December 20, 2014

George Bernard Shaw on his Irishness, Edward Carson and Home Rule

George Bernard Shaw by Alick P.F. Ritchie
George Bernard Shaw is the venerated and revered Irish man of letters, and a protestant Irishman to the very narrow" of his bones at that. Like all Irish he proclaimed his Irishness but unlike the Irish, he also proclaimed his unIrish roots:
"I am a traditional Irishman, my family came from Yorkshire."
In sharing this Wildean aphorism, Shaw touches on a truth that many on the island can relate to, even if it's uncomfortable in doing so. Shaw also proclaimed his unionism as a protestant Irishman. In a letter to The Irish Statesman, January 10 1920, George Bernard Shaw said:
"England has gone too far this time. She has done what I thought impossible. She has rallied me to the side of Ulster. Now I suppose I shall be shot; but I cannot help that. Am I not a Protestant to the very marrow of my bones? Is not Carson my fellow townsman? Are not the men of Ulster my countrymen?… And yet, could Sir Edward Carson and Lord Birkenhead have been put more completely in the cart if the British Government had made Ireland a present to the Pope? What is Ulster to do with her self-determination? One-eyed people are full of surmises as to what the southern Parliament will do, prophesying, with assumed confidence, that it will declare the Republic. Nobody thinks of poor Ulster, who is in a far more difficult position. For the first act of her Parliament must be to re-unite her with England. That goes without saying. But the difficulty will begin earlier. Can she consistently elect a separate Ulster Parliament at all? Is she not bound by all her vows and covenants to boycott this abomination of a Home Rule Parliament: nay, of two Home Rule Parliaments? And yet if she does, Labor will jump the claim."
There are many interesting things in this, and we should take note. One, George Bernard Shaw disagreed, at least initially with partition. Two, Shaw was on the side of Carson and presumably, the original UVF. Three, Shaw was "Protestant to the very marrow" of his bones. Four, we can infer that Shaw regarded Home Rule as Rome Rule, for he said that Home Rule would have "made Ireland a present to the Pope." Five, and the most subtle but important point, Shaw notes that if the 1912 Ulster Covenant is to be upheld, then Ulster must oppose its Home Rule parliament.

The Ulster Covenant was a vow to oppose Home Rule. Partition brought to Ireland not just Home Rule, but two Home Rule parliaments. Isn't this a contradiction on the part of Irish and Ulster unionists, to simultaneously exhibit condemnation and approbation of Home Rule. Carson made an observation on this point in March 1920:
"If it [the  Government of Ireland (and effectively the fourth Home Rule) bill] passes, the only part of Ireland which will have a parliament is the part that never asked for it."
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