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The sword of coercion.



UCD PRESS: DUBLIN, 2012. 50 [euro]

This volume originates from a conference held in Dublin Castle in September 2009 which examined the importance and relevance of a much neglected office of state in Irish historiography, that of the lord lieutenant. This senior office had a double remit--to combine the "efficient" direction of the Irish executive on behalf of the British government with a "decorative" ceremonial role, required as viceroy or surrogate of the Crown. Indeed, with the absence of a regular royal residence in Ireland, the "majesty" of the crown in Ireland was represented principally by the lord lieutenant in this dual role as viceroy. The editors of this fine collection of essays, Peter Gray and Olwen Purdue, put forward a strident and cogent argument for the need to reevaluate the validity and importance of this imperial post, which at various points in history, ranged from efficiency and popularity to unwelcome spectacle and hapless farce. However, as the formal and ultimate upholder of the sword of coercion (which the introduction asserts on page 7), the relationship between the lord lieutenant and the majority Catholic community in Ireland was always ambivalent at best. Several themes are addressed within The Irish Lord Lieutenancy, namely the historical imperative of the role, its "golden era" during the Protestant ascendancy and the confused and devalued currency of the post during the long "descendancy" of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Ciaran Brady and Charles Ivar McGrath begin the book with the unenviable task of shining light on this nascent role during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the opening essay, Brady notes that the title of "king's lieutenant" had been employed very sparingly in the medieval period, and in the century following 1541, the specific commission of "lord lieutenant" was restricted to only four of the sixty appointments, the great majority holding the inferior title of "lord deputy." Brady believes that, "the aim of the new project was not the revival and continuation of the old military conquest, but the inauguration of a sustained program of acculturation whose ultimate purpose was the fabrication of a little England in Ireland" (21). This rather ambiguous view of the viceroyalty was made even more acute by the conduct of several figures who occupied the office during the late sixteenth century. Sir William Fitzwilliam was a stark example. In order to appropriate more funds from London, he initiated a habit that was emulated by many viceroys over the centuries--the generation of emergencies, both real and imaginary. Fitzwilliam successively provoked crises with the houses of Desmond and Kildare and on one desperate occasion felt obliged to report an imminent invasion from the Ottoman Empire (30). Another incumbent, Sir Thomas Wentworth, despite his high view of the office and his royal service, was not unlike his predecessors in seeking to use his office as a means for personal gain.

Charles Ivar McGrath turns to the Restoration period and argues that the reason for placing the office of lord lieutenant in the hands of an established politician (and peer) was due to the increasing incursion of Irish affairs into England. This increasing interdependence was in need of a trusted figure to reassert royal authority following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. McGrath concludes that the eighteenth century ushered in a period of formalization of the post, which occasioned loss of status and desirability by the 1740s. This concept is taken up by James Kelly, who states that the post had fallen so far in the estimation of the British aristocratic elite that few actively sought the position as a means of upward mobility. Indeed, this apathetic approach helped to establish an era of non-residential viceroys from 1701 to 1767. Kelly contends that Lord Townshend's decision to reside in Ireland for the duration of his time in office (1767-72), and his creation of an executive viceroyalty meant that lords lieutenant could no longer merely delegate the task of government to "undertakers." However, even this increasingly structured imperial approach came at a price--as lords lieutenant were not encouraged to travel to England even on business trips during the late eighteenth century, when the chief secretary became the primary point of interaction between the Irish administration and the British government and the de facto head of the Irish executive (76).

Toby Barnard addresses the patronage over which lords lieutenants exercised (or attempted to exercise) personal influence. He notes that the incumbents were frequently short of funds and rarely gave priority to intellectual or cultural ventures, preferring "the hunt, the turf, the dance and the bordello" (106). However, the Dublin Philosophical Society and the Dublin Society were two exceptions during this period (1660-1780). Gillian O'Brien focuses on the post of lord lieutenant during the political upheaval of the 1790s. During this period there was considerable continuity within the Irish administration and this was both strength and a weakness for the viceroys. Key office holders such as John Foster, John Fitzgibbon and Edward Cooke were men of great influence and they used it to dominate a succession of lords lieutenant. Indeed, many members of the Castle executive regarded the viceroy as a temporary inconvenience to be tolerated rather than respected (115). Several of the incumbents (Westmorland, Fitzwilliam and Camden) had no military experience and as the security situation deteriorated into open rebellion in 1798, the lord lieutenant was obliged to become increasingly involved. This culminated in the appointment in June 1798 of Lord Cornwallis, who was simultaneously appointed commander in chief of all Crown forces in Ireland. According to O'Brien, the Act of Union in 1801 removed any lingering ambiguity about the role of viceroy in Ireland--from then on it was simply an administrative figurehead, a rubber stamp on the dictates from Westminster.

