Listening in on the Irish Question


IF the government of the Irish Free State proves permanently satisfactory to its people, it will deprive the English-speaking world of a subject, of conversation that has lasted for more than seven hundred years. It has connected the generations together and made them feel as if they belonged to one acrimonious family circle.

When Adrian IV, the only Englishman who ever sat on the Papal throne, issued a bull graciously inviting King Henry II to go over and take possession of Ireland, he set the tongues of people on both sides of the Channel to wagging. The controversy has not ceased from that day to this. Many things have happened since Strongbow, the valiant Earl of Pembroke, landed in Ireland in accordance with the Papal and Royal will. One question after another has been asked, discussed for a while, and forgotten. But the question of the right, of the English to rule Ireland has never been dropped.

In a speech in Dublin in 1866, John Bright called attention to the fact that, five hundred years before, the Parliament of Kilkenny discussed the question: Why is the King of England not a penny the richer for Ireland? Me have been debating that question ever since, said Bright, and we are no further on than they were in those days at Kilkenny.

During all that period, not a single new element was introduced into the controversy, with the exception of the religious animosity that came with the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Neither party changed the subject. The debate was without subtleties. It was a sheer conflict of wills. On the one side was Ireland’s will to be a nation; and on the other, England’s imperturbable refusal to accept this point of view. Here was a subject that could be discussed for centuries, because each party had only to repeat its former assertions.

If a group of intelligent persons from the different generations that have lived since the days of Strongbow were gathered in a drawing-room, they would find some embarrassment in finding a topic which would be familiar to all. A discussion might be started on the Fifth Crusade, or the commercial policy of the Hanseatic League, or the position of Hampden on ship-money, or the claims of the Young Pretender, or the wars of the Spanish Succession. But the amount of information possessed by the company would not be sufficient to make the conversation general.

‘What do you think of the question of investitures?’ asks an elderly gentleman of the twelfth century.

‘What investitures?’ replies a gentleman of the nineteenth century — ‘or did you say investments?'

The conversation drops.

But let somebody ask, ‘What do you think of the Irish Question?’ and everybody begins to talk. In the first place, everybody knows that there is an Irish Question and, after a few minutes’ conversation, finds that it is the same old question that everybody else knows about. The company is on the easy footing of contemporaries. No matter what generation a person belongs to, he feels perfectly at home. As they all have about the same degree of knowledge, they divide according to temperament. There are those who have made up their minds that the Irish Question can never he settled, and are rather bored by it, and those who think that it can be settled, and therefore want to keep things stirred up. Then there are the moderates, who think that the Irish Question could be settled if it were not for the Irish.

Ignoring the passage of time, we may ‘listen in’ while representatives of different periods express their opinions. We do not need to draw on our imaginations, for we have their exact words.

Fortunately, we can go back to the beginning of the trouble and interview a countryman of Mr. Lloyd George, who was tremendously interested in what was happening in his day, and desirous that posterity should know all about it.

Giraldus Cambrensis was the H. G. Wells of the twelfth century. He had an alert mind and a keen scent for the kind of news that had historical value and the kind of history that had a definite news value. He conceived history journalistically, and liked to have it brought down to the minute. When his noble Norman kinsmen, the Fitzgeralds, followed the great Earl of Pembroke to Ireland, Gerald the Welshman knew that something was happening that ought to be written up. He held the pen of a ready writer and resolved to do the writing. He entered into his task with zeal. The Irish Question appears full blown.

Giraldus begins his history of the Irish troubles very modestly at the time of the Deluge, though other chroniclers trace the story back to Cain and his progeny. It appears that Noah had a granddaughter named Cæsara, a very independent, young lady who seems to have been the leader of the younger set of the Antediluvians. Hearing that her grandfather was building an ark which was likely to be unpleasantly crowded with animals, she persuaded about thirty of the members of her set to go over to the Mediterranean, where they built a snug little vessel of their own. They would sail away and find some pleasant island where the troubles of the old world would not follow them. Their motto evidently was, ‘For ourselves.’ So they sailed away, and at last found the beautiful island of Ireland, where they settled with great content .

But alas! Noah’s flood proved universal, and they were all drowned. Giraldus replies to those who doubt this story, ‘My business is to compile history, not to criticize it.'

