Lucas a nationalist?

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 4 (Winter 1995), Letters, Letters, Volume 3

Sir,—Re. Sean Connolly’s passing jab in your Autumn 1995 issue, dismissing as ‘hopelessly anachronistic’ my description of Charles Lucas as a nationalist. It is curious how apparently sophisticated ‘revisionist’ historical interpretations can be simply uncritical regurgitations of contemporary or near-contemporary prejudices. The portrayal of Lucas as a mere corporation politician and anti-Catholic bigot is a good example of the tendency. This hostile interpretation is still being buttressed by a near contemporary forged letter fathered on Charles O’Conor of Belanagare, which is duly cited uncritically in the work Dr. Connolly was reviewing favourably. And what of the 1760 pamphleteer who, when evaluating the impact of the Lucas affair, used the specific phrase ‘national rights’? Why, he was being hopelessly anachronistic of course, and his words should be revised to read ‘corporate liberties in the context of the European ancien regime’. Yours etc.,

SEAN MURPHY
‘Carraig’,
Cliff Road,
Windgates,
Bray,
Co. Wicklow.

 

Sean Murphy deserves full credit for establishing that Charles Lucas was probably not as anti-Catholic as has been claimed. But that does not in itself prove that Lucas was ‘an Irish nationalist’. Indeed this fresh conflation of two quite separate points seems to bear out my original criticism of Mr. Murphy for allowing his assessment of Lucas to be unduly determined by the concerns of the present day. The reasons for not applying the term ‘nationalist’ loosely to pre-nineteenth century attempts to defend the autonomy of a ‘distinct political community’ (Murphy’s phrase) have been fully set out by Leerssen in Eighteenth Century Ireland III (1988). As for the the term ‘nation’, an eighteenth-century specialist should know that it cannot be read in its modern sense. To take just one example, Sir Richard Cox in 1689, writing specifically of the Protestants of Ireland, called them ‘an unhappy nation’ that had lost all in the service of England.—Yours etc.,

SEAN CONNOLLY
Dept. of History,
University of Ulster,
Coleraine,
BT52 1SA.

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