Joseph Lee, Ireland 1912-1985, Politics and Society (Cambridge UP 1989), 754pp, bibl. + index.

The historian of independent Ireland, and to some extent even of Northern Ireland, must focus on the relationship between the potential and the performance of sovereignty, however much that relationship my be moudled by external influences [xii]

A French thinker has observed that ‘Ireland is a country where history if autobiographical and autobiography historical. It is an important indication as to the way in which a man of letters considers his status in the country.’ Quoted in Maurice Goldring, Faith of oour Fathers: the formation of Irish nationalist ideology 1890-1920 (Dublin 1982).

An absence of systematic self-appraisal, as distinct from complaint, oof which here is ample if incoherent supply, remains characteristic of the Irish intellectual conditions. [xiii]

.. the lowest rate of growth of gap of any European country in the 20th century. The North, too, in a rather different way, counts among the striking economic failures of the century. [xiii]

‘It is usual to aver that the Irish are haunted by history, that they suffer from too much rather than too little historical consciousness. But the modern Irish, contrary to popular impression, have little sense of history. What they have is a sense of grievance, which they choose to dignify my christening it history. History is not therefore so much a matter of learning from the past as of stirring old grievances to keep them on the boil.’ (Dick Walsh, The Party Inside Fianna Fail, 1986, p.1.)

ANGLO-IRISH: J. C. Beckett, The Anglo-Irish tradition (London, 1976); P Buckland, Irish Unionism: the Anglo-Irish and the new Ireland 1853-1933 ( Dublin 1972); D Fitzpatrick, Politics and Irish Life 1913-21 (Dublin 1977); Brian Inglis, West Briton (London 1961); FS Lyons, Culture and Anarchy in Ireland 1880-1939 (Oxford 1980).

Note: ~’.. the Proclamation committed the rebels to building a new society promising equality of opportunity, which would make little appeal to the established interests now shifting to the new Sinn Fein as the best quarantor of their inherited status’; and ftn., infra: n. This is the central theme of David Fitzpatrick’s Politics. [39]

Race and religion inextricably intertwined in Ulster unionist consciousness. Unionists could not rely on the criterion of colour, for the Catholics lacked the imagination to go off-white, nor on the criterion of language, for the Catholics had unsportingly abandoned their own. It was therefore imperative to sustain Protestantism as the symbol of racial superiority. [3] … The dedication with which Ulster Protestants laboured to sustain a sense of racial superiority in these circumstances itself eloquently expressed the racist cast of their minds. [3] … this sense of inalienable superiority … made the Ulster unionists impervious to the logic of numbers … saw no incongruity in denying any nationalist right to the nine counties … tedious terrritorial considerations [e.g., the Catholic majority in many areas, and a 55% overall Protestant majority in Northern Ireland] all missed the point. Why should a Herrenvolk deign to notice numbers? Why should one Protestant be equated with one Catholic? That would be to undermine the whole raison d’etre of divine dispensation. [4]

Sir Edward Carson, a Dubliner rather than an Ulster Scot, elected Unionist leader in Feb 1910, was a ‘sombre, melanchol[ic] man, a man of notable courage and forensic ability, he brought the Orange cause a considerable capacity for organisation, a moral fervour almost fanatical in its intensity and an instinctive feel for high, political drama.’ [5]

Carson shared in the widespread illusion that the south of Ireland could not survive without the industrial north. At a monster meeting at Craigavon in Sept. 1911, he told the crowd that ‘we must be prepared the morning Home Rule passes, ourselves to become responsible for the government of the Protestant province of Ulster’.

Solemn League and Covenant, inspired by a sixteenth century Scottish covenant … repudiates authority of any parliament forced upon them.

ATQ Stewart, The Ulster Crisis (London 1969); Stewart, Sir Edward Carson (Dublin 1981)

F. S. L. Lyons, ‘The Meaning of Independence’ [for the IPP], in B Farrell, ed., The Irish Parliamentary Tradition (Dublin 1973): ‘little more than glorified local government’ (p.393).

