Two kinds of colony: ‘Rebel Ireland’ and the ‘Imperial Province’

Dr Pamela M Clayton, University of Glasgow Published as chapter 12 in 'Was Ireland a Colony? Economics, politics and culture in Nineteenth-Century Ireland', edited by Terrence McDonough, Dublin and Portland, Oregon: Irish Academic Press, 2005 ISBN 0-7165-2798-7 (cloth), ISBN 0-7165-2806-1 (paper)

The missing colony Extensive research on the literature on imperialism and settler colonialism up to the 1980s reveals very few even passing references to Ireland and even fewer to Ulster, home to a settler colony with privileged relations with the metropolis and a determination to remain part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, no matter what the majority in Ireland wished (for explorations of Ulster as a settler colony, see inter alia Clayton, 1996; Crotty 1986; Lustick 1985; MacDonald 1986; O’Dowd 1990; Weitzer 1990). The puzzle of the missing colony was pointed out by Robinson (1965), who noted that it was primarily British imperial theorists who paid the least attention to Ireland; but it was not only the British who ignored it. There are honourable exceptions in the general literature: for example, Wallerstein (1974, 1980) defines Ireland as a colony whose seizure in the sixteenth century was the prototype for that of North America and whose colonial status was confirmed by the Treaty of Limerick, which asserted that the Crown’s authority over Ireland was the same as its authority over the colonies. It was a dependency of the Crown and Westminster legislated for it even though the Irish were not represented in parliament. On the other hand, in the motley collection of trade colonies, protectorates, dependencies and settlement colonies that constituted the 19th century British empire, Ireland held a unique position: inhabited by white Christians (even if most were Catholics and hence, in the view of some, not really Christians), many of whom crossed the narrow stretch of water to find work in England, Wales and Scotland, with a relationship going back over a thousand years, and since 1800 a seemingly integral part of the realm. The incorporation of Ireland into the United Kingdom, however, should be seen, not as a partnership of equals but rather in the light of the principle, held by the British in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, that colonies should be under effective metropolitan control (Fieldhouse, 1966). Additional factors were the dangerous influence of the American and French revolutions and the enmity of Catholic France and Spain. Furthermore, Ireland was subjected to the racist ideology, based on notions of racial and moral superiority, that permeated the 19th century British empire (Faber, 1966; Huttenback, 1976). The older liberal and humanitarian ethos remained: ‘natives’ had a right to the law, protection and education, but their immutable inferiority meant that they were permanently unfit for self-determination (Thornton, 1965). Incorporation of Ireland into the Union at a time when democracy and universal suffrage were far from the thoughts of the British establishment appeared to circumvent both the moral basis and the danger of any thoughts of Irish self-government or independence. Yet the proximity of Ireland that made its retention a strategic necessity also meant that, when movements and campaigns seeking some degree of self-government re-emerged, they could not so easily be subjected to such punitive measures as could more distant colonies: news travelled fast and there were still liberals, and later socialists, who subscribed to kindlier doctrines of empire (Thornton, 1978). Rather, at official level, the dual policy of concessions to moderates and repression of ‘seditious agitators’ was pursued (Porter, 1975); and if


recalcitrant Irish people could not be slaughtered with impunity, they could be portrayed as inferior and even sub-human. Racist stereotyping of the Irish Abusive racial stereotyping of the Catholic Irish in general was common in the Victorian era (Banton, 1977). One hypothesis is that the effect of these prejudices by the mid-nineteenth century was to ‘reduce the Irish Question ... to an apparent conflict between two fundamentally incompatible races’, an approach which led to the failure of British policy in Ireland (Curtis, 1968:15). Furthermore the stereotypes of ‘Paddy the Irishman ... provided ready-made categories for Burmese and Malays to be fitted into’ (Kiernan, 1986:28). Another view, however, discerns the abusive stereotype as long pre-dating the modern era:
widespread and virulent expressions of anti-Irish prejudice predate the industrial revolution. They had been part of the British scene for centuries. The only novelty in Victorian times was the fact that the prejudice was increasingly articulated in the terminology of racial differentiation (Lebow, 1979:15; see also Canny, 1973; Deane, 1984).

