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A Most Thankless Job: Augustine Birrell as Irish Chief Secretary, 1907-1916
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Augustine Birrell was a man who held dear the classical liberal principles of representative democracy, political freedom and civil liberties. During his time as Irish Chief Secretary from 1907-1916, he fostered a friendly working relationship with the leaders of the Irish Party, whom he believed would be the men to lead the country once it was conferred with the responsibility of self-government. Hundreds of years of religious and political strife between Ireland’s Nationalist and Unionist communities meant that Birrell, like his predecessors, took administrative charge of a deeply polarized country. His friendship with Irish Party leader John Redmond quickly alienated him from the Irish Unionist community, which was adamantly opposed to a Dublin parliament under Nationalist control. Augustine Birrell’s legacy has been both tarnished and neglected because of the watershed Easter Rising of 1916, which shifted the focus of the historiography of the period towards militant nationalism at the expense of constitutional politics. Although Birrell’s flaws as Irish Chief Secretary have been well-documented, this paper helps to rehabilitate his image by underscoring the importance of his economic, social and political reforms for a country he grew to love. This study reviews Birrell’s legislative achievements, setbacks and inaction while Irish Chief Secretary to determine how much his actions were influenced by his preconceived political views of the country, and by his friendship with the Irish Party. The agency of British and Irish Unionist leaders, paramilitary organizations and the Great War are also considered to better understand his decision-making during this tumultuous time in Irish history.
McGlone, Kevin Joseph (2016). A Most Thankless Job: Augustine Birrell as Irish Chief Secretary, 1907-1916. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from