|John G. Irvine by William Conor. Also see a cartoon of John by David Low here.|
As Martin McGuinness morphed from violent separatist into an unswerving constitutionalist, the Irish protestant St. John Greer Irvine journeyed from Home Ruler to a staunch Unionist.
"Mr St John Ervine’s Fabian political apprenticeship in London could not wash out of him the Orange dye of his native Belfast… But call Mr Ervine an Englishman and he will knock you down."
The Modernist Journals Project explained the life and achievements of the writer and playwright from East Belfast:
"John G. Irvine was born in the working-class area of East Belfast, in what was to become Northern Ireland, not far from the shipyard that built the Titanic. His father died the year of his birth and although bright enough to pursue a university career (by choice Trinity College, Dublin), Irvine left school at 15 and became an insurance clerk, at first in Belfast, then in London where he moved in 1901. After a short time there, he fell among Fabians and eventually became involved in theatre. He met Yeats in London, a meeting that no doubt led to his play Mixed Marriage being performed at the Abbey in 1911.
He became the Abbey manager in 1915 but was not popular, mainly because of his severe criticism of the quality of plays being produced. He joined the Dublin Fusiliers because (by some accounts) he was disgusted at the cheering and jeering at Casement’s execution. He was wounded in Flanders and lost one of his legs. At this time Irvine was a strenuous advocate of Home Rule, despising Carson and his followers. He wrote a novel, Changing Winds (1917) that was partly a response to the Easter Rising and with avowed sentiments such as the following from his earlier Sir Edward Carson and the Ulster Movement (1915):
"… and when Protestants and Catholics, Orangemen and Ancient Hibernians put their hands together, and the four beautiful fields of Cathleen ni Houlihan become one pasture, there will be no poisonous vapours left in Ireland [Carson and his followers] to obscure the destiny of Irishmen."
This notion of a Romantic Ireland was soon to be “dead and gone” for Irvine, however, and his vehement attacks on Carson and Ulster Unionism became transmorgified into a defiant defense of Ulsterdom. Thus, he could write in his Craigavon: Ulsterman (1949) :
"the Ulster people were not, and are not, willing to turn away from a prominent partnership in a galaxy of nations to an introspective, obscurantist, Gaelic-speaking acricultural republic."
And in a letter to Shaw he condemned Ireland as a country of “bleating Celtic Twilighters, sex-starved Daughters of the Gael, gangsters and gombeen-men.” This from a man who, during his managership at the Abbey in 1915, had a member of the Castle administration (the site of British power) banned from the theatre because of the latter’s objections to the “seditious” nature of the play For the Land She Loved."In 'Sir Edward Carson and the Ulster Movement', St. John G. Ervine wrote in 1915 of Edward Carson, who he called the "Dublin playboy":
"Were it not for the question of Home Rule, many, the majority, of the Nationalists would proclaim themselves to be Tories, and many, the majority, of the Unionists would proclaim themselves to be Radicals. I shall make a more elaborate reference to this probability later in this book. My purpose now is to insist that in the end of all Ireland contains only Irishmen, that the Ulsterman is as fiercely in love with his mother Ireland as any man in Connacht or Leinster or Munster."Then his attack on Carson:
"The Right Honourable Sir Edward Henry Carson, Privy Councillor, Master of Arts of Trinity College, Dublin, ll.d. (Hon. Causa), Member of Parliament and King's Counsellor, the leader of the Ulster Unionist Movement and the starry hero of all the politest young ladies of Belfast, has not done anything to promote the well-being of Ireland, never has done anything and never will...
Sir Edward Carson is a stage Irishman. So is Lord Charles Beresford. So is Mr. J. G. Swift MacNeill. (All of these gentlemen are Irish Protestants and, with the exception of Mr. MacNeill, Unionists.) Sir Edward Carson is the last of the Broths of a Boy. He has a touch of Samuel Lover's "Handy Andy " in him. He is the most notable of the small band of Bedadderers and Be jabberers left m the world; the final Comic Irishman, leaping on to the music-hall stage or the political platform, twirling a blackthorn stick and shouting at the top of a thick, broguey voice (carefully preserved and cultivated for the benefit of English audiences) : " Bedad, bejabers and begorra, is there e'er a man in all the town dare tread on the tail of my coat, bedad, bejabers and begorra ! " No other Irishman speaks with so deliberate a brogue or says "What" so obviously "Phwat!" No one on earth is so clearly the " typical Irishman" (that is to say, the Irishman of the muddy imagination) as Sir Edward Carson is."He also said:
"If I had to choose between Sir Edward and Mr. John Redmond, I would prefer Sir Edward to be my leader. He has force of some sort, and even a certain dignity of utterance, whereas Mr. Redmond has no force at all but is merely an unimaginative orator."John G. Ervine made a response of sorts to 1916 in his 1917 novel, 'Changing Winds'. You can read the novel in fullfrom the link here, with it beginning like this:
"It would be absurd to say of Mr. Quinn that he was an ill-tempered man, but it would also be absurd to say that he was of a mild disposition. William Henry Matier, a talker by profession and a gardener in his leisure moments, summarised Mr. Quinn’s character thus: "He’d ate the head off you, thon lad would, an’ beg your pardon the minute after!” That, on the whole, was a just and adequate description of Mr. Quinn, and certainly no one had better qualifications for forming an estimate of his employer’s character than William Henry Matier; for he had spent many years of his life in Mr. Quinn’s service and had, on an average, been discharged from it about ten times per annum. Mr. Quinn, the younger son of a poor landowner in the north of Ireland, had practised at the Bar without success. His failure to maintain himself at the law was not due to ignorance of the statutes of the land or to any inability on his part to distort their meaning: it was due solely to the fact that he was a Unionist and a gentleman.
His Unionism, in a land where politics take the place of religion, prevented him from receiving briefs from Nationalists, and his gentlemanliness made it impossible for him to accept briefs from the Unionists; for if an Irish lawyer be a Unionist, he must play the lickspittle and tomtoady to the lords and ladies of the Ascendency and be ready at all times and on all occasions to deride Ireland and befoul his countrymen in the presence of the English people. “I’d rather eat dirt,” Mr. Quinn used to say, “than earn my livin’ that way!” He contrived, however, to win prosperity by his marriage to Miss Catherine Clotworthy, the only daughter of a Belfast mill-owner: a lady of watery spirit who irked her husband terribly because she affected an English manner and an English accent.
He was very proud of his Irish blood and he took great pride in using Ulster turns of speech. Mrs. Quinn, whose education had been “finished” at Brighton, frequently urged him to abandon his “broad” way of talking, but the principal effect she had on him was to intensify the broadness of his accent. “I do wish you wouldn’t say Aye,” she would plead, “when you mean Yes!” And then he would roar at her. “What! Bleat like a damned Englishman! Where’s your wit, woman?” Soon after the birth of her son, she died, and her concern, therefore, with this story is slight. It is sufficient to say of her that she inherited a substantial fortune from her father and that she passed it on, almost unimpaired, to her husband, thus enabling him to live in comfortable disregard of the law as a means of livelihood. He had a small estate in County Antrim, which included part of the village of Ballymartin, and there he passed his days in agricultural pursuits."Like John Ervine, Stephen Gwynn wrote about mixed marriage in his John Maxwell’s Marriage (1903), concerning a forced marriage and depicting the climate of sectarian hatred in Northern Ireland, with some scenes in America.