Eire-Ireland:Journal of Irish Studies

Journal of Irish Studies: D.P. Moran and the leader: writing an Irish Ireland through partition

D.P. Moran and the leader: writing an Irish Ireland through partition

Paul Delaney

FOR readers of Irish literature D.P. Moran (1869-1936) is best remembered as a pugnacious journalist who, at the turn of the twentieth century, coined an increasingly exclusivist form of cultural politics under the rubric “Irish Ireland.” However, critical accounts of Moran are scanty, and apart from a short monograph by Patrick Maume, his work has rarely received serious scholarly attention in its own right. (1) Moran’s views have been frequently summarized by the aphorism “the foundation of Ireland is the Gael, and the Gael must be the element that absorbs,” and critics have typically focused on the ideas expressed during the early years of his career. (2) Moran himself has been criticized for employing chauvinistic images and crudely sectarian terminology; commentators have variously described him as a bigot, a xenophobe, a racist, and as “a great hater” of anything that might be deemed non-Catholic or non-Irish. (3)

This essay rises out of this tradition of critical neglect. It explores ideas which appeared in Moran’s 1905 text The Philosophy of Irish Ireland and the early issues of The Leader–the newspaper he founded in 1900–and demonstrates how these ideas were to resurface in the context of later editorials in the run-up to independence. A series of editorials, essays, and cartoons appearing in the years surrounding partition reveal Moran’s continuing interest in the politics of identity formation, morality, and the Irish language. They also reveal his continuing interest in the delineation of a wholesome “Irish Ireland” identity.

However, Moran’s model of identity was riddled with irony and ambivalence: He repeatedly argued for a return to Irish (a language which he never mastered) through the medium of English (a language in which he wrote with facility, but which he claimed to despise); he also pressed for the coterminous existence of the Catholic and Gaelic, and excluded Irish Protestants as “resident aliens,” even as he argued that Irish Catholics were an inherently tolerant people, incapable of bigotry. Moreover, Moran declared in support of the Treaty while he simultaneously retained his belief in a united Irish Ireland. He equivocated about the presence of the border, seeing it as both an imperial imposition to be resisted and a cordon sanitaire that provided for policies of cultural and economic protection; he also equivocated about the place of the North (and Belfast in particular), seeing the North and its inhabitants as simultaneously native and foreign.

Reading Moran’s later work against the backdrop of the Treaty and partition suggests that his return to the argument of The Philosophy of Irish Ireland in the early 1920s is neither simply “irrelevant” nor incongruous, as Brian Inglis suggests. (4) Rather, Moran’s later work for The Leader provides a critical expression of ambivalence and the problematic of identity formation, and reveals some of the discursive strategies that enabled the Free State (or elements within it) to write itself through partition.


Moran’s understanding of Irishness and the so-called indices of national identity emerged from the ideology of a wing of the Gaelic League, which prioritized issues such as language and culture over parentage and place of birth. Insistent that “the Gael [was] the matrix of the Irish people,” throughout his career Moran maintained that any commentary on Ireland must start with an affirmation of the foundational importance of the Irish language. (5) He linked such assertions to the historical importance of religion and argued that definitions of nationality must recognize the coterminous existence of Catholicism and Gaelicization in an Irish setting. (6) Such principles, by implication, ruled out the role of the Protestant Irish within the nation; they were, rather, assigned the status of “the English who happened to be born in Ireland.” (7) In Moran’s argument Protestants could never be truly Irish, regardless of acts of apostasy or cultural repudiation; they could never fully participate in the life of the nation, no matter how they might learn to speak or write Irish; and they would always be adjudged alien by so-called “thoroughgoing Irish” considerations. (8) Such a position has attracted widespread notoriety and has been responsible for much of the critical demonization of Moran. (9)

If Moran’s work propounded a readily exclusivist delineation of the conditions of Irish identity (something which set ominous limits to the categorization “Irish” and which looked forward to the subsequent strictures of Daniel Corkery), it nonetheless also provided the terms for a timely reworking of the principles of such an identity. Moran challenged “the accepted view that politics was the begin-all and end-all of Irish nationality,” arguing for the importance of culture in any anti-imperial or national formation. (10) Thus, according to Declan Kiberd, Moran’s diagnosis was “simple and devastating”: The glorification of the struggle for freedom had undermined its own legitimacy and had caused Irish people to forget that for which they fought–the traditions, arts, and language that were peculiar to Ireland. (11) For Moran, the concept of the nation was preceded by and dependent upon the existence of a discrete “civilization” or culture; the cause of Irish nationalism, therefore, demanded the recovery of a collective cultural consciousness. Clearly, the choice taken by those who “threw over Irish civilization whilst they professed–and professed in perfect good faith–to fight for Irish nationality” was incoherent. Such a choice, already familiar from earlier polemics, recalled the “illogical position” of the majority of the populace as described by Douglas Hyde a decade earlier. (12)

In his epochal address of 1892, “The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland,” Hyde famously dissected the irony of those who “protest as a matter of sentiment” to “hate the country which at every hand’s turn they rush to imitate.” (13) The incoherence of such a poise was especially exaggerated, Hyde noted, when assumed by some of the leading figures of the day–men and women who were “known to be filled with a dull, ever-abiding animosity” against the empire, and yet who chose to “adopt English habits and copy England in every way.” (14) Hyde showed the acute psychological consequences of such a stance. “Ceasing to be Irish without becoming English,” the majority of the populace was depicted as degenerating into a hybrid “nation of imitators … lost to the power of native initiative and alive only to second-hand assimilation.” (15) By “build[ing] up an Irish nation on Irish lines,” Hyde hoped to arrest this situation and to restore a holistic communal identity among the Irish people. (16) Such aspirations were based upon the pursuit of a vigorous program of de-anglicization and required a vibrant reappraisal of what had been lost to the boom of the colonial “cultural bomb.” (17) Keenly aware of the social, emotional, and psychological damage caused by colonization, Hyde sought to redress this historical wound. In the process he anticipated a century of anticolonial and postcolonial intellectuals who were to point out the prevalence of shame and schizophrenia in the colonial condition. His critique was both sober and sensitive: “We must teach ourselves not to be ashamed of ourselves.” (18)

