Parnellite and in 1899 published Parnellâ€™s official biography: P. Maume, â€˜Oâ€™Brien,
Richard Barry (1847â€“1918)â€™, ODNB, 41, 381â€“2.
Constitutional Nationalism and popular liberalism 141
following few years popular liberalism, which Bright had done so much to
generate and Gladstone came to lead, seemed to achieve a virtual â€˜incor-
porationâ€™ of Irish nationalist politics into a pan-Britannic crusade for
reform. Gladstone offered to the Irish what he was also offering to both
Welsh and Scottish reformers: â€˜an alternative to nationalismâ€™.160 At the
election of 1868, disestablishment and the claim of â€˜constitutional libertiesâ€™
ensured that â€˜anyone seriously seeking catholic [sic] votes was obliged to
promise support for Gladstoneâ€™.161 For the Liberals it was a triumph.
Yet, only a few months later the question of the Fenian prisoners
generated widespread popular protest, which culminated in the Cabra
demonstration organized by the Amnesty Association in October 1869.
The farmers were no friends of the Fenians, but the prisoners were
â€˜adoptedâ€™ as symbols of all popular grievances. It has been argued that
the 200,000 people who took part â€˜were not . . . rejecting Gladstone: they
were, rather, letting him know how much they expected of himâ€™.162
Whatever the case, this agitation induced a number of Irish Liberal
MPs â€“ including Sir John Gray of the Freemanâ€™s Journal â€“ and many
â€˜Gladstonianâ€™ Catholic priests, to â€˜[jump] on a bandwagon which they
feared to ignoreâ€™.163 Though allegiances had not changed, it was already
evident that land reform â€“ the crucial political issue â€“ would determine
the fortunes of liberalism in Ireland.
It was frustration about Gladstoneâ€™s first Land Act which led both to
the foundation of the Home Government Association in May 1870, and
to the rekindling of agrarian unrest.164 The latter forced the government
to renew the Peace Preservation Act (April 1870), which in turn disap-
pointed Irish expectations about â€˜constitutional libertiesâ€™, and com-
pounded the irritation already felt about the continued suspension of
the Habeas Corpus Act (from 1866). On the one hand, agrarian outrages
were serious enough to prevent the Liberal government from proceeding
to grant an early release of the prisoners and to mitigate coercion: in fact,
the number of incidents had increased and continued to do so (from 160
in 1868 to 767 in 1869). On the other hand, violent episodes were largely
confined to a few counties165 and Irish opinion resented coercion as
excessive and unjustifiable. Already in March 1869, even normally con-
servative Protestant newspapers argued that â€˜[i]f the power of the Imperial
Parliament be used only to suspend the Constitution in the whole of
D. Thornley, Isaac Butt and Home Rule (1964), 21; Bull, Land, (1996), 91â€“2; Maume,
Long gestation, 3.
Comerford, Fenians, 162. 162 Ibid., 173. 163 Ibid., 174.
Thornley, Butt, 83â€“137; Comerford, Fenians, 181, 187â€“8.
Crossman, Politics, law and order, 117.
142 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
Ireland, it may well be questioned whether the model of a free Legislature
might not be advantageously borrowed, for Irish use, from Canadaâ€™.166
In this context, the first victory for a Home Rule candidate came in
1871, at a by-election in County Meath, traditionally a constitutional
Nationalist stronghold. Though this result was due to the abstention of
the previously Liberal farmers (the turn-out was only 28 per cent), other
nationalist successes soon followed, sparking off a mass exodus of
Gladstonian voters and candidates towards the Home Rule party. The
latter was attractively moderate in political terms, and firmly identified
with the tenant rights movement. As a consequence, by 1874 the Liberal
party, which had held 66 seats (out of 105), had been reduced to 10. By
contrast, Home Rule now occupied 60 (out of 103 â€“ two seats having
been disenfranchised).167 However, of these, about 30 were held either
by former Liberals who had changed colours, or by MPs who had been
elected for the first time and had similar allegiances.