He gossips amiably about the invasion in which his noble relatives, the Fitzgeralds, figured so largely. ‘O family! O race!' he exclaims; ‘Indeed they are doubly noble, drawing their courage from the Trojans and their skill in arms from the French.’ But he lets it be known that the Fitzgeralds, after conquering the native Irish, are ready to light any newcomers. He gives the King advice as to how Ireland ought to be governed, and warns him that it is likely to be difficult. The Irish people are never so light-hearted as when getting up a rebellion. They have long memories, and they carry a detestable weapon called the broad-axe. They excel in irregular warfare. While the heavily armored Norman knight is getting off his horse, the Irish rebels will be in the bogs, making ready for a new attack. As for settling the Irish Question, let no one think it can be done in our day. ‘The Irish have four prophets whose writings are still extant. They foretold this English invasion. They say the war will last unto the remotest time. Indeed, they say it will continue till the Day of Judgment.’


It is a far cry from the twelfth to the nineteenth century, but Giraldus Cambrensis would have found much to interest him in a volume published in 1834: Dermot Mac Morragh, or the Conquest of Ireland, by John Quincy Adams. To the ex-President the conquest of Ireland was a matter of present concern. Henry II was as real as General Jackson, and his conduct as reprehensible. Indeed, he seems to have feared that his readers might not believe that he was so indignant against malefactors of the Middle Ages, and might think that he was aiming at his political adversaries.

Dermot by his subjects was detested
As tyrants like him never fail to be.

But for all that, he insisted that it was Dermot Mac Morragh, who lived in Ireland in the time of Henry II, whom he was angry at.

Give me leave to say that I know best
My own intention in the lines I trace
Let no man therefore draw aside the screen
And say ‘t is any other that I mean.

Like the old Irish bards, Adams ends with a prophecy: —

Soon, soon shall dawn the day, as dawn it must,
When Erin’s sceptre shall be Erin’s trust.

John Quincy Adams was not much of a poet, and we may well turn to one of greater genius, who lived at a time when the kings of England had for four hundred years been absentee landlords of Ireland.

‘What do you think, Mr. Shakespeare, of the Irish Question?’

He would answer, ' I’m sure I should n’t know what to do without it. It’s very convenient in my business as a playwright. In an historical play you have to have something in the background that everybody is familiar with. When I want to get rid of a nobleman of high rank, and don’t want to clutter up the stage with his dead body, I send him off to the unlucky Irish wars. This makes a very effective end. It’s ever so much better than having him beheaded or run through with a sword.’

Shakespeare takes the Irish troubles for granted. They had always been going on, though nobody cared to ask for the particular causes of them.

In Richard II, Willoughby says, —

‘The King’s gone bankrupt like a broken man.’

And Ross answers,—

‘He hath not money for these Irish wars.

That was a chronic condition in those days.

In Henry IV, Worcester says, —

‘What with the absent king,
What with the injuries of a wanton time
And the contrarious winds that held the King
So long in his unlucky Irish wars!’

Unlucky the Irish wars certainly were in those days, for all who engaged in them. Ireland is the land of evil tidings. ‘The wind sits fair for news to Ireland, but none returns’ — at least no good news.

In Henry V, the messenger appears with a message familiar to the Plantagenets and the Tudors: —

‘ From Ireland am I come amain
To signify the rebels there are up.
Send succor, Lords, and stop the rage
Before the wound become incurable.’

Of course, the Englishmen were ready for reprisals, and a new wound was made.

The victories of Henry V in France could not be celebrated on the stage without the audiences that Shakespeare played for thinking of the Irish war that was then going on, and whose issue was still uncertain. The chorus, after describing how London received the news of the glorious victory at Agincourt, expresses the wish that some such news might come from Ireland.

Were now the general of our gracious Empress
(As in good time he may), from Ireland coming,
Bringing rebellion broached on his sword,
How would the people quit to welcome him.

Another Elizabethan poet, Edmund Spenser, had taken part in these Irish wars, and had very decided opinions on the Irish Question. He gives them at length in the Faerie Queene. His patron, Lord Grey of Wilton, was one of the soldiers whose stern measures of repression turned some of the fairest parts of Ireland into a desert. Spenser celebrates him as Sir Artegall, or Justice. Sir Artegall uses his sword in the battle with knightly foes, but he has his serving-man Talus, or Force, armed with a big stick to beat down the rebellious rabble.

