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The Catholic Church and the writing of the 1937 constitution

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 3 (May/Jun 2005), Volume 13

De Valera’s cabinet in 1932. De Valera did not consult them about the constitution, so tight was the drafting process.

Eamon de Valera came to power in 1932 as the head of a minority Fianna Fáil government. The writing of a new constitution and its subsequent endorsement by the Irish people on 1 July 1937, albeit by a narrow majority—685,105 for, 526,945 against—helped him to achieve many of his major policy goals. Paradoxically, his strategy was a vindication of the stepping-stone approach advocated by Michael Collins. De Valera used the freedom of office between 1932 and 1937 to achieve greater independence from Britain.
Was there anything wrong with the Irish Free State constitution of 1922? By objective standards, the document was very strong and served the country well. But de Valera and the anti-Treatyites objected vigorously throughout the 1920s to what they perceived as objectionable and repugnant clauses. Yet, once in power, de Valera did not set out immediately to draft a new constitution; he thought radical reform might suffice. He humiliated the governor-general and reduced his office to a very humble status, abolished the oath and undermined the role of the privy council. The decision to write an entirely new constitution was only taken in 1934 in the midst of an economic war with Britain.

Constitution Committee of 1934

Bunreacht na hÉireann may be described as de Valera’s constitution, although he lacked the legal skills to draft the document alone. He handed over that task initially to the Constitution Committee of 1934, a small body of civil servants: Stephen Roche, secretary of the Department of Justice; Michael McDunphy, assistant secretary, Department of the President; John Hearne, the legal adviser at the Department of External Affairs; and Phillip O’Donoghue, legal assistant to the attorney-general. The available evidence suggests that the calibre of those men was very high, that they were independent-minded, strong-willed, very experienced and entered upon their task with diffidence.
Their report was comprehensive; de Valera reviewed it on 30 April 1935, and two days later instructed Hearne to prepare draft heads for a new constitution. The choice of Hearne was not unusual: de Valera was also external affairs minister and had attended numerous League of Nations sessions with Hearne, who may have drafted the president’s notable 1932 speech at Geneva. Hearne had been heavily involved in drafting constitutional amendments early in de Valera’s first term of office.
On 18 May 1935 Hearne submitted draft heads of a constitution prepared on the president’s verbal instructions. In an explanatory memorandum he made clear his rationale: to include unassailable fundamental human rights that could only be suspended in an emergency; to ‘contain machinery for effectively preserving public order during any such emergency’; and to provide a presidency for the state, eliminating the governor-general and superseding the king in internal matters, while retaining the latter in international relations. These draft heads were in reality an attempt to modify the existing constitution. Arising from them were two major questions. The first was whether the new constitution should or could be enacted by the existing Oireachtas, and, if not, whether a constituent assembly should be called and, if so, how?  The second was whether the draft heads violated the 1921 Treaty.
Although these questions went unanswered, the drafting of a new constitution proceeded into 1936. Again, very few were involved, with the official record noting that ‘the preparation of the original draft was done mainly by John Hearne, in consultation Phillip O’Donoghue . . . and the parliamentary draftsman, Mr [Arthur] Matheson, BL under the personal direction of the president’. De Valera was a regular visitor to the Hearne household, where both men worked late. While Hearne and his colleagues favoured a short document, it grew large and unwieldy.
There are two possible reasons for the enlargement of the original draft. It may have resulted from submissions of draft articles by the Irish province of the Jesuits, through Fr Edward Cahill, and, more substantially, owing to a deluge of material sent in by Fr John Charles McQuaid, a Holy Ghost Father from Blackrock College and future archbishop of Dublin. As strict secrecy surrounded the drafting process—with de Valera not even confiding in his cabinet—both sources could only have been made aware of the clandestine drafting process on de Valera’s personal authorisation. It is possible that the secretary of external affairs, Joseph Walshe, may also have been employed to act as a contact.
Cahill submitted a draft on 4 August 1936 that de Valera acknowledged in a return note on 19 September, doubting whether the material could be used but inviting more submissions. Other Jesuits, worried that Cahill alone among the Irish Society members would make submissions to de Valera, established a committee to draft a formal submission as the official presentation from the Irish province of the Jesuits. Cahill was appointed to the committee, along with some of the ‘best heads’ the order had ‘in matters of this kind’: P. Bartley acted as president, J. McErlean was secretary, and J. Canavan and E. Coyne were also appointed.

