Irish Upper Classes (O’Leary, 1896)

1.162-64. John O’Leary, Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism, 2 vols. (London: Downey & Co., 1896), vol. 1, pp. 31-32. BL 9508.c.1

Extract from John O’Leary, Recollections of Fenians and Fenianism (1896), on the Irish upper classes.

The middle-class Mulligan’s upper-class affectations and the Anglicisation implicit in this behaviour are illuminated by this passage, in which O’Leary offers qualified criticism of the Irish upper classes and unqualified scorn for the middle classes:

As for the upper classes in Ireland, as all the world over, you can find models of all the virtues or of all the vices among them. Better in my limited and perhaps mistaken sense — by goodness I may be roughly said to mean altruism — than the middle classes they may be considered to be, as also worse. It is our misfortune, however, that in Ireland our upper classes are only Irish in a more or less limited and imperfect sense. Irish enough in temperament and tastes and many other ways they very often are; but Irish in opinion, from causes the reader must look for and may easily find, they seldom are; queerly fancying themselves to be not Irish at all, but some sort of Englishmen, presumably an inferior sort — in fact, Englishmen living out of their own country, and rather the worse, though most assuredly not always the worst off, for their residence in a strange land. God forbid that this should be the feeling with all our upper class, but it is the true West British feeling which, alas! is but too common in it. People seem altogether to forget that Lord Edward Fitzgerald and Smith O’Brien, not to mention many others before and after them, were of this class, and yet risked and lost all for Ireland. Patriotism is of no class or creed, and hearts may beat as warmly for Ireland in a castle as in a cabin, and, I think, are more likely to beat warmly in either than in a farmhouse or a shop.

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