Henry Grattan: Enlightenment in Ireland

Before the Act of Union in 1800, writes John Stocks Powell, Grattan dominated Irish politics over twenty years in an age of enlightenment that failed.

‘And as anything less than liberty is inadequate to Ireland, so it is dangerous to Great Britain.

We are too near the British nation, we are too conversant with her history, we are too much fired by her example to be anything less than her equal; anything less we should be her bitterest enemies.

...Thus combined by the ties of common interest, equal trade and equal liberty, a new and milder empire may arise from the errors of the old... ’

In a free and equal state with England, that was how Henry Grattan, the leader of the Whig and reformist element in the Irish House of Commons, set out his ideal. It is almost two hundred years since Grattan said these words, when the American colonies were in full revolt, and Lord North’s government, considering the American example, was being pushed into relinquishing areas of British control in Ireland. In those two hundred years Grattan has suffered the usual cycles of being in and out of historical favour.

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