Plunkett and Misunderstanding (The Leader, 1904)

1.424-34, 553, 578, 647. The Leader: A Review of Current Affairs, Politics, Literature, Art and Industry, Vol. VIII., No.10 (Dublin), 30 April, 1904, 147-8.

Extracts from an editorial in The Leader on English and Irish failure to understand each other.

At the same time as The Leader was running a serialised analysis and critique of Sir Horace Plunkett’s Ireland in the New Century by ‘M. O’R.’, this one-off editorial appeared on the 30th of April, 1904. It exposes the platitudinous nature of Plunkett’s account of the English and Irish failure to understand one other and suggests that this mutual misunderstanding is actually a testament to their status as separate nations. The milkwoman fails to understand Haines’ attempt to bridge the gap with Irish. Stephen, of course, obstinately refuses to make it easy for Haines to understand him. The editorial treats certain remarks on history contained in Plunkett’s book before concluding that ‘Sir Horace Shallow’ “is a Unionist and the book is largely for British consumption.”


We have little time now for reading books, but we got through Plunkett’s book. We are going over it again, and a book of that kind requires at least two readings in order to form an opinion worth having upon it. In the first reading we suspect that we mistook some echoes of our own views here and there for Plunkett’s own insight. So far as we have gone it stands a second reading badly. Plunkett knows little or nothing of the new Ireland; he thinks he does, however, and probably will not believe us when we tell him that he is an outlander. Sir Horace does not, and probably could not, see that the source of resurgent Ireland is in the determination to have our language again. He, a decent and well-meaning fly, mistakes himself and his coterie for the Irish Ireland chariot. He solemnly states that the English mind never understood the Irish mind and vice versa. Now, who in the name of reason ever said they did? What man with insight would say that they ever could understand each other? Misunderstandings are really one mark of distinct nationhood; when two nations understand each other there is only one nation there — if we may put it that way. One reason why England and Ireland never understood each other is that they are — even still notwithstanding all the Anglicisation that has taken place — two distinct national entities. Sir Horace and his “experts” do not understand Ireland; he has been allowed an inch by his Nationalist supporters; he wants an ell now, with the result that probably his inch will be taken from him. . . . Such a phrase as “when the Irish people are fully appreciative of the obviously sincere desire of England to be generous to Ireland” does not show insight; we regret to say such a phrase writes Sir Horace down an ass. . . . According to him we Irish crave to be understood, and if England had only known this we would have been “the most easily governed people in the world” — governed by England, we presume. There appears to be no depth or anything else in that saying, but we may remark that we do not believe that Plunkett will ever understand us mere Irish, and certainly he will never govern us, easily or otherwise. . . .
¶¶Sir Horace says: — “In my view Anglo-Irish history is for Englishmen to remember, for Irishmen to forget.” How much Anglo-Irish history do Englishmen know to-day, and of what quality as regards truth is the bit they do know? But if Irishmen forget Anglo-Irish history, how much of the little that Englishmen may now know would they know then? Plunkett’s remark, of course, is grotesque.