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“WHETHER THE WHITE PEOPLE LIKE IT OR NOT”: EDMUND BURKE’S SPEECHES ON INDIA—CAOINEADH ’S CÁINTE KATHERINE O’DONNELL I have no party in this business, my dear Miss Palmer, but among a set of people , who have none of your Lilies and Roses in their face; but who are the images of the Great Pattern as well as you and I. I know what I am doing; whether the white people like it or not. Edmund Burke to Mary Palmer 19 January 17861 although Edmund Burke (1729–97) is renowned for his ideological charge against the French Revolution in Reflections on the Revolution in France, he wanted most to be remembered for his speeches on behalf of India against the corrupt regime of the East India Company. Collecting his own notes and printed accounts to prepare for the publication of these orations , he wrote that they were to be his “monument.”2 In Burke’s lifetime, and even today, the Indian speeches are regarded as too violent, too vitriolic , too emotional, too personal. They exist as a strange phenomenon in the landscape of eighteenth-century British oratory, and this article argues that they are best understood within the context of the Gaelic poetry of Munster, the region of Ireland in which Burke was raised and educated.3 EDMUND BURKE’S SPEECHES ON INDIA 187 1 Letter to Mary Palmer, niece and favorite of Sir Joshua Reynolds, The Correspondence of Edmund Burke, Thomas W. Copeland, et al., eds. 10 Vols. (Cambridge: CUP; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958–78), Vol. 5, 252. 2 Letter to French Laurence, Correspondence, Vol. 9, 62. 3 Katherine O’Donnell, “The Image of a Relationship in Blood: Párliament na mBan and Burke’s Jacobite Politics,” Eighteenth Century Ireland, Iris an Dá Chultúr 15 (2000), 98–119. NAGLE COUNTRY Burke’s maternal family, the Nagles, was one of the greatest surviving Catholic families in eighteenth-century Ireland, managing to escape the confiscation of property after the fall of the Stuarts at the Battle of the Boyne. Four branches of Nagles settled in the Blackwater Valley of North Cork, an area still known as “Nagle country,” where the leadership of the region’s Gaelic Catholic interest remained in the family’s hands for the first half of the eighteenth century. In the 1750s the Nagles married into Galway’s affluent Catholic gentry society—into the only other Gaelic Catholic group managing to protect its lands from restrictions of the penal laws and encroachment of growing middle-class interests. The Nagles, therefore, achieved a position of influence and connection unequalled by any other Catholic family in Ireland.4 Conversion to the Protestant religion—and subsequent “discoveries” by these converts of land illegally held by Catholics—became a routine part of conveyancing in eighteenth-century Ireland. Kevin Whelan has argued that “conversions” strengthened rather than weakened the Catholic position in Ireland, for prominent converts such as Anthony Malone, Lucius O’Brien, and John Hely-Hutchinson could now express their sympathy for Catholics in Parliament. Edmund Burke is best understood in this tradition.5 His father conformed to the state church in 1722, when he was named executor to the estates of two uncles; because he had converted before his sons were born, they were considered Protestant. Burke’s mother, however, remained a Catholic and, as was the custom, his sister, Juliana, followed her mother’s religion.6 Although officially viewed as Protestant, Burke himself married an Irish Catholic, Jane Nugent. Burke’s association with Catholic Ireland had deeper roots than those of most of his fellow converts. O’Connell argues that he was probably born in his Uncle James’s house in the Nagle country at Shanballymore, in the townland of Ballywalter.7 The young Edmund may have been put to nurse EDMUND BURKE’S SPEECHES ON INDIA 188 4 Burke’s sister Juliana (also Julia) married Pat French of Loughrea in 1766. L.M. Cullen, “The Blackwater Catholics and County Cork Society and Politics in the Eighteenth Century,” Cork History and Society, ed. Patrick O’Flanagan and Cornelius G. Buttimer (Dublin: Geography Publications, 1993), 541. 5 Kevin Whelan, The Tree of Liberty: Radicalism, Catholicism...


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