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attempt to enforce the payment of tithes from a rebellious peasantry.
By contrast, in Ireland the Roman Catholic Church was not a collective
landlord, and was as yet devoid of the institutional and material attributes
of power. It presented itself as the church of the poor and in this way
acquired a social and political status comparable to that of the
Nonconformist denominations in England and Wales, or the Free
Church in the Scottish Highlands.34 The latter were convulsed by a
land agitation which nearly escalated into a ˜war™. In particular, after the
harvest failure of 1881 there were serious disputes in the west of Skye
(February 1882), ultimately requiring the intervention of the army. Then
in April 1882 a sheriff™s officer was prevented from evicting a few tenants
by a crowd of crofters in the Braes district. The crofters, who had adopted
the Irish tactic of withholding rent payments from the landlords, even-
tually clashed with the police and chased them away in the ˜Battle of the
Braes™. As Allan MacColl has demonstrated, the Free Church ministers
were generally behind the crofters, although always eager to avoid vio-
lence (as most of their Catholic colleagues were in Ireland).35
Fundamental to this ambiguous attitude was the question of the legiti-
macy of both the law and the existing land tenure system, which, in the

34
T. Garvin, The evolution of Irish nationalist politics (1981), 215; cf. A. G. Newby,
˜ ˜˜Shoulder to shoulder™™? Scottish and Irish land reformers in the Highlands of
Scotland, 1878“1894™, Ph.D. thesis, Unversity of Edinburgh, 2001.
35
A. W. MacColl, ˜The churches and the land question in the Highlands of Scotland,
1843“1888™, Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 2002, 105“10, 188“9; MacColl,
Land, faith and the crofting community; E. A. Cameron, ˜ ˜˜Alas, Skyemen are imitating the
Irish™™: a note on Alexander Nicolson™s ˜˜Little leaflet™™ concerning the crofters™ agitation™,
The Innes Review, 55, 1 (2004), 83“92.
Constitutional Nationalism and popular liberalism 115

Highlands as much as in Ireland, was now widely contested.36 Although
Jordan has suggested that the alienation felt by Irish tenants in relation to
both land laws and the gentry found no parallels in Britain, the fact is that
from the 1880s until 1914 Scottish crofters, Welsh farmers, English
labourers and radicals everywhere in Britain denounced and tried to
subvert ˜landlordism™, which they saw as ˜the Norman yoke™, an ˜alien™
feudal institution, in contrast to a lost (and largely mythical) Celtic or
Saxon democracy of free peasants.37 Victorians were aware of these
parallels: one farmer complained to the Napier Commission “ appointed
in 1883 to ˜enquire into the condition of the crofters and cottars™ in the
Highlands “ that the crofters ˜[are] inspired by the Free Church, and that
these are the Fenians we have “ not the Free Church of the south, but the
Free Church north of the Caledonian Canal [which] . . . sent ignorant,
unlettered men about the place to spread discontent among the people™.38
Some of the Free Church ministers reciprocated in kind. James
Cumming, minister of Melness (Sutherland) and the elected delegate of
the crofters in his parish, protested that ˜we are, in fact, under an absolute
despotism™.39 The most militant of the clerical ˜Fenians™ was the Revd
Donald MacCallum “ a minister in the established Kirk “ who was
eventually put into prison ˜like John the Baptist™, his admirers said,40 for
his relentlessly subversive activities among the poor.
In any case, it was true that the crofters and various land agitators, such
as John Murdoch of The Highlander, were influenced by Michael Davitt
and Irish nationalism (in fact, Murdoch himself had dealings even with
John Devoy and the Fenians). Not surprisingly, the alliance between
church and land reformers resulted in quasi-nationalist agrarian radical-
ism.41 Irish Nationalist MPs co-operated with the crofter MPs in an
unsuccessful attempt to radicalize the 1886 Scottish Land Bill,42 and by
1889 Parnell was a Highland hero. When he visited Scotland
N. MacPhail and D. Cowan of the Highland Land Law Reform
Association welcomed him ˜as Celts of the same race and speaking the
same language as your fellow countrymen. We thank you for what you
have done for the peasantry of Ireland . . . because in resisting landlord

