R. F. Foster, The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (Penguin 2001, 2002), 282pp.

Acknowledgements ix; Introduction xi. 1: The Story of Ireland [1]; 2: Theme-parks and Histories [23]; 3: “Colliding Cultures”: Leland Lyons and the Reinterpretation of Irish History [37]; 4: Yeats at War: Poetic Strategies and Political Reconstruction [58];  5: “When the Newspapers Have Forgotten Me”: Yeats, Obituarists and Irishness [80]; 6: The Normal and the National: Yeats and the Boundaries of Irish Writing [95]; 7: Square-built Power and Fiery Shorthand: Yeats, Carleton and the Irish Nineteenth Century [113]; 8: Stopping the Hunt: Trollope and the Memory of Ireland [127]; 9: Prints on the Scene: Elizabeth Bowen and the Landscape of Childhood [148]; 10: Selling Irish Childhoods: Frank McCourt and Gerry Adams [164]; 11: The Salamander and the Slap: Hubert Butler and His Century [187]; 12: Remembering 1798 [211]; Notes 235; Index 267.

‘Square-built Power and Fiery Shorthand: Yeats, Carleton and the Irish Nineteenth Century’, in The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (Penguin 2001, 2002), pp.113-26.

Quotes Yeats: ‘I am trying to make all the stories illustrative of some phase of Irish life meaning the collection to be a kind of social history ... The heroines of Carleton and Banim could only have been raised under Irish thatch. One might say the same in less degree of Griffen [sic] and Kickham but Kickham is at times, once or twice only & (merely in his peasent heroines I think), marred by having read Dickens, and Griffen most facile of all one feels is Irish on purpose rather than out of the necessity of his blood. He could have written like an English man had he chosen. But all these writers had a square built power no later Irishman or Irish woman has approached. Above all Carleton & Banim had it. They saw the whole of every thing they looked at, (Carleton and Banim I mean) the brutal with the tender, the coarse with the refined. In Griffen & Kickham the tide began to ebb. Kickham had other things to do and is not to be blamed in the matter. It has quite gone out now - our little tide. The writers who make Irish stories sail the sea of common English fiction. It pleases them to hoist Irish colours - and that is well. The Irish manner has gone out of them though. Like common English fiction they want too much to make pleasent tales - and that’s not at all well. The old men tried to make one see life plainly but all written down in a kind of fiery shorthand that it might never be forgotten.’ (Collected Letters, ed. Kelly & Domville, p.199; here p.114.)

[WBY:] ‘He began drifting slowly into Protestantism. This Lough Derg pilgrimage seems to have set him thinking on many matters - not thinking deeply, perhaps. It was not an age of deep thinking. The air was full of mere debater’s notions. In course of time, however, he grew into one of the most deeply religious minds of his day - a profound mystical nature, with melancholy at its root. And his heart, anyway, soon returned to the religion of his fathers; and in him the Established Church proselytisers found their most fierce satirist.’ (Stories from Carleton, London [1889], p.xi; here p.117.)

[WBY:] ‘There is no wistfulness in the works of Carleton. I find there, especially in his longer novels, a kind of clay-cold melancholy. One is not surprised to hear, great humorist though he was, that his conversation was more mournful than humorous. He seems, like the animals in Milton, half emerged only from the earth and its brooding. When I read any portion of the ‘Black Prophet’, or the scenes with Raymond the Madman in ‘Valentine M’Clutchy’, I seem to be looking out at the wild, torn storm-clouds that lie in heaps at sundown along the western seas of Ireland; all nature, and not merely man’s nature, seems to pour out for me its inbred fatalism.’ (Ibid., p.xvii.)