Nationalist ideology was relatively free from the racism that dominated unionist images of nationalists. There were inevitable racist threads oven into the fabric of nationalist thought, which could not remain wholly insulated from imperialist influences. This is not to suggest that the racist tendencies in Irish nationalism, relatively muted though they were, do not deserve closer scrutiny than they have normally received in nationalist historiography. [10] … It is precisely because the bulk of nationalists were not mirror images of unionists in this respect that they have failed to fully grasp these Protestant fears. [11]

John Montague: ‘This bitterness/I inherit from my father, the/Swarm of blood/To the brain, the vomit surge/Of race hatred.’ (The Rough Field) [10]

Ne Timere decree, enforced in Ireland after 1908, declared null and void any marriage of Catholic and Protestant not solemnised in a Catholic church. [11] See RM Lee, ‘Intermarriage, conflict, and social control in Ireland: the Decree Ne Timere’, in ESR, 17, 1 (Oct 1985), 26-7 [11]

Carson told his Ulster Protestant audience of 200,000 at Balmoral in Apr 1912 that ‘the government by their Parliament Act has erected a boom against you, a boom to shut you off from the help of the British people.’ [13]

William O’Brien, the maverick Home Ruler, suggested that ‘Ulster’ should have a veto in the Irish parliament, a suggesting enthusiastically supported by Redmond. (Gwynn, John Redmond, p.238) [15]

Even the fantastic world of Irish nationalism can sometimes seem to tremble on the verge of logic compared with that of Ulster unionism. [17]

Michael O’Flanagan, an erratic Sinn Fein priest did not shirk the implications of self-determination: ‘England has begun to despair of compelling us to love her by force, and so we are anxious to start where England left off, and we are going to compel Antrim and Down to love us by force.’ (Quoted in DW Miller, Church, state and nation in Ireland 198-1921 (Pittsburgh 1973) [17]

Pearse: ‘I think the Orangeman with a rifle a much less ridiculous igure than the nationalist without a rifle.’ (‘From a hermitage’, in Pol. Writings and Speeches, Dublin 1966, p.185.) [18] And note: Pearse envisaged forming an opposition party under Home rule (idem., p.155).

Eoin MacNeill showed in ‘The North Began’ his characteristic combination of insight and illusion. … The essential assumption was that Ulster Protestant attitudes were basically the consequences of British duplicity. The unionist mentality was attributed to the divide and conquer polities pursued by Britain. Once the British notified the Unionists that their interests would be satisfactorily guarded in a home rule state the scales would drop from their eyes and they too would enter the promised land …’ [18-19]

MacNeill: ‘History shows that this present sentiment of theirs is a calculated outcome of persistent and unscrupulous policy of English statesmen pursued purely in “the English interest” … The rest of the Ulster difficulty consists of fears and prophecies.’ Dismissed fears that under home rule ‘the religion and industry of Ulster Protestants would be suppressed’ with the triumphant affirmaton that ‘there is no body of people in the world more free from intolerance in matters of religion than the Catholics of Ireland.’ ( The Ulster Difficulty, Dublin 1917, p.24, 23.) [19]

It was not until Redmond actually urged his followers to enlist in the British Army, at Wooden Bridge, Co Wicklow, 20 Sept. 1914, that the more extreme nationalists left compelled to repudiate him. [21]

Home Rule went on Statute Book Sept. 1914, its operations suspended till the end of the war, and with special provisions allowed for Ulster. [21]

Perhaps only 13,000 of the 188,000 Irish Volunteers seceded from Redmond, whose group became known as the National Volunteers. [22] Lee notes that the figures cited vary but the order of [?relative] magnitude remains constant. [22]


.. went off half-cock [24] … however illusory the IRB doctrine, it was not a blood-sacrifice doctrine. And however profusely blood sacrifice sentiments spatter the latter writings of Pearse and MacDonagh, and however retrospectively relevant they appeared to be in the circumstances, it seems unhistorical to interpret these sentiments as the basis of the actual planning of the Rising. [25]

Pearse: ‘There are many things more horrible than bloodshed, and slavery is one of them.’ [27]

McNeill felt that only if ‘the vital principle of nationality’ was at stake could a rising be morally justified. He also held that ‘unacceptible measures could morally be resisted’, including the attempt to make the Volunteers surrender their arms. (Lyons, Ireland, p.347-8). Lee concludes: the differences between MacNeill and Pearse were less those of moral principle than of tactical opinion. [27]

On the public response to Easter 1916, Lee comments that it is extraordinarily difficult to know precisely what it was, but conducts a survey of the newspapers in the weeks thereafter. Redmond’s Freeman’s Journal represented it as a German plot. Lee draws attention to OD Edwards, The Irish Times on the Easter Rising, and ‘Press Reaction to the Rising in General’, in Edwards and Pyle, eds., The Easter Rising, pp.241-50, and 251-71; Lee adds that this important pioneering survey has not received dur recognition being tucked away in appendices. [29]

The Irish Times cared little for news of the Rising and solicitously enquired, ‘How many citizens of Dublin have any real knowledge of the works of Shakespeare? Could any better occasion … be afforded than the coincidence of enforced domesticity with the poet’s tercentenary?’ (IT, 7 Apr 1916). [29] [29] The Independent depict the ‘insane and criminal’ rising, and called for Irishmen to ‘atone for the crime’ by flocking to the Front ‘to show the world that Ireland is still sound at heart.’ [30]

