Academic journal article Journalism History

Hereditary Enemies: Home Rule, Unionism, and the Times, 1910-1914

Academic journal article Journalism History

Hereditary Enemies: Home Rule, Unionism, and the Times, 1910-1914

Article excerpt

This article considers the nature of The Times' Irish policy during the bitter pre-war controversy over home rule, a struggle that by 1914 produced, as the newpaper notes, "one of the greatest crises in the history of the British race." Because of The Times' reputation for both creating and disseminating opinion among Britian's informed, patriotic, and conservative middle classes, the paper's role in this political and constitutional crisis was crucial. What was the basis of The Times' antinationalist and apparently anti-Catholic editorial stance on Ireland? What role did it play in helping the tiny and essentially separatist Ulster Unionist Party, representing less than 5 percent of the British electorate, to become a roaring mouse that twisted the tail of the English Conservative Party and brought the United Kingdom to the brink of civil war while larger national and international issues were left unresolved?

With the words, "That the Times is reactionary in politics I deplore, as one deplores the inevitable," Bloomsbury art critic Clive Bell denounced The Times of London's editorial propensities in 1910 while at the same time renewing his subscription because of his appreciation of "the fine literary and intellectual quality of the rest of the paper."1 Obviously, art meant more than politics to the Bells of Gordon Square, but, no doubt, one of the reactionary political stances he lamented was The Times' consistently "prudent and conservative"2 approach to Irish home rule, i.e., fervent Unionism, which was generally cast in vigorously anti-Irish, anti-Catholic terms.

This article will consider the nature of The Times' Irish policy during the bitter pre-war controversy over home rule, a struggle that produced, as The Times famously remarked on July 27,1914, "one of the greatest crises in the history of the British race." Because of The Times' unmatched position as "a maker and disseminator of opinion,"3 the paper's role in this political and constitutional crisis was unquestionably crucial. Why did The Times, like the English Conservative Party, almost slavishly toe a line drawn by the stiff-backed political leaders of the tiny and essentially separatist Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)? Why and how did the UUP and its militant arm, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), representing less than 5 percent of the British electorate, become the roaring mouse that unmercifully twisted the English Lion's tail and brought the United Kingdom to the brink of civil war to gain its narrow objectives while larger national issues were left unresolved? What role did The Times have in helping to bring about this extraordinary development?

Historically, The Times' Irish policy had long been a mixture of two fundamental ingredients: condescension toward the majority Irish Catholic population and satisfaction with the way Ireland had been governed since the Act of Union in 1801 ostensibly made the "other island" an equal partner in the United Kingdom. When Liberal leader W.E. Gladstone attempted in 1886 to force home rule, i.e., the establishment of a separate and Catholic-dominated Parliament in Dublin to determine and administer Irish domestic policy, the paper not only denounced him and his Liberal Party as betrayers of the cause of imperial unity but also redoubled attacks on the "disloyal" Irish Nationalist Party and its leader, Charles Stewart Parnell.

By the late 18 80s Parnell had become, for ?he Times, the be noire of British politics, a treacherous and even traitorous scoundrel who would stop at nothing to achieve his nefarious ends. The paper's seeming obsession with Parnell led to a series of articles on "Parnelli and Crime" which culminated in the publication of letters implying Parnell's tacit endorsement of a terrorist assassination of two British officials in Dublin in 1882. After much ado, a Special Parliamentary Commission requested by Parnell revealed that the infamous letters were forgeries perpetrated by Richard Pigott, a hack journalist and pornographer who subsequently committed suicide. …

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