F. S. L. Lyons

Life
1923-1983 [Francis Steward Leland; called Leland]; b. Derry; ed. Tunbridge Wells, and TCD; published doctoral work as The Irish Parliamentry Party 1890-1910 (1951); TCD Fellow, 1951-64; The Fall of Parnell 1890-91 (1960); book-length study of Parnell (1965); Professor of Modern History at Univ. of Kent, 1964; life of John Dillon (1968); Master of Eliot College, 1969; published Ireland Since the Famine (1971), the standard work; gave lecture on “The Meaning of Independence” (RTE 1971), speaking of ‘the great enchantment which for too long has made myth so much more congenial than reality’;

elected Provost of Trinity, 1974-81; issued major Charles Stewart Parnell (1977), winner of Heinemann Prize, 1978; issued 1978 Ford Lectures at Oxford as Culture and Anarchy in Ireland 1890-1939 (1979), winner of Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize, arguing that ‘the essence of the Irish situation is the collision of a variety of cultures, Gaelic, English, Anglo-Irish and Ulster Protestant’; died suddenly of heart-attack, leaving in its incipient stages an authorised biography of Yeats which R. F. Foster then took on. DIB DIW DIL OCEL DUB OCIL

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Works
The Irish Parliamentry Party 1890-1910
(1951); The Fall of Parnell 1890-91 (1960); Parnell (Dundalk: Dun dealgan [Temple] Press 1965), and Do. as Charles Stewart Parnell [rep. edn.] (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 2005), 736pp.; John Dillon, A Biography (1968); Ireland Since the Famine (London: Fontana 1971; Bungay: Collins 1973); Charles Stewart Parnell (1977); Culture and Anarchy in Ireland 1890-1939 (Oxford 1979), 192pp.; ed., with R. Hawkins, Ireland under the Union, Varieties of Tension (Oxford 1979).

Articles incl. ‘James Joyce’s Dublin’, in Twentieth Century Studies, 4 (1970), pp.6-25; ‘The Political Ideas of Parnell’, in Historical Journal, 16, 4 (1973), pp.749-75; ‘A Question of Identity: A Protestant View’, Irish Times (9 Jan. 1975); ‘A Question of Identity: A Protestant View’ [News Feature], in Irish Times (9 Jan. 1975).

Query: Lyons and Prof. John A. Murphy share a full page of during the ‘Truce’ in 1975 under the headings ‘A Protestant View/A Catholic View’; abridged from RTE TV talk shortly before [??; Cuttings].

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Criticism
See Oliver MacDonagh, ‘The Pursuit of Hibernicity’, in Times Literary Supplement (28 March 1980) [long review of Lyons, Culture and Anarchy (OUP 1979).

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Commentary
Seamus Deane, Heroic Styles: The Tradition of an Idea [Field Day Pamphlet, No. 4] (Derry: Field Day Co. 1984), on the Protestant revivalist formation in Anglo-Irish literature of the revival period, ‘It was in essence a strategic retreat from political to cultural supremacy. From Lecky to Yeats and forward to F. S. L. Lyons we witness the conversion of Irish history into a tragic theatre in which the great Anglo-Irish protagonists - Swift, Burke, Parnell - are destroyed in their heroic attempts to unite culture of intellect with the emotion of multitude, or in political terms, constitutional politics with the forces of revolution.’ (p.8.)

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Declan Kiberd, Anglo-Irish Attitudes [Field Day Pamphlets, No. 6] (Derry: Field Day 1984), cites passage from Lyons [Culture and Anarchy in Ireland, 1979; see supra] and comments: ‘As a contribution to cultural history, his book stops quite reasonably at 1939 with the outbreak of world war and the death of Yeats. But, as an attempt to explain the current conflict, this work is seriously marred by that terminal date. A great deal has happened in the intervening decades …’ (p.22); lists events such as the overthrown of O’Neill, then Faulkner, and the proletarianisation of Unionist leadership, as well as the emergence of civil rights through the workings of the welfare state; ‘Professor Lyons, in his anxiety to prove that culture makes things happen, chose to end his book with a date which allowed him to neglect these salient points. … Is it really true that the difference between Glenn Barr and John Hume is attributable to a clash of cultures?’ (p.23); further, cites from Lyons’s account (‘of rare descriptive power’) the old saw about the Lambeg drum being beaten “until the knuckles of the drummers ran with blood” (p.22); notes also that Lyons quotes Yeats’s lines about that play of his [Cathleen Ni Houlihan] which ‘sent out certain men the English shot’.

