Garlanded with praise by A.J.P. Taylor (Observer), F.S.L.Lyons (New Statesman) and
Robert Blake (Sunday Times) on its publication in 1976, George Dangerfield’s “THE
DAMNABLE QUESTION”  A Study In Anglo-Irish Relations had lain unopened on my
shelves for over twenty years. Until this week.
It’s over forty years since I read and enjoyed THE STRANGE DEATH OF LIBERAL
ENGLAND which had won unstinted praise which I believe was merited. I’m no
expert, a mere amateur historian, with no financial or political ambitions.
THE DAMNABLE QUESTION covers roughly the same period as that of the author’s
previous work and most of the British actors in it, and appears to capture the genius
and foibles, faults and fanatacism, caution and recklessness, of Asquith and Lloyd
George, Carson and Bonar Law. Churchill, Augustine Birrell and others.
Depictions of Pearse and Connolly, MacDonagh, Plunkett, Jim Larkin and such
heroes appear well argued and the war-mongering foolishness  of John Redmond
replicated this very day in Dublin by  Taoiseach Simon Harris and Micheal Martin
is faithfully recalled.
But when it comes to Roger Casement Dangerfield swallows the Black Diaries
Covering the 1919-21 Anglo-Irish war he imputes criminality equally to both sides.
He does not accept the legitimacy of Dail-Eireann nor the Republic of which it was
the Parliament. The voters he depicts as to ignorant to understand the Sinn Fein
manifesto which endorsed the Insurrectionary Declaration of 1916. Without any
evidence he alleges wholesale impersonation. Neither Nationalists nor Unionists
alleged impropriety, whereas in 1910 Redmondite “winners” had been unseated
for irregularities when Sinn Fein was not a contender. Dangerfield states that 
on 19th May 1921 in “the 26 county area, intimidation was such that there was no
election at all: the Sinn Fein candidates  were returned unopposed.”
THE TIMES in 1918 reported that in Ireland in General Election was recognised on
all sides as a Plebiscite. And there was no dispute regarding its result. A unicameral
Parliament established by plebiscite is a wholly democratic institution  Dangefield is
too cowardly to recognise that.
The IRA executed spies and De Valera defended that necessary defence of democracy
 in Ireland. The IRA released captured Crown Forces whom they had disarmed whereas it was common for the Crown forces to kill disarmed or unarmed republican soldiers,
or pass them to Hangmen. Dangerfield lies about the Kilmichael Ambush and various other defeats inflicted on the British.
He recognises the abilities both of De Valera and Michael Collins but assumes that
 it was Collins’s recklessness which was responsibility fot the burning of the Customs
 House in Dublin.
In fact it was the cool calculation of Dev that reckoned that the destruction of the
the building served  two purposes. It housed files necessary to the British Treasury
and it stood in the centre of the city. Ambushes such as Kilmichael could be depicted
by the enemy as rural  banditry, or in Churchillian parlance “bush-ranging.” whacking te
The British sued for a Truce with the IRA within two months.
At Easter 1920 the British were expecting some sort of re-enactment of  the 1916
Rising and deployed tanks on the streets of Dublin. On the night before the IRA
burnt 300 vacated RIC barracks in villages and country towns. They also raided 
provincial Revenue offices – a tactic forerunner of the Custom House operation.
 Despite his learning and brilliance George Dangerfield seems unable to escape
 the ancient shackles of imperial propaganda which befogs so many of his peers.
 A damnable pity.
 the damnable imperialist anti-democratic shackles of 
 too many of his countrymen. 


  1. Donal Kennedy May 17, 2024 at 7:24 am #

    Please ignore lines following “A DAMNABLE PITY”