Connolly’s view on the defeat of the clans

These are my notes on Connolly’s Labour in Irish History, chapt 8.

The defeat of 1641, according to Connolly, ended the old clan system. The involvement if old Anglo-Irish noblemen, he says, weakened the Irish side as they mainly wanted to maintain their own class position, in turn based on earlier confiscations. These contradictions meant they were riddled with equivocation and treachery. This movement of clans was huge and powerful, but had this fatal weakness: its own class divisions (like the Republican Movement in the Tan War period, I might add.)

With the destruction of clan society came a mixture of feudalism and capitalism, says Connolly.

He is very insightful about how the Protestant landed gentry and capitalists used more fanatically Protestant types to drive down the Catholic masses while, at the same time, exploiting the Protestant lower orders. (This is what later came to be in a really concentrated form, of course, in the six counties statelet.)

Incipient Irish capitalism was stymied by British rule, as the British capitalists did not want competition. But it reproduced opposition in Ireland over and over.

Once the economic reason ceased to drive Irish landlords and capitalists into opposition the upper elements ceased championing independence. Meanwhile, common suffering opened the way to the unity of Protestant and Catholic masses, argues Connolly.

The United Irish movement, he notes, represented the coming together of a series of developments in Irish society, an exceptional person (Tone) – or generation! – and a galvanising event (the French revolution).

Connolly notes how the French revolution changed the consciousness of both Catholics and Protestants, helping bring them together. Tensions between Catholics and Protestants gave way to conflict between the ruling class and a new force, which Connolly class “the democracy”. He reflects that Tone was waging a class war. It is very important to grasp that class war was key.

Moreover, United Irish and the English could only unite when Ireland was independent (a point very reminiscent of what Engels said.)

Connolly recorded that the aristocracy was “anti-freedom”, the Irish fight was part of a global struggle and that Irish fighters were allied with British revolutionaries. (Of course, today it is quite hard to find these today!) The Irish struggle represented what in those days were called “the rights of man” in Ireland.

Tone had asserted that when the aristocracy go forward, the people fall backward, and we might say that when the Irish capitalist class today run things, the masses (in particular, the working class, goes backwards).

Connolly records the celebrations in Belfast over the fall of the Bastille.

Lastly, in this chapter, he records that Tone was combining the national and the socio-economic. He was for making a revolution.

Posted on August 1, 2021, in 1798 - 1803, Engels, General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Ireland and British revolution, James Connolly, Political education and theory, Wolfe Tone. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Grma. It is a long long time since I read this.

    I think it is important to add that the Irish capitalist class in the 18th Century was mostly of settler or planter stock. The national-democratic revolutionary section of this class was almost without exception of settler or planter stock (as we can see from the names of the leaders).

    The native and Norman-Irish capitalist class was mostly represented by O’Connell and so on to Redmond, then when the latter failed they went around leaderless until they jumped in to support the Free State.

    Therefore the only time the Irish capitalist class was revolutionary was when it was led by descendants of Cromwellian planters and other Protestant settlers. That seems clear but less clear is the reason why. We can blame the Catholic Church culturally but that does not seem enough.

  2. Yes, overwhelmingly so, except I don’t really think Wolfe Tone, Emmet and so on were capitalist class. They were people like Grattan. But, also true that the Catholics were the leadership much later, as you say during the Tan War period. It was not until well into the 1800s that the Catholic middle class really got educated and could provide leadership. They particularly emerged during the Tan War period and divided between accepting and rejecting the Treaty. By this stage, the Protestants had been primarily won over to acceptance of the status quo politically. The Catholics provided not only most of the ranks by now, but most of the leadership too. Especially true throughout the 20th century, as Protestant radicals were few and far between (like the Gilmore brothers, for instance.)

    • With respect if you look at the class background of the main movers among the Republicans of the 1790s they were not only of the administrative class but also of the business class — that was not replicated to anything like that degree among the 1916 or 1921 Volunteers and leaders.

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