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Hutchinson-The Dynamics of Cultural Nationalism the Gaelic Revival and the Creation of the Irish Nation State


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Cover title: The Dynamics of Cultural Nationalism : The Gaelic Revival and the Creation of the Irish Nation State author: Hutchinson, John. publisher: Taylor & Francis Routledge isbn10 | asin: 0043202047 print isbn13: 9780043202043 ebook isbn13: 9780203232200 language: English subject Ireland--Intellectual life, Nationalism--Ireland--History, Civilization, Celtic, Ireland--Politics and government--20th century, National characteristics, Irish, Politics and culture--Ireland. publication date: 1987 lcc: DA925.H88 1987eb ddc: 941.508 subject: Ireland--Intellectual life, Nationalism--Ireland--History, Civilization, Celtic, Ireland--Politics and government--20th century, National characteristics, Irish, Politics and culture--Ireland.


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that was fundamental to the definition of the Irish nation. One was Douglas Hyde, President of the Gaelic League, who, first as a folklorist and poet, and then as a propagandist, had devoted his life to the revival of Ireland’s fading Gaelic heritage, now preserved only by the western peasantry. The other was John Dillon, a future leader of the Irish parliamentary party, who for more than forty years had fought to regain Ireland’s parliamentary independence from Britain, and thereby secure a place for Ireland among the modern nations of the world. The issue on which they differed was the status of the Irish language in the Irish educational system, and in particular whether the language should be compulsory for matriculation at the newly established National University. Dillon, although sympathetic to the language, thought it should not. For him the index of full nationality was national self-government, and he feared that an overzealous promotion of the Irish language would, by dividing Protestants and Catholics, Irish and English speakers, detract from a united political campaign to wrest this from the British government (Lyons, 1968, pp. 305–8). Hyde, in contrast, although in private a supporter of Irish self-government, saw the Irish language as the life-line of that ancient Gaelic civilization that alone justified Irish claims to a historic nationality. He favoured compulsion. The division between Hyde and Dillon was, therefore, more than one of nuance. It was a classic confrontation between the cultural and the political nationalist, so often repeated in the history of national movements. The aim of Hyde as a cultural nationalist was to preserve the cultural individuality of the Irish nation, now threatened with anglicization. Only by returning to their unique history and culture could Irish men and women


Page 10 decay and regeneration in competitive interaction with a world of similar groups. For the revivalist, the past is to be used not in order to return to some antique order but rather to re-establish the nation at a new and higher level of development. 1 The Vision and Politics of Cultural Nationalism It is far from controversial to argue that nationalism formulates a novel historicist weltanschauung that has transformed the modern world. But the proponents of this interpretation have customarily viewed nationalism as essentially a political movement that has as its goal the integration of ‘the people’ in an independent nation state. Such is the thesis of Elie Kedourie who expounds an interpretation of nationalism as a political religion, first in Nationalism (1960),1 then in Nationalism in Asia and Africa (1971). Nationalism, according to Kedourie, is a doctrine that holds that humanity is naturally divided into nations, that nations are known by certain characteristics that can be ascertained, and that the only legitimate type of government is national self-government (Kedourie, 1966, p. 9). This idea is formulated in the late eighteenth century by Enlightenment intellectuals who promote a new historicist vision of humanity, according to which politics replaces religion as the key to individual and collective identity. When fused with novel linguistic definitions of the collectivity, this vision has revolutionary consequences throughout the world, mobilizing the masses in a millenarian crusade led by the intellectuals against existing communal structures. The origins of this ideology, Kedourie argues, lie in a crisis afflicting both traditional religious and rationalist cosmologies in the late eighteenth century, when confronted by the question that all belief-systems have to answer: the problem of evil. Traditional religions had previously explained this by separating the sacred and the mundane, thus distinguishing between the transient vale of sorrows in which man was tested and the eternal divine world to which he might return. On this separation of spheres had rested a diversity of political systems, each


Page 100 1843 and a readership estimated at more than 250,000, extending even into the remote rural districts (Boyce, 1982, p. 159). Young Ireland and Repeal But if Young Ireland was dependent on O’Council’s organization, so equally O’Connell needed the support of Davis and his colleagues. In launching his National Repeal Association in 1840, it seemed at first as if O’Connell had misjudged the situation. His return to nationalist themes alarmed the middle classes and raised little enthusiasm among the peasantry, perhaps suspicious of his long association with the Whigs. Only a few Repeal members were returned at the general election of 1841 (Beckett, 1969, pp. 323–4). Unlike 1829, moreover, when he could appeal to English public opinion on the issue of Emancipation by pointing to the support of a large body of liberal Protestants, Irish Protestants were now solidly arrayed against him. Not until the nationalist Archbishop MacHale of Tuam declared himself in favour of Repeal in 1842, followed by many bishops and the majority of the lower clergy, did his campaign take off among the Irish people, but this only emphasized the sectarian basis of his support. Thus, when the Nation was launched—lending the prestige of a Protestant of social and intellectual standing to the cause of Repeal and with the aim of winning over liberal Protestant opinion—O’Connell welcomed it as an invaluable ally. The effect of the Nation was indeed considerable, although not on Protestant but on Catholic middle-class opinion, now being drawn once again into the nationalist camp by their apprehension that the Tory ministry succeeding the Whigs in 1841 was likely to be hostile to further Catholic advancements in Ireland. Young Ireland added a new dynamism to O’Connell’s campaign, infusing it with a sense of passion and self-sacrifice rather than merely of reason and self-interest. In their articles and poems, Davis and his fellow journalists recalled the noble exploits of her medieval saints—the mission of St Aidan to Northumberland, of St Colman to Austria—the achievements of her philosophers, Scots Erigena and Duns Scotus, the martial qualities of her warriors who fought against English oppressors


Page 101 in Ireland or on continental soil, the Irish generals who liberated the colonies of Latin America. Ireland was presented as a unique island, the mother of religious martyrs, soldiers and scholars whose long history had all the unity and purpose of an epic (Duffy, 1896, p. 51). To recover this historical memory and the culture which ‘carried’ the unique ethos of the nation became a moral imperative. In 1845, a Library of Ireland was started, a series of two-monthly shilling volumes to disseminate Irish history and culture to the people. Davis began a life of Wolfe Tone; Gavan Duffy published The Ballad Poetry of Ireland, a collection of songs and ballads that left a permanent legacy in the popular consciousness. A revival of the Irish language—in Davis’s words, a surer barrier against anglicization than ‘a fortress or a river’—was attempted, although with little result. Commentators have emphasized the primacy of language in Davis’s conception of nationality, quoting him thus: To lose your native tongue and learn that of an alien, is the worst badge of conquest—it is the chain on the soul. To have lost entirely the national language is death; the fetter has won through. (Cited in Boyce, 1982, p. 156.) But, just as in the case of Herder, too much should not be made of this. Young Ireland rather proposed a large-scale revival of Irish culture—its literature, music, poetry and art.18 Early Irish literature was translated, a band to play national airs and a choral society to sing the ballads of the Nation were established, a return to traditional Irish dress promoted, with, at times, comic results.19 Judged by their aims, their impact may have been superficial. None of the revivals they promoted was fully successful. They attracted, however, the support of a vigorous group of young Catholic lawyers, later to form the cadres of a radical separatist organization.20 Moreover, their influence was extensive and provided not only a national iconography for the literature of the Repeal Association, but also a genuine fervour, which O’Connell exploited in his series of ‘Monster’ demonstrations at historic Irish sites in 1843.


