The Blueshirt Episode and its Background

Part of the Macmillan Studies in Anglo-Irish Literature book series


It is well known that Yeats was associated for a time with the Blueshirts, an Irish political movement which was at least superficially fascist, and which Yeats believed was fundamentally fascist. There are good reasons for not considering this episode especially significant. First, it was contemporaneous with other extravagant episodes — the Steinach operation, the collaboration with Shri Purohit Swami, the sponsorship of Margot Ruddock — the meaning of which seems to lie in their very extravagance, in their keeping with Yeats’s wish, expressed in a poem of the time, to avoid ‘all that makes a wise old man’ that he might seem a ‘foolish, passionate man’.1 Second, the episode lasted less than a year, and Yeats ended by publicly dissociating himself from the movement. Third, the Blueshirts themselves enjoyed only a ‘brief period of vigour’, according to one of their founders,2 their main accomplishment being their ‘adding colour to the drabness of life in the 1930s’, as historian John Murphy has wittily noted.3 Since, however, Yeats was perhaps the greatest poet of his time, and fascism perhaps the most potent political force between the wars, so potent as to loom in our arguments and nightmares down to the present day, the episode is bound to interest us and provoke us to speculation.


Liberal Democracy Authoritarian Government Khmer Rouge Dialectical Materialist Material Circumstance 
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  1. 1.
    ‘Prayer for Old Age’, Var. Poems, p. 553. ‘In some ways the Steinach operation for sexual rejuvenation he underwent in 1934 is the physiological equivalent of his excited, furtive fascination with Fascist politics’, Douglas Archibald has recently written in his Yeats (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1983) p. 147.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    John Murphy, Ireland in the Twentieth Century, Gill History of Ireland 11 (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1975) p. 82.Google Scholar
  3. 15.
    Herbert Davis (ed.), The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift (Oxford: Shakespeare Head Press, 1939) I, 225. For Yeats’s discovery of the passage, see Exp., pp. 292–3.Google Scholar
  4. 54.
    W. B. Yeats, Tribute to Thomas Davis (Oxford: Basil Blackwell for Cork University Press, 1947) p. 15.Google Scholar
  5. 59.
    Yeats tells of the torn hands in ‘A Commentary on a Parnellite at Parnell’s Funeral’ (Var. Poems, p. 835), ‘Ireland after Parnell’ (Auto., p. 232), and A Vision, p. 124. The peculiar importance Parnell assumed for some Irish writers is discussed by Malcolm Brown in ‘Literary Parnellism’, a chapter of The Politics of Irish Literature (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1972) pp. 371–90.Google Scholar
  6. 72.
    Daniel J. Murphy (ed.), Lady Gregory’s Journals (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978) p. 334.Google Scholar
  7. 74.
    Stanfield, ‘W. B. Yeats and Politics in the 1930s’, p. 118; Joseph Hone, ‘Yeats as a Political Philosopher’, London Mercury, 39 (1939) 493.Google Scholar
  8. 88.
    Ezra Pound, Jefferson and/or Mussolini (first published 1935; reprinted New York: Boni & Liveright, 1970) p. 110.Google Scholar
  9. 89.
    James Strachey Barnes, The Universal Aspects of Fascism (London: Williams & Northgate, 1928; 2nd edn, 1929) p. 26. Yeats owned a copy of this book.Google Scholar
  10. 90.
    For instance: ‘He knows its [his race’s] mind better than it does itself, and has used force to compel it to accept a regime that is merely the political expression of its own soul’ (Stanley B. James, ‘Some Mussolini Paradoxes’, Irish Monthly, LIX (1933) 24).Google Scholar
  11. Similar conclusions can be found in Rev. T. O’Herlihy, ‘Fascist Italy’, Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 31 (1928) 506–16;Google Scholar
  12. and in Virginia Crawford, ‘The Rise of Fascism and what it Stands for’, Studies, xII (1923) 539–52.Google Scholar
  13. 95.
    The following account of the Blueshirts draws on those in Maurice Manning, The Blueshirts (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971).Google Scholar
  14. F. S. L. Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1971).Google Scholar
  15. Donai O’Sullivan, The Irish Free State and its Senate: A Study in Contemporary Politics (London: Faber & Faber, 1940).Google Scholar
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    W. B. Yeats and Margot Ruddock, Ah, Sweet Dancer, a correspondence edited by Roger McHugh (New York: Macmillan, 1971) p. 32.Google Scholar
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    T. R. Henn, The Lonely Tower (London: Methuen, 1950; 2nd edn, 1965) p. 344.Google Scholar
  20. See also D. E. S. Maxwell, ‘Swift’s Dark Grove: Yeats and the Anglo-Irish Tradition’, in D. E. S. Maxwell and S. B. Bushrui (eds), Centenary Essays on the Art of W. B. Yeats (Nigeria: University of Ibadan Press, 1965) p. 20.Google Scholar
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  22. 134.
    E. M. Forster, ‘What I Believe’, in Two Cheers for Democracy (London: Edward Arnold, 1951) pp. 80–1.Google Scholar
  23. 135.
    Stephen Spender, World Within World (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1966) p. 147.Google Scholar
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    Edward Mendelson (ed.), The English Auden (London: Faber & Faber, 1977) p. 425.Google Scholar
  25. 137.
    Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (eds), The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (London: Secker & Warburg, 1968) II, 516.Google Scholar
  26. 139.
    George Watson, Politics and Literature in Modern Britain (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1977) pp. 46–70.Google Scholar
  27. 143.
    Grattan Freyer, ‘The Politics of W. B. Yeats’, Politics and Letters, 1 (1947) 18.Google Scholar
  28. 150.
    Contained in an appendix to A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats: Man and Poet (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1949) pp. 351–2.Google Scholar
  29. 157.
    Walter Kelly Hood (ed.), ‘Michael Robartes: Two Occult Manuscripts’, in George Mills Harper (ed.), Yeats and the Occult (Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1975) p. 222.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Paul Scott Stanfield 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of NebraskaLincolnUSA

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