James Fintan Lalor


Life
1807-1849; b. Tinakill [var. Tenakill, Queen’s Co.], Co. Laois, son of Patrick Lalor [‘gentleman’], radical MP and anti-tithe activist of the 1830s; d. privately and at Carlow Lay College, contracted spinal disease resulting in hunch-back appearance and reclusive habits; supported radical land-reform rather than Repeal of the Union; wrote to Pitt indicating that a settlement of the Repeal agitation could be reached if land agreement were reached first (i.e., took anti-Repeal stand); experienced rift with his father; wrote to Peel in 1843 offering to supply information towards suppression of Repeal movement;
 
lived precariously in Dublin but returned home in ill-health, 1846; contributed series of letters to The Nation, 1847, advocating ‘the land of Ireland for the people of Ireland’; became known as the most extreme member of Young Ireland and the chief influence on Mitchel (probably oblivious to his stand on Repeal); not supported by Charles Gavan Duffy or William Smith O’Brien; involved in unsuccessful attempts to organise tenant rights associations in Kilkenny and Tipperary with Michael Doheny; failed also to organise rent strike; co-ed., with John Martin, The Irish Felon, June 1848;
 
arrested at Templederry, Co. Tipperary, July 1848; Tenants’ Protection Societies, established under his influence by Frs. O’Shea and O’Keeffe, Callan, Co. Tipperary 1849, triggering evictions of four hundred tenants in Earl of Derwent’s Callan estate, and 100,000 country-wide; Lalor released with bad health, Nov. 1849; stayed with Fr. John Kenyon in Templederry; joined O’Leary, Kickham, and others in Waterford-Tipperary secret organisation; prepared another rising at Cashel, 19 Sept., but sent the small rally home; d. 27 Dec.; bur. Glasnevin; a younger br., Peter, was active in the labour movement and held office in the Victoria administration; Eamon de Valera quoted Lalor at Bodenstown, 25 June 1925. JMC IF ODNB DIW DIB DIH RAF FDA OCIL

[ top ]

Works
  • The Writings of James Fintan Lalor, With an Introduction embodying Personal Recollections by John O’Leary, and a Brief Memoir by O’D[ ...] (Dublin: T. G. O’Donoghue 1895);
  • Nathaniel Marlowe, ed., James Fintan Lalor, Collected Writings (Dublin: Maunsel 1918) [var. 1916];
  • James Fintan Lalor, Patriot and Political Essayist, 1807-1849, with a prefatory note by Arthur Griffith ([Dublin: Talbot] 1918) [var. 1921], reiss. as James Fintan Lalor, Patriot and Political Essayist, 1807-1849: Collected Writings; with a biographical note by L. Fogarty (Dublin: Talbot 1947), 147pp., front. port.;
  • James Connolly, ed., The Rights of Ireland and the Faith of a Felon ... and an introduction by James Connolly (Dublin: Socialist Party of Ireland n.d.).

[ top ]

Criticism
  • L. M. Fogarty, James Fintan Lalor, Patriot and Political Essayist, 1807-1849. With a preface by Arthur Griffith (Dublin: Maunsel 1918);
  • T. P. O’Neill, ‘Fintan Lalor and the 1849 Movement’ in An Cosantóir: The Irish Defence Journal, X, 4 (April 1950), pp.173-79;
  • Tomás Ó Néill, Fiontán Ó Leathlobhair (Cló Morainn 1962);
  • Thomas P. O’Neill, ‘James Fintan Lalor’, in Thomas Davis Lectures, ed., J. W. Boyle (Cork: Mercier Press 1966) [q.pp.];
  • Asa Briggs, ‘Fergus O’Connor and J. Bronterre O’Brien’, in Thomas Davis Lectures, ed. J. W. Boyle (Cork 1966);
  • David N. Buckley, James Fintan Lalor, Radical (Cork UP 1990), 124pp.;
  • Thomas P. O’Neill, James Fintan Lalor, trans. by John T. Goulding (Wexford: Golden Publications 2003), 223pp., ill., facs., maps, ports.