Influenced by the Polish constitution

Governor-General James MacNeill about to enter the Pro-cathedral during the Eucharistic Congress in 1932. Note that he is all alone; there are no government ministers accompanying him. De Valera’s government snubbed MacNeill at every opportunity as part of the process of demeaning the office of governor-general. (Cork Examiner)

The committee first met on 24 September 1936. It decided, amongst other issues, to draft a preamble on the model of the Polish constitution. On 1 October it considered three draft preambles submitted by Cahill, Canavan and Coyne. At this meeting it approved, ‘with slight modifications’, an article on church and state drafted by Bartley. But drafting the article that declared that the state could not dissolve a valid marriage was difficult. Various attempts were made to find a satisfactory wording that would embrace all possible cases, and further consideration was held over until the next meeting, when drafts on private property and on freedom of conscience, of the press and of association were to be discussed.
On 8 October 1936 many drafts were considered and approved with slight modification. An article on church–state relations was passed with an addition proposed by Canavan. On Catholic marriage and the state, everyone except Canavan accepted Bartley’s draft. It was decided to include Canavan’s draft as an alternative. Bartley also drew up the articles on freedom of worship and freedom of the press. Canavan suggested an article on freedom of the cinema, radio, theatre and so forth, and it was decided to include it. The same control was to be exercised by law for these media as for the newspapers. A draft by Coyne on the family was approved. Coyne and Bartley drafted an article on parents and the education of children in schools. The article on religion in school was to be taken, with slight changes, from the Polish constitution.
The committee drew heavily on the Polish constitution, and on 11 October Bartley informed their provincial that their work would be concluded within a week. He proposed to hand over ‘our suggestions to Fr Cahill, who will deliver them in the proper quarter’. However, Bartley took precautions to ensure that Cahill, whose work thus far was ‘very harmonious’, could not veto anything of the committee’s work. He advised that:

‘Fr Cahill will almost certainly want to add recommendations of his own to those approved by the committee. Now these recommendations, partly by their sheer bulk and partly by their singular character, are likely to bring discredit on the very solid findings of the committee, especially if they are delivered at the same time as the committee’s findings.’

Members of the Irish Christian Front making the sign of the cross at a meeting in Grand Parade, Cork, 1936. The prospect of pressure from active Catholic bodies was always likely to influence calculations in relation to constitution-making in 1930s Ireland. (Cork Examiner)

Bartley suggested that Cahill be instructed that nothing be added to the committee’s work but that he would be free later to send in additional recommendations, provided they were approved by any two committee members. Bartley justified this ‘censorship’ because:

‘The source of Fr Cahill’s recommendations will be quite well known to a small number of very important people. The reputation of the Society will be involved; and the provincial has the right to watch over that reputation.’

Bartley had been entrusted with the job of controlling Cahill and preventing him from being too ‘singular’ in his ideas. Yet, contrary to expectations, Cahill played a passive role on the committee. He produced a draft preamble but did not make a substantial contribution to the drafting of any of the articles. It may have been that Cahill was aware of the ‘policeman’ role of the committee and determined to save his ideas for an individual submission. He obviously did not keep secret from Bartley the fact that he was preparing ‘voluminous recommendations’ for de Valera.
Meeting again on 15 October, the committee proceeded steadily. Bartley read the articles as amended ‘by previous decisions of the committee, together with a few additions and modifications handed in by Fr Cahill’. These changes were mostly verbal. In the article on private property, ‘the right to productive and non-productive property’ was outlined. The state was to aim at a wide distribution of private productive property, especially in land. The committee approved an article on private schools. Typed copies of the entire document were to be distributed to all members within a few days. They were at liberty to add any further comments they considered advisable, as well as references to existing foreign constitutions tending to confirm important clauses.
After the meeting Bartley informed the provincial that their work was finished; he was preparing the final report and Cahill was going to type it. They intended to meet again on Sunday 18 October to ‘give this report a final look over’. Bartley explained how he had told Cahill that the committee was ‘authorised by Your Reverence to deliver this report through him in the proper quarter’. Bartley told Cahill that the provincial had some instructions to give him regarding the report. ‘I did not profess to know’, Bartley wrote, ‘the nature of these instructions.’ However, Bartley advised that the instructions should be sent at once.


Two days before the committee met for the last time on 18 October, the provincial wrote to Cahill, giving him exactly the same instructions as Bartley had recommended. All members of the committee were present at its final meeting on 18 October 1936. The preamble was changed slightly so as to read:

Hearne later became ambassador to Washington. He is seen here (right) signing the Double Taxation Agreement in December 1951 under the watchful eye of US Secretary of State Dean Acheson. (Irish News Agency)

‘In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity and of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Universal King, we the people of Ireland so full of gratitude to God who has so mercifully preserved us from innumerable dangers in the past; hereby, as an united independent Christian Nation, establish this Sovereign Society of the Irish people . . . and so in accordance with the principles laid down we freely and deliberately to the glory of God and honour of Ireland, sanction this constitution and decree and enact as follows.’

