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James Doherty, Irish Liberty, British Democracy: The Third Irish Home Rule Crisis, 1909-1914

Pauline Lakeman
p. 202-204
Référence(s) :

James Doherty, Irish Liberty, British Democracy: The Third Irish Home Rule Crisis, 1909-1914, Cork, Cork University Press, 2019, xi + 308 p.

Texte intégral

1The decade of centenaries celebrated in Ireland since 2012 has led to the publication of many new scholarly works re-examining the Home Rule crisis of 1912-1914, the Irish Parliamentary Party and the figure of John Redmond. James Doherty’s Irish Liberty, British Democracy is part of this still ongoing effort to shed new light on Irish political history and Anglo-Irish relations. The book goes back on the period which opened with the constitutional crisis triggered by the House of Lords’ rejection of the 1909 budget, which was to play a seminal role in both British and Irish politics. Not only was the Lords’ power of veto curtailed and the Liberal party returned to power after ten years of Conservative rule; the hung Parliament resulting from the two general elections of January and December 1910 also compelled the British Liberals to ally once more with the Irish parliamentary nationalists and with Labour. These combined events opened the way for the introduction in April 1912 of a third Home Rule Bill, which was likely to be passed by Parliament, reviving the concerns of Irish and British unionists and leading to what has been known as the Ulster crisis of 1912-1914. While poring over these well-known episodes, James Doherty investigates an array of fresh avenues. Rather than narrowing the debate on Ireland, Doherty shows that self-government was a greater British issue and fitted within the quest for wider democracy in the United Kingdom: in his view, the debate for Irish Home Rule became a struggle to apply the terms of the 1911 Parliament Act, reassert what liberalism meant and uphold the principles popular liberalism was still deeply attached to – compliance with the law, the supremacy of the Commons, and the need to reduce the powers of the elites. This thesis provides a new reading frame for the episode of 1912-1914, which is seen as a second constitutional crisis after that of 1909-1911. It also leads Doherty to highlight the weakened state of the Liberal party even before 1914: Home Rule revealed (rather than fostered) a widening gap between the party’s rank and file and its leadership, whose lack of foresight and cynicism is regularly emphasised. By contrast, Doherty attempts to offer a nuanced portrayal of John Redmond. While he admits that Redmond may have been too complacent regarding Ulster and ultimately made a number of choices and calculations that backfired against him, he also interestingly challenges the idea Redmond may have been a weak or failed leader. The Irish party chairman no doubt had to grapple with divisions within the Irish Parliamentary Party and face the growing threat of physical force nationalism in 1913-1914. But what transpires from Doherty’s account is rather the amount of support and leverage he had amongst the radical wing of the Liberal party, who saw him as a champion of democratic and liberal principles. Redmond is also seen as a political figure whose acceptance of an amending bill temporarily excluding Ulster and call upon Irishmen to join the British war effort in 1914 might not have failed if World War One had not lasted four years. Going against the idea that civil war in Ireland was inevitable, Doherty speculates that Redmond and Carson were ready for compromise and peace.

2These lines of enquiry contribute to the revision of previous historiographies of the British Liberal party, the Irish Parliamentary Party, John Redmond, unionism and partition. As a result, Irish Liberty, British Democracy will be of interest to anyone interested in these topics. Another strength of the book lies in its use of fresh material: the usual cabinet papers, public speeches by the leading political figures of the day are obviously relied upon; but there are several interesting passages in which Doherty resorts to original sources such as the archives of Irish nationalists Tom Kettle and T. P. Gill; the press is also employed extensively to bring to the fore the views of the liberal rank-and-file and compare them with those of the leadership.

3This is not the first time that Home Rule has been examined in relation to the subject of democracy. Eugenio Biagini’s 2007 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism 1876-1906 already suggested that the matter of Irish self-governance had a significant impact on British liberalism, leading not to its decline but to its reshaping as the liberal rank and-file became more concerned with freedom, human rights, imperialism and required that “politics should be guided by non-negotiable moral imperatives” (p. 376). James Doherty demonstrates that Home Rule remained popular with the lesser members of the Liberal party and liberal grassroots, who regarded its enactment as a moral imperative, a confirmation of the Liberal party’s commitment to progressive politics, and the ultimate proof of the greater democratisation of Britain and its institutions. In doing so, he provides an insightful extension of Biagini’s work.

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Référence papier

Pauline Lakeman, « James Doherty, Irish Liberty, British Democracy: The Third Irish Home Rule Crisis, 1909-1914 »Études irlandaises, 45-2 | 2020, 202-204.

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Pauline Lakeman, « James Doherty, Irish Liberty, British Democracy: The Third Irish Home Rule Crisis, 1909-1914 »Études irlandaises [En ligne], 45-2 | 2020, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2020, consulté le 12 juin 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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