Readers of the current edition of History Ireland, and its previous three editions, may have read a long article by Dennis Kennedy and the dispute in its Letters Page between himself and myself about one of his contentions – that we Irish should be so grateful to the late Lord Fitzalan, the British Viceroy for gifting Dublin Castle to Michael Collins in 1922. Another Noble Lord at the time, Birkenhead, aka Galloper Smith, Carson’s 1912 henchman, exulted that the transaction kept Ireland in the Empire with an economy of English lives.
Dennis Kennedy is a native of Belfast, who studied History at Queen’s University under J C Beckett in the 1950s and is a former Deputy Editor of the Irish Times. His Curriculum Vitae looks impressive, much more than his journalistic offerings have ever seemed to me. He is no relation of mine –Buiochas Mor Le Dia!
Dennis Kennedy quotes his mentor, Beckett, who quoted approvingly “a sneer” by Arthur Balfour made in 1922. Sneering at anything Irish appears at the heart of everything Dennis Kennedy writes. (I remember the late Flann Campbell, historian son of the poet Joseph (My Lagan Love), remarking on Dennis Kennedy’s IRISH TIMES pieces with distaste.)
Anyhow, Arthur Balfour was the nephew of Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury, who when Prime Minister, appointed him as Chief Secretary in Ireland. In England the appointment gave rise to the expression “Bob’s your Uncle” and in Ireland “Remember Mitchelstown”. He was promptly named “Bloody Balfour” in Ireland, and should really be remembered thus globally.
One wacky member of Bloody Balfour’s Fan Cub was David Gray, a relation of Eleanor Roosevelt, who, as American Minister in Dublin in the 1940s occupied the former residence of the Chief Secretary. Gray was pathologically anti-Irish, and would ask Balfour’s advice in how to handle Eamon de Valera. Balfour had been dead and buried since 1930. No problem for Yankee Know-How. Gray arranged seances. Imagine how Evelyn Waugh or Graham Greene would have described the scene, were it set in Abyssinia or Haiti and the Minister were a darker Shade than Grey!
Balfour was no stickler for democracy, nor even constitutional propriety. He was Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905 and when the Liberals won a landslide victory lost his own Commons seat. Unruffled, he declared that the Conservative Party, in or out of office, must continue to direct the affairs of “this Great Empire.” Not long after this Lloyd George was to describe the House of Lords as “Mr Balfour’s Poodle.”
Before leaving office, Balfour had established a Committee for Imperial Defence, including Liberal Imperialists, and had cemented the Entente Cordiale with France. The former Liberal Imperialist Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery, had told the young Lloyd George that there would be war with Germany. That was in 1904. Balfour had shocked an American friend telling him that Germany, as a trading rival, would be crushed.
,He never wavered from that intention. He was a, if not THE, Prime Mover in the Great War, the bloody consequences of which may yet consume us all.
Even his fans.