English Visitor to Ireland (O’Leary, 1896)

1.430. John O’Leary, Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism, 2 vols. (London: Downey & Co., 1896), vol. 2, p. 59. BL 9508.c.1

Extract from John O’Leary, Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism (1896), on the English visitor to Ireland.

This passage is from O’Leary’s account of an article he wrote for the Irish People in the early 1860s, entitled ‘Mr Hankey on Ireland’ and it begins by quoting the opening paragraph of that article:

“If we are seldom edified we are almost always sure to be amused by an Englishman’s notions about Ireland. Your typical Englishman cannot spend two weeks in Ireland without thinking he has seen everything and knows everything, though, from the nature of things, he can see very little and knows next to nothing at all. As a general rule he knows little about any country but his own, chiefly because he cares little. All knowledge of man or nature, to be worth much, must be based on sympathy; and, if the mind’s eye do not look lovingly on the landscape (or the land), there is little chance the bodily eye will find much beauty in it.” This Hankey by the way, was a splendid specimen of the serious (we are chiefly favoured by the comic) travelling Englishman.

O’Leary gives the following footnote after the words ‘two weeks’, explaining the allusion to Francis Bond Head’s A Fortnight in Ireland of 1852 and offering his reflections on whether much has changed with regards to English visitors:

“A Fortnight in Ireland” is the title of one of the best known books written about us. Nearly thirty years have passed since I wrote the above, and time has only confirmed what I then thought of our foreign masters and would-be monitors. I have known high-placed Englishmen, even of the sympathetic sort, coming over here, knowing absolutely nothing about us, and going back with the most astoundingly mistaken notions about the state of men and things here.