Vol. 1: O’Brien, Gerard.

Type: Article

O’Brien, Gerard. ‘The Grattan Mystique’, Eighteenth-century Ireland/Iris an dá chultúr, Vol. 1 (1986), pp 177-194.

This article investigates the longstanding mystique surrounding the ‘patriot tradition’ of Henry Grattan. O’Brien challenges the view that ‘Grattan almost single-handedly won the free trade dispute and secured the leadership of the patriots’. O’Brien discusses the ‘hagiographical’ five-volume Memoirs of the Life and Times of Henry Grattan (1839-43) written by Henry Grattan Jr. which, due to the destruction of the personal papers of those Grattan corresponded with, became the chief source for biographers. O’Brien suggests that all Grattan’s subsequent biographers have contributed to the maintenance of the mystique with their ‘unimaginative and uncritical’ treatment of the politician. He questions the authenticity of Grattan’s 16 April 1782 speech, later published by Grattan Jr. in 1822, in which Grattan is said to have made the famous pronouncement: ‘Spirit of Swift, spirit of Molyneux, your genius has prevailed; Ireland is now a nation’. O’Brien provides evidence to suggest that Grattan rewrote the famous speech which for all historians has been the touchstone of ‘patriot tradition’ and which, as printed, ‘contained phrases which were never uttered by him and forwarded ideas and sentiments which he did not, at the crucial period, entertain’.