Page 102 Between O’Connell and Young Ireland there was, at least initially, a good deal of mutual respect. Davis and his fellows paid tribute to O’Connell’s extraordinary powers of leadership over the Catholic people, whereas O’Connell was affected by the burning idealism Young Ireland brought to his cause. The two converged at many points. Both believed in a comprehensive nationality, in a dismantling of the legal privileges of the Protestant Ascendancy, and in the preservation of the system of property relations. For both groups, Repeal was a means to an end, legitimized by Irish history, but they each held very different conceptions of the Irish nation and the role of culture and politics in its attainment. Ethnic and political concepts of the nation O’Connell viewed the question of Repeal in essentially pragmatic terms as a way of ensuring for Catholics their just deserts in political positions and material benefits. His basic vision was liberal-democratic. For all his extravagant rhetoric he had no hatred of England. He admired her as the mainspring of the great liberal middle-class civilization he saw emerging in Western Europe, and welcomed the triumph of this culture over the native Gaelic traditions, whose violent emotionalism and rusticity he viewed with suspicion and contempt: It would be of vast benefit to mankind if all the inhabitants of the earth spoke the same language. Therefore, although the Irish language is connected with many recollections that twine round the hearts of Irishmen, yet the superior utility of the English tongue, as the medium of all modern communications, is so great that I can witness without a sigh the demise of Irish. (Cited in Murphy, 1949, p. 4.) O’Connell preferred to recall the glories of Celtic Ireland through the genteel poems of the middle-class radical, Tom Moore. His basic goal, therefore, was for Ireland to be treated on an equal basis with Great Britain. At one stage he declared himself prepared to give up his demand for Repeal. The people of Ireland ‘are ready to become a kind of West Britons, if made


Page 103 so in benefits and in justice; but if not, we are Irishmen again’ (cited in Beckett, 1969, p. 317). It was the refusal of British governments to acknowledge Catholic rights as the majority of the people of Ireland that drove him to Repeal. To achieve this, he exploited the sense of historical grievance among Irish Catholics, and drew into Irish politics for the first time the Catholic Church. Catholicism, therefore, became inevitably the index of nationality. But his ideal of an independent Ireland was of a liberal civilization, led by a progressive, urban middle class, that enjoyed the benefits of comparative advantage as an agrarian country engaged in free trade with industrial Britain. To Young Ireland, however, the liberal-industrial system represented by England was doomed to collapse, in producing a flight from the land into vast manufacturing cities such as Manchester, racked by bitter class-divisions, crime, vice and drunkenness.21 To assimilate Ireland or, indeed, any nationality to this system they regarded as an abomination, and the Nation was founded specifically to counter its progress, railing against the change of ‘the faithful, pure and natural affectionate Irishman into that animal John Bull’.22 In attempting to defend national values, they found a moral centre of gravity, unlike O’Connell, not in the liberal middle classes, but in the rural lower classes ‘who are still faithful and romantic’.23 They were, however, no simple escapists, as some analysts have sought to depict them (Norman, 1971, pp. 127–8). Rejecting the poverty of existing country life and the consequent drain of population through emigration, Davis called for a development of Ireland’s resources—her land, fisheries, water power and mineral reserves. Thus, in an essay, Thomas Davis feared: But situated as we are, so near a strong enemy and in the new highway from Europe to America, it might be doubted whether we can retain our simple domestic life. (Davis, 1890). Davis’s suggestion later in the essay was to introduce, on the Prussian model, a system of peasant proprietors. If that was not possible, Ireland must make the best of it and put her resources to full use, establishing railways between her cities and quays


Page 104 and placing the steam engine to work under restraint on the production of flax and wool.24 The ideal of Young Ireland, therefore, was not a return to the land. Rather, they envisaged a distinctive and integrated society based on the superior values of its rural traditions, but preserving its independence from Britain by a careful nurturing of domestic industries behind protective tariff barriers. Their aim was a society organized on a radically different principle of life from Britain. Repeal would be a means to this end, and Davis was quick to point out the successful example of other independent countries such as Prussia in developing a strong and self-reliant national life in the teeth of international liberal pressures, through interventionist economic policies and educational reform. If Young Ireland were profoundly antagonistic to O’Connell’s English-oriented liberal ideology, equally they regarded his too-ready identification of the Catholic majority as the people of Ireland as reinforcing the inner divisions which had historically laid Ireland open to the manipulation of the foreigner. Ireland had all the elements that constituted a nation: climate, coasts, fertile soil, an ample population and wealth (among the privileged aristocracy). But Davis believed the nation required in addition a sufficient supply of public men trained in every branch of knowledge and business to carry on her internal government and foreign relations (Duffy, 1896, p. 54). All Irishmen of talent, irrespective of their political or religious allegiance, were to be won over to Ireland’s cause. In Davis’s words: The first and greatest duty of an Irish patriot then was to aid in retaining its superior spirits. Men make a state. Great men make a great nation…without them liberation will come without honour, and resources exist without strength—corruption and slavery, if they do not keep watch, will resume their sway, without alleviation or resistance.25 O’Connell’s manipulation of historic Catholic grievances for his political campaign not only in Davis’s eyes alienated the Protestant educated strata, whose nationalization was necessary for


