Afterimage of the revolution: Kevin O'Higgins and the Irish revolution (1).
Arguably, O'Higgins was much more important in the development of modern Ireland than Michael Collins, whose early death robbed him of a chance to make much more than an indirect mark on the new Irish state. Despite this, the larger-than-life Collins has received considerably more attention from historians than the less dashing O'Higgins. There has still been only one full-length biography of O'Higgins: Terence de Vere White's Kevin O'Higgins, first published in 1948. (3) After over fifty years this biography remains the most favorable treatment of O'Higgins, depicting him as a committed democrat who was tragically misunderstood by colleagues, enemies, and the Irish public alike. De Vere White also characterized O'Higgins as the strongman of the Cumann na nGaedheal government, the person who unwaveringly and almost singlehandedly crushed the anti-Treaty IRA during the Civil War. F.S.L. Lyons's textbook, Ireland since the Famine, is also fairly complimentary to O'Higgins, recognizing his ability and vision as well as the tremendous void left by his premature death. (4) A recent work by Tom Garvin--much of whose analysis of Civil War republicanism could have been written by O'Higgins himself--also gives credit to "the technical virtuosity displayed by the pro-Treaty leaders in putting together a new, democratic, and generally law-bound state." (5)
However, this has not been the usual view of O'Higgins, whose reputation has suffered generally at the hands of historians. Overall assessments have ranged from outright condemnation to benign neglect, but generally when O'Higgins is discussed his conservative, reactionary, or counter-revolutionary credentials have been placed at the forefront. The roots of this poor reputation can be found in O'Higgins's own time and among his own colleagues. For example, de Vere White's portrayal was critiqued by O'Higgins's former Cumann na nGaedheal contemporaries Richard Mulcahy and Michael Hayes. Upon reading the biography, Mulcahy noted disapprovingly,
O'Higgins is presented as the stern, grim, rigid, unbending constitutionalist annunciating principles, adhering strictly to the law, punishing wrongdoers but always in strict legality, holding the government together against the Irregulars on one hand and the IRB on the other. He is represented as the principal architect of the Irish Free State. (6)
Hayes clarified that O'Higgins did not "crush anarchy at all in Ireland, but he certainly stated the principles under which anarchy should be crushed in a much better way than the Army Council expressed them." (7) Not always popular in his own party, O'Higgins was also frequently the one who had to pilot difficult or unpopular bills through the Dail, generating a fair amount of hostility from the opposition benches in that body. George Gavan Duffy, one of O'Higgins's primary nemeses in the Third Dail, said that he had "an incurably feudal mind." The seventy-seven executions authorized by the Free State government did not help matters, as the republican journal An Phoblacht consequently called O'Higgins "one of the most blood-guilty Irishmen in our generation." (8) This reputation was noted by de Vere White, and most likely came from O'Higgins's particularly chilling references to Erskine Childers in a speech on the execution of the first four republicans in November 1922. (9)
The specter of fascism was raised against O'Higgins as well. A Labour deputy referred to O'Higgins's Treasonable and Seditious Offences Act of 1925 as "a Mussolini measure," and a newspaper profile of O'Higgins noted in 1924, "there is a touch of Mussolini, though without Mussolini's pose." (10) Aware of the growing hostility, O'Higgins gloomily observed shortly before his murder, "I feel a wall of hate closing in around me." (11) Nevertheless, he was capable of joking about his reputation, calling himself at a certain point "one of the dictators who answer daily here to the representatives of the people." This reputation was also somewhat ironic because it was apparently O'Higgins who refused to consider importing elements of fascism into Ireland, laconically dismissing a proposal to create Irish fascisti at an early pro-Treaty party meeting. (12)
Later historians have largely echoed this negative contemporary view. Most have stopped short of calling him a dictator, although, according to Terence de Vere White, Conor Cruise O'Brien referred to O'Higgins as a fascist. Most historical works, however, do tend to emphasize the conservative aspect of his legacy. (13) Even Tom Garvin considers O'Higgins and his first Executive Council colleagues to have been "authoritarian and rather unenthusiastic democrats" who consistently displayed "a rather bossy paternalism." (14) Joseph Lee, not terribly unfavorable to O'Higgins overall, still notes that O'Higgins and his compatriots Patrick Hogan and Ernest Blythe stood for "vigorous social reaction." Terence Brown portrays the Cumann na nGaedheal government as particularly uninspiring, unceasingly boring the country to death with its "stultifying lack of social, cultural, and economic ambition." Roy Foster's Modern Ireland, notoriously unsympathetic toward the revolutionary movement as a whole, sarcastically observes that "exalted leaders first fought out a brutal duel over a form of words and then constructed a new state around preoccupations that resolutely ignored even the vague social and economic desiderata once outlined for Pearse's visionary republic." (15) Maryann Gialanella Valiulis, in her work on Richard Mulcahy, also places O'Higgins squarely in the nonrevolutionary camp. In fact, she tries to position Mulcahy between "true social radicals" like Pearse or Connolly and those conservatives like Cosgrave and O'Higgins who were "more willing to mould the new state in the image of British society--with token gestures thrown to those who clung to the old ideals." (16)
A more recent trend has been to associate O'Higgins with overt opposition to the revolution or with the phenomenon of counter-revolution. For example, Mary Kotsonouris's Retreat from Revolution: The Dail Courts, 1920-24, makes O'Higgins the primary villain in the winding-up of the informal revolutionary system of justice. According to Kotsonouris, O'Higgins refused to even toss faint praise at the previous good work done by Dail courts and instead ran roughshod over this revolutionary institution and contented himself with establishing a British-style system of justice in Ireland.
The most thoroughgoing and direct invocation of the counter-revolution, however, comes in John Regan's recent work, The Irish Counter-Revolution, 1921-36. In this book Regan positions O'Higgins squarely at the heart of the counter-revolution, a phenomenon stretching from the signing of the Treaty to well into the period of Fianna Fail dominance after 1932. Regan believes that these first post-independence decades can best be understood by considering them a counter-revolutionary era. According to this argument, Kevin O'Higgins made Cumann na nGaedheal into a counter-revolutionary party dedicated to abandoning the ideals of the revolution and consolidating a conservative order in Ireland. Over the course of his lengthy work Regan also identifies several crucial moments after which Eamon de Valera's Fianna Fail moved away from the revolution, including de Valera's condemnation of O'Higgins's murder in 1927 and Fianna Fail's use of Cumann na nGaedheal-style tribunals against the IRA in the early 1930s. (17)
Although much of the historiography is unfavorable, recent work has particularly clouded the view of O'Higgins. Depicting him as a reactionary or counter-revolutionary is problematic and does not really lead to a full understanding of his work in the first decade of Irish self-rule. There are two major problems with this notion. First, there are difficulties with the concept of counter-revolution itself in the Irish context. These mostly have to do with the stubborn refusal of Irish politics (especially in the first post-independence decades) to fall into tidy left-right divisions. Despite its impressive research, Regan's work gets into trouble in its opening pages in trying to define the concept of counter-revolution. He insists that "all revolutions, sooner or later, have to be consolidated.... Implicit in the act of consolidating a revolution is countering it, and it is this second process which concerns the book." A dictionary definition is given to flesh out the term counter-revolution: "a revolution opposing a former one or reversing its results." (18) If "implicit in the act of consolidating a revolution is countering it," and if both Cumann na nGaedheal and Fianna Fail--who together encompassed the vast majority of the Irish revolutionary movement--ended up being counter-revolutionary parties, then the concept of counter-revolution appears too broad to be analytically useful in the Irish context. If virtually every revolutionary becomes a counter-revolutionary, then what is the point?
The use of the concept of counter-revolution also requires a more precise definition of which revolution was being countered. As the squabbling over the reorganization of Sinn Fein in 1917 demonstrates--not to mention the deep divisions over the Treaty in 1921-22--the Irish revolution meant different things to different revolutionaries or groups of revolutionaries. To use the analytical concept of "counter-revolution" to maximum effect, one either has to attempt to define the revolution through a set of ideas on which there was a general, if vague, consensus, or one has to clarify precisely which revolution was being countered. It is not until well into his book that Regan characterizes "the ideological politics of the revolutionary period--Gaelic state, national unity, self-determination, and arguably conscription." (19) Without a full discussion of the ideals of the revolution and of what various participants found to be revolutionary about those ideals, the term "counter-revolution" becomes so indistinct as to be meaningless. For example, by Kotsonouris's own admission the procedures and structure of the Dail courts were not revolutionary, nor were their decisions:
Procedure, law, and precedent were those of the courts they replaced: the difference was in external matters--surroundings, dress, the absence of sonorous titles, although that aspect changed somewhat after the Treaty. Apart from the act of defiance constituted by their very existence, there was nothing of a revolutionary court in the way business was conducted or in the run of decisions. (20)
Given the ordinariness of these courts, and the fact that the object of this defiance--the British government--was no longer active in Ireland, then it is not immediately clear what specific revolutionary ground was being abandoned by their winding-up. If the courts were not inherently revolutionary, then how was shutting them down a counter-revolutionary act? Similarly, Regan seems to confuse opposition to self-proclaimed revolutionaries with opposition to the revolution itself, which he never takes great pains to define.
