Book Review: ‘Ireland Her Own’
‘Ireland Her Own’, by T. A. Jackson, Lawrence and Wishart
Those who believe in the myth that “the Irish people” for eight hundred years struggled for “national freedom” will find this book to their taste, but those who are looking for a more objective approach to Irish history will be disappointed.
T. A. Jackson, who wrote this book during the last world war (it was originally published in 1947) was a leading member of the British Communist Party but even Communists have been known to write better history books than this, Jackson makes no attempt to relate in a convincing way the political history of Ireland with the changing interests of the various classes involved and at times his book degenerates into a mere chronicle of the Irish State’s national heroes.
There are factual mistakes and omission. Today the word “Protestant: includes Presbyterians, Methodists and the like as well as the Church of Ireland. But when the Orange Order was set up in 1795 to defend the “Protestant Ascendancy” the word referred only to the then established Church of Ireland. “Dissenters” as the other non-Catholics were known did not join the Orange Order until well into the 19th century. To call it “the first Fascist body known in history” is quite meaningless.
In Irish nationalist mythology Cromwell and William of Orange figure as great imperialist villains. In fact both were compelled to conquer Ireland in order to prevent it being used as a base by those opposed to the parliamentary rule established by the English revolutions of 1649 and 1688. The Dissenters settled under Cromwell but not exclusively in parts of Ulster and remained until the middle of the 19th century the most radical section of the Irish population. They were in the forefront of Ireland’s successful UDI of 1782 (which gave Ireland twenty years of Home Rule until the Act of Union of 1801) and supplied many of the leaders of the 1798 armed uprising. In fact the first two Irish Republican martyrs—Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmett—were descendants of Cromwellian settlers.
The great problem of Irish history is: Why did this once radical group come to abandon its support for an independent and democratic Ireland and go over to supporting Union with Britain and abuses of democracy? The Home Rule issue is obviously the key, yet Jackson says nothing whatsoever about Belfast’s fierce opposition to Gladstone’s 1886 Home Rule Bill out of which emerged the “Protestant” political consciousness (and another set of myths, including forgetting that in 1690 King Billy’s victory in the Battle of the Boyne was celebrated in Rome by Pontifical High Mass and the singing of the Te Deum) which survives to this day.
Nor does Jackson say much about “Ulster custom”, which gave the tenant a property in the improvements he made to the land and which did not apply in the rest of Ireland, as the important factor encouraging the growth of capitalism in the North and its stagnation in the South in the 19th century.
Another interesting quotation in Irish history—the extent to which the tradition of physical force in politics was linked to the country’s relative economic backwardness—is of course not even raised.
Jackson, incidentally, and Con Lehane to whom he dedicated this book were both founder-members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain or what Desmond Greaves in an introduction calls “the Left” group which broke away from the London Social Democratic Federation in 1904″. Not that we are proud of their subsequent political careers, Jackson as a hack Stalinist writer and Lehane as (in Greaves words) “a lieutenant of Connolly’, but we are not prepared to let Greaves get away with suppressing this fact.