| INDEX TO BAIS NEWSLETTERS FEATURES: 1997-2002
BATTLE IN THE BOOKS (1999-2002)
IRISH WOMEN'S WRITING AND TRADITIONS (2002)
BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR IRISH STUDIES NEWSLETTER WAS PUBLISHED FOR THE LAST TIME IN HARD COPY DURING OCTOBER 2002.
HERE ARE THREE EXAMPLES FROM BAIS NEWLETTER WITH AN ADDITIONAL VERY BRIEF EDITORIAL UPDATED COMMENT AFTER EACH FEATURE.
British Association for Irish Studies Newletter 20
10. Focus Interview: Christine Kinealy
Christine Kinealy is Senior Lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston. Christine's major historical work (so far) is to be found in two studies of the Great Hunger in nineteenth-century Ireland: The Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 1845-52 (Gill & Macmillan, 1994) and A Death-Dealing Famine: The Great Hunger in Ireland (Pluto Press, 1997). Recently she wrote A Disunited Kingdom? England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales 1800-1949 (Cambridge University Press, 1999). This book is part of a series 'Cambridge Perspectives in History', primarily aimed at 'A' Level students of History; but the book's concise, lucid and thought-provoking text explores the historical creation of the United Kingdom in ways which ought to interest all students of Irish and British history, of every age. Christine was kind enough to discuss some of the main issues arising from her study of the United Kingdom, with a special focus on the case study of Ireland as we approach the bicentenary of the Act of Union.
JN: Why do you describe the United Kingdom as plagues by a disastrous disunity in the case of Ireland?
CK: The blanket term 'disastrous' is misleading because the United Kingdom brought many benefits to Wales and Scotland. Wales was first united to England in 1356. By the 19th century, a politically assimilated Wales was subject to most English legislation but a separate Welsh identity survived, helped on by a strong tradition of Welsh culture and language. The case of Scotland is more tangled. In 1603 King James VI of Scotland became King James 1 of England. The kingdoms were united at monarchical level. Yet a Scottish parliamentary tradition flourished with a high level of Scottish autonomy in areas such as poor relief, welfare and education. The political union of 1707 formalised on paper the absorption of Scotland into the British state. The Stuart line, which had been deposed by Cromwell, re-emerged in 1745 when there was a Scottish invasion of England with the intention of placing a Scottish monarch on the English throne. The Scottish defeat at Culloden meant that Scotland lost its role in the English monarchy. Yet during the 18th century Scotland greatly benefited from the economic link with the British Empire. Scottish confidence and prosperity led to the period of cultural activity known as 'the Scottish Enlightenment'. However the English view of the Highlands and Islands remained quite negative and led to the Clearances of people who were regarded, even during the reign of James 1, as having 'Irish manners'. The Irish Act of Union of 1800 has to be understood in the context of the religious conflict of the day. Linda Colley has argued convincingly that it was the shared Protestantism that forged the close links between England, Wales and Scotland under George 111. In 1796 Ireland sought military assistance of Catholic France. The subsequent Act of Union was part of a knee-jerk reaction from the British government – the fact that it was brutally forced through in an atmosphere of fear was not an auspicious beginning for Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. Moreover, the refusal of George 111 to allow Catholic Emancipation which had been part of the Act of Union Agreement meant that there was the King's broken promise at the heart of the Irish Union.
JN: New Labour seems to be suggesting that current devolution plans will lead to a strengthening of the United Kingdom. Is there any historical basis for such optimism?
CK: The United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland was very short-lived. It lasted a mere 120 years as a political entity. The Irish Treaty of 1921, which set up the Irish Free State, was the beginning of the break-up. Tony Blair should study the history of Irish devolution. Ireland's past provides the example of Grattan's devolved Parliament in the late 18th century which was not enough for Irish nationalists. What Tony Blair does not seem to understand is the thrust of nationalism within the United Kingdom. There is a paradox in the phenomenon that alongside economic globalization and European unity, there is a growth of nationalism in the quest for identity. The most positive aspect of the New Labour devolution plans is that all is being done on the democratic basis of consensus. Given the opportunity, both Wales and Scotland have voted significantly for the nationalist parties. It looks increasingly likely that New Labour's devolution plans will continue the unraveling of the United Kingdom, a process which was begun by the Irish in 1921. Without quite realizing the implications, Tony Blair has opened the Pandora's Box of disunities within the United Kingdom.
JN: You argue that the Union with Ireland from 1800 considerably changed the whole British political scene. For what contributions should the 'Mother of Parliaments' feel most grateful to the Irish?
CK: Ireland after the Act of Union constituted about 50% of the population of the United Kingdom. Only after the famine, during the 1840s, did the size of Ireland's population greatly decline. Irish leaders emerged who created a dynamic energy in British politics which was not apparent before the arrival of the Irish. Daniel O'Connell's campaign for Catholic Emancipation during the 182os was a spectacular success. O'Connell's agitation for reform was underpinned by threats of physical violence; but his incredible victories were achieved solely through constitutional means. O'Connell established the most important political point that the power of people working within the political framework can bring about reforms, even when the government of the day is against reform. There is no doubt that O'Connell's strategy became a model for nationalist movements throughout Europe. Remember that a number of Belgians wanted O'Connell to become King of an independent Belgium in 1830-1. In the latter half of the 19th century, the Home Rule Movement had tremendous effects on the Westminster Parliament. The clever use of the balance of power between parties by Parnell showed how minority parties can help to shape government policy. The Irish Home Rule Movement encouraged Home Rule Movements in Wales and Scotland. Nationalist movements in countries like South Africa and India became interested in the ways in which the Irish Home Rulers operated in the British Parliament. Most certainly the Mother of Parliaments should feel grateful to the Irish for showing how a long established institution can be made to respond to the wishes of the people who have elected its members.
