Frank Hugh O’Donnell


Life
1848-1916 [prob. pseud. “Historicus”], b. Donegal, ed. Ignatius College, Galway, and Queen’s University, Galway, MA in Arts and Languages, 1869; briefly recruited to IRB by Dr Mark Ryan; joined Morning Post, became foreign ed. for many years; Home Rule MP for Galway, 1874, unseated on petition (clerical interference and opponent); IPP MP for Dungarvan, 1877-85; noted obstructionist with Biggar et al.; called “Crank Hugh” by T. M. Healy; defeated by Parnell in contest for Party chair, May 1880;
 
broke with Parnell and Land League, 1880; renomination refused by Parnell, 1885; took unsuccessful libel action against The Times following ‘Parnellism and Crime’ series (1887-88), leading to the establishment of a special Parliamentary Commission (the ‘Parnell Commission’); retired to France, 1888; issued works including How Home Rule Was Wrecked (1895); History of the Irish Parliamentary Party (1910);
 
his pamphlet “Souls for Gold” (1899) attacked Yeats’s The Countess Cathleen; also The Stage Irishman and the Pseudo-Celtic Drama (1904), which he circulated from door to door in literary Dublin, assailing Irish Literary Theatre and Synge in particular [who responded with approbation at the fact of criticism]; called by Yeats ‘the Mad Rogue’; instructed by Dr Mark Ryan to communicate with a French agent for the Boers in Paris [Dr. Leyds], who was then arrested; object of mooted assassination attempt by IRB, prevented by Maud Gonne and Yeats’s suasions;
 
d. 2 Nov.; Michaell Davitt called him ‘a most accomplished fraud ... aiming for office’, while R. F. Foster has called him the ‘jaundiced historian’ of the Irish Parliamentary Party. DIB DIH FDA

 

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Works
  • as ‘Historicus’ [pseud.], Best 100 Irish Books, in Freeman’s Journal (q.d.);
  • Souls For Gold ... Pseudo-Celtic Drama in Dublin (London: Nassau Press, 1899), and Do., rep. as Appendix VIII in Lady Gregory, Our Irish Theatre (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1972);
  • The Ruin of Education in Ireland and the Irish Fanar (Dublin: Nutt 1902);
  • The Stage-Irishman of the Pseudo-Celtic Drama (London: Longmans 1904);
  • Paraguay on the ShannonL The Price of Political Priesthood (London: King; Dublin: Hodges Figgis 1908);
  • The History of the Irish Parliamentary Party, 2 vols. (London: Longmans, Green & Co 1910);
  • The Lost Hat, The Clergy, the Collection, the Hidden Life (London: Murray 1914 [var. 1886]).

See also ‘The Cause of Irish Depopulation’, in The Leader (23 March 1901) [q.pp.].

Note: copy of The Black Pamphlet of Calcutta: The Famine of 1874 / by a Bengal civilian (London: W. Ridgway 1876), viii, 82pp., is attributed to O'Donnell in MS on t.p. [See COPAC - online. Another work on Housing Policy in the City of Leeds by Francis H. O’Donnell, Fred Barraclough and Charles Jenkinson (1933) may be by a relative.

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Criticism
Aine Ní Chonghaile, F. H. O’Donnell, 1848-1916: a shaol agus a shaothar (BAC: Coiscéim 1992), pbk., 237pp.

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Commentary
W. B. Yeats (“Autobiography”, in Memoirs, ed. Denis Donoghue (London: Macmillan 1972): Yeats refers to O’Donnell in connection with Dr Mark Ryan, speaking of him as not having yet come under the influence of ‘a clever, rather mad rogue [i.e., O’Donnell]’ (p.83.)

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C. J. O’Donnell, Outraged Ulster, Why Ireland is Rebellious (Cecil Palmer 1932), 136pp., includes an adulatory account of Frank Hugh O’Donnell of Carndonogh, Co. Donegal, MP Dungarvin; quotes Sir Henry W. Lucy, Parliamentary Reminiscences [n.d.], ‘Among the group of Irishmen who flooded parliament of 1874-80 with strange characters and [?dem] it with new manners the most brilliant was F. H. O’Donnell, MP for Dungarvin. Cultivated in a measure far beyond the average of his compatriots, gifted with parliamentary instinct, political wit, and ready tongue, Mr O’Donnell early won a position as the most formidable of the insurgent body. It was he who devised the subtle system of obstructing Parliamentary business. [121]. Also called ‘the prophert of Sinn Féin’ [126]; his life’s real work, the instilling into the minds of the Irish people that they must rely on [themselves] in Ireland - Sinn Féin - and not pin their faith ‘to the English radicals like Parnell and O’Connell in a foreign assembly’ [120]

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Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972): ‘In a broadside, Souls for Gold, Frank Hugh O’Donnell, an old enemy of Maud Gonne's and of Yeats’s, charged that the play was blasphemous. Arthur Griffith’s The United Irishman, while protesting “the merciless methods of Mr. O’Donnell, who tomahawks with the savage delight of a Choctaw,” immediately disregarded its own precept of delaying judgment by advising that "we want the poets to inspire and lift up the people's hearts, not to mystify them.”’ (p.51.)

