. 27
( 80 .)


coercion was supposed to avoid.
The reality was of course more complex, but there in no doubt that
constitutional nationalists loathed political and rural crime and rejected it
on both moral and political grounds. At least in this they were similar to
the leaders of the ˜New Model Unions™ in Britain at the time of the
˜Sheffield outrages™ in the 1860s, having tried to establish the ˜respect-
able™ character of their movement. From this standpoint ˜moonlighting™
was the equivalent of what the terrorist trade union practices had been to
the mid-Victorian labour movement. For example in 1882 Davitt
denounced the Maamtrasna murders in Co. Galway (where five members
of one family were murdered in August 1882) as a crime ˜almost without a
parallel for its atrocity in the annals of agrarian outrage™.139 In 1885 he
denounced moonlighting as ˜a species of cowardly terrorism which would

Ibid. 137 Ibid.
However, from 1886 boycotting was also forbidden by the INL, and offending branches
were threatened with expulsion: see T. C. Harrington, secretary of the INL, to
W. Kennedy, Kildorrery, 3 Feb. 1886, in Harrington Papers, MS 9454.
Cited in Hammond, Gladstone and the Irish nation, 315. Of course later the Parnellites
would denounce Spencer and Trevelyan (the Viceroy and the Chief Secretary) for
˜judicial murder™ once it emerged that one of the suspected assassins, Myles Joyce,
was convicted and executed on spurious evidence (Heyck, Dimensions, 87).
136 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

do irreparable injury to Ireland and bring deserved disaster to any movement
that would lend the slightest sanction to it™.140 Justin McCarthy com-
plained that the moonlighters ˜care no more for the Land League or
Home Rule or the political agitation than they did about the Eastern
Question™.141 T. C. Harrington, secretary of the INL, went as far as
turning down applications for grants in support of tenants evicted in
districts where serious outrages had occurred.142 As Joseph O™Brien has
written, not only did they ˜[take] every opportunity to denounce agrarian
crime™, but also they ˜were as fervent in upholding the rights of private
property as an English landlord™.143
The most infamous episode in the saga of political violence was
the murder of T. H. Burke and Lord Frederick Cavendish in May
1882. If Parnell panicked, Davitt was horrified: the ex-convict offered
his assistance to the police, and, jointly with other Nationalist leaders,
issued a manifesto against terrorism. The latter was so strongly worded
that, it was feared, it would imperil the lives of its signatories, although the
Irish Republican Brotherhood repudiated the murders in the vain
attempt to stem the decline in its popular influence, which, according to
one member, ˜became very feeble if it did not die out altogether™.144 After
the Phoenix Park murders, even violent language at demonstrations
became intolerable to Davitt: once at a meeting when someone in the
crowd shouted ˜Down with the landlords™, Davitt™s response was prompt
and decisive. Interrupting his speech he said: ˜If I hear any more such
voices as ˜˜Down with them™™, I shall order whoever utters such language
to be ejected from the meeting (cheers).™145 Davitt disagreed with the
government not in his attitude to crime, but in his views of the best way to
deal with it. For example, he denounced the 1881“5 bombing campaign “
organized by Jeremiah O™Donovan Rossa and Irish American militants “
as ˜a method of injuring the Irish cause™, a strategy which had few
sympathizers in Ireland. Coercion, however, was not the right way to
deal with terrorists:

Cited in ˜Meeting at Kells™, FJ, 16 Nov. 1885, 7; for more comments along the same line
see rep., ˜Mr Michael Davitt again denounces outrages™, FJ, 22 Feb. 1886, 6.
Memo ˜Dictated by Mr McCarthy, dated Aug. 17th 1886™, concerning an interview
between Parnell, Morley and McCarthy, NLI, MS 24,958 (7).
Though the local branch was apparently not involved in any illegal action: Harrington to
J. J. MacMahon (Co. Kerry), 5 Feb. 1886, in Harrington Papers, MS 9454.
J. V. O™Brien, William O™Brien and the cause of Irish politics, 1881“1918 (1976) 51;
Macaulay, The Holy See, 26.
Moody, Davitt, 536“7; the citation is from O™Toole, Whist for your life, 52.
M. Davitt, cited in rep., ˜Messrs Davitt and M™Carthy, MP, at Edgeworthstown™, FJ, 16
Oct. 1882, 7; Moody, Davitt, 459.
Constitutional Nationalism and popular liberalism 137

