On 16 September 1907 Joyce’s article ‘L’Irlanda alla sbarra’ was published.
Joyce’s article ‘L’Irlanda alla sbarra’ (‘Ireland at the bar’) was published in Il Piccolo della Sera in Trieste on 16 September 1907. The immediate occasion of the article was the reporting of a summer of anti-cattle grazing protests, or ‘cattle driving,’ in Ireland. The reports, originating in the English press, depicted the Irish as lawless and incomprehensible.
According to Joyce, an eighth of the Irish population was registered as being without a means of subsistence at the same time as large amounts of land in Ireland were given over to cattle-grazing. The extensive use of land for cattle grazing left little land for small farmers to grow crops for themselves, and during the summer of 1907 farmers protested by driving cattle off the land and onto the roads in night-time raids.
English newspapers like The Times made much of these attacks, presenting them as the incomprehensible acts of the lawless Irish. These English newspaper reports were then reprinted in the European press, contributing to a widespread perception of the Irish as lawless. In his article, Joyce condemns the newspapers for misrepresenting the Irish as criminals roaming freely by night, terrorising decent people.
Joyce opens his article by tying this misrepresentation to the Maamtrasna murders case of the 1880s. The misrepresentation or misinterpretation of Irish behaviour, and the incomprehension with which England and Europe viewed events in Ireland in the summer of 1907, was as significant and deadly as the failure of the court to understand the defendants in the Maamtrasna murders case in 1882. In that case, the officiousness of court customs and of the court-appointed interpreter resulted, as far as many Irish were concerned, in the execution of at least one innocent man.
Joyce claims that the perception of exceptional criminal behaviour in Ireland is therefore the result of misrepresentation in the English press. He distinguishes the ‘cattle driving’ of Irish farmers from the outrages perpetrated against animals in Great Wyrley in England. There, the maiming and butchering of animals had continued over several years and one man had already been found guilty and then released as innocent of the crimes.
Effectively Joyce was claiming that worse things happened in England than in Ireland, but that the English press prefers to put defenceless Ireland in the dock than to examine lawlessness and injustice in England.
Sources & Further Reading:
Flood, Jeanne A: ‘Joyce and the Maamtrasna Murders,’ in James Joyce Quarterly vol. 28, no. 4, Summer 1991, pp. 879-888.
Joyce, James: Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Kevin Barry, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Waldron, Jarlath: Maamtrasna – The Murders and the Mystery, with an Introduction by Robert Kee, Dublin: Edmund Burke Publisher, 1992.