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ire-Ireland, Volume 44:3&4, Earrach/Samhradh / Fall/Winter 2009,

pp. 9-42 (Article)
DOI: 10.1353/eir.0.0046

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Ian dAlton

A Vestigial Population?
Perspectives on Southern
Irish Protestants in the
Twentieth Century*

The gods were not smiling on the Irish Week of Prayer for Christian
Unity in January . The Jesuit organizer of an ecumenical meeting in Dublins Mansion House had unwisely promised that, for the
first time since the Reformation, the two archbishops of Dublin,
John Charles McQuaid for the Catholics and George Otto Simms
for the Church of Ireland, would publicly say the Lords Prayer
together. McQuaid was incandescent with fury at being railroaded
into this event and took it out on the traumatized cleric. As a result,
the meeting itself was chaotically disorganized. A free-for-all at the
start resulted in McQuaids securing a seat at the top table, while
Simms ended up in the audience, notwithstanding that there was
an empty chair on the platform. That empty chair, together with a
patronizing tribute by the main speaker to the Irish authorities for
being so tolerant toward their minority, was seen by many as symbolizing the still seemingly marginal position of Irish Protestants in
the southern state. So discomforting was it that one contemporary
*The genesis of this essay was in a paper given to history students at the University
of Cambridge on January . I wish to thank Dr. Eugenio Biagini for the kind
invitation to address his special-subject group. I am also grateful to Professor Tom
Dunne, Barry OLeary, the Rev. Peter Hanna, and Felix Larkin for their helpfully
critical analyses of earlier drafts of this paper. I am indebted as well to the Rev. Dr.
Robert Tobin, Dr. Susan Hood, and Professor Maurice Harmon for various kinds
of generous assistance.

commentator suggested that ecumenism was in danger of becoming

Irelands number one blood sport. And exactly a year later, the
incorrigible McQuaid was still calling for prayers for the return of
Protestants to the One True Church.1
Until the s at least, southern Irish Protestants often spent
the time dancing around their own handbags. Yet within not much
more than a decade, all had changed, changed utterly. Initially, the
catalyst came from outside Irelandthe upheavals instituted by the
Second Vatican Council () and the disintegration of the
authority of the Catholic church over sexual mores initiated by the
encyclical Humanae Vitae ()and then internally, following a
short-lived boost from the papal visit in , with the painful emergence of corrosive scandals involving priests, brothers, and nuns in
the s. A loss of nerve, long thought to be a Protestant characteristic, was suddenly mirrored on the Catholic side.
At the same time, Protestantism was bedding down as a confident
minority.2 The change of pace was startling. Extrapolating the population graph, as late as the s observers could assert quite plausibly that southern Protestants appeared to be dwindling . . .
towards a painless extinction, accepting the need to live quietly and
passively in their dying culture.3 But by far from the fears of
earnest ecumenists wondering if there would be enough to go
aroundProtestants appeared to be thriving, as evidenced by
healthy census figures.4 Their social standing has become quite fash. See the entertaining account of the episode in John Cooney, John
Charles McQuaid, Ruler of Catholic Ireland (Dublin, ), , .
. Daithi Corrin, Rendering to God and Caesar:The Irish Churches and the Two
States in Ireland, (Manchester, ), . A confident minority was the title
of Bishop Arthur Butlers sermon on the eve of the general synod of the Church of
Ireland on May .
. J.C. Beckett, The Anglo-Irish Tradition (London, ), ; Kurt Bowen,
Protestants in a Catholic State: Irelands Privileged Minority (Dublin, ), .
. Between the and censuses of population in the Republic of Ireland, the Church of Ireland population increased by a remarkable percent, from
, to ,; this was all the more remarkable since it reversed a steady
decline since . Migration and its side-effects, such as Protestant partners of
returning emigrants, played a large part. While relative fertility also improved, anecdotal evidence from southern parishes appears to bear out the rather pessimistic
conclusion that the residual ethnic group defined as Church of Ireland is, at best,
no more than in a steady state. See Malcolm Macourt, Counting the People of God?


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ionable, apparent in the enthusiastic colonization of fee-paying

Protestant schools by the offspring of prosperous Catholics. Roy Fosters contention that by the s Catholics became Protestants is
quite believable. Protestantness, if not Protestantism, is the flavor of
the moment.5
But if Protestants were still perceived to possess outsider status
nearly half a century after independence, it is perhaps worth asking
why. Was it imposed on them by the insiders, the Catholics? Or was
it self-determined, a cocoon created to ensure that difference was
maintained? Edward Saids argument is appositethat nations are
themselves narrations. The power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging, is very important.6 Yet, despite
a dominant plangent nationalism, a distinct Protestant narrative
existed side-by-side right through to the s. A Church of Ireland
declaration in that we are Irish and Ireland is our home
might seem unexceptional and could have been subscribed to by
Sinn Fin.7 But Protestants and Catholics were divided by a common language; that simple declaration contained a minefield of differing interpretations of we, Irish, Ireland, and home.
We cannot tell what political change lies before our country, sermonized the newly elected archbishop of Dublin in July , but
one thing is certain, the Church of Ireland must never let itself be a
stranger in Ireland.8 And southern Protestants, often perceiving Ireland as a country rather than a nation,9 were never strangers in
The Census of Population and the Church of Ireland (Dublin, ), . See also
Robert Tobin, The Evolution of National and Religious Identity in Contemporary
Ireland, in Redefining Christian Britain: Post Perspectives, ed. Jane Garnett et al.
(London, ). My essay assumes (perhaps heroically) religious constancy. See
Julie Anne Stevens, The Irish Scene in Somerville & Ross (Dublin, ), , on
southern Anglicans; she comments that although their politics or their sexuality
may be open to question, their religion remains firm.
. First articulated by Marie-Claire Charon, Protestant Schools in Irelanda
French View, Studies (Spring ): ; Eddie Holt, in IrishTimes, Nov. ; R.F.
Foster, Luck and the Irish:A Brief History of Change, (London, ), .
. Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (London, ), xiii.
. Church of Ireland Gazette and Family Newspaper (hereafter cited as CoIG),
July .
. George Seaver, John Fitzgerald Gregg, Archbishop of Dublin (Dublin, ),
. J.M. Hone, The Bell , no. (Sept. ): .
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their own land, as shown by the empathetic words of the Anglo-Irish

novelists Somerville and Ross:
The very wind that blows softly over brown acres of bog carries
perfumes and sounds that England does not know:
the women digging the potato-land are talking of things
that England does not understand. The question that remains
is whether England will ever understand.10

This passage raises the significant issue of identity. Approaches to

southern Protestantism in the twentieth century are wide in scope,
from demographic and sociological studies, through cultural analyses and anecdotal narrative, to the examination of high politics.11 Yet
many of these concentrate on describing the experience of southern
Protestants outside an adequate context of establishing that identity,
ignoring or being unaware of the thesis that the uncertainty and
complexity of their status may itself shape that experience.12 One
fruitful avenue of study is the comparative, and there is much to be
learned from the history of other, similar minorities.13 France in par. Edith Somerville and Martin Ross, Some IrishYesterdays (London, ), .
. A small selection of the relevant literature includes Joseph Ruane and David
Butler, Southern Irish Protestants: An Example of De-ethnicisation? Nations and
Nationalism , no. (): ; John Coakley, Religion, Ethnic Identity, and
the Protestant Minority in the Republic, in Ireland and the Politics of Change, ed.
William Crotty and David Schmitt (London, ); Jack White, Minority Report
(Dublin, ); Bowen, Protestants in a Catholic State; F.S.L. Lyons, Culture and
Anarchy in Ireland, (Oxford, ), and The Minority in the Counties,
in TheYears of the Great Test, , ed. F. McManus (Cork, ), ; Mark
Bence-Jones, Twilight of the Ascendancy (London, ); Michael McConville, Ascendancy to Oblivion: The story of the Anglo-Irish (London, ); Donald Akenson,
Small Differences: Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants, (Quebec, );
Patrick Buckland, Irish Unionism, : The Anglo-Irish and the New Ireland,
(Dublin, ); Terence Brown, Ireland: A Social and Cultural History,
(London, ); Corrin, Rendering to God and Caesar; Ian dAlton, Remembering the Future, Imagining the Past: How Southern Irish Protestants Survived,
in Librarians, Poets, and Scholars: A Festschrift for Donall Lanaigh, ed. Felix M.
Larkin (Dublin, ), ; Bernadette Hayes and Tony Fahey, Protestants and
Politics in the Republic of Ireland: Is Integration Complete?, in Irish Protestant
Identities, ed. Mervyn Busteed, Frank Neal, and Jonathan Tonge (Manchester,
), .
. Ruane and Butler, Southern Irish Protestants, .
. See, for instance, Patrick Cabanel, Protestantism in the Czech Historical
Narrative and Czech Nationalism of the Nineteenth Century, National Identities


