The South Dublin Election

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The South Dublin Election is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 19 october 1900.

The South Dublin Election

The Times (19 october 1900)


Sir, — Will you permit me as one of Irish descent, though living outside Ireland, and also as one who has done his best for the Union in the recent elections, to say a word about how the South Dublin election strikes me? The one thing needed above all other things in Ireland, the necessary condition for any improvement, appears to me to be the formation of a central party — a party which shall be as far removed from the narrow and provincial patriotism of the south as it is from the intolerance of the north. The island is, and has long been divided into two clearly marked camps, containing two opposing forces who from racial, religious, or social causes can never amalgamate. While things remain so, and while every fresh statute is used as a weapon by one party against the other, it is difficult to see how legislation can improve matters. The last way of all is certainly by Home Rule, which would concentrate into one chamber the bitter antagonism which animates the two parties. It is bad that they should shake their fists at each other from opposite ends of the island, but it would be infinitely worse if they did so across the table.

The first requisite for any improvement is a party of reasonable, moderate men, with their hearts filled with that true Irish patriotism which would subordinate religious or racial prejudice to the great and holy task of uplifting their country and assuaging those bitter hatreds between Irishman and Irishman which have distracted the island from time immemorial. Such a party would consist of men who were swayed by no selfish interest, who had no sympathy with bigotry or intolerance, whether Catholic or Protestant, who were loyal to their own country and also loyal to that Empire which has been largely built up by Irish valour and Irish brains. Having established such a party, it would soon come to hold the scales between the two extreme sections, and in that way it could exercise a moderating influence upon them. It would attract to it the reasonable and enlightened men from the whole community. If a nucleus were but formed I believe that such a party would rapidly assume considerable dimensions, for it is impossible to conceive that Ireland is the one country in the world which is inhabited entirely by extremists. There must be a large moderate section if a means could be found by which they could express themselves. In their development and growth lie, as it seems to me, the best hopes for the future of the country, and for the healing of that wound which is always a drain upon the strength of the Empire.

The best chance which has appeared in our time for the formation of such a nucleus lay in the candidature of Mr. Plunkett, a man who was a patriot without being a partisan. He had done more for Ireland than any of the noisy mischief-makers. His mind was broad enough and his heart was big enough to prevent him from losing sight of his country amid the strife of factions. He would make those concessions which a moderate party must make, and he would make them because they were reasonable and because the judgment of an impartial man must endorse them. He would let bygones be bygones, for the eternal raking up of the past is as most fruitful cause of Irish trouble. He would accept a Secretary who was a capable Irishman, be his religion and his politics what they might. He would vote for a University which would bring up Irish young men in the prevailing Irish faith, although he might not himself share that faith. He would organize the butter-making industry and care no more for the politics of the farmer than for those of the cow, so long as the national industry prospered. Here was the ideal man for the central party, the man with the impartial judgment, for whom Ireland and the Empire have equally been waiting. And this was the man who has been defeated in Dublin with the acquiescence of some of our most weighty organs of public opinion, who draw the moral that Government impartiality does not pay, and that this election is a proof that we have attended too little to the Unionist party in Ireland. Although I am under existing circumstances a strong Unionist myself, I think the lesson rather is that the Unionists in Ireland have in this matter acted in a way which has shocked some of their most ardent supporters, and that they have shown themselves incapable of taking a broad and statesmanlike view of the Irish question. Imagine, for example, the perverted state of mind of one who, like "An Irish Loyalist" in your issue of to-day, upbraids Mr. Plunkett for having twice voted during the last Parliament for measures proposed by the Nationalists. Must a man, then, always vote with his party? Is his mind to be inaccessible always to reason if it come from an opposing faction? How contemptible is the view of the politician which is disclosed in such a complaint! Mr. Plunkett's attitude is best appreciated by the fact that he has earned the abuse of such fanatics as Davitt on one side and of ultra-Orangemen upon the other. An Irishman could have no more honourable epitaph upon his tombstone.

Yours faithfully,

Undershaw, Hindhead, Haslemere, Oct. 17.