In fact, to gather both Cumann na nGaedheal and Fianna Fail under the banner of counter-revolution seems to unnecessarily conflate the revolution with violent separatist republicanism. To Regan, de Valera's condemnation of O'Higgins's murder was counter-revolutionary because it "conceded the illegitimacy of revolutionary violence." (21) The assumption is that the mere act of opposing self-proclaimed (and violent) revolutionaries is all that it takes to make one a counter-revolutionary. This in turn assumes that the real revolution continued to reside in those who disdained both Cumann na nGaedheal and Fianna Fail. Granted, there were strands of revolutionary thought that never found a comfortable home within either major post-Treaty party. There was the socialism of James Connolly or Liam Mellowes, for example, which argued for a revolutionary assault on capitalist social and economic structures in Ireland. There was also Mary MacSwiney's ever more lonely call for a united and sovereign thirty-two-county republic completely free from any connection with England. The increasing acceptance of constitutional forms--even slightly constitutional ones--as the 1920S progressed indicated that fewer and fewer Irish men and women continued to adhere to either of these models. Defining both Cumann na nGaedheal and Fianna Fail activists as "counter-revolutionaries" compels a definition of the revolution that excludes the vast majority of those who took part in the events of 1916-21 This is where Regan's analysis of O'Higgins's career in the 1920s "through the agency of counter-revolution" breaks down. (22)
Support for conservative policies is not really sufficient in the Irish case to prove that someone was a counter-revolutionary. Here again, the litany of conservative Cumann na nGaedheal measures--the barrenness of its language policy, the creation of an English-style cabinet system of government, the failure to nurture Irish industry or break Irish economic dependence on England, the promulgation of an oppressive censorship, the repression of republican opponents, and the general failure to institute any meaningful social and economic changes in Ireland--are generally trotted out in defense of the proposition that the pro-Treatyites betrayed the revolution. This point of view is most apparent in John Regan's work, but it also appears in Terence Brown's Ireland: A Social and Cultural History, 1922 to the Present. Whether or not it is fair to lay these charges at the doorstep of Cumann na nGaedheal is one question, but the larger concern is that to call these policies "counter-revolutionary" misses the point of the Irish revolution, or, more correctly, the Irish revolutions. The problem with focusing too much on O'Higgins's conservatism is that it ignores the fact that de Valera and Fianna Fail also interpreted the social and economic goals of the revolution in a fairly conservative fashion. The reality is that there were broad areas of agreement between Kevin O'Higgins and Fianna Frill on a wide variety of post-revolutionary issues. Gender relations provide an excellent example of this phenomenon. O'Higgins was most definitely not a believer in gender equality. When asked by Labour leader Thomas Johnson in the Deil whether giving women the vote had been a success, O'Higgins replied, "I would not like to pronounce an opinion on it in public." (23) O'Higgins associated women's political activity with republicanism and remained deeply suspicious of both throughout his time in government. But Fianna Fail's record on gender issues was not much better, despite the initial presence of a number of prominent political Irishwomen in the party's executive. The constitution of 1937 was much more explicit in condemning women to an inferior status than the Cumann na nGaedheal government had ever been. Sean Lemass's Ministry of Industry and Commerce was given the power to eliminate women from entire industries if it so desired. Thus it is difficult to see that O'Higgins's reactionary gender policies, however lamentable, were somehow betrayals of the revolution. The declaration of the republic in 1916 did explicitly promise women's suffrage and also mentioned the granting of "equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens," but that rather vague assurance of women's rights had already been abandoned by most of the male revolutionary movement in the wake of the Treaty. If one takes Cumann na nGaedheal and Fianna Fail as barometers, it is difficult to see where or when the majority of male Irish revolutionaries interpreted the revolution as being about gender equity.
There was a similar consensus on religion and the role of the Catholic church. Despite the excommunication of republicans by some Irish bishops during the Civil War, Fianna Fail was in no hurry to distance the government from the church, as demonstrated by the ostentation surrounding the 1932 Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. Even before the election of 1932, de Valera was quick to establish that any Fianna Fail government would govern according to Catholic social teaching. (24) The Cumann na nGaedheal government also corresponded routinely with the hierarchy, and Cosgrave in particular sought out the bishops' opinions on major pieces of social legislation.
Church-state relations were closely tied with the question of censorship as well. Although it was O'Higgins who formally introduced the Censorship of Films Bill in 1923, he dryly noted that he was "not amongst those who attribute all our present troubles to the cinema." He later admitted in the Dail that the bill was primarily motivated by various religious pressure-groups and was "passed as a social measure in response to a very definite public demand." (25) After O'Higgins's death Fianna Fail TDs fell all over themselves in trying to agree to the principles behind Cumann na nGaedheal's Censorship of Publications Bill. Sean Lemass even told the Dail, sit is our opinion that the government has been too slow and too cautious in introducing a measure of this kind." (26) Both Lemass and P.J. Ruttledge expressed concern that the bill could be used to regulate political speech, but neither found fault with the overall intention to curb the flow of "evil literature" into Ireland.
Fianna Fail also failed to pursue what Roy Foster called "the vague social and economic desiderata once outlined for Pearse's visionary republic." (27) Fianna Fail was willing to spend more money on housing and job creation, and initially repealed Ernest Blythe's deeply resented slashing of pensions for the blind and aged. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see the early Fianna Fail governments as radical reformers, and Irish society did not look much different socially or economically under Fianna Fail than it had under Cumann na nGaedheal. The restrictive hand of the Department of Finance was still strong after 1932, and Sefin MacEntee was somewhat marginalized within the first Fianna Fail cabinets. (28) Even left to his own devices, MacEntee was hardly an unorthodox financial or economic thinker.
Fianna Fail also could not reverse the decline of the Irish language, a goal that united nationalists as diverse as Patrick Pearse, Michael Collins, Richard Mulcahy, Eamon de Valera, and Eoin MacNeill. All of these men believed strongly that Ireland had to be, in Pearse's words, not merely free but Gaelic, and not merely Gaelic but free. Admittedly, Cumann na nGaedheal did not create a particularly Gaelic state, but there is no evidence that O'Higgins actively opposed any elements of revolutionary language policy. His famous quip about Patrick McGilligan--that he was a successful minister for industry and commerce despite his lack of a refined "Gaelic soul"--is often produced as evidence of O'Higgins's lack of concern for a Gaelic Ireland. O'Higgins made little effort to learn and use Irish himself, but some of his policies did reflect at least some concern for the language. His draft regulations for the Garda indicated that candidates would either have taken Irish in university or have passed an exam in Irish upon entering the organization. Looking back, Michael Hayes admitted that O'Higgins did not really understand the national movement, but he Mid his best to conform to it. He made speeches about the Irish language, for example, which his biographer [de Vere White] thinks were not sincere really, but I don't agree with that. He spoke to me about appointments of district justices, and he was very anxious to appoint people who would know Irish." (29) So perhaps O'Higgins's reputation of being somehow anti-Irish is undeserved. What O'Higgins did oppose was a Gaelic identity for Ireland that required hostility toward England. O'Higgins wanted to break this connection and instead create an Ireland that could, out of necessity if nothing else, work with its former colonial master. Continued obsession with England as the scapegoat for Ireland's problems hindered Ireland's assumption of the responsibilities of self-government. But, saving his desire to separate Irishness from hostility to England, there is not much evidence that O'Higgins was in any way averse to the language movement.
