1798: The bloody & failed Irish republican revolt

Eoin Purcell

1789: The 14th July, Bastille Day
Maybe it is the old style liberalism in me but, being deeply suspicious of it, I have never been a fan of radicalism of any description. This has pushed my sympathies in some strange directions. In the case of France that has been with the moderate forces during the French Revolution and to some extent the moderate Royalists who in the early days of the Estates General and The National Assembly and the National Constituent Assembly.

I studied the history of the moderate and reformist aristocracy (and there were certain parts of the second estate that passionately believed in change, I must dig out that essay wherever it is) during my third year in University and they proved to be among the most active reformers in the early days of the revolution, pushing for radical reform and the type of moderate limited monarchy that most liberals would happily settle for and indeed which their close neighbours in England had slowly but surely achieved in the course of the 17th & 18th Centuries (though that development was not without its own fair share of blood).

So the shift from moderate and sensible reform towards radicalism, blood and a spiral of terror that the events of 14th July (The Storming of the Bastille) indicate are a lost opportunity in my mind, not a cause of celebration. To be clear, I don’t blame the citizen of Paris, nor even the less moderate politicians of the third estate, there was sufficient evidence in their eyes that the King and his party had plans to launch a coup, the worrying and increasing presence of foreign born troops was a worrying indicator and the sacking of Necker an equally concern one. There was an atmosphere of distrust that was fostered by the King. But the results were pretty wasteful.

Ireland’s Republican Glory
Much like the storming of the Bastille & 14th July is in France, the 1798 Rebellion is remembered in Ireland as a rather exciting and noble event in Irish history, something I have long failed to understand. The event itself was planned by some high minded people (those behind the United Irishmen) but the net effect of their planning was a violent, bloody and utter failure. It came to a somewhat shambolic end this week in a series of engagements, most notably at Knightstown Bog.

Peasants with little training were thrown upon militia and regular soldiers of the British Crown with some initial success but ultimately savage retribution. The rebellion put paid to Ireland’s Parliament dooming the country to even less self government until the protracted revolution of 1914-1921 delivered a moderate home rule program (again at some cost).

Text From A History of the Rebellion in Ireland, in the Year 1798
Text From A History of the Rebellion in Ireland, in the Year 1798

I often wonder how an Irish parliament might have reacted to the Potato Blight in the 1840s or indeed how a parliament alert to the challenges that faced its landlord membership might have tried to reactivate the economy in the decades following the Napoleonic Wars when agricultural prices suffered so badly due to the increased land supply that had proved very profitable during the wars but now, with the emergence of new grain sources and rapid transport from the US and Russia, drove prices down and increased hardship amongst the poorest, and reduced capital available for investment among the landlords.

How too might a body, without the stains of massacres like Scullabogue or battles like Vinegar Hill or Ballinahinch. While some dismiss it, I don’t think you can validly explore history as it happened without thinking of the alternatives.

All told, I tend to see these periods of radicalism as swathes of history when our worst human tendencies have gained the upper hand and pushed back rational advances until good sense and order has reestablished itself, or more simply, a was eof time, effort, money and a huge waste of lives.

A day for fighting

Eoin Purcell

Strange concurrence
Looking over the events for the day I was struck by the prevalence of violent events that happened today> I thought a flavour of them might serve to show what I mean:

The Battle of Taierzhuang was in full flow in 1938. This battle although far from a critical turning point in the war, provided a much needed victory for the Chinese and helped galvanize Chinese morale. I find these battles so interesting, they turn the course of events, or they don’t but might have, or even more critically, they set the stage for future events.

The Crimean War: Either today or tomorrow, depending on where you look, Britain and France declared war on Russia. You’ll find and interesting time line for that war here on the Victorian Web. Link many wars, it is remembered principally for incidentals, like the Charge of The Light Brigade and Florence Nightingale rather than the real reason, the outcomes or the conflict itself. (PS: Mostly I just find the above video funny)

Then there is the president-to-be, Andrew Jackson led Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Frankly I’ve thought for a while that Jackson was a man who deserved attention and have been interested in the biography that has been selling in large numbers in the US. Of course he was not without his failings including a somewhat uncompromising attitude towards the Native American peoples. The Video below shows how he continued that policy when he became president.

The last event that struck me was the Battle of Komandorski Islands in the North Pacific in 1943. I had never even heard of ths engagement but the Wikipedia Article is fascinating:

Because of the remote location of the battle and chance encounter on open ocean, neither fleet had air or submarine assistance, making this the only engagement exclusively between surface ships in the Pacific Theatre, and the last pure gunnery duel between major combatants in American naval history.

All told, quite a day for the violence!

Our War: Ireland & WWI

Eoin Purcell

The New Irish Farm World War One Cemetery
The New Irish Farm World War One Cemetery

National Myths
There are some really sacred cows in Ireland. One of them is that national feeling was firmly behind the radical position demanding a separate government and state. In fact I’d go so far as to suggest the whole strain of moderate nationalism (the strain that was in favour of and very nearly achieved Home Rule or perhaps some form of Dual Monarchy, which in many ways was what was finally achieved after much violence and wasted trauma in 1922) has been ignored by the national conversation and the national psyche.