The committee agreed that references to the constitutions and concordats of Catholic states should be added to the various ‘assertions’ made in the document so ‘that those who have the task of drawing up the constitution may come to know what the Catholics of other European states have already secured’. Cahill was to type the document and submit it without any additions of his own. On 21 October 1936 Cahill wrote to de Valera, enclosing the committee’s preamble and articles:

‘I have, in drawing up the drafts which I am sending you, availed myself of the advice and assistance of three or four others, some of whom have made a special study of these matters; others, although not specialists, are pretty well informed on them, and are men on whose judgment I have confidence.’

Influence of John Charles McQuaid

Returning to John Charles McQuaid, the official biographers of de Valera, Professor T.P. O’Neill and the earl of Longford, accurately reflected McQuaid’s very influential role in the drafting of almost the entire constitution. McQuaid was particularly attentive to children at the time of the death of his brother, Brian, in a riding accident in February 1936, when he was a frequent visitor to the de Valera home at Bellevue.

At the League of Nations, Geneva, 1931 (left to right, front row): Minister for Education J.M. O’Sullivan, Attorney-General John A. Costello and John Hearne, legal adviser to the Department of External Affairs. The original draft was largely Hearne’s work.

Presumably at de Valera’s invitation, McQuaid worked prodigiously on drafting the constitution. He supplied de Valera with learned notes on theories of authority, the family, marriage, Catholic social principles, private property and church–state relations. In the initial stages much of the material submitted was in the form of typed quotations from papal encyclicals. But as the drafting progressed, McQuaid was involved in the actual formulation of the articles dealing with personal rights, the family, education, private property, religion and directive principles of social policy (Articles 40–45 in the final draft). On the day that the constitution came into force, 29 December 1937, McQuaid wrote to de Valera: ‘This morning again I said Mass for you at dawn, on the eventful day. I am reminded all day of the text in the New Testament: “Many have desired to see what we see and have not seen”.’
That was certainly the case in the early months of 1937. McQuaid was privy to much of what de Valera was doing, as reflected in a letter of 17 February 1937, which indicated his level of involvement, to the point of criticisms of the draft submitted by Professor Alfred O’Rahilly, registrar of University College Cork. On 8 March 1937 McQuaid sent an amendment dealing with widows, orphans and the aged, emphasising the importance of the role of the family in the first instance and, interestingly, suggesting that a ‘mode of settlement’ for strikes would do much to neutralise ‘a great deal of the venom of communism’. When the proofs of the constitution became available on 9 March 1937, de Valera sent a copy to McQuaid, who took particular pride in ensuring that the inverted commas were in the right places. McQuaid replied: ‘Having been through the text very carefully, I append a few points for your kind consideration’.

McQuaid influenced by Fr Denis Fahy

The garden party at Blackrock College during the Eucharistic Congress. The host, college principal Fr John Charles McQuaid, ensured that the papal legate and the governor-general did not meet on this occasion. (Sport and General)

But perhaps the topic that had taken up most of McQuaid’s time was the article on ‘Religion, Church and State’. His teacher and friend in religion, Fr Denis Fahey CSSP, very heavily influenced his thinking in this area. Fahey was not noted for his pioneering work in the world of ecumenism. Neither did he champion the cause of Christian–Jewish dialogue. Fahey represented a strand of theological thought that owed much to the besieged and beleaguered world of right-wing French Catholicism traumatised by the conflict between church and state at the beginning of the twentieth century.  McQuaid was not quite as ‘singular’ in his views, but he shared Fahey’s hard-line position on the relationship between church and state. That triumphalist attitude found expression in the first draft Article 42, ‘Religion, Church and State’.
This draft article was remarkably similar, in structure and content, to McQuaid’s submission, and may lead one to speculate whether in fact the Holy Ghost priest was not himself the author. There is an earlier draft that had been worked on by de Valera, who changed the title of the article to ‘Church and State’. There were other minor amendments made by the president but no change in substance.

Blending of the old and the new

The papal legate, Cardinal Lauri, at the garden party, attended by approximately 10,000 people. (Daily Express)

