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Land Bills. ˜The passage of those measures, even through the House of
Commons, would have been of enormous advantage to the two coun-
tries,™ but, being ˜stabbed in the back™, the ˜Home Rule ministry™ had no
choice. ˜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 “
the disaster of a treacherous defeat in a Liberal House of Commons.™132

127
Lyons, ˜The machinery of the Irish parliamentary party™, 115.
128
As Campbell-Bannerman wrote to Rosebery on 8 Sep. 1893: Rosebery Papers, NLS,
MS 10002, 114“15.
129
A. Webb, cited in rep., ˜The conventions: Longford™, FJ, 10 July 1895, 5.
130
L.a.,˜Lord Rosebery and his colleagues™, FJ, 9 May 1895, 4.
131
M. Davitt to E. Blake, 19 Feb. 1894, NLI, Blake Letters, 4681.
132
L.a., ˜The resignation of the government™, FJ, 24 June 1895, 4; l.a., Cork Examiner,
25 June 1895, 4. For Morley™s popularity among the Irish see Heyck, Dimensions, 221“6.
Social radicalism and the ˜popular front™ 301

They blamed not Rosebery, but the Irish and Welsh ˜sectionalists™ “
namely Redmond, Healy and David Lloyd George “ and also, signifi-
cantly, ˜the socialists™ 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 ˜Chartist™ 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 ˜a practical scheme to give the labourers good houses and plots
of land at fair rents™.134 Sensitivity for the labourers™ vote was com-
pounded by a growing concern about the alienation from the constitu-
tional movement of the younger generation “ those who eventually
flocked to Sinn Fein135 “ 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 “ 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 O™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
Plunkett™s Recess Committee.138 Thus, in the Irish context land reform
made the Unionists the real ˜collectivists™ and, at the same time, took the


133
See speeches by A. Webb, MP and P. J. Power, MP, in ˜Nationalist convention in
Waterford™, FJ, 20 Apr. 1895, 5; and rep., ˜The East Wicklow election: vigorous
campaign of the Nationalists™, FJ, 22 Apr. 1895, 5.
134
G. J. Engldew (Nationalist candidate), in rep., ˜Kildare™, 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, ˜The National Agricultural Labourers™ Union in
Ireland™, 352).
135
F. Campbell, ˜The social dynamics of Nationalist politics in the west of Ireland,
1898“1918™, Past & Present, no. 182, (2004), 180“1; Silverman, An Irish working
class, 227.
136
O™Brien, William O™Brien, 97“8.
137
Rep., ˜Irish Land and Labour Association: meeting of Central Council™, Cork Examiner,
7 June 1895, 5.
138
O™Brien, William O™Brien, 102“3.
302 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

wind out of the Nationalist sails for a while, even if it failed to shake the
party™s hold on the Irish constituencies.
There were plenty of good reasons to be concerned about economic
problems. In 1896“7, for two consecutive years, the potato crop was
poor. By the end of 1897, at a time of growing economic distress,
O™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 ˜Chartist™ 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 1879“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 ˜middle
class™ consisting of people of various social backgrounds (including land-
owners and ˜strong™ 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
˜small western farmers were doomed to become the victims not the
victors of the ˜˜Land League revolution™™™.140 Such small farmers were
obliged to rent from the grazing ranches land for their cattle. O™Brien
demanded a redistribution of the grasslands for their benefit and for the
benefit of tillage farmers “ a class that by 1898 had come under pressure
in terms of either general hardship or ˜insecurity revived and exacerbated
by the sufferings of a relatively small minority™.141
The problem had been known for years, and in fact had already led to
outbursts of conflict between graziers and peasants in 1879“80 and after
1885.142 In 1895 some INF local branches had actually called for reform.


139
Boyle, ˜A marginal figure™, 320.
140
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, ˜Shopkeeper-graziers and land agita-
tion in Ireland, 1895“1900™, in P. J. Drudy (ed.), Ireland: land, politics and people (1982),
93“118; L. Kennedy, ˜Farmers, traders, and agricultural politics in pre-independence
Ireland™, in Clark and Donnelly, Irish peasants, 346“7.
141
P. Bull, ˜The formation of the United Irish League, 1898“1900: the dynamics of Irish
agrarian agitation™, Irish Historical Studies, 33, 132 (2003), 411.
142
Jones, ˜The cleavage between graziers and peasants™, 381.
Social radicalism and the ˜popular front™ 303

