ICC Historical Lecture Series: HOW AND WHY BRITAIN LOST IRELAND by IVAN GIBBONS
Ireland in 1922
1922 marks the culmination of the “Decade of Centenaries” in modern Irish history. This ten year period from 1912 to 1922 commemorates the sequence of momentous events from the Third Home Rule Bill to the Irish Civil War out of which emerged an independent but partitioned Ireland. Our lectures this year examine events and developments in Ireland and Britain in the early 1920s which still have a powerful resonance a century later.
HOW AND WHY BRITAIN LOST IRELAND
Events in Ireland during this period inevitably take place against a background of rapid political and social change in Britain particularly after the First World War. The democratisation of Britain, the growth of class politics and the emancipation of women all took place at the same time Britain was immersed in the politics of competing nationalisms in Ireland. Attitudes to the worsening situation in Ireland changed rapidly in all British political parties after the war. The Conservative Party moved from enthusiastic support of the unionist position before the war to a less fervent and more stoical determination to honour a debt not to let Ulster unionists down after the war. Meanwhile the Liberal commitment to Irish nationalism waned rapidly as events in Ireland became more extreme. The new Labour Party, which replaced the Liberals as the foremost progressive party, distanced itself from too close an association with Irish nationalism which it regarded as increasingly irrational and likely to alienate potential Labour voters in Britain.
This lecture examines the evidence that, with Irish independence in 1922, (with the exception of a right-wing rump in the Conservatives), British politicians wanted to avoid involvement in Ireland. Both the British public and its politicians seemed unperturbed by the loss of over one-fifth of the territory of the United Kingdom and there was no clamour to reclaim Ireland. The emergence of class politics in Britain from the early 1920s meant that Irish politics appeared archaic and old-fashioned. Both the leaders of the two main British political parties in the inter-war years, Stanley Baldwin and Ramsay MacDonald, wanted to distance British politics from the imbroglio of the Irish question and, consequently, both presided over a consensus which was to last nearly fifty years until the outbreak of the Troubles in 1969.
Lecturer IVAN GIBBONS
Lecturer in Modern Irish and British history specialising in the relationship between the British Labour Party and Ireland. He was Programme Director in Irish Studies at St Mary’s University, Twickenham and is a board member of Hammersmith Irish Cultural Centre and organiser of this lecture series. He is author of “The British Labour Party and the Establishment of the Irish Free State” and “Partition- How and Why Ireland was Divided”.