What emerged as a first draft was the result of enormous energy and effort. The content was a blending of the old and the new. There were significant changes in both substance and form from the 1922 document, not just a mere ‘re-bottling’. The document was self-consciously nationalist, strongly Catholic in tone and republican in aspiration. The influence of Catholic thinking was very evident. But there were liberal and conservative currents within that tradition. In the case of the article on religion, de Valera had allowed the more conservative trend to dominate. That was a serious difference from the corresponding Article 8 in the 1922 constitution.
In early 1937 de Valera established an editorial committee under the chairmanship of Maurice Moynihan, whose brother, Seán Moynihan, was secretary to the executive council (cabinet); Maurice would soon replace him in that post. De Valera, recognising the talent and judgement of Maurice Moynihan, seconded him to act as chairman-editor and gave him a small team. Moynihan quickly brought the document to the stage where it could be sent to the printers. Somebody, possibly Moynihan, must have pointed out to de Valera the unsuitability of the draft article on religion. Others may also have made the same objection. It was removed from the copy circulated on 16 March 1937 although it had been present in an earlier version sent to a very small group of de Valera’s inner circle. McQuaid did not object to this, by letter anyway. He wrote to de Valera on 16 March: ‘I am deeply grateful for the draft. It is such a joy to see it in print; now it remains to see it enacted. It reads very well. I think I note the few changes made.’
On 12 March 1937 the executive council discussed the general procedure in regard to the enactment of the new constitution. It was agreed that the draft should be submitted to Dáil Éireann for approval, the procedure for its consideration by the Dáil being that applicable to a bill. If approved by the Dáil, the draft would be submitted to a plebiscite to be held at the same time as a general election. It was also agreed that the constitution would come into operation either on the day following the expiry of a six-month period or on an earlier day as might be fixed by a resolution of the chamber of deputies elected at the general election on the polling day, which was to be the same day as the plebiscite. Authority was given to prepare legislation for the plebiscite. According to Seán MacEntee, de Valera was given a mandate by the executive council to secure a formula on religion that would stop far short of establishing the Catholic Church.

Shuttle diplomacy

Members of the Dáil and Senate attend the Eucharistic Congress in the Phoenix Park. (Central Press)

On 16 March the printed text was distributed confidentially to members of the executive council and to other selected persons, including the president of the high court, Conor Maguire, high court judge George Gavan Duffy, and supreme court judge James Geoghegan. De Valera invited reaction from government departments and from his colleagues. That process proceeded and the text was changed in response to various comments and criticisms. But there was a major problem with the article on religion. There was definite opposition within the executive council to what had been drafted. Unless the matter was resolved amicably, divisions might result in a church–state crisis and the popular rejection of the constitution. De Valera set out on a programme of shuttle diplomacy to secure consensus from the churches.
Between 3 April and 27 April he consulted, directly or indirectly, the papal nuncio, the cardinal, the Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland archbishops of Dublin, the moderator designate of the Methodist Church and a number of other intermediaries. Also, on 16 April Joseph Walshe was sent to Rome to show the content of the controversial article to senior officials at the Holy See and, if possible, to Pope Pius XI. He had with him a set of detailed instructions and the draft religious article, which had been transformed as a consequence of de Valera’s discussions with the heads of the churches. Walshe returned to Dublin with the good news that the Holy See would remain neutral on the wording of the religious article.
Agreement had been found on the wording of the contested religious clause, which was now numbered Article 44. With the religious article taken care of, the way was open for the publication of the document on 1 May. It received its second reading in the Dáil on 11–13 May, before being approved by the Dáil on 14 June on a vote of 62 to 48. It was enacted by the people on 1 July 1937.  Despite the unpopularity of the economic war, de Valera also succeeded in returning Fianna Fáil to power. He had risked campaigning on the new constitution more than on the record of his party. The constitution was given great importance at the hustings. On Constitution Day, 29 December 1937, Bunreacht na hÉireann came into operation.

A very risky political strategy

By seeking to draft a new constitution, de Valera had embarked upon a very risky political strategy. Irish political life in the mid-1930s was very volatile. There were extremes of left and right, represented by revolutionary republicans in the IRA and the residue of the Blueshirts. Yet he succeeded in presiding over the drafting of a document of enduring value. It might have been of even greater and more enduring value if he had prevented a strong imprint of contemporary Catholic thinking from being written into the text.
The singular influence of Fr John Charles McQuaid was very pronounced. He did not get his way on the religious article but that should not deflect attention from his successes in other areas.  De Valera would have been much more prudent to have listened to the advice of John Hearne and his civil service colleagues, who favoured the drafting of a shorter and more essentialist document. However, the constitution did not ingest any of the extremism of the 1930s. Thanks to the measured judgement of John Hearne and his small drafting team, the Irish constitution has had an enduring value.

Dermot Keogh is Professor of History and Andrew McCarthy lectures in history at University College Cork.

Further reading:

B. Farrell (ed.), De Valera’s constitution and ours (Dublin, 1988).

G. Hogan, ‘The Constitution Review Committee of 1934’, in Fionán Ó Muircheartaigh (ed.), Ireland in the coming times (Dublin, 1997).

D. Keogh, ‘The Irish constitutional revolution: an analysis of the making of the constitution’, in Frank Litton (ed.), ‘The Constitution of Ireland, 1937–1987’, Administration 35 (4) (1988).

D. Keogh, ‘The Jesuits and the 1937 Constitution’, Studies 78 (309) (1989).

This article is relevant to the ‘from Free State to Republic’ element of topic 3 (‘The pursuit of sovereignty and the impact of partition, 1912–1949’) of the later modern Ireland field of study (1815–1989) of the Southern Leaving Certificate syllabus.

