This study by Paul Townend of anti-imperialism within the Irish national movement is a decisive and original intervention into the way we understand the evolution of Irish nationalist politics in the later nineteenth century. British incursions into Asia and Africa from the 1870s saw Irish newspapers of all political persuasions report on imperial violence and native resistance in Africa, Afghanistan and India. From 1881, press coverage of the Irish land war—with its evictions, coercion and the police being supported by soldiers against hostile crowds of men, women and children—allied Irish resistance to that, for instance, of the Zulus, who were cheered at land league meetings. The accounts of the brutality and aggression by British forces in far-off places, the taking of the land, resonated among Irish tenant farmers who were trying to hold on to their ‘homesteads’. The book is an analysis of the developing critique of imperialism that became, the author argues, embedded in Irish nationalist sensibilities. The empire emerges as the central context, rather than the backdrop, for the rise of Irish nationalism. What Townend reveals in this study is how well informed Irish political leaders were about international politics, and how critical they were of Britain’s place in the world. More significantly, such leaders saw the empire as the Achilles heel of the Anglo-Irish Union. A number of talented journalists helped to shape Irish public opinion about British imperialism and Townend argues that popular opinion in Ireland was increasingly more critical and hostile to empire than Irish elite opinion. At a time of general imperial expansionism, Ireland experienced an economic crisis and the development of a land movement in which disorder and violence brought a greater level of hostility to the union with Britain. A fraught Anglo-Irish relationship, particularly in the 1870s and 1880s, when Irish issues came to dominate the British political landscape, helped to shape the growing Irish disaffection from the British ‘polity’; Irish nationalism, in all its varieties, was formed by the evolving British imperial sphere and Irish responses to it. The Mahdi fighters who wiped out Gordon’s garrison in Khartoum in 1885 were cheered at nationalist rallies in Ireland. At one meeting a nationalist leader asserted that the British Empire ‘terrorises and it threatens, it plunders and it persecutes as it had done in our own land’. Townend also reveals that this anti-imperialism had a peculiarly Irish form. It was almost exclusively about British imperialism, and was made up partly of moral condemnation and partly of political calculation. There were those who could see a Home Rule Ireland within a reformed empire, or shaping a kind of imperial federation where Ireland took the lead. There were also those who hoped that the empire would collapse. Nationalists were pleased by British imperial defeats, which revealed the weakness of the British army, but also suggested that troops might be diverted from Ireland and sent to other hot spots. Townend is consistently aware of the variety of opinions about anti-imperialism that existed in Ireland, but argues convincingly that among nationalists and Home Rulers the predominant perspective was a critical one. The book contains some wonderful political cartoons of the period from satirical magazines such as Pat and United Ireland. The book is well written, strongly argued and is a major contribution to Irish political history of this period. It offers a vital analysis of the development of the Home Rule movement, the evolution of Irish nationalist politics and their entanglements with the growing anti-imperialist rhetoric of the period. © 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 3, 2018
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