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WWI Centennial: Irish Troubles

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The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in August, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 119th installment in the series.

May 25, 1914: Irish Troubles

In the tortuous history of Anglo-Irish relations, 100 years isn’t really that long a time—so it’s no surprise Britain, Ireland, and Northern Ireland are still dealing with the repercussions of decisions made a century ago.

English involvement in Ireland dates back to the 12th century, when the Norman invaders who conquered England in 1066 turned their attention to neighboring Ireland, eventually establishing the feudal “Lordship of Ireland” in 1171. But many Normans intermarried and “went native,” and English authority was patchy at best until the second English conquest of Ireland, begun by Henry VIII in the 1530s and brutally completed by his daughter Elizabeth I in the Nine Years’ War from 1594 to 1603.

By this time, the fight had become mixed up with religion, as most English were now Anglican, Puritan, or otherwise Protestant (loosely defined) while the Irish for the most part remained loyal Catholics. To stamp out Irish Catholic resistance in the island’s troublesome northern province of Ulster, Elizabeth’s successor James I created the Plantation of Ulster, a colony settled by Protestants from England and Scotland—the latter mostly Presbyterians who eventually became known as the “Ulster Scots” or “Scots-Irish.”

Across Ireland, brutal repression, religious discrimination, and rapacious English landlords provoked uprisings on numerous occasions, including 1641, 1798, 1803, and 1867. Meanwhile, the horrific Irish Potato Famine in the second half of the 1840s, when at least a million Irish peasants starved to death, stirred sympathy in England for the plight of poor Irish, and the rise of the British Liberal Party under William Gladstone laid the groundwork for reforms in Ireland.

Early reforms bolstered tenants’ rights and ended the requirement that Catholics pay tithes to the Anglican Church in Ireland—but in the decades that followed it became clear many Irish wanted greater autonomy or even independence. The issue of “Irish Home Rule,” or self-government for Ireland, split the Liberal Party in two in 1886, as the “Liberal Unionist Party” aligned with the Conservatives led by Lord Salisbury, who also opposed to self-government for Ireland.

However, the Liberal Unionists eventually ended up splitting (again) over free trade and tariffs, and the Liberals returned to power in 1906, setting the scene for a final showdown over Irish Home Rule. Now the scene moved to the House of Lords, the aristocratic upper house of Parliament, which still wielded veto power over the democratically elected House of Commons. This feudal holdover allowed the House of Lords to veto the Second Irish Home Rule Bill for Irish Home Rule, which the (mostly Conservative) Lords felt threatened the very fabric of the United Kingdom.

But the Lords overplayed their hand and were finally stripped of their veto following their rejection of a Liberal budget including welfare measures with broad popular support (the “People’s Budget”) in 1909. The Lords’ veto of the budget, which had passed the Commons by an overwhelming margin, was the final insult that provoked the Liberals in the House of Commons – with support from Irish nationalists—to ask the recently enthroned King George V to step in and bring the Conservative-dominated Lords to heel.

George V, bowing to the popular will, warned the Conservative members of the House of Lords that if they didn’t pass the Parliament Act, acknowledging the constitutional supremacy of the House of Commons, he would use his royal prerogative to flood the House of Lords with hundreds of new Liberal peers—who would then pass the Parliament Act anyway. Presented with this fait accompli, in 1911 the House of Lords caved and yielded their right of veto. Under the new rules the Lords could reject any bill passed by the Commons twice, but if the Commons passed the bill a third time they could override the Lords and send it directly to the king.

That’s exactly what happened with the Third Irish Home Rule Bill: after the House of Commons passed the bill granting Ireland self-government in 1912, the House of Lords predictably rejected it in January 1913, forcing the Liberals to reintroduce the bill in 1913, whereupon the Lords rejected it yet again. Finally, on May 25, 1914, the House of Commons passed the bill for the third time and sent it to George V, sidestepping the House of Lords. At long last, it looked like Irish Home Rule was about to become a reality. 

But this was hardly the end of the matter. The Protestant population of Northern Ireland bitterly opposed Irish independence and feared that without British protection they would be persecuted by Ireland’s Catholic majority. Soon both sides began arming themselves in preparation for a civil war. The main Protestant militia, the Ulster Volunteer Force (above), claimed to have 100,000 members, all prepared to fight Irish Home Rule and keep Ulster in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile the Irish nationalists organized a rival force, the Irish Volunteers, committed to defending Ireland’s hard-won self-government. 

Even worse, the British government was apparently powerless to restore order in Northern Ireland, because British officers—mostly Protestant and staunchly patriotic—refused to act against the pro-British Protestant “Unionists” in Ulster, some of whom were former colleagues from the British army. In fact in March 1914 a number of senior British officers threatened to resign if ordered to move against the Ulster Volunteers, in what became known as the Curragh Incident or Curragh Mutiny (after the main British army camp west of Dublin).  

For professional officers in a European army to threaten mutiny in peacetime was an astonishing—and deeply embarrassing—state of affairs, reflecting the depths of division in British society over Irish Home Rule. Thus in the final months of peace the British government, press, and public were wholly absorbed by the situation in Ireland, where it seemed civil war might break out at any moment, and Parliament scrambled to find some sort of compromise that would prevent bloodshed. Ultimately the solution they settled on—a partition of Ireland—simply deferred the problem, as Irish nationalists still considered Ulster part of Ireland, and Ulster Protestants still considered Ireland part of the United Kingdom. 

The situation remained tense and uncertain into the summer, culminating in the Buckingham Palace Conference of July 21-24, 1914, when George V called representatives from both sides to meet in an effort to hammer out an agreement that would allow Irish Home Rule while respecting the rights of the Protestants in Northern Ireland. But the conference proved fruitless and soon the Irish question seemed less pressing, as all eyes turned to Europe following the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia on July 23, 1914.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
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Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

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Scarface is Returning to Theaters for Its 35th Anniversary
Tribeca Film Festival/Screenvision Media/Universal Pictures
Tribeca Film Festival/Screenvision Media/Universal Pictures

Pop culture history was forever altered on December 9, 1983, when Scarface arrived in movie theaters across America. A loose remake of Howard Hawks's classic 1932 gangster film, Brian De Palma's F-bomb-laden story of a Cuban immigrant who becomes the king of Miami's drug scene by murdering anyone in his path is still being endlessly dissected, and quoted, today. To celebrate the film's place in cinema history, the Tribeca Film Festival is teaming up with Screenvision Media and Universal Pictures to bring the film back into theaters next month.

Just last month, Scarface screened at New York City's Tribeca Film Festival as part of a 35th anniversary celebration. The film's main cast and crew—including De Palma and stars Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Steven Bauer—were on hand to discuss the making of the film and why it has endured as a contemporary classic. (Yes, that's the same conversation that left the panel momentarily speechless when moderator Jesse Kornbluth asked Pfeiffer how much she weighed during filming.) That post-screening Q&A will be part of the upcoming screenings.

"Scarface is a timeless film that has influenced pop culture in so many ways over the last 35 years. We're thrilled to partner with Universal Pictures and Tribeca Film Festival to bring it back to the big screen in celebration of its anniversary," Darryl Schaffer, executive vice president of operations and exhibitor relations at Screenvision Media, said in a press statement. "The Tribeca Film Festival talk was an important commemoration of the film. We're excited to extend it to the big screen and provide fans a behind-the-scenes insight into what production was like in the 1980s."

Scarface will screen at select theaters nationwide on June 10, June 11, and June 13, 2018. Visit Scarface35.com to find out if Tony Montana and his little friend will be coming back to a cinema near you.

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