Commons, would have been of enormous advantage to the two coun-
tries,â€™ but, being â€˜stabbed in the backâ€™, the â€˜Home Rule ministryâ€™ had no
choice. â€˜By resigning at this stage they have saved the cause of religious
freedom in Wales and the cause of Irish Land Reform one disaster at least â€“
the disaster of a treacherous defeat in a Liberal House of Commons.â€™132
Lyons, â€˜The machinery of the Irish parliamentary partyâ€™, 115.
As Campbell-Bannerman wrote to Rosebery on 8 Sep. 1893: Rosebery Papers, NLS,
MS 10002, 114â€“15.
A. Webb, cited in rep., â€˜The conventions: Longfordâ€™, FJ, 10 July 1895, 5.
L.a.,â€˜Lord Rosebery and his colleaguesâ€™, FJ, 9 May 1895, 4.
M. Davitt to E. Blake, 19 Feb. 1894, NLI, Blake Letters, 4681.
L.a., â€˜The resignation of the governmentâ€™, FJ, 24 June 1895, 4; l.a., Cork Examiner,
25 June 1895, 4. For Morleyâ€™s popularity among the Irish see Heyck, Dimensions, 221â€“6.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 301
They blamed not Rosebery, but the Irish and Welsh â€˜sectionalistsâ€™ â€“
namely Redmond, Healy and David Lloyd George â€“ and also, signifi-
cantly, â€˜the socialistsâ€™ and Keir Hardie in particular.
This concern for the socialist challenge in Britain corresponded to a
revival of the awareness in Ireland of the political importance of both farm
labourers and town workers. The Federationists had traditionally cam-
paigned on the â€˜Chartistâ€™ assumption that the necessary prerequisite for
social reform was political democracy.133 This could easily become an
excuse to neglect social reform. However, when the election came, they
felt they needed to make some gesture to appease the farm workers and
promised â€˜a practical scheme to give the labourers good houses and plots
of land at fair rentsâ€™.134 Sensitivity for the labourersâ€™ vote was com-
pounded by a growing concern about the alienation from the constitu-
tional movement of the younger generation â€“ those who eventually
flocked to Sinn Fein135 â€“ as well as about the general public apathy
which produced a drop of about 70 per cent in the combined membership
of the main Federationist and Redmondite organizations by 1894.136
In the following years, the impotence of the Liberals and the ongoing
splits in the Nationalist camp encouraged the formation of associations
which eschewed party politics, but focused on specific measures â€“ such as
the reform of the franchise for the election of Poor Law boards and the
extension to Ireland of the allotment clause of the Parish Councils Act.137
From as early as 1891 William Oâ€™Brien had been working with the
Congested District Board, both contributing to several projects and
starting some himself. This co-operation continued after 1895, while
T. C. Harrington, Redmond and others liaised even with the Grand
Master of the Belfast Orangemen and Unionist peers in Horace
Plunkettâ€™s Recess Committee.138 Thus, in the Irish context land reform
made the Unionists the real â€˜collectivistsâ€™ and, at the same time, took the
See speeches by A. Webb, MP and P. J. Power, MP, in â€˜Nationalist convention in
Waterfordâ€™, FJ, 20 Apr. 1895, 5; and rep., â€˜The East Wicklow election: vigorous
campaign of the Nationalistsâ€™, FJ, 22 Apr. 1895, 5.
G. J. Engldew (Nationalist candidate), in rep., â€˜Kildareâ€™, FJ, 9 July 1895, 6. The Irish
farm workers constituted one of the most neglected and economically depressed social
groups in the United Kingdom (Horn, â€˜The National Agricultural Labourersâ€™ Union in
F. Campbell, â€˜The social dynamics of Nationalist politics in the west of Ireland,
1898â€“1918â€™, Past & Present, no. 182, (2004), 180â€“1; Silverman, An Irish working
Oâ€™Brien, William Oâ€™Brien, 97â€“8.
