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“FENIANS AND DUTCH CARPETBAGGERS”: IRISH AND AFRIKANER NATIONALISMS, 1877– 1930 DONAL P. MCCRACKEN speaking in Dáil Éireann on November 18, 1959, Taoiseach Seán Lemass observed that his Fianna Fáil government “entertain[s] nothing but friendly sentiments for South Africa. Our relations have, indeed, always been marked by mutual sympathy.”1 Though the Irish premier went on to state that his government had recorded its dissent from “certain policies of the Union Government,” his speech was both extraordinary and, as an utterance of a European leader, unique. Eighty-two years earlier the Irish-Afrikaner nexus had been born quite fortuitously when in 1877 a handful of disgruntled Irish nationalist MPs at Westminster—including Charles Stewart Parnell, Joseph Biggar, and Frank Hugh O’Donnell—had deWed their conservative-minded leader, Isaac Butt, and obstructed the passage of a South African confederation through the House of Commons.2 The incident enraged the English press, delighted the visiting Boer delegation from the recently annexed Transvaal, and mystiWed Ireland. What had a Calvinist people six thousand miles away to do with Catholic and Gaelic Ireland? Besides, where was the Transvaal ? Was it a mountain; was it in Europe?3 Nonetheless, the incident had several interesting repercussions. It drew the attention of the visiting Boer leaders, Kruger and Joubert, to the fact that their support in the House of Commons extended beyond the handful of Dilkean radicals. Four cordial meetings were held between these Boer leaders and the Parnellite rump. IRISH AND AFRIKANER NATIONALISMS: 1877–1930 109 1 Dáil Debates, 178 (18 November 1959), cols. 28–29. 2 The Wlibustering of the South African bill culminated in an Irish obstruction which lasted twenty-one hours. See The Times, 2 August 1877; and the Freeman’s Journal, 2 August 1877. 3 F. H. O’Donnell, The History of the Irish Parliamentary Party, 1870–1892 (New York, 1910), pp. 69, 216. It is wrong to read too much into these meetings, but undoubtedly they created a bond of respect which was consolidated three-and-a-half years later when the Wrst Anglo-Boer War broke out.4 Equally important was the impact of Parnell’s Wlibustering on the British establishment. Ireland had for some time been viewed as the standard by which imperial trouble could be judged. There now emerged the specter of a double-headed monster: the Irish and South African questions running in harness, one feeding oV the other, and trailing in their wake a subversive bandwagon intent on disrupting imperial harmony.5 The Boer victory over a British column at the Battle of Majuba in January, 1881, extended the bond of respect that existed between the Boer leadership and the now fully Parnellite Irish Parliamentary Party to the nationalist population of Ireland. It would appear that some Irish Land League funds were diverted to the Boers, though in what amount is not known.6 The Irish nationalist press gloated over England’s humiliation—while noting, of course, the heroic last stand of Dublin-born General Colley.7 The strength of the link between Irish and Afrikaner nationalism always depended on circumstance, and was usually intensiWed by Irish awareness of events occurring in South Africa, rather than vice versa. Over the quarter century from the British annexation of the Transvaal, both nationalisms strengthened and became more aggressive. Both developed language movements and both had their own nationalist press and nationalist -oriented “history.” Such developments, however, only in part alleviated the ravages of the juggernaut of Anglicization; much damage had already IRISH AND AFRIKANER NATIONALISMS: 1877–1930 110 4 Support for the Boers was voiced in the Irish nationalist press at this time and Frenchman Paul Dubois notes Irish opposition to the 1877 Transvaal annexation in his book, Contemporary Ireland (London, 1908), p. 145. Later Kruger sent one of the Irish MPs a casket containing £100. 5 In 1884 Lord Derby asked the question, “Do you want to create another Ireland in South Africa?” See D. M. Schreuder, Gladstone and Kruger (London, 1969), p. viii. 6 See Henri le Caron, Twenty-Five Years in the Secret Service (London, 1893), pp. 169–70, and Sir Robert Anderson, Sidelights on the Home Rule Movement (London...


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