John Fahy’s Catholic Paranoia

I recently published an essay in Études irlandaises on attitudes towards capitalism in Irish Catholic social teaching in the first half of the twentieth century.  When I first started working on this, I had planned to incorporate information about John Fahy (1893-1969) a parish priest who was based first in Bullaun, a townland outside Loughrea in east Galway before being re-located to Offaly.  For various reasons – not least how hard it was to actually connect Fahy’s idiosyncratic politics to broader currents – I cut this material, but am now writing it up here as a blog post.

John Fahy in 1919 at his Ordination as a Priest

Fahy came from a smallholding farming background just outside of Loughrea and his early politics seems to have combined traditional ‘devoutly Catholic ideals’ with a leavening of communism (as a young priest he was sent to Dundee in Scotland, where he attended speeches by Robert Stewart, a well-known local communist).  His first forays into political activism were in collaboration with Peadar O’Donnell, a socialist republican with international communist connections.[1]  And yet John Fahy clearly changed over time, becoming more recognisably anticommunist by the 1950s whilst still retaining a suspicion of global capital.     Sometime during his activities with O’Donnell, Fahy wrote a play set during the Plan of Campaign of the later 1880s which appears to have investigated these social concerns; the play was produced locally but it is not clear if any copies of it have survived.[2]   

Already in this early part of his public career, Fahy had a propensity for radical critiques of capitalism as well as a dash of extremism.  O’Donnell remembered him as a ‘fine propagandist’ with ‘a great gift for leadership’, but also as a person who exhibited an ‘occasional incoherence’.   Clearly, O’Donnell had his reservations about him, though he also believed that he and Fahy were of one mind in their concerns about ‘the Ireland of the poor.’  The group led by Fr. John Fahy produced a ‘catechism’, which O’Donnell published in the 1920s in the IRA’s An Phoblacht newspaper:

“How did England establish a claim to the land of Ireland?  By robbery.  What is rent?  Rent is a tribute of slavery enforced by the arms of the robber-landlord.  What is a landlord?  A landlord is a descendant of a land robber.  Who pays rents to landlords?  Only slaves.  What is a bailiff?  A bailiff is a land robber’s assistant….”

By the early 1930s, Fahy was not only active in O’Donnell’s anti-annuities campaign but was also probably a member of the I.R.A. and was collaborating with Tom Kenny, the Galway delegate to the communist Saor Éire organisation.  These activities not only lead to Fahy receiving a six-week imprisonment – for the ‘‘crime’’ of seizing impounded cattle from government bailiffs as well as preventing bailiffs carry out further seizures – but also were the cause of Fahy’s re-appointment to Lusmagh parish in Offaly, in the Irish midlands.  For the subsequent twenty-six years, Fahy remained publicly silent on all political issues in an act of ‘penitential-like conformity’ to his Bishop.  Fahy appears to have written a utopian novel during this time. It was refused an episcopal imprimatur and now sadly appears to have been lost.  Brian Murphy also says Fahy wrote an unpublished devotional text in 1956 entitled ‘The Framework of What We Believe’. Other than his Lia Fáil newspaper, Fahy’s only other extant published work appears to be The Sacrifice of the Mass, a conventional religious pamphlet.[3]  The fact that copies of this pamphlet only exist in a handful of libraries around the world suggests that it mostly sank without a trace.

The Sacrifice of the Mass: The Greatest Thing on Earth
(Dublin: Browne & Nolan, 1957)

In 1957, Fahy returned to public life with the founding of his short-lived Lia Fáil [Stone of Irish Destiny] organisation, and its eponymous newspaper.  Brian Murphy suggests that by this time ‘the cold war communist suppression of religion in Eastern Europe had turned his earlier enthusiasm for the left into contempt.’[4]  Whether or not this was the only root cause, it is certainly the case that Fahy’s brief but intense flurry of journalistic writings in the late 1950s were marked by a harsh anti-communism as well as a generally conspiratorial and even violent tone.

Lia Fáil (issue 2, Sept. 1958, and issue 9, undated)

Lia Fáil ran for nine issues in 1958 and 1959 and each issue was filled with antisemitic and paranoid invective.  Alongside standard nationalist rhetoric about reclaiming the land of Ireland and Social Catholic ideas drawn from Pope Pius XI’s Quadregesimo Anno, the Lia Fáil newspaper featured claims that ‘a syndicate of British-Orange-American Freemasons’ had purchased Killarney or that Jews and Freemasons were in cahoots in their plotting against Ireland.  And in one of its weirdest moments, the paper advocated using ‘atomic arms’ to invade Northern Ireland.  Fahy remains a truly odd character, anti-capitalist and anti-communist with an increasing willingness to advocate extreme levels of violence that is at odds with how powerless he was to actually carry any of this out.

[1][1] The only dedicated biography of Fahy is Jim Madden. Fr. John Fahy: Radical Republican and Agrarian Activist (1893-1969) (Dublin: Columba Press, 2012) and I draw quite a bit on that here. For background on Fahy’s work with O’Donnell, see: Aidan Beatty, ‘The Economic War and the Pamphlet War’. In Douglas Kanter, Patrick Walsh, eds. Taxation, Politics, and Protest in Ireland, 1662-2016 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019) 305-330.

[2] Peadar O’Donnell.  There Will Be Another Day (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1963) 94-95

[3] Brian S. Murphy. ‘The Stone of Destiny: Father John Fahy (1894-1969), Lia Fáil and Smallholder Radicalism in Modern Irish Society’. In Gerard Moran, ed. Radical Irish Priests, 1660-1970 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1998) 187-191, 194-196. See also: Brian S. Murphy. ‘“The Land for the People, the Road for the Bullock”: Lia Fáil, the Smallholders Crisis and Public Policy in Ireland, 1957-60’. In William Nolan, Timothy P. O’Neill, eds. Offaly: History and Society (Dublin: Geography Publications, 1998)

[4] Murphy, ‘Stone of Destiny’ (1998) 196.


The Two Irish Wives of Friedrich Engels

I was born in Tipperary, and am now a slave at Ermen & Engels

A revelatory early scene in Raoul Peck’s recent historical film, The Young Karl Marx, depicts the also young Friedrich Engels visiting his father’s factory in Manchester.  Friedrich Engels Sr. is attempting to identify the culprit for a recent act of industrial sabotage when a fiery, red-haired cailín steps forward and ostentatiously assails the wealthy industrialist for his callousness.  Engels Sr., in language that confirms his status as a gouging capitalist, reminds her that ‘You’re lucky I don’t sack the lot of you! Repairing machines is expensive, not like labour in Manchester.’  The militant female Irish worker then duly identifies herself: ‘My name is Mary Burns. I was born in Tipperary, and am now a slave at the Ermen and Engels Spinning Mill in Manchester, England.’[1]  Soon after, Engels Jr., already nursing grievances against his conservative pietist father, seeks out Burns in the Irish slums of Manchester and thereafter begins an affair with her.[2]

Fig. 1:  “Mary Burns” (Hannah Steele) and “Friedrich Engels” (Stefan Konarske) in The Young Karl Marx (2017)

The image imparted of Burns is an undeniably appealing one; a fierce Irish proletarian, uncowed in the face of her capitalist employer.  And her encounter with Engels Jr. becomes a sort of origin-story for his studies of Irish migrant labourers in The Conditions of the Working Class in England.  Unsurprisingly, there are also some major problems with this image.  Mary Burns was not born in Tipperary, or indeed anywhere in Ireland; she was born in England.  There is no evidence that she ever worked at Ermen and Engels, the cotton mill in which Friedrich Engels Sr. held a partnership share (and at which Engels Jr. would work, with intermissions, for almost thirty years).  How and when Engels first met her is unknown.  And it is unclear what, if any, were her political or intellectual influences on the father of Scientific Socialism.

This article seeks to recover, as much as is historiographically possible, the life story of both Mary Burns (1821-1863) and of her younger sister, Lydia “Lizzie” Burns (1827-1878), who also had a romantic relationship with Friedrich Engels and formally married Engels just before her death.  The history of women, like those of the working classes and racial minorities, is always bedeviled by what EP Thompson famously called ‘the enormous condescension of posterity’[3], in which illiterate peoples are erased from the historical record.  Yet, it is rare to find illiterate women so close (and seemingly making a major determining impact) on the lives of two of the most literate men of the nineteenth century. Drawing on Marx and Engels’ sprawling correspondence, as well as contemporary censuses, this paper seeks to uncover how much we can ever truly know about these two women? How much of a role did they actually play in Engels’ political and literary work? And how much have their real lives been covered up with a Marxist romanticizing of two proletarian, illiterate factory workers?  

Before Engels

The Burns family appeared to have lived in the Deansgate area of Manchester from the 1820s.  The only direct documentary evidence relating to the parentage of the Burns sisters is contained in Lydia’s marriage certificate of 1878 which names her father as Michael Burns, dyer.  This is probably the Michael Burns, dyer, listed in the Manchester Directory of 1829 at 32 Cotton Street and in the 1832 Directory at 76 Henry Street, Ancoats.[4]  Burns was born in Ireland around 1790 and married Mary Conroy in Manchester in 1821; they had four children, of whom only two (Mary and Lizzie) survived into adulthood.  The family lived at various addresses in Deansgate and Mary Conroy died sometime after 1827.  Michael remarried, to Mary Tuomey, in 1835 and they had three children, of whom only one, Thomas, survived to adulthood.  By 1853, Michael and Mary were living in the Workhouse for Sick and Infirm Poor in New Bridge Street, where Michael died in 1858, then buried at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Miles Platting. As of the 1861 Census, Mary was still at the Workhouse.[5]

It is clear that Mary and Lizzie were no longer with the new family at the time of the 1841 Census.  It is possible that the girls also abandoned factory work and wretched living conditions in the hovels of the Deansgate area and became domestic servants in the homes of more affluent families.  According to the 1841 Census Returns, a Mary Burn, aged twenty, was employed as a female servant in the Deansgate house of George Chadfield, a master painter; and an Elizabeth Burns, aged fifteen, was acting as domestic servant to a family named Fothergill in Faulkner Street, near Piccadilly.  ‘This is not in itself conclusive evidence but if these are the Burns sisters, then the experience they gained in service would have equipped them for their positions in later years as keepers of the Engels’ household.’[6]  It is interesting to think that imagining the Burns sister as factory workers can be incorporated into Marxist narratives, but that they were potentially servants (a form of labour about which Marx and Engels had little to say) has been ignored.

Roy Whitfield states that Mary Burns and Engels met shortly after his first arrival in Manchester in 1842 and that she helped him with the investigations of housing and factory conditions in the city that eventually became Conditions of the Working Class in England.  There is little direct evidence of this and none of Engels’ correspondence from 1842-44 has survived.[7]   The Ermen & Engels mill was in Deansgate, though, so their meeting there is definitely plausible.  And they may have attended meetings together at the Hall of Science in Manchester, founded by Robert Owens. [8]  Yvonne Kapp says that Engels met Mary Burns, ‘a mill-hand then aged 19’, in Eccles in 1842.[9]   In 1898, Eleanor Marx, who knew her personally, described her to Karl Kautsky: as a ‘Manchester (Irish) factory girl quite uneducated though she could read and write a little.’[10]  Likewise, Edmund Wilson’s description in his 1941 work To the Finland Station, ring psychologically true, even if some of it remains unsubstantiated:

“He [Engels] was having a love affair with an Irish girl named Mary Burns who worked in the factory of Ermen & Engels and had been promoted to run a new machine called a “self-actor.” She seems to have been a woman of some independence of character, as she is said to have refused his offer to relieve her of the necessity of working. She had, however, allowed him to set up her and her sister in a little house in the suburb of Salford, where the coal-barges and chimneys of Manchester gave way to the woods and the fields. Mary Burns was a fierce Irish patriot and she fed Engels’ revolutionary enthusiasm at the same time that she served him as guide to the infernal abysses of the city.”[11]

Moreover, it is worth considering what Burns would have thought of Engels’ first book.  At one point in Conditions of the Working Class, he baldly declaimed that ‘In the throstle room at the cotton mill at Manchester in which I was employed, I do not remember to have seen one single tall, well-built girl; they were all short, dumpy and badly-formed, decidedly ugly in the whole development of the figure.’  Likewise, the book employs a number of regular anti-Irish tropes about the unhygienic, drunken, lazy, racially inferior Irish, which presumably would not have appealed to Mary Burns.[12] 

All of this is imaginatively explored in Frank McGuinness’ 1989 play Mary and Lizzie, which reconstructs both women.  At the end of the play, “Lizzie” accurately forecasts that ‘you will be remembered, because you loved the earth… I will be remembered by a line in your life. Frederick Engels lived with two Irish women, Mary and Lizzie Burns. Little does that tell. Little do they know.’ Nonetheless, “Lizzie” does also recount her and her sister’s important role in Engels’ life and career: ‘Years ago in this country they say two women met a man and they went walking through Manchester. The women gave the man safe passage through the dangerous poor.. .They showed him the poor and they showed him their father and they showed their race and themselves to him’. In another scene, “Jenny von Westphalen”, Marx’s wife, questions the Burns sisters’ sexual propriety before reading some of the more overtly anti-Irish passages from Condition of the Working Class to the sisters; ‘Shall I tell you what he’s said… He’s named your race… Do you think he loves you?’[13]

While we have no direct evidence as to how Mary Burns and Friedrich Engels met, they certainly were in a relationship by 1845, when they traveled together to Brussels.[14]  And in a letter from April of 1846 to his fellow communist, Emil Blank, Engels referred to her euphemistically as ‘my wife’[15]. They were never formally married.  A letter from January 1848 seems to be the first recorded example of Engels mentioning her to Marx, though the context makes it clear that Marx knows of her already (the specific context is an accusation from Sibylle Hess, wife of the communist and proto-Zionist Moses Hess, that Engels had sexually assaulted her).[16]  And certainly Marx knew of Burns as early as March 1846.[17]

Freddie and Mary

By May 1854 Engels and Mary Burns were living together. This apparently caused some scandals with unnamed ‘Philistines’ in Manchester, about whom he complained to Marx and as a result of whom he took on additional lodgings. But this appears to have been for show and Engels continued to live with Burns.[18]  In an article for the Manchester Guardian on 10 October 1934, Moses Baritz, ‘a well-known figure in political and musical circle in Manchester of that period’, established a number of definite addresses at which Engels lived during his time in Manchester: 70 Great Ducie Street, Strangeways, 6 Thorncliffe Grove, Oxford Road (where Mary Burns) and 252 Hyde Road, Gorton, where both Mary and Lizzie Burns lived also and where Mary Burns died in January 1863.[19]  The houses he did rent were often in newly built areas of Manchester, where there was less of a sense of community thus less chance of his relationship with Mary Burns being discovered.[20]  When Marx died, Engels purged their collected correspondence of a large amount of letters that mentioned him (Engels).  Their surviving letters from 1853 to ’63, now contain 403 letters from Marx but only 185 from Engels, suggesting that Engels destroyed over 200 of the letters he had written to Marx.  ‘It seems clear that Engels’ purpose was to remove all references to his personal life with Mary Burns and to the methods he had employed to try to disguise his dual existence during those years.’[21] 

In 1856, Engels visited Ireland with Mary Burns, taking a circular route: Dublin to Galway, south to Kerry and looping back up to Dublin.[22]  Engels also made use of Mary as a supposedly safe recipient for his mail; already in 1851 he was encouraging Marx to place any politically incriminating letters ‘under seal with Mary’, in case of his house being searched by the authorities.[23]  Marx ended a letter of May 1862 by giving his greetings to ‘Mrs Bortman and sister’, a reference to the fact that Engels was renting accommodation on Hyde Road in Manchester under the assumed name of Frederick Boardman,  with Mary Burns as Mary Boardman and presumably Lizzie Burns also taking an assumed name.[24]  An economic downturn caused by the US Civil War had forced Engels to economise his living expenses and ‘I’m living with Mary nearly all the time now so as to spend as little money as possible’[25].  ‘Mary Boardman’ and her sister ‘Elizabeth Byrne’ are listed in 1861 census for 7 Rial Street; these are probably the Burns sisters.  Engels was listed in the same census as living a half mile away at 6 Thorncliffe Grove.[26]  Mary Burns died in 1863, apparently from a long-term health issue.  She remains a cipher; there are no known images of her and we do not even know where she was buried.

One Calamity is a Distraction from the Other

The death of Mary Burns was almost the occasion for a split in Engels’ longstanding collaboration with Marx.  Writing to the “Moor” on 7 January 1863, Engels informed him that

“Mary is dead. Last night she went to bed early and, when Lizzy wanted to go to bed shortly before midnight, she found she had already died.  Quite suddenly.  Heart failure or an apoplectic stroke.  I wasn’t told till this morning; on Monday evening she was still quite well.  I simply can’t convey what I feel.  The poor girl loved me with all her heart.”[27]

Engels was presumably maintaining a separate residence at this time.  Marx’s response was, to say the least, less than sympathetic.  The news of Burns’ death ‘surprised no less than it dismayed me’ and Marx proceeded to compare Burns’ death and Engels’ grief to his own financial woes: ‘The devil alone knows why nothing but ill-luck should dog everyone in our circle just now.’  Marx went on to detail his bills with the butcher and baker and with his children’s schools.  ‘It is dreadfully selfish of me to tell you about these horreurs at this time.  But it’s a homeopathic remedy.  One calamity is a distraction from the other.’[28]  The obvious inference was that Marx was seeking cash from his patron.  In a clipped letter five days later (an unusual pause in their otherwise almost daily correspondence), Engels bristled at the ‘frosty view’ that Marx had taken.  Even ‘philistine acquaintances’ had shown better sympathies than his old friend. He bluntly suggested Marx take out a loan to cover his bills. [29]  Marx may have been reflecting the frostiness of his wife, Jenny Marx, who once referred to Mary Burns as ‘Lady Macbeth’ and clearly saw in her an unwelcome addition to their lives.[30]  On 24 January, after a yawning eleven-day gap in their correspondence, Marx wrote a long letter to apologise for his ‘heartlessness’, though most of the letter was still taken up with his own financial problems and a plan to declare himself insolvent.  He now claimed that the death of Mary Burns had affected him ‘as if my nearest and dearest had died.’[31]  Two days later, Engels wrote to thank him for his ‘candid’ apology.

You yourself have now realized what sort of impression your last letter but one had made on me.  One can’t live with a woman for years on end without being fearfully affected by her death.  I felt as though with her, I was burying the last vestige of my youth.  When your letter arrived she had not yet been buried.  That letter, I tell you, obsessed me for a whole week; I couldn’t get it out of my head.   NEVER MIND.  Your last letter made up for it and I’m glad that, in losing Mary, I didn’t also lose my oldest and best friend.[32]

The issue was put to bed, and importantly Engels included specific details as to how he would soon secure funds for Marx.  Just over a year later, by April 1864, Marx was including his ‘Kindest regards’ to Lizzie Burns in his letters, suggesting that her relationship with Engels was now in place.[33]

My Wife is a Revolutionary Irishwoman

Fig. 2: Sketch of Lizzie Burns by Engels, ca. 1869

We have far greater details about Lizzie, including, importantly, a photograph and a sketch by Engels (see Figure 2).  Marx ended a letter of September 1864 with his ‘Regards to Madame Liz’ and also called her Engels’ ‘“Irish” lady-friend.’ suggesting more familiarity and even affection and playfulness.[34]  Perhaps he was keen to avoid a repeat of their almost-schism of January 1863.  Conversely, would it be too much to interpret a veiled meaning in Marx’s closing message of a letter of August 1865: ‘Kindest regards to you from the whole family, and from me to Mrs Lizzy.’[35]  Was it still clear that the Marx family, if not Marx himself, still looked askance at Engels’ Irish wives?

