2011 ASSLH conference – The Political Cultures of the Irish Diaspora: Some Comparative Reflections, 1800-­1920


The Political Cultures of the Irish Diaspora: Some Comparative Reflections, 1800-­1920

 Donald M. MacRaild


Whilst Irish people clearly were highly active in trade unions and labour organisations in the English-speaking world, there is disagreement as to the extent of their participation. The weakness in Ireland of organisations, such as Chartism, and the endemic sectarian conflict between a plethora of nationalist and loyalist organisations, has obscured the role of class in Irish identity formation. Furthermore, this obscuring continued after migration with leftist scholars in Britain being notably reluctant to integrate Irish immigrants into histories of class. Shaped by the apparent classlessness and sectarianism of popular politics in Ireland, British labour historiography compartmentalises the Irish as ethnic, with ethnicity essentially viewed as a lower stage of consciousness from which Irish people had to graduate before class consciousness could prevail. New World historiographies in Australia, New Zealand and the US, of course, privilege no such simplistic binary; scholars there much more readily recognise the importance of the Irish within working-class political organisations in their countries.  

The paper argues that transnational perspectives can enable the imperial ‘core’ to learn from the colonial ‘periphery’, enabling scholars in Britain to be rather less quick to dismiss Irish activism as outside the mainstream, or even anti-class. The paper assumes the ideas underpinning Irish socio-political identity travelled transnationally and merit comparative consideration. Exploring how Irish social, political and labour organisation in Britain have been underplayed, the paper suggests that scholars in Britain are wrong to see ethnic and class formations as distinctive, but should instead learn from New World scholarship, which has long since demonstrated the connections between Irish, Catholic, even Orange, ethnic organisations and the development of trade unions and labour organisations.  

In so doing, the paper explores the social cohesion and organisational acumen of Irish political organisations in the Diaspora, from the United Irishmen through Fenianism to the Home Rule movement. A key aim of this discussion is to prompt consideration of how collaborative, comparative research might enable us to see such connections between ethnic and class politics in transnational perspective, i.e. beyond the national frame of reference. The impetus for such research would come not from Britain or Ireland but from North America and Australia. Moreover, the best tool of analysis may well be the biography since the lives of individuals, and prosopograhical approaches enable us to establish the pathways and choices made by individuals, and groups of individuals, who straddled nationalist and labourist politics across national borders. Fundamentally, the paper suggests simplistic nationalism-versus-class perspectives will not suffice.

Don MacRaild is Professor of History and Associate Dean for Research at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. He has previously worked at the University of Ulster, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and Sunderland University. He has written or edited nine books or pamphlets and numerous articles and chapters. His most recent books are a study of Orangeism in Victorian England and an Irish Economic and Social History Society pamphlet on the Irish in Britain. He is currently leading a team working on a three-year project on the English in North America, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK).



In 1893, an Independent Labour Party man from Keighley in West Yorkshire, irritated by the unswerving loyalty of local Irish to the Liberals, dubbed them the party’s `hewers of wood’ and `drawers of water’.1 In similar vein, following the defeat of the ILP candidate, Robert Smillie (himself an Irish Protestant miners’ leader) at the mid-­Lanark by-­election in 1894, Keir Hardie bitterly observed: `In the readiness of the Irish to do the dirty scavenging work of the Liberal Party lies the real danger to the home-­rule cause’.2 Whilst Irish people clearly were highly active in trade unions and labour organisations in the English-­speaking world, there is disagreement as to the extent of their participation. Shaped by the apparent classlessness of politics in Ireland, British scholars in particular have compartmentalised the Irish as ethnic.

In Ireland, class organisations, such as trade unions and Chartism, were or became weak when, among other peoples, such instruments of protest and progress were becoming strong.3 They also paled next to rural redresser movements and pro-­nationalist organisations, from Whiteboyism and Ribbonism to Fenianism.4 Ireland produced modern Europe’s first mass movement, Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal Association, funded by the pennies of the poor; but this was a movement of religious liberty, not a protean freedom struggle. With O’Connell’s powers waning in the 1840s, a union of the Confederates and Chartists briefly flickered, but was pressed by shadowy Ribbonism and a socially conservative Catholic Church, before being crushed by the state and famine-­ inspired popular apathy.5 With migration becoming in this period a modus vivendi, the Irish became a fluid, highly mobile, often-­transient population, who, in Britain at least, were less likely to be enrolled to vote, and thus caught in no man’s land with respect to class politics.6 The once typical view is captured in Joe Melling’s comment on class formation on the Clyde: `the descendants of Irish immigrants … like their fathers, had no history of trade unionism’ before 1914.7

More recently, perspectives have changed, with William Kenefick strongly disavowing Melling’s viewpoint.8 In England, too, Fielding has also questioned the negative perspective on the Irish. For him, they were subject to influences of both ethnic and class types. `That this produced what, from the outside, appeared a confusing, incoherent cultural amalgam is due to the preconception of the observer and not the culture itself’.9 The perspectives Fielding and Kenefick offer hope of a more nuanced view of ethnicity and class.

New World historiographies in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, more readily recognise the importance of the Irish within working-­class political organisations.10 Thus a transnational perspective might enable the imperial ‘core’ to learn from the colonial `periphery’ and thus be rather less quick to dismiss Irish activism as outside the mainstream, or even anti-­class.11  Besides, any study of Irish ethnicity must take cognisance of a wider frame of reference than the single immigrant community: ideally, cross-­ethnic and multi-­site analyses should be pursued, though these require teams, not individuals, if they are to reach the scholarly standards of archival research we, as historians, demand.12 Campbell’s comparison of the Irish in Australia and the United States, offers a generalised way of imagining such work,13 while Shelton Stromquist’s incredibly detailed examination of entangled transnational lives offers a specific methodological template for this type of work.14

I wish to examine some of the issues emerging from alternative pressures on the Irish working class. Whilst I cannot hope to make a close comparison of several countries, I will begin from the assumption that the ideas underpinning Irish socio-­political identity travelled transnationally are in any case worthy of comparative consideration. Rather than an in-­depth analysis of such connections, this paper should be viewed as an appeal to scholars to connect the dots across the globe. If nothing more, this is a sketch map for further work, possibly of a collaborative nature. But at each stage of the discussion, we will see how local activities had transnational contexts. I want to argue that class and ethnicity are not as incompatible as British labour historians would have us believe and that perspectives from overseas can help us see why this is the case.