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ticular offers a rewarding contrast. French Protestants, with only

some percent of the population, appear to have a heroic view and
knowledge of their history that are almost entirely lacking in Irish
Protestantism. The dominant narrative has made sure of that.14
Survival within a shifting sense of identity is the concern of this
essay. Southern Irish Protestants utilized four modes to achieve
thisengagement, exclusivity, invisibility, and assertionand four
exemplars are used to illumine them. Political and cultural engagement is appraised by exploring local politics before the end of the
Union and by gauging reactions of the Irish Times newspaper to the
independent Irish state. Exclusivity is examined through the proxy
of Anglo-Irish writing on the Big House. The dangers of both visibility and invisibility between and especially, and in the
following decades, are analyzed in terms of the social and the demographic. The green shoots of a returning assertiveness are inspected
through the prism of a revealing religious spat in .
Who were these southern Protestants? In they numbered
about ,.15 Their spread throughout the general population
was uneven, with a proportion of percent in Dublin but only
percent in the west.16 Mainly urban in , by mid-century the
community was much more evenly balanced between town and
country. Dublin and Cork cities not only possessed substantial middling professional and entrepreneurial classes, but also a Protestant
working class, most evident in the capital and numbering some
,.17 Prosperous farmers, shopkeepers, and small businessmen
, no. (March ): ; and Philippe Rigoulot, Protestants and the French
Nation under the Third Republic: Between Recognition and Assimilation, ibid.,
. J. Ruane, Beyond Ethnicity: Protestantism and Peoplehood in France and
Ireland (unpublished paper in the possession of Ian dAlton).
. H.C. , vol. , Cd. , . For the purposes of this section
southern Ireland is defined as the area of the Irish Free State, i.e., the three
provinces of Leinster, Munster, and Connacht, and the three Ulster counties of
Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan. Irish Protestants are generally defined as including members of the Church of Ireland, Methodists, Presbyterians, and some minor
Christian denominations. See Census of Ireland, , vol. .
. R.B. McDowell, Crisis and Decline: The Fate of Southern Unionists (Dublin,
), .
. The people of the playwright Sean OCasey. See Martin Maguire, The
Dublin Protestant Working Class, : Economy, Society, Politics (Masters
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formed a significant component of the Protestant community.18 The

Anglo-Irish gentry, largely a busted flush by , were a small part
of the Protestant population but contributed a large part of the noise.
Protestants comprised only percent of the population of
southern Ireland in , yet they punched far above their numerical weight, accounting for nearly half the lawyers, over a third of
doctors, and nearly three-quarters of bankers. By the Protestant population had declined to percent of the total, yet it still had
percent of the lawyers, over percent of the doctors, and well
over percent of the bankers.19 More than a quarter of large farms
were still in Protestant hands in . Of the managerial classes,
nearly one-fifth were Protestants.20 This economically dominant
and resilient minority had a vital interest in how the economy of the
new state was organized, especially in its tariff, taxation, and landdistribution policies, and in its attitudes toward education, the professions, and the public service.21

The Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen, in her memoir Seven
Winters,22 says of Edwardian Dublin that the twentieth century
thesis, University College Dublin, ); idem, The Organisation and Activism of
Dublins Protestant Working Class, , Irish Historical Studies , no.
(May ): .
. Idem, The Church of Ireland and the Problem of the Protestant WorkingClass of Dublin, ss, in As by Law Established:The Church of Ireland since
the Reformation, ed. Alan Ford, James McGuire, and Kenneth Milne (Dublin, ),
; Saorstt Eireannn, Census of Population, , X, General Report (Dublin, ),
(P.), . While the total proportion of Protestants employed in agricultural
occupations was percent (i.e., close to the average of . percent in the population
at large), it was heavily skewed in favor of prosperity, having percent of farm
managers, for instance, in contrast to only . percent of agricultural laborers.
. McDowell, Crisis and Decline, ; Saorstt Eireannn, Census of Population,
, , .
. Saorstt Eireannn, Census of Population, , , ; R.B. McDowell, The
Church of Ireland, (London, ), .
. Lord Midleton sought direct representation in for commerce as well
as property in the new Irish Senate. See Peter Martin, Unionism: The Irish Nobility and Revolution, , in The Irish Revolution, , ed. Joost Augusteijn
(Basingstoke and New York, ), .
. Elizabeth Bowen, Bowens Court & SevenWinters (London, ), .


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governed only in name; the nineteenth was still a powerful dowager.

If the birth of democratic Irish politics lies truly in the era of localgovernment reform after , its conception was in the franchise
and constituency reforms of .23 At the general election,
encouraged by the recently formed Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union,
loyalists in various guises (conservatives, independents, liberals)
contested many southern constituencies. Head-on confrontation
with nationalism served only to demonstrate starkly the numerical
weakness of southern unionism. In Ireland as a whole, fifty-two contests resulted in fifty defeats. A lesson well learned, mass parliamentary candidatures were not attempted again. Henceforth, southern Protestants were wont to rely on Irish unionists sitting for
English constituencies rather than on northern unionists to represent
their interests in parliament.24
What is interesting about is the lack of support for the loyalist candidates generally. Given the proportion of Protestants in the
electorate, the loyalist vote should have been much higher. It was
almost as if at a national level southern unionists had already given
up. But below the parliamentary level, Protestant unionists exhibited
a more vigorous political engagement after the mid-s. Urban
unionism especially exhibited freshness and vitality.25 To take Cork
as an example, Sir John Harley Scott, one of the citys leading shipping merchants and a revitalizer of civic unionism, exploited nation. Alan ODay, Irish Home Rule, (Manchester, ), .
. In eight Cork constituencies, for instance, loyalist candidates amassed a
total of , votes, against more than ten times that number for the nationalists. See
Parliamentary Election Results in Ireland, , ed. Brian Walker (Dublin, ),
; Ian dAlton, Cork Unionism: Its Role in Parliamentary and Local Elections,
, Studia Hibernica (): . A.H. Smith-Barry (South Huntingdonshire, ), R.U. Penrose-Fitzgerald (Cambridge city, ), and
J.R.B. Pretyman-Newman (Enfield, , and Finchley, ) represented
Cork unionists, variously, between and . Only right at the end of the
Union was there one final throw of the national unionist dice, when Cork loyalists
attempted to exploit the nationalist/Sinn Fein split at the general election. See
Walker, Parliamentary Election Results, . The unionists received , votes, in
contrast to , for Home Rulers and , for Sinn Fin.
. In this, it helped that southern unionism was possibly a frame of mind
rather than an immutable political constant. See Patrick Buckland, Irish Unionism
and the New Ireland, in Revolution in Ireland, , ed. D. George Boyce
(Dublin, ), .
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alist divisions over Parnell to fine effect, seeing off those from his side
who found the constant adaptation and necessarily shifting political
alliances distasteful. Allying first with Parnellites, then with antiParnellites, the minority unionist bloc in the city corporation
maneuvered to improve its numbers and morale, culminating in
Scotts election as mayorto the fury of the nationalist Cork Examinerof this Catholic and National city in .26
This set the scene for the first local-government elections in
,27 in which unionists did better than expected. Despite misgivings about inevitable humiliation and loss of self-respect, many gentry heeded the Tory minister Gerald Balfours call to the natural
leaders of the people to stand.28 In the largest Irish county, Cork, for
instance, although none won a seat, their average vote was percent,
nearly three times the proportion received in the parliamentary
elections. Several candidates received votes in excess of percent,
though at the price of considerable fudge in relation to Home Rule.
This pattern of the more local, the more successful, was also demonstrated at the levels of urban district councils and town commissions;
the January elections produced a respectable eleven unionist
councilors in ten different towns in that county.29
Yet, for all this, the unionist success was temporary. In , in
what was to become the area encompassed by the Irish Free State,
unionists had seats on county councils. After the local-government elections of that number had shriveled to .30 By
the game was up. Despite Scotts triumph in riding the tiger of
nationalist splits in the sexhilarating, but dangerousa Cork
. Cork Examiner, Dec. .
. Brendan O Donoghue, From Grand Juries to County Councils: The
Effects of the Local Government (Ireland) Act , in Larkin, Librarians, Poets, and
Scholars, .
. Parliamentary Debates, th series, vol. ( Feb. ), .
. Full results can be found in the Cork Examiner, Jan. (towns) and ,
, and April (county divisions). See also Catherine Shannon, Local Government in Ireland: The Politics and Administration (Masters thesis, University
College Dublin, ); O Donoghue, From Grand Juries to County Councils,
. George Arbuthnot, How Local Government Is Worked in Ireland, in
Nineteenth Century (June ), ; among the rural and urban district councils there were nationalist chairmen and only unionist. The disappearance of
ex-officio members in contributed heavily to the decline.