Hyde believed that the restoration of Irish was crucial to the success of de-anglicization and argued that this program was a necessary component in any declaration of nationality. Crucially, he also thought that the revitalization of the Irish language would allow for a reconstitution of the principles of “Irishness,” which in turn would enable Protestants and Catholics to gain access to some form of shared nonsectarian identity. Hyde’s message, which sought to promote a concept of the nation appealing to nationalists and unionists alike, initially achieved some measure of success. (19) Protestants had long shown interest in the fortunes of the Irish language, deploying it as a tool for conversion during the nineteenth century and engaging in serious antiquarian and philological research since the eighteenth. Moreover, Irish had been a living language in a number of Protestant areas. Sean Mac Reamoinn notes the historical presence of Irish-speaking Protestant enclaves in the North and remarks that at the turn of the century, “Ulster Protestant opinion on the Gaelic League was clearly divided.” (20) If some dismissed Irish as a servile or separatist tongue, Mac Reamoinn points out that others made use of the language, believing that it would provide a vehicle for reconciliation at a time of incipient political crisis. Enthusiasts such as Hyde and other members of the Gaelic League advanced the Irish language as a means for the forging of an allegiance that might transcend politics and demonstrate a shared, traditional cultural heritage. Such enthusiasts serve as a caveat to popular historical memory and bear out Mac Reamoinn’s reminder that “we do well not to assume that Gaelic always meant Roman Catholic.” (21)

D.P. Moran, of course, assumed otherwise, and in the early pages of The Leader he argued that “the Irish nation is de facto a Catholic nation.” (22) Denying the Protestant role in Irish nationality, he declared that non-Catholic knowledge of the indices of Irish identity (including the language and excluding Douglas Hyde (23)) was historically incongruous. As early as July 1901, for instance, The Leader examined what it took to be the political oxymoron of “non-Catholic nationalism” and inquired whether a Protestant could ever be declared national; responding in the negative, Moran found that since “he does not understand Ireland,” the Protestant cannot be considered Irish. (24) Historians claim that such comments mark the beginnings of a radical transformation of the Irish-language movement, pointing toward its infiltration and eventual domination by conflicting clerical and republican personalities. Tom Garvin, for example, argues that “the clerical-nationalist campaign” waged by papers such as The Leader, was to force many Protestant language enthusiasts out of the League from about the mid-1900s, and that this exclusionary ethos resulted in the increasing identification of the language movement with fundamentalist Catholic tendencies. (25)


Surprisingly, however, Moran warned against expressions of “racial” intolerance in The Philosophy of Irish Ireland. Describing it as “a bad passion at the best,” he asserted that hatred on the grounds of identity was “absolutely unjustifiable on moral grounds.” (26) Nevertheless, the text of Moran’s Philosophy proceeded to qualify what it had just deemed inviolable. After claiming that “racial hatred” was morally indefensible, Moran argued that this was the case “unless … it is impersonal and complementary to a real desire to keep intact the distinctive character, traditions, and civilization of one’s own country.” (27) Under such circumstances, he implied, intolerance could sometimes be justified. Moran’s propensity for qualification appeared repeatedly in the course of his argument and was sometimes used as a rhetorical strategy to circumvent a polemical purpose. Thus identities and ideas that seemed countenanced often found themselves excluded from discussion. In an infamous passage of The Philosophy of Irish Ireland, for example, Moran comments that

No one wants to fall out with Davis’s comprehensive idea of the

Irish people as a composite race drawn from various sources, and

professing any creed they like, nor would any attempt to rake up

racial prejudices be tolerated by anyone. We are proud of Grattan,

Flood, Tone, Emmet, and all the rest who dreamt and worked for an

independent country. (28)

However, to this potentially pluralist image of the nation, Moran added the remark that it is “necessary that [these figures] should be put in their place”–explaining that “that place is not on the top, as the only beacon lights to succeeding generations.” (29) Through his claim that personages such as Thomas Davis “had no conception of an Irish nation,” Moran proceeded to undermine notions of Irish hybridity, instead arguing for the assimilative powers of the Gael; moreover, his claim that these figures “should be put in their place” injected an ominous edge into the argument. (30) Critics have correctly noted the exclusionist basis of Moran’s thesis, tracing its development in the later ideas of Daniel Corkery as well as in the institutionalization of these ideas in Free State policy. But Moran’s argument should not be simply dismissed out of hand; Margaret O’Callaghan suggests, for example, that his views are part of “a post-colonial search for a satisfactory ‘national character.” (31) Describing the conditions of that character was one of Moran’s major preoccupations.

Brian Inglis notes that Moran’s earliest Leader editorials attempted to articulate a complex reconstitution of the idea of “the Irish nation.” (32) Defining the nation as more than just a “politico-national” construct, Moran stressed the importance of the nation’s cultural and economic determinants and argued that they were largely informed and shaped by the initiative and the makeup of the nation’s populace. (33) Because he maintained that a sense of nationhood is based upon a spirit of self-confidence, secured by principles of self-reliance, Moran, like Hyde, saw the recovery of the Irish language as a necessary precondition for any claim to Irish identity. Thus the language revival, both necessary and empowering, promoted manners and customs peculiar to its environment and developed national pride and a distinctive cultural heritage–all expressive of a shared “national” consciousness. That revival was accordingly held up as “the most prominent mark” of nationhood. (34)