The Irish and Political Formations

Scholars in Canada, Australia and New Zealand may find curious the bifurcation of Irish/Catholic/Nationalist, on the one hand, and class/labour, on the other. There is certainly an appreciation of the Irish worker’s contribution to the formation of trades unions and labour parties in those countries, though all would recognise the tensions between ethnicity and class described here—at least to some extent. Moreover, increasingly, scholars in Britain and the former colonies would also accept the role played by the Orange Order in underpinning the one element of the Irish working class which is little considered: the Conservative, militantly Protestant grouping for whom Labourism was as much of an anathema as Catholicism. Allied to this, external threats to Empire—for example Boer nationalism and the increasingly intense Irish freedom struggle of the 1910s—each contributed to an efflorescence of pro-­imperial, reactionary, essentially right-­wing movements. Ethnic associations such as the St George’s societies, the Victoria League, and Orangeism itself distracted some parts of the working class, including women. When the elements are put together with the apathetic and the unaffiliated, the working class looks far less homogenous than early social historians would have us believe.

From the earliest point, Irish radicalism influenced and was influenced by British, French and American activities and ideas, as Ian McCalman illustrates in his brilliant study of London’s plebeian.15 Later Irish activists were not monochrome in their views either. Michael Davitt began his career as a Fenian in the 1860s, and finished up as a supporter of Labour’s parliamentary candidates in the Edwardian period. But, it is little known how firmly he recommended a labourite line to the Irish in Britain, whose votes were too few to swing elections. John Wheatley mixed Catholicism and socialism and was easily able to link his support for Irish reforms with the demands of the British working class. This approach became more common after about 1900. Indeed, there is a persistent intellectual and ideological connection between Irish and British radical ideas, with Eugenio Biagini recently stressing how important Ireland was for the British left, as late as the Edwardian period.16 Moreover, Davitt and a variety of other much later Irish nationalists (for example, John Redmond, John Devoy and Joe Devlin), like their socialist equivalents, Tom Mann and Ben Tillett, and the prominent Irish socialist, James Connolly, spread these views by taking advantage of the circuitry of the British World to promote their views.17

From the earliest moments of the industrialisation process, an oath-­bound clandestine culture of the Irish countryside influenced Irish labour in Britain before spreading overseas. In the 1760s the most turbulent of the dockers of Wapping in London were thought to be former Irish Whiteboys. Following one particular strike, the authorities described the Irish dock workers thus: `a few of them [are] quiet laborious men, [but] the rest are of a riotous disposition and ready to join in any kind of disorder, and from 70 to 100 are the very dregs of mankind, capable of any kind of mischief’.18 These clannish networks were enduring and were repeated many times, most spectacularly in 1870s Pennsylvania, when the Molly Maguires flashed so brightly and violently in the State’s anthracite mining towns.19 With so many Irish despatched to Australia, there has been some consideration of the extent to which Irish redressers, riots and rebels introduced anti-­authoritarian feelings into the politics of the New World. O’Farrell and Moore capture the tensions between those who accept the Irish revisionist perspective (that these were nothing more than social protesters) and the Marxist-­nationalist perspective (that Irish protest was suffused with genuine political consciousness).20 Whichever perspective we adopt, there is no doubting the wide-­ranging presence of Irishmen in Australia’s nascent labour movement.

In the eighteenth century, Irish radicals’ ideas interacted with American and French ones and were influential on both sides of the Atlantic. Irish Presbyterians in the American colonies adopted republican ideology and expressed anti-­ English and pro-­French sentiments during the revolutionary period. Similar views were noted among weavers in Scotland in the 1770s, many of whom were the kinsmen of the Ulstermen transplanted to America.21 The Irish were also forgers of alliances. The United Irishmen were instrumental in developing the United Scotsmen, which in turn gave rise to a `shadowy offshoot, the United Englishmen’,22 formed by a renegade Irish priest, James Coigley, before his execution for `compassing and imagining the death of the King and adhering to the King’s enemies’.23 By 1798 the authorities had learned of hundreds of oaths being administered in the north, not least among Irish textile workers. Irish sailors were also prominent in the naval mutinies of 1797 and 1798, and formed a majority of those transported to Australia.24

Jacobinal Irish nationalism faced reactionary forces bent on preserving the status quo: Church and King mobs and Paine burning riots in England; and the Orangeism in Ireland and beyond.25 The Orange Order was, in the 1790s, a tooth and claw response to the United Irishmen’s promise to plant the `green bough’ of liberty in the Crown of England. In this sense, Orangeism counterpointed radical, revolutionary or republican forms of unrest and protest in the Atlantic world in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Inspired by R. R. Palmer, Irish historians have been heavily involved in conceptualising ideology in transoceanic terms.26 As the two sides— Green and Orange— competed over essential definitions of true liberty as well as social justice and economic ascendancy, the result was violence, intimidation, bloodshed and a deepening of the fault lines of religion in Ulster society.27 From which emerged, as a counterweight to this idea of the `green bough’, the Orangeman’s own arboreal metaphor for liberty: the `Orange Tree’.28 These were the competing ideas taken by both sides to the New World.

The Age of Revolution and Famine

Irish participation in the reform movement of the 1820s and 1830s had been impressive, though much less revolutionary than it had been under the influence of the United Irishmen.29 Prosaically, the Irish were active within protean trade unionism and thus participated `in virtually every major trial of strengthbetween cotton hand-­loom weavers and their employers’.30 And, as one priest told Cornewall Lewis’s commission in 1836, the Irish are `more prone to take part in trades unions, combinations and secret societies than the English’; moreover, `they are the talkers and ringleaders on all occasions’.31 From Cato Street to the formation of Chartism, Irish and radical ideas combined to some extent, and Irish activism ensured an ethnic connection from this generation of activists to the British World. The Irish were among the rebels and Chartists sent to Australia who formed what we might term a folk diaspora— a consistent body of men who rejected Old World inequalities in the hope of New World Utopianism.