JN: You discuss the pan-Celtic movements in the late 19th century. Why did the pan-Celtic movements in Ireland, Wales and Scotland fail to unite and make much of a political impact?
CK: The pan-Celtic movements aspired only to shared forms of cultural nationalism. The countries simply did not share a common ground of political nationalism. It was the success of the economy in the 19th century which made the Union popular in Scotland and Wales. Indeed the growth and commercial success of Glasgow became the justification of Scotland's integration into the British economy. While the Scottish language died out, a popular view of Scotland's past grew out of the Romantic novels of Walter Scott and was subscribed to by no less a person than Queen Victoria who had her house in Balmoral designed in traditional Scots style and decorated in tartan. Welsh protest which centred on the demand for the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Wales found its main outlet in the Liberal party whose leader, the Welsh-speaking Lloyd George, managed to combine Welsh national interests with British imperial policies. In Ireland there was a promising affinity for a while between cultural and political nationalism. Then the strident emergence of Ulster Unionism complicated national development, particularly after the Sinn Fein General Election victory in 1918. Political nationalism in Wales and Scotland, often voiced by socialists and communists, has never commanded the widespread support which the political independence movement commanded in Ireland post 1918. Yet the Irish model still remains as something of an inspiration to independence movements in the countries still within the United Kingdom.
JN: How do you explain the conundrum that throughout the 19th century political nationalism became associated with Roman Catholics and unionism became associated with Irish Protestants?
CK: There are tragic ironies in all of this. In 1798 radical Presbyterians and radical Catholics found common ground by putting Ireland first. The Orange Order represented an exclusive approach. At first some Orangemen were opposed to the Act of Union; but it soon became clear that the best guarantee of Irish Protestant ascendancy was their majority status within the United Kingdom. O'Connell's campaign excluded Protestants, largely because the Liberator tended to use the existing structures of the Irish Catholic Church to boost his political campaigning. The key figure in the promotion of a separate and anti-Catholic identity was Henry Cooke, an influential Presbyterian minister in the Calvinist tradition and a political agitator who was strongly pro-Union and anti-Catholic Emancipation. Cooke's theological and political conservatism encouraged sectarian clashes after 1829. While O'Connell made much of taking his religion from Rome and his politics from Ireland, Cooke did much to establish the idea of loyal Protestants and disloyal Catholics. Peel's decision to establish non-denominational and secular university colleges in Belfast, Cork and Galway angered all religious leaders in Ireland. The Catholic bishops denounced the colleges as 'godless'. The Queen's Colleges were supported by the Young Irelanders who believed that if Ireland were ever to achieve political independence, religious differences had to set to one side. John Mitch ell (who, by the way, was married in Drumcree Church) advocated a non-sectarian approach in Irish politics, as did later the Unionist Isaac Butt and the Protestant landlord Parnell. All such attempts from the Protestant side failed to prevent the polarization of Ireland into Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists. Yet in both the Catholic and Protestant Irish memory, there has persisted the glimmerings of a common national ground which has never proved firm enough to accommodate both sides of the tragic division.
JN: You analyse Irish involvement in the British Empire. How influential was that Irish contribution?
CK: Any comprehensive study of the British Empire has to take into account the important part which the Irish played in its establishment. In 1830, some 40% of the British army were Irish Catholic recruits, many of whom were probably fleeing from extreme rural poverty. Many of the imperial administrators were drawn from Irish middle class families. Many Irish missionaries followed in the wake of the soldiers into the colonies. Irishmen were to be found in unexpected places as in the case of Lord Kitchener – veteran of the Boer War, Secretary of State for War in 1914, the military face of the British Empire during the First World War – who was born as a member of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy in County Kerry. The great problem was that successive British governments treated the Irish as colonials who were unready for self-government. In response to that, the Irish grew less convinced by the 'civilising' role of the British Empire and were increasingly attracted to Irish political nationalism. Even before 1916, Irish enlistment had fallen to 4% of the total recruitment for the First World War came from Ireland (90,000 men). After 1916, Irish enlistment fell to 2% of the total. Proportionately more Protestants than Catholics fought in the war. Catholics were forbidden to have their own flags and regiments. The high number of Protestant casualties in the 36th Ulster division in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 was used after the war as the ultimate symbol of Protestant loyalty, in sharp contrast to the Easter Rising, also in 1916, which became the ultimate symbol of Irish republicanism. The unacknowledged Irish contribution to the British Empire for much of the 19th century was totally at odds with the various caricatures of the Irish as sub-human that often appeared in the British Press. One can only conclude that the British need to ridicule the Irish grew as Irish nationalists demanded a greater measure of political independence.