Take Russia. Take Austria. Look at the case of Ireland. Coercion is one of
the Anarchists™ trump cards. Suppose Rossa and a number of his friends were
given up to the English Government [by the American government], do you think
the conspiracy, the outrages, would stop? No, indeed. The cause would receive a
fresh impetus. Rossa and his men would be converted into martyrs, with sym-
pathisers in America, in Ireland, in England . . . You can™t stamp them out as you
would a snake with the heel of your boot. The effect of any coercive method would
be to create a band of men, devoted and fanatical, reckless of danger and careless
of life.146
As implied by the comparison with ˜autocratic™ and ˜despotic™ Russia and
Austria, there remained, beyond the question of which strategy was best
in order to ˜stamp out™ terrorism, Dublin Castle™s persistent lack of
national legitimacy. In what Callanan has described as an ˜exercise in
polemical ingratiation™, Nationalist spokesmen conceded that after so
many important reforms and the 1881“3 Land Acts in particular, there
was no doubt that the Gladstone government ˜[meant] well toward
Ireland™. However, ˜the very fact that it does mean well, and that it has
so completely failed, and that it is driven to such methods as the Crimes
Act to maintain itself, is the clearest possible demonstration of the
incapacity of any English Government satisfactorily to administer Irish
affairs™.147 Continued agitation by the INL was justified by results,
as the government, by its remedial legislation, acknowledged that there
were ˜legitimate grievances in the working of the Irish land system™.148
Would such legislation have been forthcoming without agitation? Once
more the GOM™s words were quoted against his own practice: ˜Mr
Gladstone has very often, and very recently, shown that he knows there
are many and great Irish interests to be legislated for, and honourable
Irish sentiments to be gratified, but does he not also know that even he is
powerless to do that, of which both his head and his heart approve,
without healthy agitation?™149 Nationalist agitation, almost the Irish
equivalent of the Midlothian campaign, had to continue, because
Ireland, unlike Britain, had not really experienced the benefits accompa-
nying the fall of ˜Beaconsfieldism™. Indeed, an editorial in the Freeman™s
Journal argued,
The Government, which in England is Liberal, in Ireland disregards every canon
of the Liberal creed. The politicians who in Ireland call themselves Liberal would
in England be called Conservatives. It is through not comprehending this that
English politicians make so many mistakes. They come into contact with so-called
Irish ˜Liberals™, and they imagine that these men are real Liberals. But they are

Cited in interview, ˜Mr Davitt on the explosions of Saturday™, FJ, 27 Jan. 1885, 6.
L.a., FJ, 1 Dec. 1882, 4; Callanan, Healy, 95.
Crossman, Politics, law and order, 151. 149 L.a., 10 Nov. 1882, 4.
138 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

nothing of the kind. Speak to them in private and you will discover that they have
no conception of the real principles of Liberal policy.150
If Liberalism was about civil rights, ˜[w]hich clause of the Coercion Code
would a true Liberal identify himself with? That under which public
meetings are suppressed, that under which the ex-mayor of Wexford
has just been sent to prison, that under which newspapers are seized,
that under which Messrs Davitt and Healy are going to jail “ the Curfew
Clauses, or the blood tax?™151 Thus, the Freeman™s concluded, Liberalism
was a creed which, in Ireland, only the Nationalists upheld and champ-
ioned: ˜The essence of Liberalism is the abolition of class privileges and
giving to the people full power over their own affairs. The essence of the
creed of the Irish ˜˜Liberals™™ is distrust of the people and the retention of
class privileges.™ Irish ˜liberalism™ was first and foremost about Home
Rule because ˜[t]here are but two living powers in Irish politics “ that
which aims at the maintenance through English power of the ascendency
[sic] of a class in Ireland, and the other which claims for Irishmen the right
to manage their own affairs™.152 The latter “ Parnell™s party “ was thus to
be regarded as the real equivalent of what the Liberal party stood for in
Britain: indeed, it was to be wondered whether ˜there existed real
˜˜Liberals™™ outside the National ranks in Ireland™. In another leading
article the Freeman™s criticized Forster for his reservations about extend-
ing the franchise and representative local government to Ireland, and
exposed what it perceived as the affinities between Forster™s attitude
and the old ˜Adullamite™ arguments against the extension of the franchise
to the British working classes in 1866“7:
˜First he would and then he wouldn™t!™ [Forster] said that if the franchise
in England were given to the masses, Ireland also should have a Reform of
the Franchise. But then the Government should see that power was not given
into the hands of agitators. Ireland is not as well educated as England and
Scotland, and though he disliked to use the word, there is a ˜residuum™ in
Ireland. What does all this mean? What but that Mr Forster would only give
such franchises into Irish hands as would suit the English Government™s cards!
What but that with all his professions of liberality he would not be influenced
by motives of justice, by the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity between
the countries in his legislation, but rather by the promptings of expediency and
the lust of power! . . . Mr Forster treats the County Government question in a
similar strain. He would have a County Government Bill for Ireland as well as
for England; but then suddenly bethinks him that we are wholly unaccostumed to
local self-government, and above all, he would not give us control over our

150 151 152 153
L.a., FJ, 26 Jan. 1883, 4. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.
Constitutional Nationalism and popular liberalism 139

The Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), with its paramilitary structure
and separate barracks, was the equivalent of the despised gendarmeries
typical of France, Spain and Italy (and of the much more popular Royal
Canadian Mounted Police). Such armed paramilitary forces were viewed
by English radicals as incompatible with liberty. Ironically, consis-
tency with ˜English™ police practice became a Nationalist battle cry.
Although the RIC was actually widely respected among the ordinary
people and seen as ˜an attractive source of careers and husbands™ by the
less politicized peasants,154 Nationalists denounced it as a symbol not
only of Ireland™s persistent inferiority within the Union, but also of the
assumption that ˜the Irish are a residuum “ are, to put it in plain English “
dregs!™ Demanding its reform was a consequence of the fact that ˜the Celt
loves liberty and security as much as the Saxon does™.155 From this point
of view, Parnell™s wish to replace it with a civil and unarmed police force
was the most ˜English™ of his demands.156

The Union of Hearts
The movements of the Welsh people in connection with the recent distraint for
tithes are very embarrassing for those Liberals who are urging forward the
Coercion Act. The quondam Liberal Spectator . . . endeavours to comfort itself
by declaring that ˜the Welsh have always been liable, from time to time, to out-
breaks of crime of the Irish kind,™ which it accounts for by their having ˜the Celtic
proneness to, and aptitude for, the organisation of common actions by mobs and
half-constituted and tumultuous assemblies.™ We suppose the phenomena of the
Scottish Crofters, rising and defying the law, would be accounted for by the fact of
their being Highlanders, and therefore, too, partaking of the disorderly Celtic
blood. English riots are mere free fights, and, therefore, as it may be assumed,
easily put down. But we think our contemporary is not quite as sagacious in
drawing these distinctions as it used to be before enlisting under the banner of
injustice. English riots are not, as a rule, political. We do not call an election row a
political riot or disorder. It is too trivial and too temporary in its causes. But riots
arising out of some great and general popular feeling are rare. But it is not for the
reason the Spectator would have us believe. They are put down, we grant, but there
is unusually [sic, sc. usually] no occasion for the people to repeat them. The
massacre of Peterloo was followed by the first Reform Bill; the tearing down the
rails of Hyde Park ensured the passing of the second. They are easily put down
and they are not organised, because the people are not permanently alienated

Maume, Long gestation, 7; E. A. Cameron, ˜Communication or separation? Reactions to
Irish land agitation and legislation in the Highlands of Scotland, c.1870“1910™, English
Historical Review, 120, 487 (2005), 649.
M. Davitt cited in l.a., FJ, 24 Oct. 1882, 4.
Annotation in Parnell™s handwriting on ˜Confidential “ memorandum of O™Brien™s
suggestions™, n.d. [1886], 24(8,9), Parnell Letters, MS 8581 (2).
140 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

from the Government, as they know well enough that no Government could long
subsist which was in chronic hostility to popular feeling. When the Spectator was
Liberal it would have seen this; since it has become Unionist it has to descend
to the theory of race in order to explain away the phenomena brought about
by misgovernment. Riots are rarer and less systematic in Scotland and Wales
than in Ireland, for the simple reason that the occasions less frequently arise, and
when they occur the grievances from which they sprung are certain to be rem-
edied. Scotland received prompt justice “ or at least a prompt instalment of it;
Wales assuredly will do so, too; Ireland would only get a mockery of justice, which
would be used at the same time as an excuse for a Coercion Act.157

Thus commented the Cork Examiner in 1887, in a perceptive deconstruc-
tion of Victorian ˜national character™ stereotypes and the unequal part-
nership within the Union. One of the effects of Gladstone™s decision to
adopt Home Rule was to bring to an end the sense that Ireland was
fighting alone against the rest of the UK. As the Liberals took up a
distinctively ˜Celtic™ complexion, the Irish struggle became the central
feature of a broader democratic project. Moderate Irish nationalists had
always longed for such recognition.
As early as 1866 the welcome granted by Dublin to John Bright “ who,
together with J. S. Mill, had then just earned Irish gratitude by opposing
the suspension of habeas corpus “ showed how responsive the country was
to constitutionalist rhetoric even in times of threatened revolutionary
risings. His visit personified the links between the Radicals and the
National Association of Ireland, established in 1864 and part of an
influential Irish movement to emulate the English Liberation Society.
According to Comerford, ˜it was evident that Bright commanded the
support of a far wider spectrum of Irish opinion and interests than any
living Irishman™.158 Barry O™Brien may not have been the only supporter
of ˜physical force™ nationalism to be converted to parliamentary politics
by reading John Bright™s speeches.159 Not surprisingly, during the

L.a., Cork Examiner, 7 June 1887, 2.
Comerford, Fenians, 143. See R. Barry O™Brien, John Bright (1910), 31: ˜Why should I
write a monograph on John Bright? What is there in common between the English
Puritan statesman and an Irish Catholic Nationalist? Had a stranger entered my father™s
house in the West of Ireland forty years ago [i.e. in 1860], the first object which would
have met his eye was a bust of John Bright. Why was it there? Because alone among
leading English statesmen, at that time, Bright fearlessly identified himself with the Irish
popular cause.™
This was the beginning of a long relationship with the Liberals. His parliamentary history
of the Irish land question (1880) was praised by both Bright and Gladstone for its
contribution to the debate on the Land Bill. In the 1890s he was a sub-editor and later


. 27
( 80 .)