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Declan Kiberd, ‘The Fall of the Stage Irishman’, in The Genres of Irish Literary Revival (Dublin: Wolfhound 1980): ‘This clear rejection of the Stage Irishman was accompanied in the same essay by an equally trenchant denunciation of the holier-than-thou anti-Stage Irishman of the present. He felt that men such as O’Donnell were so intent on avoiding any taint of Stage Irishness that they had ceased to be real - they had forgotten who they truly were in their endless campaign not to be somebody else. (p.47.)

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A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats, A New Biography (London: Hutchinson 1988), gives an account of F. H. O’Donnell’s attack on The Countess Cathleen, with Cardinal Logue’s support, and the mixed response of the audience: ‘Yeats was to find [him] a dangerous enemy’ [p.103 et seq.]; Further, ‘a French agent who had met Dr Ryan in London was passed on to O’Donnell and subsequently arrested ... O’Donnell suspected of diverting [IRB] money to Irish Parliamentary Party; it was returned after Yeats spoke to John Dillon; IRB thought O’Donnell should be murdered and though his crazy enmity and pursued both of them,Yeats and Maud Gonne persuaded the IRB men out of the plan.’ (p.130).

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Joseph Lee, The Modernisation of Ireland (Cambridge UP 1973), writes of O’Donnell’s political involvement with the Irish Parliamentary Party, viz: ‘Frank Hugh O’Donnell, whom Michael Davitt considered as late as Aug. 1879 the best potential leader of the land movement.’ (p. 67). Further: also, of Parnell, the lapses of judgement of his two main rivals, O’Connor Power and Frank Hugh O’Donnell, won him the leadership of the party... O’Donnell explained his defeat by Parnell on the grounds that the natural deference of the Irish peasant to birth inclined them instinctively towards an aristocratic leader. But it was this sense of deference the Land movement was instrumental in destroying [..] O’Donnell concept of leadership consisted of asserting that because he was cleverer than everybody else they should automatically defer to him. He denounced the self-educated Davitt and Devoy because ‘it seems never to have occurred to either of them that they owed any deference or obedience to the educated, responsible opinion of Ireland’ - i.e., to Frank Hugh O’Donnell, graduate of Queen’s College, Galway [..] appropriately nicknamed Crank Hugh [so christened by Healy; FDA3].

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David Cairns & Shaun Richards, Writing Ireland (Manchester UP 1988), contains remarks on ‘Souls for Gold’ [1899; bibl. as supra]: ‘In picking up the incident of the shrine, and in reciting the tale of ‘the demented female, Countess Cathleen, who exhibits her affection for the soul-selling and soup-buying Irish people by selling her own soul to supply them with more gold and soup, and is rewarded for her blasphemous apostacy [sic] by Mr W. B. Yeats, dramatist and theologian, by being straightway transmigrated to Heaven’, O’Donnell gave enough details to satisfy many of his readers that Yeats’s play was politically and theologically suspect. Such was the impression of Cardinal Archbishop Logue who (with an appropriate reservation because he had not read it) condemned the play on the basis of O’Donnell’s pamphlet, and was later to write to the Daily Nation on 10 May 1899 to say that “an Irish Catholic audience which could patiently sit out such a play must have sadly degenerated, both in religion and patriotism”.’ (p.72; quoting Hogan and Kilroy, 1975, p.43.)

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Anthony J. Jordan, The Yeats Gonne MacBride Triangle, Westport 2000): Dr. Mark Ryan called Frank Hugh O’Donnell ‘an erratic genius, who afterwards left the Fenian fold ... He had no fixed political convictions.’ (Ryan, Fenian Memoirs, 1945; here p.21.) Jordan also notes that O’Donnell issued a pamphlet attacking the MacBrides in the 1900 Mayo by-election, believed to have been written by Michael Davitt, who had resigned in protest against Boer War. (p.145, n.)

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Patrick Maume: ‘In the period just before the First World War O’Donnell was a fairly regular letter-writer (and occasional contributor of articles) to the Outlook, a London Unionist weekly. These were mostly on the themes of the theocratic ambitions of the Irish Catholic clergy and the degeneracy of the modern Home Rule Party; however, he continued to defend catholic doctrine and the achievements of the early Home Rule party. He thus produced angry rebuttals of Unionist suggestions that the Pigott letters might have been genuine after all, and got involved in a long and bitter exchange with P. D. Kenny over the ne temere decree and the subsequent controversy surrounding the M’Cann case (a Catholic husband who left his Presbyterian wife, allegedly because he had been told that their marriage in a Presbyterian church was invalid] in which O’Donnell defended the decree and the Catholic position on M’Cann. / He was also an occasional contributor of anti-semitic articles to Cecil Chesterton’s weekly New Witness in the same period. One of these, alleging that hidden “Jew Kings” were secretly conspiring to subjugate England to their rule, is cited by Colin Holmes in his book on anti-semitism in England as quite the nastiests thing of its kind t be written in the pre-war period, which is saying a good deal.’ (Remarks kindly supplied in June 2004.)

