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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Henry Harrison, Politician & Writer

henry-harrisonCaptain Henry Harrison, nationalist politician and writer, is born in Holywood, County Down on December 17, 1867.

A Protestant nationalist, Harrison is the son of Henry Harrison and Letitia Tennent, the daughter of Robert James Tennent, who had been Liberal Party MP for Belfast from 1847 to 1852. Later, when widowed, she marries the author Hartley Withers.

Harrison goes to Westminster School and then to Balliol College, Oxford. While there he develops an admiration for Charles Stewart Parnell and becomes secretary of the Oxford University Home Rule League. At this time, the Land War is in progress and in 1889 he goes to Ireland to visit the scene of the evictions in Gweedore, County Donegal. He becomes involved in physical confrontations with the Royal Irish Constabulary and as a result becomes a Nationalist celebrity overnight. The following May, Parnell offers the vacant parliamentary seat of Mid Tipperary to Harrison, who leaves Oxford at age 22, to take it up, unopposed.

Only six months later, following the divorce case involving Katharine O’Shea, the Irish Parliamentary Party splits over Parnell’s leadership. Harrison strongly supports Parnell, acts as his bodyguard and aide-de-camp, and after Parnell’s death devotes himself to the service of his widow Katharine. From her he hears a completely different version of the events surrounding the divorce case from that which had appeared in the press, and this is to form the seed of his later books.

At the 1892 United Kingdom general election, Harrison does not defend Mid-Tipperary. He stands at West Limerick as a Parnellite instead, but comes nowhere near winning the seat. In the 1895 United Kingdom general election, he stands at North Sligo, polling better but again far short of winning. In 1895 he marries Maie Byrne, an American, with whom he has a son. He comes to prominence briefly again in 1903 when, in spite of his lack of legal training, he successfully conducts his own case in a court action all the way to the House of Lords.

Otherwise, however, Harrison disappears from public view until his war service with the Royal Irish Regiment when he serves on the Western Front with distinction in the New British Army formed for World War I, reaching the rank of Captain and being awarded the Military Cross (MC). He organises patrols in “No Man’s Land” so successfully that he is appointed special patrol officer to the 16th (Irish) Division. He is invalided out and becomes a recruiting officer in Ireland. He is appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 1919 New Year Honours.

Harrison then makes a return to Irish politics, working with Sir Horace Plunkett as Secretary of the Irish Dominion League, an organisation campaigning for dominion status for Ireland within the British Empire. He is a lifelong opponent of Irish partition. He is Irish correspondent of The Economist from 1922 to 1927 and owner-editor of Irish Truth from 1924 to 1927.

Harrison’s two books defending Parnell are published in 1931 and 1938. They have had a major impact on Irish historiography, leading to a more favourable view of Parnell’s role in the O’Shea affair. F. S. L. Lyons comments that he “did more than anyone else to uncover what seems to have been the true facts” about the Parnell-O’Shea liaison. The second book, Parnell, Joseph Chamberlain and Mr Garvin, is written in response to J. L. Garvin‘s biography of Joseph Chamberlain, which had ignored his first book, Parnell Vindicated: The Lifting of the Veil. Later, he successfully repulses an attempt in the official history of The Times to rehabilitate that newspaper’s role in using forged letters to attack Parnell in the late 1880s. In 1952 he forces The Times to publish a four-page correction written by him as an appendix to the fourth volume of the history.

During the difficult years of the Anglo-Irish Trade War over the land purchase annuities, declaration of the Republic, Irish neutrality during World War II, and departure from the Commonwealth, Harrison works to promote good relations between Britain and Ireland. He publishes various books and pamphlets on the issues in dispute and writes numerous letters to The Times. He also founds, with General Sir Hubert Gough, the Commonwealth Irish Association in 1942.

At the time of his death on February 20, 1954, Harrison is the last survivor of the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Parnell, and as a member of the pre-1918 Irish Parliamentary Party, he seems to have been outlived only by John Patrick Hayden, who dies a few months after him in 1954 and by Patrick Whitty and John Lymbrick Esmonde who are only MPs for a very short time during World War I. He is buried in Holywood, County Down.


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Dáil Éireann Declares War with Great Britain

first-dailThe President of the Dáil Éireann, Éamon de Valera, secures on March 11th, 1921, the chamber’s support for a formal declaration of war with Great Britain.

In January 1921, at his first Dáil meeting after his return to a country gripped by the War of Independence, de Valera introduces a motion calling on the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to desist from ambushes and other tactics that are allowing the British to successfully portray it as a terrorist group, and to take on the British forces with conventional military methods. This they strongly oppose, and de Valera relents, issuing a statement expressing support for the IRA, and claims it is fully under the control of the Dáil. He then, along with Cathal Brugha and Austin Stack, bring pressure to bear on Michael Collins to undertake a journey to the United States himself, on the pretext that only he can take up where de Valera had left off. Collins successfully resists this move and stays in Ireland.

The British government’s proposal of a Truce and negotiations over Ireland’s future is a result of both domestic and international factors. The British have been unable to defeat the Irish struggle for independence and there is a danger that the longer it continues the more radicalised it is becoming. In March 1921 Southern Unionist leader Lord Midleton also points to the strengthening of the independence movement, telling David Lloyd George and Hamar Greenwood that the resistance is now three times stronger than in July 1920. The following month Greenwood himself is talking of pacification taking years rather than months. British government policy in Ireland is also creating problems for it both internationally (especially in the United States) and in Britain itself. At the same time Britain is facing growing independence struggles in Egypt and India. It also faces an increasingly difficult financial situation. British foreign trade suffers a substantial collapse in 1921 as its exports fall by 48 percent over a twelve month period, its imports drop by 44 percent, and unemployment rapidly increases. The Economist describes 1921 as one of the worst years of depression since the industrial revolution began.

There is a substantial debate in the British Cabinet about whether or not to proceed along these lines. An example of this is the May 12, 1921 Cabinet meeting. Greenwood appears to have revised his view about how long pacification will take. He is opposed to the Truce proposal at this stage, feeling that the republicans are being worn down. Health Minister Christopher Addison disagrees and favours a truce. Winston Churchill, who has been in favour of the substantial escalation of coercion, now supports a truce partly because things are getting “very unpleasant as regards the interests of this country all over the world; we are getting an odious reputation; poisoning our relations with the United States.” Herbert Fisher, who is a historian and head of the Board of Education as well as a politician, also worries, “the present situation is degrading to the moral life of the whole country; a truce would mean a clear moral and political gain” and that if the IRA accepts the truce it will be hard for them to start up again, it will also “create a big rift in Sinn Féin ranks, the moderate Sinn Féin would have to come out into the open.” This meeting rejects the idea of a truce. In June, however, a memorandum from Nevil Macready states that beating the republicans will require coercion being carried out to the maximum and if this is done the cabinet will have to stand by 100 executions a week. Such a policy is a political impossibility. In this situation, Lloyd George proposes an Anglo-Irish conference and negotiations.