Turning from poetry to prose, Spenser put his ideas into the form of a dialogue between a stay-at-home English gentleman and a friend who had lately come from Ireland.

Eudoxus. — If that country of Ireland whence you came lately be of so goodly and commodious a soil as you report, I wonder that no course is taken to reduce that nation to better government.

Irenœus. — Marry, so there have been divers good plots devised, and wise counsels east, about reformation of that realm; but they say it is the fatal destiny of that land that no purposes that are meant for her good will prosper or take effect; whether it proceed from the very genius of the soil, the influence of the stars, or that Almighty God hath not appointed the time of her reformation, or that he reserveth her in this unquiet state, still as some secret scourge for England, it is hard to be known, but yet much to be feared.

He had heard men of great wisdom say that it ‘were well that land were a sea pool.’

Eudoxus.—If it be not painful to you, tell me what things during your late continuance there you observed to be most offensive and greatest impeachment to the good rule and government thereof?

Irenœus. — Surely the evils you desire to be recounted are very many and are almost countable with those that were hidden in the basket of Pandora. . . . The evils are of three sorts, the first in the laws, the second in customs, and third in religion,

Eudoxus expresses the greatest surprise when he is told that ‘there are wide countries in Ireland where the laws of England were never established nor any acknowledgment of subjection made.’ When he is told that among the most rebellious of the malcontents are people of English blood, he exclaims: ‘ In truth this is more than ever I heard, that any English there should be worse than the Irish. Lord, how quickly doth the country alter men’s natures!’ How many generations of perplexed statesmen have made that observation.

Eudoxus. — Is there any part that has not been subdued to the crown?

Ireœus. — More than once they have been subdued, but never to perpetual duty. What boots it to break a colt and then let him straight run loose at random? Whenever the Irish are left to themselves, they forget what they have been taught and shake off their bridles.

Eudoxus. — But if their ancestors were brought into subjection, should not the present generation acknowledge the same subjection?

Irenœus. — They say not!

Spenser’s noble friend to whom he dedicated the Faerie Queene came no nearer to a solution of the Irish Question.

The letters of Sir Walter Raleigh teem with bitter jibes about Ireland. ‘I hear three thousand Burkes are in arms, and young O’Donnell and Shane O’Neill. I wrote ten days ago of the rebellion, which the Queen made scorn of.’ To Sir Robert Cecil he writes: ‘Her Majesty hath good cause to remember that a million has been spent in Ireland not many years ago. A better kingdom could be purchased at less price. This accursed kingdom hath always been a traffic in which her Majesty hath paid both the freight and the customs. From this devilish place I have little matter and less hope — and the shorter the discourse the better.’

To the Earl of Leicester, he says: ‘I have spent some time here. I will not trouble your honor with the business of this lost land, nor with the good, the bad, the mischiefs, the means to amend, and all in all of this commonwealth or rather this common woe.’

From the petulancy of Raleigh, it is a relief to turn to a bright and airy letter of Sir Francis Bacon to James I in 1606, in which he points the way out. For centuries the attempt had been made to bring settlers from England to hold Ireland for the King. In a generation they had become Irishmen. The English Pale had been the seat of rebellion. Great families like the Fitzgeralds had forgotten that they were not Irish. But would it not be possible to settle the lands in Ulster, which had been depopulated after the last rebellion, with people who could be counted upon to remain at enmity to the native Irish? What of the Scotch Presbyterians, a stubborn folk, as the King well knew ? I Difference of religion, which made them troublesome in Great Britain, would make them useful in Ulster.

What an excellent division is ministered by God’s Providence in the state of Ireland. Let there be a discharge of people from England and Scotland into the waste places of Ireland. So shall his Majesty have a double convenience in the avoidance of people here and making use of them there. . . . It is not possible that many of great means will be attracted to Ulster. But their kinsfolk and tenants will have expectation of a great bargain when the wild Irish are driven out.

Bacon becomes sentimental in expounding this great plan. ‘You shall touch the ancient harp of Ireland and, listening to new tunes and harmonies, the barbarous people will discontinue their customs of revenge and give ear to the wisdom of laws and governments.’

This settlement of the Irish Question by the creation of a New Scotland in Ulster seemed good in the eyes of King James. Ben Jonson celebrates it in the Irish Masque. He calls upon the people of the troubled island to rejoice.