Page 105 Ireland’s full development, but also served to detach Catholics from the essential national task by concentrating on mere agitational activity. To Young Ireland, a man was not Irish by virtue of his birth or religion, but by his commitment to his country’s welfare. As Duffy put it, O’Connell taught the Catholic Irish they were endowed with all good gifts, physical and moral, and were poor and obscure only through the sins of their oppressors (Duffy, 1890, p. 120). But Davis saw the role of the nationalist as delving into Irish history in order to elucidate the duties of the Irish people and to cultivate their character for public initiatives: the preservation of Irish culture; the support of native industries and employment; their participation in the public institutions of the country—corporations, Boards of Poor Law Guardians, public schools and colleges; above all, a preparedness to die for Ireland (Duffy, 1896, p. 216). For Young Ireland, then, Repeal was simply a means to a much more important end: the preservation of an independent and distinct ethos rooted in the Irish nation, whose re-establishment in every sphere of national life was the prerequisite to social harmony, economic progress and collective and individual self-respect. This downplayed political agitation and the construction of political majorities in favour of the slower but fundamental process of the moral permeation of society and the creation of heroic national elites. In founding the Nation, Young Ireland had argued that the might of England would prevent, under present circumstances, the attainment of Repeal, but that within ten or fifteen years England must be in moral peril. Their task was to prepare Ireland for that time (Duffy, 1896, p. 83). Young Ireland was therefore an educational movement and directed their primary attention to the men of education and taste, whom they saw as the hope of the country: that is, not just the established Protestant middle classes and gentry but also the generation of Catholics now leaving the newly instituted national system of primary education. As we saw, the minds of Ireland were to be fired to heroic endeavours through revivals of Irish art, literature, music, and the dissemination of Irish ideas through the newspaper—‘the only conductor to the mind of Ireland’. Young Ireland demanded a reform of the denationalized system of state education


Page i

The Dynamics of Cultural Nationalism


Page viii any errors that remain despite this assistance rests, of course, with me alone. Many others have contributed in innumerable ways to the publication of this work, but space permits me to mention only a few. Dr Madsen Pirie offered considerable moral and practical support. I should like to thank Mr Patrick Davis, Publications Officer of the LSE, for his good-humoured perseverance on my behalf and the Publications Committee for its sponsorship. I am happy also to acknowledge the assistance of Griffith University in the preparation of the typescript and the generosity of the Isobel Thornley Bequest in defraying the costs of publication. Above all, I would like to pay tribute to my parents for their stoicism through all the adversities and to Linda, my wife, who took time off parallel labours to lend a shoulder at those moments when the boulder threatened to bound once again down the hill.


Page 2 realize their human potential and contribute to the wider European civilization. Working first with fellow historical scholars and artists, drawn from both the Protestant and Catholic communities, Hyde then founded with others the Gaelic League as a countrywide educational movement that would permeate all sections of Irish life and rebuild a modern Gaelic civilization from within. Without such a distinctive native culture Hyde regarded political independence as meaningless (Daly, 1974, p. 68). Dillon, on the other hand, as a political nationalist imbued with the secular liberal ideology of the day, believed that only through the exercise of self-determination as citizens of an independent state could individuals find dignity. Since he believed that the English, because of the historic conflicts between the two nationalities, would never allow the Irish equal citizenship within the British state, he campaigned for Irish political autonomy. His was a legal-rational concept of the nation, and to achieve his goal he and his allies built a centralized political machine that would mobilize the diverse constituents of the nation into a mass movement. He took up many causes—the reform of land tenures, Catholic education, and so forth—but all were subordinated to this single goal. Although political nationalism with its mass mobilizing strategies against the state has been much analysed, cultural nationalism—generally perceived as an enthusiasm of coteries of intellectuals— has received little scholarly attention.1 Yet in Ireland it was the followers of Hyde rather than of Dillon who constructed the modern nation state. Indeed, the struggle for nationhood in the modern world has everywhere been preceded by emerging cultural nationalist movements. These movements have formed recurrently in post-eighteenth century societies as historico-cultural revivals, in order to propound the idea of the nation as a moral community, and have inspired rising social groups to collective political action. This study, based on Irish materials but employing a comparative perspective, examines cultural nationalism as a distinctive form of nationalism, which, articulated by secular intellectuals, has shaped the modern political community. Of course, we must acknowledge that the modern nation is often of ancient lineage. Nations or ethnic groups, if defined in


Page 9 (3) It is a ‘regressive’ response to modernization. (4) It is a transient phenomenon, destined to disappear with full modernization. I intend to show instead that cultural nationalism is a movement quite independent of political nationalism. It has its own distinctive aims—the moral regeneration of the national community rather than the achievement of an autonomous state—and a distinctive politics. In this enterprise, I will argue, historical memory rather than language as such serves to define the national community. This invocation of the past, contrary to accepted opinion, must be seen in a positive light, for the cultural nationalist seeks not to ‘regress’ into an arcadia but rather to inspire his community to ever higher stages of development. Indeed, it is this positive vision that makes cultural nationalism a recurring force even in advanced industrial societies, regularly crystallizing at times of crisis generated by the modernization process with the goal of providing ‘authentic’ national models of progress. Two groups, we shall see, are always prominent in cultural nationalist movements: humanist intellectuals and a secular intelligentsia. The intellectuals (chiefly historical scholars and artists) have been the formulators of the historicist ideology of cultural nationalism and established its first cultural institutions. Although small in number, they play an important role as moral innovators, constructing new matrices of collective identity at times of social crisis. These identities, created from myths and legends, when translated into concrete economic, social and political programmes by journalists and politicians regularly attract a rising but disaffected intelligentsia. This intelligentsia forms the cadres of cultural nationalist movements that seek to build in antagonism to the existing state a regenerated national community. These two groups, I shall show in later chapters, have different interests. But when they combine to form such movements I refer to both as ‘ethnic revivalists’. By revivalism, I mean more than a conviction that a once-existent nation must be recreated. Ethnic revivalists in my sense are those who perceive the nation as a creative force that evolves through periods of


Page 11 judged not on ultimate principles but on its pragmatic benefit to its subjects. But this supramundane vision was increasingly subverted by the eighteenth-century philosophers who maintained humanity’s capacity through reason to progressively overcome the problems of suffering in the world. Denying the necessity for any external source of morality, they believed in the beneficence of nature. This had major political implications. The rationalists’ ethical and political project, nevertheless, had a weakness: it had difficulty in accounting for the undeniable existence of evil and suffering throughout human history (Kedourie, 1966, pp. 51–2). By the late eighteenth century, Kant and Herder, Kedourie argues, formulated a ‘solution’ to this problem, which gave rise to the twin conceptions of cultural and political nationalism. The breakthrough came when, turning to history, they discovered ‘the uses of posterity’. Like the rationalists, Kant and Herder believed in the reality of human autonomy, but history, they suggested, demonstrated that progress was the outcome of violence and struggle. Folly and evil had a function: they provided a test of the individual and collective will and a spur to future action. History now became the teacher of mankind, the interpretation of which lay in the hands of the secular intellectuals (Kedourie, 1966, pp. 53–5). This historicist ‘solution’ with its activist imperatives had revolutionary consequences. For, with the definition of man as self-determining, politics replaced religion as the key to individual and collective salvation. In this light, the swelling bureaucratic states of European absolutism were now perceived as unauthentic. Nationalism sought to establish the basis for a truly autonomous political community (Kedourie, 1966, p. 41). But if nationalism rejected the bureaucratic state, Kedourie agrees that Kant and Herder gave life to quite different ideas of political community: voluntarist (or what Kedourie calls republican) and associated with political nationalism, and organic and identified with cultural nationalism. The first (Kantian-derived) conceived of the community simply as individuals who have signified their will regarding the manner of their government. It was explicitly concerned with the rights of the citizens in the state, and, indeed, it envisaged that individuals might