The Famine radicalised Irish politics in a way unknown before the mid-­1840s. The Young Ireland movement— led by the journalists who formed the Nation newspaper, Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy and John Blake Dillon— promoted a more radical agenda alongside the influential writings of James Finton Lalor, a man whose family had interesting Australian connections, his brother leading the insurgency of the Eureka Stockade.Meanwhile, the momentous year 1848 saw Chartism and the Young Irelanders’ newly formed Irish Confederates coming together with a twin program of repeal and democratic reform.32 The `year of revolutions’ illustrates the extent of Irish participation in Chartism. Only the desperate victims of the Famine were beyond the scope of Chartism? their `daily struggle for survival necessitated “political” engagement with philanthropic and relief agencies rather than with a radical political movement.33 In Liverpool, which was being swamped by desperate waves of migration, 1848 witnessed a huge proliferation in radical activity. The authorities feared the port would be used as a staging post by Irish brigades trained in New York, and the city witnessed an explosion of Confederate Clubs, activated through the Ribbon networks.34 These movements undoubtedly offered some prospect of class-­centred co-­operation, but planning was poor.35 It is these networks which provide potentially the richest sites for exploring connections and activities among migrants, though, in Australia, Ribbonism was a word uttered only once, during pitched battles between Orangemen and Catholics in Melbourne in July 1846.36 Thus we see potential of sectarian splits, all of which affected the integration of the Irish—even in the Antipodes where tensions were not as severe as in the Atlantic World.

While Irish politics were being radicalised, the anti-­Irish stance of the press hardened.37 Labour historians also notice intensified anti-­Irish feeling among British workers, marked by violence against knobstick labour and the increasing use of that foul epithet, `No Irish Need Apply’, in job adverts.38 The `Hungry Forties’, as they were later dubbed, presented particularly acute challenges for the working class.39 In the northern towns, Orangeism was revivified as a force of popular conservatism against Catholicism, Ribbonism and nascent Irish nationalism.40 As these multiple pressures exerted themselves on Irish populations which were overwhelmingly pressed into the lower reaches of the urban economy, the immigrants were enveloped by a sense of psychological, if not literal, ghettoisation. No wonder Neville Kirk tells us that the Irish in the north closed in on themselves, causing a generation-­long introspection that curtailed pan-­ethnic class activism.41 Moreover, the presence of the Orangemen fostered violence in countless locations beyond Britain. Canada saw the worst incidents outside Ulster, with more than ten people being killed in New Brunswick in 1849 and 1850. Certainly, these events were more than a match for the endemic rioting in Liverpool, Glasgow and surrounding towns.42 Whilst pre-­ famine Australia suffered much less of this type of activity, the 1860s saw a hardening of sectarian divisions there too.43 

Chartism, like Irish Confederacy and the Young Irelanders, had a transnational effect, for these radicals had another life— as transportees to Australia. While it seems that not many Irishmen were involved in the Chartist high-­points in places such as Newport, this cannot be said of those men with overtly Chartist views who were involved in Australian events, such as the 1854 Eureka stockade, led by the Irishman, Peter Lalor, brother of the radical, and land reformer, James Fintan Lalor.44 While the movement of 1848 failed, nationalist organisation nevertheless was strengthened since the exile of Irish leaders such as Mitchel, T. F. Meagher, and William Smith O’Brien to the Australian penal colonies focused the minds of a new generation of activists in the Atlantic World. Thus, when as escapees from Van Diemen’s Land, Mitchel, Meagher and others turned up in 1850s America, they were feted like kings, initially earning a good living on the lecture circuit before settling down to continue their struggles in different ways.45


Nationalism took a new turn in the late 1850s, following the formation of the Fenians in New York and its Irish arm, the Irish Republic Brotherhood, in Dublin, under the 1848 veteran, James Stephens. Fenianism has been characterised as an undoctrinaire liberation movement, which benefited enormously from Irish-­ American support.46 A strand within the organisation was, however, committed to republicanism in the European sense, focused on an opposition to monarchical government that had ideological importance beyond the immediate confines of the Irish freedom struggle.47 In its cellular structure and clandestine codes, passwords and activities, Fenianism was also drawing up both previous Irish traditions, such as Ribbonism.48 Fenianism certainly was a global movement— what Peter Hart tellingly dubbed `the Black Hand of republicanism stretching from New York to London’.49 He could usefully have added Sydney and New Zealand’s West Coast to his range.

The international dimension was shaped, in practical terms, by a generation of Irish-­Americans, Civil War veterans— men such as the chief organiser, Ohio-­ born Civil War veteran, John McCafferty— who contributed to the campaign of violence and terror which was taken to Britain in 1867. In post-­bellum America, Fenianism has been seen as one of several competing nationalisms which, along with African-­American identity and white supremacist nationalism, shaped ideologies in the era of Reconstruction.50 Furthermore ordinary Irish people around the world developed an emotional and practical affinity with Fenianism by buying its newspaper, The Irish People, or contributing funds and goods. This was remarkably the case, in 1863, when the ‘Fenian Fair’ in Chicago threw up a bewildering array of objects for auction, from Daniel O’Connell’s toothpick to arrows allegedly used by Fionn Mac Cumhall. The fair raised more than $50,000.51 Little wonder that the organisation’s enemies at home and abroad promoted the folk memory of the Fenians as a diasporic organisation and a major international threat.52

During the early 1860s, the military endeavours of the Irish in America had been of interest to a British government that was hostile towards the northern cause in the American Civil War. The British state and press were mindful of the lure of the American military for the Irish in America. The war in general and Fenian activities in particular, threw up conundrums for the British. Consternation was caused by the Union government’s recruitment of British subjects in Canada, Ireland and America for the conflict against the Confederacy. Indeed, as parliament discussed the legitimacy of the Northern struggle against the South, Lord Brougham spoke of the Federal government `entrapping poor Irishmen into unlawful conduct, which in this country would subject them to punishment as criminals’.53

