Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Part Two: MacNeven's tricolour objections? New York City, Tuesday 26 April 1831

There were plenty of reports in the 1830s of Daniel O'Connell rallies in Ireland using green and orange banners and ribbons. Here is one example, from a letter O'Connell published in The Freeman's Journal on 27 December 1830, outlining a proposed public demonstration in central Dublin –

There are accounts of Repeal meetings in Dublin using "a tri-colour of orange, green and white" in January 1831. (So the official Thomas Francis Meagher 1848 orthodox account of the origin of the flag appears to not be the whole story after all).

Therefore, that the Association of the Friends of Ireland in the United States were also using these colours in 1831, is no surprise.

Below is a report from the Charleston Mercury on 2 May 1831, of the Association event in New York on 26 April, where the emigrant United Irishmen leader William James MacNeven reacted to seeing orange – "the emblem of all that was baneful to his beloved native country". The wording is ambiguous – he might have been bemused rather than actually objecting.

The whole episode rippled across to our side of the Atlantic, and was reported in the Belfast News-Letter, the Tipperary Free Press, and other newspapers. Here's the News-Letter one from 1st July 1831:

There are many surviving records and accounts by, and about, William James Macneven. In The United Irishmen, Their Lives and Times (1842) there is a detailed memoir of his life, by his daughter, from pages 197-256 (online here), with his own autobiographical notes from page 244 (online here).

His birthplace and childhood near the historic battlefield of Aughrim was formative –

"an eventful battle was fought there on 12th July 1691, between the forces of King James II and King William, and my early intimacy with every inch of the field gave my thoughts ever after an invariable direction to the unfortunate relations of Ireland with England".

When he was arrested in 1798, aged 35, the 'examination' he underwent in Dublin on 7 August was transcribed (online here) – which includes an interesting usage of the term sasanagh as "one name for Protestant and Englishman". Yet he also objected to an Ireland under any religious establishment, even his own Catholic one, saying "I would no more consent to that than I would to the establishment of Mahometanism". 

All 'movements' are made up of individuals, and all individuals have their own quirks, biases and agendas. I have learned this over the years when I have collaborated with, and even hired, people for a very specific skillset or shared interest – but of course the rest of that person comes along too, with all of their associated baggages. MacNeven must have had his as well.

I've only skimmed through these references, but what emerges for me is of MacNeven being an example of how it's one thing to be in opposition to a government and even to plan and lead a rebellion – but another thing entirely to actually work to build a cohesive inclusive society. 

But if MacNeven's reaction was perhaps bemusement rather than outright objection of the orange component in the flag, soon it would be others who definitely would object. 

More to follow.