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city unionist party, a decade before the end of the Union, had
ceased to exist as such. Its erstwhile members emerged as independents, ratepayers representatives, and (prefiguring later support
for the Fine Gael party) a surprising number as All-for-Ireland
League supporters.31 By avoiding the larger national question,
unionists found a role as economic patriots based on the local.32
Political engagement was not a defining feature of southern
Protestantism after independence. But in the cultural sphere, one
visible Protestant institution tried to remain engaged. The Irish
Times newspaper was a significant channel for, and shaper of,
Protestant opinion. When Lawrence Knox founded it in ,
Protestantism was still a dominant political and cultural force on
the island, and for its first sixty years the paper was in tune with the
polity of which it was part. Indeed, Ireland in was in a situation
never to be repeated, with a majority of conservative MPs.33 Knox
had chosen a propitious moment since, in the words of a landlord,
country quiet, prices good, farmers prospering, rents well paid.34
By the time of independence the Times had had long practice at
playing to a prosperous and literate constituency. Even as the proportions of Protestants in the upper economic echelons declined, it
astutely marketed itself toward those who took their places, the
Catholic middle classes.35
If the economics broadly worked, politics was a trickier play. Fintan OToole suggests that the reality was that a unionist newspaper
could never really avoid being a Protestant one.36 If that was true,
. Ian dAlton, Southern Irish Unionism: A Study of Cork City and County
Unionists, (Masters thesis, University College Cork, ), .
. Idem, Keeping Faith: An Evocation of the Cork Protestant Character,
, in Cork History and Society, ed. Patrick OFlanagan and Cornelius
Buttimer (Dublin, ), .
. Andrew Shields, The Irish Conservative Party, : Land, Politics, and
Religion (Dublin and Portland, OR, ), xi, .
. K.T. Hoppen, Elections, Politics, and Society in Ireland, (Oxford,
), .
. Mark OBrien, The Irish Times: A History (Dublin, ), . See also
Caleb Richardson, Transforming Anglo-Ireland: R.M. Smyllie and The Irish
Times, New Hibernia Review , no. (Winter ): , , n. . This article is an
excellent analytical introduction to the history of the Times.
. Fintan OToole, A Paper for All Ireland, in The Irish Times @ ,
March , .
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what about the converse, which in the new dispensation, was what
really mattered? The eccentric genius of the Times, edited and managed by eccentric geniuses, was its adaptive abilitymirroring in
many ways the little-appreciated chameleon-like qualities of much of
southern Protestantism. In this respect the paper was much more
successful than some of its peers. It was a case of adapt or die. The
Protestant unionist Cork Constitution newspaper, with its strident
sectarian agenda, could not survive the change of regime in , as,
indeed, neither could the Freemans Journal on the other side of the
fence, for somewhat different reasons.37 The world of the Irish Times
offers a proxy for the path that much of southern Irish Protestantism was to follow, with the newspaper becoming, as OToole
puts it, an example of the virtues preached in its own leading articles, a solid, practical achievement by Protestants who, instead of
standing aloof, threw themselves into the daily life of Ireland.38
This view, however, is slightly rosy. Reflecting the generality of
southern Protestantism, the Times still possessed outsider status
nearly half a century after independence. Indeed, under the editorships of R.M. Smyllie and Douglas Gageby in particular, it gloried
in its contrarianism.39 Still, its contrariness and outsider quality
would have been missed if these attributes had gone under at independence. On the one hand, for southern Protestants the Times
helped to supply an essential narrative of continuity, easing the exunionists into a tolerancealbeit often grudgingof the new Ireland. On the other hand, the Times held to principles of personal
responsibility and the questioning of verities almost single-handedly
until rescued by the Protestantization of southern Irish society
beginning in the s.40 (In one particular sense it is a miracle that
the Irish Times survived at all. Across the wide, busy road from the
. Felix M. Larkin, A Great Daily Organ: The Freemans Journal,
, History Ireland , no. (MayJune ), .
. OToole, A Paper for All Ireland, .
. OBrien, Irish Times, , .
. Hayes and Fahey in Protestants and Politics in the Republic of Ireland,
, conclude from examining the European Values Study that southern Irish Protestants have values virtually indistinguishable from those of their
Catholic neighbors. Because of a lack of comparative data over time, what they have
not been able to consider is the extent to which Catholics may have moved toward
a Protestant position.


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paper, the Palace Bar in Fleet Street was a favorite haunt of the
hacks. Truly, a Protestant God must have been watching over them.
How were large-scale casualties avoided in those inebriated dashes
through the traffic?)

If political and cultural engagement, and the shape-shifting that
necessarily went with it, constituted one mode in which southern
Protestants dealt with the other Ireland, another was to ignore it and
retreat into social exclusivity. Here identity did not really have to be
addressed. In their separate worlds nationalist and unionist Ireland
confronted each other . . . from positions of monolithic security;
competition was unnecessary.41 The history of the ascendancy Big
House stands as a symbol of such exclusivity.42 In important
respects, however, the history has been overwhelmed by the fiction;
it needs careful treatment.43 As Oliver MacDonaghwho championed the value of the literary to the historicalwarned in relation to
the novel, It is not an historical source as the term is ordinarily
understood, nor should it ever be regarded as history manqu. But
he also recognized that it can yield insights and possibilities of
recovering special portions of the past, for which we shall search in
vain in any other matter.44
. Roy Foster, Modern Ireland, (London, ), .
. For the Big Houses in reality Terence Dooley provides an excellent
overview in The Decline of the Big House in Ireland: A Study of Irish Landed Families,
(Dublin, ), and in The Big Houses and Landed Estates of Ireland: A
Research Guide (Dublin, ). For treatment of the imaginative dimensions, see
Vera Kreilkamp, The Anglo-Irish Novel and the Big House (Syracuse, ) and John
Wilson Foster, Irish Novels, : New Bearings in Culture and Fiction (Oxford,
). See also Ian dAlton, The Last Big House: Perspectives from Lennox
Robinson and Elizabeth Bowen (unpublished paper, Royal Irish Academy, Committee for Irish Literatures in English Conference on The Big House in Twentieth
Century Irish Writing, Oct. ).
. For example, Roy Foster points out that Elizabeth Bowens The Last September is sometimes treated as historical evidence, though it was really written as a
historical novel. See Roy Foster, Paddy and Mr. Punch (London, ), . See also
Kreilkamp, Anglo-Irish Novel, ; Jean Genet, The Big House in Ireland: Reality and
Representation (London, ), .
. Oliver MacDonagh, The Nineteenth-Century Novel and Irish Social History:
Some Aspects (The ODonnell Lecture, National University of Ireland, ), . For
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Lennox Robinsons play The Big House was first performed on

September in the Abbey Theatre. Set in the period from
to , it deals with that important, though by no means dominant, subset of southern Protestantism, the Anglo-Irish. The house
acts as both canvas and character. It is a largely interior world disturbed by outside forces, hostile and friendly, and ultimately
destructive of both itself and the way of life it represented.45
Its the morning after. Ballydonal, the eponymous Big House, is a
charred and smoking ruin. So is its owner.46 Yet St. Leger Alcock is
relieved: Im just damned glad its all over and theres no reason to
make an effort any more. His feisty daughter, however, is as fired
up as the house. Unwilling to go quietly, Kate protests its centrality
to her existence: I believe in Ballydonal, its my life, its my faith, its
my country.47
MacDonagh maintained that for the Anglo-Irish, the physical
precincts were . . . central to identity;48 and Kate Alcocks declaration of allegiance to her countrythe Big Houseis no less fierce
than that of a Sinn Finer to Caitln N Houlihan. This autonomous
state worked for the gentry, because Protestants and Catholics
could live side by side, as they frequently did, and still live in completely different worlds.49 As Lionel Fleming wrote of his childhood
a thought-provoking analysis of the issue, see Tom Dunne, A Polemical Introduction: Literature, Literary Theory, and the Historian, in The Writer as Witness (Historical Studies ), ed. Tom Dunne (Cork, ), .
. Robinsons play was written in . See Selected Plays of Lennox Robinson, ed. Christopher Murray (Gerrards Cross, ), . The play is cited as TBH
in subsequent notes. Last performed in , it was revived by the Abbey Theatre
(producer, Conall Morrison) in a run from July to September . See The Big
House at the Abbey from July (program notes). For reviews, see Web site
http://bonhom.ie///review-the-big-house-abbey-theatre.html; Irish Independent (Bruce Arnold), Aug. (consulted on Sept. ); Sunday Business Post
(Sara Keating), Sunday Independent, both Aug. . Fintan OToole (Irish Times,
Aug. ) characterizes it as follows: Hovering between its own ambiguities, it
lands neither on the Chekovian comedy it flirts with nor on the grand tragedy it
sometimes glimpses.
. TBH, . St. Leger Alcock, though a nonsmoker, is moved to seek a pipe
and then a cigarette.
. TBH, , .
. Oliver MacDonagh, States of Mind: A Study of the Anglo-Irish Conflict,
(London, ), .
. Akenson, Small Differences, .


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before the First World War: Nothing counted for about three miles
on any side of us, because there were no Protestants until then.50
That self-contained interior existence was one in which social ritual,
often pointless and tedious, was acted out as if to a script, with
Catholics, lower-class Protestants, and military garrisons playing the
walk-on parts and supplying the bit actors. It was a world that
involved a great deal of class- and gender-consciousness and in
which family trees were meticulously composed.51 Hermione Lee
characterizes it as a society in which grandeur has become snobbery, fanaticism has dwindled to eccentricity.52
And if there was a script governing this private world, it was
incumbent upon the participants to learn it. This remembrance of
the future largely drove the life of the Anglo-Irish, emerging in the
spate of Protestant memoirs and chronicles that appeared from the
s onward, from such writers as T.R. Henn, Hubert Butler, Joan
De Vere, and Annabel Goff. In the poet Thomas McCarthys words,
The gentry, and southern Irish Anglicans in general, were born for
remembrance. Their children took to autobiography as naturally as
theyd taken to horse-riding.53
These writers had a standard box of props. A principal one was
the Big House itself. And while comprehending it as stage-set is
necessary for understanding how the Anglo-Irish livedand saw
their lives, it is hardly sufficient. As indicated by the subtitle of
Robinsons playFour Scenes in Its Life54these houses are also

. Lionel Fleming, Head or Harp (London, ), .

