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Contesting Ireland
Irish Voices against England in the Eighteenth Century
T.O. McLouglin


Irish Studies Review
'T.O. McLoughlin's engaging study of eighteenth-century 'Irish Voices against England' has the tacit post-revisionist premise that an anglophone and at least aspirationally cross-sectarian. Irish nationalism has roots well anterior to its clear emergence in the nineteenth century. like many features of the post-revisionist project in Irish Studies, this premise harkens to a characteristic of the pre-revisionist nineteenth- and early twentieth-century historiography of Irish nationalism: McLoughlin's sequential treatment of eighteenth-century patriots and his rhetorical focus call the patriot genealogy specifically to mind. Such a rhetorical family tree of Irish resistance to English political and cultural domination figured prominently in the Young Ireland era. It became established thereafter as a popular trope demonstrating that Irish nationalism, though its appeal became increasingly restricted to Catholics as the nineteenth century progressed, had authentically Protestant foundations in the efforts and writings of William Molyneux, Jonathan Swift, Charles Lucas, Henry Grattan and Theobald Wolfe Tone. Ale implications that this validated Catholic nationalism as hospitable to Protestant traditions, and validated those traditions themselves as Irish, were vigorously disputed by Catholic political fundamentalists like Fr Thomas Burke and his somewhat less overtly sectarian successors, D. P. Moran and Daniel Corker. As they were wont to insist, with some success over time, eighteenth- century Protestant patriots favoured at least some degree of political subordination of Catholics and rarely objected to the British connection in principle; they were hence neither democratic nor even-outstandingly in Swift's case--Irish at all.

The genealogical impulse in the history of Irish nationalism retained popular currency none the less, both as offsetting the undeniable spread of Catholic nationalist exclusivism, and because the rhetoric of these Protestant putatively nationalist ancestors was so passionately inspiring. They might not have advocated a complete break with England, but powerfully resented the persistent English contempt towards Ireland and its people that by the eighteenth century encompassed Protestants as well as the Catholics they them- selves dominated. And constant resentment suffices to inspire across time, to inform a tradition, as the Declaration of Independence in 1916 demonstrates. Upon this developmental stress in nationalist historiography, moreover, the achievement of partial independence in the 1920s inscribed a teleological cast, effacing what was, of course, a major objective of revisionist criticism. It is not surprising that post-revisionists have sought to restore a teleological spirit to Irish historiography, if not its distinction-flattening, totalising inclination. For that project, post-colonial theory exerts a strong appeal, enabling the critic to engage against historic oppression and, if sufficiently sophisticated, to accommodate the discontinuities among those who perceived them- selves oppressed. Post-colonialism is palpably useful in the treatment of resistance rhetoric in eighteenth-century Ireland, since patriots like Molyneux and Swift bridled at the English yoke even as they were complicit in the penal structure imposed on Catholics, yet contributed to the rhetorical formulations adopted by Catholic nationalists in later eras. In that vein, McLoughlin's study evokes the genealogy of eighteenth-century Irish patriotism without adopting a crudely explicit nationalist teleology. He is well aware that the patriots he considers do not so much develop from one to the next, as simply have in common a hatred of English oppression and the contempt for Ireland it embodied: 'What Irish dissenting voices shared was the desire that England should recognise difference' (p. 36).
In his post-colonialist concern with difference, moreover, McLoughlin embraces literary and historiographical as well as political rhetoric, and Catholic as well as Protestant writers, including those of Irish Catholics abroad. Hence his study aims at a comprehensiveness sorely lacking in Young Ireland's solely political and Protestant genealogy, which it subtly exposes as propagandistic more certainly than Fr Burke, Moran or Corkery could do. Simultaneously, it reveals much better than Young Ireland's genealogy the cross-sectarian roots of nationalist rhetoric. Though he doesn't slight the rhetorical contributions of Lucas and Grattan, his attention to the Catholics Charles O'Conor and John Curry, to the 'half-Catholic' Edmund Burke, and to the Presbyterian William Drennan amplifies the work very creditably as a survey of resistance rhetoric during and immediately after the penal era. It is especially noteworthy in this respect for incorporating Irish Catholic voices from mid-eighteenth- century France. McLoughlin demonstrates, as has Joep Leersson's indispensable Mere Irish and Fior Ghael for earlier periods, how foreign conditions induced a sense of Irishness among these Wild Geese at once impassioned and simplistic, even as Catholic leaders at home, under Protestant government, were nuanced as they asserted their cultural distinctiveness while deferentially declaring their British, and in fact Hanoverian,
political allegiance.

The enterprise would have been carried off more smoothly without slight errors of fact or emphasis, which mar the introductory overview in particular. It is odd to be told that Swift's Modest Proposal identifies 'with the Catholic Irish against Westminster' (p. 19) rather than against the Irish Protestant gentry and merchant classes, and that his protest in the Drapier's Letters against Wood's halfpence 'was eventually unsuccessful' (p. 23). Not Edmund Burke's 'parents' but his father renounced Catholicism (p. 30), and the Old English lineage, and Catholicism, of Lord Kenmare, the 'Valentine Browne' of Ó Rathaille's poem, makes describing him as 'one of the new Anglo- Irish landlords' (p. 35) very peculiar. David Nokes, not 'Noakes' (p. 75), is a biographer of Swift. Much more galling is the absence of a bibliography in a work so ambitious. It is a testament to the validity of post-colonialism as a theoretical underpinning for the study of eighteenth-
century Ireland that the book should succeed in a general sense despite such lapses.
 

Robert Mahony, Irish Studies Review
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