had tentatively passed into statue in 1914 [...].

[ top ]

References
Seamus Deane
, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, makes reference to Irish Freedom, founded by Hobson in 1910 and suppressed by British Government in 1914 [280]; MacNeill’s article, ‘The North Began’ (1913) persuaded the IRB, most especially one of its leading figures, Bulmer Hobson, that MacNeill would be the ideal figure to attract support for the idea of a volunteer force [285]; the constitution adopted by the reorganised IRB in 1873, printed by Hobson as an appendix to his memoirs, Ireland Yesterday and Tomorrow (1968), where he writes, ‘... copy made me from a copy printed for the Supreme Council in about 1910’, 300; Hobson founded the Ulster Literary Theatre with David Parkhill in 1904 [564]. FDA, Vol. 3 selects Ireland Yesterday and Tomorrow (1968) [503]; 380, 382, 458, 528n; BIOG 559.

[ top ]

R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland (London: Allen Lane 1988), p. 463; b. Belfast, ed. Quaker sch., Lisburn; Gaelic League, 1901; Sec. Antrim GAA, 1901; Prot. nat. Soc and Fianna Eireann, Belfast, 1901; joined IRB, 1904; co-fnd. Dungannon Clubs, Ulster Lit. Theatre, 1905; Vice-Pres. Sinn Féin, 1907; left Sinn Féin 1910, ed. Irish Freedom, 1910; organised Howth gun-running, 1914; supported Redmond’s demand for half the controlling seats on Irish Volunteer Force, and resigned ed. of Irish Freedom and IRB Supreme Council; became Free State civil servant; History of Irish Volunteers (1918); a life of Tone (1919); Ireland, Yesterday and Tomorrow (1968) [autobiog.].

[ top ]

British Library holds Official Handbook of the Irish Free State [1932]; See IRELAND - Irish Free State [Misc. Public Documents and Offic. Publications; ed., The Letters of Wolfe Tone ... [1921]; The Life of Wolfe Tone ... Together with Extracts from his political writings abridged and edited by B. Hobson; A Book of Dublin, ed., by B. Hobson, with plates (Dub. Corp. 1929), 86pp.; The Gate Theatre Dublin, ed. by B. Hobson [with ills. including ports. (1934), 140pp. Also, Mary Ann Butler Bulmer Family Chronicle from before 1050 to 1936 ([Carnalea], [1937]), pls. & ports.

[ top ]

Booksellers: HYLAND BOOKS (Cats. 214; 220) lists ed., The Gate Theatre (Dublin: Gate 1934), 340pp. [lim. ed., 256//600] profusely ill.; A Book of Dublin [published by the Corporation of Dublin] (Dublin 1929), ill. 84pp., xcix pp. of adverts. Also Ireland, Yesterday and Tomorrow [sic] (1st edn. 1968) [Hyland Oct. 1995]

Ulster Libraries: LIB. of HERBERT BELL holds Ireland Yesterday & Tomorrow (Anvil Books Ltd 1968). BELFAST CENTRAL LIBRARY holds A Book of Dublin, for Dublin Corporation (1929)

[ top ]

Quotations
English Politics: ‘English politicals were the principals in the whole business and the Ulster Volunteers were merely their agents or instruments’ (Short History of the Volunteers; cited in Maurice Headlam, Irish Reminiscences, 1947, p.140; further remarking on the ‘author with the Irish name of Bulmer Hobson’ and ‘with striking ignorance of Ulster’.)

[ top ]

Notes
W. B. Yeats: Yeats wrote that Hobson expressed unwillingness to encourage any ‘dramatic enterprise apart from our own company’ - i.e., the Ulster Theatre - but later changed his mind (see W. B. Yeats, Uncollected Prose, II ed. John P. Frayne & Colton Johnson, p.375).

Liam Mellowes: Reading Hobson’s Irish Freedom turned Mellowes into a militant nationalist and a member of Fianna Eireann (see D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland, 1982; 1991 Edn., p.379).

[ top ]