Reprinted from the Nineteenth Century and After, March, 1909.
In the Quarterly Review of January last there appeared an article by Mr. Robert Dunlop, dealing in a trenchant manner with a book which I wrote lately, The Making of Ireland and Its Undoing. I regret to take part personally in a controversy where my own credit is brought into question, and I am only moved to do so by consideration of the grave issues which are involved as regards the study of Irish history.
The appearance of my book has raised two questions of a very different order—the important question of whether, with the advance of modern studies, need has arisen for an entire review of the whole materials for Irish history and of the old conclusions, and the less interesting problem of my own inadequacy and untrustworthiness. Mr. Dunlop, in some fifteen pages of discourse, has not so much as mentioned the first. He has treated the second at considerable length. We may here take them in order of importance.
The real difference between Mr. Dunlop and myself lies deeper than the question of my merits or demerits. It is the old conflict between tradition and enquiry. For the last 300 years students of medieval Irish history have peacefully trodden a narrow track, hemmed in by barriers on either hand. On one side they have been for the most part bounded by complete ignorance of the language of the country or its literature. On the other side they have raised the wall of tradition. Along this secluded lane writers have followed one another, in the safety of the orthodox faith. A history recited with complete unanimity takes on in course of time the character of the highest truth. There have been disputes on one or two points perhaps where theologians are concerned, as for example the story of St. Patrick; but on the general current of Irish life there has been no serious discussion nor any development in opinion. The argument from universal assent has been sufficient. There is a similarity even of phrase. “We prefer to think,” writes Mr. Dunlop. “We prefer to abide by the traditional view of the state of Ireland,” writes another critic from the same school. Agreement has been general, individual speculation has not disturbed the peace, and all have joined their voices to swell the general creed. Under these favouring conditions historians of Ireland speak with a rare confidence and unanimity. “What are novelties after all?” cries the sagacious historian imagined by M. Anatole France: “mere impertinences.”
It has happened to me to question the received doctrine. Universal assent of all men of all time is a very useful thing, and for some positive facts it may be decisive. But in Irish history it is used to enforce a series of negations—no human progress, no spiritual life, no patriotism, no development, no activity save murder, no movement but a constant falling to decay, and a doomed lapse into barbarism of every race that entered the charmed circle of the island. However universal the consent, the statements of the tradition are of so extraordinary a character, that one may fairly desire an inspection of the evidence. I have ventured to suggest that the time had come to study the sources anew; to see if any had been omitted, or if in modern research any new testimony concerning Ireland had been brought to light; to give less weight to negative assertions than to positive facts; and to enquire what the whole cumulative argument might imply. Thus the fundamental problem has been raised. If Mr. Dunlop has not a word to say about it, it will nevertheless not disappear. The enquiry will need many scholars and a long time, but I am sure it will be completed, and that Irish history will then need to be re-written. Meanwhile, as I claim no infallible authority, to fulminate against me does not get rid of the essential problem. The discrediting of a doubter of the orthodox faith is the simplest form of argument and the least laborious. The trouble is that when it is done the real question is no further advanced.
A heretic must take his risks. We have an example of their gravity in this article, in which Mr. Dunlop restores an old custom to controversy. We had almost come to suppose that it was the privilege of theologians to settle the respective platforms from which disputations should be carried on. The higher plane is reserved for the orthodox. The “querulous” dissentient, on the other hand, is pronounced to be making mere incursions into what is for him a comparatively unknown region, his incapacity is obvious and his want of candour deplorable, and he has forfeited all claim to respect. This is all in the appropriate manner of those who hold an Irish history handed down by tradition.
The permitted belief about Ireland has been summed up dogmatically by Mr. Dunlop in the Dictionary of National Biography, the Cambridge Modern History, and elsewhere. Of the inhabitants of Ireland:
“two-thirds at least led a wild and half nomadic existence. Possessing no sense of national unity beyond the narrow limits of the several clans to which they belonged, acknowledging no law outside the customs of their tribe, subsisting almost entirely on the produce of their herds and the spoils of the chase, and finding in their large frieze mantles a sufficient protection against the inclemency of the weather, and one relieving them from the necessity of building houses for themselves, they had little in their general mode of life to distinguish them from their Celtic ancestors.”
“Outside the pale there was nothing worthy of being called a Church. To say that the Irish had relapsed into a state of heathenism is perhaps going too far. The tradition of a Christian belief still survived; but it was a lifeless, useless thing.”