Sir John Maxwell of the women in the N. King St. area: ‘their sympathies were with the rebels.’ [31

A diary of Easter Week by Rev Gordon Clements, ed. R Kain, ‘Diary of Easter Week: on Dubliner’s experience’, in IUR, 10, 2 (1980), pp.206-07. Clements witnessed some hostility towards prisoners from ‘the gents and ladies of Francis Steet’ [sic], and from soldiers’ wives. [31]

A letter from A. M. Bonaparte-Wyse, Jnr. Sec. of the Board of Education, to his brother, reported a ‘menacing tone among the lower classes’ and open ‘praise of Sinn Fein’. Letter of 28 May 1916, printed IT 24 Apr 1965.

The first executions took place on May 3; defiant speech by John Dillon [substance not reported here], 11 May 1916 (Lyons, Dillon, pp.380fff.) [36]

Seamus Ó Buachalla has assembled Pearse’ educational writings, scattered and often anonymous, as A Significant Irish Educationalist (Dublin & Cork 1980), and summarised the result in Ó Buachalla, ‘An Piarsach mar Oideachasoir’, Feasta, 2, 5 (1976). Sean O’Casey paid grudging tribute to Pearse in Drums Under the Window (Pan ed., 1980, pp.616-18, 662). RD Edwards, Pearse: The Triumph of Failure, remains the only historically satisfying biography. [37n.]

Norstedt, MacDonagh, confirms that MacDonagh deserves a biography. [37n]

WI Thompson, The Imagination of an Insurrection: Dublin, Easter 1916 (New York 1967); FX Martin, ‘1916 - Myth, fact and mystery’, in Studia Hibernica, 7 (1967), pp.7-126.

M. Laffan, The Partition of Ireland 1911-1925 (Dundalk 1983).

Sinn Feiners and Home Rulers appeal to Cardinal Logue to act as arbitrar in disputed nationalist seats in Ulster general election of 1918. [39]

C Townsend, The British Campaign in Ireland 1919-1921 (Oxford 1978).

Sinn Fein, organised into 1,354 clubs with 112,080 members supplanted the organisational structure of the once proud Home Rule party by 1918, and capturd 73 seats in 1918, compared with 6 for Home Rule. Unionists won 26 seats, and only one of out 6 in the dispputed counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone. [41]

‘Nationalist Letter to President Wilson’ in June 1918. The case Sinn Fein presented would have insulted the intelligence of a lesser mind than that of a president of Princeton University. [41] The letter gave the unionists a golden opportunity to despatch a more cerebral ‘Unionist letter to President Wilson’ in August 1918. [42]

Black and Tans … the British lost the propaganda war with a spectacular series of own goals [43]

Lee’s discussion of Partition focuses on the undemocratic basis of the Unionist claims to Tyrone and Fermanagh, where there was no Protestant majority, and the apparently cynical abandonment of the Protestants of Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan.The actual border imposed by the Govt. of Ireland Act represented a capitulation by the cabinet to Ulster Unionist pressure … [44] … The border was not devised to keep two warring groups apart. ..The border was chosen explicitly to provide unionists with as much territoriy as they could safely control … to ensure Protestant supremacy over Catholics even in predominantly Catholic areas. [46]

Lee disputes the ‘sonorous cadences’ of Churchill’s famous ‘dreary steeples’ remarks on the ‘integrity of their quarrel’ which survives the cataclysm of war. [46]

Lee argues that Redmond’s ‘one nation’ theory left him powerless to combat Unionism, while Sinn Fein’s abstention from Paritition talks gave the Unionists a free hand. [47]

Sinn Fein won 124 seats in the general election of May 1921.

De Valera keeps his options open: ‘I have one allegiance only to the people of Ireland, and that is to do the best we can for the people of Ireland as we conceive it … I would not like therefore, that anyone should propose me for elecion as president who would think I had my mind definitely made up on any situation that might arise. I keep myself free to consider each question as it arises - I never bind myself in any other way.’ (Speeches, Moynihan, ed., 1980, p.70.) [48]

On Dev’s “External Association”: The blood lust of Rory O’Connor, who would shout down even Cathal Brugha for being contaminated with politics - i.e., for daring to disagree with O’Connor - could not be slaked by means of what appeared to primitive political intelligences as mere semantic subtlety. [51]

Anti-Treaty spokesmen paid scant attention to the wishes, however putative, of the mere Irish … [54]

Treaty Debate 64 to 57 for the Treaty, on 7 January 1922; Presidential election: 60 for Griffith and 58.