JN: You suggest that a separate English identity has been swamped by the British Imperial role. Is English nationalism doomed to be little more than peripheral activity in the foreseeable future?
CK: Recently there has been more talk about English natioinalism. Waving St. George's flag is more common. A popular form of English nationalism is often associated with the support of English sports teams and the hero-worship of English sports stars. The link between national sports and a form of nationalism has been an important factor in the United Kingdom. In the late 19th century, soccer emerged as Scotland's national sport. By the 1890s, one in four males in Scotland aged between 15 and 30 belonged to a football club. In 1903 Hampden Park, then the largest football stadium in the world, was opened. Yet the overreaching sense of Scottishness being generated by soccer mania did not prevent outbreaks of bitter sectarian rivalry at local club level between Rangers (established in 1872) and Celtic (established in 1887). In the same period in Ireland, soccer was regarded as an English sport and actively discouraged by the Gaelic League. English nationalism as expressed through football too often asserts itself in jingoistic and destructive ways. Norman Tebbit's infamous test of English patriotism as support for the English cricket team was a crude and clumsy way of asserting English identity. English nationalism, along Tebbit lines, is deeply resistant to cultural development and right-wing in its approach to social and political reform. There are possibilities for the development of an English cultural nationalism through the arts of literature, music and art. Such a development would depend very much on the education system fostering a sense of such possibilities in the popular consciousness. Is this actually happening? I doubt it.
JN: You describe the holocaust-like consequences in Ireland of the potato blight during the 1840s. Were such appalling consequences the direct result of the Act of Union?
CK: In the subsistence crisis of 1782-3, the Lord Lieutenant had ensured food for distressed people by closing the ports in the face of merchant opposition. The politics of Lord John Russell's government between 1846 and 1852 utterly failed to prevent what should have been the first duty of the British government – a humanitarian response to the escalating mass mortality among a starving people who should never have been seen as marginal within the much trumpeted United Kingdom. Unemployed factory operatives in England were regarded as deserving of support but the plight of the Irish peasants was ignored. During the famine years in Ireland, relief was always conditional and punitive by being related to employment or to the giving up of land. The British Treasury operated a system of relief based on degrading and punitive qualifying criteria arguing that free enterprise would provide the poor with food. It didn't. Famine problems in Ireland were a low priority to a government at the centre of a large and still expanding empire. The British Government contributed in the region of ten million pounds to relieve Irish distress, mainly in the form of interest-bearing loans which have been estimated as about 0.3% of the annual gross national product of the United Kingdom. The depopulation of Ireland by means of death and exodus mocked the aims of the Act of Union. Yet a complacent British Government declared in 1851 that Ireland had actually benefited from the decrease in population and the changes in agricultural production. Irish folk memory, however, both within Ireland and amongst the Diaspora associated with the Famine not with social improvement, but with massive suffering, appalling mortality, widespread emigration and imperial misrule: so much so that Queen Victoria is still remembered in Ireland as the 'Famine Queen'. A sense of the massive injustice in the British Government's mismanagement of famine relief was one of the most potent factors in the growth of the Irish republican nationalism which took most of Ireland out of the United Kingdom in 1921, thereby becoming the precedent for the dissolution of the United Kingdom itself.
EDITORIAL NOTE: 2007
BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR IRISH STUDIES NEWSLETTER 21
11. FOCUS INTERVIEW: PETER BERRESFORD ELLIS
Peter Berresford Ellis (b. 1943) took his degree in Celtic studies but began a career in journalism. He was reporting from Northern Ireland in the mid-1960s before the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and has continued to produce signed journalism in newspapers ranging from the Independent and Scotsman to An Phoblacht and written a regular column for the past twelve years in the Irish Democrat. He wrote A History of the Irish Working Class in 1972, still available in paperback from Pluto Press and considered a classic in Irish historical writing. Peter's literary career has been amazingly prolific and at times covert – with 33 novels and 3 volumes of short stories under the pseudonym of Peter Tremayne and 8 adventure thrillers under the name of Peter MacAllan. But with the 32 titles under his own name, he has been acknowledged as one of the foremost authorities on the Celts with such titles as Ancient World of the Celts, Celt and Greek, The Druids, Celtic Women & etc. His work has been translated into a score of European languages and into Japanese. He has lectured in Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Canada and the United States of America. Recently Peter published Erin's Blood Royal: The Gaelic Noble Dynasties of Ireland (London: Constable, 1999) which he has agreed to discuss in our ongoing series of Focus Interviews.
JN: What could have drawn a self-acknowledged republican socialist like yourself into telling the story of those twenty families of the old Gaelic aristocracy whose ancestors were kings, princes and nobles before the Tudor conquest of Ireland?
PBE: As soon as I had developed an overview of Irish history, I came to the opinion that the late 16th and 17th century was the pivotal period for the understanding of the rise of modern Ireland. I began to concentrate on a series of studies starting with the Cromwellian period: Hell or Connaught: The Cromwellian Colonisation of Ireland 1652-1660 – still in print from Blackstaff – and The Boyne Water: The Battle of the Boyne 1690, first published in 1976, and later reprinted by Blackstaff in 1989. It was natural, therefore, that I should turn to the formative events which commenced this 'ethnic cleansing' policy which started in 1541 and lasted throughout the 17th century with unabated savagery. The understanding of why the Tudor policy changed from coercion of the Gaelic ruling class in 1541 to ethnic cleansing is central to any subsequent understanding of Irish history.