The country was “cut off by its position, but even more by the relapse of the greater of its inhabitants into a state of semi-barbarism, from the general currents of European development.” Bogs and woods, the lairs of the wild-boar and the wolf, made internal communications dangerous and difficult, and prevented trade and intercourse with other nations. Few words, therefore, are needed to sum up their commerce. “French wines found their way into the country through Cork and Waterford; the long-established relations between Dublin and Bristol still subsisted; Spanish traders landed their wares on Galway quay; the fame of St. Patrick’s purgatory attracted an occasional pilgrim from foreign lands; and of one Irish chieftain it was placed on record that he had accomplished the hazardous journey to Rome and back.” Shane O’Neill, “champion of Celtic civilisation,” could speak no language but Irish, and could not sign his name. In the Quarterly Review we have a few more details—that the main part of the Irishmen’s dress was skins; that this people who lived without houses when they went on their “marauding expeditions” (excursions of the full summer time) made to themselves tents of untanned skins to cover them (here I could almost imagine Mr. Dunlop, in spite of his aversion to bards, indulging on the sly in a cloudy reminiscence of an Irish poet); that among the whole of them they had just a few hundred coracles made of osiers and skins for crossing swollen rivers, for the O’Malleys and O’Driscolls who had long-boats represented “perhaps the Iberian element in the nation,” suggests Mr. Dunlop, not to give the Gaels any credit, while he slips by the way into the objectionable word apparently so hard to avoid; that they made no practical use even of their inland fisheries, and had no industries, so that even the cloth was made by Englishmen.
We would desire to ask Mr. Dunlop for the exact proof he relies on for any one of these statements, beginning perhaps with “no law outside the customs of the tribe.” Writers who hold Ireland to be, as he says, “a sort of scrap-heap for Europe,” and who cannot conceive of medieval Irishmen as ordinary men sharing the faults and virtues of other white Europeans, are addicted to the word “native”—a word not in common use among historians for Englishmen in England in the Middle Ages, but affected by them to indicate Irishmen in Ireland, with the derogatory sense which their “tradition” requires. The vulgar view received as it were official recognition half a century ago from Mr. Hamilton in his preface to the State Papers of 1509-73 (see also references in my book, 487-8), where he explains that the study of Irish life till Elizabethan times will be of considerable value in the study of Universal History, Ireland being so remote from the earlier seats of civilisation that the rude way of living described by Hesiod and the old poets still lingered there till the sixteenth century; till which time “most of the wild Irish led a nomade life, tending cattle, sowing little corn, and rarely building houses, but sheltered alike from heat and cold, and moist and dry, by the Irish cloak.” The last fifty years, we see, amid the general shaking of dry bones and the movement of history elsewhere, have brought no stir in Irish history. That alone stands like eternal truth fixed and unchangeable. Hence, doubtless, Mr. Dunlop’s canon (Quart. Rev., 1906) forbidding “a history of Ireland in more than one volume.”
The barbarian legend has got a long start. A first attempt to review its evidence was made in my book. In a series of social studies I have endeavoured to discuss, not the whole of Irish history, but definite matters of trade, social life, and education. I have gathered a body of facts which indicate that Ireland had considerable manufactures; that her foreign commerce can be traced throughout Europe; that there was an orderly society, even a wealthy one; that Irish travellers were known at Rome and in the Levant; that there was an Anglo-Irish culture by no means contemptible, in touch with Continental learning; and that increasing intercourse of the races did not tend to barbarism but to civilisation.
In this sketch I have not proposed to myself to draw nice distinctions between what the Normans precisely did, and what the Irish (or even, following Mr. Dunlop), what Iberians were doing in the sixteenth century in the joint work of commerce and culture, because there is as yet no sufficient material for that discussion; I share this lack of knowledge with many who have pronounced themselves with no uncertain voice. Further, I should have been glad to confine these studies to the cheerful progress of trade and culture; but I was confronted with two possible objections. The suggestion that if there had been any considerable trade it would not have vanished by a freak, could only be answered by indicating how and why the destruction had been wrought. And to meet the argument that historians would not have let a genuine story perish, I gave my opinion on how it was that the truth dropped out of sight.
My conclusions conflict with the venerable traditions over which Mr. Dunlop mounts guard. I clearly offend also against the canon of one volume. It is obvious that he must feel for me the sharpest disapproval; and this censure is conveyed with no mitigation of phrase or manner.
The charge he elaborates against me is briefly that I have no judgment, and less candour, in the use of documents, and have thus produced a mass of mischievous fiction.