36
Jordan, ˜Irish National League and the ˜˜unwritten law™™ ™, 146, 158; MacColl, Land, faith
and the crofting community, 95“155.
37
Jordan, ˜Irish National League and the ˜˜unwritten law™™ ™, 149; cf. Biagini, Liberty, 54“5,
90, 189; I. Packer, Lloyd George, liberalism and the land: the land issue and party politics in
England, 1906“1914 (2001).
38
D. C. Cameron, cited in MacColl, ˜Churches™, 115. 39 Cited in ibid., 119.
40
J. Cameron, The old and the new Highland and Hebrides (1912), 104.
41
D. W. Kemp, The Sutherland Democracy (1890); Davitt, The fall of feudalism in Ireland,
228“9.
42
T. M. Devine, Clanship to crofters™ war (1994), 223, 231.
116 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

oppression you have been fighting our battle as well as theirs.™43 ˜To you
and the Irish agitation™, declared the Sutherlandshire Association,
˜Scotland, and more especially the Highlands, is indebted for the
Crofter Commission™ “ the first step towards justice to ˜the Celt™.44 It is
not surprising, then, that when Irish Home Rule became an issue, the
pro-crofter ministers of the Highland Free Church, despite their fierce
Calvinism, were far from unanimously opposed to the Bill.45
In both countries, ministers and priests were influential because they
enjoyed mass support in their parishes, not because of the institutional
position of their respective churches, and were often regarded as the
˜natural™ spokesmen for their flock. Contemporaries were aware of this
elective affinity: thus, in 1895 Edward Blake struck a responsive chord
among his Edinburgh audience when he presented the Irish Catholic
Church as distinctively ˜nonconformist™:
When it was said that what the Irish Roman Catholic priests really wanted was
an opportunity to endow and establish the Roman Catholic Church, he, as a
Protestant, declared that there was no greater example in the history of the world
of the capacity of a Church to stand without endowment, without establishment,
as the church of the poor, kept impoverished to assist the church of the rich, than
the Roman Catholic Church of Ireland (cheers), and there were no people within
his knowledge who were more disposed to ignore religious distinctions in secular
affairs than the people who belonged to the Church in Ireland (cheers).46
Liberalism had as long a tradition among Irish Roman Catholics as
among Presbyterians. It stretched back to Daniel O™Connell, and Irish
Catholic MPs were among the first to appropriate the label ˜Liberal™ in a
political sense,47 at a time when ˜Reformers™, ˜Radicals™ and ˜Whigs™ were
the labels preferred by British MPs. As Kissane has pointed out, the
alliance between O™Connell and the Catholic church ˜gave deeper

43
In [Anon.], Scotland™s welcome to Mr Parnell: A souvenir of his first political visit to Scotland,
containing 146 addresses of Congratulations, 20 July 1889, 44“5.
44
Edinburgh Branch, Sutherlandshire Association, ibid., 45.
45
MacColl, ˜Churches™, 199“200.
46
Cited in rep., ˜Nationalist demonstration in Edinburgh: Splendid speech by the Hon. Mr
Blake, MP™, FJ, 21 Mar. 1895, 5. The meeting was organized by two branches of the Irish
National League “ one of them named ˜W. E. Gladstone™. On Blake see Banks, Edward
Blake.
47
E.g. R. M. O™Farrell, (Keldare) and John O™Brien (Limerick City) (Dod™s Parliamentary
companion, 1844). O. MacDonagh, The life of Daniel O™Connell, 1775“1847 (1991),
389“90; on O™Connell™s own liberal ideology see ibid., 305“6 and Hoppen, ˜Riding a
tiger™. See G. C. Mahon to J. Martin, 29 Dec. 1874: ˜The Irish priests . . . in their open
advocacy of democratic principles during the O™Connell agitation . . . took good
Protestant ground and if only in 1848 they only stuck to the principles, which for 20
years previously they had publicly inculcated, I should really expect much good from
them™ (NLI MS 22, 203).
Constitutional Nationalism and popular liberalism 117