Rep., â€˜Irish Land and Labour Association: meeting of Central Councilâ€™, Cork Examiner,
7 June 1895, 5.
Oâ€™Brien, William Oâ€™Brien, 102â€“3.
302 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
wind out of the Nationalist sails for a while, even if it failed to shake the
partyâ€™s hold on the Irish constituencies.
There were plenty of good reasons to be concerned about economic
problems. In 1896â€“7, for two consecutive years, the potato crop was
poor. By the end of 1897, at a time of growing economic distress,
Oâ€™Brien realized that the time was ripe for a resumption of the land
campaign as a means of renewing Nationalist agitation: material distress
could be linked, in the minds of voters, with the political and constitu-
tional dimension. In this respect the Federationist â€˜Chartistâ€™ electoral
strategy was fundamentally correct. In order to make it work, however,
it was necessary to re-establish the link with the grass-roots and revive
popular enthusiasm. In 1879â€“82 the land agitation began among the
smallholders of Mayo, although subsequently Davitt and Parnell mobi-
lized the farmers who were better off. This time an opportunity was
provided, again, by the grievances of the tenants and labourers of
Mayo, Roscommon and Galway. They scraped a bare existence on
reclaimed bogs on the margins of vast grasslands let to graziers, and
often integrated their meagre earnings with the wages they earned as
seasonal migrants.139 By contrast the graziers formed a new â€˜middle
classâ€™ consisting of people of various social backgrounds (including land-
owners and â€˜strongâ€™ farmers, but also Catholic priests, retired policemen
and shopkeepers), often actively involved in Nationalist politics: after all,
from the 1880s Nationalism had relied on the rural middle class and the
â€˜small western farmers were doomed to become the victims not the
victors of the â€˜â€˜Land League revolutionâ€™â€™â€™.140 Such small farmers were
obliged to rent from the grazing ranches land for their cattle. Oâ€™Brien
demanded a redistribution of the grasslands for their benefit and for the
benefit of tillage farmers â€“ a class that by 1898 had come under pressure
in terms of either general hardship or â€˜insecurity revived and exacerbated
by the sufferings of a relatively small minorityâ€™.141
The problem had been known for years, and in fact had already led to
outbursts of conflict between graziers and peasants in 1879â€“80 and after
1885.142 In 1895 some INF local branches had actually called for reform.
Boyle, â€˜A marginal figureâ€™, 320.
Bew, Conflict and conciliation, 36; for the social composition of the graziers see also
pp. 41, 86 and M. D. Higgins and J. P. Gibbons, â€˜Shopkeeper-graziers and land agita-
tion in Ireland, 1895â€“1900â€™, in P. J. Drudy (ed.), Ireland: land, politics and people (1982),
93â€“118; L. Kennedy, â€˜Farmers, traders, and agricultural politics in pre-independence
Irelandâ€™, in Clark and Donnelly, Irish peasants, 346â€“7.
P. Bull, â€˜The formation of the United Irish League, 1898â€“1900: the dynamics of Irish
agrarian agitationâ€™, Irish Historical Studies, 33, 132 (2003), 411.
Jones, â€˜The cleavage between graziers and peasantsâ€™, 381.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 303
In 1896 Oâ€™Brien had unsuccessfully asked that powers of compulsory
purchase be given to the Congested District Board under that yearâ€™s Land
Bill. When nothing came of it, Oâ€™Brien, with the support of M. Davitt and
T. C. Harrison, established the UIL (January 1898), as a new tenantsâ€™
organization with the aim of breaking up the large grass farms. As Bew has
written, â€˜[t]he agitation against the graziers explicitly opened the door to
the politics of envy in particular and socialism in generalâ€™.143 Oâ€™Brienâ€™s
readiness to adopt a â€˜class struggleâ€™ approach, irrespective of established
Nationalist allegiances, proved very successful, and by October the UIL
had already established 53 branches (at the time the INF had 221 and the
Redmondite INL only 6). After espousing T. W. Russellâ€™s plan (see
p. 295), the UIL spread from the west of Ireland to the rest of the country
by targeting not only the â€˜grass-grabbersâ€™, but also the landowners.