Page 99 past and attacking the anti-national education of their university. Denouncing the lack of public spirit of Irish Protestants, manifested in absentee landlordism and a servility to English values, Davis demanded of his listeners: ‘How long will you sin against patriotism?’ and called on them to act in unison with any men ‘be they of what party they may, for our common country’.17 Davis’s hopes for the regeneration of Ireland thus rested on the Protestant gentry and liberal middle classes as the preponderant sections of the educated strata. It was to them he first appealed to reject English influence and to guide the transition to the self-reliant democratic society he saw as inevitable (Duffy, 1890, p. 119). His first public intervention came in 1841 in defence of the Royal Dublin Society against British government pressure to reform its constitution, after it had outraged Irish Catholic and British liberal opinion by blackballing from membership the Catholic Archbishop Murray. A great Irish public institution even when wrong should not be humiliated by the foreigner (Duffy, 1890, p. 46). However, he made his first impact on two young members of the Catholic community, John Blake Dillon, also at Trinity and previously an O’Connellite radical, and Charles Gavan Duffy, converted by him from an exclusive Catholic nationalism. With Dillon he edited the Morning Register, a newspaper serving the Catholic and Whig cause, when it was given into his hands on a trial basis after his articles on the Royal Dublin Society. Its themes of reconciliation, domestic reconstruction and an independent foreign policy foreshadowed those to be pursued in the Nation, but the paper was not a financial success. Davis, therefore, concluded that the philosophic nationality of the university man was too feeble on its own, and that his only influence as a journalist was likely to come by allying his talents to O’Connell’s national organization which, by 1840, had reassumed a full-blooded commitment to Repeal (Duffy, 1890, p. 57). When, under Duffy’s urging, Davis and Dillon agreed to found a weekly, the Nation, in October 1842, it was as an important arm of O’Connell’s Repeal campaign. Gaining a guaranteed market through the Repeal reading rooms, the Nation was an unprecedented success with a circulation of over 10,000 by


Page 106 —one of the primary agents of anglicization—to introduce Irish history and culture, some teaching in the Irish language, and technical education to prepare the young for the modern world. They hoped to transform O’Connell’s political organization into the Schoolmaster of Ireland to promote their integrated vision of the Irish nation. Repeal reading rooms would be instituted in every village, the support of the Catholic and Protestant clergy would be solicited, and the rooms would have all the necessities of study. Works on all subjects, from mathematics to music, would elevate the character of the young man, otherwise demoralized by cards, tobacco and dissipation (Boyce, 1982, pp. 60–1). The Young Ireland ideal of a cultured national elite was non-political and non-sectarian, and Duffy claimed a constituency for their cause in both communities: students of law and medicine at Trinity College, clerical students in Maynooth, teachers in the National Schools, members of temperance societies, as well as some young tradesmen in the towns and young peasants (Duffy, 1896, p. 52). But because of the educational imbalance in Irish society, it naturally carried ‘Protestant’ overtones. Davis’s vision of an independent and integrated Irish society was, therefore, of a decentralized rural nation which, led by an enlightened aristocracy, now reconciled to the native people, pursued harmoniously religious, scientific and artistic excellence. Placed by just laws on terms of friendship with their tenantry, the aristocracy lived among them, promoting agriculture and education by example and instruction. Each village rang with pleasure and trade and, like Italy, each had its painter of repute. Men of all creeds were joined by education as inquirers into truth, and the clergy promoted their faith on conditions of equality by their dignity and wisdom (Duffy, 1890, p. 221). The break with constitutional nationalism Between Young Ireland and O’Connell and his middle-class supporters, divisions were therefore bound to emerge. Young Ireland was suspicious of O’Connell’s political manoeuvring, fearing that he might drop the national causes as before in return


Page ii

To my parents


Although the literature on nationalism is now vast, it still contains some surprising gaps. One of the most striking is the absence of a systematic analysis of the part played by historical scholars and artists in nation-building. I have tried to fill this gap in this study of cultural nationalism. Focused though it is on the modern Irish period, this book then is not intended as a survey of Irish nationalism. So many brilliant studies have been published in recent years as to make that task redundant in any case. My aim, rather, has been to make a general contribution to the understanding of nationalist movements by examining why schools of nationalist historians and artists arise, the kinds of social movements they inspire, and their contribution to the making of modern political communities. Whether or not I have succeeded in my objective must be for the reader to judge. All I know is that, during the years spent on this project, I have had considerable help from many people. The present book began as a doctoral dissertation at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and I owe a special debt to Dr Anthony D.Smith, my supervisor. He, his wife, Diana, and his mother, Harriet, were overwhelming in their kindness and hospitality to me and my wife during our time in London. Without his encouragement and critical guidance I doubt if I would ever have cut a path through the nationalist jungle. I would also like to thank my examiners, Dr Peter Alter and Dr John Stone, whose constructive criticisms assisted my revisions for this book. I am also grateful to Dr Alan O’Day for his careful reading of several chapters. In addition, I count myself fortunate, when studying at the LSE, to have been able to attend the always stimulating Interdepartmental Postgraduate Seminar on Nationalism organized by Professor Percy Cohen, Mr James Mayall and Dr Anthony D.Smith. Responsibility for


Page 3 terms of myths of common origins, distinctive cultural characteristics, and attachments to specific territorial homelands, have existed from time immemorial. The modern nations forming from the eighteenth century are, nevertheless, significantly different from their predecessors.2 They are, above all, political categories: power and value are now placed not in a providential order but in the historical community itself. Before, ethnic groups were often scattered and content to be administered by other cultural communities. But the belief that each national group should be master of its own destiny and that its public life should express its unique culture has had revolutionary consequences, producing mass population movements, boundary changes and socio-political upheavals against the established order. Out of these conflicts a world of distinctive, territorially consolidated political communities has crystallized. In this set of transformations, cultural nationalism, I shall argue, plays a decisive part. It presents a novel historicist cosmology of a humanity naturally divided into unique, autonomous and integrated territorial communities, each with its peculiar laws of growth and decay. Two educated groups, I shall show, are fundamental to its emergence: secular intellectuals, who are the formulators of its ideology, and the intelligentsia, who form its first constituency and its political organizers. Both groups arise from a secular science-based culture developing from the eighteenth century, and for this reason may well overlap in their educational and occupational background. But, since they play different parts in cultural nationalism, it is necessary to distinguish between them.3 In this study the term intellectual does not refer to individuals of a given professional or educational category but to those marked in their thought and activity by a concern for meaning. There are, it will be seen, two kinds of cultural nationalist intellectual: those (mainly historical scholars and artists) who formulate the cultural ideals of the movement, and those (generally journalists and politicians) who transform these ideals into concrete political, economic and social programmes. But each converges on cultural nationalism in response to a crisis of identity and purpose that is rooted in the modern world.


