Charles Townshend

Charles Townshend a lecturer in history at Keele University, has recently completed Political Violence in Ireland, to be published by Oxford.

Appreciating Paisley

Charles Townshend, 22 January 1987

‘Eloignez-vous, Monsieur Paisley.’ How many British politicians and functionaries must have echoed the exhortation of the President of the European Parliament on 9 December last year as the Reverend Doctor Ian R.K. Paisley carried out another of his embarrassingly visible protests against the Hillsborough accord. And how many must have wished that they could, with equal ease, cause him to vanish by the magic words: la séance est suspendue. Within hours, British journalists were back in the business of hopeful speculation that Paisley might, by this renewed proof of his crass disregard for correct behaviour, have alienated at least part of his gigantic constituency as a Euro-MP.


Charles Townshend, 19 April 1984

The United Irishmen of the 1790s were unlikely initiators of a struggle against reality. Enlightened, rational Protestant bourgeois for the most part, they proposed feasible, Whiggish political change: efficient and just administration achieved through parliamentary reform, abolition of tithe, reduction in taxation and government expenditure, promotion of trade and education. When they set out ‘to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter’ it was – as Tom Dunne argues forcefully in his valuable new study of the ideas of their most famous publicist, Wolfe Tone – because only such a ‘cordial union’ could form an effective counterpoise to ‘the weight of English influence in the government of this country’. Their object was modest enough: ‘to maintain that balance which is essential to the preservation of our liberties’.–

Northern Irish Initiatives

Charles Townshend, 5 August 1982

Towards the end of the debate on the Northern Ireland Constitution Bill in the House of Commons Enoch Powell produced a document which purported to prove the existence of clandestine agreements between the Northern Ireland Office and the Irish Government. The document showed, he said, that the Conservatives had reneagued on the policy of integration with Britain on being told by civil servants of ‘certain undertakings’ made to the Irish Government about the future of the province. The affair casts a lurid light on the hysteria beneath the granite surface of Ulster Unionism. The document itself, which has the appearance of a transcript of an interview with an official, named as Clive Abbott, of the Northern Ireland Office, is less than convincing. Prior has told the House of Commons that Mr Abbott did not say what he is alleged to have said in the interview. When I discussed the matter with the research student named by the Northern Ireland Office as the interlocutor of the unfortunate Mr Abbott, he roundly denied all involvement. Mr Powell himself has reverted to vaguer, more familiar allegations of conspiracy and submission to blackmail.

Davitt’s Part

Charles Townshend, 3 June 1982

‘Has lost the right arm; black, small moustache; black stunted whiskers not meeting under the chin but inclined to grow backwards towards the ears; regular nose; handsome face, inclined to be long;…when walking he swaggers a little and swings the left arm, he has the slightest inclination to stoop, but is straight, smart, active and gentlemanly-looking; his age is about 30 years.’ Such was the picture of the young Michael Davitt, Fenian suspect, produced by the police detective who was watching him in 1869. (In fact, he was working-class, and 24 years old.) Somewhat later, after seven years’ penal servitude, he was seen by the Irish Parliamentarian F.H.O’Donnell as ‘a tall dark romantic looking man … more like a starved poet than a revolutionist’. (Davitt in return called O’Donnell a ‘self-seeker and egotist’, ‘a most accomplished fraud, dishonest, treacherous, and aiming for office’.) These descriptions – and, perhaps, this invective – are not merely indicative of the prodigious detail of T.W. Moody’s new study: they supply much of his explanation of Davitt’s capacity to sway vast crowds of Connacht peasants whose minds were less than perfectly attuned to his. What impressed his audiences was ‘the intensity of his manner, the clarity of his utterance, and his striking appearance’. Davitt looked the part.

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