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"Mr. Brown's masterpiece..."
-- Michael Foote in the London Evening Standard

The Politics of Irish Literature
From Thomas Davis to W.B. Yeats
by Malcolm Brown

* Complete book now available on Kindle!


The Politics of Irish Literature
From Thomas Davis to W.B. Yeats

by Malcolm Brown

Chapter Seventeen
The Land War in Mayo

ISAAC BUTT had died during the excitement of the first 1879 Mayo skirmishes of the Land League and had been replaced as chairman of the Home Rule parliamentary party by a Cork banker, William Shaw, an illustrious relict from the old Committee of Sixty-one whose patriotic fervor reached its most intense moment, caught by an alert historian, when he confessed that he never saw a process-server's cart "without wanting to pull the linch-pin out of it."' While Butt's leadership had left much to be desired, the party under Shaw was all but defunct, a condition that Parnell hurrying home from New York hoped soon to remedy.

Parnell's popular appeal in 1880 rested on his identification with the Land League and the Amnesty Association. The New Departure Fenians, Ribbon Fenians, formed the cadre by which his mass power was generated. Unfortunately for him, Wolfe Tone's men of no property were even yet enfranchised. The 1880 electorate of Ireland was still only two hundred thousand in a population of six million, not much changed, in spite of Disraeli's second reform act in 1867, since the Liberator had bargained away the forty-shilling freeholders' franchise back in 1829. But Parnell had also captured the backing of a segment of Irish respectability, those adventuresome middle-class elements represented by the Freeman's Journal and the Nation, who, in O'Leary's contemptuous sketch, avoided the risk of insurrection but loved to agitate. So much for the accelerator. As for brakes, if the bishops were mostly against him, they were not unanimous, the Land League having won two episcopal friends in Archbishop Croke of Cashel and Bishop Nulty of Meath. The lower clergy were also split, but more favorably. Some of the fiercest Land League fighters were clergymen, and many others came in, like the Kerry clergy in the Blennerhassett election, to avoid being left behind. Their help was not just welcomed by Parnell, but implored. Archbishop Croke reported that Parnell came to him at the time of the Westport meeting and "literally" fell on his knees to beg him to use all his influence "to have the priests join the movement."

Disturbed by the flourishing heresy of nationalist collaboration with the clergy, the Old Fenians suddenly became obstreperous. When Parnell walked down the pier at Queenstown on his return from America, a mysterious figure handed him a memorandum warning him to beware, since "the intelligent manhood of the country" had come to the conclusion that his parliamentarianism was "utterly futile." By a freak conjunction the clerical and Fenian anti-Parnellites joined forces for the election at Enniscorthy, county Wexford, the center of the 1798 rising. With a priest directing the battle forces, Fenian rioters tore off one leg of Parnell's trousers, splattered an egg in his beard, and tried to kill him with a blackthorn. One of the rioters coined a striking poetic conceit, "We will show Parnell that the blood of Vinegar Hill is still green." A newspaperman asked Parnell if it was not true that he was opposed by the Fenians and the priests. Mindful of his accelerator and brakes, he replied: "Indeed it is not. I should despair of Ireland if the most active forces in the country arrayed themselves against a movement like this. Individual priests may have condemned chance indiscretions; individual nationalists have protested that we should lie by while preparations are being made to cope with England by physical force, but that is all."

In England Gladstone was an easy winner in the 1880 elections, returning to power with an absolute majority for his second ministry, which was to occupy him from age seventy-one through seventy-six. He chose for his Irish chief secretary the eminent Liberal reformer and businessman, the author of the Education Act of 1870, William E. Forster. In Ireland the voting went very nicely for Parnell. Butt's Home Rule party had elected fifty-nine members in 1874; and in 1880 the count rose to sixty, a net gain of one in six years. But the composition of Home Rule had shifted decisively to the left, and Parnell now had the party majority he had been waiting for. Immediately after the elections, he forced a party vote and defeated Shaw for the chairmanship. A few of Shaw's followers drifted over to Parnell's side, but most of them sank by gentle transition into the two English parties; Blennerhassett reverted to the supine state from which A. M. Sullivan had once hoped to redeem him, while King-Harman became one of the most vocal of the anti-Home Rule partisans, the author of the Orange slogan, "Keep the cartridge in the rifle." With the departure of the Whig Home Rulers, Parnell was surrounded by his congeries of somewhat inharmonious allies, which Conor Cruise O'Brien has illustrated with a map that is rather more revealing than the information that Parnell belongs to Yeats's Phase Ten. Parnell stands in the middle of Cruise O'Brien's diagram like a juggler mastering all the separate flying hoops by his fabulous ambidexterity.