Fenianism embodied the problems which growing Irish nationalist sentiment in the United States presented to the old colonial power. By the late 1860s the American brotherhood counted a membership of up to 50,000 with many more sympathisers.54 In the same period, Fenianism took the fight to Britain and her colonies, launching a series of daring attacks on Canada between 1866 and 1871, which were no more than brilliant publicity stunts? and a Fenian attempted to assassinate Prince Alfred on his state visit to Australia.55 Perhaps more worrying were attempts to infiltrate British forces: certainly the government took steps to prevent `Irish Americans’ from signing up to join the naval reserve in Canada.56

Initially frightening, the raids fostered American embarrassment and British anger, and strengthened Canadian military cooperation with their American counterparts. The diasporic dimension was strengthened in 1868 by the fact that Fenian prisoners were on board the very last shipment of convicts to Australia. These men included John Boyle O’Reilly, British army soldier, who escaped his Australian prison on board the Catalpa and ended up owner and editor of the pro-­Irish Boston Pilot.57

One response to Fenianism was the renewed vigour of Orangeism. In the United States Orange anti-­Catholicism was subsumed with American nativism— which encompassed a wider sectarian rejection of Catholics in general and the Irish in particular. In Canada, Orangeism spread rapidly in this period, driven by the Fenian raids on the country and the presence of so many Ulster Protestants within the Irish population. Even Australia, which had seemed distant from these Atlantic World grievances, began to be infected by pro-­Fenian sentiment, and, with a new generation of Cullenite priests arriving to coincide with the campaign for denominational schooling, Protestant alarm at public funding for non-­Protestant schools began to affect Australia as it was affecting Britain at the same time. The specifics of Fenianism also infected colonial society. Nervous about bomb blasts and killings in Britain, the colonists were additionally alarmed at the decision to send sixty-­two Fenian prisoners to Australia in 1867, an event that coincided with Prince Alfred’s tour. Unlike its American equivalent, the Australian Catholic press gushed about the royal visit. Sectarian feelings and a more general public panic was instilled when Henry O’Farrell, with a cry of `I’m a Fenian— God Save Ireland’, shot the prince in the back at a picnic in a Sydney suburb.58 The spreading of Fenianism and sympathies also made waves in New Zealand, in March 1868, with a mock funeral for the Fenians executed for killing a policeman in Manchester, the so-­called `Manchester Martyrs’.59 The response from the colonial authorities in New Zealand was disproportionately firm, but succeeded in smoothing relations in the colony.60

Green and Orange Diasporas

Constitutional Home Rule also enforced the global nature of Irish politics. Led by the Irish MPs in Westminster, a new, legitimate and peaceable political movement was funded from within the Irish communities in the Irish diaspora. By the 1880s the movement had produced men of the stature of the Irishmen, Charles Stewart Parnell and T. P. O’Connor, and brought ex-­Fenians in from the wings. Emerging directly out of Isaac Butt’s Amnesty Association— a campaign to free Fenian prisoners— the Home Rule Confederation, formed in 1870, spread across the diaspora. The period of the Land War (1879-­82) brought renewed focus to the nationalist campaign and a greater international reach. The widespread violence of upheaval accompanying bad harvests and hunger in 1879 injected new militancy into Irish politics, and eventually brought Fenian elements and constitutionalists together. The period also witnessed a tactical turn, which would produce a new approach, as Parnell, his sister, Fanny, T. P. O’Connor, and others, toured the USA to raise funds. At about the same time, the Australian branches of the Land League donated £500 to the Irish cause. A year later, the Australian Irish had committed £3,800 of a total of nearly £200,000.61

Colonial voices in Adelaide were, however, more dismissive than those of American Republicans, criticising the Leaguers’ associations with `the dark emissaries of Fenianism’.62 In May 1882 the Phoenix Park Murders shook the Irish movement and intensified British hostility. The resumption of this Fenian-­ style violence had a new, diasporic twist, however, with Irish-­American dynamite bombers, overseen by the militant Irish-­American Clan na Gael movement, attempting to blow up Liverpool Town Hall and setting off three explosions in Glasgow.63

The League’s success was partly a measure of the effectiveness of middle-­ class leaders and the importance of modern communications. As Irish people became established in new communities, the networks of nationalism aided a more expansive vision of the future, one which spread beyond the single issue of Ireland’s freedom. American historian, Thomas N. Brown, captures the merger of values: `Irish-­American nationalism, the zealous adoption of the land question, represented a yearning for self-­improvement … [for] the Irish wanted to be middle-­class and respectable … [and] in the Lace Curtain Irishman the rebel found fulfilment’.64 Others have emphasised the questions of class struggle that Brown’s liberal self-­improvement thesis ignores. For Foner, the successful mobilisation was the measure of the welding of Irish class and ethnic imperatives, with the League seen as an instrument in the American-­Irish community’s `assimilation … with a strong emergent oppositional working class culture’.65 Then again, the Marxist-­Nationalist historian, Kerby Miller, argues that the politicisation of the Irish in America was a manipulative mobilisation by middle-­ class community leaders, best explained by application of Gramsci’s theory of hegemony.66

This leads to a question about cultural contexts. Was there greater fluidity in the New World—less of a glass ceiling— thus allowing for the fullest expression of individual and collective identity by immigrants like the Irish? While many Irish in Britain felt the same way as their American counterparts, their organisation failed on both points: they could not break into the native political arena either by forming their own party or by dominating an existing party. In Britain during this period, the successor to the Land League, the Irish National League, though it could reasonably be called `the political voice of the Irish community’, failed to become a `Tammany Hall-­like machine’,67 and never enjoyed electoral leverage. The mature and conservative political culture of British life, and the absence of a large Irish middle class in most towns, save for Liverpool and Glasgow, made the political achievements of their American cousins an enviable dream, and something that would not be realised throughout industrial Britain until perhaps the 1920s, by which time Irishmen were playing a significant role in the British Labour Party. In New Zealand and Australia, the Irish could not be unshackled to the extent they were in America, but still benefited from greater opportunities in fast-­changing new societies.