I may say in passing that Mr. Dunlop’s severity with regard to authorities comes somewhat oddly from one who has shown himself fairly easy in such matters. In his own writings he gives no references, and in this same article the only authority he quotes independently is Mr. O’Connor’s Elizabethan Ireland. When I have to be silenced, “Turn we to Mr. O’Connor!” Now Mr. O’Connor has written a slight sketch of Irish political and social life in some 280 pages. He gives no dates, no indications of place, and no references. But we have Mr. Dunlop’s word for it that it is a “scholarly” work. “Mr. O’Connor” quoted by Mr. Dunlop ends controversy. The tradition is secure. I might envy Mr. Dunlop this freedom from trammels of references, of date, or of place. In such wide and impartial survey any statement about Ireland may appear as true of every place and of all time. Barbarism would seem to be a fixed and unchanging state, a passive monotony, from the time of “Lacustrine habitations” and of “Hesiod and the old poets,” till its characteristic representative in Shane O’Neill. The principle once assumed, any evidence will suffice to show that the Irish had none of the attributes of ordinary white Europeans; while evidence that they made money, traded, built houses, talked Latin, studied medicine and law, or otherwise behaved like other people of the Middle Ages, is probably rhodomontade, moonshine, or historical profligacy.
Mr. Dunlop’s summary method with unfamiliar sources appears in his asperity towards what he calls my “trivial references” to Mr. Standish Hayes O’Grady’s Catalogue of Manuscripts.
“We wonder (he says on p. 267) how many of Mrs. Green’s readers are aware that of this book, from which she has gleaned so much information—of a sort—only one copy, so far as we know, is accessible to the public, and that is in the MSS. Department of the British Museum. The book, we understand, was never published. It is still incomplete. The official copy consists merely of the bound sheets as they were printed off for proof.”
I suppose Mr. Dunlop does not mean to suggest that the value of a book is in proportion to the number of copies, or that an authority of which a single copy exists should not be quoted. In any case I can reassure him. The sheets of this Catalogue have been these many years past for sale to the public at the Museum, where I got my copy, and I hope many others did the same. The book can be bought in a London shop to-day. Mr. Dunlop might consult it in the London Library. The copy placed in the National Library in Dublin in 1895 has been in frequent use since then. Possibly Mr. Dunlop knows the inside of the book better than the outside, but it seems to be a new acquaintance, suddenly introduced and viewed with distaste. In this brilliant Catalogue we have the work of a very great authority, unsurpassed in his special learning, far beyond what O’Donovan could lay claim to; with its “information—of a sort—” it is the most important book that has appeared for many years with regard to Irish history. Another critic of Mr. Dunlop’s school, who in his remarks gives no definite sign of any knowledge of Mr. O’Grady’s work, has reproached me for referring to it “without further sifting.” But it is certain that neither of these writers who reprove me will themselves do much “further sifting” where that admirable scholar has gone before them.
May I add that Mr. Dunlop does not appear to follow too closely modern studies on Irish affairs, or he would surely have known of Mr. Justice Madden’s Classical Learning in Ireland, published last summer—a little book which he should certainly have been willing to include in any review of recent Irish writings?
To return, however, to my own lamentable want of candour and accuracy, I now give a few of the instances of my deficiencies, and of the admirable example which Mr. Dunlop sets me in these respects.
Mr. Dunlop states, “to speak accurately,” that my reference to Shane O’Neill as “done to death” (so he expresses it) by the English is “absolutely without foundation.” His own account of Shane’s death in the Dictionary of National Biography tells us that “possibly if he could have kept a civil tongue in his head the MacDonnells might have consented to a reconciliation.” “It is doubtful whether his assassination was premeditated … it is probable that when heated with wine he may have irritated them by his insolent behaviour beyond endurance.” In the Cambridge Modern History (iii. 592), however, Mr. Dunlop has attained conviction. “In his wine-cups,” he tells us, “he began to brawl, and was literally hacked in pieces by his enemies.” These and some other of his suppositions do not appear to agree with the story in Holinshed, Campion, the Calendar of State Papers, or the Four Masters. But why does Mr. Dunlop disagree with Lord Deputy Sidney, the main mover in the matter? Many efforts, it is well known, had been made to murder Shane. In 1566 Sidney sent to Scotland his “man,” the English-Scot Douglas, who had come to him from Leicester himself. Sidney gives us the clue to his mission. “I pray you,” he wrote to Leicester, “let this bringer (Douglas) receive comfortable words of you. I have found him faithful, it was he that brought the Scots that killed O’Neill.” Douglas repeated the boast and prayed a reward from Cecil. Years later Sidney, being maligned by powerful enemies at Court, reminded the Queen of his old services. “And whereas he [O’Neill] looked for service at their [the Scots] hands against me, for service of me, they killed him…. But when I came to the Court,” he added with indignation, “it was told me it was no war that I had made, nor worthy to be called a war, for that Shane O’Neill was but a beggar, an outlaw, and one of no force, and that the Scots stumbled on him by chance.” Would Mr. Dunlop, as a means of overthrowing me, join with Sidney’s enemies to rob him of the deed he boasted of? (Vide Sid. Let. 12, 34-5; C.S.P. i. 430; Car. ii. 338, 340-1.)
