English Failure to Understand Irish (Plunkett, 1904)

1.642-49. Sir Horace Plunkett, Ireland in the New Century, (London: John Murray, 1904), pp.15-16. BL 8146.cc.11

A passage from Sir Horace Plunkett, Ireland in the New Century (1904).

This passage, on the English failure to understand the Irish and the Irish ‘force of sentiment’, immediately follows on from an example of anti-English sentiment evident in the conversation of “some very advanced Irish-Americans in the Far West,” demonstrating what Plunkett considers the “un-Irish” desire for revenge:

I have chosen this incident from a long series of similar reminiscences of my study of Irish life, to illustrate an attitude of mind, the historical explanation of which would seem to the practical Englishman as academic as a psychological exposition of the effect of a red rag upon a bull. The English are not much to be blamed for resenting the survival of the feeling, but it appears to me to argue a singular lack of political imagination that they should still fail to appreciate the reality, the significance, and the abiding force of a sentiment which has so far successfully resisted the influence of those governing qualities which have played a foremost part in the civilisation of the modern world. The Spectator some time ago came out bluntly with a truth which an Irishman may, I presume, quote without offence from so high an English authority: — “The one blunder of average Englishman in considering foreign questions is that with white men they make too little allowance for sentiment, and with coloured men they make none at all.” I am afraid it must be added that ‘average Englishmen’ make exactly the same blunder in under-estimating the force of sentiment when considering Irish questions, with the not unnatural consequence that the Irish regard them as foreigners, and that, as those foreigners happen to govern them, the sentiment of nationality becomes political and anti-English.