For almost the entirety of their relationships, Engels and Lizzie Burns were never formerly married though he did refer to her as wife, describing her to the socialist activist Ludwig Kugelmann as ‘my dear spouse’[36].  Discussing her in 1870 with Natalie Liebknecht, wife of the SDP founder Wilhelm Liebknecht and mother of the Spartacist Karl Liebnecht, Engels said quite simply: ‘My wife is a revolutionary Irishwoman’[37].  She does seem to have been an ardent nationalist, influencing Marx’s daughter Eleanor who briefly became known within their family as ‘the poor neglected nation’, such were her Fenian sympathies.[38]  Eleanor also signed letters to Burns with the sobriquet ‘Eleanor, F.S.’ (Fenian Sister).[39]  Lizzie knew various Irish songs from her youth, which she relearned after Jenny Marx, another of Marx’s daughters, gave her a copy of Thomas Moore’s Irish Melodies in August 1869.[40]  Engels, Lizzie and Eleanor Marx all visited Ireland together in September 1869, visiting Dublin, Wicklow, Cork, and Killarney.  Engels described the trip as a success and sarcastically noted that Eleanor Marx and Lizzie Burns both ‘returned even hiberniores [more Irish] than when they departed.’[41]  When various members of Marx and Engels’ circle published pro-Fenian articles, Lizzie was apparently ‘grateful’ and ‘absolutely enthusiastic’[42].  There were ‘rejoicings’ in the Engels-Burns in December 1870 when convicted Fenians received amnesties.[43]

That Marx encouraged Lizzie’s membership in the International Working Men’s Association obviously points to where her political sympathies lay.[44]  Conversely, certain hints of condescension towards her can be heard in Engels and Marx’s letters; Engels made fun of her pronouncing of Henri Rochefort, a French left-wing journalist as ‘Rushforth’[45] and disdainfully called her friend, Mrs Chorlton, ‘the fatty’[46].  When the French communard Eugène Dupont arrived in Manchester in July 1870, Marx sought to have Lizzie hired as his maid, perhaps telegraphing how Marx continued to view Lizzie Burns, both in terms of her gender and her social background.[47] Engels’ response was that ‘a reliable housemaid is damned difficult to drum up in a hurry’ but ‘Lizzie cannot leave the house because of her knee which, as a result of her unrest and impatience, is not getting better as quickly as it should.’[48]

In November 1868, Lizzie Burns used a trip to friends in Lincolnshire as a political-anthropological fact-finding mission, reporting back to Engels about the gang system used by ‘patriarchal’ farm labourers there.[49] She travelled widely with Engels, visiting Hamburg, Schleswig and Copenhagan in the summer of 1867, but apparently suffering terribly from seasickness.[50]  This seasickness may also have been something more serious,  By November 1868, Engels was writing to Marx about her health, which would soon become a regular theme. Initially he described this as ‘congestions to the head’, but early the following year he was more specific: ‘Lizzie gets violent gastric catarrh, which I treated for a long while, and scarcely is this over, and she gets, as the result of an injury to her toe, an inflammation of the lymph ducts in her foot and leg, which could have become very unpleasant, but is now nearly over’[51].  She recovered in late January 1860 but by March she was bedridden again with what Engels variously described as ‘bronchitis’, ‘a bad cold’, ‘pleurisy’, ‘exudation on the right lung’ and ‘catarrh in the lungs’[52].  She was slowly recovering and ‘on a strengthening diet.’[53]

In 1870, Engels and Burns left Manchester for London; the immediate reason was the ending of Engels’ much hated tenure at his family’s factory.  Some tensions, due to unnamed causes, between Burns and her family also played a role: ‘My move to London late in summer has now been decided. Lizzie has told me that she would like to leave Manchester, the sooner the better; she has had some rows with relations, and she is fed up with the whole business here.’[54]  It is quite plausible that her unmarried cohabitation with a German communist had irked her family.  On their arrival in London they resided at 122 Regent’s Park – then, as now, an up-market locale – and Engels continued his practice of using Burns as a safe recipient for his politically sensitive correspondence.[55]  ‘If you write to Miss Burns you need neither an inside envelope, nor to make any mention of my name whatever. I open everything myself.’[56]  He continued to refer to as his wife and in a letter of 1872 he even began to call her ‘Mrs Engels’[57] 

The move to London may have helped her health in the short-term, but by March 1877 her health declined, necessitating recuperative trips to Brighton.[58]  A trip to Ramsgate in July 1877 failed to have the desired positive effect; her appetite remained weak.  Engels was ‘beginning to get seriously alarmed.’[59]  She had a ‘serious crisis’ in her health on 22 July after which she slowly recovered.[60]  Her lingering health problems prevented Engels from completing a French translation of the Communist Manifesto.[61]  On 12 September 1878, at 1.30am, she ‘died peacefully after a long illness.’[62]  She and Engels had been legally wed the previous evening; they were married according to the rites of the Church of England by Rev. W.B. Galloway of St. Mark’s Church, close to their home at 122 Regent’s Park Road.[63]  Burns was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, a Catholic graveyard, in Kensal Green in London.  Her grave (see Figure 3) was marked with a Celtic cross and the epitaph:

“In memory of


wife of Frederick Engels

born August 6th 1827 died September 12th 1878


The gravestone as it currently exists is in shabby condition but appears to have had its engraving recently retouched.

Fig. 3: The Grave of Lizzie Burns, [Photo courtesy of Joe Dwyer / @JoeEDwyer]

Pumps Burns

After Lizzie’s death, Engels continued to have contact with her niece, Mary Ellen Burns (1860-1928), generally referred to, for unclear reasons, as “Pumps”.  Pumps was the daughter of the Burns sisters’ half-brother, Thomas, who owned a fish shop in Manchester.[64]  Engels’ support seems to have been as much out of duty as affection, though prior to Lizzie Burns’ death Engels did refer to her in terms that suggested he had informally adopted her.[65]  There are references in Marx’s letters from 1881 and ’82 that speak to his irritability around Pumps.  She flirted with various visitors to the Engels house, leading one émigré socialist, Leo Hartmann, to ask Engels’ permission to marry her in June 1881, not realising that her flirtations with him had apparently been intended to make another visitor, Karl Kautsky, jealous.[66]  By 1882 she had married a hapless accountant, Percy Rosher, becoming Mary Ellen Rosher and giving birth to a baby named Lilian.[67]  Marx would later tell his daughter, Laura Lafargue, that he found the baby to have a livelier intellect than the mother.[68]  Their second surviving child, Charles, was born at the start of 1885 and baptized in the Church of England.[69]  Engels regularly gave subventions to Percy Rosher’s luckless business adventures and bequeathed the couple the handsome sum of £2300 in his will.[70]  With the death of Engels in 1895 and thus perhaps their financial lifeline gone also, they sailed from Liverpool to Boston, via Queenstown (Cobh) in May 1898, settling in Norfolk, Massachesetts. Pumps died there in 1928.[71]

Why Does This Matter?

The Burns sisters can clearly be placed in broader histories of the Irish Diaspora, where women often gained newfound freedoms denied them “at home” whilst continuing to face regular gendered stereotypes as Irish women.  Clearly both Mary and Lizzie were freethinking and willing to forge their own lifestyles, ones that certainly did not align with standard mid-Victorian Irish or British codes of social propriety.  What we know of both sisters’ politics is also telling; in Engels or Marx’s letters they are always assumed to be Fenian sympathisers, yet these descriptions seem to lack content or three dimensions: “Fenian” was perhaps an identity placed upon them, rather than a positive descriptor of complicated viewpoints.  We can assume that both sisters were communists, or at the very least that they were comfortable enough with communism to have long-term relationships with an committed foreign-born communist.  And yet there is the tantalizing piece of evidence of Lizzie Burns’ marriage and burial; certain “traditional” social niceties and norms clearly mattered to her.  She clearly preferred to die a wife than a “woman living in sin”.  And an Irish-inflected Catholicism remained of a piece with all that.  Both sisters’ lives illustrate all the contradictions and complexities that existed just below the surface of the simple label of “Irish” in the nineteenth century.

[1] Georg Weerth, a friend of Engels, wrote a poem called Mary which references Tipperary (‘I should like the clover of Tipperary/To grow over and choke the rose of England’), which is perhaps the source of the idea that she was from Tipperary.  Roy Whitfield. Frederick Engels in Manchester: The Search for a Shadow (Salford: Working Class Movement Library, 1988), 21

[2] The Young Karl Marx, Raoul Peck, dir. (2017)

[3] E.P. Thompson. The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Vintage, 1966), 12

[4] Whitfield, ‘Frederick Engels in Manchester’ (1988), 69

[5] Whitfield, ‘Frederick Engels in Manchester’ (1988), 69-70

[6] Whitfield, ‘Frederick Engels in Manchester’ (1988), 22

[7] Whitfield, ‘Frederick Engels in Manchester’ (1988), 3, 17

[8] Mick Jenkins. Frederick Engels in Manchester (Manchester: Lancashire & Cheshire Communist Party, 1951), 10, 17

[9] Yvonne Kapp. Eleanor Marx, Vol. 1: Family Life (1855-1883) (New York: International Publishers, 1972), 109.

[10] Whitfield, ‘Frederick Engels in Manchester’ (1988), 19

[11] Whitfield, ‘Frederick Engels in Manchester’ (1988), 19

[12] Aidan Beatty, ‘Marx and Engels, Ireland, and the Racial History of Capitalism’. Journal of Modern History, Vol. 91 (2019), 817-818

[13] Frank McGuinness. Plays Two (London: Faber & Faber, 2002) 53, 64, 74

[14] Whitfield, ‘Frederick Engels in Manchester’ (1988), 23-24

[15] Letter 17, Letter from Engels to Emil Blank, 3 April 1846, MECW 38

[16] Letter 52, Letter from Engels to Marx, 14 January 1848, MECW 38

[17] Letter 3 [Appendix], Letter from Jenny Marx to Karl Marx, 24 March 1846, MECW 38.

[18] Letter 222, Engels to Marx, 1 May 1854, MECW 39

[19] Whitfield, ‘Frederick Engels in Manchester’ (1988), 6

[20] Whitfield, ‘Frederick Engels in Manchester’ (1988), 33, 35-36

[21] Whitfield, ‘Frederick Engels in Manchester’ (1988), 7

[22] Beatty, ‘Marx and Engels’ (2019), 815-816

[23] Letter 182, Marx to Engels, 16 June 1851, MECW 38

[24] Letter 216, Letter from Marx to Engels, 27 May 1862, MECW 41

[25] Letter 202, Letter from Engels to Marx, 28 February 1862, MECW 41

[26] Whitfield, ‘Frederick Engels in Manchester’ (1988), 35

[27] Letter 266, Engels to Marx, 7 January 1863, MECW 41

[28] Letter 267, Marx to Engels, 8 January 1863, MECW 41

[29] Letter 268, Engels to Marx, 13 January 1863, MECW 41

[30] Letter 3 [Appendix], Letter from Jenny Marx to Karl Marx, 24 March 1846, MECW 38

[31] Letter 269, Marx to Engels, 24 January 1863, MECW 41

[32] Letter 270, Engels to Marx, 26 January 1863, MECW 41

[33] Letter 310, Marx to Engels, 19 April 1864, MECW 41. A letter from later that year ends with ‘Regards to Madame Liz’, suggesting even more familiarity and playfulness; Letter 339, Marx to Engels, 7 September 1864, MECW 41

[34] Letter 339, Marx to Engels, 7 September 1864, MECW 41; Letter 129, Marx to Engels, 13 February 1866, MECW 42

[35] Letter 92, Marx to Engels, 5 August 1865, MECW 42

[36] Letter 50, Engels to Ludwig Kugelmann, 31 July 1868, MECW 43

[37] Letter 56, Engels to Natalie Liebknecht, 19 December 1870, MECW 44

[38] Letter 51, Marx to Engels, 4 August 1868 and Letter 132, Marx to Engels, 14 December 1868, , MECW 43

[39] Kapp, ‘Eleanor Marx’,1(1972), 89

[40] Letter 239, Engels to Jenny Marx (daughter), 8 August 1869, MECW 43

[41] Letter 250, Engels to Marx, 27 September 1869, MECW 43

[42] Letter 302, Engels to Marx, 13 March 1870 and Letter 327, Engels to Marx, 1 May 1870, MECW 43

[43] Letter 56, Engels to Natalie Liebknecht, 19 December 1870, MECW 44

[44] Letter 53, Marx to Engels, 25 January 1865, MECW 42

[45] Letter 287, Engels to Marx, 11 February 1870, MECW 43

[46] Letter 98, Engels to Marx, 28 October 1868, MECW 43

[47] Letter 342, Marx to Engels, 5 July 1870, MECW 43

[48] Letter 343, Engels to Marx, 6 July 1870, MECW 43

[49] Letter 107, Engels to Marx, 10 November 1868, MECW 43

[50] Letter 230, Engels to Marx, 26 June 1867 & Letter 237, Engels to Marx, 11 August 1867, MECW 42

[51] Letter 143, Engels to Marx, 19 January 1869, MECW 43

[52] Letter 145, Engels to Marx, 25 January 1869, Letter 170, Engels to Marx, 15 March 1869, Letter 171, Engels to Marx, 18 March 1869, and Letter 173, Engels to Marx, 21 March 1869, MECW 43

[53] Letter 176, Engels to Marx, 2 April 1869, MECW 43

[54] Letter 294, Engels to Marx, 22 February 1870, MECW 43

[55] Letter 109, Engels to Carlo Carieor, 28 July 1871, MECW 44

[56] Letter 186, Engels to Theodor Cuno, 24 January 1872, MECW 44

[57] Letter 259, Engels to Hermann Jung, 1 October 1872, MECW 44

[58] Letter 145, Engels to Friedrich Lessner, 4 March 1877, Letter 147, Engels to Marx, 6 March 1877, Letter 172, Engels to Wilhelm Liebknecht, 2 July 1877, MECW 45

[59] Letter 173, Engels to Marx, 15 July 1877, Letter 175, Engels to Marx, 19 July 1877, MECW 45

[60] Letter 177, Engels to Marx, 24 July 1877, MECW 45

[61] Letter 198, Marx to Friedrich Adolph Sorge, 19 October 1877, MECW 45

[62] Letter 227, Engels to Rudolf Engels, 12 September 1878, MECW 45

[63] Kapp, ‘Eleanor Marx’ 1 (1972), 191

[64] Kapp, ‘Eleanor Marx’ 1 (1972), 186

[65] In a November 1875 letter to his brother Rudolf, Engels refers to Lizzie as ‘my wife’ and Mary Ellen as ‘our little one’  Letter 69, Engels to Rudolf Engels, 9 November 1875, MECW 45.  The following year he called her ‘our Pumps’; Letter 78, Engels to Philipp Pauli, 25 April 1876, MECW 45

[66] Letter 59, Marx to Jenny Longuet [Jenny Marx], 6 June 1881, MECW 46

[67] Letter 128, Marx to Engels, 4 April 1882, MECW 46

[68] Letter 188, Marx to Laura Lafargue [Laura Marx], 9 October 1882, MECW 46

[69] London Metropolitan Archives, Board of Guardian Records, 1834-1906, Church of England Parish Registers, 1754-1906, P81/MRY/003

[70] Letter 195, Engels to Laura Lafargue, 28 July 1894; Letter 242, Engels to Ludwig Schorlemmer, 3 January 1895; Will and Codicil of Frederick Engels, 29 July 1893; Engels’ Letter to the Executors of his Will, 14 November 1894, MECW 50

[71] National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Boston, Massachusetts, 1891-1943; NAI Number: 4319742; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Her obituary is listed in the Boston Globe, 12 October 1928

Micheál Mac Liammóir – Revolutionary Speeches

I recently found this spoken-word record of famous Irish nationalist speeches and poems by Micheál Mac Liammóir (1899-1978) in a second-hand bookshop in Pittsburgh.

Mac Liammóir (born Alfred Willmore) was the co-founder of the Gate Theatre in Dublin and an actor with a remarkable gift for self-promotion and self-invention.

Recorded in 1959, each of the speeches on this record has a short introduction by Mac Liammóir, partly to place each piece in its historical context but also to set up his own (slightly melodramatic) performances. The recordings are almost all in English, with some of the Pearse speeches and poems performed in Irish also.

I had the record transferred to digital audio files and have posted each individual track below:

Robert Emmet’s Speech Before His Execution:

Patrick H. Pearse’s Oration over the Grave of O’Donovan Rossa:

“The Fool” – “The Rebel” – “Renunciation” – Patrick H. Pearse:

Proclamation of the Irish Republic – “I am Ireland” – Patrick H. Pearse:

“Red Hanrahan’s Song About Ireland” – “Easter 1916” – “The Rose Tree” – William Butler Yeats:

Ireland – The False Analogy

There’s a growing body of literature on the shared history of Zionism and Irish nationalism.[1] I’ve been exploring this comparison in my own work (here, here, here, and here). Recently, Guido Franzinetti at the University of Eastern Piedmont, who has written on Irish connections to Eastern Europe, contacted me to tell me about a useful primary source for this comparative historiography: a 1945 essay entitled Ireland – The False Analogy, by Richard Koebner. Its an interesting interrogation of the Ireland-Israel comparison and I’ve transcribed it with some brief notes below.

Richard Koebner (1885-1958) was a founding member of the history department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was born in Breslau [Wroclaw] and left Nazi Germany for British Palestine in 1934. In Palestine, he became involved in Ihud [Union] a dovish Zionist group who advocated a shared Jewish-Arab homeland in Palestine. His article on Ireland was published in Ba’ayoth [Issues], Ihud’s Hebrew-language monthly publication and was republished in a 1972 edited English-language collection of works by members of Ihud; this is the version I reproduced below.

By the later 1930s and into the 1940s, comparisons between the extant situation in Palestine and that in Ireland two decades earlier were common currency. As Tom Segev notes in his famous book, One Palestine, Complete, the years of the Arab Revolt (1936-39) was the period of “Ireland in Palestine,” when British police and troops (many of whom had served in Hugh Tudor’s Black and Tans) felt a sense of déjà vu when a popular guerrilla campaign caused the British to lose control of much of the country. Many Zionists also saw parallels with Ireland and believed that guerrilla warfare was the only means for expelling the British and achieving a Jewish homeland. Some of these latter forces coalesced around Avraham Stern, and became known as LEHI (Lochamei Herut Yisrael, Israel Freedom Fighters). The parallels with Ireland during the previous world war would seem to have been clear enough for Stern to translate P.S. O’Hegarty’s The Victory of Sinn Féin into Hebrew.  O’Hegarty’s unwitting influence on Zionists is perhaps best hinted at by the fact that Yitzhak Shamir, a future Israeli prime minister but an underground LEHI activist in the 1940s, chose the nom de guerre “Michael”, in homage to Michael Collins  Similarly, Avsahlom Haviv, a member of ETZEL (Irgun Tzvai Leumi, The National Military Organisation), a slightly less extreme group than LEHI, quoted George Bernard Shaw during his trial for violent anti-British actions, and accused the British of “drowning the Irish Uprising in rivers of blood… yet Ireland rose free in spite of you.”

This comparison, though, was not universally accepted by all Zionists. The Marxist-Zionists of HaShomer HaTzair [The Young Guard], who sought to unite Jewish and Palestinian workers against their common enemies (Jewish capitalists and Arab feudal landlords), had little time for analogies with Ireland. HaShomer HaTzair made their views clear in this 1945 handbill condemning the “fascist terror” of the Zionist far-right:

DDI 5447

Central Zionist Archives, DDI 5447

And it is precisely this kind of Irish-Zionist militant comparison, and the political actions derived from it, that Koebner condemns in his short essay. The essay is divided into two main parts – first, a discussion of Irish nationalist history, from the Tudor period to World War Two; second, a critical discussion of the comparison with Zionism and Palestine. In a brief concluding section, he engages in a rapid-fire critique of Eamon de Valera. The version published in 1972 also includes two postscripts, from July and December 1946, that add to the argument and comment on contemporary developments.