For example, Fraser’s Magazine in March 1847 claimed that ‘of all the Celtic tribes, famous everywhere for their indolence and fickleness ... the Irish are admitted to be the most idle and the most fickle’ (Lebow, ibid.:40). The nature of the stereotype is therefore of particular interest, in that it was the one applied to ‘native’ peoples everywhere; the Irish were accused of being lazy, dirty, ignorant, superstitious, content to be poor, uncivilised, violent, irrational, ungrateful, impractical, childlike, easily aroused and easily manipulated by self-serving agitators (Curtis, 1968; Lebow, ibid.). They were indeed often compared with ‘aboriginal peoples in Africa, the Antipodes and the Orient’ (Curtis, 1968:58) and were, according to Lord Salisbury, as unfit for self-government as Hottentots (ibid.). Dilke saw the Irish among the ‘cheaper races’ like the Chinese: ‘both prolific breeders, hard workers and inveterate migrants’ (ibid.:46). There was no apparent difficulty in accepting that the Irish could be both indolent and hard workers. By contrast, the ‘Anglo-Saxon race’, that is, the modern British, was deemed to be practical, individualistic, business-like, efficient and responsibly mature, an ‘imperial race’ which was industrious, frugal and adaptable, and essentially masculine (Field, 1982); it was, according to Theodore Parker, ‘the best specimen of mankind which has ever attained great power in the world’ (Huttenback, 1976:17). Attitudes such as ‘reason, restraint, self-control, love of freedom and hatred of anarchy, respect for law and distrust of enthusiasm’ were inherited and inheritable (Curtis, 1968:11) - but they had not, it seemed, been inherited by the Irish who were inherently incapable of such noble virtues. These contrasting stereotypes have been seen to serve to justify the continuance of rule by those who were fit to govern, namely the ‘Anglo-Saxons’. It was claimed for example that the Irish did not really want self-government but were merely the dupes of professional agitators; the violence of the Irish nature required at least firm if just rule and if necessary coercion; and as a ‘feminine’ race (which was moreover congenitally disunited) they were in any case unfit for self-government (ibid.). As political agitation intensified in Ireland, not only were such arguments, often dressed up in ‘scientific’ language, used to ‘explain’ why Irish demands should be rejected, but Irish faces in Victorian political cartoons were increasingly simianised, and ‘the price paid by Irishmen for increasing political activity and agrarian protest was the substitution of epithets like Caliban, Frankenstein, Yahoo or gorilla for Paddy’ (ibid. 1971:22). Despite all this racist stereotyping, and the reasons that lay behind it, many of the Irish were at the same time undoubtedly assisting the British in maintaining their overseas empire, supplying not only soldiers but officers, administrators and settlers from all its provinces. For imperialists like Edward Gibbon Wakefield, writing in 1833, overseas colonies might serve to ‘turn the tide of Irish emigration from England to her colonies’ as well as helping Protestant


landowners keep the land ‘which was taken by violence from the people’s fathers’ (Winks, 1969:47-8). ‘Ulster’ versus ‘Ireland’: which was the more ‘imperial’? For Ulster protestants, however, writing in local and provincial newspapers from the third Home Rule crisis onward, Ulster was ‘the imperial province’ in contradistinction to ‘rebel Ireland’, and Ulster Protestants were especially endowed with imperial qualities1 . This ideological construct, part of the unionist propaganda campaign to remain within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, still plays a part in folk memory and ritual. A new branch of the Democratic Unionist Party was named the ‘Armagh / North Down Imperial Democratic Unionist Association’ (Portadown News 10.1.75). The place of this anachronistic survival of ‘the imperialist message’ in Ulster Unionism and loyalist ideology has been described thus:
The Protestant imagined community is not a nation. It remains what it has always been - a beleaguered garrison loyal to the Crown and Empire, defending an Imperial interest in a hostile and rebellious land (Bell, 1986, p. 12; see also Archer, 1980).

