Professor Sean Connolly has made a distinguished contribution to the history of Ireland. His first two monographs, Priests and People in Pre-Famine Ireland, 1780–1845 (1982) and Religion, Law and Power: The Making of Protestant Ireland, 1660–1760 (1992), were notable for their willingness to question established, even orthodox, interpretations. This was most apparent in his treatment of the penal laws in the latter volume, which demonstrated just how unexceptional in European terms the Irish version of the eighteenth-century ancien régime was. This concern in Connolly’s work, to challenge received wisdoms and to locate the Irish experience in a wider context, whether that was British, Atlantic or European, is given expression in the playful title—with its echo of an early twentieth-century insular Sinn Fein slogan—of this fine collection of essays published to mark Connolly’s retirement from Queen’s University Belfast. Thematically, this volume, edited by D.W. Hayton and Andrew R. Holmes, brings together a distinguished collection of former colleagues, academic peers and former students to explore the political, economic and social history of Ireland in the long eighteenth century. Somewhat neglected, therefore, is the influence of Connolly’s work on Ireland’s intellectual history. None of the contributors adopt an explicitly comparative approach, although Thomas Bartlett offers some suggestive thoughts about the Scottish dimension to the 1793 Catholic Relief Act, along the lines of Connolly’s significant contributions to the New British History. Such lacunae can however be excused when the sheer range of Connolly’s work is considered. Turning, then, to what is included in this volume, David Hayton’s chapter explores a key element of the ancien régime that was omitted from Religion, Law and Power, namely monarchy. Indeed, the early modern monarchy has received little attention from Irish historians generally, something that Hayton notes is striking when compared with recent developments in British and European scholarship. This chapter focuses on the reign of Queen Anne and explores how monarchy was represented in Ireland, with particular reference to the vice-regal court at Dublin Castle. Hayton shows how the institution of the monarchy was politicised by Irish Tories, comparing and contrasting the memorialisation of Queen Anne with her more heroic and mythologised predecessor, William III. This chapter also offers a useful corrective to the peculiar situation whereby we have hitherto had a better understanding of the representation of the exiled Jacobite monarchs in the Irish imagination than of their legitimate relations. Hayton’s chapter draws on his unrivalled knowledge of the details of the Dublin political and parliamentary scene in the early eighteenth century, while a careful consideration of this milieu is also crucial to Louis Cullen’s provocative interpretation of the social and political contexts of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal (1729). Cullen has long been sceptical of the value of literary sources for economic history and this chapter continues in that vein, offering a sustained critique of the interpretations of generations of Swiftians. It, however, does much more than that; it also provides a nuanced account of the politics of the late 1720s and makes a compelling case for comparing the 1729–30 parliamentary session with the ‘great volunteer session’ of 1779–80 in terms of the importance of the issues being debated and their influence. All those interested in Swift’s Irish writings and his engagement with the economic debates of the period need to read and reflect upon this important chapter, not least for its reflections on the importance of the famous Wood’s halfpence debate. This theme of revisiting received wisdoms through close scrutiny of the evidence is also central to David Dickson’s reconstruction of the origins of the Whiteboys in the early 1760s. Drawing inspiration from Connolly’s work on the houghers of the 1710s, he explores a little-known episode of rural popular protest on the Kildare/Meath border in the 1750s to investigate what was different, even seminal, about the Whiteboy activities in north Munster. The importance of the Seven Years War and how fears of French invasion combined with hostility to any relaxation of the penal laws filtered through local politics play a prominent part in his story. Crucially, too, the response of the authorities, in terms of the deployment of military force and capital punishment, was significantly different from that employed during previous episodes of rural unrest. The theme of popular protest, so important in Connolly’s work, is returned to in James Kelly’s treatment of brothel riots in eighteenth-century Dublin. He sees the destruction of the ‘furniture, fittings and sometimes the fabric’ of brothels as one of the ways in which the Dublin ‘mob’ exercised their ‘moral authority’ and this chapter, with its nuanced reading of these riots, whets this reader’s appetite for the same author’s forthcoming study of the incidence of riot in eighteenth-century Ireland. Bartlett’s short chapter revisiting what he calls the ‘most important piece of legislation passed by the Irish parliament’, the 1793 Catholic Relief Act, like Dickson’s chapter stresses the imperial context, and in particular Henry Dundas’s appreciation of it, in his determination to get the Irish legislature to relax the legal restrictions imposed on the majority Catholic population. While most of the chapters in this volume draw their inspiration from Connolly’s monographs, two of them, by Mary O’Dowd on the Quaker Mary Leadbeater and by Jonathan Wright on the middle-class Belfast woman Eliza McCracken, show the influence of his micro-historical study of the interior world of Letitia Bushe. Those by Andrew Holmes and David Miller, meanwhile, on the Protestant evangelisation of the Catholic Diaspora and on the ‘clumsy’ transition from confessional to nation state in Ireland, are in debt to Connolly’s insightful analyses of the place of religion in Irish life. This is an issue that also appears in Toby Barnard’s study of education in eighteenth-century Ulster, which concludes with the observation that religion and sectarian division was inculcated not in the schoolroom, which differed little from its counterparts elsewhere, but in the home. Finally, Cormac O’Gráda’s chapter, which closes this volume, is an idiosyncratic tour de force which combines Connolly’s family history with surname analysis and close reading of the 1911 census to explore the questions of social mobility, language change and identity politics. Its unconventional approach, its novel use of sources and willingness to express heretical thoughts about prominent figures within the Irish national pantheon provides a fitting tribute to the honorand of this collection, even if one might imagine an arching of the famous Connolly eyebrow at some junctures. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 10, 2018
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