The following extract comes from Ireland as “It Is And as It Would be Under Home Rule. Sixty-two letters written by the special commissioner of the Birmingham Daily Gazette, between March and August 1893.” by Robert John Buckley after he visited Limerick, on 22 April 1893. Robert John Buckley was born in Monaghan but moved to England where he married three times and worked as a music critic, composer and author. Buckley, like Charles Dickens, was pleasantly surprised when he arrived to the city the first time, so he remedied that with a return visit. This letter is from his second visit.
English Ignorance and Irish Perversity
A most enchanting place when you have time to look at it. My flying visit of ten days ago gave the city no chance. Let me redeem this error, so far as possible. There are two, if not three Limericks in one, a shamrock tripartition, a trinity in unity,—English-town, Irish-town, and New Town Perry.
New Limerick is a well-built city, which will compare favourably with anything reasonable anywhere. Much of it resembles the architecture of Bedford Square, London. The streets are broad and rectangular, the shops handsome and well furnished. But it is the natural features of the vicinity which “knock” the susceptible Saxon. The Shannon, the classic Shannon, sweeps grandly through the town, winding romantically under the five great bridges, washing the walls of the stupendous Castle erected by King John, the only British sovereign who ever visited Limerick—serpentining through meadows backed by mountains robed in purple haze, reflecting in its broad mirror many a romantic and historic ruin, its banks dotted with salmon-fishers pulling out great fish and knocking them on the head, its promenades abounding with the handsomest women in the world. For the Limerick ladies are said to be the most beautiful in Ireland, and competent English judges—I know nothing of such matters—assure me that the boast is justified.
Despite this addition to Robert John Buckley’s letter King John of England, Lord of Ireland, never did visit Limerick. He continues with a description of Cruise’s Hotel.
Get to Cruise’s Royal Hotel, which for a hundred years has looked over the Shannon, take root in its airy, roomy precincts, pleasant, clean, and sweet, with white-haired servitors like noble earls in disguise to bring your ham and eggs, Limerick ham, mind you, which at this moment fetches 114s. per cwt. in London;
The ham mentioned would have come from one of the four Limerick Bacon Factories. HE goes on to describe the favourite holiday spots for those from Limerick
and with the awful cliffs of Kilkee within easy distance, where the angry Atlantic Ocean, dashing with gigantic force against the rock-bound coast, sends spray two or three miles inland, the falls of Castleconnel with the salmon-fisheries under your very nose, and the four hours river-steamer to Kilrush,
Back to Limerick.
with more Cathedrals, statues, antiquities, curiosities, novelties, quaintnesses than could be described in a three-volume novel—do all those things, and, while on your back in the smoke room, after a hard day’s pleasure, you will probably be heard to murmur that in the general Fall some of us dropped easily enough, and that, all things considered, Adam’s unhappy collapse was decidedly excusable.
Then he touches on the title of the book, focusing on Catholicism and loyalty to the crown.
The Limerick folks are said to be the most Catholic people in Ireland. They are more loyal than the Corkers. Why is this? The more Catholic, the more disloyal, is the general experience. Nobody whose opinion is worth anything will deny this, and however much you may wish to dissociate religion from politics, you cannot blink this fact. In dealing with important matters, it is useless to march a hair’s-breadth beside the truth. Better go for it baldheaded, calling things by their right names, taking your gruel, and standing by to receive the lash. You are bound to win in the long run.
I say the Catholic priests are disloyal to the Queen. Men of the old school, the few who remain, are loyal, ardently loyal. The old-timers were gentlemen. They were sent to Douai or some other Continental theological school, where they rubbed against gentlemen of broad culture, of extensive view, of perfect civilisation. They returned to Ireland with a personal weight, a cultivation, a refinement, which made them the salt of Irish earth. These men are still loyal. The Maynooth men, sons of small farmers, back-street shopkeepers, pawnbrokers, and gombeen men, aided by British gold, these half-bred, half-educated absorbers of eleemosynary ecclesiasticism, are deadly enemies to the Empire. This is Mr. Bull’s guerdon for the Maynooth grant. My authority is undeniable. The statement is made on the assurance of eminent Catholics. Two Catholic J.P.’s yesterday concurred in this, and no intelligent Irish Catholic will think otherwise. Surely this consideration should be a factor in arguments against Home Rule.
The reasoning for loyalty according to a local man James Frost is Bishop Edward Thomas O’Dwyer, who was the Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick from 1886 until his death in 1917.