As the previous two sections of the present chapter have shown, such
fundamental loyalties proved more resilient than election results would
suggest, and were shared by the non-revolutionary nationalists who sup-
ported Parnell after 1882. This post-liberal cultural environment was
ready for Gladstoneâ€™s conversion to Home Rule. Well before the
â€˜Hawarden Kiteâ€™ was flown by the Liberal leaderâ€™s son, Herbert, in
December 1885, it had repeatedly been rumoured that Gladstone was
â€˜secretlyâ€™ in favour of Home Rule. In March, commenting on Gladstoneâ€™s
manifesto to his Midlothian electors, the Freemanâ€™s Journal claimed to
detect â€˜between the lines of Mr Gladstoneâ€™s proclamation the restraining
hand of men who are behind himâ€™. The latter were animated by oppor-
tunistic considerations: â€˜It is obvious that the Liberal Party fears that in
the English Elections it would lose by an apparent yielding to the Home
Rule Party more than it would gain by conceding to Ireland her desire,
and that Mr Gladstone is held back from a more specific pronounciamiento
by that general and party loyalty.â€™168 Perhaps these expectations were not
Dublin Evening Mail, 11 Mar. 1869; cf. The Irish Times, 10 Mar. 1869, both quoted in
Thornley, Butt, 86. On coercion see Crossman, Politics, law and order, 114â€“52, 218â€“20.
P. J. Corish, â€˜Cardinal Cullen and the National Association of Irelandâ€™, in Reactions to
Irish Nationalism (1987), 163; Comerford, Fenians, 197â€“8.
L.a., FJ, 12 Mar. 1880, 4. Indeed, already in February 1880, in the Commons,
Gladstoneâ€™s speech upon the Obstruction Resolution had been cheered by the Irish
party, who interpreted it as â€˜the most weighty parliamentary pronouncement in favour of
the principle and spirit of the Home Rule causeâ€™ (FJ, 28 Feb. 1880, 4). Gladstone had
argued that Parliament was over-stretched and could not cope with the legislative
demands of the various parts of the empire. For sympathetic Nationalist attitudes to
Gladstone in 1880 cf. Callanan, Healy, 44.
Constitutional Nationalism and popular liberalism 143
unrelated to the enthusiastic reception accorded to Gladstone during his
second visit to Ireland, in August 1880. When he landed,
On the quay a considerable crowd had collected, by whom the Premier was
cheered. Rough working men, grey-haired priests, and railway porters came
forward and shook him by the hand, some of them crying out, â€˜You are a friend
to Ireland.â€™ . . . [After visiting Dublin] Mr Gladstone walked back to the station,
being greeted with great enthusiasm on the way. The station was crowded and so
was that at Kingstown, where the ticket collectors were too much engaged in
cheering, and waving their caps to attend to their business of taking tickets.169
Over the next few years these hopes, shared by Parnell himself in May
1882,170 were periodically strengthened by the Prime Ministerâ€™s son,
Herbert. In November 1882 the Freemanâ€™s Journal rightly sensed that a
conversion was taking place, and reported that â€˜in theory he is ready to
accept the idea of Self-Government for Ireland, so long as the supremacy
of the Imperial Parliament is maintainedâ€™.171 This was of course a con-
cession which moderate nationalists were only too eager to make. The
only thorny issue was the question of import duties. The Freemanâ€™s
claimed that the status of Australia and Canada (entailing control over
trade legislation) would be best for Ireland and compatible with the
principles of free trade, but that Ireland was prepared to forfeit its claims
in this area and accept a more limited autonomy, similar to the one
enjoyed by the states of the American Union.172
Speculations as to Gladstoneâ€™s â€˜secretâ€™ intentions continued over the
next few years. In January 1883, at a National League meeting in
Wexford, Herbert Gladstone was quoted as having said â€˜[t]hat the
British Government in its rule of Ireland was the worst government in
all Europeâ€™. How should such a statement be read? â€˜Mr Herbert
Gladstone was a very young man, but they had it on words of authority
that wisdom often comes from the mouth of babes; and he hoped that the
old man would take heed to the words of his son, and act on them.â€™173
About a month later, the Freemanâ€™s Journal devoted a lengthy commen-
tary to another speech by the GOMâ€™s son, in which he advocated full
representative equality for Ireland within the UK, but stopped short of
Home Rule and rejected separation as an option. Stressing the high
esteem in which both Herbert and his father were held by the Irish, the
Ti, 30 Aug. 1880, 8. 170 Cited in Moody, Davitt, 532.
