Land and Revolution: Nationalist Politics in the West of Ireland, 1891-1921 by Fergus Campbell
|Reviewed By:||Jonathan Githens-Mazer|
|Reviewed in:||Nations and Nationalism|
|Date accepted online:||25/09/2006|
|Published in print:||Volume 12, Issue 2, Pages 359-385|
Campbell's book explores the relationship between popular nationalist land agitation in the West of Ireland and the responses and strategies which were employed to satisfy and quell the demands of such movements on the part of nationalist and British elites and institutions. Campbell's book should be placed into two contexts: first, the recent works by Irish historians which examine Irish nationalism beyond instrumental manipulation by elites, organic or ethnic perceptions of Irish nationalism, and elite or institutional dominated accounts of Irish nationalist movements. To this extent, Campbell unpacks Irish land reform as a form of political action responding to demands from small farmers and labourers in the West of Ireland who perceived a personal and communal need for land agitation and reform within the broader rubric of the Irish nation and nationalism. This particular perception and analysis was distinct from those who espoused Irish 'Home Rule' as the culmination of Irish nationalist aspirations. Campbell traces this difference as a function of geography and land use. In Leinster, large farmers and/or graziers did not see the need for land reform, and were openly hostile to the selling and partitioning of larger pieces of tenanted and untenanted land. For small or landless farmers in the West of Ireland, land reform, especially the breaking up of large estates and the end of grazing, seemed a likely way to ensure their economic future and would restore the pre-eminent status of the Irish nation. The difference in causes and aims impacted on the Irish nationalist institutions - so that the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), which espoused a Home Rule approach, relied greatly on the contributions of these larger farmers and graziers from Leinster, whereas the United Irish League (UIL) was an organisation based in the West of Ireland that appealed (at least initially) to small tenant farmers by espousing an agenda of bringing down rents, ending grazing, and 'encouraging' land owners to sell their land under conditions favourable to tenants and small farmers. Though Campbell describes the attempts by the IPP to co-opt the UIL into their Home Rule programme, the split between these institutions in terms of ends and means meant that these alternative streams of Irish nationalism were not rejoined until after the Rising of 1916, when Sinn Fein rose politically on the back of rebuilding the links between them.
The second context into which Campbell's work must be placed is the close examination of the work of David Fitzpatrick. Campbell engages with Fitzpatrick's assertion that Irish nationalism in the wake of the 1916 Easter Rising was 'old wine in new bottles' - i.e. that radical nationalism was nothing more than revamped Home Rule nationalism and that the rise of Sinn Fein, in its ideals and institutions, reflected an opportunistic form of nationalist reorganisation rather than a break with or redefinition of previous forms of Irish nationalism. In particular, Fitzpatrick has argued that the same individuals were involved in Home Rule agitation, the UIL and Sinn Fein before and after the Rising - but Campbell's careful and thorough historical research in terms of documents, letters, handbills, newspapers, newly rediscovered intelligence reports, and the vast personal accounts of activities and motivations in the Bureau of Military History Archives challenge this assertion, showing that this was not the case in Galway and casts doubts over some of the broader conclusions which have been extrapolated from Fitzpatrick's work about post-Rising nationalism beyond the borders of Clare.
This book is an essential work for scholars of Irish nationalism. It provides what might be regarded as one of the definitive accounts of land agitation and reform in late nineteenth/early twentieth century Ireland. Its contribution is to demonstrate how and why land agitation became a dominant political theme, and how it had ramifications for political institutions and actors, i.e. Wyndham and the Land Acts, as well as more generally impacting the character of 'Castle Rule' in Ireland. Campbell's engagement with this period of Irish history and nationalism provides insight into rural/urban divides in Irish nationalism, evidence for the emergence of different 'streams' of Irish nationalism at the time (Home Rule vs. Land agitation), illuminating the role of class division in Irish nationalism, and the institutional evolution and development of diverse and sometimes competing nationalist institutions during this period.
For scholars of nationalism more generally, this book should be of real interest and importance. Its exploration of how land agitation and reform impacts the popular perception and institutional evolution of nationalist movements and their elites has significance for conceptions of the nation and territory. Its rigorous methodological approach in the unpacking of the relationship between popular land agitation amongst individuals 'on the ground' and the impact that this had on nationalist and British elites and institutions helps to signpost the way to examine and explain nationalist movements beyond an elite and/or institutional perspective. As an ethno-symbolist, I wished that this book would have explored some of the symbolic potency of the land which made it such a salient and resonant issue amongst those who were agitating for land reform - an issue which seems anecdotally confirmed in the myths, memories and symbols of evictions from the Penal Era onwards. Those who espouse and seek more political science approaches to nationalism may also question the reduced attention paid to the role of institutions and/or specific elites but such accounts exist elsewhere, and both of these minor absences should do little to deter the scholar of nations and nationalisms from recognising the important contribution of this volume.