Aidan Clarke is a formidable and influential scholar of early modern Ireland. His scholarship has always set a high standard: firmly grounded empirically, challenging of received 'truths' and, in its faithfulness to chronology, sensitive to how contemporaries may have perceived events. And while the tools have always been traditional, the questions asked and contexts considered have not. Consequently, his work displays a dazzling range: thematic, geographic and chronological. We are thus indebted to Clarke for helping to lift the historiography of early modern Ireland out of the provinciality for which it has often been derided.

British Interventions in Early Modern Ireland stands as a tribute to the man and his work. It is a rich and important collection worthy of both. The essays are, fittingly, constructed in a 'Clarke-ian' mould: methodologically traditional – largely eschewing theory for a meticulous empiricism – yet asking questions and considering contexts which are either new or excitingly revisionist (in the literal, not ideological, sense of the word). There is no real unifying theme connecting these sixteen essays – which in itself is something of a tribute to Clarke's scholarly breadth – other than the very general one offered by the title. Loose category though it may be, 'British Interventions in Early Modern Ireland' was nevertheless chosen for clear historiographical reasons. For as the editors state in their valuable introduction, the writing of early modern Irish history – particularly that dealing with English-Irish relations – has been dominated by a paradigm of inevitable 'conquest and colonisation' which at best falsely flattens the complexity of the period and at worst anachronistically serves to sustain presentist political agendas. These essays, it is argued, work to break down that simplistic caricature of power relations by offering soundings into the fullness and variety of the British experience in Ireland – the negotiations, compromises and frustrations alongside the more well-known triumphs and powerplays. The collection, then, serves both as tribute and state-of-play in the field.

As such, it introduces us to some of the avant-garde areas of research. One of these is material culture, nicely explored in R. J. Hunter's essay, 'The Bible and the bawn: an Ulster planter inventorised'. The focus here is on one character – the Reverend Edward Hatton – who combined in his person the two main interventionist strains, i.e. planter and Protestant preacher. Hatton died before the deluge, and thus his life and will offer an interesting window onto settler life in the comparatively peaceful 1630s. In addition to giving us some sense of what it meant to materially live well in Ireland (a subject scandalously under-researched), the study also sheds light on the sort of cross-confessional cooperation and accommodation the breakdown of which would elicit such surprise from the 1641 deponents. One of the very intriguing bits here are the 40 books listed in the inventory – if only we knew the titles.

Education is another neglected subject which gets its due here. The study of education in Ireland in this period is nearly non-existent. One gets the sense that study of its Protestant/colonial iteration has suffered from the same stigma that so long plagued the study of the Reformation in Ireland: namely, that its lack of impact on the locals (be they Anglo-Norman or Gaelic in descent) simply revealed the fact that it was fated to fail, thus rendering research on it silly, even wasteful. Such a position is thankfully debunked by Helga Robinson-Hammerstein's 'The "common good" and the university in the age of confessional conflict'. Robinson-Hammerstein has been one of the few to write intelligently and sympathetically on education in early modern Ireland. The present essay continues that work by situating movements for a university in Ireland within European-wide – and specifically German – visions of the university as a means to promote the 'common good' of the whole society, not merely of a narrow elite.

Brian Jackson's 'The construction of argument: Henry Fitzsimon, John Rider and religious controversy in Dublin, 1599–1614' offers a very different view of education in the Anglo-Irish context. The comparison here is to England, not Germany. In a striking exploration of the use of rhetoric in an Irish context, Jackson shows the disputants' shared connection with Oxford and charts the effects that institution's curricula, academic rituals and general intellectual culture had on religious controversy in Ireland. This piece is also interesting in that in reminds us that no matter how much it dominates the historiography, Tyrone's rebellion was not the only game in town in turn-of-century Ireland: as the 'rebellion' raged and put the government on the back heel, Dublin was still the site of dinner parties and disputations. And Jackson's last line may prove one of the most provocative of the collection, suggesting that the efforts of Wadding and Rothe to silence internal debate and dissent may in large part be responsible for posterity's notion of the Irish Counter-Reformation as a 'heroic national struggle, led and directed as a uniform clerical initiative' (p. 115).