L.a., FJ, 30 Nov. 1882, 4. See A. B. Cooke and J. R. Vincent, â€˜Herbert Gladstone,
Forster and Ireland (I)â€™, Irish Historical Studies, 17, 68 (1971), 526; and Irish Historical
Studies, 18, 69 (1973), 74â€“89.
L.a., FJ, 30 Nov. 1882, 4.
T. D. Sullivan, MP, cited in â€˜Meeting at Goreyâ€™, FJ, 8 Jan. 1883, 6.
144 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
editorialist pointed out that, in so far as constitutional government was
government by the majority of the people, and the majority of the Irish
wanted Home Rule, Home Rule was the only solution to the Irish ques-
tion. Herbert Gladstone
[was] avoiding the conclusions of his own premises. They do not lead to the
granting of separation, which the majority of the Irishmen does not demand, and
which, therefore, we reject with him. But they do lead to Home Rule, and to
Home Rule in its fullest as well as its fairest extent consistent with the integrity of
the Empire . . . If a people have the right to judge for themselves what is good for
them, and if they judge that to be Home Rule, then they should be let give Home
Rule a fair trial.174
It was against the background of such expectations and rumours, and
in the context of a long-standing Irish tradition of support for liberalism,
that the impact in Ireland of Gladstoneâ€™s adoption of Home Rule must be
seen. In 1884 the extension of the franchise added about half a million to
the Irish electorate, which now grew to about 700,000.175 At the ensuing
election, in the forty-nine contested elections outside Ulster the
Nationalist candidates were elected with 80 per cent of the popular vote
or more: Jeremiah Sheehan in East Kerry secured 3,069 votes to his
opponentâ€™s 30 and J. F. X. Oâ€™Brien in South Mayo received 4,953
to 75.176 Most of the newly elected Parnellites were resident in Ireland,
though less than one-half of them resided in the constituency to which
they were elected: in other words, many of them were â€˜partyâ€™ men, rather
than local politicians, the product of the double screen of clergy and party
managers which operated the selection.177 Socially they have been
described as representing the first Irish â€˜labourâ€™ party: they were farmers,
small tradesmen and provincial journalists. Only nine of them had uni-
versity education.178 Most were ardent nationalists and ex-Land
Leaguers or ex-Fenians, to such an extent that Cruise Oâ€™Brien has sug-
gested that â€˜[a] party composed of such men as these would, if it had
existed in 1881â€“2, have made the evolution into constitutionalism
L.a., FJ, 13 Feb. 1883, 4. For Herbert Gladstoneâ€™s vigorous disclaimer see his letter to
William Haley, dated 20 Feb. 1883, in William Haley Papers, NLI, MS 3905.
Shannon, Balfour, 18; K. T. Hoppen, Elections politics and society in Ireland, 1834â€“1885
Cruise Oâ€™Brien, Parnell and his Party, 150, n. 2.
Ibid., 157. Cf below, chapter 7.
Cruise Oâ€™Brien, Parnell and his Party, 154â€“5. After 1885, the party reverted to more
prosperous candidates (ibid., 269). For evidence of urban working-class support for the
Nationalists see rep., â€˜Workmenâ€™s clubâ€™, FJ, 4 Jan. 1886, 6 and speech by the Revd
Thomas Phelan, in rep., â€˜Demonstration in the Co. Kilkennyâ€™, FJ, 4 Jan. 1886, 6.