 

[ top ]

Commentary
David N. Buckley, James Fintan Lalor: Radical (Cork UP 1990), 124pp., remarks: ‘Lalor’s appeal to “class” was idiosyncratic. Despite the fact that “class” formed part of the current vocabulary of rhetoric and dispute up to and beyond the '40s, no writer of the period - and certainly none within Lalor’s limited circle - used the terminology with such consistency. Whilst Davis and his heterogeneous coterie were apt to undermine the use of “class” by appeals to a literary and romanticised “'nationality”, Lalor did not follow suit. If Young Irelanders in general were primarily concerned with wooing aristocratic support, Lalor was not. He looked down, not up, the social ladder in search of a constituency, and he attacked the aristocracy as a class, not as a segmented order divided into patriots and traitors. / However, the question remains: to what extent did Lalor see 'the people' as political agents in their own right? If Duffy believed that the unprivileged rural masses could only find leaders among the urban élite, to whom did Lalor look for leadership of the same constituency? “Men are moved only in masses” he wrote in 1847, “and it is easier to convert a million of men than a single man'” To “command success” any movement looking for popular support would have to jettison both idealistic principles, “however pure”, and romantic policies, however high-minded. That Lalor focused on the land as a bread-and-butter issue is not surprising. But he clearly expected leadership to come from higher up the rural ladder than from among the small occupiers of ten acres or less. “It is never the mass of a [58] people that forms its real and efficient might”, he wrote in his final article in The Felon, “Its is the men by whom the mass is moved and managed. All the great acts of history have been done by a very few men ... [... &c.]”.’ (pp.58-59.) Bibl. cites Maurice Lenihan, ‘Reminiscences of a Journalst’, Limerick Reporter and Tipperary Vindicator, 1866, 1867, and 1870; &c. Bibl. as supra, with add., Tomás Ó Néill, ‘The Papers of James Fintan lalor inthe National Library’, in Irish Book Lover, XXX (Jan. 1948); Ó Néill, ‘Fintan Lalor andthe 1849 Movement’, in An Cosantóir: The Irish Defence Journal, X, No. 4 (April 1950); Ó Néill, ‘The economic and political ideas of James Fintan Lalor’, in Irish Eccles. Record, Vol. LXXIV Nov. 1950), and ‘James Fintan Lalor’, in J. W. Boyle, ed., Leaders and Workers (Cork 1966); Ó Néill, Fointán Ó Leathlobhair (Dublin 1962).

[ top ]

Seamus Deane, ‘Landlords and soil: Davitt, Lalor’ [sect. of], ‘National Character’, in Strange Country: Modernity and the Nation in Irish Writing Sicne 1790 (OUP 1997), pp.75-78., quotes at length ‘On a wider fighting field, with stronger positions and greater resources than are afforded by the paltry question of Repeal, must we close for our final struggle with England, or sink and surrender. [..., &c.; as infra] and Deane remarks: ‘The laws of the land are, in this vision, dependent upon the rightful ownership of the soil. Soil is prior to land. It is actual and symbolic, the more symbolic because of its claim to sheer materiality. The romantic-nationalist conception of the soil, its identity with the nation, its ownership by the people, its priority over all the administrative and commercial systems that transform it into land, is the more powerful because it is formulated as a reality that is beyond the embrace of any concept. It does not belong to the world of ideas; it precedes the idea of the world as a politically and economically ordered system. This construct had great appeal for left-wing, socialist or proto-socialist activists like Lalor, Mitchel, and Davitt. It had equal appeal for those who identified the emergence of a bureaucratic, heavily administered society with modernity and espoused instead a conservative, reactionary vision of the nation, particularly of Ireland, as a territory not conducive to such rationalised ordering. As in the instance of Burke, who regarded administrative rationalization as an unnatural imposition of inhuman, geometric reason on the natural conditions of the traditional soil of France in the revolutionary period, Irish writers of the post-Famine generation and beyond rewrote the opposition to landlordism and to British rule as a characteristically national repudiation of modernity.’ (Strange Country, 1997, p.77.)

[ top ]

David N. Buckley, James Fintan Lalor, Radical (Cork UP 1990), 124pp.: CONTENTS, Preface [1]; Introduction [4]; Lalor's Life: An Interprteation [10]; Lalor's Appeal to Law ]29]; Lalor's use of “Class” [44]; Lalor's Economic “Theories” [60]' Conclusion: Identity and Influence [82]; Notes [93]; Bibliography [117]; Index [121]. The author believes that Lalor is misrepresented in retrospective views, each claiming him in support of their politics.