Koebner’s central argument is that comparisons between Irish nationalism and Zionism are selective at best, fatuous at worst. He also points out that Zionism has as much in common with Ulster Unionism, foreshadowing a popular later comparison; as the great British conservative historian, Hugh Trevor-Roper, stated in 1962, “Jewish history is part of European history and should be studied as such, even though, in recent times, by a brilliant operation of inspired colonization and successful war, the Jews have occupied and gained political control of a small part of Asia, an Ulster in the great Ireland of Arabia.”[2] This is a point of identification that Ian Lustick has also examined.

Nonetheless, Koebner’s essay does adopt a number of familiar Irish nationalist tropes – his description of Cromwell, for instance, seems to be borrowed directly from Irish nationalist narratives. And as with a lot of early 20th century nationalist writing, women are totally absent from his narrative of Irish nationalists and “Ulstermen”. There’s also a kind of great man view of history running through the whole essay; the Treatyite divide, for instance, is viewed as a division between de Valera, on one side, and Griffith and Collins on the other, with the Treatyites presented as those who have been heroically formed into shape by the latter.   Moderates opposed to violence are the heroes in Koebner’s narrative; John Redmond, Michael Collins (whose violent activities go unmentioned), Arthur Griffith, Parnell. The last of these he compares to Chaim Weizmann; Parnell’s revulsion at the Phoenix Park murder is equated with Weizmann’s views of the murder of Lord Moyne (a scion of the Anglo-Irish Guinness family) in Cairo in 1944.   Koebner has an overly positive view of John Redmond as a benevolent unifier of the nation, perhaps a projection of the idea that the Jewish nation in Palestine should unite around David Ben-Gurion and not extremists like Menachem Begin or Avraham Stern. And oddly, the Easter Rising is never mentioned. It’s hard to believe that any survey of 19th and 20th century Irish history could overlook such a seminal event; it’s probably the case that it didn’t fit with Koebner’s arguments against the use of political violence and so was duly ignored.

As a further example of his Zionist politics shining through into his discussion of Irish history, Koebner subsumes religion into ethnicity, and speaks in very broad brush strokes about the demographics of Ireland; all “Celts” are Catholics and all Protestants are “English” or “Scottish”. This is a telling assumption for a mid-century Jewish nationalist to make, reflecting his own political milieu where religion collapsed into ethnicity. Finally, given the role that the “ingathering of the exiles” played for Zionists, Koebner’s observations about the continuation of out-migration under de Valera seems intended to discredit him as well as any idea that Zionists should emulate his politics.

Koebner also places Ireland in a intriguing (and sometimes off-kilter) European context, comparing Anglo-Irish relations to Czech-German relations. Later in the essay, he places Ireland in a global British imperial context and also puts the British relinquishment of the Treaty Ports in the same frame as Chamberlain’s abandonment of the Sudetenland to Germany, as if both were acts of appeasement of extremists. Much of this is presumably derived from Koebner’s own training as a German historian as well as his direct experiences of Nazism. Indeed, in the concluding passage he directly compares the ascension to power of de Valera in 1932 with that of Hitler a year later. He also describes the Ulster Volunteer Force as “the first example” in the twentieth century “of an organised private army ready to oppose law and order”, thus suggesting that they were a prototype of continental fascism. His own comparisons here are certainly over-done.


Ireland – The False Analogy

Richard Koebner

(December, 1945)

The drawing of analogies is an extremely common feature when attempts are made to strengthen one’s case. This proneness is particularly characteristic when Palestine forms the subject of discussion. The analogy drawn in this connection is Ireland – but, it is a wrong one.

I do not know to what extent our activist extremists argue along these lines, since I am not personally acquainted with them; but what I do know is that a great number of people condone, or at least, do not condemn acts of violence, because they think that, in the long run, they will further the Zionist cause. Ireland provides these speculative patriots with an argument. In that country, a relatively small people has, by acts of violence, forced the mighty hand of Britain, so the argument runs. Jews are by no means the first or only ones to base their arguments on this analogy. To note the nearest example – those Arabs who have supported acts of violence in their midst, are adepts of this Irish theory. The mere fact that our real opponents make use of the self-same argument ought to give pause to those of us who advocate it, but we will not go into that at the moment.

We will not press the point that no analogy is absolutely correct and that nothing ever repeats itself completely in history. After all, why should not the causal nexus, on which our theorists insist, repeat itself? Again, we shall disregard the fact that the question of terror and armed resistance is not solely one of cause and effect, but has a moral angle to it. Finally, we do not wish to enter into a theoretical argument as to what extent and in what circumstances a small nation like ours is in a position to impose its will upon a great power by force or by the threat of force. We shall do our utmost to be “Real-historiker,” examining the validity of the Irish “parallel,” and to meet our “Realpolitiker” on their own ground. The Irish National Movement has, at times, employed violent methods and it did end up by realising some of its aims. This much is common knowledge. But whereas the “post hoc” is clear, the “propter hoc” stands in need of further elucidation. What have been the gains; by what means have they been achieved; and to what extent have acts of violence really benefited the Irish nation?


The history of the Irish National Movement is complex in the extreme. We do not wish to simplify it here as crassly as our “Realpolitker” are wont to do (those to whom we are addressing ourselves). yet, a certain amount of simplification is necessary to bring out the meaning features, which make a checking on the analogy possible.

The Irish National Movement has its origins in the violent repression and expropriation of the Irish people, which began under the Tudors and was continued with the utmost ruthlessness during the revolutionary epochs of the 17th century; under Cromwell, after the triumph of the Puritan rebellion; and under William III, after the Glorious Revolution. The two latter waves of repression already constituted a reaction to the liberation movement. The early history of the Irish National Movement, then, was unfortunate in the extreme and cannot serve as an argument. The same applies to the period of the French Revolution; the rebellion of the United Irishmen, 1798, which followed the attempt at reconciliation between the English and Irish – between Protestants and Catholics. The result of this rebellion, resented by all Irish patriots, was the constitutional union of Ireland and Great Britain, which existed until 1921.

Our “Realpoltiker” cannot consider these early days of Anglo-Irish conflict as constituting a precedent. The object of comparison is Ireland since the union, in January 1801; more especially, the development of Anglo-Irish relations since the rise of the Irish National Movement under Parnell, which dates from 1878 onwards.

The problem confronting the Irish National Movement was how to get the English out of Ireland. England was ruling the country in two ways:

  • Irish lands were the property of English land-lords, whether directly or indirectly. The Irish peasant had sunk to the position of a tenant with stiff rental conditions.
  • Ireland’s parliamentary representatives were condemned to a permanent minority status, which made it impossible for them to forget their past national independence.

With regard to both these forms of rule, the Irish fought against a powerfully-established system of vested interests. This system belonged only to a narrow social stratum, as far as the former point was concerned; as to the latter, it was a case of conflict between the interests of the state and a national principle comparable to the problems of the German border provinces and those within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

The latter analogy becomes even more apparent in view of another aspect, only very gradually discovered, of the modern Irish national problem. There were two kinds of Irishmen: Catholic Celts, and the Protestant offspring of English and Scots settlers. The Anglo-Irish, for the greater part, occupied the northern province of the Island – namely – Ulster. But there was no clear and rigid geographical division, any more than there was between Germans and Czechs in Bohemia. Anglo-Irish negotiations had been disastrously affected by the existing antagonism between the Celtic Irishmen and the Orangemen (as the Scots-Irish were then called). Since the time of the union this antagonism had not made itself felt much until the end of the 19th century. In varying degrees, Catholic and Protestant peasants had the same interests. Only when Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill of 1886 brought the immediate possibility of the rule of the Catholic-Celtic majority over the Ulster minority within reach – rule by Dublin over Belfast – only then did this antagonism flare up.

Home Rule was not granted, however. Gladstone had been defeated twice, in 1886 and in 1893. By degrees, however, the land law in Ireland was amended to the advantage of the Irish peasantry. The last and decisive step was taken by Lord Balfour’s Conservative Government, through the Land Purchase Law of 1903, which enabled the peasants to buy their land cheaply from the landowners by means of Government subventions.

This reform was welcomed by the Irish, and its financial stipulations were loyally carried out until 1932. But there was a catch in it: It did away with the main interest shared both by Irish Nationalists and Ulstermen. When the Liberal Party, which was again in power since 1905[3] [sic], wanted to fulfil its promise of Home Rule and tabled the third Home Rule Bill of 1912, Ulster prepared for armed resistance, thus affording the 20th century the first example of an organised private army ready to oppose law and order. The Ulstermen were encouraged by the Conservatives and the House of Lords. Proposals to solve the problem by partition of the country were rejected by both sides. The Home Rule Bill was passed by Parliament, but it had not yet become law when England entered the war against Germany in August 1914. In view of the need for unity in the face of the enemy, the Southern Irish under the leadership of John Redmond agreed to a postponement of the solution.

Meanwhile, however, the Ulster movement and the Government’s attitude towards it had given rise to new developments in the Irish camp. The Irish Parliamentary party had lost ground, and the radical national party, the Sinn Fein [sic] – till then insignificant – had gained followers. They, too, had organised and armed. The decisive point in this development was that the Government apparently did not feel strong enough to suppress the Ulster movement and mobilize all efforts to put Home Rule into effect.

During the war, the radical national Celtic movement which demanded more than Home Rule gained momentum. While reform on the Gladstonian basis still envisaged a union with Britain in matters of foreign policy and trade, Sinn Fein aimed at nothing less than complete independence and the institution of a republic. The new national trend was towards complete severance of cultural relations, too, by means of a return to the old Gaelic tongue.

When the Home Rule Bill finally became law in 1920, the Southern Irish turned it down. A revolutionary Government was set up which broke off relations with the existing bodies representing the Government. Now Ulster was prepared to accept partition, which was effected. Since then, Northern Ireland forms an annexe [sic] to the United Kingdom, with a parliament of its own, with conditions such as the Liberals had desired for the whole of Ireland. Meanwhile, however, Civil War[4] was raging in the South, as well as war with the English police. The English police force – called the “Black and Tans” – met the terrorism of the Irish rebels with counter-terrorism no less cruel; but they were not strong enough to put an end to their opponents. This could only have been done by employing a regular army.

Under these circumstances, Lloyd George and his Coalition Cabinet decided to try a compromise, which had been advocated before the war by the Premier’s ex-liberal colleague, now his opponent, Lord Asquith. Lloyd George had declined to make this attempt so far. The constitutional basis of this compromise was the concept, as yet new, of “Dominion Status”. The large overseas settlers’ colonies of the British Empire, the “Dominions”, had gradually arrived at the status of independent states within the framework of the Empire during the last 70 years. The latest and most far-reaching concession that had been made to them was the recognition of their right to independent decisions in matters of foreign policy, – ratified at the Imperial Conference of 1917. Consequently, the Dominions sent their own representatives to the Peace Conference. The new solution of the Irish question was to amount to this that the new Free State[5] [sic], erected by revolutionary methods, was to receive the same status which the Dominions had attained gradually and by separate laws and agreements. This offer went much further than mere Home Rule; it did away with all that remained of Dublin’s dependence on Westminster. But at the same time it left unsatisfied the most extreme aspirations of the Sinn Feiners. The Republic, with de Valera at its head, was not recognized and the King’s suzerainty was once more acknowledged; furthermore, Northern Ireland was not incorporated in the new Free State, but was to retain its constitution of 1920.

Consequently, a strong faction within the Sinn Fein, led by de Valera, violently protested against the Treaty. On the other hand, Arthur Griffith, the founder of the Movement, as well as his collaborator, Michael Collins, agreed to the compromise, and succeeded in winning over the majority to their side. So the Treaty was put into effect. The resistance of the radical Republicans, however, did not subside, but now began to assume the proportions of ruthless terror against the representatives of the majority; Griffith and Collins themselves fell victim to this conflict, along with many others. But the treaty party emerged victorious, and until 1932, Anglo-Irish relations remained peaceful on the basis of the agreements reached by them.

In that year, however, de Valera came into power again and embarked on a policy of severance from England, in particular, and the Empire, in general. This policy, however, was no longer pursued by means of physical violence. For a number of years, there was a tariff-war between Eire[6] [sic] and Great Britain. By means of one-sided legislation, de Valera changed certain clauses of the treaty, for instance the one regarding the oath of loyalty to the King. During the appeasement period, the government of Neville Chamberlain renounced its right of garrisoning the Irish treaty ports. Finally, de Valera declared Eire neutral in the war against Hitler.


We have outlined some stages of the modern phase of the history of the Anglo-Irish conflict. The question now arises whether we, the Yishuv[7] of Palestine and the Zionist movement, have something to learn from it and if so, what. First, we must make up our minds which of the national parties of Ireland we are going to liken to ourselves, the “Irish” Irishmen, the Celts of the South, or the Ulstermen, the Anglo-Irish who predominate in the Northern counties. Our nationalist interpreters of history are only thinking of the former, who now have their independent state. Bernard Shaw, however, once complained that the Balfour Declaration created a new Ulster. The truth of the matter is that both these comparisons are accurate in some minor points only,. With the Ulster Irish we have this much in common that we constitute an enclave in a world of different nationality, and that we are interested in British protection of our national existence. But the conditions which ensure such protection in the case of the Ulster Irish, are lacking in ours. We are not a kindred people to the English [sic, British], and our country is separate from theirs, not by mere narrow straits, but by the whole Mediterranean and Continental Europe.

With the Celtic Irish we have this in common that like them we are striving to achieve an independent national life, but unlike them we do not enjoy a majority status in any geographically definable territory. True, official Zionist policy aims at such status and demands English and American assistance in order to attain it. Now the adepts of the Ireland theory consider that this assistance can be secured by force, arguing that England has been yielding to violence in the case of Eire. But, as a matter of fact, Irish violence, if it attained anything at all, arrived exactly at the opposite of want we want to get the English to do in Palestine: the English left Ireland and abandoned Ireland to themselves. Paradox is too polite a word for this particular brand of drawing analogies.

We shall now proceed to the question what methods were employed and what measure of success attended them. To begin with, let us put an end to an idea the absurdity of which should be obvious to all, but which is still playing a regrettably large part in the imagination of many Palestinian Jews, viz. that the English suffered military defeat at the hands of the Irish and were driven to capitulation by sheer physical force. The truth of the matter is that the first epoch of the conflict, the epoch of Parnell, ended with the renunciation of methods of physical violence on the part of the Irish National movement. Instead it was now waiting for the political moment when Gladstone’s slogan of Home Rule for Ireland would have a chance of realisation with his party’s return to power. No doubt, during the later epochs of the conflict, since 1912, the Irish were cruelly disappointed in this hope, and physical violence, first by the Ulster Irish, then by Sinn Fein, dominated the political scene. But there was no final trial of strength. Asquith postponed it from 1912 to 1914, until the outbreak of war spared him the trouble. In 1921, Lloyd George broke off the wear and tried the method of negotiation, before really decisive forces were thrown into the struggle by the English. In the words of Michael Collins: “We had not beaten the enemy out of our country by force of arms.”

Irish methods of violence assumed a great variety of different forms. For the first epoch, the time of Parnell, the following methods were characteristic: acts of sabotage on country-seats, attempts on the lives of estate owners, refusal to pay rent, boycott of land-lords who had driven out their tenants. Only the last-named had Parnell’s unqualified approval. The political struggle was not yet militarily organized. The acts of violence were for the most part perpetrated by oppressed peasants, inspired by hate and vindictiveness, with the support of individual fanatics. After the interval from 1887-1912, the new phenomenon of irregular armies sprang up, accompanied by acts of terrorism from ambushes.

There can be no doubt whatever that these various types of violence had a moral effect on the English. But this effect assumed two contradictory forms: on the one hand, a desire to appease the embittered Irish and to find a way out of a disastrous situation by means of compromise: on the other, a stiffening of resistance in the English camp, a determination not to yield to violence. During all phases of the struggle, both tendencies existed side by side. The former tendency found expression in the gradual concessions of Gladstone and finally in his conversion to the principle of Home Rule. But his efforts were paralysed by the fact that the terror has assumed proportions which made the majority of his fellow-countrymen unamenable to the idea of concessions. The murder of the Chief Secretary and his Under-Secretary in 1882 in Dublin (the so-called Phoenix Park murders) had a particularly disastrous effect; Parnell was no less appalled by this senseless act of cruelty than the English; his reaction was identical with that of Dr Weizmann after the assassination of Lord Moyne in November 1944. He felt this incident to be a stab in the back. Events vindicated his attitude when in 1886, Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill met with embittered resistance in England. After the rejection of the Home Rule Bill the acts of sabotage continued, but they did not intimidate the English any more. They ceased entirely when Balfour (then Chief Secretary for Ireland) intervened with a strong hand. The Irish found themselves reduced to parliamentary forms of resistance.

In the fight for the third Home Rule Bill, Asquith, like the Irish leader Redmond, at first under-estimated the danger of an armed Ulster. Later the pro-Ulster attitude, adopted by the Conservative party leaders and by numerous army officers, forced upon him a realisation of the true situation. The danger confronting him was simply that of civil war, not only in Ireland, but in England too. Hence his hesitation and evasions, which could not inspire confidence in his determination to carry the Bill through. Now we cannot by any stretch of the imagination conceive of a situation in which the Palestine question could in any way lead to civil war in England; here, too, the analogy fails.

Finally, there remains Lloyd George’s change of heart in 1921: instead of a real war a compromise on the basis of Dominion Status. If there is anything in this that calls for explanation, it is the fact that Lloyd George turned to this solution only after the counter-terrorism of the Black and Tans had greatly increased the bitterness of the victims. The solution itself corresponded to the world situation. The war against Germany, the Austro-Hungarian anarchy [sic, monarchy?] and Turkey had been brought to a successful conclusion under the slogan of “the self-determination of peoples”. It was impossible to threaten an autonomous organisation of the Irish with a war of annihilation after similar autonomy had been recognised in the case of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. It was equally impossible to refuse the application of the concept of Dominion Status in the case of Ireland, after having not only accepted it for the overseas settlers’ colonies, but also having admitted it into the official future programme for India. So there were the strongest moral reasons for avoiding war and striving for a compromise, provided Ireland was ready to accept it.

In our present situation, we too may look forward to all sorts of compromise proposals, not only from England, but from the U.S.A. as well. But the example of Ireland cannot lead us to expect that the Western Powers will seek compromise in a direction which involves the renunciation of force where we are concerned and at the same time the use of force against the Arab countries. Moreover, Winston Churchill put the point well when he said that in 1920-21 the British government found themselves in a situation which admitted of only two possibilities: “War with the utmost violence or peace with the utmost patience.” The British Government in the end took the risk of choosing the latter alternative. But we can hardly apply this choice of alternatives to our case. We certainly do not wish to experience “war with the utmost violence” at the hands of the British; but will “utmost patience” serve our purpose and further our aims?

To sum up: the example of Ireland cannot give rise to speculative hopes. But it can, and does, give rise to apprehensions. The constant conflicts between Unionists and Home Rulers, between Irishmen and Ulstermen, have again and again resulted in the postponement of a solution, and this postponement, so far from improving the situation has aggravated it. The same applies to the repeated rejections of compromise solutions on the part of the various parties.


We may ask, however, whether de Valera was not right after all in refusing to resign himself to the compromise of the 1921 treaty and in embarking on a more radical course in restoring the independence of the Irish Free State? The question would appear to be beyond the scope of our present enquiry, seeing that de Valera’s policy since 1932 has never resorted either to armed violence or to terrorism. In fact, the Irish President was himself threatened by a yet more radical group.[8] However, the causes and consequences of de Valera’s policy in the thirties may give us occasion to touch on the last aspect of the Irish question which is of direct interest to us, viz. the results of a radical national movement for the people whose future it claims to work for. The motives which brought de Valera to power in 1932 were largely economic in nature. The Irish people were feeling the effects of the world-crisis; but just as Hitler taught the Germans to seek the root cause of their troubles in political conditions, so did de Valera the Irish. The Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921 played a similar role in his propaganda to that of the treaty of Versailles in Hitler’s. He then attempted to establish a system of economic autarchy calculated to make Ireland independent of the English market, “reversing that policy which made us simply the kitchen garden for supplying the British with cheap food”. This policy turned out to be a failure; geographical circumstances proved stronger than economic nationalism in Eire.