De Valera with the ruthlessness of righteousness, Collins with the ruthlessness of necessity. [54]

Chp 2: Consolidation

~Rory O’Connnor and Liam Mellows repudiated the authority of the Dail at the Volunteer Convention of 26 March 1922. ‘We who stand by the Republic still will I presume rebel against the new government that would be set up if this Treaty is passed.’ (DD priv. sessions 1921-22 (Dublin n.d.), 17 Dec. 1921, p.243). … [56] They showed their respect for freedom of the press on 29 March by destroying the office of the pro-Treaty Freeman’s Journal. [57] ALSO, O’Connor and Mellows were as contemptuous as any Black and Tan of the opinion of the mere Irish as recorded in the election result. Having repudiated, in April the legitimac of any civil authority, they next repudiated, on 18 June, the authority of even the anti-Treaty in general, and of its leader Liam Lynch, in particular, when an Extradordinary Convention of the anti-Treaty IRA rejected their proposal to attack the remaining British soldiers in Dublin befor they could withdrawn from Ireland. The assassination of Sir Henry Wilson, military adviser to the Ulster government, probably on the orders of Collins, who partly blamed him for the Belfast pogrom, provoked London into demanding immediate action against the Four Courts garrison, which it chose to hold responsible for the assassination, Collins reacted indignantly to the English communications but finally delivered an ultimatum on 28 June to vacate the Four Courts after the garrison had siezed his deputy chief of staff in retaliation for the arrest of one of its own officers caught commandeering transport. When O’Connor refused, Collins attacked.

Oliver MacDonagh, Ireland (Englewood 1968), criticises de Valera’s conduct from 1918 to 1923. [57]

Collins/de Valera electoral pact in May 1922 brought forth indignant expostulations from Churchill [58]

B Specials: Basil Brooke organised paramilitary forces in Fermanagh and Tyrone to maintain Protestant ascendancy. These were formalised as the Ulster Special Constabulary with British consent in Oct 1920. Lee: Their propensity to Herrenvolk behaviour controlled to an extent by enrolling them as Specials and subjecting them to some discipline, however inadequate this may have seemed to their victims. [59]

Carson resigned Feb 1921; James Craig abandons political career in London to succeed him. By mid 1922 there was one armed policeman to every two Catholic families in Ulster. [59-60]

Collins during the Treaty negotiations: ‘By force we could beat them perhaps, but perhaps not. I do not think we could beat them morally. If you kill all of us, every man and every male child, the difficulty will still be there. So in Ulster. That is why we do not want to coerce them, but … if we are not going to coerce the North East corner, the North East corner must not be allowed to coerce.’ (Jones, Whitehall Diary, p.131.) [60]

Michael Collins death the only public tragedy of the Civil War. According to Lee, he professed to want a country distinguished by social equality, economic efficiency, cultural achievement and religious tolerance. ‘We must not have the destitution of poverty at one end and at the other an excess of riches in possession of a few individuals.’ He scoffed at de Valera’s belief that the people must be kept poor to nurture their idealism, and retorted: ‘In the ancient days of Gaelic civilisation the people were prosperous and they were not materialists. They were one of the most spiritual and intellectual people in Europe … We want such widely diffused prosperity tha the Irish people will not be cursed by destitution into living practically “the lives of the beasts”.’ (Last speech, M Collins, The Path the Freedom, Cork 1968, p.108, 106.). [64]

77 anti-Treaty prisoners executed Nov 1922 to May 1923. [66]

The civil war was fought ostensibly over the Treaty and particularly the Oath … the cause was the basic conflict in nationalist doctrine between majority right and divine right. The issue was whether the Irish people had the right to choose their own government at any time according to their judgement of existing circumstances [67]

Quotes de Vere White: ‘There were many who took sides against the Treaty who had their spiritual home on the constitutional side and there were thoe who followed Collins who would have been equally happon on the hillsides.’ (O’Higgins, p.169) [68]

The Irish civil war musst be attributed more to native genius than to the inescapable logic of universal history. [68] AND NOTE: that Eoin Neeson is nowhere cited as a source in this historical account of the events of the Civil War.

Lee characterises C Arensberg, The Irish countryman (NY 1937) and Arensberg and S Kimball, Family and Community in Ireland (Harvard 1940) as the products of determination on the part of ‘visiting anthropologists … to excavate communities reputedly frozen in time.’ [70]

OCCUPATIONAL STRUCTURE: Only about 50% engaged in agriculture (compared with 60 in Poland and 70 in Lithuania), predominantly market-oriented, with the west generally less commercialised than the east. [71]

North and South, Catholic and Protestant, had already generally perfected birth control through restricted and delayed marriage [71]

NOTE: It was the late Maureen Wall who impressed on historical consciusness that it was the oath not partition, that dominated the Treaty debate. See Wall, ‘Partition’, in Williams, ed., Irish Struggle, pp.79-94. [67 n.]