. For instance, Timoleagues tiny tennis club was open only to Protestants,
and not even to all of those, and the Royal Cork Yacht Club was a bastion of the
Protestant political establishment. See dAlton, Southern Irish Unionism, ;
Fleming, Head or Harp, , ; General Rules and Regulations of the Royal CorkYacht
Club. Corrected to st May (Cork, ), (persons to be admitted as honorary and ex-officio members); Bowen, Bowens Court & SevenWinters, , .
. Hermione Lee, Elizabeth Bowen (London, ), .
. Thomas McCarthy, Introduction to Bowen, Bowens Court (reprint ed.,
Cork, ), xi.
. TBH, . Robinson, through his observer the Rev. Brown, was extraordinarily interested in watching this house and the fight its making. One of his characters, the Englishman Despard, asks, What the dickens is it fighting for? Robinsons answer? Its life. See TBH, , exchange between the Rev. Henry Brown
and Captain Montgomery Despard.
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sentient characters.55 Personalization is demonstrated in the treatment of Big Houses as victims of war and its collateral damage. Like
people, they have glorious ends, or cower in the countryside, thankfully unnoticed, lucky to survive, living on, dying in their beds.56
Behind the trees, pressing in from the open and empty country like
an invasion, the orange bright sky crept and smoldered as these
houses, like Elizabeth Bowens Danielstown in her novel The Last
September, awaited their executioners in the period between
and . As Yeats later put it in his play Purgatory,57
Great people lived and died in this house;
Magistrates, colonels, members of parliament,
Captains and governors, and long ago
Men that had fought at Aughrim and the Boyne.
Some that had gone on government work
To London or to India came home to die,
Or came from London every spring
To look at the May-blossom in the park. . . .
But he killed the house; to kill a house
Where great men grew up, married, died,
I here declare a capital offence.

While many of these houses were victims of the proper conflict

that of independenceBallydonals destruction is a reprisal for a
Civil War execution far away in Dublin, and unfathomable for all
. This point was made in John Cronin, The Anglo-Irish Novel ( vols., Belfast,
), :. The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, in G. Bachelard, M. Jolas,
and J. Stilgoe, The Poetics of Space (Boston, ), envisages the notion of the house
as home, that is, a place in which we are protected. Crucially, the house is a maternal figure in which we store our treasures collected from our different lifetimes,
although in Phyllis Lassners phrase, Bowens portraits of empty but claustrophobic houses challenge our stereotypical associations of family homes with a nurturing and beneficent female essence. See Otto Rauchbauer, Ancestral Voices:The Big
House in Anglo-Irish Literature (Dublin, ), ix; Phyllis Lassner, Elizabeth Bowen
(London, ), .
. Elizabeth Bowen was haunted by images of Bowens Court burning. See
Victoria Glendinning, Elizabeth Bowen: Portrait of a Writer (London, ), , .
A kind of guiltmuch like that experienced by the survivors after the First World
Warwas in evidence.
. E. Bowen, The Last September (London, ), , ; Yeatss elegies for the
Big House are in Coole Park () and Purgatory ().


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that like being run over by a bicycle rather than a Buick. Is that
why were to be burnt! is the English-born Mrs. Alcocks futile cry
of incomprehension.58
It is temptingand the play encourages usto characterize the
historical burnings as a sort of suttee: the Anglo-Irish flinging
themselves on the funeral pyre, so to speak. And with immolation
may come resurrection; renewal through fire is age-old imagery in
many cultures. Yet in the case of the Irish Big House it rarely happened. Instead, there is merciful release from the house as the
tyrannous invalid aunt forever banging on the bedroom floor for
attention, the spoilt, demanding child gobbling up resources, the
all-too-visible sleepy sentry in a hostile territory. In Killycregs in
Twilight, a quasi-sequel to The Big House, Robinson, with the
awful s and s behind him, recognized the folly and
impracticality of rebuilding: I wish wed been burned out in the
Troubles. . . . I wouldnt have behaved like that fool-girl in the play,
The Big House. I would never have rebuilt Killycregs. Id have
thanked God to be quit of it.59
Its economic justification was largely gone by the early s,60
but as it died as a social actuality, the Big House was reborn in
Irish literature.61 Robert Tobin maintains that this phenomenon
led to the readiness with which many Protestant writers have
embraced, or at least acquiesced in, the imagery and language of
extinction.62 Prisoners of their genealogy, hostages to their futures,
the gentry struggled with the opposing centrifugal and centripetal
forces of their houses.
Anglo-Irish disengagementsocially, culturally, economically, as
much voluntary as involuntaryhad begun long before independence. The Alcockss busyness and their insistence on being involved

. TBH, .
. Murray, Selected Plays, .
. Even though the erstwhile landlords still had control of nearly million
untenanted acres in , this was a relatively small proportion of total farmland. See
Terence Dooley, The Land for the People:The Land Question in Independent Ireland
(Dublin, ), . See also idem, Decline of the Big House, , .
. Quoted in Kreilkamp, Anglo-Irish Novel, .
. R. Tobin, Tracing Again the Tiny Snail Track: Southern Protestant Memoir since , TheYearbook of English Studies , no. (Jan. ): .
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in the local life around them in were becoming unusual.63 But

if by the beginning of the twentieth century the engine was still running, it was in neutral gear.64 A fin-de-sicle angst was in full cry, typified by the self-deprecatory and bewildered doggerel of a
County Clare unionist:65
For over the seas and far away
The poor West Briton must sadly stray.
He is out of fashion and out of date,
And the deeds of old are forgotten of late.
He brings no votes and he counts no more,
And little is thought of the days of yore.
And rare as the dodo, as all may see,
A loyal West Briton full soon will be.

The slow-motion collapse of Big House culture symbolizes the
irrelevance of southern Protestantism to the other Ireland, even
before the end of the Union. But if in this irrelevance could be discerned failure, in it too were the seeds of survival. It can be
argued that, just as independence might not have seemed so attractive if it had been postponed until the advent of the British welfare
state and the switching of the financial flows toward Ireland rather
than away from it, the Ireland that we made, as Arthur Balfour
later proudly claimed,66 was one in which the great issuesland,
local government, education, the churchhad to be settled before
the Union could be dismantled. And they were. By then all that
masked Protestant impotence was the Union. Once that was gone,
. TBH, , , , . Theo Hoppen, however, makes the point that what
was remarkable about the landed gentry of southern Ireland was not that it lost
power but that by maximizing its advantages, it stayed relevant for as long as it did.
See Hoppen, Elections, Politics, and Society, .
. Lee, Elizabeth Bowen, : In the novel [The Last September of ], the
class and the tradition . . . have become ineffectual and redundant within Ireland.
Were shown their absurdity, their isolation, their lack of an active position, their
helplessly conflicting loyalties.
. Poems of a County of ClareWest Briton (Limerick, ), (see Lament of
a West Briton).
. Blanche Dugdale, Arthur James Balfour ( vols., London, ), :.


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in Bowens words, in the life of the new Ireland . . . the lives of my