These connections between education, religion and high politics in a 'British' context are further drawn out in Alan Ford's fascinating and important contribution, 'That bugbear Arminianism: Archbishop Laud and Trinity College, Dublin'. Ford cautions that Laud must not be seen as purely an ecclesiastical leader, or, in terms of policy development, as having played second fiddle to Wentworth and Bramhall. Rather, he argues, Laud too was of an activist bent and his educational interventions at Trinity – where he was named Chancellor in 1633 – were meant as models for reform of Oxford. Ford thus reverses the direction of educational influence discussed by Hunter. This, of course, is a new take on the classic line that Caroline Ireland served as a practical lab for policies eventually intended for adoption in England. But it is convincingly done, and thus we see at Trinity a much more interventionist Laud in curricular, disciplinary and faculty matters than we see (at least by Kevin Sharp's telling) at Oxford. Ford has indeed told us something new and important about Laud's overall 'motivation and ideology' (p. 137).

Part of what makes this piece worthwhile too is that it takes seriously those projects and possibilities which did not prove successful and uses them to more richly reconstruct the lived reality of early modern Ireland. This is vital to breaking us out of the standard periodisation, built as it is upon seemingly fated 'great moments' of conquest and colonisation. Robert Armstrong's 'Protestant churchmen and the Confederate Wars' is an excellent example of this approach for a later period. He describes the 1640s as the 'lost decade in the history of the Protestant church establishment in early modern Ireland' (p. 230). According to the standard line, the Church of Ireland saw any chance at establishing itself as the church of the majority – however weak it may have been by the 1620s anyway – die an ignominious death during the 1640s. Armstrong cautions that this is a classic example of hindsight's clarity and grossly discounts the energetic efforts of churchmen and lay authorities to protect themselves from the forces that threatened to engulf them. Squeezed between a Catholic right and Covenanting left, establishment Church of Ireland members worked assiduously for the royalist cause. The bishops in particular distinguished themselves by actively working on the Royalist propaganda campaigns – this in contradistinction to Church of England bishops most of whom fled quietly rather than pick up the pen in defence of the regime.

Micheál Ó Siochrú's 'Catholic Confederates and the constitutional relationship between England and Ireland, 1641–49' offers a further take on the 'what-if' motif. The essay makes the important, if too readily overlooked, point that constitutional questions were as equally divisive of Confederates and Royalists as were religious ones. Two key points of contention in the many attempts at peace talks were Poynings' Law and the increasing interference of Parliament in Irish affairs. On the first of these points, Ó Siochrú shows himself the only contributor willing to take on the man honoured, arguing as insufficient Clarke's depiction of the Confederate attitude to Poynings' Law as a short-term agitation based on a matter of trust, not constitutional principal. He claims instead that the Confederates felt that the constitutional relationship needed serious clarification, and quickly, in light of Parliament's self-assertiveness (p. 208). But it is on this second point where he provides his most provocative contribution, showing how events in England could dramatically alter negotiations in Ireland. Specifically, he demonstrates that once it seemed the Royalist cause was in serious danger of collapsing, Confederates – in working to protect themselves from an avenging Parliament – sought to effect the Irish Parliament's separateness and independence. The English Civil Wars, then, 'fundamentally altered the relationship between the two kingdoms' (p. 229). Not only is this a revision of the accepted notion of Westminster's relationship to Ireland – the 'studied indifference' suggested by Patrick Little (p. 229) – but also, as a result, provides a different origin for the arguments for Irish Parliamentary independence which would dominate Anglo-Irish politics up until the Act of Union. 'Contingency' here is not a historiographical buzzword, but rather a historical reality the effects of which must be taken seriously as we reconsider the character and periodisation of British/Irish relations.

Questions of parliamentary politics and constitutional relationships constitute one of the collection's strongest themes, Ó Siochrú's study of the 1640s falling chronologically between similarly-themed studies by Ciaran Brady and Patrick Kelly. Brady's 'The attainder of Shane O'Neill and the problem of Tudor state-building' offers a major re-evaluation of mid-sixteenth-century constitutional politics, arguing that the crown's postmortem attainder of Shane was done not as a cynical land grab, but rather as a calculated bit of creative history telling done to set out an entirely new 'constitutional' conception of Ireland (p. 33). Brady argues that the attainder's preamble played down the twelfth-century conquest in favor of a myth-history which posited sovereignty originating in the person of King Gurmundus, king of Great Britain, and lord of Bayon in the Spanish province of Biscan. The point to this, it seems, was to establish the crown's claim to the land of Ireland and the loyalty of its inhabitants as arising not from military conquest but from a political fount which could speak both for Britons and Irish Milesians. The drafting of this new origin tale amounted to an effort to effect a 'second constitutional revolution' (p. 46): on the one hand, it attempted to strengthen Gaelic loyalty by showing that the crown's sovereignty was a thing of peaceful consent; on the other it proved the writing on the wall for the English of Ireland whose exalted socio-political status rested upon rights bequeathed to them by their twelfth-century conquering forebears. The attainder, then, was no ham-handed land grab of Gaelic property, but rather a farsighted attempt to trump any historically based challenges to the crown's sovereignty – be they from Gaelic or Anglo-Norman critics.