I have pained Mr. Dunlop by referring to the hoard of Con O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, as evidence that Ulster was not penniless. Mr. Dunlop discovers that Shane O’Neill “robbed his father” of this store, and can scarcely believe that I adduce this “robbery” to prove the wealth of Ulster, and that I use it in connection with a passage about plunder of Ireland by English invaders. This hoard occurs in a list of three pages containing signs of riches in Ireland (pp. 67-69), a mere glance at which would show the absurdity of any contention that all the moneys I mention fell into English hands. As to Con O’Neill’s savings, I see no objection to an allusion to them as one proof among others of money and plate in Ulster. I do not know if Mr. Dunlop means not only to suggest my want of candour, but also to prove that if Shane “robbed” his father’s treasure, therefore no English soldiers or officials robbed any Irish chief of his plate or wealth.
But though in this connection I have really nothing to do with the ultimate fate of Con’s hoard, I may in passing compare the Lord Chancellor Cusack’s report at the time with Mr. Dunlop’s “robbery.” Con O’Neill was thrown into prison in Dublin in 1552, and said to be threatened with death. The English were prepared with an illegitimate successor in Tyrone. Shane claimed to be his father’s lawful heir, and fought the English nominee. A garrison of English soldiers was thrown into Armagh. Beyond the Blackwater Ford, within a ride of Armagh, lay the chief fort of Tyrone, on the great hill of Dungannon. Shane, evidently with the support of his people, “came to Dungannon,” and took with him “of the chief’s treasure £800 in gold and silver besides plate and other stuff” [apparently then not the whole of it, but so much as was needed for the war at the moment] “and retaineth the same as yet, whereby it appeareth that he and she [the Earl and Countess] was content with the same; for,” said Cusack, “it could not be perceived that they were greatly offended for the same.” This was how Shane O’Neill “robbed his father.”
Mr. Dunlop quotes a sentence that “Galway ships sailed to Orkney and to Lübeck,” and gives one only of my references in the note, which states that a Scottish ship of Orkney was freighted at Galway for Lisbon. It is evident that by one of the accidental errors of transcription, which every writer that ever lived has sometimes to deplore, I transferred the words, and Orkney was used where I meant to write Lisbon. Lübeck is a different matter. Why did Mr. Dunlop carefully omit the reference in the same note to the page where I mention goods shipped from Galway to Lübeck in 1416? Was it a generous effort to make the error take on a more serious character? Or was it a common inaccuracy? I may inform him that in the Hansisches Urkundenbuch further references occur to Irish cloth at Lübeck, as well as to Irish cloth and provisions along the Elbe, and that the name he throws doubt on appears with good reason in my text.
Mr. Dunlop also discovers a “most apparent and painful” instance of my “distorting of evidence” in my reference (which I did not give as a quotation) to Limerick merchants appeached of treason for trading with Irish rebels, when the deputy’s words were victualling and maintaining (p. 170). Mr. Dunlop might perhaps himself suspect some barter in the business when it attracted eight merchants to traffic in so dangerous an enterprise. But he conveniently omits the rest of my story, that within a year of the arrest of the eight merchants the Limerick corporation prayed to have the city charter confirmed with a special clause that they might buy and sell with Irishmen at all times. They seem to have had no objection to trade with the Irish, which was the only point I had there to prove. I willingly alter the word that seems to Mr. Dunlop so painful a distortion of the truth, and my argument remains unchanged.
