By Fintan Lane (eds.)
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Extra resources for Politics, Society and the Middle Class in Modern Ireland
15–19. In addition, an annual William Thompson Weekend conference was held in Cork city between 2000 and 2004, and a paper on Thompson delivered at the ﬁrst of these gatherings by the literary theorist Terry Eagleton was published subsequently: Terry Eagleton, ‘The radicalism of William Thompson’, Irish Review, vol. 26 (autumn 2000), pp. 80–8. The present chapter has its origins in a paper on Thompson’s local context that I delivered at the same conference. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1963), pp.
30 In short, Thompson’s family, like many mercantile families in Cork, proﬁted, either directly or indirectly, from the foreign wars in which Britain engaged between 1775 and 1815. 32 This is where William grew up and later spent much of his adult life. No. 33 In later years, John moved across the river to the quieter and leaﬁer Windmill Hill (now Richmond Hill) on the northern slopes of the city, leaving the Patrick Street residence to his son. Fintan Lane 29 Unfortunately, we know almost nothing of William Thompson’s childhood and family life – his mother’s name, for instance, remains a mystery – but we do know that he had two sisters, Lydia and Sarah.
His response to the class-based inequities of contemporary society was complex and unusual. Deﬁning the middle class More than a few published pieces on William Thompson begin by describing him as a landlord from Rosscarbery in rural County Cork; this is an image that obfuscates the important reality that he was an urban working merchant for perhaps 20 years of his life and that he came from a mercantile background. However, it does pose a twofold question about Thompson’s class position: was he middle class, upper middle class, landed upper class, or something else, and does it matter?