Introduction The rise of the nation since the late eighteenth century as the universal moral-political norm has everywhere been accompanied by transformations in our concepts of time, space, communal organization and political legitimacy. As this has happened, the sacred reach of once universalistic religions has contracted; the status orders they sustained have been subverted; the diffuse systems of Empire and principality have largely vanished. Humanity has increasingly become differentiated into autonomous political communities, territorially compact and culturally distinct, each competing for power, wealth and prestige within a continuously evolving world order. In the Introduction I suggested that cultural nationalism has played and continues to play a significant part in the formation of these national communities. The task of this chapter is to demonstrate this by examining its special vision and politics; its nation-building strategies in different contexts; its character as a modernizing movement; the basis of its continuing dynamism in the modern world. I hope thereby to situate the Irish cultural nationalist movements that are to be analysed in the following chapters. Of course, in addressing this topic I am not working in a vacuum. There is an extensive literature on nation-building that touches on cultural nationalism. A cursory inspection of this literature, however, will reveal four common assumptions about cultural nationalism that I believe have obscured its importance: (1) It can be conflated with political nationalism. (2) It is primarily a linguistic movement.


Page 12 secede from one state to join another. The second (Herderian) perceived the nation as a natural solidarity endowed with unique cultural attributes. On the surface, this diverged radically from the first conception, for it prescribed as the first duty of the individual the preservation of the cultural community rather than the securing of a representative state. Kedourie, however, maintains that the two ideals converged. For Kant saw national diversity and competition as natural, implanted by inherent cultural differences (language) between individuals. Similarly, Herder’s stress on the God-ordained uniqueness of nations, he argues, led cultural nationalists to the conclusion that each such nation must have a state of its own (Kedourie, 1966, p. 58). In practice then, Kedourie argues, the two conceptions flowed into a philosophy of the organic state, according to which individuals must find integration within their natural polities defined by their objective cultural attributes. Cultural and political nationalism Kedourie highlights important features of nationalism: it is a secular ideology opposed both to traditionalism and to the bureaucratic state; it articulates a concern for meaning and purpose; it is politically activist. But I propose to demonstrate that, despite his state-oriented interpretation, there are two quite different types of nationalism—cultural and political—that must not be conflated, for they articulate different, even competing conceptions of the nation, form their own distinctive organizations, and have sharply diverging political strategies. Political nationalists share with cultural nationalists an antipathy to the bureaucratic state, but they tend to look to reason as their ethical source. Their ideal is a civic polity of educated citizens united by common laws and mores like the polis of classical antiquity. They reject existing political and traditionalist allegiances that block the realization of this ideal, and theirs is a cosmopolitan rationalist conception of the nation that looks forward ultimately to a common humanity transcending cultural differences. But, because the world is divided into a multiplicity of political communities, they are forced to work within a specific territorial homeland in order to secure a state


Page 98 Ireland, in Davis’s eyes, had always indeed stood for the values of the spirit. Throughout her history her people were ‘pious, hospitable, and brave, faithful observers of family ties, cultivators of learning, music and poetry’. Explaining their decline, he argued that a country ‘so fruitful and populous, so strong, so well-marked and guarded by the sea, and with such an ancient name’ could only be reduced to provincialism by bribery and treacherous forces (Duffy, 1896, pp. 50–1). The source of danger to Ireland was located by Davis in the great manufacturing civilization of England, whose materialistic philosophy was now carried into every sphere of Irish life by closer communications, ‘by the Whig alliance, by democratic sympathy, and by the transference of our political capital to Westminster’. Such a ‘centralization obscures the history, dilutes the original tastes and peculiar faculties, weakens the patriotism, corrupts the ambition, and misapplies the resources of the province subject to it…’ (Norman, 1971, pp. 127–8). In the face of such an evil, Davis urged his countrymen, Protestant and Catholic, to forget their differences and to unite in reviving Ireland’s ancient greatness. To do so, Davis had to deny the reality of the bitter historical, religious and social divisions paralysing his country. Maintaining that the nation was a product of culture and environment, not of race, he believed that, although threatened by the progress of anglicization, Ireland, with its fading but still-living Gaelic culture—its language, literature and music—possessed all the attributes of a historic nationality. Moreover, its people, despite the series of invasions, now represented an intermixture of races, for all their differences, coloured by the natural and cultural environment of the country. The record of its history revealed the folly of internal divisions, the necessity of uniting against the foreigner and the wisdom of self-reliance and self-respect. To revive this threatened culture and to return his countrymen to the lessons of their history was the first duty of an Irish patriot. Davis made his first appearance as a theoretician of Irish nationality before the student Historical Society of Trinity College, urging his audience to return to the history of their country to learn true virtue and civic zeal from the heroes of the


Page 107 for specific reforms from a future Whig government, and was apprehensive that Repeal would merely replace the Protestant with a Catholic Ascendancy. O’Connell, on the other hand, engaged in battle with an unyielding Tory government, was alarmed that the separatist tone of the Nation would provide an excuse to ban his organization. Moreover, some of his middle-class supporters, anxious to secure their rightful place in Irish society as the leaders of the Catholic majority, could find in the elitist and ostentatiously non-sectarian message of the Nation a cloak for the defence of Protestant superiority. To these suspicions were added the elements of a generational clash between an ageing figure, long used to uncritical deference from hand-picked lieutenants in his own organization, and talented young men resentful at their subordination to an oligarchy of placemen. These divisions remained in abeyance while the momentum of the national movement mounted. They emerged, however, after October 1843, when O’Connell’s campaign of mass demonstrations was halted in its tracks by the government’s decision to proscribe his proposed ‘monster’ meeting at Clontarf. O’Connell had hoped to use these events in order to intimidate the government, as he had in 1829, into granting Repeal. To his supporters he promised that 1843 would be the year of Repeal, and at these huge demonstrations he whipped up an atmosphere of messianic expectation. Circumstances, however, were now very different. Fortified by a British public opinion united in defence of the Union, where before it had been divided over Emancipation, the Tory government was prepared to call his bluff, even at the risk of civil war. O’Connell, a strict constitutionalist, accepted the ban to the dismay of his excited supporters. Henceforth, although he continued to be the central figure in Irish politics, able to attract large-scale crowds, the momentum of his campaign was broken and his spell over the people lifted. In this atmosphere of doubt and disappointment, two issues appeared that crystallized the differences between Young Ireland and O’Connell. One concerned the place of the Catholic Church in the educational system of the country; the other, O’Connell’s relations with the British party system and the legitimacy of physical force in the winning of Irish freedom. In the midst of