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W. J. McCormack, The Battle of the Books (Dublin: Lilliput 1986), criticising Lyon’s conception that, in Ulster, there was a ‘war between two civilisations’, McCormack writes: ‘Precisely how one English-speaking, monogramous, carnivore Christian in Ulster differs from another in such fundamental ways as to constitute no less than two civilisations and as many as three cultures, we are not told (cf. the Inca, the Roman, the Assyrian). We are told, however, that this is a “society none of whose cultures seemed to have a place for the urban proletariat.”’ (p.42.)

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Conor Cruise O’Brien, Passion and Cunning and Other Essays (NY: Simon & Schuster 1988), “Introduction” [discussing the reaction to ‘Passion & Cunning’, his essay alleging that Yeats was a fascist in politics, first printed in A. N. Jeffares & K. W. Cross, eds., In Excited Reverie: A Centenary Tribute to William Butler Yeats 1865-1939 (London: Macmillan 1965), pp.207-77]: ‘Not long before his lamented and untimely death, the late Leland Lyons - who was working on the Yeats biography at the time - referred to my essay, in the Yeats Annual (No. 2). He called my essay “brilliant”. That was ominous for starters; I knoew Leland Lyons well enouhg to knoew that that particular adjective did not occupy an elevated place in the hierarchy of his terms of commendation. He went on to describe a statement whic he attributed to me as “probably the most offensive remark in the entire cannon [1] of Yeasts criticism.” The remark which he attributed to me was that if “Ireland had been occupied by the Nazis one would have expected to see [Yeats] at least a cautious participant, or ornament, in a collaborationist regime.” / But that is not what I said, and not what I meant. [...] the situation I was contemplating was one in which England, not Ireland, was occupied by the Nazis. If Ireland had been occupied by the Nazis, Yeats, if alive and well, would have been in exile and writing against the German occupiers [...] / I came across Leland Lyons’ comment only after his death, and very shortly after. I read it with a pang, because I would have loved to go and talk to him about it. Not least beacue, for the first time in my life [...] I had caught that meticulous scholar out in a mistake of fact. But I now how it happened; the print had swum.’ to (p.1-2; rep. in in Jonathan Allison, ed., Yeats’s Political Identities, Michigan UP 1996, pp.57ff.; see further remarks - explaining “swum” - under Terence de Vere White, infra. )

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Luke Gibbons, Transformations in Irish Culture (Field Day/Cork UP 1996): Gibbons conducts a debate with F. S. L. Lyons (The Burden of History [Rankin Lect.], QUB 1978) and T. W. Moody (‘Irish History and Mythology’, Hermethena, cxxiv, 1978), as authors of the ‘myth-free’ view of Irish history, drawing on Bradshaw and Robert Darnton (historian of the mentalité of the pre-Revolutionary French peasantry) to make the point that ‘when Lyons protests that myth has obscired reality in our understanding of certain symbolic events, he does not seem to realise that the very existence of a symbolic dimension in human action requires a historical method [17] that goes beyond literalist assumptions, and scientific norms of causality and certainty. For this reason, it is important not only to re-think but to re-figure Irish identity; to attend to those recalcitrant areas of experience which simply do not lend themselves to certainty, and which impel societies themselves towards indirect, and figurative discourse - narratives, generic conventions, rhetorical tropes, allegory, and other ‘literary’ modes of composition. [18]