Pride in ‘the generous splashes of red which indicate upon a map of the world the greatest empire ever known’ (editorial, Ballymena Observer 29.10.15) was not confined to the north of Ireland; what is of interest here is the attempt made by Northern Protestants to deny a constructive role in the empire to Irish Catholics, by usurping that role for themselves. It should be noted that many Irish Catholics have bolstered this notion by neglecting or rejecting their own historic part in the empire. The ‘Empire card’ was played to the full for British consumption. During the Home Rule crises religion was fused with imperialism in the claim that Ireland separated from Great Britain would be ruled by the Pope (McEvoy, 1983), an argument which appealed to Unionists such as Balfour and Milner who claimed that ‘loyalty to the empire’ rode above elected governments (Porter, 1975). Ulster Protestants, however, having claimed in the first Home Rule crisis that Ireland’s co-partnership in the empire was threatened (Anderson, 1988), came to claim that they played a special and eventually an exclusive role in it. Not only have ‘the Empire’s best friends’ (editorial, Londonderry Sentinel 13.8.12, 20.10.17) gone out to colonise distant lands (editorials, Belfast Telegraph 4.1.12, Portadown News 8.6.12), but they are also responsible for ‘the great turning-point in the history of the British Empire ... the Battle of the Boyne. Without its Protestantism what would the spirit of England be?’ (editorial, Belfast Telegraph 24.1.12). Orangeism is ‘the bulwark of Protestantism ... its ramifications are to be found performing their useful functions of welding more firmly the bonds that knit the Empire together in every part of the globe’ (editorial, County Down Reporter 17.7.20). Similar claims for Ulster, as some called Northern Ireland, are found in the 1939-49 period. ‘This western outpost of Empire’ (editorial, Portadown News 19.4.47) is a bulwark of imperialism against ‘the foes of the Empire, especially in Ireland’ (editorial, Londonderry Sentinel 13.7.39). The terms ‘the imperial Province’, Ulster’s ‘Imperial birthright and traditions’ and the ‘Imperial race’ which inhabits it abound2 and the large numbers of Free


Among numerous references, see editorials in the Belfast Telegraph 4.1.12, 19.9.14, 7.7.16; the Londonderry Sentinel 13.7.12, 13.8.12, 17.5.13, 11.6.14, 6.7.16, 20.10.17, 24.1.18, 5.2.21, 7.6.21, 23.6.21; the Impartial Reporter 24.10.12, 14.8.13, 13.7.16, 21.12.16; the News Letter 26.4.16, 7.7.16; the Ballymena Observer 20.9.12, 9.3.17; the County Down Spectator 20.9.12, 24.8.17, 2.8.19, 17.7.20; the Portadown News 8.6.12, 30.4.21. See editorials: Londonderry Sentinel 11.2.39, 13.2.39, 13.7.39, 12.8.39, 16.12.39, 23.5.40, 26.11.40, 13.2.43, 15.7.43, 1.3.49; Impartial Reporter 3.9.42; Portadown News 30.6.45, 20.7.46, 11.1.47, 19.4.47, 26.6.48, 29.1.49



