For your freedom and ours.
NATION/NAZIONE: IRISH NATIONALISM AND THE ITALIAN RISORGIMENTO
UNIVERSITY COLLEGE DUBLIN PRESS. 2014. 50 [euro].
IRELAND IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY, like any other countries, was influenced by the Italian headline in the development of a nationalist movement. However, for a brief period, little more than the one year of 1860, the Risorgimento loomed so large in the Irish sky as to incite intense polarization and illuminate some contradictions that could normally be left hidden. The attachment in that year of the duchies to Piedmont-Sardinia on the basis of the popular will and the overthrow of the old order in Sicily and the South by the Garibaldian revolution meant that papal rule in central Italy was now an obvious anachronism, and that the Papal States stood in the way of a united Italy. Pius IX and many of his co-religionists worldwide believed that his territorial power was essential to his religious function. He declared his intention of defending his inheritance and called for military assistance. But after a short resistance the papal army was defeated and within months Italy was a united monarchical state, although with the pope still in possession of Rome, thanks to a French military presence. The volume under review has valuable coverage of aspects of the wider Risorgimento, but it inevitably has a strong focus on the events of 1860.
In that year Irish Catholic sympathies and resources were mobilized to an unprecedented level in support of the papacy. As Ciaran O'Carroll details in a chapter based on extensive investigation of records in Dublin and Rome, Irish sympathy went beyond enthusiastic oratory on pulpits and platforms to astonishingly successful fundraising across the country, and to the recruitment and dispatch of more than a thousand volunteers, generally referred to as the Irish Papal Brigade, to fight in the papal army. While nationalist ideologues such as John Mitchel, James Stephens, Charles J. Kickham and John O'Leary metaphorically bit their tongues, their country rallied to the papacy as it stood against the emergence of an Italian nation-state, republican or monarchist, thus exposing what was to prove a long-lasting paradox at the heart of Irish nationalism. Its apologists could in turn point to the inconsistency of English Whig opponents of Irish independence supporting revolution and national independence in Italy. A few years later, when Archbishop Paul Cullen of Dublin was denouncing the resort to revolutionary arms advocated by the Fenian movement, Kickham could respond that when the pope was under threat he had no qualms about calling for armed volunteers to come to his defence. Not that the brigade was a good omen for militarism. From the beginning of recruitment in January to the return of the soldiers in November following the defeat of the papal army, it was a story of mismanagement and misunderstanding, involving the pope himself and his government, the Austrians who were expected to provide the military direction, and the bishops and other interested parties in Ireland, many of them making promises at a local level that could only be honored in Rome, and all of them constrained by the need to circumvent the terms of the Foreign Enlistment Act of 1817. There were casualties and desertions, but over a thousand of the estimated thirteen hundred who left appear to have returned in good order.
The reaction of public opinion in Ireland to events in Italy in 1859-60 is covered in an article by Jennifer O'Brien, reprinted here from Irish Historical Studies (2005). The dominant feature is a predictable polarization on confessional lines. Almost all Irish Protestants were convinced, on the basis of religion or political principle or both, that the downfall of the Papal States was something eminently to be desired. This added to the paradoxes revealed by the Risorgimento in Ireland as strict Evangelicals cheered on the designs of godless Italian liberals. Plans to organize a corps of volunteers to join the forces of Garibaldi were prospering in Ulster in early Autumn 1860 before the project was overtaken by events in Italy. The Irish Papal Brigade and what it stood for were denounced and derided in the Protestant press, but interestingly several newspapers entered a reservation: The papal volunteers might have disgraced themselves and the country by reason of the cause they had supported, but they had not disgraced themselves in military terms. The latter accorded with the available evidence, but it was a point conceded for another purpose. The identification with military prowess was one of the few connotations of Irishness shared by the rival confessions: Irish soldiers always behave bravely on the batlefield.