JN: You claim ambitiously that the history in Erin's Blood Royal can be said to encompass three thousand years of Irish experience and folklore. What were the most significant discoveries resulting from your research?
PBE: English propaganda, sadly accepted by many Irish historians from the 19th century onwards has led us to believe that, before the coming of the Normans and their successors, Ireland was simply a rural chaos of constantly bickering and warring disparate tribes with no sense of cohesion and led by fierce kings. Standish James O'Grady was even assured by a professor of history at Trinity College, Dublin that Brian Boru did not exist. One could say that what is significant for the genuine historian is the emergence of a fascinating system of kingship, with the kings constrained by a sophisticated law system and the people clearly identified in a common nationhood with a shared literary language, mythology, law, social system and set of religious beliefs. There were kings who patronized the arts and learning; and there was a society that was in many ways advanced when compared with its neighbours.
JN: Why do you think that the concept and practice of Gaelic kingship are among the things only vaguely acknowledged and barely understood by the modern historian in Ireland?
PBE: The destruction of Gaelic Ireland and four hundred years of an oppressive regime dedicated to the eradication of the last traces of Gaelic Irish culture including its law, social system and language has almost succeeded in extinguishing any historical knowledge of the historical realities of Irish society as it was under the native kings.
JN: What is the major difference or emphasis in a comprehensive interpretation of Irish history when a well researched understanding of the Gaelic dynasties is taken fully into account?
PBE: The major difference is the understanding of the cultural and philosophical differences between the native Irish and their conquerors which were at the heart of persistent misunderstanding and conflict. One English historian writing about the Gaelic kingship system commented that it was a bloodthirsty business because 'hardly ever did a son succeed his father to the throne.' Yet the ancient Irish law system did not recognize primogeniture. Sons did not necessarily succeed their fathers, only if they were talented enough to do so. Office was filled not only from the bloodline but by election by the derbhfine or electoral college of the family. Of course, those now imbued with primogeniture inheritance can dismiss this as 'no real legal system'. This can lead to a culture clash between Irish and English historians. I regard as immensely important to Irish self-understanding an awareness of the Brehon Law and its principle of election.
JN: You write about the personalities of the individual members of the Irish noble families who were forced to flee abroad. Which of these romantic personalities did you find the most exciting to explore?
PBE: I would say that all the families have fascinating histories. I could not, hand on heart, say one family was more fascinating than others. There are enough research challenges to keep an army of historical biographies in work for centuries with the lives and manifold achievements of Erin's blood royal.
JN: Why has there been an Irish government policy since the 1940s of 'courtesy recognition for some twenty of the Irish noble families?
PBE: Edward McLysaght, who was to become the first Chief Herald, approached de Valera with the idea that those claiming Gaelic titles should be acknowledged by the Irish state. It was not a government policy but rather an arbitrary decision by de Valera to do so. McLysaght was left to implement the idea as a civil service administrative policy. There was no legislation, no guidelines as to how it should be done, and all this was the reason why in recent months, inevitable problems have arisen about 'courtesy recognition'.
JN: Did de Valera really consider installing a descendant of an Irish King as the first President of Ireland? How do you react to the idea of an Irish monarchical President?
PBE: In 1937 de Valera made an approach to the O'Brien of the day who was the direct descendant of Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland who defeated the Danes at Clontarf in 1014. The O'Brien, who also held the title of 16th Baron Inchiquin, turned down the idea. As a republican, I would not be in favour of the appointment of a Prince President' per se; such a person would have to be democratically elected on the grounds that they had something more positive to offer than family history.
JN: Would you explain why you regard the importance of the Brehon Law of electoral succession, as distinct from the law of primogeniture, as crucial to the ongoing process of the Irish government's recognition of the ancient Gaelic titles?
PBE: On September 29 1999, following the publication of my book Erin's Blood Royal in which this matter was discussed, Síle de Valera, Minister for the Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, announced in the Dail a commission of inquiry which will investigate the whole concept of how state courtesy recognition of those claiming Gaelic titles should be made. My opinion is that if the Irish State is going to continue with their courtesy recognition, then it must be done in accordance with international laws and usages. Gaelic titles arose out of Irish native law until in the conquests during the period we have talked about. Not only did the English Statute and Common Law abolish Gaelic law, it also abolished all Gaelic titles. It is that Statute and Common Law which was inherited by the Irish State following independence in 1921. For the Irish State to give courtesy recognition to those claiming Gaelic titles under the very legal system under which these titles were abolished is nonsensical; it is also contrary to International Law and practices. No successor state can retrospectively alter the successional laws of a predecessor state. Can you imagine the furore that would ensue if the Irish State told the Irish Peers (Lord Inchiquin, the Duke of Leinster, Lord Mount Charles & etc.) that they could henceforth hold their titles, created by the primogeniture system, only under the Brehon electoral system? That is as nonsensical as telling those claiming Gaelic titles that they can hold them only under primogeniture law. Either the Irish State has to amend its recognition to recognizing these people merely as senior members of families descending from the old kings and princes of Ireland, or they have to accept the derbhfine's decision of appointing the head of the family with the appropriate title and acknowledge that person's right to use the title as a social courtesy in accordance with the international usages and laws under which these things are governed in other modern republics. If the Irish State were to invent Irish titles, the whole thing would descend into a laughable Disneyland fantasy.