If, in one reading, nationalism might inhibit class-­consciousness, Orangeism unquestionably did the same. Orangeism represented `cultural transfer’ through imperialism and migration, providing a palpable institutional framework for diverse loyalists: from soldiers manning early colonial frontiers to migrants in Britain, Canada, the USA and Australasia.68 The Order’s distribution across the globe represented a firm example of the durability of migrants. Its evolution into a genuinely global movement began in the Atlantic World before the tendrils of the British Empire took it further. Harland-­Jacobs, in the most important study of this type, argues for an appreciation of the character of Orangeism by overlaying different levels and conceptions of Atlantic World cultures (comparative, transnational and peculiar/local experiences). Harland-­Jacobs concludes that an Atlantic model of analysis works for the first half of the nineteenth century but not for the later period, where global methodologies are needed to understand an ever farther-­flung culture of Orangeism that reached as far as Australia and New Zealand.69 But wherever it appeared, the `rituals, rules and administrative structure provided … a sense of familiar order and direction, as well as a source of mutual aid in times of crisis’.70 Again, as it grew, the prospect of sectarian violence increased. Serious fighting occurred in Toronto, Liverpool, Belfast and elsewhere? explosively so in New York in 1870 and 1871, where there were mortal riots.71 Even Hobart saw violence and protest, in 1879, when Catholics— both middle class and working class—objected to Pastor Charles Chiniquy’s Orange Order-­promoted anti-­Catholic lecturing tour.72

The global dynamism of Orangeism had led the Irish Grand Lodge in Ireland to seek a degree of control over the movement globally. In the 1850s and 1860s, the regularity of communication from the colonies to Ireland seemed to suggest a functioning Orange world, but one which needed order and the reaffirmation of core beliefs.73 In 1865, the Grand Lodge developed an international triennial council in recognition of its global connections, and also to maintain them. At this first meeting a motion was passed which captured its desire to `take into consideration the state of Orangeism and Protestantism, with a view to devising means for the furtherance of the cause of Truth, and the extension of the Orange Society’.74 In the 1860s and 1870s members from Ireland, Britain and Canada dominated the meetings. In the 1880s and 1890s, delegates from Australia and New Zealand travelled halfway round the world to be in attendance. In 1929, the triennial council again met in Glasgow, where members were told how the strength of the Order in North America was being supplemented by the formation of a lodge in Cuba.75 Eight years later, the global conference again attracted members from the USA, Canada, Australasia, Britain and Ireland.76

During the late 1880s working-­class leaders like Keir Hardie began to address nationalist gatherings in the hope of gaining support for Independent Labour Party (ILP) and Labour Representation Committee (LRC) parliamentary candidates. During the 1890s and early 1900s, changes began to be wrought in the overall character of the Irish vote. On Tyneside, the formation of an Irish Labour Party pointed to a new realpolitik, one underpinned by the preachings of Michael Davitt: that whilst Irishmen in Britain would always support Home Rule, they must also look to their class interests.77 The compatibility of such a pairing of values became more viable with the early labour parties strongly endorsing the cause of Irish freedom. The abolition of the House of Lords’ veto on parliamentary legislation in 1911 encouraged the moderate constitutionalist led by John Redmond. In that year, the Irish nationalist leader toured Scotland, following in the wake of Sir Edward Carson, the Ulster Unionist leader, answering the latter’s speeches. Redmond was at the height of his powers and after one address 20,000 to 30,000 Irish nationalists and members of the Young Scots League escorted him around Glasgow. Equally, Carson’s tours against the Third Home Rule Bill saw enormous crowds gathering in towns the length and breadth of Britain—and not just Orangemen and ultras, but also a broader constituency of working-­class men and women, Irish and otherwise.78 At the Orangemen’s triennial council meeting in Glasgow, in 1912, the New York Orangemen’s delegate, Andrew Weir, boasted confidently of 100,000 Orangemen in the United States whose support was assured to `wipe out the home rule enemy’.79 But this was mere bluster. In Australia and Canada parliamentary support was given to Home Rule for Ireland—but on the grounds that federation would strengthen the Empire.80

From then till the Great War and the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921, Irish politics was marked by the initial success of constitutional methods and by the emergence of Sinn Fein. There were many other groups too which played for migrant sympathies, and the general tenor of Celtic revivalism, which gave rise to Race Conventions and other politico-­cultural celebrations, drew in support from Irish communities across the world. Indeed, there was a convention in Australia, in 1920, which demonstrated the range of this type of racially exclusive nationalism.81


This tour of the trajectories of Irish political affinities illustrates the international movements, which Irishmen formed, and some of their tensions with class-­based organisations. Perhaps we do have, in ethnicity, one explanation of any flaws or weaknesses in solely class-­based analyses. Equally problematic is the notion that ethnicity and class were hermetically sealed off from each other. Comparing political movements across the globe has its problems, not least the requirement to understand different local effects. Patently, while the implementation of a diaspora-­consciousness connected these disparate Irish people, the Irish experience in Britain was nevertheless different from that in America or the colonial setting. Equally, the tendrils of British rule ensured that, for an Irish Australian, there was less freedom to criticise the mother country than was true of America, where baiting Britain was a pastime matched only in the shadowy recesses of Ireland itself.

If we follow Campbell’s analysis of Irish-­Australian responses to the Irish Revolution, 1916-­21— and there is every reason to suppose we should— then the melting-­pot effect of a new society comes into play. The Easter Rising, war with the British, and then, later, bloody conflict between Treatyites and Anti-­ Treatyites, left Irishmen in Australia `confused, angry and embarrassed’.82 They struggled to square the circle of Australian diggers offering their lives in Gallipoli and on the Western Front as nationalists in Ireland sought age-­old opportunity from England’s troubles by launching the Easter Rising of 1916. If, as we said, the colonial connections made ethnic lives in Australia much more constrained than those in the United States, it was during this turbulent period when emerging Australian nationalism and hardening Irish nationalism set the two countries apart.