As John Regan observes in his conclusion, there was a broad consensus among revolutionaries and former revolutionaries behind many of these so-called counter-revolutionary policies. Once again, historians can conclude, like Regan, that this means that virtually everyone was a counter-revolutionary. Indeed, he denies that there could have ever been a social revolution in Ireland: "Any chance of real social revolution had been substantially undermined by land reform and the creation of an increasingly conservative peasant proprietorship in Ireland sponsored by the various British governments in the four decades before independence." (30) Alternately, this consensus could be taken as an indication that there were in fact large numbers of "conservative" revolutionaries who, by the time of the Treaty, interpreted the revolution as being about self-government and self-determination in the broadest sense, rather than being about specific economic or social changes. If every Irish revolutionary who failed to fulfill the Democratic Programme of 1919--which O'Higgins famously derided as "mostly poetry'--is considered a counter-revolutionary, then Ireland could never really have had much of a revolution at all. The revolution, to most people, was not about overturning the gender order, or achieving socialism, or distancing Ireland from its conservative Catholic heritage. To call O'Higgins a counter-revolutionary, therefore, misleads more than it illuminates. O'Higgins did want to create a conservative post-independence Irish state--there is no question about that. Yet there were many of his diehard political opponents who supported his conservative social and economic ideals. The differences between Fianna Fail and Kevin O'Higgins have to be found in other areas.
The one revolution that O'Higgins unquestionably stood against was James Connolly's revolution-the creation of a thirty-two-county socialist republic. In an oft-quoted memo from the summer of 1922, O'Higgins queried his Provisional Government colleagues: "What lies ahead? Civil war? A social revolution? Reoccupation by the British with the goodwill of the world, and a 'moral mandate' such as they never had before with regard to Ireland? These possibilities, none of which are attractive, are not mutually exclusive." O'Higgins feared that sustained republican guerrilla warfare against the Free State could lead to the undesired social revolution and a complete breakdown of order. (31) But once again, does opposing a socialist revolution in Ireland make one a counter-revolutionary? How many Irish revolutionaries ended up supporting this sort of vision? Before the 1927 election Labour party leader Thomas Johnson declared, "We have had one revolution and one revolution in a generation is enough." (32) Does this make Johnson a counter-revolutionary? The relative weakness of the Labour party in the 1920s, the willingness of Fianna Fail in power to crack down on the left-leaning IRA, and the wide (though shallow) support for the anticommunist Blueshirts in 1931-33 indicate that Connolly's revolution was not one that had put down terribly deep roots in Irish society.
All this is not to say that there were no significant differences between Kevin O'Higgins and Eamon de Valera. The main difference was over political symbolism, not over a "conservative" interpretation of the revolution. The most obvious example is the Treaty: O'Higgins focused on the actual results that it would obtain for Ireland, while de Valera worried about the symbolic chains that still bound Ireland to Great Britain. But a more subtle difference was noticeable in the rhetoric of each politician. De Valera, despite his social and economic conservatism, positioned himself as a revolutionary. He was able to convincingly speak the language of revolution and continued to do so down through the dark days of civil war and into the early 1930s. He could easily outflank O'Higgins as a symbol of the revolution.
Because of his history and the position that he occupied in the Free State, O'Higgins and many of his Cumann na nGaedheal colleagues were barred from looking to certain revolutionary ideas for legitimacy. For example, he could not really talk about the military legacy of the revolution. Despite his nominal posting to the army in the Civil War summer of 1922, he was never really a soldier--in the Dail, he sarcastically described his military career as "very short, though very brilliant." Less sarcastically, General Mulcahy later recalled, "O'Higgins' personal presence in the Adjutant-General's office at that time (July-August 1922) was the personal presence of a person who didn't understand what was going on." (33) Besides lacking a military career of his own, O'Higgins, as Mulcahy and Michael Hayes conceded, could not even speak to the army in language to which it could respond. Hayes observed: "He [O'Higgins] was a very fine speaker, but ... he had no appeal to the rank and file or to the officers of the old Volunteers or of the comparably new army ... and certainly was not the greatest personal force against the Irregulars." (34) So O'Higgins did not really have the option to invoke the Irish military tradition to bolster his own authority and his government's legitimacy. The bulk of the active army went anti-Treaty in 1922, and whatever vestiges of the IRA tradition supported Cumann na nGaedheal were cast loose in the aftermath of the 1924 Army Mutiny. But even well before this time, it was clear that Kevin O'Higgins could not access the language of the IRA.
In addition, O'Higgins could not really embrace the republican heritage of the revolution. There was, of course, the obvious fact that he was supporting a Treaty that fell short of granting Ireland full independence. As a result, the republicans claimed to be the inheritors of the Irish revolutionary tradition and took issue with the attempts of Free State adherents to portray themselves as the heirs of the revolution. This phenomenon was most dramatically demonstrated by the "republican women," who consistently argued that the Treaty and the Free State were gross betrayals of the republic and claimed, in the name of their dead men, the unique right to interpret republican ideals. At one point Annie MacSwiney--a sister of the martyred Terence MacSwiney--physically barred Free State soldiers from laying a wreath on Terence's grave. Such Treatyite attempts to invoke republicanism or republican martyrs only brought political grief at the hands of the republican women. (35)
Even some of his colleagues thought that O'Higgins had never really understood the Irish revolution and certainly had never been a republican. In the 1960s General Mulcahy asked Michael Hayes if O'Higgins "had no conception of the roots of the modern national political movement that we all belonged to." Hayes responded, "No, none at all. But he did his best to conform to it." Earlier, Mulcahy had remarked that O'Higgins was "the kind of character that was limited in his understanding [of the national movement]." O'Higgins's election manifesto in 1918 contained no mention of the word "republic," but it did talk of "unfettered freedoms and "absolute independence for Ireland." (36) On the other hand, by 1922. O'Higgins dearly believed that self-determination was separate and distinct from republicanism. This is not necessarily to say that he was never a republican; rather, he thought that an unfettered republic was unattainable in 1922. In fact, O'Higgins repeatedly cited practical realities as dictating his acceptance of the Treaty and never claimed that the Treaty was a flawless document or represented the sum total of Irish nationalist ambition. In an often overlooked passage O'Higgins told those attending a private session of the Treaty debates that political realism forced him to vote for the Treaty:
Last October the minister of local government [Cosgrave] and myself came deliberately to the decision that we would not recommend any settlement involving allegiance to the king of England. That is true, but I am not ashamed to plead guilty to the fact that I consider political realities and the consequence of my vote.... I would have gone back to war rather than recommend a settlement involving allegiance if the Treaty had not been signed. But I face the political situation and realise that some of the biggest personalities in our movement ... have considered this is the last ounce [that] could be got from England, and who, knowing the situation better than I do, attached their names to that document. (37)
In the same speech O'Higgins also cited British coercion, specifically the threat of "terrible and immediate war," as a factor in his decision to support the Treaty. Thus O'Higgins, according to his own account at least, had positioned himself as a separatist by 1920, and only the signatures of Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins on the Treaty convinced him to change his mind. He told a public session of the Dill that this transformation had been painful:
We did not drive the British out of the country; we were not able, and there was no great prospect that we ever would be able.... And so we took less than 100 percent of our war programme, and we abandoned something of those inscriptions which were written on our battle standards, and we abandoned them for the sake of the Irish nation, the living Irish nation and the Irish nation of the future. No man abandoned them lightly, and no man abandoned them without pain. (38)
The achievement of genuine Irish self-rule was crucial to O'Higgins and was even more important than the issue of whether that self-rule took a fully republican form. As he wrote in The New De Valera: A Contrast and Some Disclosures, "In the existing conditions the republic, the ideal on which most of the members [of the Dail] had concentrated for a full five years, and many for a longer period, might have to be abandoned or postponed in the interests of the bigger thing-the Irish nation." (39) What Michael Collins called "the duress of the facts," as well as an assessment that the interests of the Irish nation were more bound up in self-determination than in any particular form of government, dictated O'Higgins's initial support for the Treaty.
These bars and hindrances shaped the way that Kevin O'Higgins talked about the revolution and how he presented it. Generally speaking, he feared the concept of revolution once in power and shied away from continuing to deploy it in his political rhetoric. He admitted its earlier utility in bringing about Irish self-government, but he did not want to create a society that would be in a state of perpetual revolution. After 1922 the word "revolution" for him connoted disorder, chaos, and sickness because it was being directed against a native Irish government. The revolution became a "weird composite of idealism, neurosis, and megalomania" and verged on "national hysteria." (40) It was useful when directed against England, but once the fundamental--and, to O'Higgins, revolutionary--principle of self-determination had been conceded, any further change would be "won by agreement and by peaceful political evolution." (41) O'Higgins's electoral address to the voters of Leix and Offaly in 1922 made the same point: "I have not abandoned any political aspirations to which I have given expression in the past, but in the existing circumstances I advise the people to trust to evolution rather than revolution for their attainment." (42) It was not that the revolution was bad, but that the existing circumstances had changed in Ireland. The revolution had entailed necessary chaos, but the time for that chaos was over now that Ireland had entered a period of self-rule and state-building.
