Crisis & Decline
The Fate of the Southern Unionists
By: R.B. McDowell
‘Receding imperialism usually leaves behind those who have for generations staunchly upheld its authority and flourished under its aegis– Germans in Bohemia, Swedes in Finland, loyalists or tories in the American colonies, Greeks in Asia Minor, Muslims in the Balkans.Among those abandoned adherents of a lost cause were the unionists in the south and the west of Ireland.’ – R.B. McDowell, Crisis & Decline
So begins the preface to this lively, meticulously researched account of the fate of Irish unionists outside Ulster from the era of Parnell through the early years of the Irish Free State. McDowell details the efforts of a ruling minority to maintain the union between Britain and Ireland, and tells the story of what became of them during and after the Anglo-Irish war and the handing over of the twenty-six counties. The bastions of Southern unionism – Trinity College Dublin, The Irish Times – come under sympathetic scrutiny from a man who became intimately acquainted with the ex-unionist world while a student at Trinity in the 1930s, as chronicled in the colourful Afterword.
Crisis & Decline also records the testimony of ordinary unionists – farmers, shopkeepers, policemen, and others – who sought compensation for losses suffered during the 1920s. McDowell gives us a nuanced portrait of a distinctive social group, much mythologized in literature but hitherto neglected by historians, who clung steadfastly to a doomed vision of Ireland within the British Empire.
“No one alive has waded through more collections of correspondence, legislation, administrative records, ecclesiastical and collegiatefasti, than Professor McDowell. His knowledge of the fine print of the 18th and 19th centuries is truly awesome.” – A.T.Q. Stewart
Originally published in 1997, R.B. McDowell’s pioneering study of Irish unionism is now being reissued in paperback by The Lilliput Press.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
R.B. McDowell (1913-2011) was one of Ireland’s most celebrated historians. He was a Professor of History and Emeritus Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin. His more recent works included Ireland in the Age of Imperialism and Revolution 1760-1801(1979), Land and Learning: Two Irish Clubs (1993), and biographies of Alice Stopford Green, J.P. Mahaffy and Henry Grattan. His Historical Essays 1938-2001 (2004) and McDowell on McDowell: A Memoir(2008) are also published by The Lilliput Press.
Read a touching tribute to R.B. McDowell from History Ireland here.