price of Irish agricultural products were widespread, but were usually
accompanied by a prescription for purely agrarian solutions: namely,
adequate reductions in the rents and land reform.189 The latter was
consistent with the Nationalist message of unity across the class divide;
by contrast, agricultural protection would alienate urban consumers and
workers, who supported the free importation of cheap American
This and other problems â€“ such as the control of the constabulary â€“
would have been more controversial had it not been for the rapid deteri-
oration of the parliamentary prospects of Home Rule in any form or
shape. The split in the Liberal party, the resolute hostility of the
Amendment by Mr John McEvoy to the (pro-Gladstone) resolution proposed by
C. Dennehy, in rep., â€˜The Dublin Corporation and Home Ruleâ€™, FJ, 15 Feb. 1886,
2. Significantly, this amendment obtained only four votes out of forty. In a private
conversation with McCarthy, Parnell said, â€˜he [was] sure we shall be able to accept
Gladstones [sic] scheme as a complete settlement of the Home Rule Questionâ€™
(J. Mccarthy to Rose C. M. Praed, n.d. [March 1886], c. two weeks before the introduc-
tion of the first Home Rule Bill, NLI, MS 24,958 (5)).
Strauss, Irish nationalism and British democracy, 174; Kennedy, â€˜Economic thoughtâ€™,
185. In 1882 a meeting at Ballylinan adopted a resolution aimed at encouraging â€˜native
industryâ€™ by purchasing â€˜nothing that has not been manufactured in Irelandâ€™: rep.,
â€˜Mr R. Lalor, MP, and Mr A. Oâ€™Connor, MPâ€™, FJ, 23 Oct. 1882, 6.
Sir Thomas Esmonde, MP, cited in FJ, 4 Jan. 1886, 6; â€˜The influence of an Irish
Parliament on Irish industries: a lecture by Mr Charles Dawsonâ€™, FJ, 5 Jan. 1886, 6;
cf. United Ireland, 2 Jan. 1886, 6.
Speech by the Very Revd N. Keena, PP, in rep., â€˜Sheriffâ€™s sale at Kellsâ€™, FJ, 4 Jan. 1886,
6. After the Parnell split and in the run up to the 1892 election, the Nationalists tended
to emphasize the extent to which the Bank of Ireland regarded the prospect of a Home
Rule victory with equanimity: no surprises, â€˜business as usualâ€™ seemed to be the
Nationalist approach to financial matters: l.a., FJ, 16 July 1892, 4.
Rep., â€˜The City of Dublin Workingmenâ€™s Clubâ€™, FJ, 16 Feb. 1883, 4.
Constitutional Nationalism and popular liberalism 147
Conservatives and the dramatic struggle in Parliament ensured that
popular debate shifted rapidly from details to general principles, and
from rational analysis to the emotional assertion of moral imperatives.
To some extent this â€˜chain reactionâ€™ followed a pattern reminiscent of
English responses to the 1866â€“7 Reform crisis: at that time working-class
radicals had rallied round the doomed Reform Bill introduced by Russell
and Gladstone more for the principles at stake and to affirm their own
â€˜respectabilityâ€™, than out of any commitment to the Bill as such.191 In
1886 the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists did for the Home Rule Bill
what the Tories and Liberal â€˜Adullamitesâ€™ had done for the Reform Bill
twenty years before: they converted a moderate proposal into a symbol, a
touchstone and the solution to the Irish question. In Ireland the GOM
began to be represented in ways reminiscent of the hero worship lavished
on him by British working-class radicals in 1864â€“7, as the first statesman
to protest against â€˜the whole system of exaggeration and caricature
directed . . . towards the Irish characterâ€™,192 the emancipator of â€˜humble
â€˜â€˜working [men]â€™â€™ â€™ whom the Conservatives had declared â€˜incompetent
and unworthy to enjoy the benefit of the Franchiseâ€™.193 With their denun-
ciations of the Liberal leader, in 1886 Salisbury, Hartington and
Chamberlain, more than anyone or anything else, persuaded Irish
Nationalist opinion that Gladstone was, indeed, their liberator.