This rhetorical she had tactical motivations as well. Regan sees O'Higgins's conservatism as partly an electoral ploy designed to appeal to those who shared O'Higgins's upper-class status. This class analysis is at the heart of Regan's portrayal of O'Higgins--to Regan, O'Higgins was basically an upper-class member of the Irish parliamentary party covered in a very thin layer of green paint. Certainly, O'Higgins could not divorce himself from his class origins, but there were obvious political reasons that militated against his deploying revolutionary language successfully even if he had wanted to do so. To try to be more revolutionary than Sinn Fein or Fianna Frill would have been, in his mind, a losing game. Because of his nonmilitary past as well as his abandonment of the republic, his ability to invoke certain aspects of the revolutionary language of 1916-21 was limited. Instead, he chose to concentrate on the future, arguing that the revolution had achieved as much as could possibly have been expected, and it had achieved the big prize, which was self-determination. (43) That was a tool which could and would be wielded to achieve further, as yet unrealized, revolutionary goals.
This concept of self-determination leads directly to the second major reason why the category "counter-revolutionary" is not illuminating in the case of Kevin O'Higgins. His political philosophy, however conservative, was not simply about freezing the status quo and restoring Ireland to some happy state of bliss dominated by an entity like the Irish parliamentary party. For O'Higgins self-determination was the central idea to come out of the revolution, and its importance would stretch far into the future of the new nation. Violent republicanism, Gaelicism, and socialism were certainly strands of the revolution, but self-determination was an important focus as well. There were broad areas of agreement between many Irish revolutionaries, but the definition of self-determination was one key difference separating O'Higgins from his political opponents. It is therefore far more useful to analyze O'Higgins's career through the lens of revolution, and the concept of self-determination is one way to link him with his revolutionary past.
Like certain other Irish revolutionary doctrines, self-determination (and its relationship to democracy) was not terribly well defined or unanimously agreed upon within Ireland. O'Higgins was not alone in believing that electoral democracy would be a central feature of any new Irish state. The Sinn Fein Standing Committee minutes of January 1919 referred to elections as the "most essential engine of our machinery." De Valera, in his complex negotiations with Lloyd George during the truce, called consent of the governed a "broad guiding principle." (44) It was O'Higgins, however, who made self-determination and consent of the governed the central planks of his post-revolutionary political philosophy, in place of the doctrinaire republicanism advocated by some of his political opponents.
Even before the bullets of the Civil War began to fly in the summer of 1922, his rhetoric starkly emphasized this issue:
In the course of the debate yesterday, or the day before, we were asked, 'Is this Treaty of yours worth civil war? Perhaps it is.... But if civil war occurs in Ireland, it will not be for the Treaty. It will not be for a Free State versus anything else. It will be for a vital, fundamental democratic principle-for the right of the people of Ireland to decide any issue, great or small, that arises in the politics of this country. Never before in Ireland by Irishmen has that right been challenged. (45)
This comment occurred in May 1922, before O'Higgins and the pro-Treatyites had a formally expressed mandate from the people through an election. His reiteration of this issue only became more frequent after the "pact election" in June. O'Higgins's opening speech to the Third Dail in September, as the Civil War was in full swing, reads like a manifesto for his definition of democracy and its importance. He argued that the central issue for the Third Dail was "whether this parliament is to be the ruling voice of the nation outside, deciding all issues of policy, great or small. Until you have the principle of representative government established and acknowledged, you cannot get on with your parliament. The principle of representative government is gravely challenged in this country.... To say that people have no right to do wrong [as de Valera had insisted] is merely a clever epigram." At the close of this speech O'Higgins outlined his goals and indicated what, presumably, the revolution meant to him:
We want to function as the first native administration in a century and a half. We want to function as a government responsible to the people. We want this parliament to be a real parliament. We want things discussed and decided here to be carried out, and we do not want things decided otherwise than democratically. I hope that I am a democrat and have a due appreciation of the relations that should exist between one holding the position I occupy in the country [that of a minister] and the people of the country.... I think we all understand the relations that should exist, what we are fighting for and will continue to fight for, to settle Ireland and put in the hands of the people of Ireland the administration of their own affairs and the making of their own laws ... regulating their own development and the sovereignty of the people's will. (46)
O'Higgins returned to this theme consistently in times of stress: during his defense of the various Civil War executions, his speech on the Land Act of 1923, and his condemnation of the Army Mutiny of 1924, during which he remarked, "It would be strange if we were slow or negligent in vindicating the supremacy of the people and the authority of parliament. If there was any issue for the last two years between us and those with whom we were in conflict, it was that issue." (47) His pamphlet "Civil War and the Events Which Led to It" opens with an assertion that "even graver issues than that of the Treaty were involved. Democracy was involved. The people's right to decide through their representatives any issue arising in their national policy was definitely challenged.,4s This idea--self-determination through an elected Irish parliament--recurs constantly in O'Higgins's rhetoric; to him it was the most powerful and important idea stemming from the revolution.
The centrality of self-determination for O'Higgins derived from several sources. First, as he himself noted in his 1922 obituary for Collins, majority rule was "the basic principle of representative government." He echoed this view in the following month, during the opening days of the Third Dail: "Mankind down through the ages has found no surer rudder or base of guidance in difficult phases than the free will of the community democratically expressed." Later, O'Higgins termed himself "somewhat of a crank on the question of majority rule as a principle of order." (49) This was at a time when the effectiveness and vibrancy of majority rule were being questioned, both throughout Europe and within Ireland. Ironically, both de Valera and Mary MacSwiney--representing vastly different wings of the republican movement--would have agreed with O'Higgins that majority rule was a fundamental principle of order. De Valera's "peace offer" of May 1923 used very similar language, while Mary MacSwiney often referred to majority rule as such a principle. (50) The difference was in the interpretation. De Valera believed, or affected to believe, that the will of the majority could never truly be expressed or gauged while the threat of war with England hung over the nation. By the end of O'Higgins's short life this argument had lost whatever validity it had once possessed, as the prospect of renewed war with England receded further into the distance. In addition, de Valera's infamous dictum that the people have no right to do wrong--the "clever epigram," according to O'Higgins--indicated that there were boundaries beyond which majority rule could not travel. (51) Mary MacSwiney agreed, believing that majority rule, while not totally unimportant, was limited by the fact that it was simply a principle of order, an agreed-upon method by which nations settled their internal differences. As such an expedient, it paled in comparison to more fundamental and absolute principles, such as the existence of the Irish republic and the Irish people's inalienable right to unfettered sovereignty. While de Valera conceded the importance of majority rule in certain circumstances, and while Mary MacSwiney subordinated it to other, more essential principles, O'Higgins made it the anchor of his political philosophy and his justification for the Free State. Self-determination through majority rule consequently became pivotal to O'Higgins's understanding of democracy, which, for him, was majoritarian democracy rather than the more shadowy and difficult effort to discern the "will of the people," about which his republican opponents liked to talk. According to O'Higgins, the people unquestionably had the right to do wrong. In a June 1923 speech at Bray, O'Higgins made this clear, claiming that "there were particular principles on which civilisation rested, and which were necessary for order in every country. One of these principles was that the people, fit or unfit, wise or unwise, must rule." (52) For de Valera and Mary MacSwiney majority rule was an ideal, useful under normal circumstances. For O'Higgins it was a necessary precondition for self-government and the creation of normal circumstances.
Therefore, self-determination was also crucial to O'Higgins because it was the springboard from which all other changes would flow. In order to create any kind of stable post-revolutionary society, the legitimacy and authority of the new Irish government had to be placed on solid footing and accepted by the Irish people. This notion demonstrates the interconnectedness of O'Higgins's political thought. Lacking access to the military or republican traditions which had stirred much of recent Irish nationalism, O'Higgins gambled that he could use self-determination and an emphasis on law and order as ways to legitimize the new government of which he was a part. That legitimacy was necessary, in turn, to animate the principle of self-determination and to give the Dail and the Cumann na nGaedheal Executive Council real power to build the new Irish state. Without acceptance of the government's legitimacy there would be no possibility of moving forward on any other issues, as an impotent and disrespected parliament could not legislate effectively. In O'Higgins's own words, "You cannot build where foundations are challenged." (53) In a somewhat congratulatory speech to the nation in December 1924, in commemoration of Irish independence, O'Higgins again claimed that peace and order were necessary preconditions for growth: "The removal of the reign of terror and the restoration of order and peace now give an opportunity to the people and their government to devote their energies to social and economic reconstruction." (54) His friend and fellow-traveler Patrick Hogan concurred, telling the Dail that the Free State would have failed its "great test" if it compromised its democratic principles in order to pursue material gain. (55) This was the mantra of the Free State government-the restoration of order and the acceptance of the legitimacy of the Dail had to come before specific social and economic policies could be seriously debated.