The Gaelic Revival and the Creation of the Irish Nation State JOHN HUTCHINSON Griffith University, Australia London ALLEN & UNWIN Boston Sydney Wellington In association with The London School of Economics and Political Science


Table 2.1 The stages of Irish cultural nationalism 50 Table 4.1 The stages of the Gaelic Revival 118 Table 8.1 Catholic pupils attending superior schools and colleges 260 Table 8.2 Numbers of Roman Catholics in selected professions (1861–1911) and their percentage of the total 262 Table 8.3 Occupations of Irish males and females engaged in the legal and medical professions (1871–1911) 270 Table 8.4 Catholics employed as commercial clerks (1871–1911) 273


late Miss Isobel Thornley’s Bequest to the University of London.


Page 4 It should be noted that I do not use the term intelligentsia as it was first employed in mid-nineteenth century Eastern Europe to designate a unitary educated stratum, which, placed in an intermediate position between the power establishment and all other social classes, claims a socio-political mission to transform the community (Gella, 1976, pp. 20–5). I denote instead an occupational and vocational group that forms from the modern professions and tertiary educational institutions. Of course, some members of the intelligentsia may also be intellectuals. But whereas the latter are defined by their preoccupation with more abstract questions, the former, trained as knowledge specialists, are vocationally more concerned to serve the practical needs of the community. They act in a variety of social contexts as the political cadres of the revival, organizing a multi-class movement in order to regenerate the national community. In this study I argue that both in its vision and its politics cultural nationalism is a significant force in the modern world. But taking seriously the nation-building project of cultural nationalism does not entail a belief in the power of ideas irrespective of the context in which they appear. As has often been observed, the effects of ideas, when they break against economic, military, political and religious interests, are rarely those envisaged by their progenitors. Moreover, I shall highlight the role of political factors in accounting for the genesis of cultural nationalism, its formation as an ideological movement, its institutionalization in the social order, and its recurring appearances within independent nation states. For cultural nationalism, I suggest, is a response to the erosion of traditional identities and status orders by the modernization process as mediated through a reforming state. By the modernization process I refer to those changes that occur in economic, cultural, political and military institutions when scientific principles are applied to solve problems of social and natural life. In the sense that I use it, such modernization is a continuous feature of the post-eighteenth-century world. In examining the relationship between the modernizing state and the development of cultural nationalism, I focus, we shall see, on five main areas:


Page 7 Notes: Introduction 1 An exception is Nairn’s sophisticated Marxian interpretation of cultural nationalism (Nairn, 1977). Nairn argues that it is a product of the uneven nature of capitalist development, which threatens by its scientific rationalization both an indigenous bourgeoisie and the local culture of relatively backward societies. The bourgeoisie is compelled to sponsor the creation of a distinctive modernizing (nation) state, which will provide protection for its markets. To this end, the intelligentsia—in Nairn’s model the most conscious part of the bourgeoisie—constructs a national culture out of popular myths and vernaculars in order to integrate and mobilize the masses round this goal and to project potential internal class conflict outwards against an external threat. The only problem with this ingenious explanation is that it is, as we shall see, incapable of accounting for the rise of cultural nationalism in many countries—in early nineteenth-century Eastern Europe—where there was no significant bourgeoisie or industrialization. 2 On this, see Connor, 1978. 3 For a fuller discussion of these terms, see Chapter 8.


Page 13 that will embody their aspirations. To mobilize a political constituency on behalf of this goal, political nationalists may be driven to adopt ethnic-historical identities and in the process may become ethnicized and ‘re-traditionalized’. Their objectives are, however, essentially modernist: to secure a representative state for their community so that it might participate as an equal in the developing cosmopolitan rationalist civilization. By contrast, the cultural nationalist perceives the state as an accidental, for the essence of a nation is its distinctive civilization, which is the product of its unique history, culture and geographical profile. Unlike the political nationalist, who is fundamentally a rationalist, a cultural nationalist like Herder affirms a cosmology according to which humanity, like nature, is infused with a creative force which endows all things with an individuality (Herder, 1968, pp. 50–60). Nations are primordial expressions of this spirit; like families, they are natural solidarities. Nations are then not just political units but organic beings, living personalities, whose individuality must be cherished by their members in all their manifestations. Unlike the political nationalist, the cultural nationalist founds the nation not on ‘mere’ consent or law but on the passions implanted by nature and history (Berlin, 1976, pp. 158–63). If for cultural nationalists the nation is an organic entity, it is so, nevertheless, only in a metaphoric sense. It is rather perceived as a complex of individualities, each one of which has equal rights and value to the community. Rejecting the ideal of universal citizenship rights of political nationalism, cultural nationalists demand that the natural divisions within the nation—sexual, occupational, religious and regional—be respected, for the impulse to differentiation is the dynamo of national creativity (Barnard, 1969, pp. 385–90). Just as much as the political nationalist, cultural nationalists spurn the otherworldliness of traditional religions in favour of an activist view of man as an autonomous reasoning being (Herder, 1968, p. 117). Herder projects the nation as a continuously mobile community over time. Its historic identity and status order must be continuously renovated in terms of the needs of each generation, for no era can provide the model for another (ibid., p. 106). Conflict, therefore, is built into the


Page 97 (Norman, 1971, pp. 119–20). I shall argue that the transition we can observe in some of the key members of the group from a cultural revivalism to a politico-cultural nationalism and, finally, to an insurrectionary populist nationalism can be understood rather by examining Young Ireland’s inherently ambivalent attitudes to established political, religious, social and economic institutions and the concrete choices available to it at every stage of its development. Thomas Davis (1814–45) and the formation of Young Ireland We can bring out the contrasting cultural trajectories of Young Ireland to those of O’Connellite nationalism by examining the career of Thomas Davis, the inspirational figure of the group until his early death in 1845. Like Petrie, Davis was born of parents of mixed nationalities—his father of Welsh, his mother of Irish stock—which may account for his zeal for communal reconciliation. Brought up a high Tory and an Episcopalian, as a young law student he had rejected his background in favour of an Irish nationalism. But although he at first resembles O’Connell he arrived at nationalism by the reformist rather than the assimilationist route. For although in 1837, like O’Connell, he had embraced a liberal utilitarianism (publishing a pamphlet on the reform of the House of Lords), by 1840 he had repudiated this in favour of an elitist ethnic revivalism. The trigger seems to have been a visit to Germany in 1839–40, during which he underwent a ‘conversion experience’ under the impact of Lessing, Fichte and Schlegel (MacDonagh, 1977, pp. 152–3). Eagerly adopting the virile nation-building model of Prussia, he now denounced English democratic-utilitarianism ‘which measures prosperity by exchangeable value, measures duty by gain, and limits desire to clothes, food, and respectability’. In apocalyptic terms he warned of the moral collapse that must follow the advance of such a society ‘ready to sacrifice to it [physical comfort] all sentiments—the generous, the pious, the just…till general corruption, anarchy, despotism and moral darkness shall rebarbarize the earth’. To escape this fate men must cultivate the ‘holy emotions’ endowed by their distinctive nationality. Patriotism was human philanthropy.16