Then why are the Limerick Catholics loyal? Because the Limerick Bishop is loyal. Bishop O’Dwyer is opposed to Home Rule. Said Mr. James Frost, J.P., of George’s Street:
“When the Bishop first came here he invited some four hundred Catholics to a banquet at the palace. After dinner he proposed the health of the Queen, and all the company save two or three rose and received the toast with enthusiasm, waving their handkerchiefs and showing an amount of warmth that was most gratifying to me. I need not tell you that an average Home Rule audience would not have accepted the toast at all. This shows you the feeling of the most intelligent Catholics. The people of education and property are loyal. It shows also that they are opposed to Home Rule.”
“But if the best Catholics are opposed to Home Rule, why don’t they say so publicly?”
“A fair question, which shall have a precise answer. But first, we must go back to Mr. Balfour’s great Land Act, and the lowering of the franchise, and observe the effect of these two enactments.
“The people were at one time terribly ill-used. That is all over now, but the memory still rankles. The Irish are great people for tradition. The landlords have for ages been the traditional embodiment of tyranny and religious ascendency. The Irish people have long memories, very long memories. Englishmen would say: ‘No matter what happened to my great-grandfather; I am treated well, and that is enough for me.’ Irishmen still go harping on the landlord, although he no longer has any power. The terrible history of the former relationship between landlord and tenant is still kept up and remembered, and will be remembered for ages, if not forever. Presently, you will see the bearing of all this on your question—Why do not the best Catholics come forward and speak against Home Rule?
“When the franchise was lowered the rebound from repression was tremendous, like a powerful spring that has been held down, or like an explosive which is the more destructive in proportion as it is more confined. People newly made free go to the opposite extreme. Emancipate a serf, and he becomes insolent, he does not know how to use his freedom, and becomes violent. The great majority of the people are smarting from the old land laws, which have left a bitter animosity against English rule, which is popularly denounced as being responsible for them.
“To speak against Home Rule is to associate yourself with the worst aspects of the land question. The bulk of the people are incapable of making a distinction. And while they entertain some respect for a Protestant opponent, they are irreconcilable with Unionist Catholics, just as the English Gladstonians have a far more virulent dislike for the Liberal Unionists than for the rankest Tories. They say to the Protestants, ‘We know why you uphold Unionism’—that is, as they believe, landlordism—’for the landlords are English and Protestant; your position is understandable.’ But to the Catholic they say, ‘You are not only an enemy, but a renegade, a traitor, and a deserter.’ And whatever that man’s position may be, the people can make things uncomfortable for him.”
While a different Limerick person offered some very strong opinions on Home Rule
Another Catholic living near, said: “‘How would Home Rule work?’ you ask. Most destructively, most ruinously. Under the most favourable circumstances, whether Home Rule passes or not, the country will not recover the shock of the present agitation for many a year; not, I think, in my lifetime. I was over in the North of England last year, and I found that the people there knew nothing of the question, literally nothing. Clever men, intelligent men, men who had the ear of the people, displayed a profundity of ignorance on Irish questions, conjoined with a confidence in discussing them, surpassing belief. They changed their minds on hearing my statements, and on obtaining exact information. I must give them credit for that. I believe the English Gladstonians are only suffering from ignorance. Their leader is certainly not less ignorant than the bleating flock at his heels. They smugly argue from the known to the unknown on entirely false premises.
They know that when Englishmen act in this or that way, such and such things will happen. They know what they themselves would do in certain conjunctures, and when they are told by Irishmen that Irishmen under similar conditions would act quite differently, they snort and say ‘nonsense.’ They are too dense to appreciate the radical difference between the two races. The breeds don’t mix and don’t understand each other. It was miserable to hear these men—I am sure they were good men—prattling like bib-and-tucker babies about Irish affairs, and speaking of Gladstone as possessing a quality which we Catholics only ascribe to the Pope. Ha! ha! They think that vain old cataract of verbiage to be infallible. He knows nothing of the matter, does not understand the tools he is working with, any one of whom could buy and sell him and simple, clever Morley twenty times over. Both Gladstone and Morley are clever in books, in words, in theories, adepts in debating, smart and adroit in talk. But they know no more of Paddy than the babe unborn. I say nothing of Harcourt and the other understrappers. They’ll say anything that suits, whatever it may be. We reckoned them up long since. Cannot the English people see through these nimble twisters and time-servers, this crowd of lay Vicars of Bray?”
A third unnamed man offered his very lenghty opinion to the writer.
Catholic Home Ruler Number Three said, “I agree with all who say that the priests would do their best to secure a dominating influence in political affairs. And although I think we ought to have an Irish Legislature, although I believe it would be good for us, yet if the priestly influence were to become supreme for one moment of time—if you tell me that the Catholic Church is to hold the reins for one second, then I say, away with Home Rule, away with it for ever! Better stay as we are.”