II

After Parnell had parted company with Shaw and the last of Butt's Home Rulers, he was left with a nucleus of twenty-three members. He now marshaled these in Westminster to challenge a House of Commons numbering 652 members. The newly elected House was in no amiable mood toward the Lilliputian Irish challenge; and the queen's address on opening Parliament pointedly ignored the distress in Ireland. The immediate danger of mass Irish starvation had in fact slackened since midwinter. In midsummer 1880 a fine harvest began to come in, the first good crop in four years. But prices remained poor and the peasants were still in danger of wholesale dispossession. Parnell's first task as parliamentary leader of the new Irish party was to take bold action against the mounting tide of evictions...

Table of Contents
The Politics of Irish Literature by Malcolm Brown

Astonisher.com is pleased to offer these excerpts from The Politics of Irish Literature by Malcolm Brown...

The Politics of
Irish Literature

From Thomas Davis to W.B. Yeats
by Malcolm Brown
Part I: The Peculiar Irish Setting
1. History and Poetry: Some Irish Paradoxes
2. Thomas Davis' Ireland
Part II: Young Ireland
3. O'Connell and Davis in Partnership
4. The Nation's First Year
5. The Retreat from Clontarf
6. Black '47
7. '48 and Insurrection
8. Beside the Sickbed: Carlyle, Duffy, Dr. Cullen
9. John Mitchel after '48
Part III: Fenianism
10. Mr. Shook
11. Fenianism Mobilizes
12. O'Leary and the Irish People
13. "The Year for Action"
14. The Agony of Fenianism
Part IV: Home Rule
15. The Ballot Box Once More: Isaac Butt
16. Parnell and Davitt
17. The Land War in Mayo
18. After Kilmainham: Bakhuninism in Phoenix Park
19. After Kilmainham: Davitt and Standish O'Grady Take Stock
20. The Irish Party in Maneuver
21. Enter: W. B. Yeats
22. Catastrophe
23. Poetry Defends the Gap: Yeats and Hyde
24. Literary Parnellism

Praise for
The Politics of Irish Literature
cover thumbnail for "The Politics of Irish Literature" by Malcolm Brown

"This brilliant study of the intersection of politics and literature in Ireland amounts to a dazzling portrait gallery. Reading it one feels about one the breath, warmth, and passions of the dead all come alive again."
-- Sean O'Faolain in the Manchester Guardian

"Mr. Brown's masterpiece has made me want to hire a nearby housetop and recite whole chunks to every passerby..."
-- Michael Foote in the London Evening Standard

"The author of the best book on George Moore now gives us what is in all likelihood the best book on the politics of modern Irish literature."
-- Virginia Quarterly Review

Professor Malcolm J. Brown with his son, Bruce Brown, Sumas, WA, July 1988

University of Washington Professor Malcolm J. Brown (1910 - 1992) with his son, Bruce Brown, in Sumas, WA, July 1988.

Additional reading -- Malcolm Brown's George Moore: A Reconsideration. Also see Bruce Brown's commentary on The History of the Corporation for Malcolm Brown's contribution to that work.

NOTE: This is an EXCERPT from The Politics of Irish Literature by Malcolm Brown. The complete book is now available on Kindle!

"The Politics of Irish Literature" © Copyright 1973 Malcolm Brown. © Copyright 2000, 2015 Bruce Brown.

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From Thomas Davis to W.B. Yeats
by Malcolm Brown

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