Like others in the League, Moran developed this argument by fusing the ambitions of cultural and economic revival. Despite the seeming disparity between culture and economics, he discerned “a strong connection” between the ambitions of language revivalists and the plans of economic reformers. (35) Just as the editors of the League’s weekly paper An Claidheamh Soluis explained that “the language, the industries, and the very existence of a people are all interdependent,” Moran believed that movements advocating the recovery of Irish could and should help to initiate programs of industrialization and development. (36) His 1901 polemical salvo, “The Battle of Two Civilizations,” stressed such a combined cultural and economic focus. Like Hyde and other Gaelic Leaguers, Moran saw this “connection” grounded in the ongoing psychological consequences of the colonial project–claiming that a history of anglicization had transformed the Irish into “the very antithesis of what [they] ought to be.” (37) Rather than being a proudly self-reliant people, the Irish had come to assume an almost “characteristic latter-day … cringe” in their dealings with the English. (38) Such a poise, a symptom of self-estrangement, resulted in the Irish being lulled into a state “of simmering ignorance” about all that should have been most familiar–a state making salvage and recovery programs all the more pressing. (39) Reiterating the tone and text of Hyde’s “Necessity,” Moran emphasized the need for cultivating “our national pride and self-respect, and encourag[ing] our self-dependence.” (40) Such programs, he argued, promote a “stirring-up” of the much-sought-after “Gaelic mind.” (41)

According to Moran, this “Gaelic mind” characterized those who could be described as “real Irish.” Conspicuous for its piety and commitment to native customs and the Irish language, it was deeply conservative in manners and values, yet also adaptable and open to modernized economic relations. Significantly, it was diametrically opposed to what Moran (influenced by Hyde) was to term the haunts and the ambitions of “the English mind in Ireland.” (42) Whereas the English or anglicized disposition was materialistic and vulgar, the Gaelic character was culturally and spiritually refined. Moran argued that “real” Ireland’s preference for the work of the League over the performances of the Abbey, as well as its denunciation of the scandalous antics of the music hall, the English press, and the public house, exemplified such refinement, to be maintained only through the support and cultivation of the Irish language. Investing Irish with inherent protectionist qualities, he believed that “a distinct language is the great weapon by which we can ward off undue foreign influence and keep ourselves surrounded by a racy Irish atmosphere.” (43)

Like many others in the League and the Irish Ireland movement, Moran viewed the English language as a vehicle of corruption and degeneration. Thus over a three-month span, between late 1908 and early 1909, The Leader ran a series of essays in response to the question, “Is the English Language Poisonous?” (44) Without exception Moran’s contributors answered–in English–in the affirmative. Some argue that the ironic nature of this debate (in which English was used to denounce English) underscores the extent to which the Irish Ireland movement was “not serious about the revival project.” (45) Anticipating such a charge, however, Moran claimed the need for “an active, vigilant, and merciless propaganda in the English language.” Such a campaign, he maintained, would challenge the vulgarity and bias of the English press, even as it provided suitable reading material for the Catholic middle classes and reintroduced traditional motifs and practices to an estranged, because anglicized, audience. (46) He asserted that those who would ridicule English discussions of the language movement missed the point:

If the [Gaelic] League is to be successful, it must not only defend

its own positions …, it must march abroad, invade the enemy’s

territory, and attack every stronghold with all the horse, foot,

and artillery it can dispose of. (47)

The military metaphor reasserts the declaration of “The Battle of Two Civilizations,” essentially establishing a linguistic clash between the English speaking seoinin and the Irish-speaking Gael. But here Moran extends the terms of that metaphor by investing it with evangelical import, writing, for example, of the need to perform works of “conversion” among the English-speaking Irish. (48)

Perceiving Irish as a safeguard against the influence of foreign or “evil” publications, Moran remarked that “its revival will help with the return of nobler and more Christian ideals.” (49) He was not alone in this belief; a clerical contributor to The Leader, writing in 1909, warned of the consequences of anglicization by posing the starkest of choices: “Irish or Infidelity, Which?” (50) Such a dialectic appeared repeatedly in The Leader’s pages. Comparing the sensibilities of Ireland and England in 1908, an article asserted that those accustomed to Irish morality were astonished by the “complete shamelessness with which indecency of every kind is paraded in public” by “the English mind.”51 But concurrently, The Leader seemingly undermined its own strictures by advocating the return to Irish through the medium of English. Moran, who himself never attained proficiency in the Irish language, (52) argued, however, that it would take several generations for an effective revival of Irish; in the interim The Leader published one Irish-language article a week. The medium of return, then, was ambivalent and unsettling: it made use of a linguistic agenda that Moran viewed as terminal to the aspirations of the nation (writing about Ireland in English); however, it also recognized the reality of an English-speaking Irish audience. (53) Any return to a precolonial native source would have to contend with the consequences of anglicization (“we are all Palemen now,” Moran lamented) and would have to countenance what Moran viewed as the “most glaring frauds” of Irish identity expressed through English. (54) All of these issues and ambivalences were repeated throughout his career; however, they were to gain special significance in the years surrounding independence.


Despite opposition from many of his former supporters, Moran welcomed the Anglo-Irish truce of 1921 and the subsequent terms of the Treaty. (55) Writing in December of that year, he urged all engaged in the Dail debates to accept the Treaty as a basis for the restoration of order. His support of the Treaty was formulated under the banner “Ireland over all,” expressing his opposition to the possibility of recriminations and splits developing within the nationalist movement. (56) Throughout late 1921 and early 1922, The Leader repeatedly recalled the bitter legacy of the Parnellite split, investing it with contemporary relevance. (A particularly graphic image was painted by The Leader’s cartoonist on 14 February 1922, entitled “Let Erin Remember.”) Channeling his support of the Treaty through the ambitions of the Irish Ireland movement, Moran viewed the putative freedom being offered the Free State as the occasion for an “Irishizing Ireland.” (57) Thus the newly independent Free State could break inherited bonds and reassert the primacy of native customs and pieties through its use of the Irish language. He asserted that this return to Irish constituted the “real wonder” of the Treaty, transcending questions of sovereignty, partition, and the oath, and fulfilling a basic requirement for a distinctly national existence. (58) Whether the country existed as “Republic or Free State,” Moran argued, “if the Irish language does not become the everyday language of Ireland, [then] Ireland as a nation dies.”59 With such assertions he returned to the argument of The Philosophy of Irish Ireland: With language revival will come “a genuine Irish nation, whoever may be making the laws.” (60)

Of course, Moran’s 1921 reassertion of his earlier argument now appeared in a new and different climate, one fashioned against the backdrop of the Treaty and complicated by the reality of partition. Although The Leader’s contributors themselves reflected the divisions within Irish society–with William Dawson [“Avis”] and T. Galloway Rigg supporting the Treaty and Arthur Clery [“Chanel’] opposing it–Moran declined to address the consequences of changed political conditions. Upon the publication of the Treaty, The Leader expressed its hopes for “an amicable and satisfactory arrangement in our national affairs,” anticipating that the coming Christmas would “witness a united Ireland, full of hope and confidence.” (61) Moran thus downplayed disagreement, instead envisioning the Treaty as a catalyst for the revival of the Irish language.

