I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Reviews INSURRECTIONISTS AND SKIRMISHERS

INSURRECTIONISTS AND SKIRMISHERS

Maurice Earls
The Dynamiters: Irish Nationalism and Political Violence in the Wider World 1867-1900, by Niall Whelehan, Cambridge University Press, 324pp, £60, ISBN: 978-1107023321 The formidable Daniel O’Connell tried his utmost to win a repeal of Ireland’s union with Britain. Success would have amounted to what was known later in the nineteenth century as Home Rule. Catholic Ireland was energetically united behind O’Connell in this quest, which he pursued by exclusively peaceful means over fifteen years, with a tactical break in the 1830s. The very idea, however, was regarded as preposterous in Westminster and the movement was thwarted and opposed whenever possible; eventually, as the realisation deepened that the British would not concede to the popular will and as exhaustion and the shadow of  famine grew, the campaign fizzled out in dissension, splits and incoherence. When you lose in politics there is a tendency for others ‑ particularly the young ‑ to question, if not denounce, your tactics. Notwithstanding the impressive list of achievements and concessions won by O’Connell over thirty-odd years, his ending was an example of the dictum that all political careers end in failure; while older activists continued to revere his memory many younger ones were happy to dismiss his moral force politics as ineffective and even pathetic. In 1848 John Mitchel’s United Irishman published a song reflecting the new mood: Oh! Do be wise! Leave moral force, The strength of thought and pen And all the value of discourse, To lily-livered men; The 1848 revolt which followed shortly after O’Connell’s death was barely planned and unsuccessful; it was derided in the British press as the rebellion of “the Widow Mc Cormack’s cabbage patch”. It didn’t exactly show up O’Connell’s inadequacy but it did point towards different possibilities, ones which would be untainted by the long half-century of peaceful agitation that had failed to prevent the disasters of the 1840s. James Stephens, John O’Mahony and others who saw action at the cabbage patch or in related episodes went on to become involved in establishing the Fenian Brotherhood and the IRB in 1858. The new movement was committed to moving beyond the politics of “moral force” and to adopting instead the politics of “physical force”. This move towards insurrection was not only a question of a new generation; there were also marked social differences between the activists of the O’Connell era and that of the Fenians. The former was characterised by a…

Advertisement

booksupstairs.ie

Dublin’s Oldest Independent BookshopBooks delivered worldwide