[WBY:] ‘[...] only Carleton, born and bred a peasant, was able to give us a vast multitude of grotesque, pathetic, humorous persons, misers, pig-drivers, drunkards, schoolmasters, labourers, priests, madmen, and to fill them all with abounding vitality. He was but half articulate, half emerged from Mother earth, like one of Milton’s lions, but his wild Celtic melancholy gives to whole pages of ‘Fardorougha’ and of ‘The Black Prophet’ an almost spiritual grandeur. The forms of life he described, like those described with so ebullient a merriment by his contemporary Lever, passed away with the great famine, but the substance which filled those forms is the substance of Irish life, and will flow into new forms which will resemble them as one wave of the sea resembles another. In future times men will recognise that he was at his best a true historian, the peasant Chaucer of a new tradition, and that at his worst he fell into melodrama, more from imperfect criticism than imperfect inspiration. In his time only a little of Irish history, Irish folklore, Irish poetry had been got into the English tongue; he had to dig the marble for his statue out of the mountain side with his own hands, and the statue shows not seldom the clumsy chiselling of the quarryman.’ (”Irish National Literature”, in Uncollected Prose, Vol. I, p.364; here p.120.)

RF’s Commentary: ‘grappling with the distinctness of Irish Protestant subculture, and the difficulties of accommodation with the overwhelmingly Catholic complexion of Irish nationalism: areas which Carleton, form radically different origins, had trespassed into before him. Yeats’s relationship to Irish Protestantism is central to his life, though oddly little looked at by scholars. [ftn. Two exceptions of are Conor Cruise O’Brien and Vivian Mercier.] It helps explain the depth [121] of his relationship to Augusta Gregory (which far transcended Micheál Mac Liammóir’s description of it as “high priestess and sacred snake” (E. H. Mikhail, Interviews and Recollections, 1777, Vol. 2, p.300). It illuminates the stormy relationship with colleagues within the Abbey Theatre, as well as with audiences across the footlights. And here Yeats found that a culturally nationalist movement could not be above politics in the way he had initially conceived - nor above sectarian politics, when they reared their head. By the time of Synge’s death in 1907, this was clear; and it made him reconsider his ideas about nineteenth-century national literature, marking the point where he diverged from his early reverence for the nineteenth-century Irish novelists whom he had spent so much of his early critical efforts resurrecting. By 1910 he had formally set up an alternative set of artistic standards. His elegiac essay on Synge formally posits the writer’s individual mission against the pressures of nationalist political conformity - what Seamus Heaney (who has walked this ground)  has called “the quarrel between free creative imagination and the constraints of religious, political and domestic obligation”. (Introduction, Sweeney Agonistes, 1983.) And this argument is constructed around a reconsideration of the quintessential icon of nineteenth-century literary nationalism, Thomas Davis. [Quotes:]

Yeats: ‘Thomas Davis, whose life had the moral simplicity which can give to actions the lasting influence that style alone can give to words, had understood that a country which has no national institutions must show its young men images for the affections, although they be but diagrams of what should he or may be. He and his school imagined the Soldier, the Orator, the Patriot, the Poet, the Chieftain, and above all the Peasant; and these, as celebrated in essays and songs and stories, possessed so many virtues that no matter how England, who, as Mitchel said, ‘had the car of the world’, might slander us, Ireland, even though she could not come to the world’s other ear, might go her way unabashed. But ideas and images which have to be understood and loved by large numbers of people must appeal to no rich personal experience, no patience of study, no delicacy of sense; and if at rare moments some Memory of the Dead can take its strength from one, at all other moments matter and manner will be rhetorical, conventional, sentimental; and language, because it is carried beyond life perpetually, will be worn and cold like the thought, with unmeaning pedantries and silences, and a dread of all that has salt and savour.’ (Essays and Introductions, 1961, pp.312-13; here pp.122.)

Stopping the Hunt: Trollope and the Memory of Ireland [l27], The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (Penguin 2001, 2002),

Note, details given in Foster: Trollope was wakened with a strong cup of coffee every morning at 5.30 by his man-servant Barney so that he could write before work. His senior Godby in the Irish postal service chose to ignorance a bad reference; another, Drought, was so lazy that Trollope became indispensable. Trollope was befriended by Sir William Gregory and spent time at Coole Park among his acquaintances; Trollope expressed the view in his Autobiog. that it had been a mistake to make Phineas an Irishman (p.276.); suffered a stroke, 3 Nov. 1883; permission to conclude The Landleaguers denied by his son Harry.