own people become a little thing.67
Not so little as to be happily left in peace, however. The cumulative and serial effect of land agitation, political Parnellism, Catholic
religious aggression, and above all, the Gaelic cultural revival led to
an Ireland with a narrative that inexplicably required Protestants
adherence to the nation and their exclusion from it at one and the
same time. Looked upon, in the words of a Protestant novelist in
, as illegitimate children of an irregular union between Hibernia and John Bull, they were caught in this perplexing and maddening paradox.68
For a time, around independence, that paradox of visible invisibility could not be sustained peaceably. Protestants were on a
rough journey from a situation in which Britishness was normative
to one where, not alone was it out of favor, but its public expression
also carried a degree of risk. Between the censuses of and
the Protestant population of the Irish Free State declined by percent in contrast to a decline of only percent in Catholic numbers.69 When the departures of military families, civil servants, and
police are counted, when any overestimation of the effects of the war
of is discounted, and when the impact of mixed marriages
is entered into the equation, we are left with the inevitable conclusion that a significant proportion of the overall decline was due to
involuntary migration.70 Recently assessed at about , from
the south,71 this exodus constitutes about percent of the Protestant population decline between and .72 Irrelevance carried
little value, but visibility had its price.
. Bowen, Bowens Court & SevenWinters, .
. Susanne R. Day, The Amazing Philanthropists (London, ), .
. Saorstt Eireann, Census of Population, , .
. See McDowell, Church of Ireland, , for a detailed discussion of population trends between and .
. Dr. Andy Bielenberg, as reported by Eoghan Harris, Scarred by Forced
Exodus of Southern Protestants, in Sunday Independent, Dec. .
. In the case of County Cork, nearly half its Protestant population was driven
out or left in the period from to , even though they had seemed to be relatively well integrated with their Catholic neighbors. See Peter Hart, The Protestant Experience of Revolution in Southern Ireland, in Unionism in Modern Ireland:
New Perspectives on Politics and Culture, ed. R. English and G. Walker (London,
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Peter Hart has characterized all this as the only example of the
mass displacement of a native ethnic group within the British Isles
since the seventeenth centurynothing short of ethnic cleansing,
comparable to that in Armenia and the Balkans in the twentieth
century.73 On the surface he may have a point. But this episode was
no Bosnia. The artifacts of religious differencechurches, parish
halls, graveyardsremained virtually untouched. In retrospect, it
seems to have been much more an opportunity to get rid of those
individuals and families who had most provoked personal hatred
from individuals on the other side, for whatever specific reason
imagined or real slights, the wrong politics, or overzealous religiosity.74 Land envy was a particular flashpoint:
), . See also Hart, The I.R.A. and Its Enemies:Violence and Community in
Cork, (Oxford, ), , , , ; Terence Dooley, The Plight of
Monaghan Protestants, (Dublin, ). The west Cork incidents have
become something of a proxy in a parallel war between revisionists and antirevisionists. On the one hand, some historians and polemicists have alleged an omission
by Hart of relevant information. For instance, it is claimed that Hart quoted a sentence from a British intelligence assessment, The Record of the Rebellion in the th
Divisional Area, to bolster his view that shootings in were sectarian but left out
a sentence immediately following indicating that they were not. It has been suggested that the names of those shot were on list of helpful citizens left behind by
British Auxiliaries after they evacuated their quarters in Dunmanway workhouse.
The intelligence diary was published in the Southern Star local newspaper in
with the names redacted. By it was felt that these names could now be safely
published. See N. Meehan, letter in Irish Times, July . On the other hand, see
Tom Wall, Getting Them Out (a review of Coolacrease:The True Story of the Pearson ExecutionsAn Incident in the IrishWar of Independence, by Paddy Heaney et al.,
Aubane Historical Society), Dublin Review of Books (), for a thorough demolition of the validity of the sources used by Meehan, Ryan, and other apologists.
See also Web site http://www.reform.org/TheReformMovement_files/article_files
/articles/cork.htm (consulted on December ) for an informative, if slanted,
analysis of the decline of the Protestant population of County Cork in the period
. Something quite similar had happened elsewhere at an earlier time of
upheaval: the period echoes , especially in County Wexford. See Tom
Dunne, Rebellions: Memoir, Memory and (Dublin, ), , , .
. Peter Hart, The IRA atWar, (Oxford, ), , ; Hart, The
Protestant Experience of Revolution, ; Joseph ONeill, Blood-Dark Track:A Family History (London, ), . Yet curiously, in a letter to the Irish Times of
June , Hart insisted, I have never argued that ethnic cleansing took place in
Cork or elsewhere.
. See CoIG, June : The small Protestant community is at the mercy
of local bands of lawless men who have learnt the use of the revolver for obtaining the


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There were times when we were at one with them

In the hunting field over smuggled wine.
We worked in their houses, but did not ever yield
Our secret claim to them, saying to the long-memoried neighbours
By right these lands are mine.75

The execution of the fictional Sir John Hamilton by rebels in Ken

Loachs film, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, is represented
as essentially due to Hamiltons role as an informer rather than as
just a generic Protestant landlord.76 The real-life murder of Boyle
Somerville, a former high-ranking naval officer, at Castletownshend
in west Cork in March was explained at the time in terms of his
alleged recruiting activities for the British forces.77
And the west Cork experience was particularly bad. Between
and a cascade of shootings, burnings, and evictions of
prosperous Protestant farmers, professionals, and small-town shopkeepers occurred around the towns of Bandon and Dunmanway.
One must be careful, however, not to generalize from the particular.
property of others which they covet [my italics]. See also letter from Niall Meehan, Irish
Times, July , in which he takes detailed issue with Harts conclusions about
southern Protestants not being informers because, except by chance, they had not
got [information] to give. (Meehan quotes an extract from The Record of the
. Maurice Farley, Ascendancy, in Before the Cattle Raid and Other Poems
(Belfast, ), .
. Paul Laverty, Screenplay of The Wind That Shakes the Barley (Cork, ),
, , . See also perceptive reviews of the film by Roy Foster, in Dublin
Review (Fall, ): , and by Brian Hanley, in History Ireland , no.
(Sept.Oct. ): .
. ONeills Blood-Dark Track is a remarkable family memoir in which he
attempts to ascribe the murder solely to the fact that Somerville was a Protestant;
ONeill reasons that many Catholicspriests, local politicians, or other prominent
personscould equally have been targeted for assisting in recruitment. Yet his logic
does not necessarily invalidate the particularity argument. The fact cannot be
ignored that Somerville was not just any Protestant; he was a former high-ranking
British military officer and thus, in the eyes of an IRA desperate at the time for a military revival, a legitimate target. His status as a Protestant could not have been the
only justification for killing him. See ONeill, Blood-Dark Track, , , .
I am indebted to Felix Larkin for drawing my attention to this book. Its powerful and
imaginative writing carries it toward what seems a predetermined conclusion. As
ONeill himself notes, families and nations have self-serving editions of their past
(ibid., ). In this way his memoir replicates the subtle, if unconscious, subversion
of Elizabeth Bowens Bowens Court.
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A theory about the visibility of minoritiesthe Goldilocks postulationmight explain why Cork (and especially that part of west
Cork within the Bandon and Ilen river valleys) seems to have suffered more than most from sectarian violence in the period
. Too small a minority, and the majority is indifferent; too
large a minority, and the majority is reluctant to take on its rivals.78
West Cork appears to have been just right, it seems. A visible,
high-density settler community and remembered animosities over
land made this place special. There, a critical threshold of violence
was surpassed; consequently, many more probably fled through
panic and feared economic deprivation than need have.79 In County
Longford, by contrast, the IRA leader Sean MacEoin attempted to
allay Protestant fears by issuing a soothing proclamation; and after
that, he wrote, the families that had their bags packed, ready to
leave, remained in their homes.80 The decline of the southern
Protestant population in the period should be set alongside
the fact that it fell by a similar proportion again between and
about , and by a further quarter from to owing to
low fertility, an older age structure, and the operation of the
Catholic Churchs Ne temere decree up to the s.81 These later
data put into context R.B. McDowells cool assessment of the earlier period that hardships sustained by the southern loyalists were
on the whole not excessively severe nor long-lasting.82
. Of course, a minority that was quite small might well feel isolated and thus
be prone to voluntary migration. Consider the case of Clare, where it was claimed
that almost all of the sixty-five gentry families in the county had left by . See L.
Perry Curtis, Jr., The Last Gasp of Southern Unionism: Lord Ashtown of Woodlawn, ire-Ireland , no. (FallWinter ): .
. For instance, Bishop Godfrey Day of Ossory was a vigorous opponent of
what he saw as a travesty of the truth in the representation of Catholic-Protestant
conflict in his diocese. See R. Hartford, Godfrey Day, Missionary, Pastor, and Primate
(Dublin, ), . For a description of loyalist problems in , see Buckland, Irish Unionism, :.
. Quoted in Marie Coleman, County Longford and the Irish Revolution
(Dublin, ), . Coleman remarks that none of the attacks on Protestants,
described as ethnic cleansing by Peter Hart, which appear to have been widespread
in southern Ireland in , took place in Longford (ibid., ).
. Brendan Walsh, Religion and Demographic Behaviour in Ireland (Dublin,
); idem, Trends in the Religious Composition of the Population in the Republic of Ireland, , Economic and Social Review , no. (): .
. McDowell, Crisis and Decline, ; Buckland, Irish Unionism, :, .


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Particularity is an explanation of why visceral hatred ran out of

fuel so quickly. Furthermore, those Protestants who remained were
the beneficiaries of the tragedies of those who had fled. Catharsis
eventually produced a species of deliberate amnesia on both sides.83
There is still, over years later, sensitivity to community memory
whether real or imagined is beside the point. A conference on the
Cork Protestant experience between and , organized by
the Anglican dioceses of Cork in December , was carefully controlledby invitation only to members of the dioceses and their
guests, and with advance publicity virtually nonexistent.84
Such modern sensitivity echoes the conduct of a deputation
from the general synod of the Church of Ireland, which sought an
audience with the chairman of the provisional government,
Michael Collins, in , rather pathetically inquiring whether
Protestants were to be permitted to live in Ireland or if it was
desired that they should leave the country.85 This was the lowest
point. As they struggled to move away from this nadir, it helped
that southern Irish Protestants did not maintain (perhaps they
were incapable of so doing) a separate, irredentist, and aggressive
political identity. Southern unionists had tried for the best deal
they couldbut not only had they been dealt an impossible hand,
they were also poor negotiators against the likes of de Valera and
Lloyd George.86 Their presence in the Irish Free State senate
between and was oratorically impressive but mostly
sound and fury, signifying nothing.87 In retrospect, this was all
. See ONeill, Blood-Dark Track, , , for a fascinating discussion
about why southern Protestant memory is so selectiveessentially serving as a
defense mechanism, he maintains.
. United Dioceses of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross, Diocesan Magazine , no.
(Dec. ): . Bishop Paul Colton of Cork wrote of this gathering that for now . . .
this . . . will be an in-house conference principally for people from this diocese
alone. See also Church of Ireland United Dioceses of Cork, Cloyne, and Ross,
Understanding Our History: Protestants, the War of Independence, and the Civil War in
County Cork, Dec. , Cork. The conference was addressed by Peter Hart, Joe
Ruane, David Butler, Andy Bielenberg (all cited above), John Borgonovo, and Senator Eoghan Harris.
. Buckland, Irish Unionism, :.
. Martin, Unionism: The Irish Nobility and Revolution, , ;
Buckland, Irish Unionism, :, , , .
. William Shakespeare, Macbeth, act , sc. .
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to the good.88 Otherwise, the new regime might have been painful
indeed. To those for whom the Irish Free State was anything but
freeeconomically, socially, or culturallydeparture was the only
option, and many did leave. But those who remained or who, like
Elizabeth Bowen, traveled back and forth across the Irish Sea in
the perpetual transits between Anglo and Irish, were freed from
an albatross of history.89
The generation that spanned crown rule and republic had to
decide how its members were to deal with the new state of things.
Were they to be visible or invisible? Robinson and Yeats were in little doubt. At the end of Robinsons play, in contrast to her spineless,
weary parents, Kate Alcock is defiant: Theyre afraid of us still. . . .
We must glory in our difference, be as proud of it as they are of
theirs.90 Protestants could be formidable if we care to make ourselves so.91 Kates tone echoes Yeatss speech in , when he had
electrified the senate with his boast about Irish Protestants:
We are one of the great stocks of Europe. . . . If we have not lost our
stamina, then your victory will be brief, and your defeat final, and
when it comes, this nation may be transformed.92