Page 108 the conflicts between the two sides Davis died in 1845, and following his death a new, more militant wing of Young Ireland emerged. A formal breach with O’Connell occured in 1846, after which an independent organization was formed that drew out the separatist, populist and elitist political implications of their nationalist philosophy. The first issue arose in 1845, when Peel proposed to establish three university colleges (‘Queen’s Colleges’) in Belfast, Cork and Galway, organized on non-sectarian lines, with the aim of creating a well-educated middle class with a stake in the system and thus resistant to the intrigues of the Catholic clergy or the demagoguery of an O’Connell. The lack of a higher education open to Catholics had been a matter of grievance to the Church. Trinity College, the only university in Ireland, was unacceptable both to Catholics and Presbyterians by virtue of its Anglican atmosphere and its expense. However, the scheme criticized by religious leaders on all sides for its ‘godless’ character was undermined by the ruthless opposition of Archbishop MacHale of Tuam, who gradually swung the Catholic Bishops against any system of joint education as a threat to Catholic morals. Although O’Connell had at one stage advocated such a scheme, he followed his ally, MacHale, for essentially pragmatic reasons and attempted to commit his Repeal organization to rejection of Peel’s proposal. To Young Ireland, however, joint education, modified by safeguards for the rival faiths, was a fundamental necessity for a reconciled and integrated nation, and their opposition to O’Connell and the Church hierarchy sharpened the differences about the definition of the Irish nation and the place of religion within it. The two sides managed to avoid a split on this question but the animosity and mutual suspicion aroused erupted a year later over the principle of physical force (Beckett, 1969, pp. 330–3). The Repeal movement was strictly constitutional in aims and methods. While for O’Connell this was a matter of conviction, for Young Ireland it was a matter of tactics. The ultimate commitment was to Ireland, not to the English constitution, and, although they were opposed to the use of force in the present, like the patriots of old whom they celebrated in their pages, they were prepared to die, in theory, for their country’s independence.


Page iv © J.Hutchinson, 1987 This book is copyright under the Berne Convention. No reproduction without permission. All rights reserved. Allen & Unwin, the academic imprint of Unwin Hyman Ltd PO Box 18, Park Lane, Hemel Hempstead, Herts HP2 4TE, UK 40 Museum Street, London WC1A 1LU, UK 37/39 Queen Elizabeth Street, London SE1 2QB This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2003. Allen & Unwin Inc., 8 Winchester Place, Winchester, Mass. 01890, USA Allen & Unwin (Australia) Ltd, 8 Napier Street, North Sydney, NSW 2060, Australia Allen & Unwin (New Zealand) Ltd in association with the Port Nicholson Press Ltd, 60 Cambridge Terrace, Wellington, New Zealand First Published in 1987 British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Hutchinson, John, 1949– The dynamics of cultural nationalism: the Gaelic revival and the creation of the Irish nation state. 1. Nationalism—Ireland—History I. Title 320.5′4′09415 DA938 ISBN 0-203-24522-9 Master e-book ISBN ISBN 0-203-23220-8 (OEB Format) ISBN 0-04-320204-7 (Print Edition) Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Hutchinson, John, 1949– The dynamics of cultural nationalism. Bibliography: p. Includes index. 1. Ireland—Intellectual life. 2. Nationalism— Ireland—History. 3. Civilization, Celtic. 4. Ireland—Politics and government—20th century. 5. National characteristics, Irish. 6. Culture—Political aspects—Ireland. I. Title. DA925.H88 1987 941.508 86–28844 ISBN 0-04-320204-7 (alk. paper)


Acknowledgement viii Preface ix Introduction 1 1 A Profile of Cultural Nationalism 8 2 The Eighteenth-Century Revival in Ireland 48 3 The Second Irish Revival (c. 1830–48) 74 4 The Gaelic Revival (c. 1890–1921): Its Secular Propounders and Religious Roots 114 5 The Gaelic Revival (c. 1890–1921): Its Socio-Political Articulation 151 6 The Genesis of Cultural Nationalism: The Dual Legitimation Thesis 196 7 The Origins and Character of the Gaelic Revival 211 8 Cultural Nationalism, Irish Politics and Elite Mobility 250 9 Epilogue: Cultural Nationalism and the Making of the Irish Nation State 304 Select Bibliography 325 Further Reading 335 Index 337


Page 5 (1) The role of scholars and artists in the ‘revival’ of national histories and cultures. (2) The circumstances under which these cultural projects are translated by political intellectuals into economic, social and political programmes. (3) The context in which these political goals are adopted by an intelligentsia, who, forming the cadres of the movement, transform it into a counter-culture against the state. (4) The conditions under which the intelligentsia are able to institutionalize their programmes via the state. (5) The factors that explain the recurrence of cultural nationalism within the independent nation state. These issues will be discussed with special reference to the changing configurations of cultural nationalism in Ireland, which is sufficiently documented to enable the testing of sociological hypotheses on its origins and effects. An Outline of the Study Before plunging into a historical analysis of a particular case, because of misconceptions it is necessary to identify the distinctive characteristics of cultural nationalism as an ideological movement. This I do in Chapter 1, where I distinguish the major sub-types of cultural nationalism in order to put the Irish case in context. Chapter 2 briefly charts the evolutionary stages of Irish cultural nationalism in each of its three ‘revivals’ since the 1740s, before beginning an analysis of the eighteenth-century movement. The neo-classical motifs of the historico-cultural revival are discussed, its crystallization with the establishment of the Royal Irish Academy and its reformulation as a socio-political movement by the United Irishmen. Chapter 3 continues by analysing the roots of the second revival as it forms in counterpoint with O’Connellite political nationalism in the 1830s, promoting under the leadership of George Petrie a conservative populism before it is translated into a political programme by the Young Ireland journalists.