 ‘[.] He started writing novels there; his first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran, is Irish; and so was his last, forty years and millions of words later. This was the unfinished Landleaguers. Ireland say him in as a novelist; and saw him out. / ‘”When I meet an Irishman abroad I always recognise in him more of a kinsman than I do an Englishman.” “From the day on which I set foot in Ireland all ... evils went away from me. Since that time who has had a happier life than mine?” (Autobiog., 1883; 1964 Edn., p.68) He was looking for a family who would make him feel at ease, since his relationship with his own “kinsmen’ was at best uneasy. And he was anxious to reassure himself that his life had been happy, that he was fortunate and blessed, and that this blessing had coincided with his arrival in a country where he [129] was unknown and could make a new start. (In fact, a classic frontier.) Ireland in the early 1840s was not a foreign country; it was, in fact, legislatively part of the United Kingdom. But it was undeniably exotic. Irish weather, Irish landscape, the Irish use of English, Irish social modes were all different. Trollope would have added (shockingly to us) that so was Irish dirt, on which he has many disquisitions. Irish working people and menials were cleverer, sharper and funnier. Irish girls were prettier and more approachable. Irish hunting was unparalleled. / All this is the re-creation of a Golden Age, lit with the sunny optimism of energetic youth. [.] Trollope’s own insecure family background and marginalised social status are too obvious to need stating. Ireland is perhaps, above all, the great lost domain of Trollope’s mental landscape. Here he had found both emotional security and social status, becoming a Freemason, a member of an elite, an acknowledged gentleman. His status in Ireland has been well described by Andrew Sanders as at once “intimate and privileged”.(Anthony Trollope, 1998, p.10.) But he lost Ireland, not once but twice. The first time was when he finally returned to England in 1859, and became famous and successful. The second loss came as Irish politics radicalised from the late 18 7os and the social role of the Irish land-owning classes was called into question, with the rise of separatist nationalism and the advent of the land war. Above all, this meant the end of deference politics in Ireland - which had constructed the background of the Ireland Trollope knew and loved.’ (pp.129-30.)

Foster: ‘For Trollope’s own purposes of self-esteem, and to carry through the powerful myth of himself which he sustained in his art and life, Ireland had to be a success. It had to be a frontier that he could conquer; it had to produce heroes and heroines; it had to be a happy place. For Trollope, Ireland, in fact, was to fulfil the function of the kind of happy childhood which he felt he had deserved (much as Oxford was to do for [Evelyn] Waugh). This is the key to understanding both the sympathy of his perception and the determined obtuseness in areas where the reality diverged from his ideal. And the most spectacular illustration of this concerns the devastation which afflicted Ireland at exactly the period of Trollope’s sojourn there: the Great Famine of the mid 1840s.’ p.132).

Foster goes on to discuss Trollope’s ‘deliberate denial of what rural life in much of Ireland had actually become by the time he was writing it’ in The MacDermots (p.133); his letters to the Examiner in 1850, defending Trevelyan, here called ‘shocking’ in view of his endorsement of the laissez-faire approach; and finally his version of the Famine in Castle Richmond. Here Foster takes issue with Mary Hamer’s introduction to the World Classics edn. of the novel, in claims that a plot about rivals in love and a bigamous marriage is incompatible with the effect to give a portrait of Famine-wracked Ireland’ (Foster, p.135), and argues instead that the novel’s ‘providential paradigm’ of the Fitzgeralds and the Desmonds offers a moral for the country as a whole’ (Idem.) 

Patrick Lonergan, ‘The Representation of Phineas Finn in Anthony Trollope’s Palliser Novels’ (MA Thesis, UCD 1998.)

