Owen Dudley Edwards

Owen Dudley Edwards is a Reader in History at the University of Edinburgh. He was co-editor of Scotland, Europe and the American Revolution.

Kipling and the Irish

Owen Dudley Edwards, 4 February 1988

Kipling leapt into British fame at the beginning of 1890, and it had been Ireland which had given him his chance – that and the rich harvest of short stories from his Indian years. He hit England just before the Commission on ‘Parnellism and Crime’ was about to report. That report, predictably, exonerated Parnell and his party, accused by the Times of having fomented the Phoenix Park murders of Chief Secretary Lord Frederick Cavendish and Under-Secretary Thomas Burke, who had in reality been killed (on 6 May 1882) by Parnell’s bitter enemies the Invincibles. The Times in 1887 had made many other charges under the heady influence of a group of clever and unscrupulous young Irish Unionists who had captured the paper, then under the nominal direction of a senile manager and an infant editor. Parnell, Michael Davitt and the Land League were accused of having inspired agrarian outrages including murder, arson, horse-gelding and cattle-houghing. Certainly they had developed ostracism as a weapon, causing it to be christened the ‘Boycott’ after the landlord who was one of its first victims: but they insisted that they had opposed violence, and had advocated only non-violent pressures against evicting landlords and blackleg tenants. The Special Commission judges, however, refused to distinguish between violent and non-violent intimidation, and declared that the land agitation had been a cause of crime. The judges noted that the Parnellites had benefited financially and morally from association with Irish-Americans pledged to the separation of Ireland from Britain.

Burke and History

Owen Dudley Edwards, 22 January 1981

With the inevitable exceptions of Thomas Aquinas and Karl Marx, it is doubtful whether any political thinker has inspired more sustained imbecility among his friends and enemies than Edmund Burke. And, despite first appearances, his appeal is far less predictable than theirs. Both Aquinas and Marx were in the first place theoreticians: the latter died at his desk, the former should have done. Burke in action automatically comes to mind as on his legs before the House of Commons, admittedly with his profundities passing over the thick heads of most of his audience. Aquinas and Marx are approachable in a large but obvious body of writings: Burke survives through a wide swathe of pamphlets, speeches, letters, no single item being in the least comparable in extent with Das Kapital, much less the Summa. Above all, Thomists, Marxists and their enemies know, and make known, what they are for and against and why, while Burkeans and anti-Burkeans are far less predictable in ideological terms.

Ireland’s Invisibilities

Owen Dudley Edwards, 15 May 1980

Dr R.B. McDowell knows and tells far too many relevant good stories to require the enhancement of his prose by specimens of the ‘Irish bulls’ of Sir Boyle Roche, who single-handedly did so much to make them the symbol of the age under discussion, but the published volume seems to embody a set of paradoxes that approach bullish status. The author’s text goes on for over seven hundred pages, and his felicitous style and speed of narrative hold the audience’s interest better than most works one-third the size. The general reader may occasionally be bewildered by the mass of detail, yet cannot fail to enjoy a book whose publishers have priced it so firmly out of his reach. The high price is offset by some of the worst proof-reading and copy-editing with which the Clarendon Press has to date seen fit to favour its readers. The book is worthy to be placed on the same shelf as that 19th-century masterpiece, Lecky’s multi-volume History of Ireland in the 18th Century, but it will find the proximity of works of its own century much more uneasy company. Not only does the title invite endless tutorial discussions on why this particular period should be singled out as the ‘Age of Imperialism and Revolution’, but the meaning of ‘Ireland’ as here discussed opens up a Pandora’s box of controversy.


Burke and History

22 January 1981

Owen Dudley Edwards writes: 1. I refer interested readers to my paragraphs on Defenders, which Mr Freeman does not seem to me to refute. 2. Mr Freeman believes that Burke can be understood outside of history. I believe that this is as useful as assuming that a cube is a square. 3. Mr Freeman says he does not pretend to understand Ireland better than the Irish do. I think it a pity that he implies that...


David Craig, 6 July 1989

Scottish nationhood never quite dies but hibernates, latent in all those millions of people and thousands of texts, ready to be potentiated by various events, some more accountable or predictable...

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Downward Mobility

Linda Colley, 4 May 1989

We live in reactionary times. One indication of this is the growing trend among both politicians and academics to prescribe what historical study should be: how it should be organised and...

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Dev and Dan

Tom Dunne, 21 April 1988

The seemingly intractable problem of violence in Northern Ireland has spawned a remarkable number of books, ranging from the voyeuristic and ephemeral to the illuminating and scholarly. There...

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J.I.M. Stewart, 5 May 1983

In the opening chapter of A Study in Scarlet Dr Watson is introduced to Sherlock Holmes. Holmes says, ‘How are you?’ and adds: ‘You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.’...

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Burke and Smith

Karl Miller, 16 October 1980

Sydney Smith and William Burke lived at the same time and in the same country: but at opposite ends of the spectrum of class, ends which rarely met, except in court. Such people were strangers to...

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