He was not the first to articulate such sentiments: the historian

Lecky had written in similar terms at the time of the first home
rule bill, the jurist Dicey at the second.93 But the context in
was radically different. Yeatss claim of past glories and future
robustness grated painfully with the position of powerlessness that
southern Protestantism now occupied. In this subversive and cleverly crafted speech, he attempted to create a myth from the reality
that he perceived Irish Protestantism to be. With a breathtaking
arrogance the poet sublimated an entire people into an imagined
past, content to send them into a stern and predetermined future.
. Buckland, Irish Unionism, :.
. Bowen, Bowens Court, .
. TBH, .
. TBH, .
. The Senate Speeches ofW.B.Yeats, ed. D.R. Pearce (London, ), .
. W.E.H. Lecky, A Nationalist Parliament, Nineteenth Century (April
): ; A.V. Dicey, The Protest of Irish Protestantism, Contemporary
Review (July ): .


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If we ignore the inconvenient truth that it is doubtful whether he

had the majority of southern Protestants on his side, or that many
of them did not even understand what he was up to, to state a reason for existing was the point.94
Acquiescence seemed the only course open to them, and they
adjusted themselves to the new conditions more quickly and with
less difficulty than might have been expected.95 Here the historian
Beckett was referring not to post-independence Protestants but
rather to those who had opposed the Act of Union. Southern Protestants in had been at this juncture before, it seemed. Yeats may
have discomfited them with his glorification of their role in the
progress of the nation, but he comforted them with his belief that
their time could come around: all things fall and are built again.96
Acquiescence, however, did not necessarily mean surrender. Coping could take many forms. One such response was a private retreat:
my pregnant grandmother was brought to Belfast in to ensure
that the child she bore would be indisputably a subject of George V.
The long-term existence of the new state was by no means certain,
and it was made progressively less congenial to Protestants by legislation in favor of the Irish language and censorship and by restrictions on liquor sales, divorce, and contraception.97 Singularity is
never popular, advised the Anglican archbishop of Dublin in October ; as white mice, Protestants were encouraged to keep a low
. Corkery later (in ) argued that Protestant culture was always an impermanent structure. See Daniel Corkery, Synge and Anglo-Irish Literature (Cork,
), . The Irish Times, a bellwether, was not enthusiastic about the speech. See
Roy Foster, W.B.Yeats: A Life, : The Arch-Poet (Oxford, ), .
. Beckett, The Anglo-Irish Tradition, .
. W.B. Yeats, Lapis Lazuli (). See also F.S.L. Lyons, Yeats and the
Anglo-Irish Twilight, in Irish Culture and Nationalism, . The transcendental level
is perhaps reflected in the fiction: the Big House renews its life by drawing in the spirits of the deadfor example, the son Ulick in Robinsons play, who is killed three
days before the Armistice, or the nearly ghost republican who silently moves through
the garden of Bowens Danielstown in The Last September. This insight is brought to
a climax in Bowens Court: With the end of each generation, the lives that submerged here were absorbed again. With each death the air of the place had thickened: it had been added to. See Bowen, Last September, ; Bowens Court & Seven
Winters, .
. John Whyte, Church and State in Modern Ireland, (Dublin, ),
; Joseph Lee, Ireland, : Politics and Society (Cambridge, ), .
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profile.98 The furor over the appointment of a Trinity College Protestant woman as a librarian in Mayo in brought an unappealing
sectarianism to the surface.99 The Eucharistic Congress, held
shortly after Fianna Fails accession to government, seemed to symbolize the triumph of a narrative of cultural Catholicism and political
nationalism in the Free State.
It is therefore not surprising that with a few exceptionscolumnists in the more courageous Irish periodicals, writers such as
Hubert Butler and Yeats, and some prominent but totally atypical
churchmenProtestants curled into a ball.100 Indeed, in the s
and s their representatives often seemed, in public at any rate,
to offer an unattractive, rather cloying, cozying up to the state.101
This stance was rooted in the realities. They had much to lose and
had nearly lost it. The economic position and educational privileges
of the largely middle-class southern Protestant were valuables well
worth preserving by whatever means possible.102 And this conser. Seaver, John Fitzgerald Gregg, . The phrase white mice is a recent
description (CoIG, April , letter from Rev. A. Carter).
. Pat Walsh, The Curious Case of the Mayo Librarian (Cork, ), , .
Letitia Dunbar Harrison was selected by the Local Appointments Commission as
Mayo County Librarian in . The County Council was abolished when it
refused to accept her appointment. Walshs view is that the dispute was as much
about the powers of the County Council to make such appointments (and the corruption stemming upon that prerogative) as about a religious issue (ibid., ).
. For instance, the Irish Statesman, the Bell, the Church of Ireland Gazette, and
sometimes the Irish Times.
. Clare OHalloran, Partition and the Limits of Irish Nationalism (Dublin,
), .
. On the decline of poor Protestants, see Maguire, Church of Ireland,
. In Cork city as well there had once been much destitution among members
of the Protestant working class. In , just before the Great Famine, an Anglican
cleric there angrily wrote to the prime minister, Sir Robert Peel, about the ,
Protestant inhabitants in his parish of St. Mary Shandonhundreds of them in the
greatest distress. See Rev. W. Neligan to Sir Robert Peel, Jan. (British
Library Add. MS , ). One hundred and twenty years later, the authors
Church of Ireland Boy Scout troop in Cork, in a fit of Christian enthusiasm, did up
some Christmas hampers for distribution to poor Protestant families in the city. We
asked the Church of Ireland dean of Cork to nominate deserving recipients. Despite
his endeavors, and to his great embarrassment, he could not find any! Illuminating
on economic conservatism is the career of Bryan Cooper, an independent T.D. who
held a unionist Dil seat until in south Dublin. See Buckland, Irish Unionism, :.


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vative group wasat least until the snot much less illiberal
than Catholics on many social and economic issues. Raging radicals
they were not. If the likes of Yeats and Butleras far removed from
many of their coreligionists as from the mass of Catholicsimagined
that they led an army, it was mainly a conscript one, reluctant and
Some Protestants became visible in a different way, embracing
parts of the nationalist narrative through such routes as a devotion
to Gaelic. In the Church of Irelands own Irish language
organization had implied, in its aim to provide a bond of union for
all members of the Church of Ireland inspired with Irish ideals,
that there were members not so inspired.104 But it could not be said
that these were representative. More commonly, the duty that had
tugged insistently at Protestant sleeves before was no longer
relevant. The new state apparently did not want them; and they
could retreat selfishly into a private and near-invisible community of
their schools, the stockbrokers, the freemasons, the churches, and
Trinity College, while writing letters to themselves in the Irish
Times. Integration was not a necessity; even in a place like Cork city,
where percent of the population was Catholic, it was still possible to live a Protestant life and to die a Protestant death without
entering into that Catholic world.105