All nerves and energies must now be strained for an Irish Ireland

…. The land has to be made an Irish-speaking land…. One

language must be the vernacular, and that language must be Irish.

There is no other way. Irish as the vernacular of Ireland, as in

the nature of things it must be, will clear up and clear out a lot

of things automatically, and it will automatically call many

desirable things into being. (62)

The “desirable things” that Moran sought included “a big national newspaper” and a native “dramatic development”–cultural goals that would both safeguard and express an emergent sense of identity resistant to any “foreign” influence. (63) The “foreign” or anglicizing influence, to be “cleared up and cleared out,” included the twin evils of the music hall and the English press. Moran’s formulation of what was desired in the nation, and of what was to be repulsed from it, appears repeatedly in subsequent issues of The Leader; that formulation is graphically expressed in a cartoon and poem dated 7 January 1922 (figure 1).


Heralding the new year for ushering in an age of industry and independence, this cartoon, evocatively entitled “Some Work Before Us,” features a clean-cut middle-class Irishman sweeping the “foreign corruption” of jazz and the English press (in the figure of a black musician and a white English reader) from Ireland’s shores. (64) Its accompanying verse makes clear that since the battle for the nation’s “soul” must still be won, the Treaty has not yet conferred liberty upon the Free State’s populace. The cartoon rallies support for a stern battle against anglicization yet to be waged: “Far worse than the steel and the lead in their way/Are evil productions of bloated decay.” Winning the nation’s soul will require rejecting “imported debasement and rot” and resuscitating native morals, customs, and values. Significantly, neither the drawing nor the accompanying poem refers to the consequences of partition or to the projected aims of reunification and national sovereignty. Rather, “Some Work Before Us” offers Moran’s focus on gaelicization within the Twenty-Six Counties; this focus epitomizes The Leader’s discursive strategy of occluding mention of the North in expressing support of the Treaty.


Historians examining the early years of the Free State note how issues pertaining to the North were routinely ignored, buried, or forgotten. (65) The Dail debates attached minor importance to partition, and questions relating to the crown, the oath, and dominion relations were given priority over the future of the North and the workings of the Boundary Commission. (66) Commentators offer various reasons for the Free State’s popular and political indifference toward partition: the widespread belief that it was a temporary arrangement, the presumption that the Northern state was economically unviable, as well as a heightened sense of disillusionment which attended the findings of the 1925 Boundary Agreement. But despite their minimal interest in partition, many Free State citizens were antagonistic toward the establishment of the Northern state; they were distrustful of Northern Protestants and alarmed by the North’s treatment of its substantial Catholic and nationalist minority. (67) If they were indifferent to the status of the North, Free State citizens nonetheless maintained that the natural territory of the nation encompassed the geographic island of Ireland. (68) Thus the imaginative and territorial shrinkage which was a consequence of the foundation of the Free State existed coterminously with a belief in the internal coherence of the Thirty-Two Counties. As Oliver MacDonagh demonstrates, the expression of these seemingly incompatible beliefs–that the North was part of Ireland, that the North was an alien state–emerged from an “elasticity” of vision that both “refocused” the North in terms of that which was most native and that which was thoroughly alien or foreign. (69) Such stratagems, founded upon evasion, equivocation, and ambivalence, enabled the Free State simultaneously to deny and acknowledge the legitimacy of the northern state. (70)

Similar stratagems were marshalled with respect to the northern border. Typically despised as an unnatural and imperial imposition, the border was also viewed as distancing the North from the rest of the island-operating as a kind of cordon sanitaire that protected the citizens of the Free State, and subsequently of the Republic, from exposure to Orange bigotry and the “disease” of sectarian hatred. In The Four Green Fields (1936), George O’Brien metaphorically invokes “the northern disease” in such terms:

It would be most regrettable if the sectarian dividing lines between

the parties in the north were to spread to the south, and it is hard

to see how the infection could be prevented from spreading if the

border barrier were destroyed. At the present, sectarianism is

safely confined in its Ulster quarantine. (71)

O’Brien’s reasoning implicitly assumes that southern nationalists are a tolerant and inclusive people, and that northern unionists–and Orangemen in particular–are a source of contagion and hatred. Such an argument, founded upon a characteristic equivocation about the North, is set within an antipartitionist framework: O’Brien remarks elsewhere, for example, that partition is equivalent to national amputation. But he nonetheless urges the extension of partition and provides a rationale for the continued separation of the two states.

O’Brien’s argument resembles the position earlier adopted by Moran in his 1905 The Philosophy of Irish Ireland, where he took as a central tenet the belief that Irish Catholics were incapable of bigotry–and that religious intolerance was the prerogative of the ruling Ascendancy class. Throughout his career Moran protested against a range of anti-Catholic discriminatory practices, once remarking that the only kind of sectarianism in Ireland was anti-Catholic and “that, in its ultimate analysis, [bigotry] is chiefly anti-Irish.” (72) Moran believed that Irish Catholics are “so averse … to anything like religious intolerance that it is difficult to get them to protest against intolerance” even when they were its victims. (73) But his argument contained an important proviso: In attempting to explain the escalation of violence in the North between 1920 and 1922, he acknowledged a virulent sectarianism among portions of the nationalist populace, a sectarianism clearly detrimental to his claims for an all-inclusive and tolerant Irish Catholicity. Faced with this seeming contradiction, Moran argued that such prejudice was outside the experience of the southern nationalist community and limited to the North. In view of his conviction that the only religious intolerance in the Free State was anti-Catholic, he insisted that “bigotry on the part of Catholics in the Six Counties is immediately due to Orange bigotry.” (74) Accordingly, the North was described as a site of contagion and disease, with Northern unionists diagnosed as “a sore and a cancer” upon Ireland, responsible for infecting their nationalist neighbors. Such references to disease, contamination, and cancer in the context of political partition provide an added significance to Moran’s vision of a wholesome Irish Ireland identity.


