Hubert Butler, Escape from the Anthill (1985) - Selected Quotations

Introduction quotes Chekhov: ‘I see that our salvation will come from solitary personalities, scattered here and there over Russia, sometimes educated, sometimes peasant. Power is in their hands even though there are few of them. No man is a prophet in his own country and these solitary individuals, of which I speak, play an imperceptible role in society; they do not dominate it but their work is visible.’

Also quotes Wolfe Tone: ‘to unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denomination of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter’.

ON BISHOP ROBERT FOWLER of Kilkenny; Fowler shares in the opinion of Catholic exclusion common to liberal Protestants in Ireland since Swift, “When the Numbers, the Riches and the Power of that Body are considered, ’tis wonderful they have submitted to the Yoke so long. For what is it but Oppression for so large a Majority of the Inhabitants of one Nation to be deprived of almost every privilege dear to a Citizen on account of a difference of Religion, when they pay their share of the Taxes of the State?”

ON WELLINGTON: ‘The Duke of Wellington fails to see the value of joining a society whose meeting he would be unable to attend.’ Tells narrative of his response to query about bird put in Crystal Palace to control population of lesser birds, ending: ‘Sparrowhawks, Ma’am’.

ON STANDISH O’GRADY, quotes: ‘As I write, the Protestant Anglo-Irish, who once owned all Ireland from the centre to the sea, is rotting from the land in the most dismal farce-tragedy of all time, without one brave deed, without one brave word. [Unless they] reshape themselves in a heroic mould there would be anarchy and civil war, which might end in a shabby sordid Irish Republic, ruled by corrupt politicians and the ignoble rich.’ Further, ‘... bad as you are, you are still the best class we have. You are individually brave and honourable men and do not deserve the door which even the blindest can see approaching ...’ Further, ‘You are hated to an extent you can only dimly conceive. The nation is united against you. In your hands the Irish nation once lay like soft wax ready to take any impression you chose and out of it you have moulded a Frankenstein which will destroy you.’

ON ANGLO-IRISH ABSENTEES (Chap. 9) - quotes Tone: ‘They have disdained to occupy the station they might have held among the people and which the people would have been glad to see them fill. They see Ireland only in their rent-rolls, their places, their patronage, their pensions. They shall perish in their own dung. Those that have seen them will say, “Where are they?”’

Butler comments: ‘The Anglo-Irish could have dodged their fate if their interest in Ireland, let alone their love, have been more than marginal. They recognised their duty certainly to their neighbourhood and this duty was usually intelligently fulfilled, but it only rarely happened that, like Plunkett and a few of their contemporaries, they could give their first love to their country.’ But also, The Irishmen who burnt down those Tipperary houses were sawing away at the branch on which they were sitting. Clamouring that they were a distinctive people, they obliterated much of the heritage that distinguished them.

Further: ‘[The Anglo-Irish] could have dodged their fate if their interest in Ireland, let alone love, had been more than marginal [quotes Horace Plunkett] ... The Irishmen who burnt down those Tipperary houses were swing[ing] away the branch on which they were sitting. Clamouring that they were a distinctive people, they obliterated much of the heritage that distinguished them. The burning of the Four Courts, which swept away the records of eight centuries, was only one episode in this tale of self-destruction.’ (Idem.)

Further, ‘The Anglo-Irish writers who surrounded Yeats deliberately left the big world for the small one. They were more afraid of being culturally submerged in a big empire than of being stranded in sterile isolation in a small island. Time has justified them. Work of European significance was done under the stimulus of what might be considered parochial enthusiasms.’ (Escape from the Anthill, pp.156-57; cited in Edna Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, 1994, p.143.);

ON NE TIMERE: ‘Before the application of Ne Temere to Ireland hostages were exchanged pari passu and the two communities shared in each other’s lives on equal terms. Now there is no reciprocity and in those who have given all and received nothing there is often a feeling of slow strangulation which they are forced to dissemble in case they do injure to those they love. A whole community can die without drama as though it had been struck by one of those instruments of “re-education”, which leaves no external bruises.’

ON ELIZABETH BOWEN: ‘She filled Bowen’s Court for many summers with English writers and the few Irish ones that sought her out. But then her husband died and The Bell died and finally she allowed Bowen’s Court itself to die. When I last met her in County Kilkenny, just before her own death, she spoke of Ireland with such bitterness that I have tried to persuade myself that it was her last illness that was speaking and not her utter disillusionment.’

CITES as Anglo-Irish intellectuals and contributors to The Bell the following: Joseph Hone, L. A. G. Strong, Elizabeth Bowen, MacNeice, Geoffrey Taylor, Arland Ussher, Monk Gibbon, Harry Craig, Arthur Power, Robert Wilson.

ON IRISH COUNTY LIBRARIES: ‘In my Coleraine library I had also learnt a little about Ulster intransigence, although I met more Anglo-Irish nationalists there than in Kilkenny.’

ON PATRICK KAVANAGH’s criticisms of nationalism in Envoy essay, ‘...he would sooner repudiate Irish nationalism than acknowledge any cultural indebtedness to Anglo-Ireland’; ‘... Mr. Kavanagh is trying to by-pass Anglo-Ireland on the way to the heart of London.’ Further, ‘[T]he Anglo-Irish contribution to letters is today [1954] … a chief focus of psychological disturbance … What Mr. Kavanagh is trying to do is to by-pass Anglo-Ireland on the way to the heart of London. […] The Anglo-Irish were not only the cruel stepmothers of Gaelic civilisation, they were also the indulgent nurses and governesses of Irish literature in the English language’ (‘Envoy and Mr Kavanagh’ [1954], in Escape from the Anthill, Lilliput 1985, pp.156-57; Longley, op. cit., 1994, p.203; rep. in Roy Foster, ed. & intro., The Sub-Prefect Should Have Held His Tongue, London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press; Dublin: Lilliput 1990, pp.83-91.)

FROM ‘THE BELL, An Anglo-Irish View’, in Irish Univ. Review (Spring 1976, Sean O’Faolain Special Issue) p.66-72: ‘in my generation ... influenced surpassed all others’; ... S. O’Grady ... maintained that only the Anglo-Irish gentry, degenerate as they were, could now prevent Ireland from lapsing into squalid anarchy or the clutches of the ‘ignoble rich’ ... Then came WWI, the Easter Rebellion, the disastrous ‘twenties. Adult Anglo-Ireland withdrew to England or sulked among the ruins, scornfully watching the antics of what it called ‘the Dale,’ and sourly waiting for O’Grady’s prophecy to fulfil itself.’ [p.69] FURTHER, Same article summarised his position on Croats, ‘In 1941 the long tension between Catholic and Orthodox in Yugoslavia exploded ... Croats, liberated by the Nazis, formed a strongly Catholic govt., in the new independent Croatia and ... forced conversion or extermination of some 2 million Orthodox. ... I decided to go out and see what had happened ... the Church had enthusiastically backed the campaing ... the minister of Religion and Justice [Artukovitch who outlawing Orthodoxy] took refuge in Ireland ... it was perhaps an accident that the Catholics massacred the Orthodox rather than vice-versa, but in our country and in our time it was surely unwise to deny or belittle the force of religious passion ... Sean O’Faolain came publicly to my defence.’


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