Ireland in the Stuart Papers (2 vols.), Patrick Fagan (ed.), (Four Courts Press £40).

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Book Reviews, Issue 2 (Summer 1996), Reviews, Volume 4

Fagan’s edition of letters of Irish interest in the Stuart papers makes available an important collection of primary source-material relating to Ireland and the exiled Stuarts. It reflects the burgeoning of interest in Irish Jacobitism as represented by the work of Breandán Ó Buachalla, Mícheal Mac Craith, Vincent Morley, Patrick Fagan and my own ongoing research. Beautifully bound and emboldened with the crest of the Royal Stuarts, this attractive collection from a much-neglected archive and relating to a formerly neglected period of Irish history is an essential addition to the shelf of any serious eighteenth-century historian. It is edited by one who has himself utilised the Royal archive with great profit for biographies of the eighteenth century Catholic clergymen Cornelius Nary and Sylvester Lloyd. He is generous in his acknowledgement of the ‘immense contribution’ of Fr. Hugh Fenning whose trojan researches in this and other European archives has done much to enhance our knowledge of the Irish Catholic church in the eighteenth century. Having spent over six months wading through micro-film reels of the Stuart papers, I can appreciate the enormity of Fagan’s accomplishment and can only regret that I did not earlier have the benefit of his copious footnotes and biographical notes on Catholic bishops, obscure continental-based clergy, Wild Geese and Jacobite officers and other European political personalities.
In his introduction, Fagan underlines the extent to which this massive archive has been ignored by historians and their tendency to give ‘far too much space to the twenty-five per cent Protestant minority’, while giving scant attention to the ‘seventy-five per cent Catholic majority’. He goes on to emphasise the extent to which the Stuart court provided a focus for ambitious clerics and candidates for vacant bishoprics. The letters shed much light on the workings of the Roman Catholic church, on Catholic ecclesiastical high-politics, the role of the Stuart king as the political conscience of the Irish Catholic episcopate, the links between Ireland, Rome, France, Spain, Austria and Flanders and the machinery of the Irish colleges in Europe. Furthermore they focus on the major problems of the Irish mission, the inconvenience and the persecution of the penal code, the struggle between the continental-based and indigenous Irish clergy for control of the Irish colleges, the on-going friction between the regular and secular clergy, the problems caused by absentee bishops and the over-supply of clergymen for the Irish mission. These volumes also provide useful additional information on the major short-lived controversies which affected the Irish polity including the attempted Catholic accommodation with the Hanoverian monarchy in 1727 and during the 1750s and the political fall-out of James Francis Edward Stuart’s marital difficulties. The letters shed light on the links between Irish clergy and their religious and secular masters in Rome, the need for caution in cultivating and sustaining this intercourse, both written and oral, and their utilisation of a cryptic vocabulary and intricate ciphers with pseudonyms and references to ‘widows’[vacant dioceses], ‘farms’ [dioceses], farmers [bishops], ‘tenants’ [bishops] which were all at the disposal of the ‘landlord’ [James III].
This correspondence shows that many prominent Catholic bishops and clergy, including Ambrose O’Callaghan, Sylvester Lloyd, James McKenna, Bernard Dunne and Michael MacDonough, acted as the eyes and ears of the Stuart king and sent information directly to him or his agents such as General Dillon and Daniel O’Brien relating to the state of the ordnance, the structure and strength of the Irish Jacobite political nation, as well as other news relating to Irish political affairs, including the controversy surrounding Wood’s half-pence, the foundation of the Charter schools and the trials of those indicted for recruiting for foreign service. In conjunction with this information, they sent presents of butter, oysters, tobacco, linen and books (in particular Gulliver’s Travels and other Swift works) to curry favour with their exiled king and his secretary, James Edgar.
Aside from this correspondence from clergymen-turned Jacobite agents, the collection contains many postulations from the indigenous and exiled Irish nobility in support of the pretensions of episcopal hopefuls upon which the Stuart king placed great emphasis when making his decision. These are imbued with an Irish Catholic Jacobite self-righteousness and a penal law persecution mentality which should be borne in mind by those who have down-played the effects of the penal laws. They continually refer to their poor oppressed country, the poor persecuted Catholics of Ireland, their lawful king, their fatherland and the tyranny of the usurping Elector of Hanover. They provide corroborative evidence of a surviving residual Catholic ‘nobility’ and middle-class which has been the focus of the work of Maureen Wall, Louis Cullen and more recently Cadoc Leighton and Kevin Whelan. Aside from the light which this material sheds on this obscure social class, it provides information regarding the genealogy, the academic qualifications and careers of episcopal hopefuls.
While much of the letters relate to the Catholic church, they contain substance of interest to the social, economic, military and political historian, in conjunction with a wealth of genealogical material. Moreover, they provide another resounding demonstration of the singular importance of Jacobite ideology in eighteenth-century Ireland and the optimism in the letters of clergymen such as O’Callaghan, Lloyd, McKenna, MacDonagh and Dunne are replicated two-hundred fold in the poems of the Gaelic literati and reflect the fear and pessimism of the sermon and pamphlet culture of their Protestant contemporaries. This is hardly surprising given the close ideological links between the Irish poets and their clerical counterparts, the role of the clergy as literary patrons and the numerous clergymen who themselves composed Gaelic Jacobite verse.
Despite the enormity of the editor’s achievement, his excellent representative collection should not be used as a short-cut through what is arguably the single most important source for eighteenth-century Ireland. This point is best exemplified by the author’s choosing (for practical and methodological reasons) to discard the huge correspondence of the Duke of Ormonde, Owen O’Rourke, General Arthur Dillon and Daniel O’Brien. Similarly his assertion that Ireland ‘figured hardly at all in the plans of the Jacobite plotters’ needs qualification. While Ireland seldom figured directly in Irish Jacobite plans for practical, historical and geographical considerations, as London was the ultimate goal of the Stuarts, it cannot be written out of the Jacobite equation. Historians have stressed Ireland’s subsidiary, diversionary role and the preoccupation of the exiled Irish with the greater Jacobite, French or Spanish interest. The invasion plans of Berwick, Lord Dillon, Sylvester Lloyd, Daniel O’Carroll, Lord Orrery, Charles Wogan, O’Sullivan Beare and Ulick Burke all stressed the need to send troops and arms to the enthusiastic Irish Jacobites to prevent reinforcements being sent to Scotland or England. The correspondence of many of these and other Wild Geese and expatriated Irishmen also shed light on the Irish emigrant mentality, their sense of Jacobite self-righteousness, their sufferings for the cause and the extent to which they harboured ambitions to return and regain the land which they and their forebears had forfeited between 1641 and 1691. This edition of letters is arguably the single most important edition of primary source-material published for the eighteenth century in years.

Éamonn Ó Ciardha

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