John Shawe-Taylor

CommentaryQuotations

Life
[?]-1911; Nephew of Lady Gregory; called conference of landlords and tenants resulting in the formation of the Irish Land Conference, and afterwards the passing of the ultimately Wyndam Land Act (1903); virulently opposed Yeats’s choice of books in the Irish National Library collection; his oratory is the subject of a pastiche in James Joyce’s Ulysses (“Aeolus” chap.); there is a striking portrait of him in a scarlet coat by Sir William Orpen.

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Commentary
D. D. Sheehan, Ireland Since Parnell (London: Denis O’Connor 1921), [Chap. VII] “Forces of Regeneration and Their Effect”: ‘All the elements of social convulsion were gathering their strength, when an unknown country gentleman wrote a letter to the Irish newspapers dated 2nd September 1902, in the following terms: “For the last two hundred years the land war in this country has raged fiercely and continuously, bearing in its train stagnation of trade, paralysis of commercial business and enterprise and producing hatred and bitterness between the various sections and classes of the community. [... &c.; as given under Quotations, infra.] The country rubbed its eyes to see who it was that had put forward this audacious but not entirely original proposal. (It had been suggested by Archbishop Walsh fifteen years before.) Captain John Shawe-Taylor’s name suggested nothing to the Nationalist leaders. They had never heard of him before. In the landlord camp he stood for nothing and had no authority - he was simply the young son of a Galway squire, with entire unselfishness and boundless patience, who conceived that he had a mission to settle this tremendous problem that had been rendered only the more keen by forty-two Acts of the Imperial Parliament that had been vainly passed for its settlement. It is surely one of the strangest chances of history that where generations of statesmen and parliaments had failed the via media for a final arrangement should have been made by an unknown officer who prosecuted his purpose to such effect that he forced his way into the counsels of the American Clan-na-Gael, and even, as we are told, “beyond the ante-chambers of royalty itself.”’ [Cont.]

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D. D. Sheehan, Ireland Since Parnell (London: Denis O’Connor 1921) - cont.: ‘It is probable that Captain Shawe-Taylor’s invitation would have been regarded as the usual Press squib had it not been followed two days later by a public communication from Mr Wyndham [...] This official declaration gave an importance and a significance to Captain Shawe-Taylor’s letter which otherwise would never have attached to it.’ Further: ‘After surmounting a whole host of obstacles the Land Conference at long last assembled in the Mansion House, Dublin, on 20th December 1902. Mr Redmond submitted the final selection of the tenants’ representatives to a vote of the Irish Party and, with the exception of one member who declined to vote, the choice fell unanimously upon those named in Captain Shawe-Taylor’s letter. Although their findings were subsequently subjected to much embittered attack, no one had any right to impugn their authority, capacity, judgment or intimate knowledge of the tenants’ case.’ (Access full-text via Sheehan, q.v.)

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Quotations
Irish Land Conference: “For the last two hundred years the land war in this country has raged fiercely and continuously, bearing in its train stagnation of trade, paralysis of commercial business and enterprise and producing hatred and bitterness between the various sections and classes of the community. To-day the United Irish League is confronted by the Irish Land Trust, and we see both combinations eager and ready to renew the unending conflict. I do not believe there is an Irishman, whatever his political feeling, creed or position, who does not yearn to see a true settlement of the present chaotic, disastrous and ruinous struggle. In the best interests, therefore, of Ireland and my countrymen I beg most earnestly to invite the Duke of Abercorn, Mr John Redmond, M.P., Lord Barrymore, Colonel Saunderson, M.P., the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the O’Conor Don, Mr William O’Brien, M.P., and Mr T.W. Russell, M.P., to a Conference to be held in Dublin within one month from this date. An honest, simple and practical suggestion will be submitted and I am confident that a settlement will be arrived at.” (Quoted in D. D. Sheehan, Ireland Since Parnell, London: Denis O’Connor 1921, as supra.)

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Notes
W. B. Yeats regarded him as a one of those men whose goods looks were ‘an image of their faculty’, as if ‘their whole body were their brain.’ (Quoted in Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972, p.68, with further remarks about their relationship.)

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