Britain and Ireland 1798-1921: Changing the question or altering the answers?
Simon Lemieux shows how a synoptic approach enables us to appreciate the true nature of the Irish Question.
‘Every time the English tried to solve the Irish Question, the Irish changed the question ’ is a very familiar starting point for most students of Anglo-Irish relations during this period. Less familiar perhaps is the origin of that well-used phrase; it surfaced first in Sellar and Yeatman’s humorous book on British history 1066 and All That first published in 1930. What they actually wrote was ‘Gladstone spent his declining years trying to guess the answer to the Irish question; unfortunately, whenever he was getting warm, the Irish secretly changed the question.’ The aim of this article is to examine this proposition in more depth. Firstly, did the Irish really change the question? Secondly, and perhaps more significantly for those tackling this topic as a synoptic theme, what were the main changes in Ireland both internally and externally during this period? Rather than attempt to provide a potted history of Ireland or of the Irish policy of successive British governments, the emphasis is on themes and trends, rather than chronology or causation.
The Irish Question