Mr. Dunlop twice condemns me in “the case of Enniscorthy fair, where the documents referred to refute the deduction drawn from them.” “We strongly resent her concealing the fact” that Sidney, with the Four Masters, deplored the “destruction (n.b.)” of the fair by the rebellious Butlers at the instigation of James Fitzmaurice. Why should I not “conceal facts” I do not know to be true? I fancy it is better than publishing them. The word used by the Four Masters, Sidney, and a contemporary letter given in Hore’s Town of Wexford (175) is “spoiling.” Will Mr. Dunlop give his references to “destruction (n.b.),” and to “the instigation of James Fitzmaurice”? What is the proof? This day’s raid was not the first attack on the fair after it had been granted to English officers charged to execute martial law on the Wexford Irish. I have not space to tell the significant circumstances. Mr. Dunlop blames me for not giving the founder of the fair. “We will overlook the omission,” he says in his lofty way of superior erudition and fidelity to facts. This cheap taunt is surely absolutely unworthy of a writer who should be aware that no one as yet knows the origin of the fair. I see no reason against mentioning its existence, among many others which Mr. Dunlop neglects, as evidence of trading activity in a region where Irish law and speech prevailed.
I do not propose to weary the reader by multiplying instances of this kind. The details of historical controversy interest few readers. Its personal aspect should interest none. The instances I have given are true samples of all the rest. I have gone carefully through the long indictment, and I note half a dozen minor points in which I am glad to correct an obvious misprint or to amend an error (not one of which, I would say, affects the drift of my argument). But the great bulk of these criticisms—grave inaccuracies in themselves, or misstatements of what I say, or dogmatic assertions which need for their discussion evidences which there is no attempt to offer—can give me little help. For an example of historical investigation of medieval Irish history, of serious use of references and evidences, or of customary fairness in discussion, I must go elsewhere than to Mr. Dunlop.
With regard to evidence, I am charged with repudiating the testimony of Spenser, Davies, Fynes Moryson, Cuellar, Derrick, and official documents that tell against me. I have drawn very largely from State Papers and official records of all kinds, sources of information which have proved invaluable for my purpose. In the shaking bog of medieval testimony, some firm standing is to be found in statutes, ordinances, town records, cartularies, and the like. From them we rapidly come to more perilous regions—State Papers and letters—where every document needs to be considered as a separate “source” to be separately discussed. Some were written by strangers newly come to the country—soldiers, secretaries, adventurers, spies; others by higher officials struggling in an intricate tangle of intrigues, or by a lower sort trying to make their way upwards; some by governors zealous to keep their credit amid the scandal of the Court; others by governors desperate to recapture a lost reputation. In the medley of partiality, prejudice, ignorance, despair, and triumph, every one must judge to the best of his ability as to the value of the testimony; there can be no scientific accuracy in the measurement. There is the same difficulty with the reports of a few Continental travellers, Italian or Spanish. Historians of Ireland have freely used the evidence of men, English or European, who came not knowing a word of the language, who traversed the country more or less rapidly under official guidance, or in the midst of armies occupied in a peculiarly ferocious warfare, or who attempted an uneasy living on the confiscated lands of the “native” people—men, in fact, who knew practically nothing but destruction. From the study of other evidence I have come to think that the view which has generally been accepted from these gentlemen is imperfect and often erroneous. They could know nothing of an earlier time and had but a partial vision of their own.
Some well-thumbed later authorities have been found to give no trustworthy guidance for medieval Ireland, and they do not appear in that customary place of authority which had become their recognised privilege; on the other hand, some entirely new authorities have been called in and some have lain unused.
Among the writers I am accused of neglecting is Captain Cuellar, a Spaniard from the Armada, knowing no Irish, flying for his life, sometimes among people who had no good reputation with the Irish themselves, hiding himself in the wildest and most secret haunts of districts swept and wasted from end to end by English soldiers—I do not know why such an experience should be quoted as a fair record of ordinary Irish life in the plains, in times of peace, and among the richer and more settled clans. Mr. Orpen, in the English Historical Review, has extracted from this little record every damaging phrase to the Irish to be found in it and omitted every favourable one. Does he wonder why I have not done the like? I have not done it because I do not think it fair dealing or honest history to state as evidence against the Irish that Cuellar was “robbed of all he possessed, stripped naked, beaten, and forced by a blacksmith to work”; and not to mention that the robbing and beating was the work of English troops and mercenaries from Scotland; that the week he spent at the blacksmith’s forge was the solitary unkindness he suffered from any native Irishman in his seven months’ wandering; that the moment an Irish chief heard of his misfortune he sent to take him to his own house; that in that seven months of journeyings in the wilds, from the day when cast on a Connacht beach, he was hidden in pity by gallow-glasses till the day when men of Ulster secured his escape across the sea, he was continually succoured by young and old, men and women, clerics and laymen, who pitied him, wept at his sufferings, showed him every hospitality and kindness, and guided him from shelter to shelter to hide him from the English. By what strange tradition, by what long prejudice is this perversion of evidence fabricated and admitted?