Throughout his career Moran claimed that what he termed “the ‘Ulster’ question” stemmed from the presence of a modern, industrial Belfast. (75) All but blind to the evolution of a northern Protestant and unionist tradition, he argued that the primary–if not the sole–cause of partition was English investment in that city, citing Belfast’s famous shipbuilding industries to explain Westminster’s support of “the partition freak.” (76) Drawing upon a rhetorical strategy that simultaneously located the city within and outside the resurgent nation, he envisioned English support as founded upon “a conscious effort to nurse Belfast and hamper Ireland.” (77) Within the terms of such a strategy Belfast was denigrated as the epitome of Northern difference, characterized by sectarianism, industrialization, and unionist ascendancy. (78) On occasion Moran stated that “Belfast is part of Ireland,” but elsewhere he argued that the city is “bigoted and anti-Irish,” and that its citizens are more anglicized than those of the rest of the island. (79) Indeed, he wrote that Belfast’s inhabitants are less honest and more irresponsible than their southern brethren, reporting that “crime, as ordinarily understood, hardly exists outside Belfast,” and that more alcohol was consumed in the North than in any province outside Ulster. (80) (In February 1922, Moran gleefully noted that “the drink bill of the Six Counties is greater that that of any of the provinces outside Ulster–greater than that of Leinster, with its twelve counties, including Dublin …. There’s the Wee State for you!” (81)) Imagining the North–and Belfast in particular–as a site of licentiousness, violence, and abandon, he differentiated between the behavior of its inhabitants and the decorum of Free State citizens. Such a distinction, repeatedly appearing in The Leader’s pages, informed the ideology of cartoons like “Truce and Truculence” (figure 2). (82)


Printed in late July 1921, several weeks after the truce, this cartoon dramatically illustrated The Leader’s version of differences between the South and the North. Contrasting the apparent tranquility and prosperity of the Twenty-Six Counties with the spirit of unrest spreading through the North, the cartoon invoked alleged differences of civilization, morality, and class. The distinctively middle-class family on the left represents a people for whom, according to the accompanying poem, “civilization is not a veneer.” Well dressed and serene, the woman is learning Irish through the medium of an O’Growney primer while her husband casually peruses the pages of The Leader. In contrast to this seaside scene, on which the sun smiles, the illustration on the right depicts ignorance, ruination, and mob rule. Recognizably working-class thugs from the loyalist area of Sandy Row, whose physiognomy and dress distinguish them from the characters on the left panel, ignite premises bearing the unmistakably Irish names of Murphy and O’Sullivan. Significantly, one of the thugs bears down upon a mother, a child, and an infant–a distorted and victimized image of the family to their left, in whose direction they flee. Such scenes, the poem suggests, constitute “civilized usage observed in Belfast.”

With its dramatic, almost Manichean, illustration of difference, the cartoon also graphically reveals The Leader’s cordon-sanitaire approach to partition. A bifocal frame, clearly distinguishing between two locations, illustrates violence within the second frame and ascribes a quarantined status to that site. Significantly, Moran’s editorial for this issue of the newspaper stressed the polarization of the North and South; he urged a celebration of Irish morality and contrasted this to the intolerant intractability of northern unionists. Moran found that such a contrast was “instructive” and unsurprising; he praised Irish behavior–“outside Belfast and kindred areas”–for upholding the terms of the truce:

We are a peace-loving people, and in a free Ireland comparatively

few men would be needed to police the country. The shootings and

burnings in Belfast are a shame and a disgrace, but they are only

what might have been expected. (83)

Although Moran located Belfast as part of Ireland in the above passage, on other occasions he gave the city a more “tangential” status. A year earlier, when denouncing the 1920 sectarian attacks on the Catholic populace of the North, he noted how “inconceivable was the thought of analogous attacks on minorities elsewhere in Ireland.” (84) Indeed, his editorial claimed that “if in any city, town, or countryside in Ireland the majority went out and savagely attacked the … minority,” as the Catholic minority had been attacked in Belfast, nationalist Catholic Ireland would be appalled. (85) The rhetorical slippage, in this instance, from the “South” to “Ireland,” belongs to a distancing strategy that predated the formal act of partition–a strategy imagining Belfast as different or foreign and placing its inhabitants beyond the reach of any city, town, or countryside in Ireland. With such a rhetorical agenda, Moran set in opposition two locations: “Ireland and Belfast.” (86)

Moran regularly deployed the signifier “Belfast” as shorthand for prejudice, Protestantism, and an industrialized and intolerant North. In the years surrounding partition, The Leader attended as well to the plight of northern nationalists and Catholics. Under Moran’s editorship the newspaper regularly reported intimidation and discrimination in employment practices in the North, for example, following the plight of a group of dismissed Catholic workers at the Caledon Woollen Mills in County Tyrone. (87) The Leader also supported what was to become known as “the Belfast Boycott”–a political initiative that attempted to end victimization of northern Catholics and facilitate Irish unity by demonstrating the North’s dependence upon the rest of the island. (88) From the outset of the boycott, the newspaper carried large half-page advertisements in support and displayed spectacular title-page advertisements provocatively addressed “to the Orange Bigots of Belfast” and “to the Men and Women of Ireland.” (89) Calling for a repudiation of partition and for a reinstatement of the North’s Catholic workforce, The Leader disclosed discriminatory practices in the North and also reported the plight of northern refugees in the South. Its cartoonists typically depicted the Free State as a hospitable place, welcoming victims of sectarian abuse (such as the frightened family from “Truce and Truculence”). By contrasting southern tolerance with northern bigotry, the paper reflected an already standard feature of nationalist doctrine–one setting the Free State’s attitude toward its southern Protestant minority in opposition to the North’s brutal treatment of its Catholic populace. (90) To make their rhetorical points, such comparisons typically glossed over crucial demographic and political differences. (The Protestant minority in the South was less than 8 percent, and the cause of little alarm. The Catholic minority in the North, however, was well over 30 percent and included Catholic majorities in a number of areas; it also included many who refused to recognize the legitimacy of the northern state.) Like many others in the Free State, Moran saw southern tolerance as detrimental to the survival of the northern state; he assumed that southern tolerance would inevitably act as an incentive for reunification, when northern unionists realized that they had nothing to fear from Dublin. Moreover, Moran suspected that materially minded northern unionists (defined in contrast to pious southern Catholics) would look to enter the Free State for reasons of profit and gain. (91) Under what terms the North would be admitted, however, remained a matter of debate.