Ruthlessly adopting semi-lawful and illegal practices like boycotting and
intimidation, the UIL rapidly acquired a higher profile since it was
increasingly seen as the response to popular demands for Nationalist
After the 1895 electoral defeat â€“ which was acknowledged to be â€˜com-
plete and absoluteâ€™144 â€“ the question of reunification had become para-
mount and for the founders of the UIL was one of the aims from the
start.145 It was the â€˜ever-widening public recognition of the collapse of
morale within the parliamentary partyâ€™ which shifted the UIL towards a
more assertive strategy.146 There was talk of holding a National
Convention â€˜to remove the present misunderstanding and consolidate
the Irish political movement both in and out of Parliamentâ€™.147 From
1898 this demand was effectively voiced not only by UIL branches but
also by popularly elected authorities which had started to provide a forum
for hitherto marginalized social groups, in a pre-run of a generational and
social revolution which was to take shape on a larger and more dramatic
scale twenty years later.148 In this context the UIL continued to grow
rapidly, with 279 branches in August 1899, 462 by the spring of 1900 and
758 by November of that year.149 Each branch was self-governing, and
membership was open to Parnellites and anti-Parnellites alike. Both
provisos were important, because the UIL started to pre-select candidates
Bew, Conflict and conciliation, 41â€“2. 144 L.a., Cork Examiner, 29 July 1895, 4.
Bew, Conflict and conciliation, 46; Bull, â€˜The formation of the United Irish Leagueâ€™, 405.
P. Bull, â€˜The United Irish Leagueâ€™, 63.
Last resolution, cited in rep., â€˜Kildareâ€™, FJ, 9 July 1895, 6.
Oâ€™Brien, William Oâ€™Brien, 105â€“7; Bull, â€˜The formation of the United Irish Leagueâ€™,
407â€“8, 411, 418; Shannon, Balfour, 134; Campbell, â€˜Social dynamicsâ€™, 203â€“5.
Oâ€™Brien, William Oâ€™Brien, 108â€“12; Bull, â€˜Reunionâ€™, 76.
304 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
for both local and parliamentary elections bypassing the old cliques and
The Claremorris (Co. Mayo) convention of January 1899 confirmed
that the UILâ€™s focus had shifted from land redistribution to parliamentary
politics. The path towards Nationalist reunification was now open. In
order to facilitate this development, more than a hundred graziers
claimed to be willing to give up some of their land on certain terms;
although this move left agrarian militants sceptical, it was welcomed by
the leadership.151 However, while Oâ€™Brien, Dillon and Blake hoped that
the UIL would be able to impose unification from below, the initiative soon
fell into the hands of Redmond and Healy, whose negotiations for a
reunification of the parliamentary party forced the others to join in. The
momentum created by the centennial celebrations of the rising of 1798
and the pro-Boer sentiment in 1899â€“1900 contributed towards speeding
up the realignment; eventually the party was formally reunited â€“ but not
reformed â€“ at a meeting in the House of Commons on 30 January
â€˜No voice at Hawardenâ€™?
Not only in Ireland, but also in Britain the 1895 election was important in
clearing the air.153 It brought to an end a cycle which had started in 1886.
The case of sectionalism in Wales is in this respect interesting. From the
beginning of the 1890s Gladstoneâ€™s unwillingness to act on disestablish-
ment began to test the loyalty of the Welsh Liberals.154 To the horror of
the local branches of the Irish Land League, the cohesion of the Home
Rule alliance began to disintegrate into single-issue faddism,155 as the
pressure groups which had supported the campaign, tired of Ireland
dominating the Liberal agenda, started to prioritize their own specific
concerns and threatened to rebel against the leadership unless they
Bull, â€˜The formation of the United Irish Leagueâ€™, 421.