O'Higgins saw himself as a builder, and the society he wanted to create was a post-revolutionary one, embracing some of the ideals of the revolution but discarding others--some out of necessity, some through lack of conviction or consensus. Regan argues in The Irish Counter-Revolution that O'Higgins's "vision of the future became increasingly modelled on the past." (56) According to Regan, O'Higgins's "past" was not the Gaelic past that inspired so many of his colleagues, but rather the past of the Irish parliamentary party before 1918, when politics was the exclusive domain of the upper class and little change was envisioned in the Irish polity beyond the creation of a Home Rule parliament in Dublin. This class analysis, however, represents a fundamental misreading of O'Higgins's goals. He wanted to capitalize on the changes wrought by the revolution and have Irish citizens take control of their own destinies, thus changing the favored style of politics from that of protest and gesture--as practiced by generations of Irish revolutionaries--to that of participation and civic virtue. The reason why this could be done, according to O'Higgins, was because Ireland now had a government responsible to its people, free from any meaningful political control from London. This was the sea-change ushered in by the revolution. In short, O'Higgins wanted the Irish to make the transition from a colonial to a postcolonial mindset, from subjects to citizens, and he wanted to put self-determination at the epicenter of his revision of Irish nationalism. This was the core of Kevin O'Higgins's revolution and of what he felt the revolutionary period had achieved.
At an early meeting of the pro-Treaty wing of Sinn Fein, President Cosgrave claimed that the government "was looking for nation-builders who would rear the new Ireland in the light of the old ideals." (57) This task would require, in O'Higgins's view, a new sort of person. He made this point in announcing the personnel changes occasioned by the Army Mutiny of 1924:
The action that has been taken [asking for the resignations of the Army Council] has not been taken without adverting to the fact that the officers whose resignations from certain administrative positions have been asked for have done ... great service for the people of this country in the past. There is recognition of that; there will always be gratitude for that, but in national affairs one has to accept that it is not by the water that has passed that the mill is turned, and in this whole matter ... the country must realise that it is impossible to carry on administration on the basis of swopping records: that there can be advertence to past service in public matters only to the extent to which that past service may be considered to give promise of useful public service in the future. (58)
This was the context in which O'Higgins famously (and angrily) said that the new minister for industry and commerce, Patrick McGilligan, "who wasn't 'out in 16,' has no particular 'record' and no particular 'Gaelic soul,' has done more in two weeks than his predecessor in two years.... I have come to the conclusion that men like Hogan, McGilligan ... could do more for the country in a year (even for the realisation of all its ideals) than all the Clans and Brotherhoods could effect in a generation." It was not that certain men had not given good service to the nation; it was just that the time had come--the transition from revolution to state-building--where different types of skills were needed. Speaking to the Dail on the Army Mutiny, O'Higgins's Executive Council colleague Eoin MacNeill profusely thanked former Minister for Defence and IRA Chief of Staff Richard Mulcahy for his service to the nation--"I doubt if but for General Mulcahy it would have been possible for us now to be discussing the conduct of General Mulcahy'--but he echoed O'Higgins's overall sentiment that past service should not be a determining factor for present positions. (59) This was precisely O'Higgins's point--that perhaps it took a different sort of person to build a state after a successful revolution. The revolution at various times needed both soldiers and administrators, dreamers and practical politicians. Rare figures--Michael Collins is the best example--combined these qualities and could speak to multiple constituencies. O'Higgins did not have much credibility as a soldier, but he did have credibility as a civilian politician, and it was in this capacity that he chose to make his revolution.
In "Three Years' Hard Labour," an address given at Oxford in 1924, O'Higgins quoted approvingly from Hilaire Belloc's work on the French Revolution. Belloc wrote that the French Revolution was "essentially a reversion to the normal, a sudden and violent return to those conditions which are the necessary bases of health in any political community." (60) To O'Higgins this was the task in front of the post-revolutionary Free State government--its members had to create the "normal," to facilitate stability, order, and a respect for the new state and its institutions. In the same Oxford address O'Higgins declared, "Two conditions, I submit, attach to a people's right to the fullest self-government--a desire on their part to undertake their government and the fitness for that responsibility." (61) The revolution, as O'Higgins saw it, had achieved the first condition--the Irish people in supporting Sinn Fein, however vaguely, had demonstrated their desire for self-rule. Now political leaders in the post-revolutionary period had to tackle the second condition. This was O'Higgins's lifelong project--not a "counter-revolutionary" return to some real or imagined past, but rather a radical change in Irish political culture. He wanted to create civic virtue (by which he meant a popular sense of responsibility for the affairs of state) and a true civic space.
Several major obstacles stood in the way of this initiative. First and foremost, Ireland had just emerged from a revolution that had obviously created widespread disorder in the country. Before 1921, O'Higgins considered revolutionary violence to be necessary. Despite the meagerness of his military career and his own later hostility to militarism, there is no evidence that O'Higgins ever opposed IRA actions during the war of independence. (62) But O'Higgins also believed that once Ireland had received the basic tools of self-government through the Treaty, the time for revolutionary violence was over and any subsequent opposition (either to Britain or to the new Free State) had to be voiced through political channels. As O'Higgins told the Dail in 1923, "I take it [that] the time for stopping pushing at the props of government is when the government is essentially something which you yourself have set up and without violence can take down." (63) O'Higgins's thorny task was to find some way of distinguishing between 1916 and 1922, of denying legitimacy to republican acts of defiance against the Free State. The difficulties inherent in this issue were shown in a 1925 exchange between Thomas Johnson, the Labour party leader, and a number of Cumann na nGaedheal frontbenchers. Desmond FitzGerald, who was in the GPO during the Easter Rising, had to somewhat awkwardly defend his 1916 colleagues, arguing that the Rising was legitimate because the rebels believed that they were correctly interpreting the wishes of the Irish people. The 1918 elections, according to FitzGerald, had retroactively validated this claim. Mulcahy noted that another difference was that the 1916 rebels did not make war on the Irish people. (64) Still, the question remained--What took away the right to rebel in 1922? Political theory? Pragmatism? For O'Higgins the answer was self-determination and Irish sovereignty. Tactics that were legitimate in his eyes before 1922--hunger strikes, sabotage, armed rebellion--were not legitimate in 1922 because there was an Irish Dail capable of adjudicating these issues. Speaking on republican hunger strikes in the spring of 1923, O'Higgins told the Dail:
Let us face it that there has been a very big change in the conditions in the country from the time when the hunger-strike was started, and when people looked on it with a certain amount of moral support and a certain amount of admiration. There is now in this country a parliament and an executive responsible to that parliament, which can remove the executive.... That was not possible before. There was not before a responsible government in this country, and if one were to seek a justification for hunger-striking in the past, it might lie just in that fact. (65)
This, somewhat ironically, would be exactly the same argument that de Valera would make in using military tribunals against the IRA during "the Emergency" of the Second World War.
And so, once the Treaty went through, O'Higgins began to castigate the inevitable chaos and violence that the Irish revolution brought in its wake. He pleaded with his listeners at Oxford to "remember what a weird composite of idealism, neurosis, megalomania, and criminality is apt to be thrown to the surface in even the best regulated revolution." Introducing a Public Safety Act in 1923, O'Higgins referred to Ireland as a country "which is barely finding its feet, barely passing out from a stage of national hysteria to conditions of peace and order." This national hysteria, this lingering afterimage of the revolution, had led to anarchy and an unhealthy body politic. As O'Higgins sagely remarked, "Doctors are wrangling over a patient whose chief need is rest and time to recuperate after an operation for the removal of the deep-seated cancer of a foreign tyranny." (66) The aftermath of this revolution proved more difficult than anyone had expected. An internal memo by O'Higgins, circulated to the Executive Council, noted, "The internal morale of the country and its prestige abroad are at a very low ebb indeed, despite the fact that after a struggle gallantly maintained for five years, we have won a very considerable victory against enormous odds." (67) Restoring order in the country--the reversion to the normal--after the successful revolution would be necessary in order to make the most of the hard-won self-determination.