Foster quotes Thackerary, ‘where is truth to be got in this country’, as in [Modern Ireland], here at p.144, and adds in concluding remarks: ‘By the time he wrote The Landleaguers, Trollope saw only one side of Thackeray’s truths.’

Quotes Edith, Florian’s sister: ‘He has got it into his head that the Catholics are a downtrodden people, and therefore he will be one of them.’ (Landleaguers, p.101; here p.145.)

Mr. Jones’s reaction to the murder of his son Florian: ‘We can hardly analyse the father’s mind as he went. Not a tear came to his relief. Nor during this half hour can he hardly have been said to sorrow./ An intensity of wrath filled his breast. He had spent his time for many a long year in doing all in his power for those around him, and now they had brought him to this. They had robbed him of his boy’s heart. They had taught his boy to be one of them, and to be untrue to his own people. And now, because he had yielded to better teachings, they had murdered him. They had taught his boy to be a coward; for even in his bereavement he remembered poor Florian’s failing. The accursed Papist people were all cowards down to their backbones. So he said of them in his rage. There was not one of them who could look any peril in the face as did Yorke Clayton or his son Frank. But they were terribly powerful in their wretched want of manliness. They could murder, and were protected in their bloodthirstiness one by another. He did not doubt but that those two girls wailing on the road knew well enough who was the murderer, but no one would tell in this accursed, unhallowed, godless country. The honour and honesty of one man did not, in these days, prompt another to abstain from vice. The only heroism left in the country was the heroism of mystery, of secret bloodshed and of.hidden attacks.’ (The Landleaguers, pp.256-57; here pp.140-41.)

Landleaguers (narrator of Gerald O’Mahony, the Irish-American agitator:) ‘When he began his book he hated rent from his very soul. The difficulty he saw was this: what should you do with the property when you took it away from the landlords? He quite saw his way to taking it away; if only a new order would come from heaven for the creation of a special set of farmers who should be wedded to their land by some celestial matrimony, and should clearly be in possession of it without the perpetration of any injustice. He did not quite see his way to this by his own lights, and therefore he went to the British Museum. When a man wants to write a book full of unassailable facts, he always goes to the British Museum. In this way Mr O’Mahony purposed to spend his autumn instead of speaking at the Rotunda, because it suited him to live in London rather than in Dublin.’p.270; here p.143.)

Quotes Landleaguers, on Boycotting: ‘It must be acknowledged that throughout the south and west of Ireland the quickness and perfection with which this science was understood and practised was very much to the credit of the intelligence of the people. We can understand that boycotting should be studied in Yorkshire, and practised - after an experience of many years. Laying on one side for the moment all ideas as to the honesty and expediency of the measure, we think that Yorkshire might in half a century learn how to boycott its neighbours. A Yorkshire man might boycott a Lancashire man, or Lincoln might boycott Nottingham. It would require much teaching; - many books would have to be written, and an infinite amount of heavy slow imperfect practice would follow. But County Mayo and County Galway rose to the requirements of the art almost in a night! Gradually we Englishmen learned to know in a dull glimmering way what they were about; but at the first whisper of the word all Ireland knew how to ruin itself. This was done readily by people of the poorer class, - without any gifts of education, and certainly the immoderate practice of the science displays great national intelligence.’ (p.161-62; here p.145.)