[ top ]

Quotations
Irish landlord[ism] has grown so rotten and hideous a thing, that only its strict alliance, offensive and defensive, with British oligarchy, saves it from going down to sudden perdition. So soon as this becomes clear to my mind, , for one, desisted from the vain attempt of seducing the English garrison in Ireland to fraternise with Irishmen, and turned upon the garrison itself. I determined to try how many men in Ireland would help me to lay the axe to the root of this rotten and hideous Irish landlordism; that we might see how much would come down along with it.’ (Writings of Fintan Lalor, John O’Leary, ed., Dublin 1895, p.69; cited with other passages in Malcolm Brown, Politics of Irish Literature, 1972, p.104.

[ top ]

Landlords of Ireland: ‘They [the landlord class] form no class of the Irish people, or of any other people. Strangers they are in this land they call theirs - strangers here and strangers everywhere, owning no country and owned by none; rejecting Ireland, and rejected by England; tyrants to this land and slaves to another; here they stand hating and hated - their hand forever against us, as ours against them, an outcast and ruffianly horde, a class by themselves. They do not know, and never did belong to this island. Tyrants and traitors they have ever been to us and ours since first they set foot on our soil. Their crime it is and not England’s that Ireland stands where she does today [...]. Were they a class of the Irish people that Union would never have been. But for them we would now be free, prosperous, and happy. Until they be removed no people can ever take root, grow up and flourish here ... they or we are doomed ... a cry has gone up to heaven for the living and the dead - to save the living, and avenge the dead’; further, ‘the crimes of their order’; ‘the principle I assert would make Ireland in fact as she is of right, the mistress and queen of all those lands; that she, poor lady, had ever a soft and grateful disposition … Let us crown her a queen; and then let her do with her lands as a queen man do.’ [… &c.] (FDA2, p.174.)

[ top ]

The Soil of Ireland (I): ‘Ireland her own - Ireland her own, and all therein, from the sod to the sky. The soil of Ireland for the people of Ireland, to have and hold from God alone who gave it - to have and hold to them and their heirs forever, without suit or service, faith or fealty, rent or render, to any power under heaven. From a worse bondage than the bondage of any foreign government, from a dominion more grievous and grinding than the dominion of England in its worst days - from the cruellest tyranny that ever yet laid its vulture clutch on the soul and body of a country, from the robber rights and robber rule that have turned us into slaves and beggars in the land that God gave us for ours - Deliverance, oh Lord; Deliverance or Death - Deliverance, or this island a desert! This is the one prayer, and terrible need, and real passion of Ireland today, as it has been for ages.’ (‘The Soil of Ireland for the People of Ireland’, rep. in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Derry: Field Day Co. 1991, p.172.) Further, ‘The principle I state and mean to stand upon, is this, that the entire ownership of Ireland, moral and material, up to the sun, and down to the centre, is vested of right in the people of Ireland; that they, and none but they, are the land-owners and lawmakers of this island; that all laws are null and void not made by them; and all titles to land invalid not conferred and confirmed by them; and that this full right of ownership may and ought to be asserted and enforced by any and all means which God has put in the power of man.’ (FDA2, 173.)

[ top ]

The Soil of Ireland (I): ‘I hold and maintain that the entire soil of a country belongs of right to the people of that country, and is the rightful property not of any one class, but of the nation at large, in full effective possession, to let to whom they will on whatever tenures, terms, rents, services and conditions they will; one condition, however, being unavoidable, and essential, the condition that the tenant shall bear full, true, and undivided fealty, and allegiance to the nation [...] I hold further [...] that the enjoyment by the people of this right, [76] of first ownership of the soil, is essential to the vigour and vitality of all other rights [...] For let no people deceive themselves, or be deceived by the words, and colours, and phrases, and forms, of a mock freedom, by constitutions and charters and articles, and franchises. These things are paper and parchment, waste and worthless. Let laws and institutions say what they will, this fact will be stronger than all laws, and prevail against them.’ (Nathaniel Marlowe, ed., Collected Writings, p.47; quoted in Seamus Deane, Strange Country, 1997, pp.76-77.)

[ top ]

The Soil of Ireland (II): ‘Not to repeal the Union, then, but to repeal the Conquest - not to disturb or dismantle the empire, but to abolish it forever - not to fall back on ’82 but act up to ’48 - not to resume or restore an old constitution, but to found a new nation, and raise up a free people, and strong as well as free, and secure as well as strong, based on a peasantry rooted like rocks in the soil of the land - this is my object … (editorial of The Irish Felon, 24 June 1848; rep. in. Nathaniel Marlowe, ed., James Fintan Lalor, Collected Writings, Dublin: Maunsel 1916; quoted in Seamus Deane, Strange Country, 1997, p.76; seel also The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, 1991, Vol. 2.)