At the same time, the increasingly racialised vision of the British Empire which drew in widespread popular support against Boers and Chinese workers, evidently also affected the Irish.83 The concept of whiteness does not, in my view, hold any genuine utility in discussing a group of people who, whatever their impediments, were never anything but white.84 Whilst Irish labourites were no less racist than their non-­Irish counterparts, and though Irish nationalism itself began to favour primordalist definitions of nationhood (hence Race conventions), Irish nationalism also fell under the watchful eye of pro-­British imperialists. In this respect, Australia was no different. In 1920, Brisbane’s St George’s Society expressed strong opposition to the appointment of an Irishman, Mr W. Lennon, to the lieutenant-­governorship of Queensland, expressing the view locally and publicly, but also in newspapers and via its parent society in London.85 At the same time, Orangemen badgered the government in Melbourne for allowing a `prohibited immigrant’, the Irish Republican Brotherhood man, Esmonde, to leave the vessel upon which he was supposed to be detained.86

Disagreements over the course of Irish independence certainly caused waves but hardly ruptures. Alongside a general but declining sympathy among liberals and nationalists for the Home Rule cause, we must also set the kind of integration of Irish people that Thomas Brown reckoned had occurred in the United States a generation earlier. Where, then, did the Irish nationalist go? If the Easter Rising embarrassed them, did they switch to Labour, or continue their allegiances to liberal or centrist parties? While the Anglo-­Irish War may have finished off the primacy of Irish issues in their minds, were they not already trade union leaders and local councillors, like Dan McCabe who became a Labour mayor in the Manchester described by Steve Fielding? Was not the rejection of Irish revolutionism inevitable for a people who were essentially reformists in search of a federal concordat? And so, is the mixing of class and ethnicity really so unlikely? Certainly, even the most cursory search for `Irish’, `nationalist’ and `trade union’ in the Australia Dictionary of Biography reveals twenty-­seven names, including examples such as the O’Connellite and Catholic politician, John O’Shanassy; James Joseph Callaghan, teachers’ trade unionist, second-­generation Irish, and correspondent to the Freeman’s Journal; and Francis Gwynne Tudor, Protestant Irish nationalist and union leader in the felt-­hat trade.87 These men were the Dan McCabes of Australia: Irish, nationalist, but more than that— joiners and leaders. But there are further complications— ones that have been barely considered. For example, what happened to the working-­ class Orange Tories? Did they remain this way through the generations? Melanie Nolan’s innovative collective biography of the McCullough clan of Christchurch, New Zealand, suggests not: even hard-­bitten Ulster Protestants steeped in the Orange tradition shifted from right to left, from Orangeism to Labourism.88  While there is much to ponder, we can be sure that simplistic nationalism-­versus-­class perspectives will not suffice.