This gentleman seems to have about as much logical foresight as some of those he criticises. He dreads priestly domination above everything, and yet would approve of giving the priests a chance of being masters. He continued:—
“The present Irish leaders are the curse of the movement, which, should it succeed, would in their hands bring untold sorrows on the country. As a Catholic Home Ruler, I put up my hands in supplication, and I beg, I implore of the English people to withhold their assent. For God’s sake don’t give it us at present. We must have it sooner or later, but wait till we have leaders we can trust. Have you met a decent Home Ruler who trusts the present men? No. I knew you would say so. Such a man cannot be found in Ireland. Then why send them to Parliament, say you? That is just what you Englishmen do not understand. That is one of the points old Gladstone is wrecking the country on. You think it unanswerable. Listen to me.
“When the franchise was lowered, then the mistake was made. You let in an immense electorate utterly incapable of discussing any question of State; and, rushing from the extreme of abject servility to a sort of tyrannical mastery, they elected as their representatives, not the most able men, not the most orderly men, not the men of some training and education, not the men who had some stake in the country, but the most violent men, the glibbest men, the most factious, the most contumacious, the most pragmatical men were the men they elected. Look at the Poor-Law Boards. See the set sent there. Those are the men who will be sent to the Dublin Parliament. Are they men to be trusted with the affairs of State? Look up your Burke, and observe the qualifications he thinks necessary to a statesman. Then look at the blacksmith who represents the county Tipperary, the mason who represents Meath, the drapers’ assistants and bacon factors’ clerks who represent other places. You don’t quite see this in England. These men perhaps tell you that they are kings in their own country. Ireland is a long way off, and far-away hills are green.
“Reverse the situation. Let Dublin be the seat of Empire and London wanting Home Rule. You really want it, and think it would be best for both—a convenience for yourself and a saving of time for all. Would you not draw back at the last moment if under the circumstances I have named, your country was to be handed over to fellows whose sole income was derived from their political work, artisans, clerks, and shopkeepers’ assistants? What would these men do with their power? Make haste to be rich—nothing more. Patriots are they? Rubbish; they are mere mercenaries. Parnell knew that. He said to me:—
This third unnamed man then goes on to quote Charles Stewart Parnell
“‘Under the circumstances I must use these men, whom I would not otherwise touch with a forty-foot pole. Adversity makes us acquainted with strange bedfellows. Any port is good in a storm. These men will fight well—for their pay, and will work the thing up. But when we get the bill, when we come into power, their work is done. They will be dropped at once, or furnished with places where they may get an honest living.'”
The next interviewee sees Parnell’s death as the reason for Limerick’s loyality.
Catholic Home Ruler Number Four said: “The Meath election shows the feeling of the priests, and what they would do if they could. They loathed Parnell, but he was too strong for them. And weren’t they glad to give him the slip on the ground of morality. Home Rule was comparatively a safe thing while Parnell lived. Now I would not advise it for some years. We must have better men to the fore. We in Limerick are loyal, although Catholics and Home Rulers. Don’t laugh at that. It is a fact, though I admit it is hard to believe. Put it down, if you like, to the influence of the Bishop. The young priests I say nothing about. Their loyalty is a negligible quantity. They do not object to Protestants qua Protestants, but they object to them as representatives of English rule.”
Here we go back to the narrative by Buckley as he turns his eye towards the barracks and its significance to the area.
This reminded me of Dr. Kane, of Belfast, who said to me, “They hate us, not because we are Protestants, not because we are Orangemen, not because we are strangers in the land, but because we are the hated English garrison.” Here I am bound to interpolate a word of qualification. The Mardyke promenade of Cork, a mile-long avenue of elms, has many comfortable seats, whereon perpetually do sit the “millingtary” of the sacrilegious Saxon, holding sweet converse with the Milesian counterparts of the Saxon Sarah Ann. The road is full of them, Tommy’s yellow-striped legs marching with the neat kirtle of Nora, Sheela, or Maureen. As it was in the Isle of Saints, so it was in Ulster, is now in Limerick, and shall be in Hibernia in sæcula sæculorum.
A Limerick constable said, “A regiment will come into the city at four o’clock, and at eight they’ll every man walk out a girl. The infatuation of the servant-girl class for the military is surprisin’. Only let them walk out with a soldier, and they ‘chuck’ everything, even Home Rule.” The hated garrison are not among the people who never will be missed. Wherever Tommy goes he seems to be able to sample the female population. The soldiers always have a rare good time.
His does not spend the entirety of his visit in the city, but visits the surrounding area. He tries to record a conversation with a local verbatim
A carman who drove me to Castleconnel proved the most interesting politician since Dennis Mulcahy, of Carrignaheela. He knew all about the average English voter, and resented his superior influence in Irish affairs.