Archbishop Paul Cullen personified the Irish involvement in nineteenth-century Italian issues, and not only in 1860. In his chapter here, Colin Barr provides an authoritative account of the Italian experiences, from 1823 to 1849, that led the future cardinal to see incorrigible wickedness in every manifestation of revolutionary nationalism in either country. It is interesting to note, nonetheless, a brief moment of sympathy with the Sicilian revolt of January 1848. This reflects, however wanly, the enthusiasm of the Palermo-born Fr. Gioacchino Ventura. He was a significant if ambivalent convert to liberal views who had perhaps his finest hour (actually two days) when delivering an elaborate funeral oration for Daniel O'Connell in the Roman basilica of Saint Andrea della Valle in late June 1847. This moment of flux in the struggle to think through an accommodation of religion and liberty is the subject of a chapter by Alberto Belletti.
Andrew Shields's overview of Irish conservative attitudes confirms the solidity of the Protestant consensus about the temporal power of the papacy. However, as against Whig interventionism, the Tories advocated a policy of official British neutrality with respect to Italy. This caused some concern to their regular Irish supporters, but enabled them to win some valuable Catholic votes at the general election of 1859.
Anne O'Connor's article opens up new ground in investigating Italian reaction to the presence of the papal brigade in 1860. The coldness of the welcome awaiting them from the local population came as a shock to the volunteers. If they were reading the commentary in the Italian press they would have been even more dismayed. They were depicted as behaving in uncouth, slovenly and violent fashion, allegedly wrecking shops from which they took food and drink without payment. It would have taken very little evidence to spark such negative stigmatization by newspapers hostile to the purpose of the Irish presence. Interestingly, several derogatory references to the Irish include the term "giant" or "gigantesque." This suggests that even when they were allegedly scrounging for food the Irish volunteers were seen by Italians as typified by large physique. Again, relatively few examples would have sufficed to support such generalization.
In a wide-ranging historiographical introduction, Michele Finelli highlights the long-standing uncertainty about the place of Giuseppe Mazzini, promoter of a unified Italy, in the evolution of Irish nationalism. Discussion of the subject is facilitated by a chapter from Roland Sarti that is not at all concerned with Ireland but provides a relevant and authoritative perspective on Mazzini, and shows the futility of trying to tie down the thoughts of that great man. What seems clear enough is that Mazzini, like other continental revolutionaries, was careful about endorsing a nationalist movement in Ireland because of his reliance on Britain for refuge and goodwill. In return, Young Ireland sympathy with Young Italy was measured. As Marta Ramon points out in her chapter here, in 1843 and again in February 1848 Charles Gavan Duffy's Nation advocated a liberal Italy but not in terms supportive of political unity: There could be no implied threat to the papacy. By 1854 Duffy was calling for Mazzini to be renounced as Satan. On the other hand, in matters both of style and policy, James Stephens, founder of the IRB, was clearly influenced by Mazzini.
Far in advance of Irish political figures in the endorsement of the Risorgimento was the novelist Lady Morgan (Sydney Owenson) whose Italian connections are explored in the contribution of Donatella Abbate Badin. Published in 1821, Morgan's travel book Italy appeared just as awareness of Italian discontent burst on the wider world. Her enthusiasm for a free and united country was fired by her association with liberal bourgeois circles in Milan and Naples and undoubtedly influenced the emergence of pro-Italian sympathy throughout Europe, and especially in Britain.
Emer Delaney juxtaposes significant female figures from the Risorgimento not with their Irish contemporaries but with nationalist women in early twentieth-century Ireland. This chapter is very strong conceptually and provides valuable insights on the rhetorical usages associated with women actors in political history generally.
While the link between the Risorgimento and the Italian opera of the period is well known, Mazzini was interested in providing Italian nationality with a musical marker more redolent of the Volk, and in 1845 he adumbrated the publication of national melodies with appropriate verses set to music for piano, specifically mentioning Thomas Moore's Melodies as a model. Emanuela Minuto's chapter on the reception of Moore in Italy reveals that several of his prose works, especially Travels of an Irish Gentleman, were influential in Italian translation from the 1830s.
Authors, editors and publisher have clearly worked hard to hone this very welcome collection into a highly presentable volume. It will hopefully encourage them and others to further comparative work on Ireland and Italy both within and beyond the ambit of nineteenth-century nationalism.
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|Title Annotation:||Nation/Nazione: Irish Nationalism and the Italian Risorgimento|
|Publication:||Irish Literary Supplement|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2015|
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