JN: How do surviving members of Gaelic noble families who have lived permanently abroad for generations view their stake in modern Ireland?
PBE: Members of the most famous families, like the O'Donels and O'Neills, have been active in promoting Irish history and culture. The O'Neill of Clanboy in the early 20th century donated money to help set up Irish language medium schools and also helped to supply and arm the Irish Volunteers from Portugal. The current Duke of Tetuan in Spain, Leopoldo O'Donel, born in 1915, has been recognised as heir to O'Donel, Prince of Tirconnel and was awarded in 1954 an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland in the presence of de Valera as Chancellor of the university. So some families still see themselves as intrinsically Irish, and most would wish to hold Irish citizenship but are precluded because they were driven out by the conquests and have remained in exile ever since.
JN: How successful have been recent attempts by the Irish government in encouraging the survivors of the ancient Gaelic noble families to play a useful role in developing modern Irish society?
PBE: There has been an ongoing problem in recent years over what the Irish State thought it should do concerning those to whom it gave courtesy recognition and what those claiming Gaelic titles wanted to do themselves. The main problem has been the legal status of the titles. Were they genuine holders of titles of nobility? Were they state appointees? Did the State create them? One Chief Herald believed that he was creating their titles and not merely recognising existing titles. This has led to many problems. I believe that the Irish State wanted to create 'Chiefs' who were seen as heads of clans to promote tourism in Ireland. Bord Fáilte created Clans of Ireland Ltd. And encouraged clans to 'elect' Chiefs who would be seen as heads of clans, and were dismayed when existing Gaelic title holders took exception to having titles so demeaned. Most of the descendants of the Irish kings and princes see themselves as holders of genuine aristocratic titles who want to promote genuine Irish arts and culture and reawaken a full awareness of Irish history. The Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains, to which these representatives belong, have put up an annual prize fir essays in the Irish language and so on. The year 2000 is now going to be a 'make or break' year because the sitting Government Inquiry will decide their attitude to those claiming to hold ancient Gaelic titles.
JN: What are the implications of the Chief Herald of Ireland's withdrawal of the courtesy title of the MacCarthy Mór from the very person who wrote the Foreward to your book Erin's Blood Royal?
PBE: Unfortunately, my book has been caught up in the incredible MacCarthy Mór affair. Terence McCarthy, a graduate of Queen's University Belfast, had been recognised as MacCarthy Mór, Prince of Desmond, not only by the Irish State but by the Castile & Leon King of Arms of Spain and by the Italian Courts as well as numerous other dignitaries and bodies. He had been given civic receptions by the Irish President Mary Robinson and other civic dignitaries in Ireland, and awarded other honours by European royalty and states. He was considered a leafing authority in genealogy and published extensively – nearly a dozen books, in all – on Gaelic Munster. That was why I asked him to contribute the Foreward to my book. Just as my book recently went on sale, the Chief Herald withdrew courtesy recognition from him. It took about a month for the facts about his family background to emerge that McCarthy was entirely bogus. Now it emerges that another holder of a Gaelic title might also have a questionable pedigree. Needless to say, further editions of my book have been stopped until such time as I can rewrite that part pertaining to this matter. A new edition should be out by Autumn 2000. The Irish Government has now had to make an announcement in the Dáil concerning the commission of inquiry to consider the entire question of the courtesy titles. Obviously the Irish State must understand and accept the faults in its procedures. If it is going to extend a courtesy recognition to those claiming Gaelic titles, then it must begin to act in accordance with the international law and usages which govern such matters. The problems, as I see it, arose in 1943, due to the ways in which the Irish State began to recognise courtesy titles, and no one for almost sixty years made any attempt to correct anything until the affair of Terence McCarthy.
JN: Then what would you like to see happen to the courtesy titles which at least one person has claimed under false pretences and about whom there have been sensational stories in the newspapers?
PBE: As a historian, I think it would be appropriate for these old Gaelic families, descendants of the ancient Irish kings and princes, and heads of these families, whether they claim the old titles or not, to have some input into helping to promote and balance the study of Irish history. As a socialist and republican, I would not be in favour of any political participation in the Irish State unless the heads of the families were democratically elected. Having said that, there is, of course, the little known fact that the Taoiseach is allowed to nominate several members of the Irish Senate. That is a practice I do not favour but while it lasts, perhaps some the talented Gaelic title holders who have something valuable to contribute in promoting Irish culture could be appointed to show some initiative in the Irish Senate. On one matter my opinion remains unchanged by recent events – a full understanding of Irish history cannot be made without acknowledging the important role of the ancestors of many of those claiming ancient Gaelic titles.