1   Keighley News, 22 September 1893, and Keighley Labour Journal, 24 October 1896, cited in D. James, Class and Politics in a Northern Industrial Town: Keighley 1880-­1914 (Keele: Keele University Press, 1995), 69.
2   Labour Leader, 7 April 1894, quoted in T.W. Moody, `Michael Davitt and the British labour movement, 1882-­1906′, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser. IV (1953), 72.
3   J.W. Boyle, The Irish Labor Movement in the Nineteenth Century (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1988).
4   G. C. Lewis, On Local Disturbances in Ireland and on the Irish Church Question (Dublin: B. Fellowes, 1836); T. Desmond Williams (ed.), Secret Societies in Ireland (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1973), 26-­35; Beames’ essay in C. H. E. Philpin (ed.), Nationalism and Popular Protest in Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridget University Press, 2002), 139-­62, and the sources cited there.
5   Malcolm Chase, Chartism: A New History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007).
6   R. McKibbin et. Al., ‘The Franchise factor in the rise of the Labour Party’, English Historical Review, xci (1976), 723-­52.
7   J. Melling, ‘Scottish Industrialists and the Changing Character of Class Relations in the Clyde Region, c.1880-­1918’, in T. Dickson (ed.), Capital and Class in Scotland (Edinburgh: J. Donald, 1982), 92.
8   W. Kenefick, Rebellious and Contrary: The Glasgow Dockers, 1853–1932 (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 2000), 20-­4.
9   Steve Fielding, Class and Ethnicity: Irish Catholics in England, 1880-­1939 (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1993), 18.
10   Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic: New York City & the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-­1850 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), esp. 266-­7.
11   E.g. Gary B. Magee and Andrew S. Thompson, Empire and Globalisation (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2010).
12   Nancy L. Green: The Comparative Method and Poststructural Structuralism: New Perspectives for Migration Studies’, Jan Lucassen and Leo Lucassen (eds.), Old Paradigms and New Perspectives3rd edn (1997; Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005).
13   Malcolm Campbell, Ireland’s New Worlds: Immigrants, Politics, and Society in the United States and Australia, 1815–1922 (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press,2008).
14   Shelton Stromquist, ‘“Thinking globally; acting locally”: Municipal Labour and Socialist Activism in Comparative Perspective, 1890–1920, Labour History Review, 74, 3 (2009), 233-­56.
15   Ian McCalman, The Radical Underworld: Prophets, Revolutionaries and Pornographers in London, 17951840 (Cambridge: Cambridget University Press, 1988).
16   E. F. Biagini, British Democracy and Irish Nationalism, 1876-­1906 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
17   For two examples of Irish globe-­trotting, see Malcolm Campbell, ‘John Redmond and the Irish National League in Australia and New Zealand, 1883’, History, 86 (2001), 348-­62; Emmet O’Connor: ‘James Larkin in the United States, 1914-­23’, Journal of Contemporary History, 37 (2002), 183-­96.
18   Dorothy George, ‘The London coal-­heavers: attempts to regulate waterside labour in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries’, in Economic History Supplement to the Economic Journal (May 1927), 236.
19   Kevin Kenny, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998).
20   Patrick O’Farrell, The Irish in Australia (1986; Sydney 2001 edn); Andrew Moore, ‘An “Indelible Hibernian Mark”? Irish Rebels and Australian Labour Radicalism: An Historiographical Overview’, Labour History, No. 75 (Nov., 1998), 1-­8.
21   N. Murray, The Scottish Handloom Weavers, 1790-­1850 (Edinburgh, 1979), 208; M.J. Bric, `The Irish and the evolution of “New Politics” in America’, in P.J. Drudy (ed.), The Irish in America: Emigration, Assimilation and Impact (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 143-­67.
22   G. Walker, ‘The Protestant Irish in Scotland’, in T.M. Devine (ed.), Irish Immigrants and Scottish Society in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1994), 46; Marianne Elliott, Partners in Revolution: The United Irishmen in France (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1982), 144-­50.
23   Coigley worked with other expatriates, including the Binns brothers, and of course members of the London Corresponding Society. McCalman, Radical Underworld; Elliott, Partners in Revolution, 144.
24   Ellliot, Partners in Revolution, 136-­43, 163-­240; T. Pakenham, The Year of Liberty: The History of the Great Irish Rebellion of 1798 (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1969).
25   Frank O’Gorman, ‘The Paine Burnings of 1792-­1793’, Past & Present, 193 (Nov. 2006), 111-­55; E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London: Victor Gollancz,1963), 81-­83; H. Senior, Orangeism in Ireland and Britain, 1795-­1836 (London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1966).
26   R. R. Palmer, Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-­ 1800, 2 vols (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959-­64). David A Wilson, United Irishmen, United States: Immigrant Radicals in the Early Republic (Dublin: Four Courts, 1998); Patrick Griffin, The People with No Name (Princeton, NJ: Primceton University Press, 2001); Kerby Miller, A. Schrier, B. D. Boling, D.N. Doyle, Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan: Letters and Memoirs from Colonial and Revolutionary America, 1675-­1815,  (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press,1993).
27   Wilson, United Irishmen, ch.1.
28   Loyal Orangemen’s Song Book: Being a collection of the most approved songs now in use by that Institution (North Shields, 1815?). On the Orange tree, see Fitzpatrick, ‘Exporting Brotherhood’, 278-­9.
29   Dorothy Thompson, ‘Ireland and the Irish in English Radicalism before 1850’, in idem and J. Epstein (eds.), The Chartist Experience: Studies in Working-­Class Radicalism and Culture, 1830-­1860 (London: Macmillan, 1982).
30   J.H. Treble, ‘The attitude of the Roman Catholic church towards trade unionism in the north of England’, Northern History, 5 (1970), 96-­9.
31   Royal Commission on the Condition of the Poorer Classes in Ireland, App G: Report into the State of the Irish Poor in Great Britain, British Parliamentary Papers (1836), xxiii.
32   J. Saville, 1848: The British State and The Chartist Movement (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); J. Belchem, ‘Nationalism, republicanism and exile: Irish emigrants and the revolution of 1848’, Past and Present, 146 (1995).
33   Belchem, ‘Nationalism’, 124.
34   Ibid, 123-­8; John Belchem, ‘Liverpool in the year of revolution: the political and associational culture of the Irish immigrant community in 1848′, in idem (ed.), Popular Politics, Riot and Labour: Essays in Liverpool History, 1790-­1940 (Liverpool: Liverpool Universtiy Press, 1992), table 4.1, 96.
35   See, for example, N. Kirk, Working-­Class Radicalism; Belchem, `Feargus O’Connor and the collapse of the mass platform’, in Epstein and Thompson Chartist Experience; W. J. Lowe, The Irish in Mid-­Victorian Lancashire: The Shaping of a Working-­ Class Community (New York: Peter Lang, 1989), 185ff.
36   Argus (Melbourne), 14, 17, 21-­25 July 1846.
37   Lowe, The Irish in Mid-­Victorian Lancashire.
38   NINA became embedded within Irish-­American nationalist mythologies, too, even though incidence of its usage in job adverts were virtually non-­existent on that side of the Atlantic. Richard J. Jensen, ‘“No Irish Need Apply”: A Myth of Victimization’, Journal of Social History, 36, 2 (2002), 405-­29.
39   J. Saville, 1848: the British State and the Chartist Movement (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1990).
40   Donald M. MacRaild, Faith, Fraternity and Fighting (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2005), 36-­50, 176-­83.
41   N. Kirk, The Growth of Working-­Class Reformism in Mid-­Victorian England (London: Croom Helm, 1985).
42   See, W. Scott, Riots in New Brunswick (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993); Frank Neal, Sectarian Violence (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988); Tom Gallagher, Glasgow, the Uneasy Peace (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987).
43   Campbell, Ireland’s New Worlds, 104-­5.
44   ADB [http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lalor-­peter-­3980: accessed 28 July 2011].
45   John Mitchel, Jail Journal (New York: M.H. Gill & Sons 1914); Patrick O’Farrell, Irish in Australia; Thomas Keneally, The Great Shame (London: Virago, 2000).
46   Brian Jenkins, The Fenian Problem: Insurgency and Terrorism in a Liberal State, 1858-­1874 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2008).
47   Owen McGee, The IRB: The Irish Republican Brotherhood from the Land League to Sinn Féin (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2007 edn), ch.1.
48   Donald M. MacRaild, ‘“Abandon Hibernicisation”: Priests, Ribbonmen and an Irish street fight in the north-­east of England in 1858’, Historical Research, 76, 194 (2003), 557-­73.
49   Peter Hart, ‘The Fenians and the International revolutionary traditions’, F. McGarry and J. McConnel (eds), The Black Hand of Republicanism Fenianism in Modern Ireland (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2009), 179-­89.
50   On which, see Mitchell Snay, Fenians, Freedmen and Southern Whites: Race and Nationality in the Era of Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007).
51   Brian Griffin, ‘“Scallions, pikes and bog oak ornaments”: The Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Chicago Fenian Fair, 1864’, Studia Hibernica, 29 (1995-­1997), 85-­97.
52   Máirtín Ó Catháin, ‘The Black Hand of Irish Republicanism’? Transcontinental Fenianism and theories of global terror’, in McGarry and McConnel (eds), Black Hand, 135-­48. Jenkins, Fenian Problem.
53   John Bull, 11 June 1864. Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 11, June 1864. also John Bull12 April 1862.
54   W. D’Arcy, The Fenian Movement in the United States, 1856-­1886 (New York: Russell & Russell, 1971).
55   Richard Davis, ‘The prince and the Fenians, Australasia, 1868-­9: Republican conspiracy or Orange opportunity’, in McGarry and McConnel (eds), Black Hand, 121-­34.
56   870 [C.46] Naval Reserve. Report of the committee appointed by the Admiralty and the Board of Trade , p.32; 1867 [3785] Correspondence respecting the recent Fenian aggression upon Canada, 23.
57   J. J. Roche, Life of John Boyle O’Reilly (New York: Cassell, 1891); F.R. Walsh, The Boston Pilot: a Newspaper for the Irish Immigrant, 1829-­1908 (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan, 1968); Wendy Birman, ‘O’Reilly, John Boyle (1844–1890)’, ADB, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/oreilly-­john-­boyle-­4338.

