In Brief

When Mr. Deasy says to Stephen in Nestor, "You think me an old fogey and an old tory," he sounds the novel's first echo of struggles within the British Parliament to resolve the question of Irish independence. The  Conservative party, known as Tories, generally supported the status quo in the 19th century and resisted major social reforms. The most consequential of these for Ireland, and doubtless the subtext of Deasy's taunt, was the push for "Home Rule" in the 1870s and 80s. 

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After the collapse of the Fenian movement in the 1860s, momentum shifted toward parliamentary action. A group of Irish political activists called the Home Rule league sought to finish O'Connell's work by repealing the Act of Union passed in 1800 and creating a measure of Irish representative self-rule within the United Kingdom, much like the devolved national assemblies in Scotland and Wales today. Home Rule was seen as a centrist course between the extremes of Irish insurrection and British imperialism. It brought together the great Irish parliamentary leader Charles Stewart Parnell and the great English statesman William Ewart Gladstone, who presided over Liberal governments as Prime Minister for many of the years from 1868 to 1894.

Like English voters, Irish voters elected Liberal and Conservative representatives to Parliament, but starting in the 1870s they also began electing members of what was successively known as the Home Government Association, the Home Rule League, the Nationalist Party, and the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), who advocated for self-rule, and Unionists, who opposed it. The former cause proved immensely stronger. In the 1885 elections the IPP won 85 of the 103 Irish seats.

In April 1886 Gladstone introduced legislation which he had personally and secretively drafted. Called the Government of Ireland Bill or, colloquially, the First Home Rule Bill, it specified the composition and powers of an Irish national assembly. He argued that Parliament could grant home rule to Ireland honorably now, or find itself compelled to do so on humiliating terms later. Parnell had strong reservations about the bill's provisions, but committed to support it. The Unionists and the Orange Lodges voiced bitter opposition. When the measure came to a vote, 93 of Gladstone's 404 Liberal MPs voted Nay, dooming the measure to defeat. Ithaca cryptically records one fictional person's expectations: Bloom's desk drawer contains "a sealed prophecy (never unsealed) written by Leopold Bloom in 1886 concerning the consequences of the passing into law of William Ewart Gladstone’s Home Rule bill of 1886 (never passed into law)."

The setback weakened Gladstone in the elections that were held later in 1886. As for Parnell, the ordeal of his sexual scandal in 1890 fragmented the IPP and crippled the Home Rule movement.

Mr. Deasy seems to be using "tory" as a purported description of himself much as he uses "fenian" at the end of the paragraph to characterize Stephen—i.e., as a broad cultural generalization rather than a specific claim of affiliation. Deasy may vote Conservative, but he seems to be raising the possibility that he does not. Stephen and his father Simon may converse with revolutionaries, but both are Parnellites, not bomb-throwers.

JH 2018
Photographic portrait of Charles Stewart Parnell from the 1870s, held in the Brady-Handy photograph collection of the Library of Congress. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
1874 oil on canvas portrait of William Ewart Gladstone by Franz von Lenbach, held in a private collection. Source: Wikimedia Commons.