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Can you be loyal to China?

Stationed in France in 1916, Patrick Hone maintained a witty correspondence with his wife Mary, which began the new year with a signed card from him and his comrades. He drew a sketch on its front of him sitting on a motorbike and smoking a pipe, ‘Mudguard Hone out for a casual spin’. A menu and list of toasts was inside, the imaginary meal of Salmon Mayonais a la Gear box and Tamate Anglaise a la Petrol

A.E. (George W. Russell) ..., (Dublin, 1916)
AE (George W. Russell) …, [Dublin], 1916.
was followed by Plum Pudding, Coffee and Cigars served in the garage. There followed toasts to Departed Machines, sparks, Flanders mares, tacks, tyres, and Absent Friends. The dream party finished with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne and God Save the King. Hone served later in the Royal Artillery and won the Military Cross in 1918 for his bravery. He was the father of the novelist Leland Bardwell and a keen reader. He was sent Darrell Figgis’s study of George Russell and found it dislikeable except for the section that dealt with Russell’s pre-war fight with the great laureate of the British Empire, Rudyard Kipling.

RK apparently had been throwing mud at the Irish Nationalists. “I can only remember a line something like this ‘… you have belittled my country, you who have no country but only a windy empire to roam in’. I quoted it to Sergeant F. knowing him for a Kipling worshipper & I don’t think he liked it at all”.

Playful revenge came on St. Patrick’s Day morning when Hone found his motorbike in the garage covered in chalk graffiti: ‘Phwat the devil’, ‘Erin go bragh’, and ‘Home Rule for us’.

George Russell’s spat with Kipling grew from Kipling’s support of Ulster’s threat of armed insurrection against the British government, a disloyalty that Russell felt would have been punished severely had it been attempted by Irish nationalists. The Easter Rising brought these calculations to violent finality and

Irish Statesman (Dublin, 1923)
Irish Statesman (Dublin, 1923).

forced Russell and his contemporaries to a new understanding of nationalism, Ireland and the future. Russell remained a pacifist throughout the years that followed, just about. As a voice for the co-operative movement in the pages of the Irish Homestead, and then later in the Irish Statesman, Russell maintained a delicate public position in favour of constitutional separatism. Russell’s biographer Figgis took more direct action, the foundations of which were laid in his involvement in the gun-running at Howth.  Figgis was arrested after the rebellion and interned before his release to continue political agitation through his election to the first Dáil. He was a prolific writer and a complex, if not always popular, character, an organizer and an agitator. Literature and propaganda make strange companions, as in the case of Figgis’s Sinn Fein Catechism of 1918. A catechism is a summary of Christian principles.

Sinn Fein Catechism (s.l., n.d.)
Sinn Fein Catechism (s.l., n.d.).

When applied to the ideas of Sinn Fein it suggests the paradox of an Irish republicanism designed on Catholic lines, not the least irony being Figgis’s own upbringing in the Church of Ireland. The Sinn Fein Catechism is the sound of a political movement thinking aloud and an attempt to supply the waverers with a reason to commit themselves to separation.   It begins with a simple set of questions, that quickly march into farce.

  1. Can you be loyal to France?
  2. No
  3. Can you be loyal to China?
  4. No….
  5. If a Frenchman told you he was loyal to China, what would you say of him?

A. I would say that he was Chinese

If this reads like an argument overheard from a snug in the Cyclops episode of Joyce’s Ulysses it is because both texts are rooted in a late moment of British empire in Ireland, a moment in which Ireland and the world are interconnected by a constant movement of objects and ideas. Joyce intensified this process in Ulysses, creating new literary forms from the warped fabric of early twentieth century Dublin, before the fall. Figgis refined it, drawing the borders of Ireland inwards with each declaration of his national faith.

The Sinn Fein Catechism is an aesthetic reduction of the idea of Ireland into one single system of belief, the tenets of which were an adherence to the Irish language and support of indigenous industry. Figgis believed in freedom defined as the moment when ‘Ireland will once again take her rightful place in the world’. The utopia of national sovereignty was Sinn Fein’s balm, and a powerful salve for the suffering required to achieve Irish independence. It was, however, an impossible idea to establish in reality, as the Irish state found when confronted afterwards with the experience of partition, economic war and, later, the entry again into transnational arrangements, such as latterly in the European Union. This is not to equate membership of the European community with subjection under the British Empire. But it is to suggest the impossibility of Ireland’s removal, as a culture or an economy, from a global circuit of influence and exchange, as the continuous migration of people from and through the island throughout the twentieth century suggests. This is a reality Patrick Hone might have recognized, reading about Ireland at the front of a World War in service of the British Army.

For further information on TCD MS 11274 Letters of Patrick Hone please see the MARLOC online catalogue. The Sinn Fein Catechism can be viewed online via Digital Collections.

Nicholas Allen

Director of the Willson Center and Franklin Professor of English, University of Georgia.