58   Campbell, Ireland’s New Worlds, 111-­6.
59   Maitland Mercury, 23 April 1868; West Coast Times, 6 April 1868.
60   Richard P. Davis, Irish Issues in New Zealand Politics, 1868-­1922 (Dunedin: University of Otago Press, 1974).
61   Brisbane Courier, 18 August 1881; Argus, 19 April 1882.
62   South Australian Register, 1 July 1882.
63   K.R.M. Short, The Dynamite Wars: Irish-­American Bombers in Victorian Britain (London: Macmillan, 1979); James E. Handley, Irish in Modern Scotland (Cork: Cork University Press, 1946), 274.
64   Walsh, ‘Irish nationalism and Land Reform’, 23, 41, 46.
65   E. Foner, ‘Class, ethnicity and radicalism in the Gilded Age: the Land League and Irish America’, Marxist Perspectives, 1 (Summer 1978) 6, 43.
66   Kerby Miler, in Virginia Yans-­McLaughlin (ed.), Immigration Reconsidered: History, Sociology, Politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).
67   O’Day, ‘Political organisation’ in R. Swift and S. Gilley (eds), The Irish in Britain, 1815-­1939 (London: Pinter, 1989), 204-­7.
68   On its origins in Ireland, see Sean Farrell, Rituals and Riots: Sectarian Violence and Political Culture in Ulster, 1784-­1886 (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2000).
69   Jessica Harland-­Jacobs, ‘“Maintaining the connexion: Orangeism in the British North Atlantic World’, Atlantic Studies, 5, 1 ( 2008), 27-­49.
70   C.J. Houston and W.J. Smyth, ‘The Orange Order in nineteenth-­century Ontario: a study in institutional cultural transfer’, University of Toronto, Department of Geography, Discussion Paper 2 (February 1977), 1.
71   Noel Tyler Headley, The Great Riots of New York, 1712-­1873 (1873;? New York: E. B. Treat, 1970 edn; M.A. Gordon, The Orange Riots: Irish Political Violence in New York City, 1870 and 1871 (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1993).
72   E Dollery, ’The Chiniquy riots, Hobart’, THRAPP 9/4, 1962.
73   MacRaild, Donald M.. ‘Networks, Communication and the Irish Protestant Diaspora in Northern England, c.1860-­1914’, in Delaney and MacRaild, eds. Irish Migration, Networks and Ethnic Identities, 163-­89.
74   Report of the Proceedings of the Grand Orange Conference … 1866 (Downpatrick, 1866), 1, 2.
75   Scotsman, 18 July 1929.
76   Scotsman, 16 July 1937.
77   As ongoing doctoral research is showing: Stephen Shannon, ‘Irish Political Organisations in the North East of England 1890-­1925’.
78   Daniel Jackson, Popular Opposition to Irish Home Rule in Edwardian Britain (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2009).
79   Salt Lake Telegram, 17 July 1912.
80   Campbell, Ireland’s New Worlds, 156-­57; A.T.Q. Stewart, The Ulster Crisis: Resistance to Home Rule, 1912-­14 (1967; Aldershot: Scolar Press. 1993 edn).
81   E.g. History and Album of the Irish Race Convention (Dublin, 1896). Malcolm Campbell, ‘Emigrant responses to war and revolution, 1914-­21: Irish opinion in the United States and Australia’, Irish Historical Studies, 32, 125 (May, 2000).
82   Campbell, ‘Emigrant responses’, 76.
83   Richard Price, Imperial War and the British Working Class: Working Class Attitudes and Reactions to the Boer War, 1899-­1902 (London: Routledge, 1972); M. Lake and H. Reynolds, Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Campaign for Racial Equality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
84   D. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (London: Verso, 1999 edn); N. Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (London:  Routledge, 1995).
85   Brisbane Courier, 14 January 1920.
86   The result was a lengthy investigation and numerous communications with London National Archives of Australia, Canberra, A5522/M770 Inquiry before Mr Justice Harvey re: certain internees. Irish Republican Brotherhood; M4245/5 Misc Papers re: Esmonde.
87   S.M. Ingham, ‘O’Shanassy, Sir John (1818-­1883)’, ADB [http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/oshanassy-­sir-­john-­4347; accessed 27 July 2011]; Bruce Mitchell, ‘Callaghan, James Joseph (1850-­1908)’,ADB [http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/callaghan-­james-­joseph-­5467; accessed 27 July 2011]; and Janet McCalman, ‘Tudor, Francis Gwynne (Frank) (1866-­1922)’ADB, [http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tudor-­francis-­gwynne-­frank-­8874; accessed 27 July 2011].
88   Melanie Nolan, Kin: The Collective Biography of a Working-­class New Zealand Family (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2005); idem, War and Class. The Diary of Jack McCullough (Wellington: Dunmore Press, 2009); idem,‘Was there a Hidden “Orange Mark” on the New Zealand Labour Movement?’, in Brad Patterson (ed.), Ulster-­New Zealand Migration and Cultural Transfers (Dublin: Four Courts, 2005), 165-­82.