Land Acts, effects of, [71] … The petty town-country tensions that inevitabl existed were trivial in a comparative context. Post-Famine Ireland had a land question. It had no peasant problem. [72]

The disproportionate urban influence detected in many new states did not prevail in Ireland for the simple fact that rural Ireland was already a highly politicised society. [73] … the dispersed geographical origins of politicians and civil servants point to the relative homogeneity of urban and rural society, of ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’. [74]

[E]vents of 1916-22 also served to reveal the remarkable depth of the reservoir of leadership talent in the society … four political elites disappeard in a decade. … … this was no ordinary ‘new nation’ .[75]

.. partition now saved the South from the most explosive internal problems subverting new states, race and religion, by the simple device of exporting them to the North. [77]

Northern Ireland was of course the object of irrendentist nationalist claims. Ulster Unionists did cherish a siege mentality. But the psychological requirments of the Herrenvolk were such that if those claims had not existed they would have had to invent them to justify the degree of institutionalisd discrimination against Catholics. [79]

Lee points to Basil Chubb, The Government and Politics of Ireland (1970) for an explanation of the workings of PR. In the same note is mentioned D Thornley as having an eloquent denunciation of the ‘messenger boy system of representation often arising from it. [84]

Mary Robinson argues that PR may have damaged the caliblre of Dail candidates by eliminating the safe seat, in ‘The role of the Irish Parliament, in Administration, 21 (1974), pp.3-25. Lee considers the charge on the whole ‘not proved’. [85]

Churchill: ‘the Irish have a genius for conspiracy rather than government’ (quoted in Towey, ‘Collins-de Valera Pact’, in IHS, 1980, p.66). [91]

Lee discusses “the British Legacy”, pp.87-94. His discussion seems to take issue particularly with Basil Chubb. In the first place he asserts that there is no such thing as a monolithic British legacy in Irish politics, North or South. ‘If both NI and the Free State were primarily products of British influence, then British influence would appear to be a concept too elastic to be analytically useful.’ [89] Institutions modelled on British examples were Banking and Trade Unions, but above all the civil service. [89]. He concludes: The concept of continuity in this area must be carefully probed lest it acquir a mechanistic meaning stifling critical reflection.’ [92]

Decline of Labour support in election 1922.

O’Higgins, supported by Patrick Hogan, Min. for Agric., and Ernest Blythe, represented vigorous social reaction. For O’Higgins, son of a doctor who also happened to hold a hundred acres, ‘the land had … always had almost emotional significance’ (de Vere White, p.1, 3). To him, the civil war [97] was more a social war than a national war. He felt ‘only a very small proportion’ of Irregular activity arose from genuine anti-Treaty motives. Most of it, he claimed, sprang from a feeling that anybody who had helped in any way against the British ‘is entitled to a parasitical millenium. Leavened in with some small amount of idealism and fanaticism, there is a good deal of greed and envy and lust and drunkenness and irresponsibility.’ (O’Higgins to chairman of Comm. of Inquiry into army mutiny, 12 May 1924; memo 11 Jan. 1923). Not only must Irregulars be crushed, but illegal land-holding, refusal to pay debts, and poteen-making. ‘The problem is psychological rather than physical, we have to vindicate the idea of law and order to government, as against anarchy’ (memo 11 Jan 1923). He held ‘as a first sign of crumbling civilisation , it may be pointed out that the bailiff, as a factor in the situation, has failed. … There are large numbers of decrees (county court and high court) unexecuted in every county’ (quoted in Lyons, Ireland, p.482). Lee comments, Mulcahy himself could scarcely be called a revolutionary, but he realised that making Ireland safe for the bailiff had not featured among the more seductive slogans of the Independence struggle. [98] Mulcahy revitalised the IRB under government control when Liam Lynch sought to reoganise it in Nov. 1922, hoping to form a nucleus for an efficient army O’Higgins saw total victory as the only solution [in the civil war]. He not only felt that ‘IRB policy demanded that the Irregular snake be scotched rather than killed’ (memo, 12 Ma 1924), but also dismissed the IRB as ‘a Tammany, politically irresponsible, to which members of the Dail would become the merest puppets’ (evid. to Committee, 16 May 1924).