What else has he achieved? The symbols of Royal power were removed; but this measure was itself of no more than symbolic value. Of deeper significance was the fact that Ireland was being wrenched out of the British defence system: first by the withdrawal of the British garrison from the Irish treaty ports, and then by de Valera’s declaration of neutrality after Great Britain had declared war on Germany. In both cases it may be doubted whether a different attitude would have been possible: the vast majority of the population approved of the policy of its leader. But in each case this policy has served to promote a line of development which was diametrically opposed to the natural tendencies of Irish national consciousness: viz. the alienation of wide and important sections of men of Irish descent from the national cause of the Irish state. The gulf between Ulster and Eire has been widened. There has been a perceptible cooling off in the attitude of Americans of Irish extraction towards their ancient homeland. Nor is that all. Emigration from Eire to the United Kingdom has once more increased. For a hundred years, the population of Eire has suffered continual losses through emigration. At first it was possible to explain the downward trend which began with the great famine of 1846 as the result of the bad living conditions of the Irish country people. But emigration and decline of population did not come to a standstill when the agricultural reforms of Gladstone and Balfour removed this cause. Not only America and other overseas countries, but also the country of the “oppressors”, England, continued to attract Irish immigrants. It was only when the economic world crisis of 1929 began to counteract this attraction, that Irish emigration was temporarily reduced to a fairly low figure. After the outbreak of war, however, there has been a fresh increase. Large numbers of Irishmen left the country which enjoyed the safety of neutrality and linked their fate with that of Great Britain. They entered the British Army where, like many descendants of Irish immigrants before them, they greatly distinguished themselves; or they accepted work in the British armament industries.

Does not this fact convey a warning to us? The national agitator, acclaimed by the masses and able to inspire many individuals to sacrifices of various kinds, may easily jump to the conclusion that the strongest and most progressive attractiveness of his people is embodied in his person and his slogans. But this confidence is not solidly based. Telegrams of admirers can be counted; disaffected fellow-countrymen cannot; but they are none the less real as potential forces and potential losses for being for being beyond the reach of statistical enquiry. The main point, however, is this: national agitation is neither directly nor indirectly the most important means of creating sound economic and cultural conditions for the people it wants to build up. For this task of upbuilding, work of quite a different kind is required.


POSTSCRIPT 1 – July, 1946

Recent voices from England are calculated to convey the impression that I have been mistaken. On the occasion of the events at the end of June 1946[9],various Englishmen both of the Right and the Left got up to draw the attention of their Government to the warning example of Ireland. But what is the real truth of the matter? The warning was given to Great Britain, and it must not be construed as meaning that the warners wanted to encourage our armed “fighters for freedom”[10]. They got up and warned the British Government against pursuing a policy which must inevitably lead to bloodshed and unspeakable bitterness. But it does not follow from this that bloodshed and acts of despair will be crowned with our victory. Neither did the warners mean to say that the British Government must accept the radical claims officially put forward by us in order to prevent a repetition of the bloodshed in Ireland and of the Irish wrath incurred. In part, the warners pleaded for a political solution in accordance with the recommendations of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry: neither a Jewish nor an Arab State, i.e. nothing that might be said to correspond to the Irish example. Other warners pleaded for partition and it was precisely in this sense that they quoted the Irish example. Partition on the Irish model would mean a kind of Jewish Ulster. I trust I have succeeded in showing in the course of my essay that this is the very example that does not bear transplantation. Tel-Aviv never can hope to take the place of Belfast.


POSTSCRIPT 2 – December, 1946

The liquidation of the Mandate, still a remote issue when this article was written a year ago – though already envisaged by the Peel Report in 1937 and more seriously by the White Paper of 1939 – has meanwhile, in consequence of the incessant outrages of Jewish terrorists, gained ground in English public opinion, and doubtlessly is eagerly wished for by a large proportion of the English people.   Leaders of Zionist public opinion have been quick to adapt themselves to the new situation, and just as they have changed front in the question of partition, so they have professed acquiescence in the British leaving Palestine at an early date. It seems by no means impossible that impending negotiations are to lead to a solution which comes near this demand. If so, they way is prepared for the advocates of terrorism to boast of having helped the Zionist cause, and that the Irish analogy has proved right in spite of all dissimilarities.   But that will be a fallacy again. When Irish nationalism went to extremes in the policy of separation, it could, consciously or unconsciously, rely on the English retaining an interest in the island in general and Ulster in particular. If the English quit Palestine – or, for that matter, Jewish Palestine – no residue of interest is to be expected. Palestinian Jews will be thought a people better to be forgotten than to be remembered. Is that outcome to be wished for?

When the Irish Home Rule movement was still in its infancy, Punch voiced a warning which may not have attracted much attention in its days, but is certainly worth being unearthed to-day and adapted to our situation. The warning runs (vol. 74, p.46):

“To teach Home-Rulers than England’s difficulty is not Ireland’s opportunity, however Ireland’s importunity may be England’s difficulty”

Say “Eretz-Yisrael 1946” instead of “Ireland 1877”, and you have the real analogy.


[1] I compiled what I think is a complete list of this literature for a recent article for Israel Studies: Donald Akenson. God’s Peoples: Covenant and Land in South Africa, Israel, and Ulster (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1992); Aidan Beatty. Masculinity and Power in Irish Nationalism, 1884-1938 (London: Palgrave, 2016); Hedva Ben-Israel. ‘The Role of Religion in Nationalism: Some Comparative Remarks on Irish Nationalism and Zionism’. In Religion, Ideology, and Nationalism in Europe and America: Essays Presented in Honor of Yehoshua Arieli (Jerusalem: Historical Society of Israel/Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History, 1986) 331-340; Abby Bender. Israelites in Erin: Exodus, Revolution, and the Irish Revival (Syracuse NY, Syracuse University Press, 2015); Joe Cleary. Literature, Partition and the Nation State: Culture and Conflict in Ireland, Israel and Palestine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Shulamit Eliash. The Harp and the Shield of David: Ireland, Zionism and the State of Israel (New York: Routledge, 2007); Dan Lainer-Vos. Sinews of the Nation: Constructing Irish and Zionist Bonds in the United States (Cambridge: Polity, 2012); John Maher. Slouching Towards Jerusalem: Reactive Nationalism in the Irish, Israeli and Palestinian Novel, 1985-2005 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2012); Kevin McCarthy. Robert Briscoe: Sinn Féin Revolutionary, Fianna Fáil Nationalist and Revisionist Zionist (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2016); Rory Miller. Ireland and the Palestine Question, 1948-2004 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2005); Muiris Ó Laoire, Athbheochan na hEabhraise: Ceacht don Ghaeilge? [The Hebrew Revival: A Lesson for the Irish Language?] (Baile Átha Cliath: An Clóchomhar, 1999).

[2] Hugh Trevor-Roper. Jewish and Other Nationalism (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1962) 15.

[3] The Liberals won a landslide victory in 1906, strong enough to not need Irish Parliamentary Party votes. In 1910, they were re-elected on a slimmer mandate and did need the IPP and introduced the Third Home Rule Bill. Koebner seems to confuse the two elections, and his date is off by a year.

[4] Koebner appears here to not be referring to the Irish Civil War of 1922-23, but to the War of Independence, which was, of course, a civil war of the United Kingdom,

[5] Koebner’s vocabulary muddies matters, since he uses the term “Free State” to refer to the Republic declared by the Dáil of 1919, when the “Irish Free State” was not established until the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922.

[6] The Economic War began in 1932 and lasted until 1938, but “Éire” was not used as the official name of the Irish state until de Valera’s constitution of 1937.

[7] From the verb Leyashev, to sit or to settle, Yishuv is the term commonly used in Zionist discourse to denote the Jewish population, and is often delineated into the Old (non-Zionist) Yishuv and the new (Zionist) Yishuv.

[8] Koebner does not say who the “yet more radical group” were, but presumably this is a reference either to the fascist Blueshirts or the anti-Treaty rump of the IRA.

[9] The 1972 translation of the article gives the following explanatory footnote: “The sudden searches of the premises of the Jewish Agency and other public institutions and of numerous agricultural settlements, the arrest of several leading Jewish Agency members as well as several thousand citizens in the communal settlements and in the towns.”

[10] This is a reference to LEHI [Lochamei Herut Israel, Fighters for the Freedom of Israel] a right-wing Zionist terrorist militia also known as the “Stern Gang”, after their leader, Avraham Stern.

The Strange Career of R.S. Devane

– This is a paper I presented at the 2017 National Meeting of the American Conference for Irish Studies.

Where Does The Church End And The State Begin?

In 1925, Richard S. Devane, (1876-1951) a Jesuit priest, social reformer and political activist, wrote an article on ‘Indecent Literature’ for the Irish Ecclesiastical Record. In this article, Devane addressed what he saw as the need for the censorship of print publications in the Irish Free State. He placed this in a broader context of contemporary reforms in other areas of sexual morality, such as prostitution, age of consent laws, and the legal status of illegitimate children. Devane said the issue of “indecent literature” must be addressed using “our new-won powers” but also “according to Irish ideals and Catholic standards”; in other words Church and State were melded in his conception, and he drew on his own experiences as a social-reforming priest; but where Devane had lead a vigilance committee in Limerick in the previous decade that pressured Catholic shop-owners to boycott certain publications, he felt that such approaches would not work in larger and more religiously diverse cities like Cork or Dublin. Thus he argued that the State has to step in, what he called “the necessity of falling back upon the law”.[1]

Of central concern for Devane were publications that advertised or otherwise promoted the use of contraception. Devane condemned contraception on Catholic lines, identifying its “immorality” and discussing how advertisements for contraceptives educate women “in hideous forms of vice”. But he also called contraception a form of “race suicide” promoted by dangerously independent female “Malthusians”. His concerns were both sacred and secular, clerical and statist, gendered and racialised. Privileging the State over the Church, though, Devane said he had “no doubt that the Ministers of the Irish Free State, who have the custody of the Nation’s life and morals in their hands, will not hesitate to take every means necessary for the exclusion of this vile stuff [contraception], and we trust that they will have the support of every member of the Dáil and the Senate who has the moral welfare of the Nation, especially of the young, at heart, and who truly represent the mind of the Irish people.” Throughout his discussion of “indecent literature”, Devane moved between Ireland and Irish politics as it is and as he expects it to be once the State, not the Church, has enacted the proper reforms.[2]

Devane claimed in this article that, through his work with the Priests Social Guild, he had urged the then Minister for Justice, Kevin O’Higgins, to act on this issue, to “legally [strangle] this vile traffic.” This appears to be disingenuous. According to the records of the Censorship Judgements for the Jesuit Province of Ireland, Devane wrote his article on ‘Indecent Literature’ after it had been “suggested” to him by O’Higgins, “who is conscious to excite an atmosphere in advance so as to facilitate legislation”[3]. There is an important dynamic on display here; “the State”, represented by the Minister of Justice, requested that “the Church”, personified by Fr. Devane, write an article that will publicly tell “the State” what to do. The circularity of all this reveals an important conceptual problem in Irish historiography; it is rarely clear where the Church ends and the State begins in modern Ireland. Indeed, Devane ended his article by affirming that it “has been written to help to clear they way and to inform public opinion”, perhaps meaning that public opinion is to be massaged by the Church and convinced to go along with the State’s legislative agenda?

The Marxist state-theorist Nicos Poulantzas has argued against the idea that “the State” should be understood solely in terms of its formal institutions. Rather, Poulantzas contends that the State should be understood as a strategic field that blurs the boundaries between formal state institutions and civil society; the latter being the “space” in which the State acts and enforces its power.[4]   And for Poulantzas, the Church is an integral part of the State; “All the apparatuses of hegemony, including those that are legally private (ideological and cultural apparatuses, the Church, etc.), all these form part of the State”[5]. Poulantzas perhaps over-determines the power and reach of the State; the Catholic Church in Ireland, for example, was not a mere adjunct of the State. Yet his insights about how to understand the State are of great value; Devane’s short essay certainly highlights how a statist project was being carried out through the “private” machinery of the Church.

Moreover, just as understanding “the State” solely in terms of its formal institutions can be narrowly restrictive, so also “the Church” should not be perceived as a singular, coherent entity. The conceptual fuzziness of “the State” finds a parallel in that of “the Church”. Devane’s article was published in The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, “a monthly journal under episcopal sanction”. Devane, as a Jesuit, worked outside of the episcopal hierarchy. In addition, he regularly worked in concert what a number of lay vigilance groups. Such lay Catholic groups were often at odds with the hierarchy and certainly tended to have a different perception of the nature of the Church-State relations.[6]


R.S. Devane (1876-1951), from his obituary in the Irish Independent, 24 May 1951

This paper is a study of Devane’s political-theological work and an investigation of how Devane’s writings and activism reveal some of the important dynamics and conceptual problems of Church-State relations in the years after 1922. Devane was one of the most important figures in the legislative history of the Irish Free State, with a strong influence on the soft authoritarian world of post-1922 social reform and social control. He was present at the legislative birth of much of the socio-political order of the newly independent state. Yet his importance has been underestimated by historians; while he surfaces in a large amount of the historiographical literature on the 1920s and ‘30s, to date there has been no biography published of Devane and he has received only a small amount of direct scholarly attention.[7]

Devane was born in Limerick City in 1876, growing up in solidly bourgeois surroundings.   His father was “a well-known merchant of that city.” He studied at Mungret College and St. Munchin’s Seminary, both in Limerick, before moving to Maynooth, where he was ordained a priest in 1901. Though he would later rail against the evils of English culture and the negative presence of the “garrison”, which he claimed promoted prostitution,[8] he spent the early years of his vocation in Yorkshire as well as serving as an army chaplain for ten years in Limerick. He was the curate at St. Michael’s Parish in Limerick, “a large working class district”, from 1904 to 1918.   Already at this early point, he was involved in “rescue and vigilance work” – synonyms for proselytising among prostitutes and for censorship[9] – and in outreach to labourers that presumably aimed to protect them from the evils of atheistic socialism. He was also a force behind the early regulation of cinemas in Limerick, which received the support of Limerick Borough Council, and was involved in temperance work. In July 1918, Devane entered the Society of Jesus at St. Stanislaus College in Tullamore and was professed two years later; his joining the Jesuits was apparently a shock to many.   From 1922 to 1932, Devane was in charge of a retreat house for working men in Rathfarnham and also served in the 1930s and ‘40s as director of a retreat house in nearby Milltown Park. Fortuitously he was thus in Dublin and promoting “social Catholicism” at the founding moment of the Irish Free State, with a position that afforded him “more leisure and larger scope for his special talents.” Indeed, he may have joined the Jesuits precisely because it would give him time and space, free from parochial duties, to devote to social activism.[10]

More Cotton-Wool For Frail, Feckless Pat

The support for censorship of the press on display in Devane’s 1925 essay on ‘Indecent Literature’ was a trope that ran through much of his career. He had already been a strong advocate of “vigilance” in the 1910s, and showed a willingness to work “outside the law” up to and including seizing newspapers from trains as they arrived in Limerick and burning them.[11] He would later fondly recall this as a “memorable and effective attack on the filthy Sunday cross-Channel papers”[12]. When Devane was called as a witness to the Free State government’s Committee on Evil Literature in 1926, his testimony was primarily concerned with the “hideous literature” and “filthy pornographic matter” in which the use of contraception was promoted.[13] He also provided the Committee with examples of this published material, which he had legally purchased in Dublin; A Letter to Working Mothers by Marie Stopes and Margaret Sanger’s Family Limitation (Handbook for Working Mothers) were two prominent titles. Devane’s testimony was also peppered with voyeuristic stories about various businesses in Dublin that sold contraception which Vigilance activists had surveilled or a story about a “jew” [sic] found selling contraceptives in Ballina; when the Gardaí failed to stop him, the local parish priest held an ad hoc trial and attempted to extract a £100 fine from him. “The jew paid £10 and cleared out.”[14]

Evil Literature

Evil Literature: Some Suggestions (1927)

In a 1927 pamphlet on Evil Literature, which publicised his contributions to the Committee on Evil Literature, Devane spoke of the need to make the public “sufficiently prepared” for the implementation of censorship. He felt there had been a ‘failure to create atmosphere… the Government needs an informed public opinion to facilitate its efforts in introducing legislation, and to help towards countering in advance a certain opposition which cannot be burked and which must be faced.” Devane revealed much here about the role the Church plays in shaping public opinion for the State; needless to say, he saw this article as a way to do all this.[15] In 1950, a year before his death Devane published a short pamphlet that restated his verbal assault on The Imported Press; what is perhaps most noteworthy about this pamphlet is how much it repeats Devane’s views from a quarter century earlier; on issues of censorship and the building of a correctly moral nationalist culture, he was not prone to changing his mind. It is not for nothing that Myles na gCopaleen once snapped that Devane was motivated by a desire to protect the child-like Irish people by imposing, via censorship, “more cotton-wool for frail, feckless Pat”[16]

The Imported Press

The Imported Press (1950)

An Irish Sun Was Replaced By An English Sun 

            In that late career pamphlet on The Imported Press, Devane looked back at his early years as a priest in the north of England, asserting that his experiences from that time informed his desires for press censorship. He claimed to have witnessed with unease how English workers spent their Sundays reading salacious tabloid news until the pubs opened and they could start their heavy drinking.[17]   The idea that England was a morally dangerous place, and thus that publications coming from that country must be censored, were intensified by Devane’s emotive language and turns-of-phrase; “the cross-Channel unclean press”; “the reptile press”; “cross-Channel looseness, grossness, and vulgarity that are nowadays being propagated with impunity throughout the country”; “unclean and vulgar literature”; “tainted goods”; “Advertisements of manuals of immorality, of immoral appliances, and of diabolical books, mostly written by women, are becoming quite common in what is appropriately styled the “gutter press,” which is dumped by the ton each week on the Dublin quays.” He also spoke anxiously about the dangers that Irish “girls” faced upon moving to the fleshpots of England.[18] Indeed, Devane believed that “English Standards” of legislation, which gave legal sanction to contraception, were the source of much of Ireland’s problems.[19] This moral horror in turn worked to buttress an image of Irish moral purity over and against the baseness that supposedly existed on the other side of the Irish Sea. Devane happily talked of “the clean tradition of the Irish Press”[20] and said that “The Irish people have been ever remarkable for their high appreciation of purity and chastity”[21].

There was indeed a strongly felt disgust at England and English culture running throughout Devane’s prose. In one of his oddest moments, he attacked Daylight Savings Time in a 1928 essay, describing it an insidious British importation. While other European nations – “saner” nations – have rejected the “hysteria” of Daylight Savings, “We retain it because it has been imposed on us together with Greenwich Time by Great Britain, and because we have neither the social sense nor the national spirit to reject it.”   Devane saw something important in the fact that Daylight Savings Time was imposed on Ireland just after the Easter Rising, when the nation was distracted: “Let me emphasize the fact that we were never consulted as to whether an agricultural country such as ours needed Summer Time or not; it was simply thrust on us when the nation was sorely distracted, in one of the most tragic periods of our history, and in the sole interest of Great Britain. We have had the power of removing this cruel infliction on rural Ireland for many years, but we still lie slavishly under it.” Ireland had been forced into British Time, literally and figuratively: “by a few lines of a British Act we lost our own Irish Time… an Irish sun was replaced by an English sun.”[22] Now Ireland must break out of this.