In 1896 O™Brien had unsuccessfully asked that powers of compulsory
purchase be given to the Congested District Board under that year™s Land
Bill. When nothing came of it, O™Brien, with the support of M. Davitt and
T. C. Harrison, established the UIL (January 1898), as a new tenants™
organization with the aim of breaking up the large grass farms. As Bew has
written, ˜[t]he agitation against the graziers explicitly opened the door to
the politics of envy in particular and socialism in general™.143 O™Brien™s
readiness to adopt a ˜class struggle™ 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. Russell™s plan (see
p. 295), the UIL spread from the west of Ireland to the rest of the country
by targeting not only the ˜grass-grabbers™, 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
unity.
After the 1895 electoral defeat “ which was acknowledged to be ˜com-
plete and absolute™144 “ 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 ˜ever-widening public recognition of the collapse of
morale within the parliamentary party™ which shifted the UIL towards a
more assertive strategy.146 There was talk of holding a National
Convention ˜to remove the present misunderstanding and consolidate
the Irish political movement both in and out of Parliament™.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


143
Bew, Conflict and conciliation, 41“2. 144 L.a., Cork Examiner, 29 July 1895, 4.
145
Bew, Conflict and conciliation, 46; Bull, ˜The formation of the United Irish League™, 405.
146
P. Bull, ˜The United Irish League™, 63.
147
Last resolution, cited in rep., ˜Kildare™, FJ, 9 July 1895, 6.
148
O™Brien, William O™Brien, 105“7; Bull, ˜The formation of the United Irish League™,
407“8, 411, 418; Shannon, Balfour, 134; Campbell, ˜Social dynamics™, 203“5.
149
O™Brien, William O™Brien, 108“12; Bull, ˜Reunion™, 76.
304 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

for both local and parliamentary elections bypassing the old cliques and
related animosities.150
The Claremorris (Co. Mayo) convention of January 1899 confirmed
that the UIL™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 O™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 1899“1900 contributed towards speeding
up the realignment; eventually the party was formally reunited “ but not
reformed “ at a meeting in the House of Commons on 30 January
1900.152

˜No voice at Hawarden™?
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 Gladstone™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


150
Bull, ˜The formation of the United Irish League™, 421.
151
Bew, Conflict and conciliation, 56.
152
ˇ
S. Paseta, ˜Nationalist responses to two royal visits to Ireland, 1900 and 1903™, Irish
Historical Studies, 31, 124 (1999), 489; Bull, ˜Reunion™, 67“8.
153
The election and the causes of the Liberal defeat are elegantly discussed in P. Readman,
˜The 1895 general election and political change in late Victorian Britain™, Historical
Journal, 42, 2 (1999), 467“93.
154
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.
155
Letter by E. Griffin, ˜Mr Alfred Thomas, MP, and his constituents™, Pontypridd
Chronicle, 18 Dec. 1891, 8.
Social radicalism and the ˜popular front™ 305

obtained satisfaction. But the rank and file were divided between those
overwhelmed by resentment and a sense of betrayal for Gladstone™s
inactivity,156 and those who continued to insist that ˜the GOM™s conduct
is such as to demand a reverence akin to worship from all true
Rad[ical]s™.157 The MPs considered setting up their own party and
adopting Parnellite tactics to remind ˜the phlegmatic Saxon™ that ˜Wales
[can also] block the way™.158 Despite his initial reservations about Irish
Home Rule, even Lloyd George accepted that only a ˜National
Parliament™ could solve the Welsh question in all its facets, including
disestablishment, land reform, education and that, therefore, ˜all our
demands for reform ought to be concentrated in one general agitation
for National Self-Government™,159 which was ˜the way whereby all social
evils in Wales would be cured™.160 However, throughout the period from
1890 ˜[the] real and only question [was] this. Can Wales venture to say
like Italy ˜˜Italia fara [sic, sc. fara] da se.™™ Can Wales accomplish alone &
`
unaided & in defiance of her friends as well as her opponents her own
deliverance?™161 On the whole, the answer was in the negative: ˜The only
reason why Wales had not had her own way in this matter . . . was simply
because she was a comparatively small nationality.™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 George™s strategy involved the permeation, not the
destruction, of the Liberal party. By 1895 he believed that ˜[the] Liberal
organizations [had] been captured already by Welsh Nationalism™,164
although he would have been more accurate to say that ˜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 equality™.165

156
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.
157
W. R. Davies to T. E. Ellis, 1 Aug. 1893, in Ellis MSS, 2304. For Gladstone™s 1891
views see rep., ˜Great speech by Mr Gladstone™, The Scottish Highlander, 8 Oct. 1891, 2.
158
L. a., ˜Mr Gladstone and the Welsh party™, Pontypridd Chronicle, 24 Feb. 1893, 5, and

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