O’Higgins argued before the Mutiny Committee, ‘there should be executions in every county’ because ‘local executions would tend considerably to shorten the struggle’ memo 11 Jan 1923). [100] According to Patrick Hogan before the same committee, ‘reviving the IRB was mutiny … weakens the allegiance the soldier bears to government … all the more serious if done officially’ [102]

In the Mutiny affair, O’Higgins emerged as the real winner, with Ernest Blythe ‘brutally behind [him] on this occasion[‘]. He used the mutiny to vindicate civilian government but also to isolate Mulcahy, and advanced his protege Patrick McGilligan.

NOTE that Lee’s conception of George O’Brien is radically different from that in Hutton & Stewart’s collection (Separate Histories, 1991). ‘O’Brien’s classic obituary of Hogan [who was killed in a car-crash in 1936], the gifted young professor at UCD who would grace many Free State committees of enquiry. (Ftn. James Meehan has painted a memorable portrait in George O’Brien: a memoir, Dublin 1980.) The obituary appeared in Studies 25 (Sept 1936). O’Brien outlines Hogan’s policy and the theory on which it was founded: ‘the touchstone by which every economic measure must be judged was its effect on the prosperity of the farmers … the only thing the govt. could do was to reduce his costs of production … The money for social services must come out of revenue: the country had to increase its wealth before revenue was available.’ Lee comments: ‘But Hogan’s policy, despite the coherence of its conception, enjoyed only limited success. [113]

A little later however, responding to O’Brien’s justification of Hogan’s policy as quoted in Meehan, Irish economy (Liverpool 1970; sect. on Hogan 303-14), Lee is less enthusiastic: ‘Utilise to the maximum the physical and geographical resources’ is little better and vacuous rhetoric. [116] Later again: Even George O’Brien found himself compelled to concede that ‘it would appear that the market provided by the agricultural population of the free state is abnormally small.’ [117] By p.129 Lee is speaking of him with undisguised irony: ‘The Cumann a nGaedheal programme purported to envisage movement towards equality of opportunity in education. Clauses tending in this direction even crept into the draft constitution until that vigilant liberal conservative George O’Brien, a consultant on the constitution, exposed so subversive a threat to the existing social order. This was one field where reality was too important to make concessions to rhetoric.’ [129] Later still, O’Brien is sardonically associated as a ‘safe’ associate with the ‘increasingly conservative reality behind the still radical rhetoric gradually becom[ing] clearer.’ [199] Later again, at 350 O’Brien’s conservatism is imprinted on the Economic Review’s response to the Economic Development First Programme. [350] The full extent of Lee’s critique of O’Brien comes out in this: ‘The Finance mind shard many of the assumptions of George O’Brien who devoutly believed he represented an ‘intellectual’ approach to Irish economic problems in contrast to an emotional approach of his critics: “Ever since the Treaty I have ranged myself with the economists who accepted Ireland as it was rather than those who wished it to be in some way different. I accepted the facts of geography and history … I was among the physicians who prescribed the hard diet … [and] recommend[ed] a painful operation, not among the faith healers and the Christian scientists. This was the intellectual rather than the emotional approach … every country needs a corrective, an antidote against the hysterical outbursts of screaming fanatics. There must be a sane section in every society ..’ (Quoted in Meehan, George O’Brien, pp.139-40). Lee’s commentary concedes that O’Brien stood courageously against irresponsible decisions; but he also reads in the discourse of his economics a rigid, class-bound professionalism, a tendency to ignore the ‘social consequences’, espousing ignoring the partisan social perspective of High Finance. O’Brien suffered from coming to economic history as static and subject to unchanging laws. [571]

And note: Hogan’s insistence on improved standards of cleanliness, packaging, marking &c caused culture shock … [113]

Compulsory Irish and 88% Latin to 1962. The real criticism of the universities not that they disproportionately favoured academic subjects (only 200 engineering and 100 agriculture out of 4,300) but that they achieved only moderate distinction. [131]


Eoin MacNeill, Minister of Education, believed that the early christian period, when the Irish were ‘the schoolteachers of Europe’ was the country’s greatest period. He told the Dail in 1923 that Ireland’s destiny was to be a teaching nation, setting an example to the rest of the world with ‘our ancient ideals, faith, learning, generous enthusiasm, self-sacrifice - thethings best calculated to purge out the meannessof the modern world.’ (Quoted in B Farrell, MacNill and politics’, in FX Martin and FJ Byrne, eds., the scholar revolutionary, Dublin 1973, p.194.)