Summer Time

Summer Time (1928), signed by Devane

It would be all too easy to caricature Devane as an unthinking anglophobe. And yet there was a certain kind of respect for England, as well as perhaps a desire for England to respect Ireland, that recurs in Devane’s writings; even the notion that Ireland should prove its moral superiority over England draws on a desire for English respect. His 1927 discussion of Evil Literature: Some Suggestions was introduced with a preface by Evelyn Cecil, a Tory MP who had advocated censorship in the UK and whose work had attracted European-wide attention. In a 1931 essay on the dangers of public dancing, Devane approvingly quoted the more stringent regulations enforced in Britain and he also praised the English system of local government as a form of social organisation that could rectify “the disintegrating influences operative to-day”. With some adjustments for “our own peculiar conditions” such English-style governance would “preserve our rural traditions” and “keep our people rooted in the soil.”[23] He also maintained a correspondence with Alison Neilans, the General Secretary of the English-based Association for Moral and Social Hygiene.[24]

Indeed, Devane showed an awareness of international currents in censorship, and in moral legislation in general, that is at stark odds with the stereotypical image of Ireland as an isolated sacra insula in the years after 1922. He approvingly referenced the International Convention for the Circulation and Traffic in Obscene Publications, organised under the auspices of the League of Nations on 31 August 1923. Devane also showed himself aware of similar work being done by the New England Watch and Ward (Vigilance) Society and looked to the British Dominions of Canada and Australia for models of literary censorship worth emulating.[25] He praised the anti-dancing legislation passed in Mussolini’s Italy, in the Netherlands, and in contemporary Greece and Cuba as well as the attempt in the German state of Thuringia to ban “jazz music and negro dances” which, Devane claimed, “glorify negroism and strike a blow at German kultur.”[26] Similarly, his support for film censorship looked for inspiration to, among others, Japan, Germany, France, Poland, Czecho-Slovakia, and, incongruously, Soviet-era Russia.[27]

A Chivalrous And Catholic Nation

Devane’s views of sexual morality, taken as whole, reiterated the notion that a Catholic conception of individual sexual morality would make for a neat partnership with the State. This was certainly the case with his contribution to the infamous Carrigan Committee of the early 1930s.   Devane was present at the Committee’s fourth meeting, on 1 July 1930, and like Frank Duff (who had presented his evidence a week earlier, on 27 June), Devane agreed that prostitution was rife in Ireland. For Devane, it was temporary migration to England, as well as the new fashion of dance halls, which had “ruined” these “girls”. [28] Devane, like Duff, urged that prostitutes be sent to special “homes” for treatment, something the Carrigan report repeated in its recommendation that “Girl offenders” [i.e. aged 16-21] should be dealt with via a borstal system.[29] In other words, Devane was a supporter of what James Smith has aptly called Ireland’s “architecture of containment’” the institutional machinery that allowed “the decolonizing nation-state to confine aberrant citizens, rendering invisible women and children who fell foul of society’s moral proscriptions…. a national identity that privileged Catholic morality and valorized the correlation between marriage and motherhood while at the same time effacing nonconforming citizens who were institutionally confined.”[30]

The fallout from the Carrigan Committee also shows that “the Church” is not a singular or static entity. The “Catholic” input into the Carrigan Committee was from figures such as Devane or lay activists like Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, as much it came from conventional priests subject to episcopal authority.[31] And Devane and Duff’s attitudes were far closer to the extreme measures recommended in the Carrigan Report than was the Catholic Hierarchy. Indeed, the Hierarchy were themselves far closer to the Government in their shared unease about Carrigan’s findings.[32]

A year after his appearance before the Carrigan Committee, Devane returned to the perceived dangers of public dancing in an article for the Irish Ecclesiastical Record.[33] Here, he described saw dance halls as “A moral and national menace’ and claimed they were bastions of drunkenness and even worse: “Not only is drink taken by the men but girls [sic] are induced to do so. Hence the orgies one sees so often reported in the Press and which centre round the dance-halls.”   Devane spoke of dance venues as “man-traps” and physically dirty places, and notions of sanitised space were central, if subtle, elements in his thinking.[34] Fitting with his ambiguous perceptions of British society, Devane approvingly quoted the more stringent regulations enforced in Britain, whereby dance halls were more closely monitored by the authorities: “There is a spirit of discipline in all this that it would be well we should copy, if for no other reason than to teach many of our young folk a sense of restraint and discipline, of which they seem scarcely to have a rudimentary idea.” Whereas Devane saw Irish public spaces as increasingly polluted by dance halls, British authorities, he believed, had properly disciplined their public spaces. His conclusion was that “The moral health of the [Irish] Nation is not quite sound and shows signs of being gradually undermined… There is a general languor and malaise in the body corporate which seem to imply a general poisoning of the national system.” Pushing this medical metaphor, Devane urged: “Remove the source of infection and a surprising recovery will soon take place…. We need the hand of a national surgeon, of a strong Minister, to rid us of its poisoning influence and so to lead to the restoration of our normal moral health. God send it soon.”[35] Where organisations such as the Catholic Truth Society argued for a Church-led reform of Irish society, Devane saw the State as the ideal motive force.[36] He felt the State should work in a negating way, to remove the problem of public dancing, while the Church, the Home and the School would work in a positive way, to promote a better alternative morality.[37]

Devane’s sense that England was a source of moral danger played a determining role in other aspects of his views of sexuality. In a 1928 pamphlet on The Unmarried Mother and the Poor Law Commission, Devane claimed that 317 pregnant Irish women had arrived in Liverpool in 1926/27, drawing on figures supplied by the Liverpool Port and Station Work Society. Reflecting the surveillance culture of Irish sexual morality in the Free State years, Devane said that “It would be interesting to follow the careers of these 300 of our young countrywomen, stranded in a large seaport city, and to discover their fate.” It is also telling that in Devane’s prose, Irish women seem to have no free will; they are “stranded” in England, rather than emigrants.[38] This recurs throughout this piece, which moves to a discussion of age of consent laws. Devane seems to work from the premise that any sexual contact is initiated by men, with “prematurely developed girls, inexperienced and an easy prey to the seducer” being acted upon by these men.[39] He elsewhere spoke of “the insuppressible lust of men” which exists in contrast to “the independent and free and easy airs of the growing girl of to-day”. Thus, Devane concluded that there was a “greater need for protection”, to guard “girls” from both “the seduction of the designing blackguard” as well as from “her own silliness and stupidity”. Such protection was something women had a right to expect in “a chivalrous and Catholic nation.”[40]   In this mode of analysis, Devane departed sharply from the views of Frank Duff, perhaps the prominent lay Catholic social reformer of the early Free State. For Duff, sexually active girls and women were a source of danger who actively seduced otherwise innocent men[41], for Devane the dangers resided within men themselves with “girls” remaining innocent victims or, at most, foolish children. And both Church and Nation-State would need to legislate for this.

Parish Councils

A Guide for Parish Councils in Ireland (1940)

The Films Are A Grave National Menace To Our Culture

Later in life, Devane developed a keen interest in film production and the regulation of the cinema industry. He saw films as a useful means of modern mass education and also as a prophylactic against “demoralising and denationalising influences”[42]. Accentuating the need for a nationalist cinema to educate the people was Devane’s fear that Irish children’s nationalist education would be erased by the denationalising effects of commercial movies. “Will their impressionable minds be any more able to resist the seductive lessons of the screen than African primitives armed with bows and arrows can oppose a modern mechanised army with airplanes and tanks?”. He also believed that adults were just as liable to be infected by the commercial cinema. Films, he said, have the potential to be “a grave national menace to our culture”[43]

Unsurprisingly, Devane had favourable views of film censorship. He was certainly aware of the (in)famous Hays Code in the US, having learnt of it from a book entitled Decency in Motion Pictures by Martin Quigley, which he recommended to the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, in 1941.[44] On this issue, Devane returned to his regular idea that public opinion needs to be “formed” so as to support film censorship and said that the film industry is so powerful that “nothing but the State can control them”.[45] He was particularly interested in establishing a National Film Institute that could co-ordinate all this and would ameliorate the “baneful influences” of commercial cinema:[46]

“The National Film Institute should link up various organised elements of the nation and help towards awakening national consciousness as regards the propagandist, cultural and educational value of the films. It would act as a clearing house for information on all matters affecting films at home and abroad, particularly as regards education and general culture, influence public opinion to appreciate the value of films as entertainment and instruction and advice educational bodies and other organisations.”[47]

As with so much else of his proposals, Devane looked overseas for examples worth emulating, identifying the Danish Film Institute as a useful model.[48]

There was also a certain kind of fear of global capitalism here. In his contribution to The Irish Cinema Handbook (1943), Devane spoke of “our commercial exploitation by cosmopolitan adventurers” in the film industry.[49]. He claimed that Irish cinema owners worked under “oppressive conditions imposed by foreign film renters” who force Irish cinemas to take their products. He called this a “despotic invasion of authority from outside” which “should not be tolerated in a sovereign State”, though it is not clear if he was offended by the coercion itself rather than its foreign origins.[50] Confirming the idea that Devane was animated by a certain fear of capitalism, his obituary in his alma mater’s school magazine talked of how he “did not underestimate the power of paganism backed by wealth” and “he often met bitter opposition from those who made money at the cost of human souls.”[51]


Scannáin (1942)

In a preface [Brollach] he wrote for a one-off film magazine published by the short-lived fascist group Ailtirí na hAiséirghe [Architects of the Resurrection], Devane voiced his fears about the denationalising effects of the film industry, “which has all the driving power of limitless capital behind it, appealing to the taste of the ignorant and the half-educated who constitute the great majority of humanity”, thus mixing his idiosyncratic anti-capitalism with old-fashioned social snobbery. There were also nationalist concerns at work here, as he pondered “Can any people preserve for long a distinct national character, a national culture, when these huge organisations, with unlimited resources can break into and take possession of the minds of men everywhere, creating images, sensations, ideas of life which with few exceptions are cheap, vulgar and sensational?”   Anxieties about “the degeneration of culture under the impact of modernity”, as Gopal Balakrishan has observed, were one of the main “thematic prongs of the Right in the twentieth century”[52]. Devane certainly appears to have feared the fissiparous effects of the capitalist culture industry on Irish traditions. Also worth noting is the suggestion, again, that some people are passive in the face of danger (as with “girls” in the face of rapacious men); even Devane’s description of the culture industry penetrating men’s minds has a sexual tinge to it.[53]

In his views on the cinema, though, he did not find favour with Fianna Fáil. An attempt to gain an audience with Eamon de Valera, so that Devane and a group of supporters could present proposals for “a government inquiry into the use of the cinema for nationalist propaganda purposes” appears to have been received with a polite rebuttal.[54] It seems that by the mid-1930s, Devane had been sidelined by Fianna Fáil; despite his strong views on the topic, he does not appear to have been consulted in 1935 when the government was preparing the Dance Halls Act[55]. Perhaps his longstanding association with the legislative agenda of Cumann na nGaedheal put him at odds with the anti-Treayites. His contributions to the debacle of the Carrigan Committee may also have hurt his reputation in government circles. All of which raises interesting questions about how the State interacts with the Church; shifts in control of the State clearly affect which factions of the Church are consulted or allowed access to State power.   Additionally, Devane’s fascist leanings, on display from the 1930s onwards, further compounded his problem of finding a stable place within fluid Church-State relations.

Ireland Wants Neither Extremists Of The Right Nor Of The Left

By the 1930s, Devane began to flirt with continental fascism. While he appears to have been a supporter of Mussolini,[56] he reserved a special note of affection for António de Oliveira Salazar, “one of the greatest statesmen in Europe to-day”, who had expurgated “Grand Orient Masonic Liberalism”, an import from France, from Portugal. In a pamphlet in the early forties, proposing reforms in local government, and which drew on examples from across Europe, Devane held particular praise for the reforms under Salazar. Only the heads of families could vote in local elections in Portugal’s Estado Novo, a reform Devane praised for the way it made families the basic unit of society; a familial state would, he claimed, be free of internecine ideological strife. Though Devane, generously recognising the existence of female political concerns, such as welfare and school lunches, did allow that mothers, as well as fathers, should be allowed to vote.[57] Three years prior to this, Devane had used a similar vocabulary to praise de Valera’s new constitution. Breaking from ‘conventional liberalism’, with its undue focus on the individual, Devane wrote to the Taoiseach of his happiness that the family would now be the basic unit of Irish society. Fr. Devane suggested that Dev now borrow from Salazar and give votes to heads of families only in future elections. Devane’s letter leaves it diplomatically unstated, but tacitly assumed, that heads of households are generally men.[58]

In a 1938 article for the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Devane reiterated his support for Salazar, praising his focus on the family, his anti-liberalism, and his “restoration of a Christian Portugal” in a state that was supposedly “poisonously anti-Catholic” prior to Salazar. Devane also boosted Portuguese education as a model for Irish schools, “a scheme of moral and civic instruction drafted by the State itself – no doubt acting in accord with the Church.”[59]

Challenge from Youth

Challenge From Youth (1942)

In the 1940s, Devane published his two longest and most ambitious works, both of which continued in this hard-right political vein. In Challenge from Youth (1942), Devane looked at various youth movements in contemporary Europe; in Soviet Russia, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Portugal, Pétain’s France, and Britain. Much of this was a continuation of an earlier interest in adolescence as the deciding period in citizens’ religious, moral and political development.   And again, Devane showed a sharp awareness of developments elsewhere in Europe.[60] He stated that in a Christian country such as Ireland, “there can obviously be no place for State regimentation of youth and, furthermore, that religion must be the basis and formative spirit of youth training.”[61] Thus, he seemed to suggest that the Church should take an unquestioned lead in organising the nation’s youth. Devane was clearly shocked by the irreligious nature of the USSR and the Third Reich, yet he also recommended a Catholicised version of the Nazi Arbeitsdienst [Work Service] as a model to be adopted in Ireland and concluded that

“the secret of the success of Communists, Fascists and Nazis lies in one single fact, namely, that they have an intense, personal, all-consuming faith, a totalitarian faith, colouring their minds, influencing their outlook and operating in a conscious way throughout the actions of their daily lives. The question of questions for the whole of Christianity to-day, and much more of to-morrow is – “Can we Christians develop such a totalitarian Christian faith of a like white-heat intensity?””

And he spoke of his hope that the Irish could become “as consciously Christian or Catholic as the Germans are Nazi, the Russians, Communist, the Italians, Fascist”. What he thus seemed to be arguing for was a state-backed youth movement that would percolate an authoritarian and political Catholicism throughout Irish society.[62] Looking approvingly at youth labour schemes in post-1939 Britain, Devane observed that “The laissez-faire attitude of Liberal Democracy towards Youth is at last being buried in Britain; how long more will it be allowed to remain alive in Éire? There is a big job waiting to be tackled both by Church and State in Ireland… It is useless to suggest that we have too many things on hands at present; Britain, with her colossal war, can yet find time for her youth; why cannot we also?”[63] State and Church were again coterminous in his conceptualisations.

Failure of Individualism

The Failure of Individualism (1948)

Where Challenge from Youth ranged across the spaces of Europe, his next book, The Failure of Individualism (1948) manoeuvred back in time, to find the root cause of the chaos Devane felt was gripping post-war Europe. Devane described this book as a ‘Handbook of Politics and Economics’ for citizens who wish to understand ‘the present social chaos.’ And he traced this back to the post-Reformation erosion of “the organic structure of society”, replaced by individualism, atomism and an antisocial and unnatural isolation.[64] Devane identified three forms of individualism; political individualism, represented by the liberalism of Locke and Rousseau; religious individualism, embodied in the English Protestantism he believed had destroyed the unity of medieval Catholic Europe; and economic individualism, also known as capitalism. Devane drew on an eclectic range of sources for all this; the Anglo-French Catholic thinker Hilare Belloc, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Montesquieu, the Chinese nationalist leader Sun Yat Sen, the French Catholic intellectual Jacques Maritain, Max Weber, and Nicholas Berdyaev, a Russian philosopher who had moved from Marxism to an Orthodox-inflected Christian existentialism and was duly exiled by the Bolsheviks. He also critically referenced Friedrich Hayek and, from the opposite end of the political spectrum, Harold Laski.[65] When Devane turned his attention to economic individualism, he drew on Marx and Engels, “two remarkable men”. He evinced a certain sympathy for them, admitting that “Capitalism was no doubt an evil economic system” but argued that socialism and communism, by destroying private property, would be far more evil and would reduce all men to the level of the oppressed proletariat.[66] Devane’s reference points are broader and far more cosmopolitan than is generally presumed for the dour guardians of Catholic Ireland; worldliness does not necessarily equate with the “correct” form of liberal politics.

There is also a curious paradox here: as he moved further from access to power, his writings become far more in depth and far more sophisticated (if still deeply reactionary), from succinct polemical essays of the 1920s to 300-page treatises by the 1940s.[67] Moreover, that Devane went from consultant-at-large on important pieces of government legislation in the 1920s and early 30s, to an overt authoritarian-sympathiser in the following decade, had been largely ignored. Scholars like John Regan, R.M. Douglas and Kenneth Shonk have all shown how authoritarianism was by no means alien to the political culture of post-1922 Ireland.[68] The trajectory of Devane’s writings fits with this assessment. As Devane moved from being a Cumann na nGaedheal surrogate to a booster of Pétain and Salazar, there was a marked consistency across his writings. A Catholic political theology was always central to his worldview, but so also was a strong state that could enforce this social project. Devane’s clerico-fascist leanings were as much statist as they were religious. Indeed, fitting with Nicos Poultanzas’ model, it is rarely clear where the Church ends and the State begins in Devane’s politics.

Studying Devane’s voluminous writings, reveals much about the tortuous dynamics of Irish Church-State relations, about how strong an impact European politics and philosophy had on Ireland (thus countering the caricature about isolated Ireland), and how anti-capitalist notions bubbled under the surface of Irish political debate.[69] Paraphrasing Gopal Balakrishnan’s study of the legal theorist turned National Socialist ideologue, Carl Schmitt, R.S. Devane “is a difficult figure. But even people of diametrically opposite political allegiances can profit intellectually from taking him seriously, and not just with the intention of refuting everything he has to say.”[70]

[1] In one footnote to the article, Devane revealed what he means by the problem of enforcing vigilance in a religiously diverse city. He condemned one bookshop as having an Irish name ‘which is in strange conflict with that of the alien who owns it’, in what was presumably a coded reference to a Jewish-owned business.

[2] R.S. Devane. Indecent Literature: Some Legal Remedies (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1925). Reprinted from Irish Ecclesiastical Record, February 1925.

[3] Irish Jesuit Archives (IJA), ADMN12/13 (1), Note to Fr. Nicholas Tomkin, 28 November 1924

[4] Nicos Poulantzas; Timothy O’Hagan, et al, trans. Political Power and Social Classes (London: New Left Books, 1975). For an application of Poulantzas’ ideas to Irish political history, see: Richard Dunphy. The Making of Fianna Fáil Power in Ireland, 1923-48 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).

[5] Nicos Poulantzas; Patrick Camiller, trans. State, Power, Socialism (London: New Left Books, 1978) 36

[6] In his study of elite Catholic schools, Ciaran O’Neill touches on the similar problem of speaking of The Church in singular terms, since secular clergy, the various monastic orders, and the episcopal hierarchy are all included under this umbrella term, as are the autonomous Jesuits. Catholics of Consequence: Transnational Education, Social Mobility, and the Irish Catholic Elite, 1850-1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) 14-15.

[7] To my knowledge, there has only been one academic paper on Devane: Martin Walsh, ‘Richard Devane: Social Campaigner in the Free State, 1920-51’. Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 103, No. 412 (Winter, 2014/15) 562-573.

[8] Maria Luddy. Prostitution and Irish Society, 1800-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) 195; Diarmuid Ferriter. Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland (London: Profile Books, 2009) 148, 156.

[9] For the history of ‘Vigilance’ work in early twentieth-century Ireland, see: Maurice Curtis. A Challenge to Democracy: Militant Catholicism in Modern Ireland (Dublin: The History Press, 2010).