Page 6 The empirical core of the study is to be found in Chapters 4 and 5. These delineate the stages of the late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Gaelic revival that succeeded in institutionalizing its programme in Irish society through the establishment of an independent state. Chapter 4 examines the rival propounders of this revival and the role of movements of religious reform in shaping its early ideals. Chapter 5 describes the context in which the revival became a significant socio-political movement, rivalling established political nationalist organizations, when adopted by an aspiring Catholic intelligentsia. Although primary as well as secondary materials are extensively employed in these four chapters, it must be emphasized that I do not intend to furnish an inclusive history of Irish nationalism. (There are already many excellent surveys.) Nor do I seek to provide a full coverage of each revival. My purpose is much more limited: to highlight representative figures, themes and developments in each of these three movements that exemplify typical aspects of cultural nationalism, in order to enable a general analysis. The findings of these four chapters on Ireland, situated within the comparative perspective constructed in Chapter 1, are thus used to test two sets of hypotheses on the genesis and effects of cultural nationalism. In Chapter 6 I outline the dual legitimation thesis of A.D.Smith, which proposes the rise of the modern state as the independent variable in the formation of cultural nationalism. Chapter 7 breaks this down into four testable propositions and assesses them against the Irish evidence. Following this, in Chapter 8, I investigate the validity of the ‘blocked mobility’ thesis as an explanation of the attraction of the intelligentsia to cultural nationalism, and of the regular counterpointing of cultural and political nationalism. This study is largely concerned with cultural nationalism in its pre-independence phase. But, in the final chapter, by using comparative examples, I demonstrate the formative role of cultural nationalism in building the modern Irish state, and I suggest reasons for its continuing vitality as a potential source of cultural and political identity.


Page 14 cultural nationalist conception of the nation, between ageing traditionalists and the educated young. Indeed, evil and decay come to the nation only through an inner degeneration—either from an excess of rationalism that induces a passive dependence on the state or from an ossification of tradition such as was experienced in the Middle Ages (ibid., p. 172). But if conflict with traditionalism is regarded as necessary by cultural nationalism, its objective is integrative. Unlike political nationalism, which would uproot the traditional status order for a modern legal-rational society, cultural nationalism is a movement of moral regeneration which seeks to re-unite the different aspects of the nation—traditional and modern, agriculture and industry, science and religion—by returning to the creative life-principle of the nation. Since this identity can only be grasped as a living whole—as a differentiated complex of interactive units—that is in continuous evolution, it cannot be codified. It can only be understood genetically and intuitively as a gestalt (Berlin, 1976, p. 26), For this reason, its proponents are not politicians or legislators but are above all historical scholars and artists who form cultural and academic societies, designed to recover this creative force in all its dimensions with verisimilitude and project it to the members of the nation. The nationalist historians—Palacky of the Czechs, Michelet of the French, Iorga of the Rumanians, Hrushevsky of the Ukrainians—are no mere scholars but rather ‘myth-making’ intellectuals who combine a ‘romantic’ search for meaning with a scientific zeal to establish this on authoritative foundations. For only by recovering the history of the nation through all its triumphs and disasters can its members rediscover their authentic purpose. These histories typically form a set of repetitive ‘mythic’ patterns, containing a migration story, a founding myth, a golden age of cultural splendour, a period of inner decay and a promise of regeneration (Smith, 1984, pp. 292–3). Since such histories have only rarely been documented by pre-modern political and religious elites, this quest has resulted in an explosion in the genetic sciences, including archaeology, folklore, philology and topography, in order to resurrect the civilization of ‘the people’ from the cultural substratum.


Page 96 the Protestant minority with the native majority on the basis of a common allegiance to Ireland as a unique historic civilization, and they advocated a moral regeneration of Irish life by a return to its traditional language, literature, music and arts. But they combined this with a dismantling of the privileges of the established Church, of the Protestant dominance in local government, a reform of the existing land system, of Irish education, and an encouragement of Irish manufactures behind protective barriers that would sustain a self-sufficient nation of peasant proprietors. The independent Ireland would be a decentralized Celtic civilization, rural but prosperous, religious but devoted to secular learning. Although always a small-scale movement, Young Ireland was to have an explosive and long-lasting impact on Irish society. It began as a small intellectual circle within, but also in opposition to, O’Connell’s mass political movement, attempting to operate through the established cultural institutions of Irish society in order to create an informed and patriotic public opinion. A legion of writers, opined Davis, was more formidable than ‘a thousand men all clad in steel’ (Boyce, 1982, p. 158). However, the movement ended in 1848, appealing to the peasantry as the authentic people of Ireland to throw off through armed rebellion the entire edifice of established society: the British administration, Irish landlordism and even O’Connellite constitutional nationalism. Young Ireland thus presented two faces to subsequent generations: in its first guise, acting as a model for subsequent cultural nationalist movements to emulate and modify; in its second, reviving the tradition of revolutionary nationalism in Ireland, originated by Wolfe Tone. In explaining the transformation of an elitist cultural into a revolutionary political movement, Irish historians have pointed to the existence of two groups within Young Ireland, the second acceding to the movement after the death of Davis in 1845 and the split with O’Connell in 1846. The shift, however, of Young Ireland cannot be explained by changes in its social composition. As Norman has observed, the two groups were markedly similar in character: young, with most members under thirty, largely from the urban professional (especially legal) strata and mixed in religious membership


Page 109 In 1846, the conflict was brought deliberately to a head by O’Connell. Davis, the major conciliating figure among the Young Irelanders, had died in 1845, and a new more militant nationalist, John Mitchel, had appeared. To drive them out of his organization O’Connell forced through a series of resolutions committing his movement to opposition in principle to the use of force to gain independence. The expulsion or withdrawal of Young Ireland marked a new phase in Irish politics, quickening the process of radicalization already apparent within the group, which now attracted a new influx of militant nationalists, including the agrarian theorist, Fintan Lalor. In January 1847, Young Ireland established its own organization, the Irish Confederation, under the leadership of Gavan Duffy and Smith O’Brien, forming one hundred and fifty local clubs directed from Dublin. It attracted, however, little support, either among the middle classes hopeful of further advancement with the Whigs or the peasantry to whom as individuals they were unknown; both groups remained loyal to O’Connell. Moreover, beyond a commitment to Repeal, racked by divisions between conservatives and militants, the Confederation was unable to formulate a coherent policy. Young Ireland appeared therefore to be marching to oblivion. But the formation of this organization occurred under the shadow of a catastrophic famine that, in threatening to dissolve the foundations of society, destroyed the legitimacy of British rule in Ireland and created an abnormal psychological and social atmosphere in which even hallucinatory fantasies of national revolution might seem rational. National crisis and the path to revolution The famine had begun in 1845 with the failure of the potato crop. Such failures had occurred before, earlier in the century. But, by the 1840s, with the continuous expansion of population to more than eight million, Ireland had become one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, with about half of her population dependent for their subsistence on the potato. Moreover, the character of the famine was different from previous ones in that it occurred nation-wide and was repeated


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