Come up and view
The gladding face of that great king in whom
So many prophecies of thine are knit,
This is that James of whom long since thou singest
Shall end our countries’ most unnatural broils,
And if her ear then deafened with the drum
Would stoop but to the music of his peace.
This is the man thou promised should redeem,
If she would love his counsels as his laws,
Her head from servitude, her feet from fall,
Her fame from barbarism, her state from want
And in her all the fruits of blessings plant.

This was a large if. It was soon apparent that the Irish did not love the counsels and the laws of King James. That canny monarch was not unaware of this fact. The plantation of Ulster had involved a good deal of expense, and in order to finance the enterprise, a new order, the baronets, was created. Affluent citizens were knighted for a sufficient sum, which they contributed to the royal treasury. At one of these functions, the candidate who was about to be dubbed showed signs of embarrassment. ‘Don’t be abashed, man,’ said the King, ‘you have not so much reason to be ashamed of this business as I have.’


The relief furnished by the Ulster Plantation was like that experienced by a patient, when by means of local applications his neuralgia is driven from one part of the body to settle in another. While no part of the English-speaking world has been free from occasional twinges, in the North of Ireland the irritation has had a constancy that has lifted it into the place of a religion. Good people have become martyrs to their antipathies. There is something liturgical in their objurgations. ‘Like prayers divine, they say each day the very same.’ It is not a sudden storm that spends itself in fury. It is a steady indignation that floweth like a river. There is an unchangeable conviction that compromise is one of the seven deadly sins.

I pick up a little book published in 1640, entitled Irish Prognostications, ‘wherein is described the disposition of the Irish with the manner of their behavior, and how they are for the most part addicted to Popery.’ Its argument is complete and conclusive.

‘A conquest should draw three things after it — law, language, and religion. The vanquished should surrender themselves and imitate the laws, language, and religion of their conquerors. This the Irish will not do.’

There you have the Irish Question in a nutshell, or rather in a bombshell. Whenever it is put that way, there is an explosion.

Evidently not much real progress had been made since, in the previous century, John Derek published The Image of Ireland, ‘wherein is most lively expressed the Nature and Qualities of the Wild Irish, their notable aptness, celerity, and proneness to rebellion; printed in London for the pleasure and delight of the well-disposed.’

Derek must have thought that his well-disposed English readers were very easily pleased, for he gives them no reason to believe that their good disposition would be appreciated by the Irish. The Englishman, conscious of his own rectitude, he thinks, does not understand how much the Irish dislike him.

The more he seeketh them to win
The further off they stray,
As imps that do detest to walk
The straight and pleasant way.

They even make fun of the serious attempts to improve them.

They harp upon one string
And therein find a joy,
When as they find a subtle slight
To work true men annoy.
For mockery is their game
Wherein they do delight.

This temperamental difference which was felt in the sixteenth century was only aggravated by the closer contacts brought about in the seventeenth century by the Ulster Plantation.

During the civil wars of the Cromwellian period, as during the War of the Roses and the wars of the French Revolution and during the World War of 1914, the Irish patriots were singularly self-absorbed. They were so interested in their own troubles that they were oblivious to what was going on in the rest of the world.

It was the story of Noah’s granddaughter once again. They were caught in a deluge that swept upon them from overseas.

The maxim, ‘England’s extremity is Ireland’s opportunity,’ accounts for a great deal of the Irish ill luck. It has led them, with singular uniformity, to ally themselves in any great crisis with the losing side.

The Irish were against Charles the First, and Strafford was sent to repress the disturbance. He was recalled from the unlucky Irish wars, and sent to the scaffold.

The Commonwealth was established, and Ireland was unaware of the might of the Puritan till it resisted, and Cromwell’s curse fell upon it.

The Stuarts were restored, and one might have expected better times. But open Pepys’s Diary, and we hear the same monotonous complaints. ‘ Ireland is in a distracted condition. God knows my heart. I expect nothing but ruin can follow — unless things are better in a little time.’

We turn over the leaves of the Diary, looking for better news, but affairs grow steadily worse. ‘Mr. Llewellen, lately come from Ireland, tells how the English interests fall away mightily, the Irish party being too great. Which gives great discontent to the English.’