[10] Devane’s personal papers in the Irish Jesuit Archives contain little about his early life.   The biographical information presented here comes from the entry on Devane by Maurice Cronin in Dictionary of Irish Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), Martin Walsh’s essay on Devane  and from the obituaries of Devane in The Mungret Annual (Limerick: Mungret College, 1952) and Irish Province News (July, 1951); both of these draw heavily on the obituary of Devane in the Irish Independent, 24 May 1951; a press cutting of that obituary is available at IJA J44/3 (2).

[11] R.S. Devane. The Imported Press: A National Menace – Some Remedies (Dublin: James Duffy, 1950) 10.

[12] ‘Indecent Literature’ (1925) 4.

[13] National Archives of Ireland (NAI) JUS 7/1/1, Committee on Evil Literature, Secretary’s Correspondence with Chairman and Members of Committee, Letter from R.S. Devane to Fr. Dempsey, 21 April, 1926

[14] NAI JUS 7/2/9, Rev. Richard Devane, S.J., 24th June 1926: Rev. R.S. Devane, S.J., examined. See also: Dermot Keogh. Jews in Twentieth Century Ireland: Refugees, Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust (Cork: Cork University Press, 1998) 80. For more on his voyeuristic knowledge of the various places one could buy contraception in Dublin, see: Ferriter, ‘Occasions of Sin’ (2009) 193-194.

[15] R.S. Devane. Evil Literature: Some Suggestions (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1927)

[16] IJA J44/2, Undated Cutting from ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’/Irish Times

[17] Devane. ‘The Imported Press’ (1950) 8.

[18] NAI JUS 90/4/1, Criminal Law Amendment Committee (1930) Minute Book ; NAI 2005/32/105, Report of the Committee on the Criminal Law Amendment Acts (1880-85) and Juvenile Prostitution

[19] NAI JUS 7/1/1, Committee on Evil Literature, Secretary’s Correspondence with Chairman and Members of Committee, Letter from R.S. Devane to Fr. Dempsey, 21 April, 1926

[20] ‘Indecent Literature’ (1925); Aidan Beatty. Masculinity and Power in Irish Nationalism: 1884-1938 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) Ch. 7.

[21] R.S. Devane. ‘The Unmarried Mother: Some Legal Aspects of the Problem’ The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 32 (January-June 1924) 58.

[22] Summer Time: An Imposition and an Anomaly (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1939). Reprinted from the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, February 1939. See also Vanessa Ogle. The Global Transformation of Time (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015) 52-53.

[23] Richard S. Devane. A Guide for the Parish Councils in Ireland: Based on Parish Councils in England, Portugal, Denmark and France (Dublin: The Kenny Press, n.d.) 8.

[24] Ferriter, ‘Occasions of Sin’ (2009) 145-146

[25] ‘Indecent Literature’ (1925) 6, 8, 16.

[26] R.S. Devane. ‘The Dance Hall.’ The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 37 (January-June 1931) 170-194; R.S. Devane. The Unmarried Mother and the Poor Law Commission (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1928). Devane’s positive views of anti-dancing legislation in Cuba also reiterated his deeply racist views of jazz music, Ferriter, ‘Occasions of Sin (2009) 179

[27] IJA J44/10, Letter from R.S. Devane to Eamon de Valera, 22 April 1937

[28] NAI JUS 90/4/1, Criminal Law Amendment Committee (1930) Minute Book. See also NAI JUS 90/4/13, Memo of Evidence of Rev. R.S. Devane, S.J. These are ‘Heads of Evidence’, rough notes based on Devane’s evidence. Under the heading “Preventive Work”, Devane spoke of “Unmarried Mother; Mentally Defectives; Girls out of Control; Dance Halls…”.

[29] NAI 2005/32/105, Report of the Committee on the Criminal Law Amendment Acts (1880-85) and Juvenile Prostitution.

[30] Smith, ‘Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries’ (2007) 46-47. For Devane’s views of Magdalen Laundries, see: Luddy, Prostitution’(2007) 120.

[31] See: NAI JUS 90/4/2, Criminal Law Amendment Committee, List of Witnesses

[32] NAI JUS H247/41B, Criminal Law Amendment Committee (1932-1933), Rough Notes made by the Minister for Justice after an interview on the 1st December, 1932, between the Bishop of Limerick, the Bishop of Ossory, the Bishop of Thasos and the Minister

[33] For the broader history of the gendered and racial history of dancing, and of moral panics surrounding it, see: Maxine Leeds Craig. Sorry I Don’t Dance: Why Men Refuse to Move (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Barbara O’Connor. ‘Ruin and Romance: Heterosexual Discourses on Irish Popular Dance, 1920-1960’. Irish Journal of Sociology, Vol. 12, No.2 (2003) 50-67.

[34] R.S. Devane. ‘The Dance Hall.’ The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 37 (January-June 1931) 170-194. One article by Devane, The Dance Hall: A National and Moral Menace, was censored by the Jesuits’ authority for the ‘province’ of Ireland, since it was felt that the earlier draft included language ‘more indelicate or suggestive than need be’, particularly in its descriptions of dances. IJA, Censorship Judgements (1924-1968), ADMN12/15 (2), Judicium Censorum Provinciae Hiberniae, 29 December 1930.

[35] R.S. Devane. ‘The Dance Hall.’ The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 37 (January-June 1931) 170-194. Devane also supplied copies of this article to the members of the Carrigan Committee, along with a contemporaneous article, also from the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, on ‘The Legal Protection of Girls’. NAI JUS 90/4/13, Memo of Evidence of Rev. R.S. Devane, S.J.

[36] Beatty, ‘Masculinity and Power’ (2016) 202. It is perhaps also the case that public dances tapped into Devane’s fears of anonymity and social control in a modern society no longer based around isolated villages: ‘[I]n lonely country places the dangers are too obvious to need description. If the dance were confined to the people of the district one could be more tolerant. But, when it is open to all and sundry who come from many miles away, and who are complete strangers, then a new element of danger becomes only too apparent.’ R.S. Devane. ‘The Dance Hall.’ The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 37 (January-June 1931) 170

[37] ‘The Dance Hall’ (1931) Ibid, 194

[38] Elsewhere, though, Devane showed himself to be closer to Duff’s horror in the face of uncontrolled female sexuality. See: Luddy, ‘Prostitition’ (2007) 200, 207.

[39] R.S. Devane. The Unmarried Mother and the Poor Law Commission (Dublin: Browne and Nolan, 1928). Reprinted from Irish Ecclesiastical Record, June, 1928

[40]R.S. Devane. ‘The Unmarried Mother: Some Legal Aspects of the Problem’ The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 32 (January-June 1924) 58-64

[41] Beatty, ‘Masculinity and Power’ (2016) 191-196.

[42] IJA J44/14, My Suggestions for Terms of Reference for Proposed Cinema Enquiry.

[43] Scannáin (Dublin: Craobh na h-Aiséirghe, n.d. [ca. 1942]).

[44] IJA J44/22, Letter from R.S. Devane to the Archbishop of Dublin, 5 May 1941. Quigley was a devout Catholic, instrumental in the establishment of the Motion Picture Production Code (Hays Code) and was the publisher of the Motion Picture Herald, a trade publication.

[45] Scannáin (Dublin: Craobh na h-Aiséirghe, n.d. [ca. 1942]).

[46] IJA J44/14, My Suggestions for Terms of Reference for Proposed Cinema Enquiry, n.d. [ca. 1937]

[47] R.S. Devane. ‘The Film in National Life’ Irish Cinema Handbook (Dublin: Parkside Press, 1943) 14.

[48] R.S. Devane. ‘The Film in National Life’, Irish Cinema Handbook (Dublin: Parkside Press, 1943) 18.

[49] Ibid, 13.

[50] Ibid, 16.

[51] The Mungret Annual (Limerick: Mungret College, 1952)

[52] Gopal Balakrishnan. The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt (London: Verso, 2000) 6

[53] Scannáin (Dublin: Craobh na h-Aiséirghe, n.d. [ca. 1942]). For the history of Ailtirí na hAiséirghe, see: R.M. Douglas. Architects of the Resurrection: Ailtirí na hAiséirghe and the fascist “new order” in Ireland (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009).

[54] IJA J44/10, Letter from R.S. Devane to Eamon de Valera, 22 April 1937; IJA J44/11, Letter from P.S. O Muireadhaigh (de Valera’s Private Secretary) to R.S. Devane, 22 May 1937

[55] Luddy, ‘Prostitution’ (2007) 199.

[56] Douglas, ‘Architects’ (2009) 50

[57] Richard S. Devane. A Guide for the Parish Councils in Ireland: Based on Parish Councils in England, Portugal, Denmark and France (Dublin: The Kenny Press, n.d. [ca. 1940]) 13-21

[58] NAI TAOIS/ S9856, Draft Constitution, May 1937: Misc. Suggestions and Criticisms, General, Extract from a Letter dated 29/5/37 addressed to the President by Fr. R.S. Devane, S.J.

[59] R.S. Devane. ‘The Religious Revival Under Salazar’ The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, Vol. 51 (January-June 1938) 20-41. Emphases Added.

[60] Other than the six chapters on the USSR, Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, and the UK, Devane also drew on material related to Finland, Switzerland, Poland, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and South Africa.

[61] R.S. Devane. Challenge from Youth: A Documented Study of Youth in Modern Youth Movements (Dublin: Browne & Nolan, 1942) xi.

[62] Devane, ‘Challenge of Youth’ (1942) 149, 168

[63] Devane, ‘Challenge of Youth’ (1942) 256

[64] R.S. Devane. The Failure of Individualism: A Documented Essay (Dublin: Browne and Nolan/The Richview Press, 1948) xi, 5.

[65] Devane, ’The Failure of Individualism’ (1948) 12, 88, 112, 140-141, 167, 285

[66] Devane, ’The Failure of Individualism’ (1948) 313. It is interesting that Devane writes about capitalism in the past tense here; it was an evil system, but presumably no longer is evil.

[67] Challenge of Youth was 297 pages. Failure of Individualism surpassed this, at 342 pages.

[68] John M. Regan. The Irish Counter-Revolution, 1921-1936: Treatyite Politics and Settlement in Independent Ireland (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1999); Douglas, ‘Architects’ (2009); Kenneth Shonk. ‘Ireland’s New Traditionalists: Gender and Fianna Fáil Republicanism, 1926-1938.’ Paper presented at American Conference for Irish Studies, Midwest Regional Meeting, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, 9 October 2015.

[69] Indeed, drawing on the work of Nicos Poulantzas, Richard Dunphy has defined Fianna Fáil’s economics as the ‘status quo anti-capitalism’ common to the petit-bourgeoisie. Dunphy, ‘Fianna Fáil Power’ (1995) 39-40. See also, Beatty, ‘Masculinity and Power’ (2016) Ch. 6. Devane’s writings suggest that this conservative anti-capitalism had purchase elsewhere in Irish society.

[70] Balakrishnan, ‘The Enemy’ (2000) 9

How the Israeli Press Reported The Good Friday Agreement

– This is an edited version of a paper I recently published in Israel Studies.

The Good Friday Agreement, which brought to a close a thirty-year conflict whose roots in fraught Anglo-Irish relations went back much earlier, was one of the major global news stories of 1998. Israeli newspapers, no less than in many other parts of the world, devoted considerable attention to the successes of the peace negotiations. All the major Israeli newspapers – Ha-aretz, Maariv, Yedioth Ahronoth and the Anglophone Jerusalem Post – published lengthy articles, opinion-pieces, and multi-page spreads on Northern Ireland in April and May 1998. The front-pages of these four papers, usually devoted to Israeli and Middle Eastern affairs, all featured lead articles on Northern Ireland. That there were seeming parallels between Northern Ireland and Israel-Palestine was an additional factor in this press coverage. Indeed, much of the Israeli press coverage of the Good Friday Agreement drew on shared vocabularies of religiously-inspired nationalist violence, supposedly ancient tribal hatreds, and terrorist militias.

After the successful referendum in May, Sharon Sadeh, the Ha-aretz correspondent for Britain, quoted one theologically-minded Protestant opponent of the agreement: “zu mazima noalet le-chibosh et machuz ha-notzriut ha-achron hamaamin be-tanach” [this is a foolish plot to conquer the last Christian region that believes in the Tanach (Bible)]. And a counterpart on the other side of the communal divide was described as a “katoli adok”, an observant Catholic, using a word more ordinarily used to describe Orthodox Jews than devout Catholics.[1] In their two-page spread explaining the background to the conflict in Northern Ireland, Maariv summed it up as “Hundreds of Years of Hatred and Blood” which could be traced back to the actions of Protestant mitnachlim [settlers] in the seventeenth century, using a term with specific resonances for an Israeli audience.[2]

There was a basic linguistic problem that Israeli journalists faced in their coverage of Northern Ireland; namely, how to translate English- and Irish-language terms into Hebrew. And as with many acts of translation, the words chosen echoed the political realities of the target language rather than those of the original Irish or English. The Ulster Defence Association thus became Agudat HaHagana shel Ulstr[3] and the Alliance Party became Ha-Mifleget Ha-Brit [lit. the Party of the Covenant][4]. The seeming exoticism of Northern Ireland could thus become more recognisable to Israelis, as Irish idioms were recast in Hebrew. Those responsible for the negotiations were labelled the “givrei ha-secem ha-shalom” [the heroic men of the peace agreement], again using a word, givrei, with specifically Israeli and Jewish connotations. The Irish Republican Army was generally translated as ha-machteret ha-erit [the Irish Underground][5] or the Irish Catholic Underground[6], rather than the more literal ha-tzva ha-erit ha-republikanit. Thus, the IRA’s claim to be a legitimate army was avoided, with a name instead calling to mind the actions of the Jewish Underground [ha-machteret ha-yehudit], an Israeli extremist group that grew out of the settler movement in the early 1980s, perhaps suggesting that theirs also was the illegitimate form of an otherwise legitimate form of nationalism. Nonetheless, the IRA were also discussed in terms usually used for Palestinian militias. Their actions were just “poa’lot ha-teror” [acts of terrorism].[7] While in other cases, there was a curious lack of translation suggesting a lack of a desire to fully understand the intricacies of Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin, whose Irish-language name means ‘We Ourselves’, remained simply ha-shin fain and no effort was made to explain the nationalist meaning of this name.[8] Bloody Sunday, the shooting of thirteen civil rights protestors in Derry in 1972 usually remained blady sandai, transliterated directly into Hebrew.[9]

In the one of the most evocative pieces from this wave of Israeli reporting on Northern Ireland, the peace activist and journalist Igal Sarna recounted his meetings with Catholics in Belfast. Joining a Catholic parade, “I walked with the marchers to the graves of the IRA dead”. Sarna reported a far more subdued, even solemn atmosphere than the elation found in newspaper headlines: ‘“we departed on a new road from a history of death”, said the politicians, but the Catholics of Belfast with whom I marched, used lower and more quotidian words [hishtemesho be-milim yotar namochim ve-yom-yomiot].’ The sombre mood evoked some interesting memories for Sarna:

“As a fairly lonely Israeli in the parade that passed beneath light snow in poor and sad neighbourhoods, I thought about the hope of Belfast but also about the danger that was within it. I carried with me a memory of another winter, the Israeli winter of 1995, and the possibilities of a small group or of one man to put an end to the painstaking work of 100 wise diplomats.”

The pitfalls of failed peace agreements were, for Sarna, a poignant reminder of the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. Israel may have once shared similarities with Northern Ireland but “From this week, it seemed that from now on the roads depart: Belfast says bye-bye to Tel-Aviv”. And with the ending of both of the Northern Irish “Troubles” and South African Apartheid, Sarna started to see that Israel “remains as a kind of archival relic of a conflict”. What Sarna presents as the tragedy of post-Oslo Israel stands in contrast to politicians’ expectations for Northern Ireland, and Sarna quotes one local political commentator, who, with a with a suspiciously Hannukah-inflected flourish, felt that “A great miracle happened here” [nas gadol kerah po][10]. Sarna was clearly investing the events in Northern Ireland with meanings drawn from Jewish and Israeli political discourse. More specifically, he was using “Ireland” as a set of ideas to talk about Israeli politics, a common discursive move in much of the Israeli reporting on Northern Ireland; the “Ireland” that appears in the Israeli press is one that would not always be immediately recognizable to Irish people, rather it is an “Ireland” reconstructed for Israelis. And as Israelis talk about (and with) this “Ireland” they are actually talking about their own domestic political concerns

A number of Israeli journalists and political commentators ploughed a similar comparative furrow. David Newman, a British-born Israeli academic, used his column in the Jerusalem Post to sketch out a number of ways in which Northern Ireland and Israel could be understood together. Newman compared the first public meeting between Tony Blair and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams to the 1993 meeting between Rabin and Arafat and spoke of how a need for reconciliation and education about each other was at work in both contexts. On a deeper level, Newman also suggested that a new comparison was emerging. He spoke of Catholics and Protestants successfully building “long-term stability and an end to violence, where Israel and the Palestinians have failed to live up to the euphoria and the expectations which were present in the heady days following the two Oslo agreements”. Northern Ireland provided a way for Newman to highlight the shortcomings of the Oslo Accords. While alive to the possibility that opponents to the Irish peace agreement could still wreck its chances, he argued that the use of island-wide referenda imbued the agreement with popular support and rued that this option had not been pursued by the Rabin government after the signing of the Oslo Accords:

“Had there been a referendum shortly after the signing of the Oslo Agreement, the chances of a large majority in favor would have provided the Rabin government with the necessary mandate for its implementation. This would also have taken the wind out of the right-wing opposition in their attempts to delegitimize the government by arguing that it lacked the necessary popular mandate for making such far-reaching concessions.”[11]

As Newman gazed longingly at Northern Ireland, he saw a polity where right-wing extremists had been circumvented by a democratic process that taps the essentially dovish sensibilities of the general population. His wish was clearly that Israel could be like Northern Ireland and his closing words for his readers were “We should wish them [peaceful Catholics and Protestants] the very best of Irish luck.”

13 April 1998 - Cartoon

“Four Sons Discuss Torah”, Ha-aretz, 13 May 1998

In two striking cartoons, Ha-aretz pursued the comparison of Northern Ireland and Israel-Palestine further and drew on some surprisingly deep veins of Jewish religious thought in the process. In a caricature entitled ce-nigad arba’a benim dibrah torah [four sons discuss Torah differently], two men representing the divided Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland embrace, having placed their weapons in the dustbin of history. In stark contrast, two other figures representing Yasser Arafat and the State of Israel (or perhaps just Benjamin Netanyahu) stubbornly refuse to even face other, much less embrace. Although their glancing eye-lines suggest a continued interest in each other. The title of the cartoon references the standard Passover Haggadah and the story of the four sons who all relate to their Jewish heritage in abruptly different ways: the wise son, the simple son, the wicked son, and the son who does not know how to ask. Not only is there the inference that Netanyahu and Arafat embody the wicked son and the son who does not know how to ask for peace, but there is also the sarcastic allegation that Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants are better, more peace-seeking Jews than one can find in the State of Israel. In other words, there is again the familiar refrain: why can Israelis not be more like Northern Irish Catholics and Protestants?

12 April 1998 - Cartoon

“Next Year in Jerusalem”, Ha-aretz, 12 May 1998

A second Paschal-themed cartoon depicted Netanayahu with his family. Though participating in a traditional Passover seder, this modern-style family continue to watch TV through dinner. On the TV, tuned to CNN, Bill Clinton stands by a bank of microphones against the backdrop of British and Irish flags. To what appears to be Netanyahu’s embarrassment, the American president is announcing Le-sha-na ha-ba-a be-ye-ru-sha-la-im [Next Year in Jerusalem], a central part of the Passover liturgy. The obvious message is that within a year Clinton will bring Northern Irish-style peace to Israel-Palestine, which is presumably the reason for Bibi’s awkward facial grimace. Clinton’s words, however, are not written in Hebrew but instead are transliterated into Latin script, suggesting that this future peace mission is something foreign to Israeli concerns.

