Roy Foster

Roy Foster is the Carroll Professor of Irish History at Oxford. His most recent book is Luck and the Irish: A Brief History of Change 1970-2000.

Partnership of Loss: Ireland since 1789

Roy Foster, 13 December 2007

‘Nothing Dr Bew writes is without interest.’ The wearily Olympian judgment was delivered by a distinctly peeved F.S.L. Lyons, doyen of historians of modern Ireland, when faced 27 years ago with a short life of Charles Stewart Parnell which took implicit but cheeky issue with his own magnum opus on the Chief. The young Bew – Belfast-born and a graduate of People’s Democracy marches as well as of the Cambridge history faculty – had already published a radical marxisant version of the 1879-82 Irish Land War, stressing the only partly suppressed war of interests between large and small tenants as much as the struggle against the landlord oppressor, and casting a cold eye on the cloak of unity that nationalist historiography tried to throw over the enterprise. He would go on to write critiques both of the modern Irish state in the Sean Lemass era and of power relations in Northern Ireland (in collaboration with other figures from Northern Ireland’s leftist intelligentsia), to redefine the attempted politics of reconciliation in the Edwardian era and to continue the story of land struggle in the years just before World War One.

tarry easty: Joyce in Trieste

Roy Foster, 30 November 2000

A few weeks ago I wandered round inescapably bourgeois Rapallo, at the end of the season: just down the coast from Genoa’s seductive murkiness, and the bay of San Remo where Ripley bludgeoned Dickie Greenleaf to death, but a world away from both. The resort now thrives on conferences, and there was a world congress of Nietzscheans in full swing. This was apposite. Even if its...

Hillside Men: Ernie O’Malley

Roy Foster, 16 July 1998

W.B. Yeats Liked to think (and write) that the insurrection of Easter 1916 was ignited by a generation of cultural revolutionaries; and it did indeed bear – in retrospect at least – some resemblance to a revolution of the intellectuals. But the towering figures among Irish writers during the long upheaval from the Fin de Siècle to the Thirties lived aside from the world of the insurrectionists. The latter were rarely writers and the books they produced are undistinguished. Tom Barry’s Guerrilla Days in Ireland and Dan Breen’s My Fight for Irish Freedom have their charms, but there was no Herzen or Trotsky capable of distilling the Irish revolutionary mentality and experience into a classic memoir: except for Ernie O’Malley.’

Garret’s Crusade

Roy Foster, 21 January 1982

‘Garret’s crusade’ is the affectionately dismissive term given by Dublin opinion – traditionally dismissive if seldom affectionate – to the Irish Premier’s desire to abolish the ‘sectarian’ articles of the Constitution which enshrine Catholic social doctrine. But the reaction in Irish politics at large has been less worldly-wise, and the ensuing fuss has obscured some of the most important implications of the affair. The surprise occasioned should, in a sense, have been minimal. In the best academic tradition, Dr Fitzgerald was not only repeating Lecky (‘the secularisation of politics is the chief means and condition of political progress’), but also repeating himself. Ten years ago, in a ‘study group’ organised by the Institute for the Study of Conflict, he fulminated against the Irish Republic’s attempt to exert a moral sway over the North while implicitly excluding from its constitutional definition of ‘Irish’ ‘the Northern Ulster Scots Protestant tradition’. The state, therefore, in Dr Fitzgerald’s view, ‘evolved in a lopsided manner that has notably failed to reflect the whole of the island’s culture and history’. This is as patently true now as it was then, and his intellectual honesty, as well as his political impatience, would inevitably have forced him to say so from the platform as well as across the seminar table.

I write to express fury at the proposal recently presented by London University’s Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Group, a largely faceless collection of administrators with little connection to research and teaching, to close down the University’s immensely distinguished Institute of English Studies. Under the inspired direction of its director, Warwick Gould, and his staff, the Institute at Senate...

Ireland today is the place you are most likely to be happy. Your desire for a robust and rising standard of living, political freedom, strong bonds with your extended family, a marriage that...

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Old, Old, Old, Old, Old: Late Yeats

John Kerrigan, 3 March 2005

The Abbey Theatre, Dublin, 1938. An old pedlar and his young son stand on a moonlit stage bare but for the ruins of a great house and a leafless tree. The Old Man declares that the house is still...

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