Constitutional Nationalism and popular liberalism 145
decidedly more difficult.â€™179 This can perhaps be borne in mind as we
assess the extent of Gladstoneâ€™s political achievement in converting
â€˜physical forceâ€™ people to parliamentary politics â€“ a success which com-
pares well with the â€˜conversionâ€™ between 1848 and 1868 of the
ex-Chartists to Liberalism.
It is not clear to what extent rank-and-file Nationalists had a view of the
first Home Rule Bill, but it is obvious that in their response to Gladstoneâ€™s
Bill they were deeply influenced by the leaders of the National party,180 as
well as by their tendency to react against the Conservatives. In this sense
the old claim that â€˜the Irish Question was an invention of British politi-
ciansâ€™181 is correct â€“ because they helped to polarize the terms of the
debate. In any case, from the beginning of 1886, Gladstoneâ€™s adoption of
Home Rule was celebrated at Nationalist meetings as the natural culmi-
nation of a long career of truly and consistently Liberal reforms, many of
which had benefited Ireland.182 However, the actual Home Rule Bill at
first received a mixed welcome,183 which only changed into outright
enthusiasm when people began to appreciate the difficulty of the political
situation in Parliament. Apparently, the Nationalists originally expected
that â€˜if the Grand Old Man were allowed to form a cabinet, he would
easily get over the kickers in the Liberal ranks who are now shying at
Home Rule, and once in power, if his Bill were accepted in Ireland, the
only obstacle to its passing would be the House of Lordsâ€™.184 A straight
constitutional struggle would then follow, with the Radicals â€˜mending or
endingâ€™ the Lords. In other words, the main problem was supposed to be
the nature of the Bill, which might not satisfy Irish demands, rather than
Gladstoneâ€™s ability to carry whatever Bill he chose to adopt. As a con-
sequence, the predominant initial feature in the popular response both in
Ireland and among the Irish in America focused on the intrinsic merits of
the Bills,185 which were limited and led some â€“ who had not forgotten the
Cruise Oâ€™Brien, Parnell and his Party, 156.
E.g. speech by Alfred Webb, MP, cited in rep., â€˜The National Leagueâ€™, FJ, 17 Mar.
D. G. Bayce, The Irish question and British politics, 1886â€“1996 (Basingstoke, 1996), 34.
Thomas Sexton, MP, and the Right Hon. T. D. Sullivan, Lord Mayor of Dublin, cited
in â€˜The Irish National Leagueâ€™, FJ, 3 Feb. 1886, 2. For more examples see reports of
branch meetings of the INL published regularly in United Ireland (6â€“7), especially
E.g. l.a., FJ, 9 Apr. 1886, 4. Cf. Loughlin, Gladstone, Appendix I, 293â€“4.
L.a., United Ireland, 2 Jan. 1886, 2.
Cf. T. M. Healy, MP, cited in rep., â€˜The National League: the Irish Billsâ€™ (a meeting of
the Central branch of the INL to comment upon the 1886 Bills), FJ, 21 Apr. 1886, 6;
and rep. â€˜Irish-American opinion of the measure of Home Rule â€“ Gladstoneâ€™s Bill
acceptableâ€™, FJ, 24 Apr. 1886, 6.
146 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
disappointments of 1870â€“3 and 1881â€“5 â€“ to warn that Gladstone was not
to be trusted.186
The question of taxation â€“ and, implicitly, free trade and protection of
Irish industry â€“ was an issue on which Nationalist opposition focused.
The â€˜revival of Irish industriesâ€™ had long been one of Parnellâ€™s most
cherished dreams.187 In 1886 his protectionist dream was echoed and
discussed by various speakers and newspapers.188 However, quite apart
from Liberal hostility to the very idea of protection, the latter was hardly
feasible given the fact that most Irish industries were concentrated in the
North-East, which was staunchly free trader. It is not clear whether
protection could ever have brought about industrialization in the South,
but in any case, the farmers showed no interest in subsidizing inefficient
Irish industries by paying higher prices for locally manufactured goods.