Times Online

Politics didn't pay for republicans

Scott Millar
September 26, 2004

POLITICS didn’t always pay — or at least not in the republic. New figures show that, while eminent individuals from the south had few pennies to rub together, their Northern Irish counterparts were relatively well off.
The latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which alongside its pen portraits lists the monetary worth of historical figures, found most republican leaders had little personal wealth.

Eamon de Valera, the founder of Fianna Fail, bequeathed just £3,185 in his probate, the equivalent on €20,750 today, while Padraic Pearse is described as “virtually penniless” at the time of his execution. Thomas McDonagh, a poet and critic who was killed in the aftermath of the Easter rising, left £120 to his wife having insured himself to the tune of £200, in total the equivalent of €17,551. His two children were entitled to the sum when they turned 21.

By contrast, the founders of modern Northern Ireland were monied. James Craig, the first prime minister of the new state, distributed £27,366 (€1.4m) in his will, while Edward Carson, the Dublin-born lawyer who founded the Ulster Volunteer Force in 1912, left £150,693 (€11,965,172).

Brian Hanley, a historian, said: “I am not surprised by the figures and the difference in amounts between some of the people included in the list. If you look at de Valera and compare him with Craig or Carson, the money each of these men left behind makes sense.

“Most of the Irish revolutionary leadership figures tended to be men of modest means. Many came from middle-class backgrounds but none of them were what would have been considered to be elite in society of that time.

“In contrast, Craig and Carson and defenders of British Protestants were highly successful businessmen and landowners. It makes sense that the descendents of the established order in Ireland were people who had a stake in that order.”

Jack and William Butler Yeats, the artists, were relatively secure, leaving behind £36,342 in 1957 (which converts to €529,100 now) and £8,329 in 1939 (€628,660) respectively.

Sophie Rochester, a spokeswoman for the Oxford Dictionary, said: “The dictionary is the most extensive record of persons who have a lasting and discernible effect on the history and culture of Britain.”

It consists of 54,922 potted biographies drawn from Britain’s political and social past, stretching back 2,500 years. The first edition was conceived in 1882, completed in 1900 and embellished over the following decades. It now contains more than 120 years of work, and a number of biographies of Irish individuals who had an impact on Britain. Written by 10,000 contributors, most of them academics, the result fills 60 volumes, occupies more than 11ft of shelf space and costs £7,500 (€11,040).

Only those who were born in Britain or who spent a sizeable or important period of their life there and died before 2000 are included in the dictionary. Karl Marx, who wrote his famous work Das Kapital in the British Library, is mentioned, whereas Adolf Hitler is left out.

The most ancient of the Irish entries is Loegaire Lorc, the semi-mythical King of Leinster who is said to have lived around 300BC. The most recent are Joey Dunlop, the Northern Irish motorbike racer, and Joan Trimble, the composer and pianist, both of whom died in 2000.

In between these figures more than 2,000 Irish-born people are included from Charles Byrne, an 18th-century Tipperary giant, to Phil Lynott, the rock musician.

Few victims of the Northern Irish Troubles make it into the new edition. The most prominent inclusions are Bobby Sands, the IRA hunger striker, and Marie Wilson, a victim of the IRA bombing of Eniskillen on remembrance day 1987.

Henry Patterson, the Ulster historian who wrote a biography of Sands, says: “Even before his death, he contributed powerfully to the emergence of Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, as a significant political force in Northern Ireland.”

Additional reporting by Enda Leahy and Siobhan Maguire

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