In addition, O'Higgins believed that the Irish had a deeply-rooted disdain for law and order, which he identified as one of the major legacies of British imperial rule. Generations of British colonialism had led to a widespread belief that government was something to be resisted, not something in which to participate. Part of "restoring the normal" was to create a more healthy relationship between the Irish people and their government. In defending the new constitution before the Dail, O'Higgins observed:
Back through the ages we have had a traditional outlook on law and government which no reasonable man expects to change in five, or seven, or even ten years. That attitude of protest, that attitude of negation, that attitude sometimes of sheer wantonness and waywardness and destructiveness, which is very evident at the moment, has been to a large extent a traditional attitude on the part of the Irish people. (68)
He told his Oxford audience that the Irish were "a people with whom, by dint of historical circumstances, a negative attitude had tended to become traditional." (69) These historical circumstances were undoubtedly the legacy of hundreds of years of colonialism, and this attitude would have to be moderated if the Free State government were going to capitalize on the gains of the revolution to create a stable post-revolutionary society.
Finally, the Irish also had to be weaned, according to O'Higgins, from the colonized mindset that blamed everything on Britain. O'Higgins in frustration told the Dail that the Irish had
no real conception of freedom, no real conception of independence. If we had, we would be dignified enough to appreciate what democracy means, and to resent more savagely and fiercely than we do the claim of any wretched minority to dictate to their fellow citizens at the point of a gun. It is the slave drop in us, the slave mind lingering in our midst, which makes us bear that thing with the equanimity and complacency with which we have borne it. (70)
In stump speeches at Bray and Dun Laoghaire in 1923, O'Higgins also blamed the Civil War on a slave mind and lack of Irish self-respect: "It was not patriotism to hack at the face of the motherland.... The slave mind operating said, 'These are our own people; they are contemptible; they are weak. Let us have a whack at them.'" At Dun Laoghaire, O'Higgins noted that the British simply could not be blamed for all of Ireland's ills: "Ireland has problems of the first order: political, financial, and economic.... There is not one of these problems that has not been multiplied tenfold by our own folly." (71)
O'Higgins's colleague Ernest Blythe was even more blunt: "The first step towards progress is a clear recognition that, instead of being a race of super-idealists whose misfortunes are due entirely to the crimes and blunders of outside enemies, we are an untrained and undisciplined people with practically everything to learn of the difficult business of organising national life on a stable basis." Cosgrave used similar language in the Dail, criticizing those who blamed Britain for "all the faults and infirmities for which we ourselves were in some degree responsible." (72) All of this pointed toward the general Free State strategy of emphasizing the Irish people's responsibility for their own affairs. The ways in which this strategy was expressed often came across as paternalistic, pessimistic, and somewhat contemptuous, as Tom Garvin observed in 1922: The Birth of Irish Democracy: "Irish democracy was heavily shaped by the idea of embattled heroes in power struggling against a perceived collective moral mediocrity ultimately originating in a popular slave culture." (73) Once again, however, it is interesting to note that the Free State government was drawing on the same language as its most bitter political opponents. The diehard republican Mary MacSwiney, for example, also liked to refer to a lingering "slave Mind" in Ireland; in her case the concept explained why the "slavish" Free State government accepted England's dictates and why so many Irish people supported the Free State. (74) For O'Higgins, by contrast, the concept explained why the Irish allowed themselves to be terrorized by republicans, or, in O'Higgins's phrase, "idealists with guns." As part of the emphasis on responsibility, O'Higgins and his Executive Council colleagues wanted to break this Irish tendency to blame everything on England. They wanted Ireland to change from a colony to a nation. This was the core of self-determination for O'Higgins--Ireland had to take control of and responsibility for its own destiny.
The existence of these three conditions--the chaos and excitement unleashed by any revolution, the long-standing suspicion of government among the colonized Irish, and the enduring tendency to blame everything on Britain--led O'Higgins and his Cumann na nGaedheal ministerial colleagues to attempt a massive paradigm shift in Irish political culture. The change involved creating a new sense of civic virtue among the Irish, an acceptance of their ability to participate in the rights and duties of citizens. This change was crucial not because it reversed the revolution in favor of some status quo ante, but because it was necessary to consolidate the gains of the revolution. As O'Higgins outlined in a 1923 Executive Council memo, this post-revolutionary change was largely mental and not material: "We must appreciate the fact that the problem is psychological rather than physical; we have to vindicate the idea of law and ordered government, as against anarchy." This diagnosis found support from Eoin MacNeill, who called the memo "a very good summary of the situation." (75) O'Higgins had already sketched this dimension of reality to his Provisional Government colleagues earlier in 1922: "Our problem was not at any time parliamentary, not a matter of counting heads either inside or outside the 'Sovereign Assembly.' It consisted and still consists in the fact that a section of reckless, desperate men, prompted by a variety of motives, ranging from the highest to the lowest, are prepared to resist the writ [of the Provisional Government]." (76) To combat this scourge the goal was to create a political culture of civic responsibility emphasizing both the duties of the state to the individual and the consequent duties of the individual to the state. (77)
In later life Michael Hayes somewhat disparagingly told Richard Mulcahy that O'Higgins "didn't understand to some extent what it [the revolution] had all been about. He reduced it to the notion of the Irish people getting a parliament." (78) Hayes was right to identify parliament as central to O'Higgins's conception of the revolution, but talk of reductionism or "counter-revolution" conceals the tremendous change that O'Higgins believed the revolution and its Dail could accomplish. Just as O'Higgins was convinced that the problems Ireland faced were largely psychological, so too he believed that the remedy was internal as well. His idea of the Irish revolution can be analyzed in terms of bills passed and policies advocated, but it is perhaps best seen in political language. O'Higgins held that the revolution was largely about changing states of mind and ways of looking at the world. He wanted to change the political culture thoroughly so as to give Ireland real self-determination. The creation of this new sense of civic virtue did not undermine or counter the revolution, but instead it legitimized and actualized what O'Higgins saw as the gains of the revolution. The long colonial legacy had created a deficiency in the relationship between the Irish people and their (British) government, and the necessary chaos unleashed by the revolution had not helped the situation. To restore law and order and to create a civic space was not an overturning of the revolution, but rather a correction of what O'Higgins saw as a long-term problem in Irish political culture, one that the revolution had inevitably made more acute.
O'Higgins's rhetoric was rife with references to this concern. He repeatedly quoted de Valera's comment during the Treaty debates that there was a constitutional way of resolving the differences within Sinn Fein, and at one point he provoked a heated exchange with de Valera himself about the infamous "wading through blood" speeches of 1922. He spoke of trying to create a "social order" in Ireland, which he defined as a state where "men with a message, whether it be a political message or an economic message, would set out as reasonable beings to convince their fellow men, also as reasonable beings, of the soundness of their particular creed, ... realising that if they do not convince the minds of men, then they are faced with the alternative of coercing their bodies, which is a bad alternative." (79) In 1925, O'Higgins was still outlining this program:
We have been striving all the time to establish a position in this country where the people will be really free, in the best and fullest sense of the word, that they will know that their fate is in their own hands, that the responsibility is on themselves, that they must decide, in their own best judgment and wisdom, what policy they wish pursued in the country, and having given expression to such a wish ..., they must be equally prepared to bear all the reactions and consequences of whatever their decision maybe. That is the position we have been struggling towards for the past two or three years.
O'Higgins was hopeful that this process would take root. As early as 1922, he observed, "We will, I am sure, develop that civic sense, that sense of responsibility, that it is not a fine thing now, as it may have been a fine thing in the past, to break the law, because the law is the people's law." (80)
In a 1923 speech to the Catholic Truth Society, O'Higgins clearly recognized the difficulties inherent in this project. First of all, the Cumann na nGaedheal government was attempting to nurture civic virtue in an international climate that was far from favorable to democracy. As O'Higgins himself noted, the decade of the 1920s was a time when democracy was reeling and "fascism and Bolshevism fought over its prostrate body." Moreover, this long-term problem necessarily required a long-term solution--the change in political culture could not be achieved overnight. Notions of revolt and resistance were deeply embedded in the Irish tradition, whereas those of responsibility and cooperation with government were much less so. O'Higgins did not expect a rapid transition. He freely acknowledged that "it took a nation, just liberated, some time to realise the responsibilities and duties connoted by its new status, and within the nation it took the normal individual a very long time to perceive that national freedom did not mean endless holidays for himself." (81)
This, then, was Kevin O'Higgins's vision of the revolution: the creation of an Ireland that could appreciate and exercise its own self-determination. The mere fact that O'Higgins suppressed self-proclaimed revolutionaries does not make him a counter-revolutionary--by that criterion nearly every major Irish political figure who survived the revolution would have to be considered a counter-revolutionary. Instead, O'Higgins drew on the Irish revolution, believing that its primary gain had been self-government and the creation of a sovereign Dail. According to O'Higgins, "that is the change that has come, and it is a change which people are slow to realise, just as a man coming out from a dark tunnel is blinded by excessive light, but it is a change that makes all the difference." It was the magnitude of this shift that had to be communicated to the Irish people. In his memo on the army situation in September 1923 he remarked: "Propaganda should be improved immediately and should not be predominantly a war propaganda. It should be a propaganda in civics, not a hymn of hate, but an appeal to reason and decent instincts." (82) Kevin O'Higgins's program, which sprung from the revolution, was just that--a propaganda campaign in civics.