. Lionel Pilkington, Religion and the Celtic Tiger: The Cultural Legacies of
Anti-Catholicism in Ireland, in Reinventing Ireland: Culture, Society, and the Global
Economy, ed. Peadar Kirby, Luke Gibbons, and Michael Cronin (London, ),
; Corrin, Rendering to God and Caesar, .
. The Church of Irelands Irish language organization (Cumann Gaelach na
hEaglaiseThe Guild of the Irish Church) was founded in . Its aims were to
promote all that tends to preserve within the Church of Ireland the spirit of the
ancient Celtic church and to provide a bond of union for all members of the Church
of Ireland inspired with Irish ideals; promote the use of the Irish language in the
church; collect from Irish sources suitable hymns and other devotional literature;
[and] encourage the use of Irish art and music in the church. See Irish Times, Jan.
, under Church of Ireland Notes. Two recent Anglican archbishops of
Dublin, Alan Buchanan and Donald Caird, have impeccable Irish. See Web site
http://dublin.anglican.org/resources/seirbhis_as_gaeilge.php (consulted on January ).
. In Cork city one could be born in the Victoria Hospital, attend the Cork
Grammar or the Rochelle School, date in church-run (and vetted) dances and
socials, be employed by the Lee Garage or Lesters, the chemists, socialize among the
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The fourth exemplar, the controversy over the Assumption of
the Virgin Mary, while showing the dangers of trying to engage with
that world, also demonstrated that southern Protestants were, albeit
feebly, finding assertiveness again. That controversy was preceded by
a series of events that had seemed to marginalize them even further.
The firstthe question of state prayersemerged as a consequence of the sudden declaration of the republic in . With the
explicit removal of the king as head of state, the question of prayers
for the president had to be addressed. The issue was particularly
sensitive in that it created a further tension in relation to Northern
Ireland. The Church of Ireland archbishop of Armagh, John
FitzGerald Gregg, defused the controversy and ensured that his
denomination moved on.106 The minimum change was made to
reflect the new political reality, but there remained a strong feeling
of betrayal among southern Protestants.107 The second disturbing
episode involved the sensitive issue of hospital control. In a
group of enthusiastic Catholic doctors engineered a legal putsch
and took over a Quaker-founded Dublin hospital. Several Protestant medics subsequently resigned or were sacked. It took a hasty
combination of action by Archbishop McQuaid and a private members bill in the Dil to repair the damaged relations.108
Also in , Protestants had before them an image of the funeral
of the former president of Ireland, Douglas Hyde, a member of the
Church of Ireland. The cabinet, with one exception, did not attend
the service in obedience to Catholic Church rules. The poet Austin

freemasons and the choir of St. Fin Barres Cathedral, play hockey with Church of
Ireland Hockey Club and rugby with Cork Constitution rugby club, spend old age
in the Home for Protestant Incurables, and be buried by Crosss, the undertakers.
I am indebted to the Rev. Peter Hanna for this insight.
. See the papers of Gregg and others in the Maude material on the issue of
state prayers issue (Representative Church Body Library, Dublin, MS ). It
was deemed a matter of note by the Irish Times ( April ) that the new state
prayers were said in St. Fin Barres Anglican Cathedral, Cork, on the day that the
Republic of Ireland Act came into effect.
. Corrin, Rendering to God and Caesar, .
. Cooney, John Charles McQuaid, ; O Corrain, Rendering to God and
Caesar, .


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Clarke caught the atmosphere of legalism that made the behavior of

government ministers such an embarrassment:109
At the last bench
Two Catholics, the French
Ambassador and I, knelt down.
The vergers waited. Outside.
The hush of Dublin town,
Professors of cap and gown,
Costello, his Cabinet,
In government cars, hiding
Around the corner, ready
Tall hat in hand, dreading
Our Father in English. Better
Not hear that which for who
And risk eternal doom.

Beyond the symbolic significance of state funerals and state

prayers, a serious practical issue arose in . Intimately connected
as it was with the very survival of the caste, this sent a shiver down
Protestant spines. Ernest Tilson was an Anglican who, under the Ne
temere decree, had signed the promise to raise his children as
Catholics. On the breakdown of his marriage he sought to renege on
that promise. The Irish courts held that it was a legally enforceable
contract, notwithstanding Protestant protests of duress. While not
relying solely on Article of the Irish constitution acknowledging
the special position of the Irish Catholic Church, the judgmentas
Irish Protestants saw iteffectively enshrined Catholic canon law
in Irish jurisprudence.110
The other event in that left southern Irish Protestants feeling bruised was of little practical significance but had huge symbolic
. Austin Clarke, Burial of an Irish President, Dubliner , no. (Spring
): , and idem, Flight to Africa and Other Poems (Dublin, ), ; Robert
Welch and Bruce Stewart, The Oxford Companion to Irish Literature (Oxford, ),
. The reference in the last three lines is to the then different versions of the Lords
. Lyons, Ireland since the Famine, , footnote; Cooney, John Charles
McQuaid, ; Seanad ireann, Reports of Debates, vol. ( March ). As
recently as February there was evidence of the still differing opinions on the
Tilson judgment in a speech by Archbishop John Neill of Dublin. See Irish Independent, Feb. .
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importance. Radio ireann agreed that the Catholic devotion to the

Assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven should be marked by
broadcasting the Angelus bell. Archbishop McQuaid suggested that
it would be appropriate to commence on the feast day, August
, and so it was done.111 The timing was no coincidence. Earlier
in , Pope Pius XII had decided, after much popular pressure, to
declare the widespread pious belief in the Assumption an article of
faith. We need not concern ourselves here with the theological arguments. What is especially notable is the level of vitriol that the controversy engendered in Ireland. For example, the Church of Ireland
Gazette on November reprinted a trenchant passage that
had first appeared in the British Church Times: To assert as historical an event for which there is no historical evidence is folly. To
exalt a pious but unscrupulous opinion into an essential dogma is
heresy. To disguise expediency as an act of providence is near blasphemy. And on Wednesday Rome finally insisted on doing all these
things.112 This was strong language indeed. The mainstream voice
of the Church of Ireland, albeit by second-party quotation, was in
effect calling the pope unlearned, a heretic, and a blasphemer. The
sentiments expressed ran completely counter to the way in which
Irish Protestantism had generally conducted itself since the s.
Provoked by the papal declaration, the archbishops and bishops
of the Church of Ireland issued a pastoral letter that was read in all
its places of worship on December . This was a rare instance
of Irish Anglicanism finding again its public voice. A masterful commentary against the dogma, the pastoral letter offered a theology
that might have been difficult for lay persons. That difficulty was
reflected in a general lack of public comment on the Protestant side,
with the Tilson case attracting much more attention.113 On the
Catholic side, however, the counterattacks descended into more
than theological criticism. Alfred ORahilly, president of University
. Web site http://www.rte.ie/laweb/brc/brc_s_a.html (consulted on
August ).
. CoIG, Nov. .
. One letter in each issue of the Church of Ireland Gazette relating to the
Assumption appeared on the following dates: Oct., Nov., Dec. and Jan.
and Feb. . See CoIG :, , and . See also Irish Times, various
dates, Aug.Nov. .


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College Cork, a devout papal follower, and a self-appointed oracle

on every aspect of politics, sociology, economics, and religion,114
penned a seemingly unending series of articles against the Anglican
position in the Catholic Standard newspaper between December
and February .115 Referring to the legal arrangements
surrounding the disestablishment of Anglicanism in Ireland,
ORahilly wrote disparagingly of the prelates of this little manmade church who could only be regarded by their flock as convenient officials under the constitution of .116 And Dr. Daniel
Cohalan, the nonagenarian Catholic bishop of Cork, suggested in his
Lenten pastoral, rather mischievously, that the Anglican archbishops of York, Armagh, and Dublin were not qualified to discuss
the finer points of Catholic theology, since in the sight of his church
they were mere laymen.117
And so the debate petered out in some acrimony and mutual
misunderstanding. It was raised briefly by Gregg in his report to the
general synod in May .118 It resurfaced in when, in reaction to a series of lectures in the Queens University of Belfast, the
Anglican dean of residences reissued the pastoral letter. Despite
Greggs labored attempt at humor (after all, it is only an assumption), the controversy marks the beginnings of an assertion, admittedly somewhat conditional and not yet strong, against a Catholic
world that was already past its Eucharistic Congressled peak.119

If from the perspective of the mid-s such Protestant voices
seemed hesitant and weak, from the vantage point of the s mere
. J. Anthony Gaughan, Alfred ORahilly III, Part , Catholic Apologist (Dublin,
), .
. Ibid., .
. Ibid., . See also Stevens, Irish Scene, .
. CoIG, Feb. .
. Journal of Proceedings of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, ed. R.
Ryland (Dublin, ), . The Standing Committee report referred to the Tilson
case but not to the Assumption (ibid., ).
. A more extensive discussion, including the theological element, can be
found in Ian dAlton, The Church of Ireland and the Promulgation of the Dogma
of the Assumption, in Search , no. (Spring ): .
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survival could have been considered a kind of triumph. A two-pence

halfpenny stamp issued by the new republic in symbolized why
Protestants felt that they were in the tuppenny-halfpenny league as
far as the state was concerned: the stamp commemorated the
Catholic Holy Year, featured Saint Patrick and his insignia, and bore
the inscription Poblacht na h-ireannRepublic of Ireland. As
late as the advice still offered by the Church of Ireland Gazette
was that we should keep ourselves to ourselves and, if we speak,
confine our remarks to platitudinous exhortations on non-controversial subjects . . . , lest such attention should result in material or
social disadvantages.120 Two years later, the general synod decided
not to use the term Anglican, as it suggested a vague West British
sound.121 Perhaps, as a later writer has put it, as a vestigial population in the new nation-state, Protestants instinctively felt that
their citizenship was a matter of indulgence and not of right, and
that they should act accordingly.122
They did this from the s through the s by adopting a
narrative based largely on symbol, not substance, often centered on
a sentimental fealty to crown and empire. Spontaneous renderings
of God Save the King at Armistice Day remembrances in and
were rare public manifestations of a loyalty usually kept inhouse, often in-church.123 Bishop Godfrey Day of Ossory ordered
special services to be held in his churches for the silver jubilee of
King George V in .124 Until the s southern Protestants
may have listened to the Queens Christmas broadcasts, but this was
done strictly in private between consenting adults. Since the Church
of Irelands Church Hymnal was designed for use in both parts of
Ireland, it still contains the hymn God Save the King, but it did not
acquire a rubricFor use in Northern Irelanduntil the year
.125 Poppies sold to assist First World War veterans, and worn
. CoIG, Nov. .
. CoIG, May , . I am indebted to the Rev. Dr. Robert Tobin for this
reference. Churches of the Church of Ireland are now happy to describe themselves
on their notice boards as Anglican.
. ONeill, Blood-Dark Track, .
. McDowell, Crisis and Decline, ; Irish Times, Nov. .
. Hartford, Godfrey Day, .
. See Terence Brown, Ireland, , for a wide-ranging discussion of the cultural fate of the minority community between the wars.


