Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution

By C. Desmond Greaves | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
THE IRISH REVOLUTION

“My business is revolution.”—James Connolly

JAMES CONNOLLY coined the phrase “The reconquest of Ireland by the Irish people”. By this he meant the total process of replacing imperialist property relations by those of Irish democracy. The elimination of externally imposed backwardness, isolation, dependence and poverty may be called “The Irish Revolution” in its broadest sense. But the expression may be used in a narrower sense also, of the great political upheavals aimed at this object. The most noteworthy of such marked the years 1782–98 and 1912–22.1 During this last period the impinging of the world imperialist crisis on the Union, already in a state of advanced crisis, led to its disruption and the emergence of an Irish national State. The purpose of this introduction is to show how the failure of the first revolution rendered the second inevitable and how the form of the second depended on the legacy left from the first.

The legislative Union which came into effect on 1st January 1801, represented the end-point of the political counter-revolution which began in 1795. The victors, the Irish landlords and the English oligarchy, shared the spoils between them. The heroic last stand of 1798 had failed to halt the march of reaction. The United Irishmen and their followers were dispersed, disorganized and dispirited. The desolation of the dreadful year 1799 emerges in the void hopelessness of such songs as The wind that shakes the barley. In 1800 the play was over, the curtain seemingly rung down on “the rights of man in Ireland”. The Irish Parliament was extinguished. With it lapsed the short-lived power to impose tariffs and negotiate commercial treaties. The peasantry had been tamed by the whip and the pitch-cap. Now the bourgeoisie that had incited them against the aristocracy was delivered defenceless to its competitors. The landlords enjoyed privileged access to the English market, and an exclusive right to the jobberies and emoluments of Parliament.

1 Professor Alison Phillips speaks of the Irish Revolution of 1906–23, William O’Brien of 1916–21, Erskine Childers of “the revolution that began in 1918”, Erhard Rümpf of “Die irische Revolution seit 1918”, and Frank Gallagher’s “Four glorious years” are the years of armed struggle 1918–21. It is clearly a question of different conceptions and different stages of the one thing.

-7-

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