EDITORIAL NOTE (2007)
British Association for Irish Studies Newsletter 32
BATTLE IN THE BOOKS 12: THE IRISH DIASPORA IN ARGENTINA
Peoples in diasporas can be seen to be involved in a kind of dialectical process. According to Abdelmalek Sayad, diasporic subjects live with the mixed feelings of a temporary condition that is willingly and indefinitely postponed and that even when stability in the adopted land is achieved, it is still with a sense of a provisional state. The aim of this article is to analyse, as a case study of diasporic dialectic, William Bulfin's states of mind as native of Ireland and migrant in Argentina.
Bulfin – born during the early 1860s at Derrinlough near Birr County Offaly and educated at the Presentation School at Birr, the Royal Charter School in Banagher and the Galway Grammar School – emigrated to Argentina with his older brother Peter in 1884 when he went to work on the estancia of John Dowling from Longford in San Antonio de Areco in the Province of Buenos Aires. At that time, Irish migrants were received in Buenos Aires by friends or Irish immigrants who introduced them to their community and hosted them in Irish homes and boarding houses till they found a job on various estancias and sheep-farms in the pampas which were owned by the Irish who had come in the early 1840s. Though the new arrivals faced many difficulties in the foreign land, with its unknown language and very different culture, the Irish were still attracted by the propaganda of their own people living in the foreign land who relied much on the leadership of Father Anthony Fahy from 1844 onwards. The legendary missionary was the social articulator and the mentor of Irish destinies in Argentina: arranging marriages within their community, lending money and administrating the immigrants' earnings so that they could buy land and have their own farms. These activities and the immense extension of the pampas impressed Bulfin profoundly and became the source of his stories and sketches published in newspapers like The Irish Argentine, later in The Southern Cross (a newspaper edited for the Irish community) and in the New York Daily News. A collection of his Argentine stories – Tales of the Pampas – was afterwards published in London by Fisher & Unwin in 1900.
Although he lived in Argentina for nearly twenty-two years and became the editor and owner of The Southern Cross in 1898, Bulfin never lost his special attachment to the 'motherland'. His strong nationalist beliefs made him a prominent figure and defender of the Irish cause on the other side of the Atlantic and stimulated him to awaken Irish dreams of achieving independence by the revival of the Irish language. In an unpublished essay entitled 'The Cultural Nationalism of William Bulfin' Maureen Murphy refers to Bulfin's national life enterprise supporting the Buenos Aires branch of the Gaelic League to aid the language movement in Ireland. He raised funds and did all the printing for the Gaelic League activities, free of charge, at the press of The Southern Cross. Murphy says 'that the pages of An Claidheamh Soluis between 1899 and 1902 record the sustained giving of the Buenos Aires branch and the gratitude of the League.'
Bulfin's driving force of practical support of the Gaelic League followed his previous responses of his compatriots in Argentina who generously supported patriotic and charitable causes at home and in their adopted land. In History of the Irish in Argentina (1919), Thomas Murray reported the political connections which Irish exiles had with Ireland at the time. He explained how Michael Mulhall, owner of the newspaper The Standard, led to a campaign to raise money for a monument in the memory of Daniel O'Connell in 1863. Murray also wrote that in 1865 the Fenian Prisoners Fund which in some towns was called Fund for the Poor in Ireland, received many donations. In 1867 the first Irish National Society of Buenos Aires was founded with Fenian purposes; and in 1880 there was a meeting of the branch of the Land League of Ireland in Salto, which in 1881, led by William Murphy, opened a Fund for the Defence in the Parnell case. In all these cases, Murray published the list of donors and invited other compatriots of 'generous heart' to join them. Fund raising had also local aims like either building churches for the Irish communities in various towns, the Irish hospital and the house of the Sisters of Mercy, or the Fund for the treatment of yellow fever and cholera which often afflicted Irish immigrants.
The recent use of the word Diaspora often evokes the paradoxical imagery of traumas of separation and of geographical and psychological dislocations, as well as the promise of a new land for maintaining long-term community formations and building collective homes away from home. When Bulfin arrived in Argentina, which was a non-English speaking diaspora space, he was received and 'protected' by his own community and became part of it for seventeen years. However, his nationalist ideology persisted in keeping alive the imagined ties with his motherland and the recurring desire of returning home rather than of feeling permanently attached to the new land. That feeling of not being anchored in the place of settlement suggested the multi-placedness of 'home' among diasporic people like Bulfin. According to Avtar Brah in Cartographies of Diaspora: Contesting Identities (1998), 'home' has a paradoxical significance in the diasporic imagination: it is also the lived experience of a locality (the sounds and smells, its long winters and summer evenings, etc.) where everyday social relations are experienced. Bulfin's own diasporic narratives reveal the influential tension between 'belonging' and 'becoming', between 'roots' (homeland) and 'routes' (dispersion), so often experienced by Irish migrants.
In Tales of the Pampas and in 'Sketches of Buenos Aires' – short writings published in The Southern Cross with the pseudonym of 'Che Buono' – Bulfin is more of an observer than an agent in the process of 'becoming' a 'foreign native', he is a foreigner completely adapted to the indigenous culture yet in some respects still feeling like a foreigner. Instead of creating diasporic cultural forms with a sense of patriotism towards the adopted land, his narratives show how encounters of cultures encode practices of both accommodation and resistance to host countries.
