The Galwayman who founded the Tory Party

The Tory Party is often seen as the bastion of British conservatism, unionism, and jingoism, but it actually owe its name, and possibly event its existence, to a Galwegian.

The party, currently led by British prime minister David Cameron, is known as both the Tory Party and as The Conservative Party. The origin for both these names lies in Ireland.

The word Tory comes from the Irish word Tóraí, meaning a pursuer or an outlaw. However the alternative name, The Conservative Party, was first put forward by a Galwayman called John Wilson Croker.

Croker was born in Galway in 1780 and was well known in his time as a satirist, pamphleteer, critic, and lyricist who sat as a Westminster MP for Downpatrick, Athlone, and Dublin University. He also moved in the most influential literary, media, and political circles of the early to mid 19th century.

British statesman Robert Peel is credited with founding the Conservatives in 1834, but the term Conservative Party was first coined by Croker, a close friend of Peel.

Also the principles on which the Conservatives were to be based - non-extremist politics, prudent reform, defence of the constitution - were originally put forward by Croker, along with his Irish friends in the media at the time, such as Dubliner SL Giffard (founder of the Evening Standard ) and Corkonians William Maginn and FS Mahony.

Interestingly, all of them saw these ‘Conservative’ principles as being a very Irish phenomenon, which they saw as stemming from the writings and ideas of their fellow Irishmen Jonathan Swift, Edmund Burke, and Oliver Goldsmith.

Who would have thought that such a perceived bastion of Britishness is not actually British at all, but Irish?

John Wilson Croker will be the subject of a new book by NUI, Galway’s Dr Robert Portsmouth, entitled John Wilson Croker: Irish Ideas and the Invention of Modern Conservatism. It will be published by the Irish Academic Press in October.

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