If Brady's piece tends to downplay the role of conquest in the constitutional thinking of Tudor 'conquistadors', Patrick Kelly's 'Conquest versus consent in Molyneux's Case of Ireland' shows its importance in the thinking of that late-seventeenth-century 'conciliator', William Molyneux. In a very provocative reading of the Case of Ireland, Kelly makes two suggestive exegetical moves. The first is to demonstrate that Molyneux – famous for his emphasis on consent as the basis for the emerging ascendancy's legitimacy as Ireland's elites – found the need to fall back on conquest in order to explain both the presence of the Anglo-Irish and the dispossession of those Catholics whose ancestors had submitted consensually to Henry II. The second is more interesting – especially given the bait-and-switch character of the title – in that he argues conquest and consent to have been not necessarily mutually exclusive.

These explorations of constitutional matters are complimented by studies of the practical politics of Parliamentary manoeuvring. Bríd McGrath's 'The Irish elections of 1640–41' not only offers the most detailed nuts-and-bolts description of this very fateful parliamentary 'selection', but also a clear example of how the best laid plans can go awry. She tells a tale of two halves, one in which a very 'thorough' Lord Deputy gets his wish for a hand-picked parliament, but loses control of it in its second session. In doing so she gives us another example of how Irish politics could throw up very strange marriages of convenience between competing groups and individuals in the face of a common enemy.

It falls to Jane Ohlmeyer, then, to continue this story by exploring the individual tales of those Irish peers involved in that fateful session in the wake of its collapse. It is remarkable how little we know of the Irish peerage in this period, and Professor Ohlmeyer's 'The Irish peers, political power and parliament, 1640–41' goes a long way to mapping their efforts to politically reverse the almost ritual shaming they had received at the hands of the arriviste Wentworth. Of particular interest here is the detailing of the workings of parliament by proxy (since many of those returned did not attend). More generally, the essay rightly places the Irish peerage – ancient and novus – in its larger British contexts. Thus we see the peers not just acting and agitating in Dublin, but at Whitehall and Westminster too in the hope of creating a situation akin to the 1620s when a weak executive was susceptible to (their) aristocratic pressure. They did not succeed in this, of course, but the attempt is significant – a further 'what-if' scenario, the neglect of which facilitates the persistence of a simplistic 'conquest and colonisation' view of this period.

Harold O'Sullivan's 'Dynamics of regional development: processes of assimilation and division in the marchland of south-east Ulster in late medieval and early modern Ireland' quite specifically rejects the paradigm of conflict, conquest and confiscation. Two things make this piece stand out. First, the methodological/theoretical choice of doing a regional study – as a via media between 'global' and 'local' history – helps reorient our spatial awareness of 'British-Irish' cultural contact to accurately reflect a frame important to contemporaries. Secondly, by starting his study in the fifteenth century, O'Sullivan attempts to cross the traditional breakage point of 1534. His conclusion that the collapse of regional characters was largely a result of the collapse of the O'Neill dynasty of Tyrone suggests that perhaps 'region' and 'lordship' may be somewhat coterminous. Be that as it may, close studies of lordships and their interactions with settlers are thin on the ground and this is a welcome contribution in its efforts to analyse the negotiated interactions of settlers with the members of those regions/dynasties.

A stress on negotiation, of course, suggests that those doing the intervening did not constitute a monolithic bloc. And duly there is no 'British' or 'Protestant mind' to be found here. Raymond Gillespie playfully opens his essay on the late-seventeenth century reception of Temple's The Irish Rebellion by stating that the 'seventeenth-century Protestant mind was largely dominated by three texts: William King's State of the Protestants of Ireland, Molyneux's The Case of Ireland ... Stated, and Temple's The Irish Rebellion' (pp. 315–16). However, by interrogating how different individuals read their Temple, he is able to demonstrate that the 'Rebellion' was not 'a singular book with one official reading' (p. 324). Rather, he argues, it was 'the raw material by which individual Protestants made sense of their world' (p. 332) – material the interpretation of which was as dependent upon changing political circumstances as it was upon individual predilection.

Toby Barnard, the most eloquent and prolific voice on seventeenth-century Protestant Ireland, reminds us that even the Protestant mind in one head was prone to change. His study of the 'fanatic zeal and irregular ambition' of Richard Lawrence charts how one man's advocacy for transplanting the defeated Irish west of the Shannon morphed into intense championing of the interests of the locals. And even though Barnard claims that Lawrence's intellectual trajectory was probably representative of a journey taken by numerous settlers, and thus of intellectual reaction to dramatic changes in Dublin in the 1650s, he still shows that the end product of that evolution was up to the individual mind: thus Lawrence's rather original notion that luxury, as well as poverty, exerted an 'enervating' influence on the Irish economy (p. 314).