Bew, Conflict and conciliation, 56.
S. Paseta, â€˜Nationalist responses to two royal visits to Ireland, 1900 and 1903â€™, Irish
Historical Studies, 31, 124 (1999), 489; Bull, â€˜Reunionâ€™, 67â€“8.
The election and the causes of the Liberal defeat are elegantly discussed in P. Readman,
â€˜The 1895 general election and political change in late Victorian Britainâ€™, Historical
Journal, 42, 2 (1999), 467â€“93.
Montgomeryshire Liberal Association, copy of resolution adopted at the Annual
Meeting of the Council, 2 June 1890, in NLW, Stuart Rendel Papers, 19446E, V4;
see also Montgomeryshire Central Liberal Association, 12 June 1890, ibid., 19448B, vii,
3, and L. D. Roberts to T. E. Ellis, 25 Oct. 1890, in NLW, T. E. Ellis MSS, 1806.
Letter by E. Griffin, â€˜Mr Alfred Thomas, MP, and his constituentsâ€™, Pontypridd
Chronicle, 18 Dec. 1891, 8.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 305
obtained satisfaction. But the rank and file were divided between those
overwhelmed by resentment and a sense of betrayal for Gladstoneâ€™s
inactivity,156 and those who continued to insist that â€˜the GOMâ€™s conduct
is such as to demand a reverence akin to worship from all true
Rad[ical]sâ€™.157 The MPs considered setting up their own party and
adopting Parnellite tactics to remind â€˜the phlegmatic Saxonâ€™ that â€˜Wales
[can also] block the wayâ€™.158 Despite his initial reservations about Irish
Home Rule, even Lloyd George accepted that only a â€˜National
Parliamentâ€™ could solve the Welsh question in all its facets, including
disestablishment, land reform, education and that, therefore, â€˜all our
demands for reform ought to be concentrated in one general agitation
for National Self-Governmentâ€™,159 which was â€˜the way whereby all social
evils in Wales would be curedâ€™.160 However, throughout the period from
1890 â€˜[the] real and only question [was] this. Can Wales venture to say
like Italy â€˜â€˜Italia fara [sic, sc. fara] da se.â€™â€™ Can Wales accomplish alone &
unaided & in defiance of her friends as well as her opponents her own
deliverance?â€™161 On the whole, the answer was in the negative: â€˜The only
reason why Wales had not had her own way in this matter . . . was simply
because she was a comparatively small nationality.â€™162 As a consequence
even in 1895 Irish Home Rule and the alliance with the English Liberals
remained close to the top of the political agenda of many Welsh radicals,
as a matter of both expediency and principle.163
Thus Lloyd Georgeâ€™s strategy involved the permeation, not the
destruction, of the Liberal party. By 1895 he believed that â€˜[the] Liberal
organizations [had] been captured already by Welsh Nationalismâ€™,164
although he would have been more accurate to say that â€˜the voice of
Wales is the voice of the Liberal party in all questions except those matters
in which . . . she is called on to be a pioneer viz. the question of Home
Rule & that of religious equalityâ€™.165
See two telegrams of protest from Welsh radicals to T. E. Ellis, dated 17 Feb. 1893, in
NLW, Ellis MSS, 2975, and resolution passed by the Carmarthenshire and
Cardiganshire Welsh Baptist Association, 3 Aug. 1893, in NLW, T. E. Ellis MSS, 168.
W. R. Davies to T. E. Ellis, 1 Aug. 1893, in Ellis MSS, 2304. For Gladstoneâ€™s 1891
views see rep., â€˜Great speech by Mr Gladstoneâ€™, The Scottish Highlander, 8 Oct. 1891, 2.
L. a., â€˜Mr Gladstone and the Welsh partyâ€™, Pontypridd Chronicle, 24 Feb. 1893, 5, and