WT Cosgrave:’How are you going to reconstruct this nation? Upon what basis is the super-structure to be built? Must we not look to the Min. of Ed. to mark the gaelicisation … of our whole culture … to make our nation separate and distinct and something to be thought of?’ [132]

MacNeill had a horror of state intervention: ‘The use of Irish public servants was and would bemainly conditioned by the public attitude on the matter and … a purely bureaucratic and official favouring of Irish, in the absence of a strongly more than a barren conformity’; and further: ‘you might as well be putting wooden leg on hens as trying to restore Irish through the school system.’ (MacNeill to Cosgrave, 22 Oct 1924; SPO S3717) [133]

Lee speaks of MacNeill’s image of Ireland isle of saints and sages, and ‘schoolmasters of Europe’. [133]

crash courses for teachers … special preparatory colleges … [134] the Cosgrave govt decided that all instruction in the first two years of national school should be through Irish … gradually implemented till 1931, and then more rapidly … an INTO inquiry of 1941 revealed an overwhelming concensus that the effect in all areas except needlework and singing was retardation. [134]

Lee summarises: Education right to insist that the revival could not succeed unless it was seen that Irish pays. The early spontaneous enthusiasm of vintage Gaelic League das failed to survive the influx of political republicans in 1918, as Sean O’Casey sardonically observed (see O’Casey, ‘Down with Gaedhilge’ in Irish Opinion, 9 Mar 1918, rep. Hogan, ed. Feathers from the Green Crow, p.35). The govt. only tinkered with devising means to make Irish pay … offer[ing] enducements like extra marks for answering subjects through Irish … and penalis[ing] schools … for teachers lacking qualifications in Irish. This approach did little to elevate Irish but much to demean education. A knowledge of Irish was made compulsory for certain state posts, but no genuine attempt was made to gaelicise either politics or the civil service … The result of ll this fertilising was a luxuriant crop of weeds, and a pervasive stench that offended all but the coarsest nostril. The essential hypocrsiy occurrd less in the area of compulsory Irish in the schools than the failur to provide opportunity, or obligatin, for the regular use of Irish subsequntly. The refusal of all governments since the foundation of the state to prctise what they preached alerted an observant populace to the fact that the revival was a sham. [PARA] What might have been a noble chapter in the history of the new state became instead a sordid sham. [135]


The churches hav endured much criticism for their insistence on segregated education … Speculation concerning the consequences of integrated education must remain largely academic. Segregated educational systems exist in several societies without reaping the harvest of hatred that has distinguished Northern Ireland [137]

The Offences Against the State act of 1924 renewed annually until 1931.

It was in the 1920s that Ulster welfare services began to draw ahead of those in the South, where they were sacrificed on the altar of fiscal responsibility by the Ulster Protestant, Ernest Blythe [140].

And see supra: Ernest Blythe launched an attack on the old and blind in his 1924 budget [quotation from state papers, EB, Carey to Shanagher, indicating that the pre-1924 scheme gave the pensioner 20s. p.w., and that after 1924 16s. p.w.] This economy drive reduced the total cost of old and blind pensions from 3.18 to 2.54 millions between 1924 and 1927, and total costs in 1932 still remained below the 1924 level. [PARA] The political consequences of the campaign against the aged are difficult to quantify … [125]


Sinn Fein had reneged on Ulster nationalists by its abstentionist policy … Art 12 posed a serious problem for Craig … Collins merely confirmed that Art 12 was ambiguous by insisting that there was ‘nothing ambiguous about it’ and ignoring the crucial clause, ‘so far as may be compatible witheconomic and geographical conditions’ (Irish Independent, 4 Feb 1922). [141]

The Provisional Govt appointed Ernest Blythe, an Ulster Protestant, as ‘the most suitable person … to take charge of all correspondence etc. relative to the North East’ in April. Blythe’s advocacy of a [141] consistent policy of conciliation logically implied the abandonment of territorial claims on the North. Cosgrave … appointed Blythe Min. for Local Govt. in the new cabinet and replaced him on the North East Border Bureau with Kevin O’Sheil … The rationale for the shift … remains unclear [142].

Eoin MacNeill appointed to represent the Free State on the Commission confronted by Mr Justice Feetham, an English born South Africa Supreme Court veteran. … Controversy has concentrated on the appointment of MacNeill. When the Commission agreed on the exchange of S. Armagh for East Donegal, Cosgrave’s Govt. quickly opted for the status quo, accepting relief from the share of the British national debt stipulated in Art. 5. Did MacNeill handled negotiations effectively? According to Prof. Mansergh, ‘a more agile, if need be less principled, Irish member would at least have ensured that the break came earlier … (See ‘Eoin MacNeill - a reappraisal’, Studies 73, Summer 1974; also GJ Hand, ‘MacNeill and the Boundary Commission’, in Martin and Byrne, eds., Scholar Revolutionary, p.272. Desmond Williams wonders, ‘Was it prudent to send such an ambassador?’ [144-147].