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Quotations
Souls for Gold”: ‘Out of all the mas of our national traditions it is precisely the baseness which is utterly alien to our national traditions, the barter of Faith for Gold, which Mr. W. B. Yeats selects as the fundamental idea of his Celtic drama!’ (Souls for Gold [ ... &c.], London: Nassau 1899, q.p.; quoted in Marjorie Howes, Yeats’s Nations: Gender, Class, and Irishness, Cambridge UP 1996, p.46.) Further, ‘What is the meaning of this rubbish? How is it to help the national cause? How is it to help any cause at all?’ (End; quoted in Frank Tuohy, Yeats, 1976, p.98.)

History of the Irish Parliamentary Party (1910), Chap. X: ‘it was into this unpromising condition of affairs that Dr Douglas Hyde, some dozen years ago, brought his enthusiastic advocacy and his untiring resolution [..] The unenthusiastic attitude of the hierarchy in face of the Gaelic League has been naturally reflected in the aloofness of the parliamentarians, which has been bitterly deplored by official organs of Dr Douglas Hyde’s association ... it cannot be concealed that there are many zealots of Gaelic today who would wipe out for young Irishmen the records of European culture, and confine their studies to the fragments of an undeveloped form of speech with no practical connexion with modern or ancient civilisation.. a Gaelic wigwam ... The Sinn Fein movement as it is called, has come with the professed mission to realise in politics and society the ideal in letters of the forementioned braves of the Gaelic wigwam. ..a theory of strict abstention from representation in the Imperial parliament ... It is, in fact, a selfish-sounding and undignified equivalent for patriotism or nationalism, and can accordingly be decribed as novel in appearance and antiquated in fact.’ (History, Chap. X; rep. in Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Derry: Field Day Co. 333-39.

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On W. B. Yeats: ‘Mr Yeats has the right to preach to his heart’s content the loathsome doctrine that faith and conscience can be bartered for a full belly and a full purse. Only he has no right to lay the scene in Ireland.’ (Souls for Gold, Pseudo-Celtic Drama, London [Nassau] 1899) [copy preserved in Henderson cuttings of NLI, Ms.1729, p.353.])

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Disestablishment: ‘The protestants of Ireland [... ] had found to their cost that when the interest of the English Government is at stake, their interests are made a plaything and a bauble in the battle of party.’ (Quoted in D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland, London 1982; 1991, p.192.)

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References
Doherty & Hickey, A Chronology of Irish History Since 1500 (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1989) lists The Lost Hat (1886).

Catherine Fay, comp., W. B. Yeats and His Circle (Nat. Library of Ireland 1989), incls. ref., p.23.

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Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2; REMS 1002n.; BIOG, 369-70: His bitterness against Parnell and the failure to attain Home Rule was relentless. See also Vol. 3: the change in title of the Celtic Literary Society to Cumann na nGaedhael (later Sinn Féin) was symptomatic; [...] in trenchant cultural polemics such as F. H. O’Donnell’s The Stage Irishman of the Pseudo-Celtic Drama (1904) ... Celticism was disowned as an alien Anglo-Irish imposition 563; ‘not scrupling to tell at Cambridge an audience, composed of the young fledgings of English aristocracy, that the realisation of Ireland’s independence was neither possible nor desirable’ (James Connolly, ‘Parnellism and Labour’, 8 Oct. 1898, referring to statement made by F.H. O’Donnell in Cambridge Union, 1897’, 720n.

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Belfast Public Library holds The Blackmailing of Education in Ireland (n.d.); History of the Irish Parl. Party, 2 vols. (1910); A Borrowed Plume of the ‘Daily News’ (1912); The Lost Hat; the Clergy, the Collection, the Hidden Life (n.d.) [also in Belfast Linenhall Library - but see under R. Barry O’Brien in FDA2]; Mixed Education in Ireland, Confessions of a Queen’s Collegian, Vol 1, The Faculty of Arts (1870); Parliamentarian Dupes and Nationalist Duty (1902); and poss., O’Donnell F. H. M., The Ruin of Education in Ireland and the Irish Fanar (1903).

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Belfast Linen Hall Library holds Stage Irishmen of the pseudo-Celtic Drama (1904 [edn.]).

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Notes
Good stuff! The Stage Irishman and the Pseudo-Celtic Drama (1904) is quoted at length in Stephen Brown’s attack on Synge (see Brown, Guide to Books on Ireland, 1912).

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