The Cambridge Union and Ireland 1815-1914

The Cambridge Union and Ireland 1815-1914 (Edinburgh, Ann Barry, 2000) began with the intention of producing a working paper about the Irish debates of England's oldest student debating society. It grew into a wider project ─ a history of the Union itself, and an examination of the relationship between debates and that elusive concept, "opinion". But none of this made much sense without placing the Union in its context of a privileged and traditional university.
Copies of The Cambridge Union and Ireland 1815-1914 are available from Ged Martin, Shanacoole, Youghal, County Cork, Republic of Ireland for €25 Euro, including postage.


The Preface and '"Going Up to Jesus": A Note on Terminology' explain some Cambridge terms.
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Chapter 1
'The Cambridge Union: Sources and Rivals' reviews the material available for the study, and compares the Cambridge Union with two better-known student societies, its Oxford sister-society and rival (in fact the junior of the two) and the semi-secret discussion group, the Cambridge Apostles.
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Chapter 2
'The Town and the University' locates the institution in the unexpected and often unsavoury environment of a provincial market town and explores the byzantine institutional workings of the University.
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Chapter 3
'The Undergraduate World' is a portrait of student life in 19th-century Cambridge, and includes discussion of resistance to the admission of women.
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Chapter 4
'Cambridge, Catholicism and the Irish' is a contribution to the concept of 'British History'. Cambridge University was a very English institution, with little input from Wales, Scotland or Ireland.
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Chapter 5
'The Early Years of the Cambridge Union' examines how a student debating society managed to establish itself at a time of severe political repression.
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Chapter 6
'The Union and its Debates, 1821-1914' offers a general history of buildings and activities throughout the 19th century.
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Chapter 7
'Oratory and Opinion' tackles the relationship between debating and the elusive concept of 'opinion'.
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Chapter 8
'The Irish Debates, 1816-1885' explore Cambridge student attitudes to Ireland before the first Home Rule Bill, incidentally arguing that opposition to Catholic Emancipation in the 1820s was less rigid than the political upheaval of 1829 might suggest.
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Chapter 9
'Gladstonian Home Rule, 1886-1898' reviews the decade in which Irish Home Rule first became the touchstone of the divide between Liberals and Conservatives and then appeared to subside as a major question. The impact of the first visiting speakers is discussed.
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Chapter 10
'Ireland in the New Century' traces the revival of Home Rule as a much less threatening issue in Edwardian times. John Dillon and Harold Macmillan appear.
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Chapter 11
'Conclusion' asks some wider questions about political leadership and political biography.
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A Tailpiece rounds off the story as Victorian Cambridge and Nationalist Ireland plunge into 'War 1914-18 and Troubles 1919-21'. It seems fitting that an ex-President of the Cambridge Union had a role in the 1921 Treaty - as a messenger boy.
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Appendix 1 lists the subjects of the best-attended debates between 1863 and 1914. (By the 1860s, political topics predominated within a two-party system.) The information may be of interest to historians seeking to weight the relative impact of various issues.
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This section gives information on Union attitudes to Catholic Emancipation, the Irish Church and Home Rule. Two tables compare Cambridge opposition to the enfranchisement of women with votes in the House of Commons
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