Staters who volunteered for service are rarely mentioned. Instead Eire’s ‘sullen neutrality’ (editorial, Londonderry Sentinel 20.6.40) is frequently contrasted with the Ulster loyalists who are ‘proud to stand by Britain and the rest of the Empire’ (editorial, Londonderry Sentinel 12.10.39). Even the German air-raids are a ‘savage revenge upon Ulster for her loyalty to Britain and the Empire’ (editorial, Londonderry Sentinel 8.5.41). What was the reality behind the rhetoric? Was participation in empire by Ulster Protestants that of ‘imperial servitors’, that is, the imperialism of second-class citizens, along with Scots and Irish Catholics (Hechter, 1975) or did they play such a pre-eminent role in ‘empirebuilding’ that it justified their claim that Ulster was ‘the imperial province’? Did the Catholic Irish, on the other hand, stand aside from the imperial project? Irish contributions to the British empire in the 19th century Ulster Protestants claimed a major part in the early history of that imperial escapee, the United States of America, providing settlers and soldiers on both sides in the War of Independence, and according to Collins (1982), most of the Irish-born personnel in Washington’s army in particular, including the generals, were Ulster Presbyterians. Although the extent of their role has been seriously questioned (Morgan, 1993), there has been a noteworthy number of presidents of ‘Ulster-Scot’ origin. The contribution of Irish Protestantism as a whole both in the causation and outcome of the War of Independence is, however, complex. The Irish parliament (which was Protestant) funded the Irish establishment, a 12,000-man Protestant force within the British army, intended both to maintain English control in Ireland and to act as the Empire’s strategic reserve. When the Dublin parliament became reluctant to pay the costs of regiments stationed outside Ireland, London decided to create an American establishment, funded by the very revenue measures which led to the American revolt (Collins, 1982). At this time all officers and men in the King’s army were supposed to declare themselves Protestants, although this regulation was often ignored and there were many nominal Protestants (Cadell, 1950). Some Catholics supported the British government and wanted to encourage recruitment for the British side, but Irish Protestants, afraid of Catholics being armed, did their best to prevent this (BiggsDavison & Chowdharay-Best, 1984) and despite Dublin Castle conniving at the enlistment of some Catholics, the war in North America weakened the Irish establishment. This, coupled with agrarian disturbances in Ireland, distracted London and contributed to the strategic situation in 1781 which allowed the decisive British defeat at Yorktown (Collins, 1982). In Canada, however, Quebec City was taken only thanks to a regiment of Indians recruited by one William Johnston of County Down (Ulster Link 1988a:6). Important numbers of Irish Protestants also went to other white settlements, and Northern Ireland’s continuing links with the former dominions are kept alive not only through family ties but through journals such as the afore-cited Ulster Link, a bi-monthly periodical containing news of the Irish of today and of the past in Australia and New Zealand and with articles on Ireland, and particularly Ulster. It also celebrates the Ulster people in Canada, particularly Toronto, ‘virtually an Ulster city’ (Ulster Link 212:24 Jan/Feb 1982), as well as eminent emigrees such as John Ballance, the first Liberal Prime Minister of New Zealand, ‘a believer in self-help for the individual and self-reliance for his country (who) epitomised all that is best in the Ulster and New Zealand character’ (Ulster Link 1988b 250:15, April/May) and ‘New Zealand’s Greatest Ulsterman, Prime Minister William Ferguson Massey (from Derry), prime minister of New Zealand, 1912-1925’ (Ulster Link 234:3-5 Aug/Sep 1985). Significant though the Ulster Protestant contribution was, ‘British history’ took on a global dimension in important part through the famine-induced Irish Catholic diaspora of the mid19th century (Pocock, 1975). There were Irish colonial administrators too, occasionally Catholics like Anthony Patrick McDonnell, but usually Anglo-Irish and also Ulster Protestants such as Lord Dufferin, Governor-General of Canada 1872-8 and Viceroy of India 1884-8, who brought his Irish 4