In contrast to the claim that Israel should emulate the Good Friday Agreement, though, a significant section of the commentariat engaged in a wilful refusal to make this comparison. Nonetheless, how these pundits discussed Ireland (or rather, refused to discuss Ireland) revealed much about their views of Israeli realities. Zalman Shoval, a former Knesset member for Likud, produced an opinion piece for Yedioth Ahronoth with the decidedly blunt title of “Belfast Zeh Lo Ca’an” [Belfast Is Not Here]. Shoval began by taking aim at Bill Clinton’s assertions that US-mediated peace agreements in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and Haiti could now be followed with an American arbitration in Israel-Palestine. Not only did he dismiss the depth of the peace agreements in Haiti and the former Yugoslavia, he expressed serious pessimism about the future successes of George Mitchell’s work in Northern Ireland. He followed this up by zeroing in on a major difference between the Oslo Accords and the Good Friday Agreement: “while the Irish agreement is said to be a final peace agreement – “the permanent deal” in the language of the Middle East – Oslo represents a sequence of interim deals, without a peace agreement” Shoval then proceeded to identify what he felt was the ‘essential difference’ between Northern Ireland and Israel-Palestine, that of the ‘basic fundamental [political] assumptions’ that animate the opposing sides in both conflicts.   Northern Irish Catholics, he pointed out, had been willing to forego any separate sovereignty, something that Palestinians would not do. Moreover, he argued that Northern Irish Protestants did not face the existential problems that Israelis did: “Northern Ireland is Protestant, but with a large Catholic minority – it is not surrounded, like Israel, by a hostile and powerful world with eighty-five times more of a population than the number of its inhabitants, with substantial parts of it on the inside since before it came into existence.” And pushing his point further, Shoval ended by arguing that the government of the Republic of Ireland, in their willingness to revoke a constitutional claim of sovereignty over the North, treated peace with far greater seriousness than the Palestinians, “who notwithstanding all their promises have not yet cancelled their covenant calling for the destruction of Israel.”[12]

Moshe Zak, the former editor of Maariv, used his English-language column in the Jerusalem Post to make a very similar set of claims in an article entitled “Belfast is Certainly No Oslo”. His bold opening salvo was that “There is no similarity between the Oslo Agreement, signed in 1993 between Israel and the Palestinians, and the Belfast Agreement reached in 1998 between the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.” And he was clear in his view that the Good Friday Agreement could never serve as a model for Israeli-Palestinian peace. For Zak, the positive role of the European Union in Northern Ireland, versus what he say as negative European interference in Israel, as well as the absence of similarly negative UN resolutions, deepened the breach between the two contexts.[13]


“Ireland’s Aneshei Ha-Ruach Relate To The National Struggle”, Maariv, 12 April 1998

Other articles moved the focus away from political negotiations or religiously-inspired violence, instead placing the emphasis on the uniquely cultural and creative nature of the Irish people. A piece in Maariv traced the effect of the national struggle on the works of Ireland’s aneshei ha-ruach. Literally meaning “people of the spirit”, Maariv provided an eclectic photo collage to help define this otherwise hard-to-translate term: the pop-musicians Sinead O’Connor and U2, the writers James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Oscar Wilde, and the actors Liam Neeson and Daniel Day-Lewis – the latter of whom is a naturalized Irish citizen of English-birth – as well as, bizarrely, George Best. The article talked of Ireland as being “ever and always” a land of “cultural creativity” and explained this as the direct result of the ongoing clash with Britain. And while the Maariv piece identified this conflict-borne aestheticism in film and literature, it placed a particular emphasis on music:

“The national songs of the Irish – from Danny Boy [Dani Boi] to The Rising of the Moon [zarichat ha-yerach] – deal with combat, death and bereavement. In recent decades a variety of rock stars [cochavei ha-zmar] have come out of Ireland, many of whom continue to deal with these themes. U2 [yu-2] became the most important band in the world with the song Bloody Sunday [blady sundai], commemorating a massacre of civilians in Northern Ireland at the hands of the British in 1972. Clannad work in the ancient Gaelic language; Sinead O’Connor denounced the British brutality that led to the Great Famine in the 19th century; The Cranberries [ha-kranberis] sang about the “zombies” [zombiim], the living dead, on the streets of Belfast.”[14]

Much of this can be explained, of course, as a function of print-capitalism and the presumed need to provide celebrity-content to tabloid newspaper-readers. But there also seems to be a deeper imperative at work here. By constructing them as a uniquely creative, even spiritual people, journalism such as this served to exoticize the Irish, and thus to reinforce perceptions that the actions of the Irish bear no comparison to the supposedly harsher realities of the Middle East. Indeed, this Israeli focus on Irish music and Irish culture can be placed in a longer history of perceptions about Irish people’s inherently artistic or poetic sensibilities. Consciously or not, news coverage such as this echoed the famous views of Ernest Renan and Matthew Arnold in the nineteenth century, that Celts are a wonderfully poetic if politically naïve people.[15] And it is a small leap from seeing the Irish as a uniquely artistic people to seeing their peace process as the product of a gentler (more artistic?) conflict. Again, the precise ways in which Israeli media covered events in Northern Ireland in the spring of 1998 did important work for Israeli popular political discourse.

Another function of print-capitalism and the general workings of the media industry is how quickly Northern Ireland disappeared as a major story from the pages of Israeli newspapers. After the referendum of May 1998, attentions were turned elsewhere. Israel’s brief Northern Ireland moment had ended. Nonetheless, the sporadic mentions of Irish themes in Israeli newspapers continues to reflect Israeli political concerns. Fifteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, Ha-aretz returned to Northern Ireland to report on the “historic reconciliation” that had allowed the “small territory” “to outgrow deep religious hatred and learn to live together”. Ha-aretz’s Haggai Mattar claimed that “There is a reason for optimism.”[16] Two years later, though, Ha-aretz spoke more grimly about the ‘The Lesson of Northern Ireland’ in terms of a rhetorical question: “Can there be peace without justice?”[17] Whatever hopes had once surrounded the Oslo Accords had dissipated into a bleak pragmatism. Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Yitzhak Benhorin, the paper’s Washington correspondent, reported with an air of satisfaction that even George Mitchell had admitted “The reality in the Middle East is much more complex” and peace would be much harder to achieve in Israel-Palestine than in Northern Ireland.[18]

When “Ireland” does feature as a newspaper topic in Israel today, it is less in terms of shared hopes for peace and more in terms of widespread support for Palestinians. Reflecting major shifts in post-Oslo, post-Second Intifada, post-Arab Spring Israel, the focus is on European apathy in the face of Islamist terror, international hostility to Israel, and the looming threat of Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions. An article in Maariv in 2012 talked of how Ireland was now “One of the Most Hostile States Towards Israel” and, with an almost pathetically resigned air asked “what happened to the pastoral friend of Israel” [ma koreh la-yedidah ha-pastoralit shel yisrael].[19]

[1] ‘“It can’t get any worse” say voters in support of the agreement’, Ha-aretz, 24 May 1998.

[2] ‘Historic Peace in Northern Ireland: Hundreds of Years of Hatred and Blood’, Maariv, 12 April 1998.

[3] ‘People Shaping Northern Ireland’, Ha-aretz, 12 April 1998.

[4] ‘Adams: The Struggle for Unity with Ireland Will Continue’, Ha-aretz, 12 April 1998.

[5] Background: 30 Years of Conflict, Yedioth Ahronoth, 9 April 1998. See also: Geulah Cohen, ‘For us, there are no possibilities for compromise’, Yedioth Ahronoth, 12 April 1998, where she talks of her admiration for lochemei ha-mecheret ha-erit [the fighters of the Irish underground].

[6] ‘After 30 years of Terrorism and Violence – A Peace Agreement is Signed in Northern Ireland’, Yedioth Ahronoth, 12 April 1998; ‘The Peace Agreement in Ireland’, Yedioth Ahronoth 13 April 1998.

[7] Background: 30 Years of Conflict, Yedioth Ahronoth, 9 April 1998.

[8] ‘Tony Blair is going to Belfast urgently with the intention of saving the peace talks with Northern Ireland,’ Maariv, 8 April 1998.

[9] ‘Historic Peace in Northern Ireland: Hundreds of Years of Hatred and Blood’, Maariv, 12 April 1998.

[10] ‘It is difficult to set out the levels of death’, Yedioth Ahronoth, 13 April 1998.

[11] David Newman, ‘Bravo, Ireland’, Jerusalem Post, 15 April

[12] Zalman Shoval, ‘Belfast Is Not Here’, Maariv, 13 April 1998

[13] Moshe Zak, ‘Belfast is Certainly No Oslo’, Jerusalem Post, 16 April 1998.

[14] ‘Ireland’s intellectuals and artists [aneshei ha-ruach] relate to the national struggle’, Maariv, 12 April 1998.

[15] Matthew Arnold. Irish Essays and Others (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1891); Ernest Renan. Poetry of the Celtic Races and Other Essays (London: Walter Scott, 1896). See also, Sinead Garrigan Mattar. Primitivism, Science, and the Irish Revival (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) Chapter 1; Declan Kiberd. Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (New York: Vintage Books, 1996) 29-32.

[16] ‘Good Friday’, Ha-aretz, 10 April 2013.

[17] ‘The Lesson of Northern Ireland: Can There Be Peace Without Justice’, Ha-aretz, 24 April 2015

[18] ‘Mitchell Admits: Peace in the M.E. more difficult than in Northern Ireland’, Yedioth Ahronoth, 2 October 2011.

[19] ‘How Ireland Turned Into One of the Most Hostile States Towards Israel’, Maariv, 20 November 2012.

“The Irish Jew Who Had Taken a Pledge Never to Work”: Emma Goldman, the Irish, and the Easter Rising

Irish people feature regularly in the writings of Emma Goldman, the notorious early-twentieth-century anarchist activist and writer. In her autobiography, Goldman talks of encounters with various Irish and Irish-American characters: A policeman with “a luscious Irish brogue” who took a protective stance toward a young Emma Goldman shortly after her arrival in New York; Billy Reedy, the anarchist-sympathising editor of the St. Louis Mirror, who won her over with “his rich Irish humour”; Goldman’s close political ally M. Eleanor Fitzgerald, “Fitzi”, who “charmed people into sympathy and action – not merely by her Irish name and beautiful auburn hair, but by her fine and suave personality. Little did anyone outside of her immediate friends sense the Celtic temperament behind her tranquil manner.” There are also unnamed Irish women to whom Goldman quietly offered advice on birth control and a prison matron with a “good Irish soul” who confessed that she shared Goldman’s anti-war sympathies (“She was Irish, and she had no use for the Allies”).[1]  

 Emma Goldman

Emma Goldman (1869-1940)

Much of this, of course, is due to the simple fact that Emma Goldman’s political activism brought her through the multi-ethnic locales of turn-of-the-century America; her encounters with Irish immigrants parallel her work with German, Russian and Yiddish anarchists and radicals in what remained very much a life and politics in non-English-speaking and immigrant communities.

And yet, there are also distinctly political aspects to Goldman’s interests in the Irish, moving beyond these simple stereotypes of warm and loveable Irish rogues. In her memoirs she recounts her political emotions upon hearing about the 1916 Easter Rising: “My sympathies were naturally on the side of the revolting masses and against British imperialism, which had oppressed Ireland for so many centuries.” Extensive reading of Irish literature had given Goldman an affection for “the Gaelic people” and she saw similarities between Irish peasants and Russian mujiks: “In their naïve simplicity and lack of sophistication, in the motif of their folk-melodies, and in their primitive attitude towards law-breaking, which sees in the offender an unfortunate rather than a criminal, they were brothers.”[2] In other words, she saw something of political importance in the supposedly anarchist strains of Irish peasant culture.

Padraic Colum

Padraic Colum (1881-1972)

Shortly after the Rising, Goldman gave over space to Irish nationalist politics in her Mother Earth journal. As well as an excerpt from Patrick Pearse’s 1916 essay “The Separatist Idea” (here retitled “A Paean of Freedom”), Mother Earth also published an article “On the Death of James Connolly and Francis Sheehy-Skeffington” by the poet Padraic Colum. In this piece, Colum sought to explain Irish politics to a presumably radical-left readership. Focusing on the executions of these two leftist figures, he implied that the Rising was an essentially anti-capitalist act. And Goldman’s editorial for this issue was bold in its pronouncements for where the Rising would lead, with anarchist politics very much to the fore in the predictions:

“The Irish revolution may grow in significance and importance in the near future. The rebels of Dublin may become the advance guard of an international social revolution, which will shake the very foundations of all governments and privileged classes, who have thrown humanity into the hell-fire of this war. The bold spirit of the Irish rebels, their hopes, sufferings and martyrdom will certainly arouse the masses of European and American peoples. It will be realized that they fought and died for more than a mere national issue, that their noble example and sacrifice worked like a trumpet call and storm signal to all the oppressed of the earth.”[3]

The following year, when Goldman began the campaign against American involvement in World War One that would eventually lead to her arrest and deportation, she was joined at one anti-war rally in New York by “the distinguished Irish rebel” Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington: “A lover of peace and an eloquent pleader for freedom and justice, she was a sweet and gentle soul. In her was personified the spirit of our gathering, the respect for human life and liberty that was seeking expression that evening.”[4]

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington (1877-1946)

A less generous assessment of Irish politics, though, was made in an article on “The Echo from Erin”, written by an associate of Goldman’s, Warren Starr van Valkenburgh, which appeared in the July 1916 issue of Mother Earth. While still taking aim at the “barbarity of the British Empire”, van Walkenburgh stated that anarchists should have “scant sympathy” for “any attempt to change the form of coercion to a home government”.[5] Rather than romantically praising the desire for “freedom” of the Irish rebels, van Walkenburgh argued that they had misunderstood the very nature of freedom as well as the limits of freedom under a conventional capitalist state.

Mother EarthMother Earth, July 1916

There is one other interesting encounter between Emma Goldman and “Irishness”. In one of the later chapters of her memoirs, she recalls the problems that emerged with an odd follower of hers named Herman Mikhailovitch. A long-time subscriber to Mother Earth, Mikhailovitch began to follow Goldman across the United States, popping up at her public lectures in Omaha, Seattle, Spokane and New York. A free spirit as well as a kind of anarchist groupie, Mikhailovitch became known, alternately, as “Herman the Hobo” and “Mickey”. Goldman’s then-partner Ben Reitman, himself something of a wanderer, took “Mickey” under his wing and promoted him as an exemplar of a hobo lifestyle freed from capitalism. The press duly eulogised “Mickey” as “the Irish Jew who had taken a pledge never to work.” (Though it’s not clear if he was actually Irish, or just presumed as such because of his adopted name). The attention apparently enflamed Mickey’s ego, making him even more of a nuisance to Emma Goldman. He soon pledged his love for her and threatened to kill himself if Goldman did not reciprocate. Despairing of this unwanted hanger-on, one of Goldman’s comrades, Bolton Hall, informed “Mickey” that he had reported him to the poorhouse authorities who would look to commit him on account of his indigence and poor mental health. “Mickey” quickly left New York. In a subsequent letter to Hall, “Mickey” declared that not only has he moved to the west coast of the United States, but he is also a surprisingly wealthy man. After this, this obnoxious “Irish Jew” seems to have completely disappeared from the historical record.[6]

[1] Living My Life, Volume I (New York: Dover Publications, 1970) 103, 142, 186, 464; Living My Life, Volume II (New York: Dover Publications, 1970) 629, 635

[2] “Living My Life”, II, 572-573

[3] Mother Earth, Vol. XI No. 3, June 1916

[4] “Living My Life”, II, 604-605

[5] Mother Earth, Vol. XI No. 4, July 1916

[6] Living My Life”, II, 542-545

Nationalists As Real Men

Why feminism and socialism have been systematically frustrated in their efforts to influence the national movement.


– This article originally appeared in The Village, April 2016



In 1909 Patrick Pearse wrote a short six verse Irish-language poem, A Mhic Bhig na gCleas, translated into English as Little Lad of the Tricks. A relatively disposable piece, it has since gone on to have an infamous status; proof for many that Pearse had dark sexual proclivities:

…Raise your comely head

Till I kiss your mouth:

If either of us is the better of that

I am the better of it

There is a fragrance in your kiss

That I have not found yet

In the kisses of women

Or in the honey of their bodies.

Ruth Dudley Edwards’ 1979 revisionist biography, The Triumph of Failure makes much of this poem, presenting it as evidence of Pearse’s supressed tendencies.   And later works have echoed her, to the point that the trope of Pearse-as-Paedophile is now standard fare among Irish historians. Similar speculations have also been made about Eoin O’Duffy’s sexuality and even about Michael Collins.

Such tabloid innuendos, though, ignore a central truth about Irish nationalists in the early years of the twentieth century: masculinity mattered for them. Not in the sense of private peccadilloes, but as a key part of their public ideology. The trope of masculinity did much work for organisations like Sinn Féin or the Irish Volunteers, allowing them, as it did, to imagine what national sovereignty and the end of British colonial rule would look like. It allowed them to critique that British rule as an effeminizing influence on Irish men. And it allowed them to attack opponents, such as the Irish Parliamentary Party, as unmanly traitors. The heavy emphasis on masculinity also does much to explain how and why women and leftists were systematically frustrated in their efforts to influence the national movement; imagining the nation as a male fraternity was a convenient way to dismiss feminism or socialism as divisive ideologies that pitted brother against brother.

In another of Pearse’s most famous texts, The Murder Machine, the educator-nationalist railed against the British state schools in Ireland (the eponymous “machine”). And in a telling passage, Pearse denounced contemporary school system as being worse than “an edict for the general castration of Irish males.” Anglicized Irishmen, he said, are “not slaves merely, but very eunuchs.” For Pearse, Irish men had been emasculated by British colonialism and by the slow parallel process of Anglicisation.

These were common anxieties among almost all Irish nationalists.

A recurring theme in Gaelic League publications was that the Irish, by longer speaking their native language, had become deficient and deformed and no longer real men. As one turn-of-the-century Gaelic Leaguer said, if the Irish continued to speak only English, then “we can never be perfect men, full and strong men, able to do a true man’s part for God and Fatherland.” The movement to revive the Irish language was thus imagined as a process of reasserting a purified male power and was often associated with a recovery of sovereignty and strength.

When the Irish Volunteers were established in 1912, many of their founding members had already imbibed this thinking that saw national revival and masculine revival as two parts of a broader whole. Writing in the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s Irish Freedom newspaper in July 1912, Ernest Blythe, later to be a government minister in the 1920s, discussed the contribution that the Volunteers would make to healthy Irish masculinity.   While he criticised the weak “flabby men” that predominated in Ireland, he also spoke of a subterranean manliness still surviving, he said, thanks to both militant nationalists “but also those whose thoughts have gone no further than the running and leaping and hurling which they delighted in”. The future Irishmen, which physical-culture and physical-force enthusiasts such as these would birth, would be noticeable by their “mighty lungs and muscled frames”. The Volunteers were “the rebirth of manhood unto this Nation”. Their muscular masculinity would replace the flabby weakness of Ireland under British rule. Talk of masculine power continued to circulate in the years after the Rising. Indeed, Ernie O’Malley, a medical student turned IRA soldier, later remembered that one positive effect of the war was that the “familiar stage Irishman had disappeared”, replaced by the confident, armed men of the IRA.

The rhetoric of heroic men standing together for the national interest, also lent itself to suppressing the “wrong” kind of politics. A 1921 pamphlet on The Labour Problem published by the Sinn Féin-allied Cumann Léigheachtaí an Phobhail presented socialism as an intrusion into the national fraternity of men: “Labour… is like a virulent foreign element in the social system… whatever else we are, capitalist or worker or neither, we are all Irishmen interested beyond anything else in the welfare of our common country, and as an Irishman speaking to Irishmen I put it that these industrial conflicts, if continued, will inevitably impair, if not utterly destroy, our common country”. Feminism was denounced in almost the exact same terms.