In June the inauguration of the new Midlothian campaign was cele-
brated by United Ireland in an article entitled â€˜Mr Gladstoneâ€™s departure
for the frontâ€™.194 By then the GOM seemed to have overtaken even
Parnell as the new recipient of popular adulation in both Ireland and
America. Two of the three resolutions of sympathy forwarded by
â€˜Chicago citizens in mass meeting assembledâ€™ praised the Prime
Minister and â€˜the services rendered by him to liberty and humanityâ€™.
His ability â€˜to overcome prejudice . . . and his manifest desire to undo
the wrongs and remove the dissensionsâ€™ between Ireland and Britain â€˜do
honour not only to his head and heart, but also to the nation and the age of
which he is so conspicuous a citizen and leaderâ€™.195 He was the friend of
the people who did not consider personal costs when â€˜justice and truthâ€™
were at stake. A leading article in the Freemanâ€™s Journal compared
Gladstone to â€˜the resolute hero of the â€˜â€˜Pilgrimâ€™s Progressâ€™â€™ [who] will
Biagini, Liberty, 257â€“64.
T. M. Healy, MP, cited in â€˜The Irish National Leagueâ€™, FJ, 6 May 1886, 6.
James Woods, a working man, in a letter to Gladstone enclosed with his pamphlet on
Ancient and Modern Sketches of the County of Westmeath, Dublin, 1890. The letter was not
dated. St Deiniolâ€™s Library, Hawarden, â€˜Pamphlets on Irelandâ€™, 5/D/10.
United Ireland, 17 June 1886, 1.
Cited in rep., â€˜American sympathy with Home Ruleâ€™, FJ, 5 June 1886, 5.
148 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
push on, undaunted by difficultiesâ€™.196 At the end of April â€˜the
Archbishop and clergy of the archdiocese of Cashel and Emly, in
Conference assembledâ€™ produced a powerful endorsement of the GOM,
shaped along similarly Bunyanesque lines:
We . . . desire to express our deep sense of gratitude to the Right Hon. William
Ewart Gladstone . . . for the many signal services he has from time to time
rendered to our country during his distinguished career as a statesman, notably
for the disestablishment of the Protestant Church, for the Land and Franchise
Acts, and, in general, for the great and abiding interest he has for many years
evinced in everything that could tend to the progress and pacification of Ireland.
But at this, perhaps the most critical period of our history, we feel called upon to
declare, in a very special manner, that we have been profoundly moved by the
heroic fortitude, the utter forgetfulness of self, and the fearless devotion to high
principle which he has manifested by the framing of those measures for the better
government of Ireland quite recently proposed by him and read a first time under
his auspices in the House of Commons.197
This â€˜politics of martyrdomâ€™ culminated with the election of 1886.
As Callanan has written, â€˜[t]he Liberal-nationalist alliance was sealed as
much by the defeat of Gladstoneâ€™s home rule bill as by its introduction . . .
the eclat of Gladstoneâ€™s embrace of home rule was perpetuated through a
sentimental solidarity in defeat.â€™ After the election â€˜[a] sense of unre-
quited moral purpose suffused what had been a parliamentary alliance to
achieve a defined endâ€™.198 To Healy, Gladstone â€˜appeared to unite in his
person a timeless integrity with modern enlightenmentâ€™.199 His enthusiasm
for the GOM was echoed all over the country. Nationalist agitators and
MPs, travelling by train to a demonstration at Nenagh (Co. Tipperary)
in January 1887 were met â€˜at the different stations after Ballybrophy . . . by
large crowds of people who cheered repeatedly for the members of the Irish
party, Mr Gladstone, and the Plan of Campaignâ€™.200 In October the
Freemanâ€™s Journal referred to
This veteran statesman, whose name and work reflect so much lustre upon the
Empire to which his genius has been devoted, has all but completed his fourscore
years, and yet the series of wonderful speeches which he has delivered during the
present week . . . are a perfect marvel of keen, masterful, and enthusiastic intellec-
tual force. His almost unequal [sic] abilities are a tower of strength to any party,
but the whole man, as he stands to-day, great alike in his unconquerable vitality,
L.a., FJ, 16 Feb. 1886, 4.
â€˜The Archbishop and clergy of Cashel and the Prime Ministerâ€™, FJ, 30 Apr. 1886, 5. Cf.
rep., â€˜The hierarchy, clergy and people, and coercionâ€™, FJ, 13 Apr. 1887, 6.