There is another revolution in England. The Stuarts are driven out. When the cause of James II is hopeless, Ireland rises in his behalf, and another unforeseen deluge overwhelms it.


As the South of Ireland has, to its own hurt, acted on the principle that England’s extremity is Ireland’s opportunity, so the North has held fast to the principle that Ireland’s importunity must be met by Ulster’s imperturbability. Ulster stands fast in its integrity. It will not budge. It looks upon compromise as one of the seven deadly sins.

Long before the days of Sir Edward Carson, the plucky little province gave its ultimatum. It belonged to the British Empire, and it was willing to fight, the whole Empire rather than allow itself to be put out of it. It would fight for its inalienable right to dependence as sturdily as other nations fought for independence.

It was from the very beginning a loyal little eagle, ready to scratch its parents’ eyes out if they should ever attempt to shove it out of the nest.

I doubt whether loyalty has ever been more genuine, or has ever taken so troublesome a form. Ulster has stuck to the Empire — like a burr. In the days of the Commonwealth this loyalty almost drove the English Parliament distracted.

In 1649, when Ireland was in a state of chaos, and Ormond was leading a Royalist rebellion, the Presbytery of Belfast passed a series of highly provocative resolutions which it sent to London. They began in a characteristic manner: —

‘Considering the dependency of this kingdom upon England, we are encouraged to cast our mite into the treasury.’ The mite consisted of enough explosive materials to blow up all parties. There is first a solemn testimony against all who ‘ labor to establish by law a universal toleration of religion, thus overturning the unity of religion and the first two articles of our solemn covenant.’ Then there is a denunciation of Parliament, which is declared ‘anti-Christian and Popish, and against the covenant as established by the Church of Scotland, which is now blasphemed.’

Under these circumstances, the Presbytery declared its unshakable loyalty to the government and its determination to express that loyalty in its own way, without fear or favor.

Resolved, that we will not extol the persons of notorious sectaries, the plague of these times, that they may believe lies and be damned.

We will not be drawn away by counsels, commands or examples to shake off the ancient government of these kingdoms.

That we will endeavor the preservation of the Union, remembering the part of the covenant which says, We shall not suffer ourselves directly or indirectly by whatsoever combination or terror to be divided from this blessed union. And finally we exhort every one to avoid all opposers of the reformation, refusers of the covenant, or those who combine with papists. We exhort them not to favor the sectaries, nor incline their hearts to favor the malignants, nor to think they stand in need of the malignants.

As by the ‘malignants’ were meant all who sympathized with the Royalists; and by ‘notorious sectaries the plague of these times,’ the English Independents who then were in control of the government, it is not strange that Ulster’s mite was not well received.

The resolutions were answered by John Milton in his most vituperative style.

What mean these men ? Is the Presbytery of Belfast a small town in Ulster to talk so arrogantly? Are we under the censure of the Presbytery of Belfast?

He taunts them for their very peculiar kind of loyalty.

These priestlings at the very time their lips disclaimed all sowing of sedition were ready to rebel. News has come that the Scottish inhabitants of Ulster are actually revolted.

The more he thinks about it, the more angry Milton becomes.

These ministers of Belfast, with as much devilish malice, impudence, and falsehood as any Irish, threaten us from their barbarous nook in the North of Ireland. . . . These men imagine themselves marvelously high set and exalted in the chair of Belfast to outface the Parliament of England. What are they ministers for, and who set them so haughty in the pontifical see of Belfast, we know not. How dare they send such a defiance? By their actions we might think them a set of highland thieves and redshanks who, being admitted by the courtesy of England to hold possessions in our province of Ulster, have proved ungrateful and treacherous guests.

We can imagine the grave ministers of Belfast reading this tirade of the English sectary. His accusations of disloyalty were preposterous. Of course, if Parliament disturbed the blessed union and cut them off from dependence on the British government, Ulster would fight and Ulster would be right. From that position, neither they nor their descendants would swerve.


Again we listen in, to catch what people of intelligence are saying in regard to the situation in Ireland, in the century after Milton. It is Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick, who is speaking. It appears that the question, Is Ireland a nation? is still a living issue. Swift says: —

They say Ireland is a depending kingdom. I have looked over all the English and Irish statutes without finding any law that makes Ireland depend on England any more than England depends upon Ireland. We have been obliged to have the same king with them, and consequently they have been obliged to have the same king with us. . . . In reason, all government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery. We have nothing to do with the English ministers, and I would be as sorry if it lay in their power to redress our grievances as to enforce them.