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in the lapel, were a particular flash point. Republican poppy-snatchers in Dublin during the s were painfully foiled by the young
bucks of Trinity College, who threaded their poppies through razorblades. It helped that the public geography remained congenial:
even if Kingstown was now Dn Laoghaire, Kingsbridge was not
yet Heuston Station; Nelson still stared haughtily from his pillar in
OConnell Street; associations, clubs, and professional bodies continued to carry the Royal prefix; the postboxes had their royal
ciphers, if now painted a fetching Hibernian green; and Dublin,
pro-rata, still had twice as many streets called after Queen Victoria
as London had. The Irish Times played its part, with its court and
personal column, headed by the royal coat-of-arms, only removed in
March as a result of wartime censorship.126
George Boyce makes the point that Irish society was too divided
on sectarian lines to enable any Protestant, however talented or
committed, to enter into the experience of the other side.127 But it
can be argued that the same was equally true of Catholics. Popular
Catholic nationalism, whether through ignorance or design, found it
difficult to comprehend an Irish identity that saw no hypocrisy in
valuing cultural Britishness while evincing a strong spatial loyalty to
Ireland; that exhibited political aloofness but active economic
engagement; and that displayed moral autonomy but tribal religiosity.128 Admittedly, understanding was not helped by mutterings
from some Anglicans that they were the true heirs of Saint Patrick
and that their church, unlike another, was not subject to foreign control.129 Count Plunkett, like many nationalists, exhibited a simplis. OBrien, Irish Times, .
. D. George Boyce, One Last Burial: Culture, Counter-Revolution, and
Revolution in Ireland, , in The Revolution in Ireland, , ed. D.
George Boyce (Dublin ), .
. The historian Lecky had defined his unionist allegiance thus: I have never
looked upon Home Rule as a question between Protestant and Catholic. It is a question between honesty and dishonesty, between loyalty and treason, between individual freedom and organized tyranny and outrage (quoted in McDowell, Crisis
and Decline, ).
. George T. Stokes, Ireland and the Celtic Church (th ed., London, ), ed.
by Rev. Hugh Jackson Lawlor. This book advanced the notion of the lineal continuity
of the Church of Ireland with what was portrayed as the independent Celtic church
before . Stokes declared, Irish national independence and Irish ecclesiastical
independence, in fact, terminated practically together (ibid., ).
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tic view when he said of Irish Protestants in that it should be

left to England to snub them. That should make them Irishmen.130
Southern Protestants were not just ripe plums waiting to fall into
Caitln N Houlihans capacious apron; they were never a British
ethnic minority that would mysteriously change into a docile Irish
religious one.
Multilayered Protestant Irishness was often exemplified in its
schools. In the founder of Cork Grammar School had expressed
it thus:
The school was simply set on foot . . . with the objects of inducing persons who had been sending their children to England, to educate them
at home. It is a great pity that Irish parents . . . will not see how desirable it is to keep up the connection during the time of their education
with the people amongst whom they are to live subsequently. . . . They
did not want to make Englishmen of their boys. There was much to
admire in the Irish character and they wanted to maintain it.131

In the school was compulsorily gathered to hear the live radio

broadcast of the coronation of Elizabeth II. A mere thirteen years
later, the pupils were again assembled, but this time for a reading of
the proclamation of the republic by the head prefect.132 In this
instance, by the declaration that we are Irish and Ireland is our
home could clearly bear a resonance not applicable to earlier times.
In his book Luck and the Irish, Roy Foster reminds us of the question that cropped up with a wearisome regularity in the s on
Irish-history examination papersWhy did the Reformation not
succeed in Ireland? From the perspective of the end of the twenti-

. Count George Plunkett to John Redmond, March , Redmond

Papers, National Library of Ireland, Dublin, MS ().
. Cork Constitution, July . This was mirrored in a speech by Bishop
Day of Ossory to his diocesan synod in . See Hartford, Godfrey Day, .
. For the information on what was done at Cork Grammar School in , I
am indebted to the Rev. Peter Hanna, who was then a senior pupil there; my information about the event is based on personal recollection. Two students wore
small Union Jacks on their lapels at this latter event, but, when the school authorities objected, the pupils maintained, in a fashion rather typical of the s, that
theirs was a protest against what they saw as the glorification of violence in the
proclamation, and not against its republican sentiments.


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eth century he furnishes an answer: It did, but it took years.133

If he is right, it is the result of a conflation of mindsets in which
Catholics have become more secular, Protestants a little less so;
Catholics less assertive, Protestants more so. The narratives are converging. There is now more of a common discourse, a common language. Archbishop McQuaids view of Christian unity as essentially
Protestant surrender to Catholicism may have been acceptable to
most of his flock in , but when another archbishop of Dublin,
thirty years later, declared that a Catholic Irish presidents taking of
communion in an Anglican church was a sham, his declaration
raised a storm of protest, not least from his coreligionists.134
Thus, what was once a contemporary political issueProtestant
versus Catholic, nationalist versus unionistthen became fodder
for the historians and is today of almost archeological interest. An
accommodation of historic proportions appears to have been
reached. Protestantsto reach this pointhave had to possess
Yeatss stamina and, in Edna Longleys phrase, to work their passage to Irishness.135 That passage has not been easy. They may be
happy that attention to minorities in twenty-first-century Ireland is
more likely to focus on Poles rather than Protestants, on Muslims
rather than Methodists.
Some aspects of southern Protestant history are seductively
amenable to interpretation as grand tragedy and to relentless predeterminism. The members of the Anglo-Irish gentry were most
exposed to Saids theory of a dominant narrative, and unlike their
more prosaic middle-class Protestant cousins, they have all but vanished. Today anyone who undertakes a pilgrimage to Farahy
churchyard in County Corkwhere Elizabeth Bowens grave
crouches for shelter against a westering wallwill sense only ghosts.
Close by, the wind shakes the barley where once stood, in Virginia
Woolf s words, the great stone box of Elizabeths own Big
HouseBowens Court. Little is left of this life, except perhaps by
virtue of a sort of literary preservation order placed upon it by the
. Foster, Luck and the Irish, .
. Cooney, John Charles McQuaid, ; Independent, Dec. (article by
David McKittrick).
. Edna Longley, The Separation of Political Irishness and Culture in Ireland, Irish Times, Aug. .
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craft of a Molly Keane, a William Trevor, or a Jennifer Johnston;

these are novelists who, in Polly Devlins marvelous phrase, have
observed and preserved . . . the sounding of the tocsins and the
minutiae of the last days of the Irish Raj.136
And if a point has to be determined when those last days
arrived, there is a case for grounding it not in the Anglo-Irish War
but rather at the start of the First World War. Elizabeth Bowens
Last August perhaps trumps her Last September. She captures a
fin-de-sicle atmosphere in her description of a garden party at
Mitchelstown Castle on this first day of the war in : Wind
raced round the Castle terraces . . . ; grit blew into the ices; the band
clung with some trouble to its exposed place. Here, the flower of
north Cork Anglo-Irish society met, still incongruously doing what
it did bestcomings-and-goings, entertainments. Here, in the
introverted integrity of a cause lost a long time ago and in the miniature worlds of Somerville and Rosss The Irish RM and The Real
Charlotte, the landed classes still wove an intricate social filigree and
indulged among themselves in a variant of Freuds narcissism of
small differences.137 And here was the as-yet unimagined catastrophe for many of these Lilliputian grandees, the dead and dying sons
of St. Leger Alcock, to be reduced, like Anglo-Irish society itself, to
ghostly impotence: nothing left, even the Castle gone.138 In Bowens
elegiac words, The unseen descent of the sun behind the clouds
sharpens the bleak light; the band, having throbbed out God Save
the King, packs up its wind-torn music and goes home.139

. Obituary of Molly Keane by Polly Devlin, Guardian, April .

. Akenson, Small Differences, .
. Mitchelstown Castle was burned down in August during the Irish
Civil War, and most of the former demesne is now occupied by an agrifoods business. See Robert D. King-Harman, The Kings, Earls of KingstonAn Account of the
Family and Their Estates in Ireland between the Reigns of the Two Queen Elizabeths
(Cambridge, ), , and Bill Power, White Knights, Dark Earls:The Rise and
Fall of an Anglo-Irish Dynasty (Cork, ), . For dead and dying sons, read
. Bowen, Bowens Court & SevenWinters, .


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