Century of Endeavour

Life and Times of Alice Stopford Green (ASG)

(c) Roy Johnston 1999

(comments to rjtechne@iol.ie)

Professor RB McDowell of Trinity College Dublin has written a book 'ASG a Passionate Historian' which was published in 1967 by Allen Figgis in Dublin. This places ASG firmly in the tradition of colonial nationalism, tracing her ancestry to James Stopford who came in with Cromwell as a colonial adventurer, and became a landowner in Meath. The family remained for several generations closely associated with the Ascendancy and the Church of Ireland, producing scholars into the bargain.

Alice Stopford was born in 1847 in Kells, the seventh of nine children of Edward Adderley Stopford, who had become in 1844 Rector of Kells and Archdeacon of Meath, being appointed by his father Edward Stopford, who had become Bishop of Meath in 1844.

Typically for Irish Protestant families of the time, Alice's elder brothers served the Empire, in the Army, Navy, commerce and the colonies; the younger brother built railways in Africa. Alice stayed with the family, moving to Chester in 1874 on the death of her father, who had previously moved to Dublin, where he was active in the politics of reorganising the Church after Disestablishment.

Alice had a family network which extended to London, including a cousin Stopford Brooke, where she stayed and networked with London intellectuals, meeting JR Green, an unsuccessful academic who nevertheless became an important historian, initially at the margins of his work as a parish clergyman, then later from an established position as the author of the acclaimed 'Short History of the English People' published in 1874. This seminal work set a new standard in historical writing, bringing in social and cultural factors suggestive of causalities, though he tended to shirk economic factors, unlike Marx, who was a contemporary and fellow-reader in the British Museum.

Green went on in 1880 to work on 'The Making of England' and 'The Conquest of England' in which he pioneered Anglo-Saxon history; prior to Green history had apparently begun in 1066. He had by this time wedded Alice (1877), and she served her time with him as an apprentice historian, picking up his methodology. He died of an acute illness in 1883, after six years of creative and happy married life, leaving Alice disconsolate, but determined to avoid '..the grief-shadowed groove of conventional Victorian widowhood..' (RBMcD).

After a period of applying for various positions she found her metier when the need to prepare a new edition of the Short History was thrust upon her, and she rose to the challenge. She followed with her 'Town Life in the Fifteenth Century', pioneering the field of social history, and becoming an accepted figure in London intellectual life, associating with people like Sydney and Beatrice Webb, Arthur Conan Doyle and others whom she entertained in her house at 14 Kensington Square.

ASG's interest in Ireland was complex and increased during the latter part of her life; she took up residence there in 1918 and remained there until her death in 1929. It could be said to have begun, in its mature phase, in the 1890s with her friendship with John Francis Taylor, a Dublin barrister who included among his circle of friends Arthur Griffith, John O'Leary the Fenian and Edward Carson. Taylor was a trenchant critic of the English Liberal establishment, and of all aspect of English rule in Ireland, especially Ulster Unionism.

Taylor proposed marriage, but Alice declined, though she remained a friend, and she came to Dublin in 1902 to nurse him during his last illness. Taylor was an important influence on ASG; he was a historian in his own right, publishing his 'Owen Roe O'Neill' in 1896. He was for some years the Dublin correspondent of the Manchester Guardian. England he regarded as '..a retired highwayman living under his vine..' and '..a pirate grown too fat for his business..' (RBMcD).

ASG became interested in Africa and rapidly began to see the parallels between English colonial policies in Africa and Ireland. She became involved in critical analysis of the Boer War, and acted on behalf of Boer prisoners held in St Helena. Later she became involved in the African Society, the objective of which was ensure that African affairs received some study by the academics, and to provide a forum for critical analysis. In this context she met with Roger Casement, with whom she collaborated in getting Redmond and the Irish party to support the Congo Reform movement.

During this period Sir Horace Plunkett encountered the ASG-Casement duo and dismissed them as being destructively anti-English. ASG retorted by giving a hostile review to Plunkett's book 'Ireland in the New Century' in which he urged that the Irish should forget history. She did however praise his '...splendid economic movement...'. We have here in a nutshell the tragic failure of convergence between the co-operative and national independence movements, alluded to elsewhere, which was reinforced by the burning of Plunkett's house in 1923.

ASG inherited from Taylor the friendship with John O'Leary and a wide range of contacts with the Irish literary, language and political movements. She was influential in helping Kuno Meyer to get Celtic Studies established in Dublin. She was also friendly with Eoin MacNeill and JF Bigger. All these influences combined to stimulate her to write and publish (in 1908) her 'Making of Ireland and her Undoing', as a counter to the domination of Irish historiography by Unionist historians.

After a period of intensive lobbying and campaigning in the Home Rule interest, involving the Irish party and the Liberal Establishment, she homed in on the crucial importance of persuading the Ulster Protestants that Home Rule was an opportunity rather than a threat, and to this end helped organise the rally in Ballymoney in October 1913, along with JB Armour, Roger Casement, Captain James White and others; this was attended by some 500 influentials, but was savaged or misreported by the local press, practically all of which was Unionist-dominated, to the extent that it had little impact. The Ulster scene was already dominated by volunteers drilling on the landlords estates, in preparation for the massive arming which took place via Larne in April 1914.

It has to be said that McDowell in his recounting of these events fudges the chronology, and totally ignores the Larne episode which was the key trigger for subsequent events, and which effectively killed the Protestant Home Rule support movement which had attempted to rally at Ballymoney. Subsequently the politics of the war took over, Kuno Meyer returned to Germany, and Casement went on the path that led to the gallows. Appalled by the sight of Carson and Birkenhead in government she found herself on March 1916 in the Phoenix Park with under-secretary Nathan, an old friend from the African network, who had forebodings of the Rising that was to come some weeks later.

Post-Rising she concentrated for a time on trying to save Casement. After his execution she uprooted herself from London and arranged to live in Ireland for the rest of her days. She remained a constitutionalist, attempting to understand with regret the sequence of blunders that had separated Sinn Fein from the parliamentary process. She was active in March 1917 in support of the moderate nationalist deputation headed by James Douglas which promoted the Canadian 'dominion status' model (JJ also was active in this context, in the background; see also the Greaves diaries for some insights from Maire Comerford, who served as her secretary.). She attempted to interest the Webbs without success.

She remained supportive of the independence movement, publishing pamphlets denouncing the Union, and included among her visitors was Michael Collins. Her house was on occasion raided. Post Treaty she produced pro-treaty pamphlets and sold them on the streets. She spent her declining years (she was by now in her 70s) travelling and trying to keep alive social and family contacts in the partitioned North. She remained a significant national intellectual hostess during the 20s in Dublin right up to her death in 1929.

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Copyright Dr Roy Johnston 1999