Besides English and Spanish testimony we have also some from the Irish themselves. Among Irish witnesses the great Galway scholar Dr. Lynch, writer of Cambrensis Eversus, stands high; no student can afford to neglect editions and translations made by Mr. Whitley Stokes and Professor Kuno Meyer in this country, and by Continental scholars; the translations of Dr. Douglas Hyde; the work of Dr. Norman Moore in the Dictionary of National Biography and elsewhere; or the collection of criticisms, translations, and summaries that make up the invaluable Catalogue of Manuscripts in the British Museum by Mr. S. H. O’Grady.
Mr. Dunlop does not like poets. “Surely she must know that the very stock-in-trade of a poet is pure moonshine,” he avers. However that may be, I may say that Mr. O’Grady’s Catalogue contains a great deal that is not poetry. “Must we remind her,” says Mr. Dunlop with the loftiest severity, “that bard and annalist were often the same individual?” The Catalogue would explain to him how impossible would be such a conception to the Irish world, where a bard was a mere natural poet who had not studied in the schools. Will Mr. Dunlop give one single instance of this frequent fact? A quotation from a blind poet peculiarly awakens his contempt, as he refers to it twice, repeating here the criticism of another writer of his school. Teigue Dall O’Higgin was a man of great eminence in his day; and I see no reason to believe that a blind man necessarily takes leave of all his senses. I have no doubt that Teigue was at home in all the gossip of Enniskillen, and that he could distinguish between the sounds of a smith’s shop, or of women talking over their embroidery, and of men bringing boats to the shore. Other references to Fermanagh which I have given in my book, and indications in the English wars of the importance of water carriage on the lake, bear out the story of Teigue the Blind. He was right about the “blue hills.”
If Mr. Dunlop accuses me of a “partiality for native records” with all their “rhetorical rhodomontade,” I frankly confess to a regard for the opinion of people who belong to a country and speak its tongue. I suppose that contemporary Irish witnesses, even the Four Masters, may be used with the same authority and the same limitations as English; nor do I know why the opinion of any stray traveller or minor official from over-sea, intent only on furthering his interests, is to be accepted without question, while the word of a deeply learned Anglo-Irish scholar of Galway, or of an eminent Irish poet who had visited every province of Ireland, is to be wholly suspect. I will give an illustration by recalling the case of Sir John Davies and of Dr. Lynch. To Mr. Dunlop the brief writings of Davies represent a very high authority, while the Cambrensis Eversus of Lynch is dismissed in one word as a “political pamphlet.” He does not apparently think Davies had any political leanings. We usually think people impartial who hold our own opinions.
In my book I have given definite reasons for thinking that Davies’ acquaintance with Irish affairs was inadequate—in a short residence in the country of which he did not know the language, the law, or the history. My own judgment is that considering his imperfect means of knowledge, and his very strong bias of prejudice, his statements about Ireland before his coming there have no particular sanctity, and need to be tested and corroborated like those of any other writer. That he is sometimes at fault even a believer such as Mr. Dunlop seems in a hidden way to admit. Suggesting that my references to the cloth trade are not so novel as unwary readers might think, “the excellent quality of Irish wool,” says Mr. Dunlop, “is one of the best attested facts in Irish commercial history.” Then why has Mr. Dunlop until this moment excluded any slightest mention of wool in his summary of Irish trade? Was it too well known? Or was it because of the saying of Sir John Davies—“for wool and wool-felts were ever of little value in this kingdom?” We are here shut into a denial of the well-attested commerce in wool, or to a doubt of the sufficiency of Sir John Davies as a witness; and we are left without guidance by Mr. Dunlop. On the whole, it seems judicious to depend on Davies’ evidence only for the things that lay within his immediate and direct observation. His opinion on all that he himself saw is worthy of respect, and we may admit the sound legal maxim that a man’s evidence can always be accepted when it is given against himself.
The same distinction may surely be drawn in the case of Dr. Lynch. Davies was a man of English and Latin learning, Lynch a man of Irish and Latin learning. The historical criticism of their day was not perfect in either country, and as Davies leant to the English side of prejudice, Lynch leant to the Irish. But Lynch, like Davies, was I believe a just reporter of what he had himself seen or had heard from firsthand witnesses. And I have therefore quoted him, as I have Davies, for what had come within the range of his personal knowledge, not for matters of historical research. His testimony is of extraordinary and pathetic interest. Born in Galway in the last years of Elizabeth, when the city still preserved its old culture and the remnants of its old wealth, Lynch was one of the last scholars who ever saw and knew the Anglo-Irish civilisation. It is not any single picture that he gives that is important; it is the host of scattered and chance allusions, as to things well known to every Irishman in his day, which reveal to us the society in which he had been brought up. It is touching to remember that he was the last to say a good word for the medieval civilisation. After his death a darkness and silence of hundreds of years fell over that story, and it is across nearly three centuries that Irishmen will now have to take hands with Lynch and carry on his justification of the Ireland which was being gradually built up by the work of Gaels, Danes, Normans, and English in their common country.