The stress on negotiation and demographic complexity, however, should not blind us to the very real power differentials present between newcomer and native. Sarah Barber's 'Settlement, transplantation and expulsion: a comparative study of the placement of peoples' is a powerful reminder of this. Concerned with borders and state formation, Barber looks at 'the identities imposed on the Irish and the Moriscoes by the English and the Spanish during the first half of the seventeenth century' and 'uses the perception of delinquent behaviour, allied with the concept of place, in order to discuss the comparative marginalization of peoples' (p. 280) The argument that the presence of 'uncivilized others' created internal boundaries which hindered socio-political unity in Spain and England offers both a new way for understanding how the 'cultural conquest of Ireland' was conceptualised by contemporaries and further evidence that ideological trends in Anglo-Irish relations were part of larger European ones.

The final nail in the coffin of Irish exceptionalism, then, is hammered home by Geoffrey Parker's piece on the General Crisis of the seventeenth century. While this is a topic dear to both Parker and Clarke, Parker vastly expands the scope of enquiry: the 'crisis' discussed here is not European, but global. Befitting the scale of the effects, the cause Parker explores is vast and impersonal: the sudden onset of radical environmental change. A fascinating survey of social, political and economic consequences of nature's fickleness, this may be the piece with the clearest application to the present.

Having commented briefly on the individual essays, it remains to ask what of the sum of the parts? This is a difficult question to answer in that these pieces came out of a conference and thus were not commissioned with a mind to providing detailed coverage. Nevertheless, there are some omissions worth noting. The lack of attention paid the Scots is surprising – not to mention that it is simply odd that a book entitled 'British Interventions in Early Modern Ireland' would begin with an introduction entitled 'Making good: new perspectives on the English in early modern Ireland'. Moreover, one could get to the end of this book and have no sense that the British were intervening in a place where another language was spoken. Language was one of the great limiting factors in the settler/governing experience, and thus it would have been nice to see some discussion of how the language barrier affected and mitigated that experience. This is merely an effect, however, of the most striking omission: the Irish themselves. Yes, this is a book about the British in Ireland, but what made their experience there fraught with difficulty was their interactions with those already on the ground. 'Negotiation' was less with the land than with its inhabitants, and yet there is precious little discussion of them.

While acknowledging that it is perhaps unfair to speak of what is not there to the neglect of what is, I nevertheless think it is worth ruminating a bit on some potential historiographical implications of the natives' muted presence, if not complete absence. On the one hand this is a non-issue: our knowledge of the settler experience is woefully under-researched, and the pieces gathered here go a long way to reconstructing the various worlds – mental and material – in which these men and women moved. But on the other, it can facilitate a certain 'insecurity of empire' reading of the material which in its sympathies for the struggles, frustrations and compromises facing those British men and women who came to work and govern the island overlooks the tragedy and often gross disparity of power in their relations with those they encountered. This is surely not the editors' intention and thus it seems preferable to see this strong focus on the newcomers alone as suggestive of two powerful possibilities for the study of British/Irish comparative history. The first is that we may thankfully be in a moment when the present-centered political usefulness demanded of the Irish past has faded a bit into the background – a moment when a focus solely on the English needs no prefatory defence and in which we can stop thinking of the Protestants/English as a monolithic bloc and instead explore their individual and small-group dynamics. The second is that the obvious analogue of British problems, failures and compromises is Irish possibilities, successes and agency. These essays have certainly succeeded in problematising the caricature of a British colonial juggernaut; hopefully they will inspire further research debunking equally two-dimensional depictions of the collapse of the Gaelic (and Old English) worlds.

A more nuanced picture of British-Irish interactions, however, a new periodisation does not make. The introduction holds out the possibility that this collection will break us out of a rigid and received chronology of Irish/British history built upon a paradigm of inevitable conquest and colonisation. If such an effect is detectable, it must come from the reader's own meditation on the collection in toto and arrived at almost in spite of the message of the individual essays. For while they certainly lower the temperature of the interactions between native and newcomer, most (if not all) of them nevertheless hold to the notion that there were discernible moments after which the fundamental character of those interactions were altered.

The reason for this, of course, is that the story of British Interventions in Early Modern Ireland is in the end one of political domination and, as Barber writes, of 'cultural conquest'. The volume's great success, then, is to investigate the messy reality of conquest while simultaneously critiquing the paradigm of conquest, in all of its schematic simplicity and teleological totality. This requires subtle and patient work of empirical rigour, work capable of demonstrating the contingencies, possibilities and paths not taken which were so meaningful to contemporaries yet largely lost to posterity. That is to say, it requires the sort of work a career's worth of which has earned Aidan Clarke a festschrift conference and collection. The volume thus makes a fitting tribute.

March 2006

The editors are happy to accept this review and do not wish to comment further.

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