O'Higgins considered himself a disciple of Collins, and most sources indicate that he considered Collins an admirable leader and a model politician. Nevertheless, with his obsessive focus on self-determination and the creation of a functioning Irish parliament, as well as his later toying with the idea of "dual monarchy" to eliminate partition, O'Higgins revealed himself to be as much a Griffithite as anything else. True, O'Higgins's government moved away from protectionism, and in defending this move, O'Higgins insisted, "The writings of any man [Griffith] cannot be accepted simply as revealed truth requiring no further investigation, something that must be accepted forever beyond question, beyond doubt, beyond the needs of examination." (83) But too much should not be made of his parting company with Griffith in economic matters. It is hard to hold O'Higgins responsible for particular economic policies of his government, as he had little apparent interest in economics and readily admitted that he was "not a profound economist." (84) Furthermore, O'Higgins approvingly cited Griffith's "practical idealism" and also his maxim that "the country is yours for the making, make it." He also shared Griffith's utilitarian views on physical force, supporting it only when it seemed to have a chance of success. (85) While his heart may have been with Collins, it seems that O'Higgins's practical politics and temperament were much more in line with those of his predecessor as minister for home affairs, Arthur Griffith.
Regardless of whether O'Higgins was a disciple of Collins or Griffith, the concept of counter-revolution is clearly unhelpful in analyzing his role in the early years of the Irish Free State. It veils the tremendous changes that he sought to introduce into Irish political culture. Although the shift from a colonial-era politics of protest and political theater to responsible democratic participation and civic virtue would not come overnight, for O'Higgins it was the most fundamental change to emerge from the revolution. It was also the change on which all others depended for their realization. In a eulogy George Russell (AE) called O'Higgins "the moral architect of the Free State," and the foundation on which this architect built was self-determination. (86)
Referring to O'Higgins as a counter-revolutionary also misleadingly situates him on the post-revolutionary Irish political spectrum. Many of his most conservative policies were not all that different from those enacted or continued by Fianna Fail. And O'Higgins, like numerous other Irish revolutionaries, drew on some of the ideas inherent in the Irish revolution while rejecting others. O'Higgins's revolution was about self-determination, self-reliance, and eventually "dual monarchy." De Valera, once in power, moved toward the creation of a republic and implemented Griffith's protectionist policy for a short while. The point is that each politician interpreted the revolution in his own way--with crucial "conservative" elements as common ground--and sought to implement that particular vision of the revolution. Each could point to substantial agreement among revolutionaries as to the desirability of these respective goals. To introduce the concept of counter-revolution only serves to divorce O'Higgins from the revolution and to obscure important connections between pre- and post-1921.
O'Higgins's view of the revolution was ultimately vindicated by his murder, which de Valera called "a crime that cuts at the root of representative government." (87) This statement, which Regan somewhat bewilderingly pinpoints as the beginning of Fianna Fail's move toward counter-revolution, instead marked de Valera's public acceptance of O'Higgins's revolution. Admittedly, de Valera had other goals as well, but Fianna Fail's entry into the Dail in 1927 in the wake of O'Higgins's death signified that a great sea-change had occurred--the vast majority of the Irish people now supported parties that accepted parliamentary politics as the primary way of resolving their disputes. This was, in a sense, O'Higgins's most enduring triumph.
(1) Some of the research for this article was undertaken with grants from the Humboldt State University Foundation and the Humboldt State University College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. My gratitude goes out to each of these entities.
(2) Dail Eireann, Diosboireachtai Pairliminte: Tuairisg Oifiguil (Parliamentary Debates: Official Reports) (Dublin, 1922-), Vol. II, 1909 (1 March 1923). All volumes of the Free State Dail debates will hereafter be cited as PD.
(3) Terence de Vere White, Kevin O'Higgins (paperback ed., Dublin, 1986). A biography of O'Higgins by John McCarthy of Fordham University is forthcoming.
(4) F.S.L. Lyons, Ireland since the Famine (London, 1963), 487-89.
(5) Tom Garvin, 1922: The Birth of Birth Democracy (Dublin, 1996), 3, 139-51.
(6) Talk between Richard Mulcahy and Michael Hayes about certain aspects of de Vere White's biography, 22 Oct. 1964 (Mulcahy Papers, University College, Dublin, Archives, P7b/183 ). The University College, Dublin, Archives will subsequently be abbreviated as UCDA.
(7) Talk between Richard Mulcahy and Senator Hayes about certain aspects of de Vere White's biography, 22 Oct. 1964 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7b/183 ).
(8) Gavan Duffy quoted in PD, Vol. III, 957 (16 May 1923); An Phoblacht quoted in de Vere White, O'Higgins, 131.
(9) De Vere White, O'Higgins, 124.
(10) PD, Vol. X, 1332 (20 March 1925). Newspaper clipping "Our Leaders," 2 Feb. 1924 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7/B/440). The author of this clipping was Bryan Cooper, possibly the same Major Bryan Cooper who was O'Higgins's Dail colleague.
(11) Sunday Express (Dublin), 26 May 1963 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7b/142-).
(12) PD, Vol. V, 1103 (22 Nov. 1923). Notes on party meeting, 12 Jan. 1923 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7/B/325). This proposal probably came from Margaret Collins-O'Driscoll, the sister of Michael Collins and a future Cumann na nGaedheal Dail deputy.
(13) De Vere White, O'Higgins, 259.
(14) Garvin, 1922, 62.
(15) J.J. Lee, Ireland, 1912-1985: Politics and Society (Cambridge, 1989), 97; Terence Brown, Ireland. A Social and Cultural History 1922 to the Present (Ithaca, N.Y., 1995), 14; R.F. Foster, Modern Ireland, 1600-1972 (London, 1989), 515.
(16) Maryann Gialanella Valiulis, "After the Revolution: The Formative Years of Cumann na nGaedheal," in The Uses of the Past: Essays on Irish Culture, ed. Audrey S. Eyler and Robert F. Garratt (Newark, Del., 1988), 132. See also Valiulis, Portrait of a Revolutionary: General Richard Mulcahy and the Founding of the Irish Free State (Dublin, 1992).
(17) John M. Regan, The Irish Counter-Revolution, 1921-36 (New York, 1999), 273, 356. It is not clear from the book how there could have been several different points at which Fianna Fail made the transition (presumably a permanent one) from revolution to counter-revolution.
(18) Ibid., xii.
(19) Ibid., 206. It is not at all clear what Regan means by conscription. Presumably, he means the opposition to military conscription in 1917 and 1918. But that was hardly a "revolutionary" principle of Sinn Fein that could have had any bearing on the events of the 1920s. The issue did not really arise.
(20) Mary Kotsonouris, Retreat from Revolution: The Dail Courts, 1920-24 (Dublin, 1994), 133.
(21) Regan, Counter-Revolution, 273.
(22) Ibid., 373.
(23) PD, Vol. VI, 2095-96 (13 March 1924).
(24) Patrick Murray, Oracles of God: The Roman Catholic Church and Irish Politics, 1922-37 (Dublin, 2000), 262.
(25) PD, Vol. III, 587 (3 May 1923); PD, Vol. VI, 1653 (5 March 1924). See also O'Higgins's memo to Mulcahy, 2 May 1923 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7/B/253), where he specifically mentions several of these pressure groups, including the Irish Vigilance Association, the Priests' Social Guild, the Catholic church, the "Protestant Episcopalian Church in Ireland," and the Presbyterian church in Ireland.
(26) PD, Vol. XXVI, 637 (18 Oct. 1928).
(27) Foster, Modern Ireland, 515.
(28) Ronan Fanning, The Irish Department of Finance, 1922-58 (Dublin, 1976), 216-44. See also Lee, Ireland, 1912-1985, 196.
(29) Draft regulations for Garda, 14 April 1924 (Cabinet Papers, National Archives of Ireland, G 2/3). The National Archives of Ireland will hereafter be cited as NAI. See also Talk between General Mulcahy and Senator Hayes about certain aspects of de Vere White's biography, 22 Oct. 1964 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7b/183 ).
(30) Regan, Counter-Revolution, 377.
(31) O'Higgins to Provisional Government, c. June 1922 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7/B/243).