Lee concludes that partition was a fait accompli and that what Dublin wanted was not an effective negotiator but a scapegoat. A more attrctive personality than many of his colleagus, he seems to have combined intgrity with incompetence (n. ‘MacNeill and the Boundary Commission, in Martin and Byrne, Scholar Revolutionary). [148] The resignation of MacNeill from the Cabinet propitiated unrest reported within Cumman na nGaedheal. [149]

Lee cites Higgins fallacious claim that ‘in 1922 the whole trend of thought in the North was to accept the situation created by the Treaty and come in, but that the civil war disillusioned their Northern brethern. (Irish Independent, 9 Mar 1925).


De Valera released in July 1924 [151] using the Boundary Commission as excuse, he proposed at Ard Feis 192 that if the oath was abolished Sinn Fein might enter Dail as a matter of tactics [151] thus, treating the oath as an ‘empty political formula’ he shuffled into parliament in Aug 1927.

Kevin O’Higgins Intoxicating Liquor Bill of Feb 1927 occasioned some unpopularity, orchestrated as protest by the drinks trade [153].

Lee’s summary of Higgins’s character: pessimistic view of human nature and Irish nature in particular; the temperment of a colonial governor; able, energetic, fearless, stern, dedicated to his concept of the public good, refusing to be cowed even by the murder of his father; few men in Irish public lif have cherished to exalted a sense of the mission of the statesman to reform public morality and improve the quality of civic culture; sought to cram a century, cleansing the national character of the marks of the serf, into a few years; rousd fierce resentment among intend beneficiaries. [153-54].

Archb. Mannix, Australia, was prompted by de Valera’s ‘oath’ to say that the TD who took the oath ‘no more told a falsehood than if I sent down word to an unfortunate visitor that I was not at home.’ [155]

Blythe’s proposal to de-rate agricultural land by 750,000 was a direct electoral sop to bigger farmers. [157]


Lee’s submission on the nature and significance of Irish Censorship (1929) focuses on the idea of substitution of a narrow for a practical ethics. Characteristically, he continues his assault on the rural bourgeoisie of post Famine Ireland: ‘.. the flintminded men and women whose grandparents had done well out of the Famine and who intended to do even better themselves out of the Free State. The censorship legislaton served the materialistic values of the propertied classes by fostering the illusionthat Ireland was the havn of virtue surrounded by a sea of vice. … It helped rivet the remunerative impression that morality stopped with sex. [158] The Censorship Act confined itself to sexual morality. it did not ban ‘immorality’[i.e., fiscal, etc.] The obsession with sex permitted a blind eye to be turned to the social scars that disfigured the face of Ireland. … Censorship purported to protect the family but no measures were taken to prevent the continuing dispersal of families ravaged by the cancer of emigration [159]


bibl., on Censorship, S Ó Faolain, ‘Ireland after Yeats’, The Bell 18, 11 (Sept 1953); Terence Brown, Ireland (1981). M Adams, Censorhip: The Irish experience (Dublin 1968); K Woodman, Media Control in Ireland 193/-1983 (Galway 1986).

‘Arthur Griffith once said that it would be a much more difficult task to put an end to favouritism and family influence in appointments under local bodies in Ireland than to driv the British army from the country.’ (Connaught Telegraph, 10 Jan 1931; quoted in Joseph Lee, Ireland 1912-1985, p.163.) [163]

The case of Miss Dunbar-Harrison, BA (TCD), county council librarian, Castlebar, is dealt with in considerable satirical detail, 161-68.


General Election of 1932. Fianna Fail explicitly appropriated Griffith’s economic policy, spiced with de Valera’s own social policy, presented as the essence of the 1916 social doctrine; Sean T O’Kelly declares that ‘th Fianna Fail policy is the policy of Pope Pius XI’ (Irish Independent,4 Feb 1932).

Cosgrave [largely] author of his own defeat; basic strategic error was to shift to the right; should have consolidated the centre and striven to retain Labour support; his anti-working class politics alienated labour support; instead of conciliating Labour, he chose to conciliate the right; It was not that Cosgrave was above politics, as his more disingenuous admirers liked to plead … It was simply that [he] was an inept subterfugist. [171]

Sean O’Casey, Cathleen Listens In (performed Abbey Oct 1923): ‘Ah, the house is hardly worth livin’ in … the insides in a a shockin’ state.’

O MacDonagh, Ireland Since the Union (London 1979), among the books arguing that the Irish inferiority complex vis-a-vis the imperial masters and other nations not warranted by the actual calibre of the the governments, much as their executive judgement might have been impaired by it. [~172]

[ back ]
[ top ]