This is not to suggest that people don’t know about it (although I’d be interested to see how many people knew who John Redmond was), more that we, as a nation, tend to gloss over it.

We ignore the men who served in the RIC and the British Army and felt that they were loyal Irishmen. We ignore the current of opinion that consistently elected not radicals but moderates as our nations representatives in parliament. We decidedly ignore the fact that for much of the 19th Century we were a normal part of metropolitan Britain. We especially ignore the fact that even in the year of Sinn Féin’s breakthrough 1918 election, The Irish Parliamentary Party contested 57 seats to Sinn Féin’s 107 and won around 250,000 votes to their approximately 470,000.

That the party won only 7 seats to Sinn Féin’s 73 is all we remember. We assign a party that won about 21% (almost the same as Unionists) of the national vote to the dust heap and assume that they were a minority for all their existence when the opposite is in fact the truth. The real outlier was the rising of 1916 (a Black Swan event) and event that was rescued only by the excessive reaction of British Forces in executing the leadership (and some no-leaders) of the rising.

Why this is important?
All of this is to set the background for introducing RTÉ & the RIA‘s new history effort: 1918: Ireland & The Great War. It is an exciting development that involves Radio, Television, a Book and an archive exhibition dealing with Ireland’s part in the First World War.

One of the key components is the Thomas Davis Lecture Series, which has often acted as a way of throwing ideas into the national discourse. There is a nice introduction by Lorelei Harris, Editor, Arts, Features & Drama on the Thomas Davis Lecture’s site:

The idea for the project came during the course of a conversation with Professor John Horne of Trinity College Dublin who brought to my mind the number of Irish men who served and died during World War I. It seemed to me appropriate that we should mark this major contribution by Irish soldiers on the 90th anniversary of Armistice and from that point the project started to evolve.
I hope that you will enjoy listening and that the programmes will reveal to you, as they have to me, the significance of Ireland’s participation in the Great War

The book also looks fantastic the equal of RIA’s Judging Dev which stormed the charts last year. I think that this or more really hope that this marks the start of Ireland addressing its REAL history as it matures into a more assured member of the club of nations.

The role of Irishmen and women in World War One is so often downplayed and forgotten as I mentioned above. It is a shame because despite any misgivings there might be now about the war itself or about the justification for war in general, those who fought and died did so bravely and with a certainty that what they did was right.

Uncovered History can only welcome such revisiting of our national history and breaking down of myth and illusion!

The vagaries of Google Book search

Goddamn I love free books!
Yes free. Download em if you doubt me.

For instance: The Causes of the French Revolution by Lord John Russell (Longman, London, 1832) is available free for download here. Which is kinda crazy. Of course as we mentioned before you can get the text already on Gutenberg but this is a whole different ballgame. Or maybe its the game changer.

You can also easily download the History of the Girondists: Or, Personal Memoirs of the Patriots of the French Revolution, By Alphonse de Lamartine (H.G. Bohn, London??, 1853) and if you want to it is here.

But I did say vagaries (I had to check that. I was pretty sure I knew what it meant but just in case).
Sadly the one I really want is The History of the French Revolution, By Adolphe Thiers (A. Hart, Philadelphia, 1850) and all I can get is this! It seems strage for a book published in 1850 and even Thiers, though long lived (he died in 1877) died outside of the window for public domain works!

Oh well. I’ll take the free stuff for now and get the rest when I can!

A little more info: Russell

It seems statesmen are drawn to the history of the French Revolution. Last post mentioned that Thiers was almost certainly the same man that led France at a troubled time in its history and now it would appear that Russell or Lord John Russell was the Prime Minister of England. You can check his Wikipedia page here and also his biography on the Liberal Democrat history Group site.

It has been a tough mission to retrieve data on this title if only because the title is so generic and used so widely. I therefore confined myself to leafing though its fine pages and dealing with the book as a book. I highly recommend doing this. The process is very enjoyable and if you spend a little time reading this book in particular you will see what it was a good choice.

One of the most interesting passages I have found is here in chapter one where the author tackles the definition of “Revolution” and very effectively describes the differences between previous uprisings and revolts and the French Revolution. His reluctance to ascribe the word revolution to the American Revolution may be controversial but his logic is at least consistent leaving the title out of his description of the events usually referred to as the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Can we lay our hands on a copy?
You can but it is fierce expensive! See Abebooks here for more..

Wrap Up
Google responded quickly to my concerns about accessing public domain books and reminded me that I can print the books if I like, which I did for part but I do enjoy reading the whole. In any case for now we seem to be stuck reading on the Google web pages and not downloading a text from the site as say Gutenberg allows. This seems to be taking me longer than expected but at least I finally got another post up.

From a surprisingly still sunny Dublin.