The principles of The Southern Cross were established by its founder Msgr. Patrick Dillon when he wrote about the Irish in Argentina: 'We are, in the first place, Catholics then Irish, and lovers and admirers of our adopted country. We are liberal in politics, conservative in religion, respectful of the opinions of others and well-disposed toward all.' Clearly, the relationship of the first generation with the place of migration, mediated by memories and experiences of disruption, is different from that of subsequent generations, who try to re-orientate themselves to form new social networks, and learn to negotiate new economic, political and cultural realities. Nevertheless, the new social relations in South America took time to avoid the direct superimposition of patriarchal forms deriving from the country of emigration.
Bulfin's stories reaffirm the triumph of the Irish over the indigenous: the exiles are 'Irish in thought, in sympathy, and in character' in a different society. In 'The Course of True Love' the narrator describes how exile has modified some of the Irish idiosyncrasies and accentuated others in a process of paradoxical transformations. Practices of resistance, reproaches from assimilation and a need for self-definition were also represented by the people of the community. In 'Campeando' the narrator recalls when he was reprimanded by his friend Mike for being 'always stuck with the natives behind the galpón instead of attendin' to his good name, and that is why he'll be sent with them, and he'll get into their ways.' Yet paradoxically, in the translated terrain of his narratives on the pampas, sketches of Buenos Aires and rambles in his motherland, Bulfin suggests the possibilities of a historic transformation within his own community: he creates a new locality, a 'new home' describing aesthetically the Irish in the new land and its native people; simultaneously he struggles to re-construct the locality of his motherland for the Irish diasporic subject in Rambles in Eirinn (1907). In his introduction 'To the Reader' he affirms that it was written 'after seventeen crowded years of exile' and 'with the sole object of sharing the writer's thoughts and feelings with certain Irish exiles on the other side of the world.'
According to James Clifford in Routes: Travel and Translation in the late Twentieth Century (1997), 'homecomings are, by definition, the negation of diaspora.' It is also true that peoples whose sense of identity is defined by collective histories of displacement and violent loss cannot easily merge into a new national community and so, they feed diasporic visions of return to an original place – a land commonly articulated in mythical 'visions of nature, divinity, mother earth and the ancestors.' In Rambles in Eirinn, Bulfin explicitly tries to keep alive the collective memories of Ireland reconstructing 'home' locality from real contact with it. In the first two pages of his travel account he shows the mixed feelings of a returned exile and registers a sublimation of his motherland compared with the paradoxical negative and positive experiences of the diasporic locality. He contrasts the 'perfect weather' of the last days of June with the 'seventeen sweltering years of the sunny South' and the 'cloudless dog days of the Pampas', adding 'I laid my seven blessings on the Irish sunshine which never blisters, and on the perfumed winds of the Irish summer which are never laden with flame.' He also describes romantically the returning exiles who were up long before sunrise 'watching from the spar-deck of the steamer for the first glimpse of Ireland.' He recalls that he yearned for a cycling tour through Ireland while he was in the Pampas and he knew that if ever his hopes were realised, it would be like a 'visit to fairy-land'.
But it is while reading Rambles from a detached perspective of the emotional impact of returning home, that one can sharply focus on Bulfin's nationalist longings for nostalgic visions of his motherland. Maureen Murphy argues that the title of the book described 'not only Bulfin's roaming around the country but also his free-wheeling observations and his excursions into Irish history, literature, geography, economics and politics' as well as education. The diasporic writer says that places become alive through its history, even when he knows that historical narratives are only uncertain constructions of the past. For example, the first view of the Hill of Tara from the railroad bridge at Kilmessan moved him to the contemplation of the heroic past 'crudely reconstructed from the limited materials of an incomplete historical knowledge and an imperfect historical sense, yet, in some faint, wild, mysterious way, realized and felt.' Standing beside the Lia Fáil (the Stone of Destiny), he became aware of the Irish past of the Tuatha Dé Danaan as a 'wondrous moment, crowded with conflicting emotions, crowded with intense sorrow, with passionate love and passionate hatred, with shame and pride, with hope and exaltation.'
Historical recollections include victories and defeats in internal wars as well as a nationalist stance against English imperialist policy and cruelty. He criticises the English rule that allowed a band of capitalists to let the Irish railway die; he complains against the Irish tolerance of the evil of depopulation of the most fertile lands without a struggle or having shed torrents of blood over it. He angrily denounces that landlords 'have occasionally fallen under the vengeance of their victims, and the English Press has shrieked in pharisaical horror, calling the Irish peasantry cut-throats and barbarians.' According to him they should have left the moralists and historians 'the task of weighing and fixing responsibility' in order not to regret later when contemplating the tragedy of their history. He gets very upset at observing the various classes in perspective, at the banks of the Shannon when a crowd was watching a regatta. The sight of his people saddened him because they do not look Irish: 'in dress and accent and social conventions and amenities they had fashioned themselves by English models…Not one of them sounded a single Irish note.' In an ironic way he translates the point of view of the people who wondered what was his 'errand in this vale of tears' seeing side by side 'Footprints of Patrick! Footprints of the English! Ruins of the Golden age! Monument to Wellington from the gentry of Meath!' and the viewpoint of the Department of agriculture looking at all Irish rural problems only from an English standpoint.
