Irish home rule and parallels with Quebec

Apr 2016
Being one-half Irish descent and one-half French-Canadian, the bitterness of the British-Irish relationship in the 19th century holds some fascination to me, historically. In a simplistic sense, one can see that the position of Ireland in the United Kingdom of the 19th century as akin to that of Quebec in the Canadian federation of that era, in terms of population, and the unique nature of the population in terms of religion and history.

While the desire of the British to fashion Ireland into something more like England is understandable in some ways, during the same 19th century era, French-Canadians, subject to the same sovereign gained ground politically and generally peacefully, with the exception of the Patriotes rebellion of 1837. The rights to use the French language officially, in the legislature and the courts, was guaranteed, and public money was used to provide education that was both religious based and language based. There were no religious or linguistic restrictions applied on the right to own land, vote or hold public office. The civil service and the military were comprised of both parts of the divide, both before and after Canadian Confederation.

One can see parallels between the Irish people and the French-Canadians:

A large majority of the Quebec (or under the colonial era, Lower Canada, and later Canada East) population, about 80%, Roman Catholic, similar to Ireland.

A people who held a different history from the English and who held little affection for the British ways or the monarch.

Predominance of agriculture as the economic backbone of the economy.

Certainly, there were tensions in Quebec between the French and the English parts of the population. Indeed, they lived in two solitudes which often viewed the other with contempt at worst or bemused condescension at best. But, at least through the 19th century, there was a general spirit of goodwill from both sides to make things work, so that whether one be Catholic or Protestant, French or English speaking, a person would feel secure and accepted in the community at large. A testament to this was the successful rise of Wilfrid Laurier to lead Canada at the end of that century. While a proud French-Canadian, he was equally proud to be a British subject as he stated at the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria. He was a popular prime minister for a long time among both French and English Canadians.

It would seem the Canadian experience of a partnership of legal equals would have been seen by the United Kingdom government as a success, and workable in Ireland. Statistics of economic and population growth demonstrated that prosperity and political stability had been achieved with the French-Canadian collaborative "experiment". Equally, the Irish would have understood the anomaly of a colony overseas in which other British subjects of their same faith were granted more rights than they, though being junior to the Irish in their connection to the British Empire. As so many Irish emigrated to Canada during the 19th century, with a very large number settling in Quebec, the nature of the legal rights afforded their expatriate countrymen would have been well likely known in Ireland, I think.

The way things turned out, the resort to revolution versus evolution of the British-Irish relationship was a tragedy of the 20th century, and could have been avoided. It seems there was a clear model to follow.
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Feb 2016
Dublin, Ireland
One major difference, however, is that Irish Nationalists in the early 20th century did *want* independence and as much as could be gotten, and even fought a bloody (and, in hindsight, largely pointless) civil war on the exact terms of separation (á la the 1921 Treaty).

Even the Home Rule movements of Charles Parnell and later John Redmond, though eventually discredited in the lifetime of the former and controversial today, rested on the assumption that Home Rule was the most that could be realistically achieved for the moment.

At the risk of ruffling some feathers, the Quebecans, like the Scottish at the moment, seem ambivalent about independence. They know they dislike the Anglo Other but prefer to keep the parts of the old arrangements they like, i.e. taxpayer subsidies from the capital, or 'divorce with bedroom privileges' as pundits dubbed the Quebecan separatist movement.


Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
It is easy to experiment with some one across the ocean, but Ireland was in Britain's front yard so to speak.