About Stephen Lucius Gwynn
Stephen Lucius Gwynn (13 February 1864 – 11 June 1950) was an Irish journalist, biographer, author, poet and Protestant nationalist politician. and Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. As member of the Irish Parliamentary Party he represented Galway city from 1906 to 1918. He served as officer with an Irish regiment of the 16th (Irish) Division during World War I.
He was born in Saint Columba's College in Rathfarnham, south County Dublin, where his father John (1827–1917), a biblical scholar and Church of Ireland clergyman, was warden. His mother Lucy Josephine (1840–1907) was the daughter of the Irish nationalist William Smith O'Brien. Stephen was the eldest of ten children (eight brothers and two sisters). Shortly after his birth the family moved to Ramelton in County Donegal to the parish where his father had been appointed parson; he later became Regius Professor of Divinity at Trinity College, Dublin.
Stephen Gwynn spent his early childhood in rural Donegal, which was to shape his later view of Ireland. He went to Brasenose College, Oxford, where, as scholar, in 1884 he was awarded first-class honours in classical moderations and in 1886 literae humaniores. During term holidays he returned to Dublin, where he met several of the political and literary figures of the day.
Gwynn married his cousin Mary Louisa (d. 1941), daughter of Revd. James Gwynn. She later converted to Catholicism. They had three sons and two daughters who were brought up in her religion, of whom Aubrey (1892–1983) became a Jesuit priest and professor of medieval history at University College, Dublin. Their second son Denis Rolleston (1893–1971) was professor of modern Irish history at University College, Cork. Stephen Gwynn’s brother Edward John (1868–1941) became provost of Trinity College and another brother Robert Malcolm became its senior dean. A third brother, Charles, had a successful career in the British Army and retired as a Major General.
After graduating he spent ten years from 1886 tutoring as a schoolmaster, for a time in France, which created a lifelong interest in French culture, as expressed in his Praise of France (1927). By 1896 he had developed an interest in writing, becoming a writer and journalist in London focused on English themes, until he came into contact with the emerging Irish literary revival, when he served as secretary of the Irish Literary Society.
This was the beginning of a long and prolific career as a writer covering a wide range of literary genres, from poetry and biographical subjects to general historical works. The eighteenth century was his particular specialism. He wrote numerous books on travel and on the topography of his own homeland, as well as on his other interests: wine, eighteenth-century painting and fishing.
Gwynn returned to Ireland in 1904 when he entered politics. In a by-election in November 1906 he won a seat for Galway city, which he represented as a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party until 1918. During this period he was active in the Gaelic League and was one of the few Irish MPs to have close links to the Irish literary revival. Along with Joseph Maunsel Hone and George Roberts he founded the Dublin publishing house of Maunsel and Company. He was opposed to the demand for Irish as a compulsory subject for matriculation. He supported the campaign which won the establishment of a Catholic university when he served on the Irish University Royal Commission in 1908. During the debate on the third Home Rule Bill, Gwynn at the request of his party leader John Redmond wrote The case for Home Rule (1911) and was in charge of much of the party’s official publicity and its replies to criticism from Sinn Féin.
World War 1
On the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 Gwynn strongly supported Redmond’s encouragement of Irish nationalists and the Irish National Volunteers to support the Allied and British war effort by enlisting in Irish regiments of the Irish Divisions, especially as a means to ensure the implementation of the suspended Home Rule Act at the end of an expectedly short war. Gwynn, now over fifty, enlisted in January 1915 with the 7th Leinster Regiment in the 16th (Irish) Division. In July he was commissioned captain with the Connaught Rangers and served with them on the Western Front at Messines, the Somme and elsewhere.
He was one of five Irish MPs who enlisted and served in the army, the others being J. L. Esmonde, Willie Redmond, William Redmond and D. D. Sheehan, as well as former MP Tom Kettle. Together with Kettle and William Redmond he undertook a recruitment drive for the Irish divisions, co-operating with Kettle on a collection of ballads called Battle songs for the Irish Brigade (1915). Gwynn was made a chevalier of the Légion d’honneur in July 1915.
In 1916 he was appointed to the Dardanelles Commission.
Recalled to Ireland in late 1917 to participate in the Irish Convention chaired by Sir Horace Plunkett, he sided with the Redmondite faction of the Irish Party in supporting a compromise with the southern unionists in an attempt to reach consensus on a Home Rule settlement which would avoid partition. On the death of Redmond in March 1918, Gwynn took over as leader of the moderate nationalists in the Convention. He opposed the threat of compulsory military service during the Conscription Crisis of 1918, though as a member of the Irish Recruiting Council he continued to support voluntary recruitment, encountering intense opposition led by Sinn Féin.
He formed the Irish Centre Party in 1918 and stood unsuccessfully as an Independent Nationalist for Dublin University in the December general elections. The party merged with Plunkett’s Irish Dominion League to press for a settlement by consent on the basis of dominion status, but Gwynn subsequently broke with Plunkett due to his willingness to accept partition as a temporary compromise. The polarities which divided Ireland during the Anglo-Irish War and Irish Civil War increasingly sidelined Gwynn’s brand of moderate cultural nationalism. Although he supported the newly emergent nation he equally condemned some of the excesses, such as the burning of houses belonging to Free State senators.
From the 1920s Gwynn devoted himself to writing, covering political events as Irish correspondent to The Observer and The Times. Later in his career he wrote some substantial works, and together with his son Denis Gwynn (The Life of John Redmond, 1932) did much to shape the retrospective image and self-justification of John Redmond. Stephen Gwynn was awarded an honorary Dlitt. from the National University of Ireland in 1940, and another from the University of Dublin in 1945. The Irish Academy of Letters awarded him the Gregory Medal in April 1950. In his literary writings he stood for a humanism and tolerance, which qualities, due to political upheavals, were relatively rare in the Ireland of his day. He died on the 11 June 1950 at his home in Terenure, Dublin and was buried at Tallagh cemetery, south County Dublin.