background to bear in seeing in educated Bengalis ‘“a great deal of Celtic perverseness, vivacity and cunning”’ (Harrison, 1983, p. 586). Above all there were Irish soldiers. The East India Company had no ban on Catholics and many served in its army; by the time of the Indian ‘mutiny’ over half of the Company’s white soldiers may have been Irish (Cadell, 1950; see also Murphy, 1970 and Melvin, 1986). The ratios of recruits for India per 10,000 of population were England and Wales 6, Scotland 10.5 and Ireland 13.4 (Cadell, 1950). Nevertheless, the colonial relationship in Ireland was reproduced in India, in that most of the Company’s Irish officers were Protestants (ibid.). Two of the British army regiments were entirely raised in Ulster and took part both in the seizure of large parts of India (Cannon, 1842) and in the bloody reprisals following the Indian uprising (Corbally, 1959). These were later grouped into the North Irish Brigade, resulting in ‘a close integration based on our common stock, our common blood and our common derivation’ (ibid., 1950, p. 52). Though the proportion of (mainly Catholic) Irish soldiers fell dramatically, that of the mainly Protestant Irish officers fell very little, and their numbers were such that Roberts in 1914 could warn the government of grave consequences in India if they persisted with Home Rule for Ireland (Kiernan, 1982). A list of all awards of the Victoria Cross to Irish-born men, from its inauguration in 1857 (when a quarter of all awardees were Irish born) until 1920, is instructive. In all but two cases the place of birth is given. From 1857-1913 Ulster gained 34 and the rest of Ireland 85 VCs; from 1914-18, 11 went to Ulster and 19 to the other three provinces. The total tally for the 1857-1920 period was 48 to Ulster-born men and 116 to men from the rest of Ireland (Clark, 1986). Judging by names and rank, many of the awardees from outside Ulster were AngloIrish Protestants. There were Irish Catholics fighting for enemy forces too, for example, for the French in India (Cadell, 1950); and by a curious paradox, the Boer Irish Brigade, formed of Irishmen and Irish-Americans living in South Africa (McGrath, 1961), fought on the side of the Boer settlers, whose descendants in the Hulpdiens South African Defence Force at Voortrekkerhoogte proposed to erect a monument to their memory (Irish Sword 1964(6)). Irish recruiting 1914-1918 and after In the 1914-18 war Unionists and Redmondite Nationalists competed to prove their loyalty. Redmond was proud to claim that:
I met Irishmen everywhere ... not merely in the Irish regiments but in every regiment ... almost for the first time in history the Irish Catholic regiments are fighting and dying for England without any shadow of bitterness in their hearts or minds ... Irish soldiers, Catholic and Protestant, have fought and died shoulder to shoulder against a common foe ... Shall not their blood seal a new bond of brotherhood among Irishmen? (Kerr, 1916, pp. 9, 24-5)

Recruiting was brisk in both north and south at first, and 45% of total Irish enlistments were made in the first nine months of the war (Boyce, 1990). Redmond urged his 170,000 National Volunteers to join up both for home defence and foreign service, and many of the UVF did this, offering 30,000 for the front, which formed the bulk of the 36th (Ulster) Division. They also claimed to be able to offer 30,000 for Home Defence and, significantly, another 40,000 to defend Ulster (editorial, Impartial Reporter 20.8.14). By the end of 1915 it was claimed that Ulster had supplied 49,760 recruits against 45,237 from the other three provinces (editorial, Londonderry Sentinel 11.1.16). These and probably most of the figures supplied by the Northern newspapers were exaggerated in order to prove Ulster’s superior loyalty. In Nationalist Ireland disillusionment began to set in by 1915. Although the country as a whole benefited from higher prices for its foodstuffs, Dublin suffered depression. The scale of casualties was both unexpected and unprecedented, Edward Carson entered the Cabinet, and it was felt that the Irish Catholic contribution was undervalued by the War Office (Boyce, 1990). After the Easter Rising by the Irish Volunteers and its aftermath recruitment 5

fell in the south, Nationalists refused to countenance conscription, and as the Sinn Féin ‘menace’ grew it was reported to have fallen in Ulster too:
recruiting (...) no doubt practically ceased in our Province ... because our people naturally resented depleting the Province of any more of their manhood while the inhabitants of the South and West remained at home in a bellicose mood hostile to what Ulster considers her peculiar interests (editorial, County Down Spectator 13.4.18).

