On this day…19 May

On 19 May 1907 Joyce’s article ‘Home Rule maggiorene’ was published.

The article, ‘Home Rule Comes of Age,’ was written in Italian and published in Il Piccolo della Sera. It was the second of nine articles on Irish affairs that Joyce wrote for the Piccolo, starting from March 1907. The irredentist readership of Il Piccolo della Sera, the audience Joyce was aiming his article at, was familiar with Irish relations with Britain.

In this article, Joyce sarcastically greeted the coming of age of attempts to achieve Home Rule for Ireland. The first Home Rule Bill (the Government of Ireland Bill 1886) had been introduced by Gladstone’s government on 8 April 1886. Joyce’s article starts with a dramatic account of how Gladstone’s four-hour speech proposing the Bill was received on the streets of Dublin. Joyce himself was only four years old at the time, but doubtless his father witnessed the scenes and told Joyce about them.

After two months of debate the Bill was defeated in June by 341 votes to 311, and Gladstone’s government collapsed. Gladstone’s second attempt came in 1893 and this time the Bill was passed by the House of Commons but defeated in the Lords.

Now, twenty-one years after the first Home Rule Bill, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Augustine Birrell, had proposed the Irish Council Bill on 7 May 1907. The Bill would have given Ireland a very limited version of Home Rule, in spite of which it was initially supported by the Irish Parliamentary Party.

Looking at the history of Home Rule from this perspective, Joyce drew two conclusions. First, that it was no longer the forces of British Conservatism that were the greatest threat to Ireland. That threat Joyce saw as coming from the combined forces of Liberalism and the Catholic Church. Second, Joyce claimed that the Irish Parliamentary Party, which had supposedly pursued Ireland’s interests in Westminster for nearly thirty years, was now effectively morally bankrupt. During those thirty years, Irish taxes had increased by 88 million, and 1 million people had left the country. In the meantime, the Party’s deputies had enriched themselves.

In preparing and writing this article, Joyce made use of his reading of the Sinn Féin newspaper, edited by Arthur Griffith. Griffith, incidentally, held anti-Semitic views and published several anti-Semitic articles in Sinn Féin. He also supported the anti-Semitic campaign against Jewish businesses in Limerick in 1904.  It is interesting to note that anti-Semitic campaigns in Ireland coincided with the Home Rule Bills of 1886 and 1893.

Birrell’s Irish Council Bill, which prompted Joyce’s article, was abandoned by the Government in June 1907 after Nationalists withdrew their support for it. A third Home Rule Bill, introduced in April 1912, was passed in May 1914 but was suspended for the duration of the First World War. After the war, the situation in Ireland had changed dramatically and had gone well beyond the terms of the Home Rule Act of 1914.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Kevin Barry, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.