In Empire and Ireland, Roy MacLaren recounts the life and political career of Hamar Greenwood, a young man from rural Canada who reached the imperial pinnacle of the British cabinet. Greenwood’s arduous route was first beset by conservative opposition to his liberal convictions and later by hostility towards his role as chief secretary for Ireland under British prime minister Lloyd George during the tumultuous years of 1920 to 1922.
A long-time advocate of Home Rule for Ireland, Greenwood endeavoured to provide Ireland with the same Dominion status as Canada. Dominion Home Rule, however, was not enough for Irish Republicans, who blamed him for the “Black and Tan” reprisals carried out by the British, and too much for Conservative Unionists, who believed he was insufficiently hard line. Eventually abandoning the divided Liberals for the Conservatives, he entered the House of Lords as Viscount Greenwood. By then Britain could no longer sustain an empire which, in his eyes, had been a cradle for justice, liberty, and development.
The first biography of Hamar Greenwood, MacLaren’s thought-provoking work also illuminates the meaning of liberal imperialism, a significant factor in political thinking and policy formation throughout the global empire in Greenwood’s time, which still has resonance today.