Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rites and wrongs revisited

An illustration to begin:

That's the frontispiece map from Toby Barnard's study of the Irish Protestants, 1649-1770.

Early this morning Malcolm was clambering up to the garret of Redfellow Hovel to locate that and another book: Micheál Ó Siochrú's God's Executioner: Oliver Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland.

All because of mental fall-out from that previous posting about the Oliver family.

That had set Malcolm musing in general about the Anglo-Irish gentry of Munster. Here let us recall that axiom from the Irish Times correspondence column:
"Anglo-Irish" = a Prod on a horse.
By the mid-twentieth century this caste was under pressure and in terminal decline. Once-fine country houses slid into genteel decrepitude, echoing with educated accents, scented by rising damp and by ambling, shambling, flatulent old labradors. Now, many, too many mansions have been democratised into 4* hotels and country clubs.

In my end is my beginning

Most take that from East Coker. Old "Toilets" (schoolboy anagram) translated it from an embroidered motto, En ma Fin gît mon Commencement, by imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots, who in her turn took it from Guillaume de Machaut.

The end of all the Irish plantations was to make Ireland politically, religiously, economically, sociologically more like the rest of Britain. It went wrong because, although a new aristocracy could be newly-minted (as in seventeenth-century Munster) and a commercial class imported, there was no corresponding widespread "yeomanry".


The new landlords wanted tenant-farmers, but (excepting those Scots-Irish in eastern Ulster) were stuck with peasants from the dispossessed Irish Catholics. Short of extirpation of the natives, and an independent-minded and stroppy tenantry always querying the rents (neither of which could be seriously contemplated), the social cleavage was inevitable.

Another way of looking at that is the English yeoman's yearning for upward mobility (a characteristic exemplified, even satirised, by Henry V's speech before Agincourt): one price of which was commitment to the community (as Shakespeare's butcher father became town-councillor in Stratford). That was just the kind of civic involvement denied to Catholics. Significantly, a term for the Irish tenant-farmer was Anglicized, but with an acccompanying dimissive sneer -- "sculloge" (or, as the OED has it, "scullogue"):
farmer, or husbandman, or yet more properly, boors ... very crafty in all manner of bargaining, full of equivocations and mental reservations, especially in their dealings in fairs and markets, where, if lying and cheating were no sin, they make it their work to overreach anything they deal with.
That's from Barnard, in a footnote, from Observations made by a Mr Taafe in 1770.

When imperialist historians lament that Irish dependence on a single staple crop, the potato, predicated an Gorta Mór, they overlook the corollary: the Agricultural Revolution in England was not, could not be parallelled in Ireland. Malcolm's sixth-form history teacher would, at this juncture, dictate a page or three of notes on the iniquities of the Penal Laws on land-holding. He might not have felt the need to suggest another element in the equation. In both Britain and Ireland the gentry needed to purchase patronage for their younger sons in the church and the military. Irish land-values (or therefore rents) being so much lower than in England, for the Irish gentry to compete in this auction they needed to sweat their Irish tenants all the more.

Therein is the beginning of modern Irish history, with tensions that persist to the present day.

Is it all the curse of Cromwell?

Well, not entirely.

There was a strong Protestant presence in Munster long before then. Barnard (citing his own work and that of MacCarthy-Morrogh, quantifies it:
In 1641 there were an estimated 22,000; by 1660, perhaps 30,000. Even so, if the newcomers commandeered property, they remained in a numerical minority and as a result felt vulnerable. Unevenly spread across the province, they tended -- as elsewhere in Ireland -- to congregate in the lush valleys, around the coast and in the relatively safe boroughs and ports...

Outside Munster, only in Ulster and Dublin were the total and proportion of Protestants in the population greater...
Then, taking information from Dickson's essay in Bergeron & Cullen, Barnard gets ahead of himself (and of Malcolm's main point here):
[The population of] Cork ... numbered about 18,000 heads in 1706, around 37,570 by 1744, and approximately 55,640 in 1760. Of these between 33 and 40 per cent were Protestants.
Bob's your uncle!

Malcolm's earlier excursion around the Oliver family threw up a nexus of relationships.

Europe's royalty and Munster's gentry share one characteristic: both represent a very limited gene-puddle. The difference is that the former sank, drowned in ermine, while the latter still bubbles and froths with talent. Admittedly not all that talent was for good; but that's what brings Malcolm back seerially to his not-so-great and not-so-good.

Apart from adopting the surplice or the sword, there was a third way to social standing and security: the pursuit of a suitable heiress and marriage.

[À propos of which, Malcolm feels he must shortly -- in time, if not verbiage -- include the fate of Miss Frances Ingoldsby in his gallery of grotesques.]

Hence Munster's tight circle of related gentry. Alienation probably worked both ways: the Anglo-Irish may have been English to the Irish, but they were also Irish, and so not-quite-naice to the English. In addition, what "we have we hold", and marriage to a fellow-member of the Anglo-Irish gentry kept the land (and therefore the money) within the club. Moreover, there is happenstance: potential mates would meet through the shared interests of huntin', shootin' and socializin': not for nothing did the Dublin Horse Show gain and retain a reputation as the greatest cattle-show on earth.

And the club was an exclusive one.

Sir Richard Cox, writing in 1741 but describing 1687, suggested that Irish freeholders then totalled just 3,000. J.L.McCracken (in Moody & Vaughan) reckons the Protestant elite, even in the eighteenth century, numbered no more than 5,000.

The East Anglian connection

In these intermarriages, Malcolm noted how disproportionately these families had roots in East Anglia and the East Midlands.

One possible explanation is the origin of Cromwell's New Model Army. Peter Gaunt's book on The English Civil Wars has a series of maps, illustrating how the Parliamentary forces came to control England. The first in the sequence is shown, right.

That represents a time, after Edgehill and the first battle of Newbury, but before Marston Moor, when the Parliamentary forces were under severe Royalist pressure. It must, therefore, also show the areas from which the New Model Army recruited. The New Model Army's officers became Cromwell's captains in his Irish campaign; and were rewarded with Irish lands, especially in Munster. Quod erat demonstrandum.

An area of wilful ignorance?

Malcolm cannot suggest any particular study of this phenomenon, not even conclusive proof of his suggestion.

There may be good historical reasons.
It was not a topic on which to dwell. All those who gained from the Cromwellian landgrab had reasons for nervousness and an urgent need to come to terms with the Restoration. English popular sympathy (and the obverse antipathy to Irish Catholics) worked in their favour: the act of pardon of August 1660 specifically excluded Irish rebels along with the regicides who signed Charles I's death warrant (a topic which will provide Malcolm with another of his not-so-goods in due course).

The Gracious Declaration of November 1660 confirmed the ex-soldiers and adventurers in their Irish estates. Previous Catholic owners who could prove they had not collaborated with the rebels
were not reinstated, but compensated. In effect this mainly applied to the Catholic commercial class of the main towns in Munster, who found their new allocated land was out-of-town. This settlement became the new bench-mark for land title.

The Cromwellian arrivistes reinvented themselves, sidling, ingratiating and integrating themselves into the established class order. And Uncle Bill knew what that was all about:
'Tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.
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