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Terence Brown, ‘New Literary Histories’ [review article] - review of James Fairhall, James Joyce and the Question of History (Cambridge 1993), in Irish Historical Studies, 30, 119 (May 1997): ‘[...] a central, lengthy chapter [...] offers a competent enough history of [Dubliners'] reception, first by formalist critics in the United States and then by those of conventional historical frame of mind in Ireland Among these F. S. L. Lyons is singled out for praise, his 1970 article “James Joyce's Dublin” being reckoned “a corrective for formalist criticism” (p.71.) Yet it “has its own flaws”. Among these are a disregard of Joyce's socialism and “A language and attitude” which “are those of triumphant irish nationalism which sees its own history as a telelogicalally [sic] ordained progress” (pp.71-72). This curious assessment of Lyons's view of Irish nationalism is on foot of his use of the phrase “the flame of revolution” to refer to 1916. Lyons is suspect since he is too much in thrall to the “narrativised history of the Irish revolution” (p.71). The former Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, sometimes damned as a “revisionist”, would have been suprised to read that sentence. And I think it should have been clear to Fairdall, even from this article, that Lyons's views on “the revolutionary tradition” were circumstpect, to say the least. But he is himself so often in the grip of the potted, narrativised accoutns of the irish past that it makes him an untrustworthy guide both to the irish context and to Joycean data. It is amusing to speculate what Lyons would have made of the following assertive paragraph, had be come on it in a student essay: “All Joyce's stories deal with politics ... &c, p.90; here p.464.)

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Gerry Smyth, Decolonisation and Criticism: The Construction of Irish Literature (London: Pluto Press 1998), pointing out Lyons’s verdict on on ‘the false assumption’ made by some Irish intellectuals at the beginning of the twentieth century ‘[...] that in art, as in society, collaboration between classes, religions and races would fill the political vacuum. But in reality, there was no vacuum. The political issue - the issue of separation from Britain - remained the central issue and everything else would continue to be judged according to whether it added to or subtracted from the national demand’ (Ireland Since the Famine, rev. edn. 1973, p.246; Smyth, p.37); Smyth comments, ‘Lyons […]appears to refuse the sequestration of culture from politics that characterises ‘liberal ideology’; yet he did so from within an Irish society which had been moving steadily towards a traditional Western model of ‘liberal’ nation-statehood during the twentieth century. In fact, the framework within which he operated was thoroughly bourgeois-liberal in conception, while the terms with which he worked were the established Western ones in which the “cultural” and the “political” signified specific, discrete spheres of activity.’ (Smyth, p.37).

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Quotations

‘... the roots of difference within Irish society are being explored with much greater sensitivity and thoroughness than ever before ...’ (Culture and Anarchy, 1972, p.2; quoted in Across the Roaring Hill: The Protestant Imagination in Modern Ireland, ed. Gerald Dawe & Edna Longley (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1985), Introduction, p.i.

The Meaning of Independence” [Address to Historical Society & RTE lecture] (1971): ‘In the present situation, with the dire past still overhanging the dire present, the need to go back to fundamentals and consider once more the meaning of independence, asserts itself with almost intolerable urgency. The theories of revolution, the theories of history, which have brought Ireland to its present pass, cry out for re-examination and the time is ripe to try to break the great enchantment which has for too long made myth so much more congenial than reality.’ (Quoted in Desmond Farrell, [article in riposte to Roy Foster on triumph of revisionism] in Iris Review, 4, 1988; rep. as Chap. 2 of The Revision of Irish Nationalism, 1989; also quoted in Conor McCarthy, Irish Modernisation: Crisis and Culture in Ireland, 1969-1992, Dublin: Four Courts Press 2000, p.90; see also Liam Harte, Satellite Lect., MA Dip., UUC, Feb. 2003, and Loredana Salis, ‘“So Greek with Consequence”: Classical Tragedy in Contemporary Irish Drama’, PhD Diss., UUC, 2005.) Further, on ‘the dilemma of the Irish contemporary historian’: ‘[W]e have a plain duty to address ourselves to contemporary history even in its most controversial aspects, but to do so in full knowledge of the deficiencies of the genre, and with our gaze fixed upon strictly limited objectives. [...] Our principal business for years ahead will simply be to elicit the facts of which we are at present woefully ignorant, and to set out those facts in the clearest and least sensational prose we can achieve. For those who come after us will the work of analysis and synthesis be principally reserved. If by patient excavation and resolute refusal to study the recent on any but the terms dictated by our discipline, we contribute a little towards the restoration of sanity in this island, then we shall have done all that honour demands-more, perhaps, than we dare hope.’ (Hermethena, Vol. XCV, Summer 1973, pp.55-56; quote in Ronan Fanning, ‘The Great Enchantment’, in Ciaran Brady, ed., Interpreting Irish History: The Debate on Historical Revisionism, IAP, 1994, p.159.)

