In the current issue of History Ireland, James McConnell writes: “In fact, as John Redmond aged he also became more politically conservative, and his family’s tradition of Catholic loyalty increasingly exerted an influence on him. As the IPP leader at Westminster for eighteen years, he increasingly looked forward not to separation but to a future in which Britain and Ireland would continue to be linked through allegiance to the crown and empire.” McConnell’s article makes it clear that the tradition of Catholic loyalty was a minor thread in Irish political history, not least because of the scarcity of Catholic gentry following the dispossessions of earlier centuries. The Redmonds, who traced their line back to the twelfth century Norman landing in Wexford, were unusual. It seems they held onto their land and; in the early nineteenth century, while they favoured the removal of penal legislation, they were not interested in overturning the broader status quo.
The younger Redmond was less conservative and had backed Parnell at the time of the IPP split. Whatever about the later atavistic turn in his thinking, he led a party of Nationalists whose supporters desired the maximum possible autonomy and independence. IPP supporters tended to believe in the constitutional road less as a matter of principle than in consequence of a conviction that military action was bound to fail. James Joyce was typical of this strain of pragmatic nationalism. At one point he spoke of military victory over the English as a dream.
Parnell was decidedly not a crown and empire man. His focus and intensity had generated an aura of unyielding legitimacy around the demand for national autonomy. Arguably you need this to effect any political change of substance. Earlier in the century the bravura O’Connell had conveyed a similar legitimacy to the world at large, whereas in the intervening period Isaac Butt, who was something of an assimilationist, failed to communicate any such sense. Finally in the early twentieth century Redmond’s emerging notion of partnership between the nations diluted the hard won legitimacy of the Parnell era.
Some perceptive elements within the constitutional camp ‑ which was of course the majority nationalist camp- began to show unease relatively early. The signs of discontent can be discerned well before 1913.
Joyce and his family were admirers of Parnell and were part of a culture which saw Parnell in figurative terms as a saviour. Looking back in 1912 Joyce wrote approvingly that Parnell understood that English liberalism “would only yield to force,[and Parnell] united every element of national life behind him, and set out on a march along the borders of insurrection. Six years after entering Westminster, he already held the destiny of the government in his hands. He was imprisoned, but from his cell in Kilmainham he concluded a pact with the ministers who had jailed him.”
Joyce wholly approved of Parnell’s tactics; he believed that the English had to be forced on the question of Irish autonomy because real autonomy was not in the English interest. As he wrote five years earlier: England “does not want a rival island to grow up beside Great Britain, or Irish factories to compete with English ones, or tobacco and wine to be once again exported from Ireland …”
In the eyes of admirers like Joyce, Parnell had led his people “out of the house of shame to the edge of the Promised Land”. But the Irish had destroyed Parnell and Irish politics was impoverished. As Joyce saw it in 1907: “… the Irish Parliamentary Party is bankrupt. For twenty-seven years it has been agitating and talking.” In a letter to his brother, Joyce wrote: “You ask me what I would substitute for parliamentary agitation in Ireland. I think the Sinn Fein policy would be more effective.” Joyce was an admirer of the Sinn Fein founder Arthur Griffith, who excoriated the IPP as tools of John Bull.
In his newspapers, Griffith had long advanced the Sinn Féin view of Irish politics. By 1915 he was editing the penny weekly Nationality. Griffith was an able and fluent writer and had a good line in mocking IPP types who sought to benefit from the British connection. The issue of December 25th, 1915 – which makes no reference to the Christian holiday ‑ carried a representative piece which is an amusing satire of those in the IPP whose ideas of autonomy were considered overly mild. It is also noteworthy in that, in passing, the article discusses Jews and discriminatory attitudes towards that community. Griffith who was almost certainly the author, advances impeccably inclusivist views on the question, which is interesting given that some years earlier he had expressed views which were anything but inclusivist.
Some of the Kingstown Urban Councillors – the Chairman is the brother of an eligible K.C. – have had their patriotism disturbed by the non-filling of a vacancy in the stipendiary police-magistracy, and have adopted a resolution. In helping the adoption, Mr. J.J. Kennedy emitted the agonised wail of a stricken soul. He considered it was “hard luck for Irishmen to be deprived of their proper place in the government of Ireland”, but let none imagine Mr. Kennedy was “pro-German” enough to hold that the proper place of Irishmen in the government of Ireland is the same as the proper place of Frenchmen in the government in France, Germans in the government in Germany, Spaniards in the government of Spain, and Dutchmen in the government of Holland – at its head and in absolute control of all its functions. Nothing could be further from the Imperial Kennedy’s thought. The proper place of Irishmen in the government in his estimation is in its minor posts under English – or if he prefers the inaccurate term, Imperial – management….
Mr. Kennedy’s views that Irishmen should hold some of the small jobs connected with the English Government of Ireland does not apply to an Irishman who happens to be a Jew. As a whole he respects Jews, but they have their proper place. It is “in the world,” not “in the government of this country.”
We and three-fourths of the people of Ireland have no interest whatever in the fortunes of the Dublin Police Magistracy or the destined successor of Sir Matthew Nathan. We do not know of one Nationalist Irishman who objects to Sir Matthew Nathan because of the religion he professes, or who holds the creed that an Irish Jew should be ineligible for any office he was competent to fill in an Irish Government. Neither do any of them believe it would be a comfort to be hanged by an Irish Catholic or Irish Protestant hangman instead of by an Anglo-Israelite. For our part, we have never heard an honest and intelligent Irishman complain that he was oppressed by an English Jew appointed to Dublin Castle, as he had a constitutional right to be, instead of being oppressed by an Irish Catholic or an Irish Protestant set over him by England. Their complaint is that they are oppressed by foreigners and the servants of foreigners, and it is only due to the English Government in Ireland to add that those who serve it in the essential positions in Ireland are quite free to profess any creed so long as they keep clear of all religion.