[ top ]

The Soil of Ireland (III): ‘On a wider fighting field, with stronger positions and greater resources than are afforded by the paltry question of Repeal, must we close for our final struggle with England, or sink and surrender. Ireland her own - Ireland her own, and all therein, from the sod to the sky. The soil of Ireland for the people of Ireland, to have and to hold from God alone who gave it - to have and to hold to them and their heirs for ever, without suit or service, faith or fealty, rent or render, to any power under Heaven. From a worse bondage than the bondage of any foreign government, from a dominion more grievous and grinding than the dominion of England in its worst days - from the cruellest tyranny that ever yet laid its vulture clutch on the soul and body of a country, from the robber rights and robber rule that have turned us into slaves and beggars in the land that God gave us for ours - Deliverance, oh Lord; Deliverance or Death - Deliverance, or this island a desert! This is the one prayer, and terrible need, and real passion of Ireland today, as it has been for ages.’ (Nathaniel Marlowe, ed., James Fintan Lalor, Collected Writings, 1916, pp.56-57; quoted in Seamus Deane, Strange Country, 1997, p.76.)

[ top ]

People & Class: ‘[I]t is a mere question between a people and a class – a people of eight million and a class of eight thousand. They or we must quit this island ... they or we are doomed.’ (Lalor, Collected Writings, Talbot 1947, pp.62-63; quoted in Cairns & Richards, Writing Ireland, Manchester UP 1988, p.51.)

The Great Famine: ‘Society stands dissolved. A new social order is to be arranged.’ (Quote in Fogarty, James Fintan Lalor, 1918, p.10; cited by Chris Morash, ‘Sinking down into the Dark’, in in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 1997, p.82.)

Sundry remarks: ‘A secure and independent agricultural peasantry is the only base on which a people rises or ever can be raised; or on which a nation can safely rest.’ ‘The entire ownership of Ireland, moral and material ... is vested of right in the people of Ireland.’ (Both quoted in Doherty & Hickey, A Chronology of Irish History since 1500, Gill & Macmillan 1989.)

[ top ]

References
Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature (1904), b. Tinakil, nr. Dublin [sic]; ed privately; hunchback, shy, purblind, obstinate and proud, shy and suspicious; hater of tyranny; contributor to press [Nation &c.] at arrest of Mitchel; went to Dublin at suppression of The United Irishman to edit The Irish Felon; imprisoned for bold opinions; d. 27 Dec., health shattered by imprisonment; buried Glasnevin. gives extract from article (‘The Soil of Ireland for the people of Ireland’; as infra); ‘The Faith of a Felon’ (Irish Felon, 8 July 1848), ‘the English conquest consisted of two parts ... conquest of our liberties, the conquest of our lands/I saw clearly the re-conquest of our liberties would be incomplete and worthless without the re-conquest of our lands ... The lands were owned by the conquering race, or by traitors to the conquered race. They were occupied by the native people, or by settlers who had mingled and merged./I selected, as the mode of re-conquest, to refuse payment of rent, to resist process of ejectment./In that mode I determined to effect the re-conquest, and staked on it all my hopes, here and hereafter - my hopes of an effective life and an eternal epitaph. [After a history of his relations with the Repeal and Young Ireland parties, he goes on to state four ‘opinions’ [I-IV] in the manner of Gavan Duffy’s creed of the Nation - the last of them, at greater length, containing the remarks on the eight million and eight thousand; also ‘Ulster is not merely conquered but colonised ... &c.]’

[ top ]

Dictionary of National Biography lists Finton Lalor [sic Shorter]; prominent in revolutionary circles, 1847-48; ed. Irish Felon, 1848.

R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland (London: Allen Lane 1988), bio-note records: b. Queen’s Co., son of radical MP of 1832-5; crippled; ed. Carlow Coll., letter to Peel urging land nationalization to supress Repeal agitation, 1845, and later swung to physical-force independence movement; wrote for The Nation, 1846-7; fnd. Tenant League in Tipperary, 1845; ed. the Irish Felon, June 1848; arrested, and released in poor health, continuing to urge a rising, which amounted to an attack on a Waterford police barracks in Sept. 1849. ALSO, Foster (Modern Ireland, p.381), To take the most radical and least representative formulation ... the cogent broadises of JF Lalor in the late 1840s set the tone for later land agitators; begining with unrealistic and grandeloquent appeals to landlords to join the neo-Yougn Irelanders in 1828, he rapidly moved on (in his Irish felon letters) to demonstrating that the Irish land question was an issue between ‘a class and a people’. [Foster mentions a ‘mysterious visit he may have made to France in 1827, and compares this sould wtih the ‘debased German romanticism of average Young Ireland.’] Independence for the farming class must be the basis of national independence, and must precede it; in a memorably metaphor, it would be the engine that would drag national independence in its train.//Whether or not Lalor was correct, his tactics were prescient [of the] no-rent strike and boycott advocated by ideologues for a tenantry ... Lalor’s own rising of 1849 was a hiccup .[…] (Foster, op. cit., p.315.)