democratic resonance™ to ˜the liberal idea of the public sphere™, as
˜Catholic politicians from the 1820s on were able to construct political
movements that were expansive, rather than restrictive in their attitude
towards membership, geared towards politicising the people rather than
excluding them, and seeing mass participation as the most effective proof
that they represented public opinion.™48 While O™Connell™s Catholic
Association continued to inspire nationalist political ideology in parts of
Ireland for years after the ˜Liberator™s™ death,49 at a national level
Irish support for the Liberal party revived from 1865, after the death of
Palmerston, who had been very unpopular with the Catholics for his
˜Orange™ views. By contrast, his successors, Gladstone and even
Russell, enjoyed a much better reputation. In particular, Gladstone™s
promise to do justice to Ireland, in December 1867, galvanized the Irish
Catholics. As Larkin has put it, ˜the bishops succeeded in enlisting their
clergy in what can only be described as a religious crusade in the
constituencies on behalf of Gladstone and the Liberal party™, particularly
because the ˜People™s William™ had not only ˜promised to remedy the
outstanding Irish grievances about the established Church, Tenant
Right, and educational reform™, but also that he would legislate on
those matters according to the Irish ideas about what was necessary,
rather than ˜according to what the English thought might be good for
them™.50
Apart from disestablishment, there is evidence that at least some priests
were responsive both to liberal ideas of land reform, and to liberal
humanitarian policies in general. Thus the Revd John Hacket in ˜an
excited speech off the altar before concluding mass™ at Lisvernane
(Co. Tipperary) in October 1869 compared the People™s William to
Joshua ˜and prayed that W. E. Gladstone, the leader of the people, like
Joshua of the Israelites would lead them to liberty™.51 Canon Bourke,
parish priest of Claremorris (Co. Mayo) and the mentor of the nationalist
leader John O™Connor Power, ˜had been much influenced by the writings
of John Stuart Mill™.52 Perhaps because of Mill™s influence, he was one of
the supporters of the Ladies™ Land League. After the disappointment

48
Kissane, Explaining Irish democracy, 95.
49
D. Jordan, ˜John O™Connor Power, Charles Stewart Parnell and the centralization of
popular politics in Ireland™, Irish Historical Studies, 25, 97 (1986), 46“7.
50
E. Larkin, The consolidation of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, 1860“1870 (Chapel
Hill, N. C. and London, 1987), 690, 691; Larkin, The Roman Catholic Church and the
Home Rule movement, 1870“1875 (1990), 81“2, 391.
51
Cited in Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland, 186.
52
J. McL. Cote, Fanny and Anna Parnell: Ireland™s patriot sisters (1991), 4; Bull, Land, 97;
ˆ´
Jordan, ˜John O™Connor Power™, 63. Bourke was former president of St Jarlath™s College
and a close friend of Archbishop MacHale, himself a strong supporter of Home Rule.
118 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

