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  • Young Ireland and The Nation: Nationalist Children’s Culture in the Late Nineteenth Century1
  • Ríona Nic Congáil (bio)

In early April 1900, Queen Victoria arrived in the royal yacht at Kingstown Harbour (now Dún Laoghaire) for what was to be her final visit to Ireland. As with her previous visits, this royal arrival was well documented by Irish newspapers. Unionist newspapers welcomed the Queen’s visit as an opportunity to strengthen the faltering union between Britain and Ireland and provided descriptions of the fanfare and celebration with which her Irish supporters greeted her.2 Nationalist newspapers, on the other hand, were inclined to denounce her trip as a propagandist stunt aimed at recruiting Irishmen to fight with the British army in the Boer War.3 A striking feature that united the otherwise divergent unionist and nationalist accounts was the prominence afforded to children’s participation in the event.4 By contrast, the presence and input of Irish children during the Queen’s earlier visits in 1849, 1853, and 1861 were barely remarked upon in newspaper accounts of the day.5 Such a disparity suggests that during a period of four decades, between 1861 and 1900, children came to be identified as a cohesive, publicly visible group of some importance [End Page 37] within Irish society, mirroring the growing public presence of the young in other western societies.6

This essay will explore and demonstrate the increasing visibility of children by tracing the evolution of Irish nationalist children’s culture during the late nineteenth century through a series of case studies on emerging child-centered organizations: the children’s magazine Young Ireland (1875–91), the previously undocumented Children’s Land League, the Southwark Junior Irish Literary Club, and the “Irish Fireside Club.” These organizations were connected through the most influential promoter of nationalist ideology of the period, The Nation—the newspaper founded in 1842 by Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy, and John Dillon, all members of the Young Ireland movement.7 The young men connected with The Nation sought to create a new nationalist hub from where they could “rally round us the young intellect of the country” as readers, writers, political activists, and indeed consumers.8 Although The Nation changed editorship and ownership several times before eventually merging with the Irish Weekly Independent in 1900, its aim of uniting Ireland’s young intellectuals went beyond mere aspiration. Its promotion of women as writers and activists, long before they had the right to vote, has been acknowledged elsewhere.9 However, the newspaper’s interest in and encouragement of children’s literature and activism, most often under [End Page 38] the influence of such women, has received little scholarly attention to date. The increasing visibility and importance of Irish children in the late nineteenth century raises two major questions. Why did political activists pursue the allegiance of the Irish child during this period? How, among the middle and upper classes, did increased consumerism contribute to and accompany the growth of children’s culture?

Ideology and the Irish Child

The actions of Dublin-based unionist and nationalist women’s committees testify that Irish children had come to be viewed as cultural and political capital by the dawn of the twentieth century.10 From the Queen’s springtime visit until the summer of 1900, these committees competed openly with each other to attract the city’s children into their respective ideological camps by offering them sweet treats, including cakes, biscuits, and oranges. On the first morning of the Queen’s visit, in April 1900, several thousand of Dublin’s poorest children were given a free breakfast in Kingstown Town Hall, organized by a Unionist Ladies’ Committee and the ladies of the Police-Aided Children’s Clothing Society. Three days later, “The Children’s Day” held in the Phoenix Park attracted school-groups and children’s clubs, from city and country, who waved their Union Jacks and sang and cheered the Queen.11 The London-based Pall Mall Gazette offered an enthusiastic report on the event:

Through a mile of cheering, shouting, singing children Her Majesty drove slowly, and evidently with the keenest delight. The “Children’s Day” was...


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