This, however, is just what Mr. Dunlop denies. He “begs leave to doubt” that the “native Irish” in the fifteenth century developed the resources of the country. By omitting all contemporary references to timber, to leather, and to salmon, of course it can be said there was no medieval trade in these. The plan seems unsatisfactory, and I have not followed it. Mr. Dunlop, for example, blames me for not quoting an English poem (no pure moonshine here—perhaps a farthing dip) which does not mention leather, as proof that there was no leather trade. I have quoted the Libel elsewhere, but on this point I preferred the direct evidence of the records of the Bruges Staple; and I have since added notices in the Hansisches Urkundenbuch for leather sent in 1304, 1327, 1453 to Bruges, Dinant, and Portugal. I would ask which is the historical method: to close the question once for all with the negative silence of an anonymous English writer “whom we think,” says Mr. Dunlop, in one of his easy moods about evidence, “had a pretty accurate notion of what constituted Irish commerce”; or to pursue enquiry in business records of the ports and seek to ascertain the exact facts.
The art of making linen was known, according to Mr. Dunlop, to the “native Irish, as it is to most primitive races.” But what they made in Ireland was “of a very coarse kind, and its use was practically restricted to the wealthier class—viz., the merchants of the towns.” What is his proof for all this? Was it the town merchants that Campion describes wearing linen shirts for wantonness and bravery, “thirty yards are little enough for one of them”? What about the great linen rolls on the Irishwomen’s heads, and (is the inference too romantic?) perhaps on their bodies also? What about the fine linen in which the Galway women wrapped the Spanish hanged after the Armada? When I read of 6000 bales of linen cloth sent from Galway to Genoa in 1492, or of 4000 linen cloths mentioned in 1499 in another Galway merchant’s will, or of the “sardok” of mixed woollen and linen in the Netherland markets in 1353, or of Henry the Eighth forbidding Galway any more to export linen, the records of the time seem to conflict with the opinions which Mr. Dunlop “begs leave” to hold.
Mr. Dunlop now admits for the first time some trade in cloth, but with a stipulation of his own that it was all made by Englishmen. He does not trouble to consider such a clue as we find in the State Papers of Galway merchants carrying their wine into the country to exchange among other things for cloth. He has his own theory; “it is pretty clear from such expressions as Limerick cloak, Galway mantle, Waterford rug, that the centres of the cloth industry lay within the sphere of English influence”; the participation of the Irish was excluded by severe guild regulations, and “it may not be unfair to infer that the reputation acquired abroad by Ireland in regard to its serges was not due to the industry of its native population.” This insinuating hypothesis is a flaming fact on the next page, where it appears the “native Irish” (no inferring here to dull the conclusion) “took no part in the commercial development of their country, leaving it to the stranger within their gate, and thereby earning from the latter the reproach of idleness.” If there were, as Mr. Dunlop “prefers to think,” some loyal Irishmen who preferred English civilisation and the chances it offered them of pushing their way in life to their native customs, he states that the presence even of such loyal Irishmen “was not always welcome to citizens of English blood.” Thus the English of the towns must have toiled day and night to supply the mantles which the English Government forbade to loyal people, and to provide cloaks and cloth for the foreign trade, since in their incessant struggle to preserve themselves intact from Celtic influences they refused the aid of Irish hands to work for them. It is an idyllic picture of high purpose and endeavour, of the way to develop a country, and to make an empire.
We are not, however, shut up to this series of hypotheses. The town records themselves and English State Papers, as I have shown, give sufficient proof that the “native population” were not, in fact, rejected from the town industries. Mr. Dunlop denies this; he thinks the towns remained pure English. He is sure that all the Galway people shaved their upper lip weekly. Henry the Eighth was not so sure of it when, in 1536, he sent orders from Westminster to Galway men to shave themselves aright. When Mr. Dunlop, to prove that the Galway citizens consistently desired to keep themselves free from Irish customs, quotes laws against Irish games and keening, he quotes them without date. My contention is that, if it was necessary as late as 1527 and 1625 to enact these laws, this, with a number of other indications that I have mentioned, shows that the citizens’ “desire” was not very effective, and that there was an Irish population ready to push its way in trade, but not anxious to drop “their native customs.” No doubt the extent to which Irish names were changed must be conjectural; but there is evidence that such change did take place. My suggestion that “White” may indicate an Irish house gives Mr. Dunlop an opportunity to parade his knowledge of Gaelic. He informs me, on the authority of O’Donovan, that there is no such Gaelic name as Geal and imagines that settles the matter. He has never, then, heard of the name Fionn, which has been anglicised by “White” for centuries, just as a well-known Scotch writer of our day calls himself Henry White or Fionn indifferently.