‘Trollope had written Ireland into his panoramic vision of Victorian English life, but in his last year, and his last novel, he saw Irish nationalism beginning to write Ireland out of the Union. This would prove such a successful operation that the Irish dimension of Trollope’s English identity has tended to recede: forgotten along with the British identity of the Victorian Irish middle class, Catholic as well as Protestant, who produced generations of Phineas Finns. But the vehemence of The Landleaguers, and also its uncharacteristically ungenerous vision, is a stark reminder of how much the possession of Ireland meant to its author, in his art and his life. It is the reaction of someone who feels that something is being taken from him: something which he discovered and possessed in his youth, something which became part of his achieved personality (that achieved personality celebrated in the Autobiography), something which he treasured and loved and celebrated. It is, yet again, the fear of the many heroes in his books (including his Irish books) who are threatened with the loss of their habitation. [. I]n his writings about Ireland, and the way Ireland refracted itself through his fiction, there is a passionate cross-flow of contradictions. One of his most pronounced personal characteristics was, perhaps, his inconsistency: contemporaries who encountered him often expressed surprise that the man they met - with his loudness, [146] embarrassingness, ‘bluster, apparent insensitivity - could write the marvellous books they read. Perhaps in the end, it was Trollope the man who pronounced on Ireland; but at the same time Ireland did more than is often recognized to produce Trollope the writer, and this is reflected in the shade as well as the light.’ [End]

Note ‘the New Aristocracy’, i.e., the Land League, is the chapter-title in Trollope’s novel (see Foster, p.145.)

Foster on the Famine: ‘The potato blight was first noticed in 1845, and returned year after year to create conditions of indescribable horror, starvation and disease (which killed far more).’ p.132.) [.] ‘The failure of the potato crop in Ireland produced an unparalleled and apocalyptic catastrophe; that much is clear. How far it could have been prophesied is controversial; but certainly in all the great weight of economic analysis brought to bear on ‘the Irish question’ since rural prosperity began failing after the Napoleonic Wars, a warning note is often sounded. Nutritious, easily cultivated, well suited to Irish conditions, highly compatible with the pig-rearing ecology of smallholding life, the potato was seen as interacting with a population explosion and an unsatisfactory land-tenure system to create a potential disaster. Which did, of course, happen. And when this staple failed, what could be done about it? /  At first, the Conservative government under Peel did what it could, interfering with the market by stealth, and relaxing several orthodoxies in order to distribute food at cost price. But when Peel was succeeded by the inflexible laissez-faire doctrinaire free marketeers of Russell’s Whig government, they relied entirely on a ‘free’ market, an inappropriate Poor Law on the English model and expectations that the local landlord class would do their duty in terms of supporting relief work through the rates and through running local relief committees. The government might facilitate but could not intervene. This was contemporary orthodoxy, but in Irish conditions it did not answer. As the disaster escalated from year to year, some voices were heard to argue that the government had failed terribly in its moral and social duty to feed the starving. These voices tended to come from radical philanthropists, or from paternalist Tories who never subscribed to Adam Smith economics, or from Irish nationalist revolutionaries. [.]’ (p.133.)

Foster on Louis Cullen and Kevin Whelan: ‘For Wexford, the “faith-and-fatherland” interpretation seemed logical enough: there was Father Murphy, the priest who led the rebels, and there were not, apparently, many United men; moreover, that pleasant south-eastern corner was a prosperous and largely English-speaking area, with a long history of colonization. From the late 1970s, however, the distinguished social historian Louis Cullen (himself a Wexford man) began analysing this interpretation, from two angles. In a series of pioneering articles, he established a prehistory of social and agrarian conflict in the county, breaking along lines of land settlement and helping to explain the savagery of intercommunal violence there. From another angle, he examined the state of United Irish organization in Wexford, and radically revised the picture which up to then had been readily accepted from fortuitously assembled government records .More recently, others have shown how far these rely upon chance survivals. Kevin Whelan, for instance, repeating Miles Byrne, has laid great emphasis on the fact that a United Irishmen delegate from Wexford, through dallying with a girl in a pub, failed to turn up at the meeting subsequently raided in Dublin - so a list of the Wexford membership of the organization did not fall into the hands of Dublin Castle, and subsequently of no less rapacious historians. It should be said, however, that cold water was poured on this attractive idea by Charles Dickson over forty years ago. (’The Wexford Rising’, pp.22, 180-81.)