The reader may ask whether all this shrewd criticism of his own people was a direct consequence of Bulfin's obsessive nationalism or whether having been distant from his country for many years and in intimate contact with another culture during that time endowed him with an objective perception of his own people's idiosyncrasy. He criticises Dublin and Belfast, the latter branded as a materialist country that repelled him; he affirms that their talk is 'un-Irish' and their materialism is strictly linked to the English, to Unionism: 'Money, money, money,/Trade, trade, trade,/Business, business.' According to Bulfin, Unionism means 'the majority kept under in the interests of the minority' which is the ascendancy and its parasites.
He also thinks of poor Ireland on the 'Might-Have-Been', and complains at the Anglicisation of the Irish mind with the 'misnamed national education system' promoting the denationalizing of schools. According to Bulfin, Ireland is 'a captive nation, and that her captors robbed her of trade as well as of everything else but her faith and honour.' Monuments like the one on Sarsfield Bridge to a hussar officer of the English army, the one to Dutch William that stands before the Old Parliament House in Dublin, are all condemned as part of the scheme to Anglicise the Irish mind 'to glorify things English in Ireland, to make English heroes the heroes of the Irish people, to accustom the Irish patriot to the constant presence in his native land of the rule and might and meanness of the Saxon.' For Bulfin, Irish nationalism has to do with race and a religion which has to be mainly Catholicism because that religion 'is broad to the extent of being as much cosmopolitan as national.'
Emigration as a bad habit is another theme that Bulfin writes about. Every time he refers to it, in spite of the fact that he is an emigrant, he does so with great lament and anger against the policies that allowed it to happen: 'there is ample room on the Connacht ranches for all the emigrants that ever left Ireland for the great stock runs of the South', and he adds later that 'some of the decline in the general health of the population' is not only due to the excessive humidity provoked by the rains that have washed away the grass of the fertile sheep-runs in Connacht, but also 'to the drain of emigration which took away the strongest of the youths and the maidens.' He feels that emigration is a 'mania' in the labouring class of Ireland and that it will take some time to cure. Ideally the movement of Irish people to industrial centres in America should be brought home. According to him, only a good system of primary education, 'national in the true sense', would 'foster a strong, self-contained, practical national spirit' which would discourage the emigration as well as the English superior position in Ireland. Two years later, Bulfin will write an article in An Claidheamh Soluis in May 1909 echoing the voice of the exiles when he supports the teaching of Irish language in the University of Ireland: 'I know positively what the Argentine Irish feel, and their feeling about the National University of Ireland is decidedly that it should be Irish through and through.'
Bulfin's championship of the need for widespread reform in Ireland after many generations of complacency makes him write that 'it was only a very poor consolation to the downtrodeden people to know that Irish valour was winning victories for other peoples, and that Irish genius was adorning the statesmanship of the other nations.' This was a direct reference to the Irish in the Southern hemisphere who adopted the political cause of the natives and became part of the Liberation Army of General San Martín like John T. O'Brien, and some of the Irish became leaders in the fights for the independence of South American countries like Admiral Brown, the founder of the Argentine navy, Joe Campbell, Colonel French, John Oughan, and General O'Higgins. Paradoxically, he manages to rejoice and complain at the same time: 'Glory to the Irelands beyond the seas! Glory of the Irish in exile! Glory of the Irish race! Glory of the racial ideal! Of what good is it all to Ireland? The battle for Ireland must be fought in Ireland, by the people of Ireland. Every strong arm and every true heart that leaves Ireland is more or less a loss to Ireland, and that was as true after Limerick as it is to day.'
Not all diasporas combine a homing instinct with drastic plans to return to reform the country of origin. Certainly Bulfin lived in South America for seventeen years and was committed to the long-term Irish community in Ireland. Eventually he succeeded in going back to his homeland, settled his family there and spent some more years crisscrossing from Ireland a triangular route across the Atlantic: staying more time in Argentina than the United States of America and then bringing to life these crossings in stories. He returned to Argentina as friend and stranger. He tended to see Ireland from Argentina as a romantic place for homecoming. Back in Ireland, he saw his motherland through the eyes of a nationalist determined to reform his country and change the course of Irish history. A tour of the USA in 1909 in the company of the O'Rahilly proved to be an unsuccessful attempt to persuade wealthy Irish-Americans to fund a Sinn Fein daily newspaper. By now a papal knight of St. Gregory for his work on behalf of the Irish Catholic community in Argentina, Bulfin died , aged only 46, at home in Derrinlough on January 30 1910.
One wonders to what extent Bulfin's version of the Irish diasporic dialectic between the homeland and the land of exile continues to happen among Irish migrants nowadays. If it still happens, another question follows - to what extent have the currents and undercurrents of sentiments and intentions among Irish exiles changed since Bulfin's day? Then two further questions arise for future investigation: is there evidence that a similar dialectic is active in other peoples who leave home in the 21st century for resettlement across the globe; and what might be the political, economic and cultural long term consequences of such a world mushrooming of diasporas?
EDITORIAL NOTE (2007)