A forgotten patriot

A forgotten patriot Sir Horace Plunkett at the wheel of his De Dion Bouton, the first motorcar imported into Ireland
A Life of Sir Horace Plunkett

by Maurice Colbert (Copies can be purchased directly from the author at: 086 821 9584, or email mcolbert@live.ie Price: €20+postage)

This book brings to mind that passage in Gulliver’s Travels, where that hardy sea man is in dialogue with the king of Brobdingnag about the virtues of their respective nations.

“And he gave it for his opinion, ‘that whoever could make two ears of wheat, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together’.”

This is a passage that has always given heart to reformers of all kinds.

In this decade of commemoration we have had pass in review all kind of patriots of the right, left and centre, but mainly those in the revolutionary strand. Less has be made of mere ‘reformers’.

Sir Horace Plunkett was in a different mould. The subtitle to this book suggests his range: ‘visionary and pioneer, social reformer and humanitarian’. A special point the author makes is his text includes revealing extracts and important extracts from Sir Horace’s own private diaries, almost the only records saved from his past.


For Maurice Colbert this book is very much a labour of love. He is a Waterford man who hails from Ardmore, but now retired, lives in Kildare. Previously he has written an account of his rural upbringing and his own recollections of the years he worked in the co-operative movement from 1966 to 2002.

This book, however, is the outcome of an admiration for Sir Horace that began in his student days and which he fed with books and encounters over the decades since.

The book brims with enthusiasm and with a still strong devotion to the ideas and institutions which Sir Horace devoted his life to building up, and which brought so much beneficial change to rural Ireland in those decades before globalisation.

The burning of his Foxrock home by Republicans in their campaign against the homes and lives of members of the first Senate during the Civil War — an attempt was even made on the life of Nobel Prize winner W.B. Yeats — is still an act that cannot be justified.


Having celebrated the struggle for independence, Irish people now have to face the appropriate commemoration of the Civil War. That may be a matter of real consequence for the country’s future.

Sir Horace was truly one of those who did indeed make two blades of grass grow where only one (or none) grew before. Yet the theme of this book, as regards Ireland at least, is summed up by a tributes from John Roche, towards the close of the book: “Horace Plunkett – Messiah ignored”.

The co-operative movement found favour in North America, in Scandinavia and elsewhere, including England. It made a great impact on rural life in ways that still affect many societies down to today.

Mr Colbert is not a trained historian and his book lacks in places the professional polish that some might expect. But he provides his readers with a swiftly moving account of Sir Horace’s life, which touches on all the high points of his involvements in England, Ireland, North America and elsewhere.


Maurice Colbert’s passion for the co-operative movement and deep admiration for Horace Plunkett make this the ideal brief introduction to a great man, but to a fully understanding of his opinions and the impact of his ideas Mr Colbert’s readers will have to read much further. But these pages briskly preserve a great man’s career and carries forward his reputation into future years.

(An historical foot note: Sir Horace was indeed a herald of change: he imported the first motor car into Ireland , an invention that transformed 20th Century Ireland and rules all our lives today, for better or worse!)