Callanan, Healy, 232. 199 Ibid., 233.
Rep., â€˜Magnificent demonstration at Nenaghâ€™, FJ, 7 Jan. 1887, 2.
Constitutional Nationalism and popular liberalism 149
and in the brilliant record of the service which he has rendered to his country,
lends an inspiring and consecrating spirit to the cause which he espouses.201
While Hawarden became â€˜a sort of Mecca or Lourdesâ€™ for the
Nationalists, the GOM was eulogized by his Irish supporters in terms
which even his most enthusiastic constituents in Midlothian might have
found extravagant: Davitt noted that â€˜Gloria Gladstone in Excelsisâ€™
seemed to be the text of the new Nationalist anthem.202 Enthusiasm for
the GOM rebounded on his supporters and backbenchers. In September,
English and Scottish Liberal party delegates visiting Ireland were given a
triumphal welcome in both Dublin and the provinces.203 Earlier, in
August, there had been popular demonstrations, including public
speeches and processions, in Limerick, Mitchelstown and Kanturk, Co.
Cork, to celebrate the news that the Liberal candidate had won the
Nantwich by-election, in Cheshire. In Kanturk â€˜the band of the town
turned out and played through the streets. Quite a demonstration was
made, and much enthusiasm and rejoicing was manifested at these
As early as December 1885 Healy had claimed that the Liberal partyâ€™s
adoption of Home Rule would ensure that the Nationalists â€˜would regard
[themselves] as member [sic] of the Liberal partyâ€™.205 Now his prophecy
was almost literally fulfilled: Liberals and Nationalists shared a constitu-
tional programme, an interpretation of the Irish past and a vision of the
empireâ€™s future which was to be spearheaded by â€˜the great combined
movement of Liberalism and Irish nationalityâ€™.206 According to Alan
Oâ€™Day, Justin McCarthy was â€˜a genuine Gladstonianâ€™ by August
1886,207 and Healy had acquired a similar reputation.208 Michael Hurst
L.a., FJ, 21 Oct. 1887, 4. 202 Callanan, Healy, 232, 234.
See rep., â€˜Visit of the English delegates to Tralee: great demonstration en route:
enthusiastic reception in the capital of the Kingdomâ€™, Cork Examiner, 20 Sep. 1887, 3;
and rep., â€˜The Scotch delegates in Corkâ€™, ibid., 25 Sep. 1887, 2.
Rep., â€˜The great victory in Nortwichâ€™, Cork Examiner, 18 Aug. 1887, 2; for
Mitchelstownâ€™s reaction see ibid., 17 Aug. 1887, 3.
Cited in Callanan, Healy, 139. As early as 1882 rumours to that same effect had been
circulated by Captain Oâ€™Shea, who claimed to be speaking on Parnellâ€™s behalf in the run-
up to the â€˜Kilmainham Treatyâ€™: T. Wemyss Reid, The life of the Rt Hon. W. E. Forster,
2 vols. (1888; 1970 edn), vol. II, 437.
L.a., Cork Examiner, 1 Jan. 1887, 2.
Oâ€™Day, Parnell and the first Home Rule episode, 210. Before becoming a Nationalist
MP, McCarthy had worked as a London Liberal journalist and author of popular
history books. For the development of his attitude to Gladstone see McCarthy to Rose
C. M. Praed, n.d.[February (?) 1886], NLI, MS 24,958 (5) and McCarthy to Rose
C. M. Praed, 23 Apr. 1888: â€˜Gladstone made a splendid speech, magnificent in voice,
magnificent in his advanced and advancing Radicalism.â€™
Cited in Callanan, Healy, 351.
