Churchill and Ireland

Churchill and Ireland

Churchill and Ireland

Churchill and Ireland

Synopsis

Winston Churchill spent his early childhood in Ireland, had close Irish relatives, and was himself much involved in Irish political issues for a large part of his career. He took Ireland very seriously - and not only because of its significance in the Anglo-American relationship. Churchill, infact, probably took Ireland more seriously than Ireland took Churchill. Yet, in the fifty years since Churchill's death, there has not been a single major book on his relationship to Ireland. It is the most neglected part of his legacy on both sides of the Irish Sea. Distinguished historian of Ireland Paul Bew now at long last puts this right. Churchill and Ireland tells the full story of Churchill's lifelong engagement with Ireland and the Irish, from his early years as a child in Dublin, through his central role in the Home Rule crisis of 1912-14 and in the war leading up to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922, to his bitter disappointment at Irish neutrality in the Second World War and gradual rapprochement with his old enemy Eamon de Valera towards the end of his life. As this long overdue book reminds us, Churchill learnt his earliest rudimentary political lessons in Ireland. It was the first piece in the Churchill jigsaw and, in some respects, the last.

Excerpt

On 3 December 1925 Winston Churchill told the parliament of the United Kingdom: ‘The Irish question will only be settled when the human question is settled.’ Winston Churchill took Ireland seriously: if anything, his engagement with Ireland was more serious than Ireland’s engagement with him. Twice in his career, in Manchester in 1908 and Dundee in 1922, Churchill painfully lost his parliamentary seat. On both occasions, despite enjoying the support of the official Irish nationalist leadership, Churchill was deserted by the majority of the significant Irish vote in the constituency. His embrace, first of home rule, then of the Irish Free State, did him little good.

Ulster Unionists loathed him during the home rule crisis of 1912–14, and some also loathed his role in the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921. Mainstream Irish nationalism has tended to regard him as an imperialist John Bull figure—unsympathetic to and ill-informed about Ireland. Even the most subtle and nuanced of Irish writers treat his interventions and attempted interventions in Irish affairs— especially in the context of his dislike for Irish neutrality during the Second World War—with some coolness. The one rather dramatic exception to this general rule was Garret FitzGerald, Irish prime minister, who declared on Irish television that Churchill was a personal hero. More typical was the contestant on the popular Irish radio quiz show Question Time, broadcast from Belfast in August 1942, who replied—to gales of approving laughter—when asked the name of the world’s most famous teller of fairy stories, not Hans Christian Andersen, but Winston Churchill.

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