Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Features, Issue 3 (May/June 2012), Volume 20

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu—his family was at the Ascendancy’s ideological cutting edge.

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu—his family was at the Ascendancy’s ideological cutting edge.

The family of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, a child of the Anglican vicarage, was at the Ascendancy’s ideological cutting edge and part of its most vulnerable component: a state church imposed on a hostile nation. Born in 1814, he spent his first twelve years around the comparative safety and post-Napoleonic triumphalism of the Phoenix Park Military School, where his father was chaplain. In 1826, when the demand for Catholic Emancipation was growing, the Revd Le Fanu and his family moved to a parish beset by land agitation at Emly, Co. Limerick. This showed young Joseph the precariousness of the Phoenix Park order. He became an active supporter of the Tory Party; it enacted emancipation but remained firm in opposing Catholic calls to end tithe payments for the established church. As owner of the Dublin University Magazine, the theoretical journal of Irish conservatism, he flirted with the idea of using a revived Irish parliament to maintain Ascendancy, only to abandon the idea in 1848 when some of his allies joined the Young Ireland rising. Twelve years later he supported the government of Viscount Palmerston, a Whig but an Irish landlord who had begun his career in a government opposed to Catholic Emancipation, who declared that ‘tenant rights are landlord’s wrongs’ and whose Irish attorney general’s land act strengthened landlords’ ‘rights’. Palmerston could not pacify Ireland; Fenianism was growing. After William Ewart Gladstone’s government had disestablished the Anglican Church of Ireland and begun to grant tenant rights, Le Fanu died in 1873.

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