He tells the Irishman that, ‘By the laws of God, of Nature, of nations, and of your own country, you are and ought to be as free as your brethren in England.’

All this seems very modern. If we did not look at the date, we might think that Dean Swift had read our Declaration of Independence.

A little later we listen in to hear what Dr. Johnson may have to say. The Doctor is never in a good humor when anyone tries to draw him out on the Irish Question. Boswell inquires cautiously, —

Would you not like to visit Ireland?

Johnson. — It is the last place where I should wish to travel.

Boswell. — Should you not like to go to Dublin?

Johnson. — No, sir.

Boswell. —Is not the Giant’s Causeway worth seeing?

Johnson. — Worth seeing? Yes! But not worth going to see.

But Boswell was not a man who feared being snubbed, and, when the moment seemed propitious, he continued his inquiries: —

But, Doctor Johnson, do you not believe that a closer union with England would be good for Ireland?

Johnson. — Sir, it would only give us a better chance to rob them.

Boswell. — But union with Scotland has worked well. You have n’t robbed us.

Johnson. — Sir, the only reason we have n’t robbed Scotland is because there is n’t anything worth taking.

This was during the time of Grattan’s Parliament, when Ireland was for a time granted Home Rule, with a string to it. The Irish Parliament had the right to talk in Dublin, while the legislating was done at Westminster.

At no period was the Irish Question more exasperating to people who were striving for a reasonable solution. In 1780, Edmund Burke writes: —

I have had my holiday of popularity in Ireland. I have even heard of an intention to erect a statue to me. I am glad it never took effect. The fragments of the piece might see service while they are moving according to the law of projectiles against the windows of my friends.

As for the attempts of the government to adopt a policy of conciliation after coercion had failed, he says, —

The awkward parade of tricking out necessity in the garments of choice, the shallow stratagem of defending by argument what is yielded to force, these are things not to my mind.

Coming down to the early years of the nineteenth century, we find Walter Scott meditating on the old question. Writing to Joanna Baillie, he tells of the impressions made upon a visitor: —

I had intended to write about Ireland. But alas, Hell is paved with good intentions. I never saw a richer country, or, to speak my mind, a finer people — but how they do dislike one another! Their factions have been so long envenomed and they have such a narrow ground to battle in. They are like people fighting with daggers in a hogshead. The Protestants of the North are a fine race — but dangerous to the quiet of the country.

As for the particular issue of the day, over which they were violently contending, Scott says: —

I do not believe either party cares much about it. The Catholics desire it because the Protestants are not willing they should have it. The Protestants desire to withhold it because they think it mortifies the Catholics.

Can it be that this long-drawn-out controversy, which was two hundred years old when the Turks took Constantinople and has gone on querulously and angrily ever since, has come to an end? Can it be that the Irish Question is in danger of becoming a matter of purely historical interest? Must there in the future be learned footnotes to explain the allusions to it in English literature? Has it come to such a pass that it ceases to be a stand-by for those who try to start conversation?

Two years ago, this seemed impossible. Now it seems likely. The treaty with the Irish Free State introduced a new idea. There was an abrupt change of subject.

The old question had been, What right had England, or, if you will, the British Empire, to govern Ireland? This question was dropped by the tacit consent of both parties. Instead, another question was propounded: Would it not be for the advantage of Ireland to belong to the British Commonwealth of Nations?

It is this conception of a commonwealth of equal nations, united for mutual protection and bound together by common interests and affections, that has taken the place of the British Empire which Kipling celebrated. Of course, Ireland is a nation, and so is England, and so is Scotland, and so is Canada. These nations, each cherishing its own history and developing its own institutions, are members of one great Commonwealth.

The idea of such a new relation kindled the imagination of Michael Collins, and made him willing to try an experiment that had not been tried before. Thousands of his countrymen have caught the same vision. When they come to discuss the proper relations of the Irish nation to the commonwealth of nations to which it belongs, new questions will arise which must be discussed.

They will prove to be more interesting than the recapitulations of old feuds. A new generation is likely to arise which will ask, What was the Irish Question?