“Shure, we’re all undher the thumb o’ a set o’ black men that lives undher the bowils o’ the airth. Yer honner must know all about thim miners in the Black Counthry, an’ in Wales, an’ the Narth o’ England? Ye didn’t? Ah, now, ye’re jokin’ me, ye take me for an omadhaun all out. Ye know all about it; ye know that these poor men goes down, an’ down, an’ down, till ye’d think they’d niver shtop, an’ that they stay there a whole week afore they come up agin. An’ then they shtand in tubs while their wives an’ sweethearts washes an’ scrubs thim, an’ makes white men out o’ the black men that comes up, an’ thin walks thim off home. Now, shtandin’ in a tub at the mouth o’ the pit to be washed by yer wimmenfolks is what we wouldn’t do in this counthry—’tisn’t black naygurs we are—an’ these men that lives in the dark and have no time to think, an’ nothin’ to think wid, these are the men ye put to rule this counthry, men that they print sich rubbish as Tit-Bits for, because they couldn’t understand sinse. An’ the man that first found out that they couldn’t understand sinse, an’ gave thim somethin’ that wanted no brains, they say has made a fortune. Is that thrue, now?
“As for owld Gladstone, I wouldn’t trust him out o’ me sight. We’ll get no Home Rule, the owld thrickster doesn’t mane it. ‘Tis like a man I knew that was axed to lind a friend £100. He didn’t like to lind, an’ he was afeared to say No, an’ he was in a quondairy intirely. So, says he ‘I’ll lind ye the money,’ says he, ‘if ye’ll bring the securities down to the bank,’ says he, ‘an’ get the cash off me banker.’ Thin he went saycretly to the banker, an’ says he, ‘This thievin’ blayguard,’ says he, ‘wants the money, and he’ll never repay me; I wouldn’t thrust him,’ says he. ‘Now, will ye help me, for I couldn’t say No, by raison he’s a relative, an’ an owld acquaintance,’ says he.
“‘An’ how’ll I do that?’ says the banker.
“‘Ye can tur-rn up yer nose at the securities.
“‘Ha, Ha,’ says the banker, ‘is it there ye are? Ye’re a deep one; begorra ye are. Nabocklish,’ says he, ‘I’ll do it for ye,’ says he.
“So whin the borrower wint for the money, the banker sent out word that the securities wor not good enough, an’ that he wouldn’t advance a farden.
“Then the borrower goes to his frind an’ complains, an’ thin the frind acts all out the way Gladstone’ll act when the bill’s refused at the Lords, or may be at the Commons. ‘Hell to him,’ he roars, ‘the blayguard thief iv a thievin’ banker. I’ll tache him to refuse a frind, says he. ‘Sarve him right,’ says he, ‘av I bate his head into a turnip-mash an’ poolverise him into Lundy Foot snuff. May be I won’t, whin I meet him, thrash him till the blood pours down his heels,’ says he. That’ll be the way iv it. That’s what Gladstone will say whin the bill’s lost, which he manes it to be, the conthrivin’ owld son o’ a schamer.
“A gintleman axed me which o’ them I like best o’ the two Home Rule Bills, an’ I towld him that whin I lived at Ennis, an’ drove a car at the station there, the visithors, Americans an’ English, would be axin’ me whin they lepped on the car which was the best hotel in Ennis. Now, whiniver I gave them my advice they would be cur-rsin’ an’ sinkin’ at me whin they met me aftherwards in the sthreet, be raison that there was only two hotels in the place, an’ nayther o’ thim was at all aiqual to what they wor used to in their own counthries. So I got to know this, an’ iver afther, whin they would be sayin’ to me,
“‘Which is the best hotel in Ennis?’ says they, an’ I would answer,
“‘Faix, there’s only two o’ thim, an’ to whichiver one ye go ye will be sorrowin’ that ye didn’t go to the other,’ says I.
“An’ that’s my reply as to which of the two Home Rule Bills I like best.”
Robert John Buckley’s final observation of Limerick tells of a safe city.
In the city of Limerick itself all is quiet and orderly. Outside, things are different. Disturbed parts of the County Clare are dangerous to strangers, and, what is more to the point, somewhat difficult of access. The country is not criss-crossed with railways as in England, and vehicles for long journeys are rather hard to get. However, I have chartered a car for a three-day trip into what may be called the interior, have fired several hundred cartridges from a Winchester repeating rifle, and written letters to my dearest friends. I start to-morrow, and if I do not succeed in bottoming the recent outrages—which are hushed up as much as possible, and of which the local newspaper-men, both Nationalist and Conservative, together with Head-Constable MacBrinn, declare they cannot get at the precise particulars—if I cannot get to the root of the matter, I shall in my next letter have the honour of stating the reason why.
Limerick, April 22nd.
By Robert John Buckley
Robert John Buckley would also visit Rathkeale, by following the link in chapter title “The Curse of County Clare” you can read that letter.