The tourism-friendly version of Irish nationalism that has featured in the Decade of Commemorations has received a large dose of justified criticism. With the government promoting an image of romantic, if depoliticised Irish rebels, it is worth remembering, first, how much Irish nationalism was a product of the encounter with British colonialism. Second, the state that emerged from this national struggle was noticeably coercive, particularly when it came to female citizens or left-wing politics. Masculinity, and the nationalist desire to create a harmonious nation of muscular men, was central to all of that. Masculinity matters.

Race, History, and Karl Marx’s Jewish Questions

Karl Marx’s writings on Jewish affairs pose something of a conundrum. He was of Jewish origins – he was registered Jewish at birth and had a number of rabbinical ancestors but his father, Heinrich Marx, converted the family to Lutheranism to protect his career as a lawyer in the post-Napoleonic Rhineland – and yet he seemed to display acutely negative views of Jews. Discussions of Marx’s attitudes towards Jews usually take his (in)famous 1843 essay On the Jewish Question [Zur Judenfrage] as their starting point.[1]  Initially published in the only ever issue of the abortive Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher [Franco-German yearbook], On the Jewish Question was an extended review of The Jewish Question and ‘Die Fähigkeit der heutigen Juden und Chrsiten, frei zu werden’ [The Capacity of Present-day Jews and Christians to Become Free], contemporaneous works by Marx’s former mentor Bruno Bauer. It remains an important text for understanding the early development of Marx’s philosophy, notwithstanding its problematic assertions about Jewish “huckstering”.

Bauer’s original work had argued that Jewish emancipation could only come about when Jews abandoned their particularist religion and instead absorbed themselves into the universalism of a secular state. Marx takes issue with this argument for a number of subtly expressed reasons. He argues that Bauer’s vision of Jewish emancipation is merely a variant of a restricted political emancipation. Bauer’s political emancipation, Marx claims, operates “within the framework of the prevailing social order”. Thus the Jewish emancipation offered by Bauer will be frustrated by the broader limitations of the social order; “real, practical emancipation” can only occur via a revolutionary dismantling of that prevailing social order.

Franco German YearbookThe Franco-German Yearbook (1844)

Moving beyond a mere review of Bauer’s work, though, Marx hones in on another aspect of Jewish emancipation: the need to liberate the world from Judentum, a word meaning both Jewishness/Judaism and commerce/capitalism in nineteenth century German. Indeed, Marx makes much of this dual meaning of Judentum and for many readers of On the Jewish Question, herein lies the rub of his antisemitism. His analysis is built on a foundational assumption that Jewishness and capitalism are coterminous concepts. The essay is certainly not innocent of such charges, but it also moves beyond such narrow notions of “Jewish” capitalism.

Marx’s essay places a major emphasis on the notion of historical movement and the static place of particularistic Jews within the dynamic movement of human history:

“He [the Jew] considers it his right to separate himself from the rest of humanity; as a matter of principle he takes no part in the historical movement and looks to a future which has nothing in common with the future of mankind as a whole. He regards himself as a member of the Jewish people, and the Jewish people as the chosen people.”

If the “future of mankind” would be socialist, as Marx certainly believed, then it makes sense that Jews, a supposedly capitalist people, see no place for themselves in the socialist future. Jewishness/capitalism is a stage in a grander historical development, a “time” that will be superseded in a linear process of historical development.

Marx advances from this to a series of assertions about individualism, selfishness and egoism: traits he associates with both Jews and capitalists. Private property and the bourgeois social order, for instance, is defined by egoism: “None of the supposed rights of man” offered by bourgeois capitalism, “go beyond the egoistic man, man as he is, as a member of civil society; that is, an individual separated from the community, withdrawn into himself, wholly preoccupied with his private interest and acting in accordance with his private caprice.” Jewishness is defined in similar terms of private interest, selfishness and egoism: “What is the profane basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly cult of the Jews? Huckstering. What is his worldly god? Money.”

For Marx, the selfish spirit of capitalism is an essentially Jewish spirit, since he sees both as built on egoism, individualism, and a disdain for universal emancipation. This leads Marx to his notorious claim that “It is from its own entrails that civil society ceaselessly engenders the Jew”. In other words, Capitalism is productive of nothing but excrement and ceaselessly produces and reproduces an execrable existence. And so, despite his linear vision of historical development, Marx ultimately resorts to a circular vision of Jewishness as proto-capitalism and Christianity/Europe as the perfected form of capitalism, and thus the fuller expression of the Jewish/capitalist spirit: “Christianity issued from Judaism. It has now been re-absorbed into Judaism.”

Young MarxThe Young Marx

As Marx sees it, capitalism/Judentum has remade the world in its own image: we are all capitalists/Jews now. But he expands on this to say that capitalism is more than just Jewishness: “The Jew has emancipated himself in a Jewish manner, not only by acquiring the power of money, but also because money has become, through him and also apart from him, a world power, while the practical Jewish spirit has become the practical spirit of the Christian nations. The Jews have emancipated themselves in so far as the Christians have become Jews.” The Jewish spirit, Marx is here asserting, is a capitalist spirit, but it is capitalism itself that is the perfected form of this spirit. And this “time” of selfish egoism, of capitalism, would not last long. With the projected abolition of Capitalism, Jewishness also would cease to exist. He talks of Jewishness as “a universal antisocial element of the present time”, but one that will “necessarily begin to disintegrate.” In other words, Jews have been active agents in the historical development of capitalism, the bearers of its spirit of selfishness and egoism, but capitalism is now set to “disintegrate” and with it Jews as a people apart will also disintegrate. As Marx concludes his essay: “The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.” Capitalism, Jewish particularism, and indeed religion in general, would all cease to exist in Marx’s perfected future.

Assertions of capitalism as a Jewish social order, and the notion that this said something about time and historical development, surfaced elsewhere in Marx’s writings. The first volume of Capital is replete with such claims. Here, Marx talks of Hebrew as being “the language of commodities” and says that “all commodities” as the capitalist knows, are “in faith and truth” representations of “money” and thus “inwardly circumcised Jews”. He labels Jews an anachronistic trading nation, “ancient social organisms of production”, who continue to exist in “the pores of [backward] Polish society.” In a reference to Jewish mysticism, he dismisses the multitude of names used for different monies as “cabalistic signs” that distract us from money’s real social meaning. English judges whose rulings legitimate capitalism are practicing a “Talmudic sagacity” while political-economists who carry out the same legitimating function are “Pharisees.” Capitalists who seek to evade legislation aimed at ending child labour are engaging in a “Shylock-clinging to the letter of the law”. And summing up the very ideology of capitalism: “Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets!”[2] Again and again, in Capital, Marx presents capitalist praxis with a Jewish vocabulary.

For those who are already hostile to Marx or the project of socialism, all this is grist to their Right-leaning mill. The conservative legal pundit Alan Dershowitz, for example, presents Marx’s writings on Jewish affairs as the original sin of the Left: “The hard-left attack against Jewish nationalism began with Karl Marx, who, though himself of Jewish origin, was a classic anti-Semite.” Dershowitz goes on to label Marx a conspiracy theorist and an ideological forebear of Adolf Hitler.[3] Marxists have conversely sought to defend Marx from such frenetic charges of Jew-hatred. In his famous discussion of the Message of the Non-Jewish Jew, the Polish Troskyist Isaac Deutscher sidestepped the question of antisemitism and instead praised Marx’s analysis “in his youthful and famous Zur Judenfrage…. his unreserved rejection of Jewry”:

“I think that Marx went to the very heart of the matter when he said that… Judaism was essentially a theoretical epitome of market relationships and the faith of the merchant; and that Christian Europe, as it developed from feudalism to capitalism, became Jewish in a sense. Marx saw Christ as the “theorizing Jew,” the Jew as a “practical Christian” and, therefore, the “practical” bourgeois Christian as a “Jew.” Since he treated Judaism as the religious reflection of the bourgeois way of thought, he saw bourgeois Europe as becoming assimilated to Jewry.”[4]

Isaac DeutscherIsaac Deutscher (1907-1967)

More recently, David Harvey, whilst admitting that “It is indeed perfectly true that these kinds of [antisemitic] phrases crop up periodically” has pointed out that the historical context in which Marx wrote was one in which anti-Jewish feeling was rife and also suggests that Marx may have had another, far less prejudiced goal: “to take all the opprobrium that was typically cast on Jews and to say that it really should be assigned to the capitalist as a capitalist.”[5] Interpretations swing between condemnation and apologetic explanation.

Two recent works, however, move beyond this view. Jay Geller’s philological examination of Marx’s phraseology seeks to understand how his view of Jewish materiality was linked to his view that social alienation was caused by that materiality. [6] David Nirenberg has similarly shown how Marx’s vision of a world emancipated from Judentum intersected with his vision of a world that has moved beyond private property and egoism and instead embraced a new, selfless form of social relations.[7] In other words, both Geller and Nirenberg are interested less in the moralizing question of whether he was or was not an antisemite and more the intellectual and political work that anti-Jewish rhetoric did for Marx.

The Other Jewish Question

This insight, that Marx’s racialized discourse actually did important intellectual work for him, could be applied to much of his work. Essentialized views of Irish, Scottish and Indian “races”, for example, regularly featured in his discussions of Primitive Accumulation – the systematic privatization of previously communal land and the move from feudalism to capitalism. In all three cases of Ireland, Scotland and India, Marx argued that Primitive Accumulation had destroyed communal property-relations supposedly existing since “time immemorial”. In all three cases, an ancient social form had been rapidly erased by the dynamism of industrial capitalism.

That global industrial capitalism had shown itself capable of destroying ancient social forms reinforced Marx’s arguments about the power of capitalism to remake the world after its own image and the power “with which it batters down all Chinese walls”[8]. There is a discursive strategy at work here. Marx accepts the contemporary racist stereotype that “Asiatic societies” or the Celtic Fringe are defined by their “unchangeableness”[9]. But this unchanging nature is also in striking contrast with the dynamism of capitalism, the one social form that ultimately proved able to destroy these seemingly rigid societies. The stereotype of ancient Asiatic unchangeableness is a counterfoil that sharpens his vision of rapid and revolutionary change under industrial capitalism.  Marx was, after all, making a geographical and historical argument and the diversity of the world is at the heart of this argument. He understands the world in terms of where certain places and people, certain races, fit into the hierarchies of a global capitalist system. And the end point of this global history of primitive accumulation, is an integrated system of global capitalism, assimilating all the races of the world: “the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world-market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime… but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself.”[10] Race (antisemitism included) is therefore not a sidebar of Marx’s analysis, it is actually a category at the heart of his understanding of capitalism as a world-system. How Marx understood the Irish, the Scottish, or the Indians was bound up with how he understood the workings of capitalism. In the same vein, how Marx thought about Jews and Jewishness was of a piece with how he understood long term historical development and a projected future transition of socialism.

[1] ‘On the Jewish Question’ (1843). In Robert C. Tucker, ed. The Marx-Engels Reader 2nd edition (New York: W.W. Norton, 1978) 50. All quotes from On the Jewish Question are from this version.

[2] Karl Marx. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol I: The Process of Production of Capital (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1954) 59, 83, 103, 264, 280, 273, 440, 558.

[3] The Case Against Israel’s Enemies: Exposing Jimmy Carter and Others Who Stand in the Way of Peace (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2008) 99.

[4] Non-Jewish Jew and Other Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968).

Also available here:

[5] David Harvey. A Companion to Marx’s Capital (London: Verso, 2010) 91

[6] The Other Jewish Question: Identifying the Jew and Making Sense of Modernity (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011) 169-211.

[7] Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition (New York: W.W. Norton, 2013) 430-439.

[8] Marx & Engels, ‘The Communist Manifesto’ (1848/1888) 84.

[9] Marx ‘Capital Vol. I’ (1887) 338-339.

[10] Marx ‘Capital Vol. I’ (1887) 714.

“An Account Of The Manner In Which Young Boys Are Made Into Soldiers”: Na Fianna Éireann and the Making of Irish Masculinity

In 1911, the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s Irish Freedom newspaper featured an article on the training practices for young recruits used in the Japanese army. The methods used by the Japanese military, Irish Freedom claimed, offered Irish nationalists a useful “Cúntas ar an mhódh ‘na ndéantar saighdiúirí de na buachaillibh óga” [Account of the manner in which young boys are made into soldiers].[1] The article was intended as a commentary on the recently founded Na Fianna Éireann [The Warriors of Ireland]. This militia-style organisation for Irish boys was one of the most important Irish political groupings in the turbulent years around 1916, though they have received far less attention from historians than their adult contemporaries in the Volunteers or Cumann na mBan. Na Fianna Éireann, in their own attempt to turn boys into manly soldiers, displayed a number of anxieties about Irish identity, masculinity and national decline.

Na Fianna was founded in 1909 by Bulmer Hobson and Constance Markievicz. Hobson had already formed an organisation under this name in Belfast in 1902. This earlier Fianna Éireann, dedicated to the promotion of sports and the Irish language, was intended as an alternative to the Catholic Boys’ Brigades that had become a recruiting facility for the British Army.[2] In August 1909, having decamped to Dublin, Hobson chaired a public meeting “to form a national boys’ organisation to be managed by the boys themselves on national non-party lines.” The second Fianna Éireann was the result of this. Shortly afterwards Hobson returned to Belfast and Constance Markievicz assumed responsibility for the organisation. In the years after 1916 its numbers rose to 30,000, the high tide of Fianna membership.[3]

Bulmer Hobson 1883 1969  Constance Markievicz 1868 1927

Bulmer Hobson (1883-1969) and Constance Markievicz (1868-1927)

The Fianna were clearly influenced by the British Boy Scouts movement, founded by Robert Baden-Powell in 1908. The Scouts drew on contemporary anxieties about the impact of modern urban lifestyles, something Baden-Powell sought to reverse through healthy and correctly masculine pastimes. Na Fianna Éireann was a product of similar societal fears, and indeed the Fianna, for all their anti-English rhetoric, regularly emulated the Scouts.

Liam MellowsLiam Mellows (1892-1922)

Liam Mellows, who graduated from the Fianna to the Volunteers, looked back in 1917 at the arrival of the Boy Scout movement in Ireland and suggested that had they succeeded, Baden-Powell’s organisation would have “completed the attempts made by England” with the help of traitorous “seonini” to make a “happy English child out of the Irish boy.” Thus, Mellows felt, “Some antidote was needed” if the future men of Ireland “were not to be swallowed up in the tide of Anglicisation engulfing the land.”[4] The antidote to the Scouts, of course, was the Fianna, even if the differences between the two were often negligible. The internal structure of the Fianna was remarkably similar to that of the “Baden Powell’s”, their uniforms were also similar and there is evidence that the Fianna competed with the Irish branch of the Scouts for potential recruits.[5]

The Scouts in Britain had emerged during a panic over supposedly inferior military recruits during the Boer War and they sought to promote restorative “good citizenship” among British boys; the full title of Baden Powell’s 1908 handbook was, appropriately enough, Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship. The Fianna similarly sought to make clean-living citizens out of Irish boys, whilst also preparing them for future military activities. The 1914 Fianna Handbook urged each member to “make himself strong in mind as well as in body…. [to] think for himself and be self-reliant and strong.” Fianna members were, on the one hand, “pledged to re-establish a free Irish nation, and their first work must be to train themselves to be fit citizens of a free nation”, whilst also learning lessons “of self-sacrifice and service… to obey and to be self-controlled.” They were urged to be good citizens and to never act in such a way that they would bring Ireland into disrepute. More prosaically, a Fianna boy would take regular baths, would always present himself with “clothes brushed and boots polished.” He would not take alcoholic drinks and, “Wishing to grow up strong in body and mind” he “smokes seldom, if at all.”[6] On a basic level, this was not all that different from the ideas of Baden-Powell.

Scouting for BoysScouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship (1909)

Notwithstanding their obvious similarities, however, the Fianna did markedly differ from the Boy Scouts in the manner in which their activities served to imagine a liberated postcolonial Ireland. Writing from the perspective of 1959, their former chief of staff, Eamon Martin, spoke of how the Fianna was founded at time “when pride of nationhood was at its lowest ebb in Ireland”. Thus, the “new-born resurgence” of the Fianna stood out even more against this pathetic background.[7] Patrick Pearse similarly feared that “centuries of oppression” had erased Ireland’s military spirit and that the country was on the verge of becoming “a land of contented slaves.” It was in this context that he positioned his call for Irish boys to acquire, via the Fianna, military training and habits of clean living, both of which would be palliatives to national decay.[8] When Constance Markievicz spoke of the Fianna as “an educational organisation”, she went on to elaborate that it was “an organisation that teaches and trains Irish boys to work for Irish independence.” Arguing that the preservation of “national independence and strength and unity” were universal concerns, and that generations of Irishmen had sacrificed themselves for national sovereignty, Markievicz concluded that “it is fitting that Irish boys should be trained to take their place in the national struggle for freedom.”[9]

Fianna Handbook 1

Fianna Handbook 2

Fianna Handbook (1913) – “Chivalry dies when Imperialism begins”

Indeed, the Fianna Handbook’s talk of re-establishing Ireland as a “free nation” and the task of making Irish boys into “fit citizens for a free nation” points to some deeper concerns not only of Irish degeneration under British rule, but also of the need for individual bodily reform as a precursor for national sovereignty. A “self-reliant and strong” nation of free citizens was the clearly desired goal of this. Mellows had argued that the Fianna was the only organisation in the country producing “real live earnest Irish rebel boys” and in its early years he felt that “A splendid spirit of camaraderie pervaded the movement, which was rapidly becoming a boy’s community, the embryo of the Republic. It was remarkable what a few years had done in forming the character of the members. No longer were they mere boys. They felt men, if not in years, then in strength of purpose.” More overtly, an editorial in an early issue of the Fianna’s self-titled newspaper spoke of Irish youth as being “like a green-stick, you can bend without breaking it. That is why this paper exists, to assist the Fianna in educating and bending, as it were, Ireland’s youth in the right direction.”[10]

Na Fianna were always an avenue for social reform as much as it was a military organisation. Much like the Volunteers, the G.A.A., and even the Gaelic League, they displayed marked anxieties about national decay, about Ireland’s lack of formal political sovereignty and about the effects of British colonialism on Irish men’s virility. When Na Fianna spoke of making men out of boys, they were tapping into deep veins of meaning within nationalist culture and thought.

[1]Saighdiúrí na hÉireann’ [Irish Soldiers]. Irish Freedom, November 1911.

[2] Marnie Hay. Bulmer Hobson and the Nationalist Movement in Twentieth-Century Ireland (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009) 28.

[3] Marnie Hay, ‘The Propaganda of Na Fianna Éireann, 1909-26.’ Mary Shine Thompson, ed., Young Irelands: Studies in Children’s Literature (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2011) 49.

[4] NLI 1A 2302, Donnchadh O Seaghdha, ed. Liam Mellows. The Irish Boy Scouts: A History of Na Fianna Eireann, 1909-1916 – Reprinted from the Gaelic American (1917).

[5] NLI 5A 3521, Na Fianna Eireann Historical Documents No. 1: Sean Healy O/C/ Cork, 1916 – Transcript of an interview with Sean Healy of 24thAugust 1974 by Donnchadh O’Seaghdha.

[6] Fianna Handbook (Dublin: The Central Council of Fianna Eireann, 1924). This is a reprint of the 1913 handbook, with some minor changes made to reflect the post-Civil War political context.

[7] A message from former Chief of Staff Eamon Martin’. In NLI IR 300 P49, Cathal O’Shannon, ed. Souvenir of the Golden Jubilee of Fianna Éireann, 16 August 1959.

[8] ‘To the Boys of Ireland.’ Irish Freedom, February 1914. In the original Irish Freedom article, no author is listed. In the 1959 Souvenir of the Golden Jubilee of Fianna Éireann, however, the author is listed as Pearse, and the content is certainly consistent with his work.

[9] ‘Fianna Handbook’ (1924).

[10] ‘From the Editors’. Fianna [Warriors], Vol. 1, No.5, June 1915.