Undoubtedly, of the 170,000 recruits and reservists supplied in total, Ulster provided about half (Bardon, 1992), proportionately more the other three provinces combined (although it received fewer than half the Victoria Crosses awarded to men from Ireland). To prioritise this figure, however, is to discount the thousands of Irish people from the other three provinces who went to work in British munitions factories, and the further thousands of British-based Irish and descendants of Irish immigrants who joined the services (Boyce, 1990). Furthermore, there was a dreadful attrition of lives of men of all creeds and parts of Ireland throughout the war, and at least half of those Irishmen killed were Catholics (Bardon, 1992, p. 461). After the establishment of the Irish Free State, it was apparently Northern Ireland which alone carried Ireland’s imperial burden. Between 1918 and 1939 regiments raised in Northern Ireland served in Egypt, India, Palestine, Germany, Mesopotamia, Persia and Upper Silesia (Corbally, 1950) and they were well represented in post-1945 wars too, such as in Cyprus (Lawlor, 1956; Corbally, 1951). However, in the 1939-45 war, when conscription was not applied to Northern Ireland, volunteering, which began at a rate of 2500 per month, soon fell to under 1000, and despite recruitment drives and an upsurge after Dunkirk, recruitment rates continued to fall. Apathy was observed ‘“amongst both religious groups”’ and among civil servants and politicians as well as the general populace (Barton, 1989, pp. 49-50, 54). Industrial productivity too was poor and hostile relations between labour and management led to many strikes and failures to achieve output targets, particularly at Short and Harland; absenteeism at the Harland and Wolff shipyard was two times higher than at the worst yards in Great Britain. The Craigavon government and the Andrews government which succeeded it came under increasing criticism within Northern Ireland for ineptitude, which included a refusal by some ministers, including Dawson Bates, Minister of Home Affairs, to cooperate with the military authorities. Far from the outbreak of war arousing an instant response to the need to save the empire, it was widely felt that the war was far away and Northern Ireland would not be attacked. Even after the air raids, which shattered the prevailing complacency, recruitment remained low (for Northern Ireland during the 1939-45 war, see Barton 1989; Bardon 1992; the County Down Spectator during the war years is also a good source for complaints about Northern Ireland’s role in the war). Although many Ulster Protestants did volunteer, uncomplainingly accepted rationing and worked for the war effort, recruiting was so poor that conscription was considered but decided against: there seemed little doubt that Catholics would reject it, and there was evidence that many Protestants were at best half-hearted about it. It was the flow of recruits from the neutral Irish state which went far towards making up the shortfall caused by the absence of conscription. The total number of volunteers over the whole course of the war were officially stated at Westminster in 1946 as 43,000 from ‘Eire’ and 38,000 from Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s main usefulness during the 1939-45 war seems to have been its strategic geographical position, for if its war effort was unimpressive, its role in the Allied victory was vital as a naval base and as a launching pad for US forces, particularly given the neutrality of the Irish state (Barton, 1989, pp 286-7). It was this that inspired the famous letter of appreciation from Churchill (Bardon, 1992, p. 588).


Conclusion Ulster Protestants used the rhetoric of imperialism to enable them to claim that, far from fighting for their own interests, they were struggling to maintain a noble ideal, that of ‘imperial unity’. In contrast, ‘the Irish rebels’ who, as Carson told the Prime Minister, were part of a Bolshevik conspiracy to destroy ‘the British Empire ... the greatest element of solidity in the civilised world ... the greatest conservative force for the stability of society’ (editorial, Impartial Reporter 5.8.20). In reality, it was not only Protestant Ireland (that is, Protestants in all four provinces) that made a significant contribution to building and defending the British empire, but Catholic Ireland too. Ireland was not unique in helping to maintain the empire which held it. Large numbers of Indians and Africans also fought in British armies or moved to settle other parts of the empire, if no more willingly than those Irish forced through famine to emigrate. At the same time nationalists in more distant parts of the empire noted with interest that Britain could not, in the end, even maintain its hold on her ‘Other Island’ (Porter 1975, p. 255). Just as Ireland had formed a cornerstone of the British empire, it was in the end to herald its dissolution.

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