As for intellectual culture, Mr. Dunlop is brevity itself. He has scarce a page for that chimera. The Irish were barbarous and the Anglo-Normans contaminated. His method is summary. The evidence of Mr. Whitley Stokes, of Dr. Norman Moore, of Mr. S. H. O’Grady, of Dr. Kuno Meyer has too little importance with him to be mentioned, and he can thus more easily avoid all proof of Irish scientific skill in medicine, or of the admirable quality of their translations from the Latin. He necessarily omits all mention of the many Irish scholars on the Continent, for has he not himself told us only one Irish chieftain made the perilous journey to Rome and back? He has no reference to buildings or arts which indicate the intercourse of Irish chiefs with the Continent. He is silent on the schools from which Irishmen were able to pass to foreign universities. He seems not to have heard of evidence of Latin culture collected by Mr. Justice Madden. And most wonderful to say, he seems entirely unaware of the importance of the list I have published, for the first time (by the generous kindness of a great scholar), of Irish translations of Continental works. Perhaps he felt himself anticipated by the conclusive comment I saw from a dashing newspaper critic, that “the Irish evidently satisfied themselves with translations!” In any case, he never hints at this list or its value as evidence. So astonishing a neglect of the greater matters of evidence, while every detail that could by any means discredit me is searched out, is surely a grave abuse of the historical method. In the matter of culture Mr. Dunlop confines himself with a singular restraint to a single topic—the list of Irishmen at Oxford. In this he counts many Anglo-Norman and only seventeen Gaelic names, and this solitary fact is enough to make him astonished that I “did not recognise how utterly untenable is her theory of the absorption of Anglo-Irish culture by the native Irish.” Those readers who will turn to the chapters on Irish learning in my book will perhaps be astonished not at the theory that there was culture in Ireland, but at the travesty of that theory and the suppression of evidence which serves as historical criticism for Mr. Dunlop.
Mr. Dunlop meets with a direct negative my statement that Sussex and Sidney carried off in their train every notable chief’s son they could lay hands on, but he gives no more than his own authority. My statement is perhaps too comprehensive, but I have given numerous instances (pp. 425-437) to show that the method certainly used by Sussex and Sidney, so far as they could, was steadily increased and extended in proportion as the English power gradually spread over one Irish region after another. The English took over the Irish system of hostages, but they developed it in a new way. The Catholic chief’s son was brought up in London as a Protestant, in English law and language and tradition, with the avowed purpose of spiritually severing him from his people, and leaving the clan without a natural leader or defender in the national conflict; their chiefs, in fact, were to be made the very instruments for dividing and subjugating their own people. In the words I quoted, it was a method which “not only rent asunder the bonds of national loyalty and of natural affection, but which forced parent and child alike to believe that in this world and in the world to come they were divided by an impassable abyss.” Surely there is no likeness in this deliberate plan to the Irish chief’s use of his hostage; it was, indeed, practised with consummate art by Turkey.
In this article Mr. Dunlop proposed to prove two facts: first, that Celtic civilisation is largely a figment of my imagination; and, secondly, that far from composing one nation, the English element in Ireland was proud of its origin, and struggled incessantly to preserve itself intact from Celtic influence. One part of his plan is destructive, and the second constructive. Unfortunately the work of destruction has proved so alluring that the constructive scheme is abandoned. As to the value of the destructive work, I contend that Mr. Dunlop’s criticisms are not so historically accurate, so reasonable, or so candid, that they can serve for correction or instruction. I contend further that even on the generous assumption that the whole of Mr. Dunlop’s criticisms might happen to be valid, there would still remain untouched the main body of my evidence and the whole current of my argument. And I confidently believe that the history of Ireland will be re-written on truer lines and surer foundations than those sketched out in the Cambridge Modern History and the Quarterly Review. But perhaps Mr. Dunlop will go farther. It would be pleasant to hear, in more detail, his views on “the Iberian element in the nation.”