‘Remembering 1798’: In September 1898 the Irish Quaker Alfred Webb, nationalist, printer, ex-secretary of the Land League and currently treasurer of the Evicted Tenants’ Fund, wrote to a colleague: “The country appears memorial mad.” He complained of “no less than 4” monuments to the United Irishmen in County Wexford and  remarked caustically that this expenditure was “absorbing funds that shold go to supporting a Home Rule fight and towards relieving the evicted . What is going on is talk about the past, and inaction in the present.”’ (Alfred Webb to J. F. X. O’Brien, 21 Setp. 1898, and 21 July 1898, NLI, MS 13, 431(5); here p.219.)

On Sheppard: J. Turpin, ‘1798, 1898 and the Political Implications of Sheppard’s Monuments’, in History Ireland, VI, 2 (Summer 1998), p.45.

Perhaps the most useful first-hand account of all. the remarkable three-volume reminiscences of Miles Byrne, was not published until 1863. Byrne, a United Irishman in his teens in 1798, subsequently became an experienced soldier in France, and Parisian correspondent for the Nation; his account, dictated to his wife, denied any sectarian input in Wexford and stressed the coherence of United Irish organization there. Both these issues were already the subjects of hot debate, and remained so.

‘[Some] materials were gathered in R. R. Madden’s great seven-volume collection about the United Irishmen, published from 1842 to 1846, which fixed the men of ‘98 in the mould of heroic nationalism, nineteenth-century style. [.] Madden’s first volume had stated a case generally followed until very recently, regarding the relationship between the Wexford Rising and the rest of the island. It was “sufficiently established by the universal acknowledgement of all the inhabitants of the county of Wexford”, he wrote, “officers and men, who bore a part in this insurrection, that there was no concert between this rising and the plan of a general insurrection in and about Dublin, and that it was no more than a tumultuary and momentary exertion of popular resistance to a state of things found or considered insupportable, the sole object of which was an attempt to get rid of oppression, and to retaliate with equal violence what they had been for some time experiencing”; this was not, in other words, an ideologically inspired United Irishman revolution, and there was in fact only a sketchy United Irish organization in the county?’ (Quoted in Anna Kinsella, ‘The Nineteenth-century Interpretation of 1798’ UCD M.Litt 1992; here p.215.)

Sean O’Faolain: speaking of Tone as ‘the beau-ideal of Irish rebels’ (The Irish, 1947, p.99; quoted in R. F. Foster, The Irish Stor: Telling Tales and Making it Up in Ireland, Penguin 2001, p.212.)

Teeling and Emmet: Bartholomew Teeling’s address at the foot of the gallow: ‘If to have been active in endeavouring to put a stop to the blood-thirsty policy of an oppressive government has been treason, I am guilty. If to have endeavoured to give my native country a place among the nations of the earth was treason, then am I guilty indeed. If to have been active in endeavouring to remove the fangs of oppression from off the heads of the devoted Irish peasant was treason, I am guilty. Finally if I [recte to] have strove [sic] to make my fellow men love each other was guilt, then I am guilty.’ (PRO HO 100/82/160, quoted in Liam Kelly, A Flame Now Quenched: Rebels and Frenchmen in Leitrim 1793-1798 (Dublin 1998), p.141 [appendix]; here p.212. Foster remarks: ‘it seems likely that this influenced Robert Emmet’s much more celebrated speech from the dock four years later.’

‘A founder member [of the United Irishmen], the cautious Ulsterman William Drennan, had called for “the establishment of societies of liberal and ingenious men, uniting their labours, without regard to nation, sect or party, in one grand pursuit, alike interesting to all, by which mental prejudice may be worn off, a humane and  truly philosophic spirit may be cherished in the heart as well as the head, in practice as well as theory”. The “general end”, he said, was “real Independence to Ireland” and republicanism “the general purpose”. (Quoted in Ian McBride, Scripture Politics: Ulster Presbyterians and Irish Radicalism in Late Eighteenth-century Ireland, Oxford 1998, p.231; here p.261.)

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