Unlike The Leader’s contributor Arthur Clery, described as “one of the few Irishmen ready to recognize the separateness of Protestant Ulster,” Moran refused to concede the legitimacy of a northern Protestant identity. (92) Instead, he maintained that northern Protestants should be assigned the status of an unassimilable immigrant entity within the national body. Recalling Hyde’s lament in “The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland” that the North “was planted with aliens, whom our dear mother Erin, assimilative as she is, has hitherto found it difficult to absorb”–Moran consistently represented Northern unionism, and the Orange lodges in particular, as an intractable source of loutish anti-Irish behavior. (93) Describing the average Orangeman as “the last thing in obscurantism, prejudice, and ignorance,” he viewed the Order as the antithesis of an Irish Ireland citizenry. (94) The contributions he printed in The Leader stressed this view, with illustrations such as “The Happy Orange Child” (figure 3) showing loyalist teachers spreading ignorance and prejudice, and urging their young charges to “forget the past” or, rather, to forget certain past events–as the picture of King Billy and the Lambeg drum would seem to signify the retention of a particular version of historical memory. (95) In contrast, Moran stressed the importance of the past (or rather, of a specific reading of past events), arguing that given the history of northern unionists, “they ought … to be grateful to the Irish nation for being willing to adopt them.” (96) Alluding to the “magnanimity of Ireland” (on account of its willingness to take such an “ignorant rabble into its citizenship”), Moran implied a North/South working-class/middle-class differential. He depicted northern unionism as a far from reasonable force–as made up of an “ignorant rabble” in contrast to the South’s “rational and national” populace. (97) Through such suggestions Moran also intimated the terms under which northern unionists might be tolerated in the new dispensation. Excluded from full membership in the nation, northern Protestants and unionists, like their co-religionists in the Free State, were rather deemed resident aliens in an Irish Ireland context. Caught within an ancestral dilemma, they were identified as the descendants of planters and immigrants who had never attained a “normal, natural” relationship with their host country. (98)



After the establishment of the parliament in the North in 1921, Moran claimed that northern unionists had finally declared themselves “in their true colours as an outpost of England in Ireland.” (99) In the aftermath of the Treaty, The Leader refocused its attention on the task of achieving gaelicization and national unity within a Twenty-Six County rather than a Thirty-Two County framework. The sudden shift in reportage is striking. In the weeks leading up to the declaration of the Treaty, the Belfast riots and the plight of Northern refugees occupied prominent editorial space in The Leader; however, throughout the period of the Dail debates these issues received very little coverage, and with the outbreak of the Civil War they were all but forgotten. In the succeeding months and years, as Patrick Maume demonstrates, Moran was to praise partition as “a blessing in disguise.” (100) Arguing that partition made the Free State more homogeneous in character, Moran noted that it also permitted the Free State to become more protectionist in outlook: to impose laws on contraception, divorce, compulsory Irish, and censorship in order to police its moral borders. Contributors to The Leader would subsequently link “free thought, free trade, and free literature” as specifically English diseases to be excluded from Ireland’s shores. (101) Thus the presence of the border as a cordon sanitaire facilitated protectionist strategies and helped to resuscitate a wholesome Irish Ireland identity.

The existence of the border, however, fractured the possibility of any kind of wholesome recovery. The island of Ireland was to remain culturally and politically sundered, with its indeterminate and imagined boundaries continuing to shift between the Thirty-Two County nation and the Twenty-Six County state. Such ambivalence helped to encourage an enduringly “schizoid” model of identity. (102) The status of Belfast remained the subject of uncertainty in the ensuing years, and the place and people of the North continued to move within and outside Moran’s vision of a resurgent nation. Projections of a return to a holistic Irish Ireland failed, of course, to account for the consequences of a real historical rupture. Such projections, however, rather than providing evidence of Moran’s “irrelevance” to cultural debates in the Free State, are more profitably understood as part of a discursive strategy that enabled the Free State (or elements within it) to write itself through partition. (103) In this context–despite or perhaps even because of its many inconsistencies and prejudices–Moran’s later work demands further critical attention.

* An earlier draft of this paper was presented to the Centre for Colonial and Postcolonial Research, at the University of Kent at Canterbury. Many thanks to Eugene McNulty for providing me with this opportunity. Thanks also to Lyn Innes, Thomas Docherty, and Declan Kiberd for commenting on a previous version of this essay.

(1) See Patrick Manme, D.P. Moran (Dundalk: Dundalgan Press, for the Historical Association of Ireland, 1995). Maume has also written a brief pamphlet on D.P. Moran and Daniel Corkery entitled The Rise and Fall of Irish Ireland (Coleraine: University of Ulster CCILB Pamphlet, 1996).

(2) D.P. Moran, The Philosophy of Irish Ireland (Dublin: James Duffy & Co., n.d. [1905]), 37.

(3) Conor Cruise O’Brien, Ancestral Voices: Religion and Nationalism in Ireland (Dublin: Poolbeg Press, 1994), 35. For descriptions of Moran as a bigot, a xenophobe, and a racist, see F.S.L. Lyons, Culture and Anarchy in Ireland, 1890-1939 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), S9; Maume, Moran, 23; and Cruise O’Brien, Ancestral Voices, 51, 92, respectively. Anticipating such charges, Brian Inglis has argued that, “though not himself a bigot, Moran, by his language, sometimes conveyed the impression that he was: See Brian Inglis, “Moran of The Leader and Ryan of The Irish Peasant,” in The Shaping of Modern Ireland, ed. Conor Cruise O’Brien (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960), 112.