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Culture and Anarchy in Ireland (1979): ‘The ancient quarrel is, of course, about power and about its economic base, as well as about its economic manifestations. But such clichés can hardly [21] satisfy us. If we ask further what are the ends for which the possession of power is coveted, we may perhaps come closer to the truth about Ulster. In that small and beautiful region different cultures have collided, because each has a view of life which it deems to be threatened by its opponents; and power is the means by which a particular view of life can be maintained against all rivals. These views of life are founded upon religion, because this is a region where religion is still considered as a vital determinant of everything important in the human condition.’ (Lyons, op. cit., p.144; cited in Declan Kiberd, Anglo-Irish Attitudes [Field Day Pamphlets, No. 6], Derry: Field Day 1984, pp.21-22.) Further, ‘An anarchy in the mind and in the heart, an anarchy which forbade not just unity of territories, but also “unity of being”, an anarchy that sprang from the collision within a small and intimate island of seemingly irreconcilable cultures, unable to live together or to live apart, caught inextricably in the web of their tragic history. “Out of Ireland have we come ... [&c.]”’ (Quoted in R. F. Foster, ‘Varieties of Irishness’, in Paddy and Mr Punch, 1993 [Chap. 2], p.22. Foster’s essay considers fully the significance and merits of Lyons’s position on the topic, suggesting a less pessimistic outlook. ‘Perhaps the most important consequnce of the 1921 settlement was that by concentrating attention on physical boundaries and questions of political sovereignty, it postponed almost till our own day any serious consideration of the cultural differences that underlay the partition of the country.’ (Culture and Anarchy,1979, q.p.; quoted in Roy Foster, op. cit., in Maurna Crozier, ed., Cultural Traditions in Northern Ireland: Varieties of Irishness, Belfast: IIS 1989, p.19. Note: Foster’s lecture takes the form of a commentary on the overly pessimistic vision of Ireland as a country geometrically divided along sectarian lines.)

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The Burden of History’ (QUB 1978) - Rankin Lect.: ‘I, too, have been seduced by political history, only to find when I moved on to other fields that the foundations were often lacking and that significant generalisation was virtually impossible. But this, you may say, is for the historians to settle among themselves. Let them get on with their history of culture and not bother us until they have something to show for their labours. Fair enough, I reply, if it were only a problem for the historians. That., however, is just what it is not. For the fact that historians are inarticulate about the different cultures which collide with each other in this island is merely a symptom of a more profound ignorance which runs right through our society and is exhibited in excelsis on the other side of the Irish sea.’ (Rep. in Field Day Anthology., Vol. III, p.582; quoted in Thomas C. Hofheinz, Joyce and the Inventions of Irish History: Finnegans Wake in Context, Cambridge UP 1995, p.58.)

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James Joyce’s Dublin’: ‘Of course, we immediately say, there was not one Dublin, but several different Dublins, and how they looked depended on the eye of the beholder. Viewed from Eccles Street the city might well appear to be the center of paralysis; yet from the new theatre, of Moore’s house in Ely Place, or half a dozen other points, life and movement and excitement seemed its most obvious characteristics.’ (In Twentieth Century Studies, 4, 1970, pp.6-25; quoted in Eric Bulson, ‘Topics and Geographies’, in Palgrave Advances in James Joyce Studies, ed. Jean Michel Rabaté, Palgrave/Macmillan 2004, p.53.

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Notes
Titular count: ‘The Battle of Two Civilisations’, a chapter-title in Ireland Since the Famine [viz., Chap. 5], originates with D. P. Moran’s chapter in The Philosophy of Irish Ireland, and is further modifed in as ‘The Battle of Three Civilisations’, in George D. Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland, pp.228-58. Note also that the title Ireland Since the Famine had already been used by W. F. Bailey in 1902.

Plato’s Cave: Of war-time Irish neutrality (1939-45), Lyons writes that the country was retiring into ‘Plato’s Cave’ (Ireland since the Famine, 557-58; quoted in Bernard Adams, Denis Johnston: A Life, Lilliput 2002, p.214.)

Desmond Fennell quotes F. S. L. Lyons call to ‘break with the great enchantment which for too long has made myth so much more congenial than reality’ in “The Meaning of Independence” in an article in The Irish Review, 4 (1988), rep. in Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day of Irish Writing, Vol. 3, p.587; quoting Lyons, op. cit., in Brian Farrell, ed., The Irish Parliamentary Tradition, Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1973, p.223.)

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