Theodore Hoppen grapples with this existential problem in his chapter, "A Question No-one Could Answer: What Was the Viceroyaly For? ' 1800-1921." In an entertaining and engaging piece, Hoppen states that many viceroys during this period saw their primary role to be that of drumming English (or Scottish) sense into recalcitrant Hibernian skulls (133). Lord Clarendon in the 1840s believed his main aim was to protect "the people against themselves." Hoppen comes to the conclusion that the influence of the viceroyalty rested on two important power relationships: with the London government and with the chief secretary. At length, Hoppen states languidly that within this political tug of war, "the viceroys simply soldiered on, becoming ... less important, more marginal and more than a little ridiculous" (147). Despite this nineteenth-century marginalization, Peter Gray examines the mid-1800s and asserts that a "liberal-unionist" experiment to make the lord lieutenant a "people's viceroy" was attempted with varying degrees of success. This initiative, formed by the second Melbourne government, was part of a broader "justice to Ireland" policy agenda. Theatrical St. Patrick's Day celebrations hosted by Lord Mulgrave in 1837 and the invitation to O'Connell to attend dinner at the viceregal lodge had positive effects on popular opinion. However, it also brought "the thorough ... alienation of much of the landed and clerical establishment" (159). Mulgrave's successor, Viscount Ebrington, learned this lesson and proscribed O'Connell's repealers from government patronage in 1840.

James Loughlin takes the chronology up to the late nineteenth century, the upheavals of the land war and the emerging home rule movement. Attempts to portray the lord lieutenant and the British monarchy as a force of viceregal and royal conciliation had mixed results. Between 1895 and 1905, three high-ranking British royals, the Duke of York, Queen Victoria and Edward VII, all made successful Irish visits. The viceroy, Lord Cadogan, tried to convince Queen Victoria to establish a royal residence to cultivate the apparent loyalty of the Irish but the elderly queen was opposed to the proposal. Cadogan, however, was a viceroy for settled times and when a period of agrarian agitation and Gaelic nationalism took off in the early 1900s, he aligned himself overtly with the Irish Unionist community and its demands for a coercive response (188). An ambitious attempt to reinterpret the viceroy as a '"welfare monarch'" by Lord and Lady Aberdeen from 1905-1915 is examined by Patrick Maume in the penultimate chapter of the book. The higher profile of Lady Aberdeen as vicereine suggested an effort to portray her as a stand-in for a maternally imagined Queen Victoria, as a sort of national mother. However, while the Aberdeens saw their philanthropic work as generously helping Ireland to help itself, nationalists and separatists claimed it undermined self-respect by "bribing" recipients to compromise on the national issue. Maume's chapter is an interesting thesis on the failure of yet another re-invention of this post, which at that stage was in irreversible and terminal decline.

Keith Jeffery's essay is the final chapter in the book and describes the last years and final death throes of the post of lord lieutenant during the revolutionary period of 1918-22. As Jeffery states, the appointment of Lord French to the post of viceroy in 1918 was intended as the stick to accompany the carrot of home rule. In fact, the appointment of French as lord lieutenant, his continued threats concerning conscription and the attempted suppression of Sinn Fein were propagandist gifts to radical nationalists and contributed to the annihilation of the Irish parliamentary party in 1918 (219). Various plots to assassinate Lord French are discussed in Jeffery's chapter as well as the wishes of Lloyd George to abolish the post altogether. However, the appointment of a Catholic (Lord Talbot) to the lord lieutenancy was the best that political minds in London could come up with. Although Talbot was the first Catholic viceroy since the 1600s, the pace of events had taken over and this tokenism came too late for any political use. Eoin MacNeill liked to tell the story of Cardinal Logue's reply on being told of the appointment of a Catholic viceroy: 'I suppose the next thing they will send us will be a Catholic hangman' (227).

This collection of essays is excellently researched and thoroughly readable as both a cover to cover book and as resource for students of different periods to dip into. The post of lord lieutenant, abolished in December 1922, is synonymous with Ireland's imperial past and this book offers further understanding of the political machinations needed to underpin a subjected society during periods of frequent turmoil. The Irish Lord Lieutenancy, c. 1541-1922, is a valuable addition to Irish historiography and deserves to be widely consulted by future students of Irish history.

--St. Patrick's College, Dublin City University
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Title Annotation:The Irish Lord Lieutenancy, 1541-1922
Author:Kennedy, Gordon
Publication:Irish Literary Supplement
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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