(4) Inglis, “Moran of The Leader,” 113.

(5) Moran, Philosophy of Irish Ireland, 33.

(6) Cf. Oliver MacDonagh, States of Mind: A Study of Anglo-Irish Conflict, 1780-1980 (London: Allen & Unwin, 1983), 116.

(7) Moran, Philosophy of Irish Ireland, 14.

(8) D.P. Moran, “The Battle of Two Civilizations,” in Ideals in Ireland, ed. Lady Gregory (London: At the Unicorn, 1901), 39. I reference this edition of Moran’s essay throughout rather than the edition reprinted as chapter six of The Philosophy of Irish Ireland. The publication history of this essay is quite intricate. It was first printed in the Jesuit-run periodical, the New Ireland Review–as were the rest of the chapters in The Philosophy of Ireland. “The Battle of Two Civilizations” was the last of the six essays to be published, and appeared in the August 1900 issue. This essay included material that was critical of Yeats. Much of this was taken out of the 1901 version, which was edited by Lady Gregory; new material inserted by Moran stressed the links between the projects of cultural and economic revival. This material was retained in the chapter reprinted in The Philosophy of Irish Ireland, and the anti-Yeats argument was also reintroduced.

(9) For an account of Moran’s demonization, see Maume, Moran, 3.

(10) Moran, “Battle of Two Civilizations,” 29.

(11) Declan Kiberd, “Writers in Quarantine?: The Case for Irish Studies, “The Crane Bag of Irish Studies 3:I (1979), reprinted in The Crane Bag Book of Irish Studies (1977-1981), ed. Mark Patrick Hederman and Richard Kearney (Dublin: Blackwater Press, 1982), 344.

(12) Douglas Hyde, “The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland” (1892), reprinted in ‘An Craoibhin Aoibhinn’: Language, Lore, and Lyrics; Essays and Lectures, ed. Breandan O Conaire (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1986), 153.

(13) Ibid.

(14) Ibid., 154.

(15) Ibid., 153, 169.

(16) Ibid., 154.

(17) On the comparative consequences of the “cultural bomb,” see Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (London: James Currey, 1986), esp. 3.

(18) Hyde, “Necessity for De-Anglicising,” 169.

(19) For examples of the League as a unifying force, see Kevin B. Nowlan, “The Gaelic League and Other National Movements,” in The Gaelic League Idea, ed. Sean O Tuama (Cork: Mercier Press, 1972), 45.

(20) Sean Mac Reamoinn, “Our Final Sign” (Coleraine: University of Ulster CCILB Pamphlet, 1996), 9. For further discussions of the Irish language and the Protestant and unionist communities of the North see, for instance, Pilib Misteil, ed., The Irish Language and the Unionist Tradition (Belfast: Ulster People’s College/ULTACH Trust, 1994).

(21) Mac Reamoinn, “Our Final Sign,” 10; cf. Sean de Freine, The Great Silence (Dublin: Foilseachain Naisiunta Teoranta, 1965), 130. For further discussion of Protestant involvement in the Gaelic League, see Tim McMahon, “All Creeds and All Classes’? Just who Made up the Gaelic League?” Eire-Ireland 37:3-4 (Fall/Winter 2002).

(22) The Leader, to Aug. 1901.

(23) Cf. The Leader, 22 Dec. 1900, for instance, where Moran declares that “the price of Trinity College is exile from the Gael,” and identifies Hyde as the “one exception to prove the rule.”

(24) The Leader, 27 July 1901.

(25) Tom Garvin, Nationalist Revolutionaries in Ireland, 1858-1928 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), 85.

(26) Moran, Philosophy of Irish Ireland, 67.

(27) Ibid.

(28) Ibid., 36-37.

(29) Ibid., 37.

(30) Ibid.

(31) Margaret O’Callaghan, “Language, Nationality and Cultural Identity in the Irish Free State, 192z-7: The Irish Statesman and the Catholic Bulletin Reappraised,” Irish Historical Studies 24:94 (Nov. 1984), 244, O’Callaghan extends this postcolonial reading in her later essay, “Denis [sic] Patrick Moran and ‘the Irish Colonial Condition’, 1891-1921,” in Political Thought in Ireland since the Seventeenth Century, ed. D. George Boyce, Robert Eccleshall, and Vincent Geoghegan (London and New York: Routledge, 1993).

(32) See Inglis, “Moran of The Leader,” 115.

(33) Moran, Philosophy of Irish Ireland, 30.

(34) Ibid., I.

(35) Moran, “Battle of Two Civilizations,” 37. Such connections have been fruitfully explored in P.J. Mathews, “The Irish Revival: A Re-appraisal,” in New Voices in Irish Criticism, ed. P.J. Mathews (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000), 12-19.

(36) Cited by Nowlan, “Gaelic League,” 47.

(37) Moran, Philosophy of Irish Ireland, 74-75.

(38) Ibid., 35.

(39) Ibid., 47.

(40) Moran, “Battle of Two Civilizations,” 40.

(41) Ibid.; Moran, Philosophy of Irish Ireland, 88.

(42) For an account of Moran, Hyde, and “the English mind in Ireland,” see Maume, Moran, 24, 53.

(43) Moran, Philosophy of Irish Ireland, 26.

(44) The series ran from 3t October 1908 through 23 January 1909.

(45) Cruise O’Brien, Ancestral Voices, 88.

(46) Moran, Philosophy of Irish Ireland, 81.

(47) Ibid., 82.

(48) Ibid.

(49) The Leader, 9 Aug. 1919.

(50) Cited by Garvin, Nationalist Revolutionaries, 104.

(51) The Leader, 18 June 1908.

(52) See Maume, Moran, 14.