(32) Foster, Modern Ireland, 532.
(33) PD, Vol. I, 920 (28 Sept. 1922). See also transcription of conversation between Richard and Risteard Mulcahy, 18 Sept. 1963 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, PT/D/105). The transcription of this conversation is my own, made from a copy of the original recording.
(34) Talk between Mulcahy and Michael Hayes about certain aspects of de Vere White's biography, 22 Oct. 1963 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7b/183 ).
(35) Gaelic American, 22 Nov. 1924. See also Annie MacSwiney to Richard Mulcahy, 30 Aug. 1922 (Joseph McGarrity Papers, National Library of Ireland, MS 17654). In this letter Annie strongly protested Mulcahy's reference to Terence MacSwiney during his eulogy over Michael Collins's grave. The National Library of Ireland will hereafter be cited as NLI.
(36) Conversation between Risteard and Richard Mulcahy, 18 Sept. 1963 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7/D/105). Again, this is my own transcription of Mulcahy's conversation. See also Kevin O'Higgins's election address, 1918 (NLI, ILB 300, P3).
(37) Dail Eireann, Suionna Priobhaideacha an Dara Dail (Private Sessions of Second Dail), Minutes of Proceedings, 18 August 1921 to 14 September 1921, and Report of Debates, 14 December 1921 to January 1922 (Dublin, 1972), 173-74 (15 Dec. 1921). These debates will hereafter be cited as PS.
(38) PD, Vol. I, 360-61 (18 Sept. 1922).
(39) Kevin O'Higgins, The New De Valera: A Contrast and Some Disclosures (Dublin, 1922).
(40) Kevin O'Higgins, Three Years Hard Labour (Dublin, 1924), 8; PD, Vol. III, 2503 (26 June 1923).
(41) Dail Eireann, Tuairisg Oifigiuil (Official Report): Debate on the Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland (Dublin, 1922), 47 (19 Dec. 1921). The Treaty debates will hereafter be cited as TrD.
(42) Quoted in de Vere White, O'Higgins, 99
(43) See O'Higgins's speech on the final enactment of the 1922 constitution, in PD, Vol. I, 1908-9 (25 Oct. 1922).
(44) Sinn Fein Standing Committee minutes, 9 Jan. 1919 (Sinn Fein Papers, NLI, pos. 3269). See also de Valera to Lloyd George, 23 Aug. 1921, quoted in Drill Eireann, Tuairisg Oifigiuil (Official Report) for Periods 16th August 1921 to 26th August 1921 and 28th February 1922 to 8th June 1922 (Dublin, 1922), 43 (23 August 1921). This collection will hereafter be cited as OR.
(45) OR, 464 (19 May 1922).
(46) PD, Vol. I, 95, 99 (11 Sept. 1922).
(47) For the first four executions, see PD, Vol. I, 2267-68 (17 Nov. 1922). For the execution of Childers, see PD, Vol. I, 2505-07 (29 Nov. 1922). O'Higgins's speech on the Land Act of 1923 may be found in PD, Vol. III, 1160--61 (28 May 1923). Finally, the quotation regarding the Army Mutiny is in PD, Vol. VI, 1999 (12 March 1924).
(48) Kevin O'Higgins, Civil War and the Events Which Led to It (Dublin, 1922), 3-4.
(49) "Et Tu, Brute," by Kevin O'Higgins, An Saorstat, 30 Aug 1922 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7a/66); PD, Vol. I, 95 (11 Sept. 1922); PD, Vol. III, 1004 (17 May 1923).
(50) De Valera's peace terms were read into the Dail record. See PD, Vol. HI, 679-81 (9 May 1923).
(51) PD, Vol. I, 95 (II Sept. 1922).
(52) Newspaper clipping of O'Higgins's Bray speech, 10 June 1923 (Mulcahy Papers, LICDA, P7/B/346).
(53) PD, Vol. I, 96 (11 Sept. 1922).
(54) Kevin O'Higgins's Independence Day address, 7 Dec. or 8 Dec. 1924 (Dept. of Taoiseach Papers, NAI, S 4178). This speech was initially drafted by Sean Lester, Free State director of publicity, and was altered by O'Higgins himself.
(55) PD, Vol. I, 188 (12 Sept. 1922).
(56) Regan, Counter-Revolution, 87.
(57) Summary of pro-Treaty meeting, 21 Dec. 1922 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7/B/325).
(58) PD, Vol. VI, 2218 (19 March 1924).
(59) O'Higgins quoted in Valiulis, Mulcahy, 233-34; PD, Vol. VI, 2274 (20 March 1924).
(60) O'Higgins, Three Years' Hard Labour, 4. O'Higgins also opened with the same quotation from Belloc in a pamphlet written in French and published in Brussels. See Kevin O'Higgins, L'Irlande d'aujourd'hui (Brussels, 1925). This French-language pamphlet is deposited in the Desmond FitzGerald Papers, UCDA, P80/l089.
(61) O'Higgins, Three Years' Hard Labour, 5.
(62) His private-session speech to the Second Dail on the Treaty indicated that he and Cosgrave would have supported a continuation of the war but for the fact that Collins and Griffith had already signed the Treaty.
(63) PD, Vol. III, 1970 (14 June 1923).
(64) PD, Vol. X, 373-75 (19 Feb. 1925).
(65) PD, Vol. III, 525 (2 May 1923).
(66) O'Higgins, Three Years' Hard Labour, 7; PD, Vol. III, 2503; O'Higgins, Civil War, 28.
(67) Kevin O'Higgins's memo, undated (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7/B/243).
(68) PD, Vol. I, 360 (18 Sept. 1922).
(69) O'Higgins, Three Years' Hard Labour, 7.
(70) PD, Vol. V, 1982 (14 Dec. 1923).
(71) Newspaper account of O'Higgins's Bray speech, l0 June 1923 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7/B/346); typescript of O'Higgins's speech at Dun Laoghaire, 29 Oct 1923 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7/B/366).
(72) Blythe quoted in Garvin, 1922, 60. See also PD, Vol. I, 546 (21 Sept. 1922).
(73) Garvin, 1922, 91.
(74) For evidence of the widespread tendency to see Britain as at the root of all of Ireland's problems, see virtually any speech or pamphlet by Mary MacSwiney after 1921. See also Dorothy MacArdle, The Irish Republic: A Documented Chronicle of the Anglo-Irish Conflict and the Partitioning of Ireland, with a Detailed Account of the Period 1916-1923 (New York, 1965, originally published 1938), 799.
(75) Kevin O'Higgins's memo on army-government cooperation, Sept. 1923 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7b/96 [7-10]); Eoin MacNeill's comments on O'Higgins's memo, Sept. 1923 (Dept. of the Taoiseach Papers, NAI, 3-306).
(76) Kevin O'Higgins's memo to Provisional Government, undated, but written after June 1922 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7/B/243).
(77) PD, Vol. IV, 126 (23 July 1923).
(78) Talk between Mulcahy and Senator Hayes about certain aspects of de Vere White's biography, 22 Oct. 1964 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7b/183 )
(79) O'Higgins referred to de Valera's phrase in OR, 463 (19 May 1922). See also PD, Vol. III, 1000 (17 May 1923).
(80) PD, Vol. X, 1269 (19 March 1925); PD, Vol. I, 961 (29 Sept. 1922).
(81) Kevin O'Higgins to Catholic Truth Society, 13 Oct. 1923 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7/B/366).
(82) Seanad Eireann, Debates of the Senate of the Irish Free State (Dublin, 1922-), 435 (14 March 1923); Kevin O'Higgins's memo on army-government cooperation, Sept. 1923 (Mulcahy Papers, UCDA, P7b/96 [7-10]).
(83) Quoted in Lee, Ireland, 1912-1985, 118.
(84) PD, Vol. II, 506 (4 Jan. 1923).
(85) PD, Vol. III, 1970 (14 June 1923); PD, Vol. I, 1909 (25 Oct. 1922); O'Higgins, Civil War, 24.
(86) AE quoted in de Vere White, O'Higgins, 232-33.
(87) Quoted in Tim Pat Coogan, Eamon de Valera: The Man Who Was Ireland (New York, 1993), 401.
JASON KNIRCK is Assistant Professor of History at Humboldt State University. He has degrees from Gonzaga University and Washington State University, where he completed his doctoral dissertation on women and the Irish revolution. His primary research interests center on the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and postrevolutionary Irish politics. His forthcoming book is entitled Women of the Dail: Gender, Republicanism, and the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
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|Publication:||Eire-Ireland: a Journal of Irish Studies|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2003|
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