[ top ]

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day Co. 1991), Vol. 2 selects ‘A New Nation, Proposal for an Agricultural Association between the Landowners and Occupiers’, a letter addressed to Gavan Duffy, [in] The Nation, 24 April 1847, creating a left-wing in Ireland by linking the ideas of nationalism and social revolution [165-72]; extracts from The Irish Felon [172-75]; had not known Davis [Deane, ed.], 117; they [Davis, Meagher, Lalor, and Mitchel] conducts his arguments on the level dictated by the forces which [they] feel oppressed ... they want to be on a par with them; they want ‘Celt’ to be equivalent to, if also different from, ‘Anglo-Saxon’. They do not oppose the racism by which they are humiliated [ibid.], 119; Lalor’s warning unheeded by landlord’s but heeded by government [ibid.], 120; with Mitchel’s genocide theory, his land-tenure revolution plea on of the key Young Ireland contributions with 20th century consequences, 121; [Davitt, 201-02]; Fenians influence in physical force policy by [Deane, ed.], 209; Davitt’s Fall of Feudalism completes what Lalor and Mitchel had begun - a campaign against the garrison ascendancy of landed proprietors [ibid], 212; principals more radical than Gavan Duffy’s [ibid.], 276[n]; preached doctrine that ownership ‘is vested in the people of Ireland’ [ibid.], 280[n]; , Pearse puts him in the tradition of Tone, 294; cited as political essayist by Thomas McDonagh (1916), 991; cited by Frederick Ryan as unhindered by being English-speaking, 999; 206, BIOG, b. Tenakill, Queen’s Co. (Laois); father prominent in 1830s anti-tithe movement and MP in 1832-35; congenital spinal disease, deaf, near-sighted and deformed; broke with his father, who supported O’Connell and the Repeal Association, and reconciled in 1846; began publishing series of letters in The Nation, Jan 1847, advocating land confiscation; failed rent strike, 1847-48; John Martin started The Felon as successor to Mitchel’s United Irishman, and Lalor ran it almost single-handedly at Martin’s arrest (5 numbers); arrested 1848; released in ill-health after some months; attempted to organise another rebellion in 1849, and died shortly after its failure. BIOG & COMM [as supra]. FDA3, Bulmer Hobson describes finding Lalor’s theory of ‘moral insurrection’, and effectively describing the defensive tactics of guerrilla war, 503; hoped to change the perennial defeats of the ‘Celts’ with Lalor’s policy, 506-507; [O’Faolain, 572]; [Pearse, ‘This gospel of the Sovereign People that Fintan Lalor delivered is the shortest of the gospels’ (in The Sovereign People, p.346; quoted Fr. F. Shaw, 1972), 593.

[ top ]

Henry Boylan, A Dictionary of Irish Biography [rev. edn.] (Gill & Macmillan 1988), incls. notice on his brother Peter Lalor (1823-89), ed. TCD, who became a prospector in Australia at Eureka find and led miners in the encounter at Eureka Stockade, 3 Dec. 1854, losing an arm; later MP for Ballarat; govt. posts, and Speaker of Australian Parliament, 1880-88; grant of 4,000. d. Melbourne, 10 Feb. See also F. L. S. Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine (1971).

Ulster Libraries: Belfast Central Public Library holds Writings (1895); Collected Writings (1947).

[ top ]

Notes
Durance vile: Lalor was arrested under Suspension of Habeas Corpus Act, in 1848; his letters to The Nation, signed ‘James F. Lalor, residing in a village in Queen’s County’ [Laoise]. (See The Field Day Anthology, 1991, Vol. 2.)

[ top ]

Andrew Merry [Andrew Melrose], The Hunger - Being Realities of the Famine years in Ireland, 1845 to 1848 (1910), contains portrait of Lalor as “The People’s Larry”. (See ‘Reviews’, in The Irish Book Lover, Vol. I, No. 11, June 1910, p.151.)

[ top ]