(53) Cf. Donal McCartney’s remark that the mode of Anglo-Irish literature “which Hyde welcomed as a half-way house [was] to Moran’s way of thinking too often a terminus.” See Donal McCartney, “Hyde, D.P. Moran, and Irish Ireland,” in Leaders and Men of the Easter Rising: Dublin ,916, ed. EX. Martin (London: Methuen, 1967), 50.

(54) Moran, Philosophy of Irish Ireland, 37, 22.

(55) See Maume, Moran, esp. 41.

(56) The Leader, 17 Dec. 1921.

(57) Ibid.

(58) Ibid., 31 Dec. 1921.

(59) Ibid.

(60) Moran, Philosophy of Irish Ireland, 27.

(61) The Leader, 17 Dec. 1921

(62) Ibid. For different responses to the Treaty, see the following contributions to this edition of The Leader: Avis, “The ‘Articles of Association'”; T. Galloway Rigg, “The Irish Free State”; and Chanel,” Substance and Soul.”

(63) Ibid., 17 Dec. 1921.

(64) “Some Work Before Us,” ibid., 7 Jan. 1922, 535. The Leader’s concerns with the English press and with music hall culture can be readily explained; however, its preoccupation with jazz music is perhaps more difficult to understand. Although obviously epitomizing a form of modern decadence, the influence of jazz was not widespread in Ireland in the early 1920s. I am grateful to Rod Edmond for this observation.

(65) References to the Free State’s apathy or ignorance of the North are legion. See, for instance, R.E Foster, Modern Ireland, 1600-1972 (London: Allen Press, 1988), 503-4; D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland (London and Canberra: Croom Helm, and Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1982), 353; Michael Hughes, Ireland Divided: The Roots of the Modern Irish Problem (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1994), 60; Dermot Keogh, Twentieth-Century Ireland: Nation and State (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1994), 22.

(66) See, for example, Michael Laffan, The Partition of Ireland, 1911-1925 (Dundalk: Dundalgan Press, for the Dublin Historical Association, 1983), esp. 83, 87; see also Hughes, Ireland Divided, 55.

(67) See Laffan, Partition of Ireland, 123.

(68) See Clare O’Halloran, Partition and the Limits of Irish Nationalism: An Ideology under Stress (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1987), 1-2; cf. MacDonagh, States of Mind, esp. 15, 23-27.

(69) MacDonagh, States of Mind, 26, 33.

(70) See O’Halloran, Partition and Nationalism, xviii.

(71) George O’Brien, The Four Green Fields (Dublin: Talbot Press, 1936), 126-27, cited by O’Halloran, 53.

(72) The Leader, 3 July 1920.

(73) Ibid.

(74) Ibid., 8 April 1922. For a more general discussion of this tactic, see O’Halloran, Partition and Nationalism, esp. 58-59

(75) The Leader, 2 Aug. 1919. For similar sentiments see, for example, ibid., 13 Sept. 1919; see also ibid., 3 Jan. 1920, ibid., 9 July 1921.

(76) Ibid., 8 Oct. 1921.

(77) Ibid., 2 Aug. 1919.

(78) On the denigration of Belfast, see O’Halloran, Partition and Nationalism, 8-15. Other locations in the North were more sympathetically treated–Derry being perhaps the most notable example.

(79) The Leader, 3 Jan. 1920; ibid., 11 Sept. 1920. For the extent of the anglicization of Belfast, see ibid., 7 June 1919.

(80) Ibid., 7 June 1919.

(81) Ibid., 11 and 18 Feb. 1922 (a joint issue).

(82) “Truce and Truculence,” ibid., 23 July 1921, 527.

(83) Ibid., 23 July 1921.

(84) Ibid., 31 July 1920.

(85) Ibid. (emphasis added).

(86) This opposition provided The Leader with an editorial subheading on 11 September 1920.

(87) For coverage of the expulsion of Catholic workers from Caledon see, for example, The New Leader, 6 Dec. 1919; see also The Leader, 25 June 1921. (The Leader was forced to close its offices on 20 September 1919, after publishing an advertisement for the Dail’s National Loan. It reopened as The New Leader on 15 November 1919 and was printed under that name until 5 June 1920. Thereafter, the publication reverted to its original title, The Leader.)

(88) For an account of the Belfast Boycott, see Laffan, Partition of Ireland, esp. 76-77.

(89) The Leader, 26 March 1921; cf. ibid., 2 April 1921. Half-page advertisements run, more or less uninterrupted, from 12 March 1921 through 14 June 1921. Thereafter, they are to be found in The Leader with less consistency. Prior to this, from 18 September 1920, The Leader published ads for the Belfast Advisory Committee.

(90) See Laffan, Partition of Ireland, 118; see also O’Halloran, Partition and Narionalism, 83-85.

(91) See, for instance, The Leader, 27 May 1922; cf. O’Halloran, Partition and Nationalism, esp. 49-50.

(92) Chanel (Arthur Clery), “The Fourth Home Rule Bill,” The Leader, 3 Jan. 1920; cf. Patrick Maume, “Nationalism and Partition: the Political Thought of Arthur Clery,” Irish Historical Studies 31:122 (Nov. 1998), esp. 229-30.

(93) Hyde, “Necessity for De-Anglicising,” 156.

(94) The Leader, 14 May 1921.

(95) “The Happy Orange Child,” ibid., 2 July 1921, 455.

(96) Ibid., 8 Oct. 1921.

(97) Ibid., 29 Oct. 1921, 26 Nov. 1921.

(98) Ibid., 30 July 1921; cf. ibid. 3 Sept. 1921 and 8 Oct. 1921.

(99) Ibid., 7 May 1921.

(100) Maume, Moran, 44.

(101) Ibid.

(102) Laffan, Partition of Ireland, 121.

(103) Inglis, Moran of the Leader,” 113.

PAUL DELANEY is Lecturer in English at Trinity College, Dublin. He has published in New Voices in Irish Criticism, Critical Ireland, Irish Studies Review, and The Republic. He recently edited The Stones and other stories by Daniel Corkery (2003) and is currently writing a history of representations of the “travelers” in Irish literature.

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