150 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
has suggested that Parnell himself had become â€˜if not a Liberal, then an
Irish nationalist deviously striving to maintain synchronised beats in the
Union of Heartsâ€™.209 While in 1874â€“5 Isaac Butt and several other Home
Rulers had refused to join Liberal clubs as they had perceived member-
ship to be â€˜a breach of the Home Rule pledgeâ€™,210 in the aftermath of the
1886 election Parnell, the two Redmonds and thirty-three other
Nationalist MPs joined the National Liberal Club.211 The 1887 Parnell
banquet at the National Liberal Club was described by the Freemanâ€™s
unique in the history of the two countries. It gives the social seal . . . to the political
friendliness of the Liberal and the Irish parties in Parliament; it typifies the kindly
and ardent feeling which has sprung up between the two peoples as the first fruit of
Mr Gladstoneâ€™s great policy, and it is the symbol of the union of heart which is the
object of that policy to substitute for the union of force which has been so long the
scandal of England and the degradation of Ireland.212
This apotheosis of the â€˜Union of Heartsâ€™ was repeated the following
year, when the National Reform Union gave a banquet in honour of the
so-called â€˜Balfourâ€™s criminalsâ€™ â€“ Nationalists imprisoned under the
Coercion Act â€“ in the Manchester Free Trade Hall.213 As we have seen
in the previous chapter, this banquet was a joint Liberalâ€“Nationalist act of
defiance against Unionist coercion. The latter had played a considerable
role in consolidating pro-Liberal feelings among the Nationalists, as
much as it had helped the Liberals in Britain to sympathize with
Parnellâ€™s party and Home Rule. Newspaper reports projected the image
of a popular struggle for the restoration of constitutional rights. They
described police heavy-handedness in the impossible task of preventing
demonstrations and speeches, and clashes between constables and
crowds. The latter, under the leadership of Irish Nationalist and British
Liberal MPs, with the blessing of the parish clergy, insisted on the right of
public meeting, and stood by the Liberal interpretation of â€˜the constitu-
tionâ€™.214 The government had allegedly adopted â€˜Peterlooâ€™ methods,
alluding to the 1817 â€˜massacreâ€™ of peaceful demonstrators: meetings,
platforms and squares were cleared by force, with MPs, journalists,
Hurst, â€˜Parnell in the spectrum of nationalismsâ€™, 97. 210 Thornley, Butt, 217.
Cruise Oâ€™Brien, Parnell and his Party, 331. On the other hand, a number of Liberal MPs
joined the (by then officially suppressed) INL (ibid., 209). The tradition continued after
the split: see receipt for membership subscription in Edward Blakeâ€™s Papers, NLI, ,
4685. The receipt is undated, but Blake was first elected to the House of Commons in
L.a., FJ, 21 July 1887, 4. 213 See the commentary in l.a., FJ, 15 Mar. 1888, 4.
Rep., â€˜Large assemblies dispersed: the police let loose on the people: bayonet and baton
charges . . .â€™, FJ, 9 Apr. 1888, 5.
Constitutional Nationalism and popular liberalism 151
town â€˜notablesâ€™ and Catholic priests occasionally being beaten up in the
process. Eventually, in 1887, the Mitchelstown â€˜massacreâ€™ â€“ when the
police fired on the crowd after an unsuccessful attempt to disperse a
meeting â€“ brought about almost a latter-day repetition of Peterloo. We
have already seen the response in Britain. In Ireland the public outcry was
enormous, and the actions of the police and the Balfour administration
denounced as the ultimate expression of â€˜the system of [government]
terrorism which existed in this countryâ€™.215 That even in the days of
Mitchelstown the Nationalist leaders, priests and press consistently con-
demned agrarian outrages and â€˜moonlightingâ€™,216 while Balfour was
defending police violence, further emphasized the crisis of legitimacy
experienced by Dublin Castle.
However, the fact that the Liberal party was up in arms against
this â€˜shocking result of the Governmentâ€™s interference with the right of
public meetingâ€™,217 created the feeling that constitutional strategies were
really working. The old sense of isolation â€“ based on the impression that
Ireland had to fend for itself and could count on no friends in Britain â€“
had gone, and with it the residual legitimacy of revolutionary nationalism.
All over the United Kingdom it was a battle of â€˜masses against classesâ€™,
of â€˜[t]he democracies of Great Britain and Ireland . . . now for the first
time fighting shoulder to shoulderâ€™, against aristocratic privilege and
â€˜Tory despotismâ€™. The government had to reckon â€˜not with the Irish
people merely, but with the masses in England as wellâ€™.218 The credit
for this new situation was given to Gladstone, who had masterminded the