associated with the 1870 Land Act (although Cullen liked it) and the
1873 University Bill, the 1879“80 Midlothian campaigns revived clerical
support for the Liberal party, which stood for land reform and an end to
coercion.53 Later the Gladstone government™s record on these two issues
affected clerical attitudes to the Liberal party. In the early 1880s, though
there were priests who dared to assert their loyalty to Gladstone even if
this meant antagonizing part of their flock,54 the response exemplified by
a Revd Father Trainor was more common. At a meeting in 1883, he
declared that he had believed in Gladstone and supported the Liberal
candidate in 1880, but had since lost ˜his political faith™, because ˜Mr
Gladstone . . . instead of giving his whole strength to the Land Act was all
the time manufacturing Coercion Acts™.55
If many priests ˜lost™ their faith in the People™s William during Forster™s
˜coercion rule™, they found it anew from 1886 “ as we shall see in the next
section “ when Gladstone raised his voice against coercion and for Home
Rule: thus, at a meeting in Clonakilty (Co. Cork) in 1887, a Father Lucy
referred to him as ˜the greatest statesman the world has ever seen™.56 But
even from 1880 to 1885 some priests saw little difference between
Liberalism and Land League militancy. T. W. Crooke, Roman Catholic
Archbishop of Cashel, referred to ˜[the] great statesman [Gladstone] . . .
who stands at the head of Her Majesty™s Ministers, and whose good will to
Ireland has been abundantly made manifest. . .™. The Revd Maurice
Mooney, parish priest at Cahir (Co. Tipperary), was heard to ˜[pass] an
eulogium™ on Gladstone at a meeting in 1882, and, quoting John Bright,
exhorted his parishioners ˜to agitate constitutionally for their rights, but
to keep strictly within the constitution and not break the peace™.57
Interestingly, to him ˜constitutional agitation™ also included the with-
holding and reduction of rent payments, tactics which he boasted of
having personally adopted in his capacity as one of the local leaders of
the land campaign. During the same meeting, the Revd Mr Foran, parish
priest of Ballooly (Co. Down) ˜spoke of Mr Gladstone as the greatest
intellect of the age, who would have made the Land Act better than it was,
but he had a hostile Lords and Commons to conciliate™.58 This meeting
passed a resolution in support of ˜peasant proprietary™ as the only solution

53
In 1880 T. W. Crooke, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cashel, praised ˜[the] great
statesman [Gladstone] . . . who stands at the head of Her Majesty™s Ministers, and
whose good will to Ireland has been abundantly made manifest. . .™ (Hefferman Papers,
NAI, MS 21,910).
54
Cited in Moody, Davitt and the Irish revolution, 423.
55
Cited in rep., ˜Meeting at Greenan Cross™, FJ, 25 June 1883, 6.
56
Cited in rep., ˜The National League™, Cork Examiner, 1 Nov. 1887, 4.
57
Cited in rep., ˜Demonstration at Cahir™, FJ, 30 Oct. 1882, 6. 58 Ibid.
Constitutional Nationalism and popular liberalism 119

which would satisfy both farmers and labourers, and reduce state inter-
vention in Ireland™s land economy “ an interference which was criticized
as expensive, ˜suspicious and untrustworthy™, and conducive to ˜discon-
tent and dissension™. Such words could not have been more consistent
with traditional liberalism had they been uttered at a Durham miners™
meeting by some regular readers of the Weekly Times or Reynolds™s
Newspaper. They came with the pledge of the local ˜tenant farmers, artisans
and labouring classes™ to support Parnell and his party in their effort ˜to
procure for the people of Ireland the blessings of Home Rule, the extension
and assimilation of the Irish parliamentary and municipal franchise to
those of England, the substitution of elective county boards for the present
grand jury system™, as well as ˜the payment by the constituencies of the
popular Irish members of Parliament™.59 Although the priests supported
constitutional liberties and were opposed to coercion, they were often
autocratic and domineering. But also in this respect “ as authoritarian
advocates of the rights of ˜society™ against the state “ they resembled their
colleagues, the Free Church ministers in the Scottish Highlands.
Like their Calvinist counterparts, the Irish priests derived their power
from the fact that they were rooted in the communities which they served.
On the other hand, popular devotion to the Irish clergy did not necessarily
imply blind submission either to their dictates or to those of the hierarchy.
After 1874 the bishops came to support Home Rule because they felt they
needed to do so if they wanted to recover their political power and influ-
ence in the constituencies, which had been weakened by their close
association with Gladstone and the Liberals during the previous
years.60 Later Isaac Butt skilfully negotiated with the bishops the terms
of a future Catholic University Bill and in the process strengthened both
his authority and that of the Irish party, and exposed the lack of unity
among the bishops.61 In the early 1880s, Nationalist loyalty to the
bishops was conditional on the latter™s support for Parnellism: whenever
they contradicted or criticized the League, they elicited reactions which
in continental Europe would have been described as ˜anti-clerical™. Thus

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