Waller, Bolton Charles (1890–1936), journalist, soldier, public servant, peace activist and clergyman, was born on 3 May 1890, the only son of the Reverend Bolton Waller, rector of St Munchin, Limerick, and Jane Dorothea Waller (née Garfit). He had one younger sister, Dorothy Catherine. At his time of birth, the Waller family estate at Castletown Manor, near Pallaskenry, Co. Limerick, was held by his grandfather, Reverend John Thomas Waller. The Wallers were notable for producing clergymen; Bolton was the fourth of his line to take holy orders.
Bolton Waller was educated at Aravon School, Bray, Co. Wicklow, before entering Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in 1908 with the intention of later joining the clergy; he was elected scholar in 1911, took the Brooke Prize in classics in 1912, and the Carson Biblical Prize in 1915, before graduating with a Bachelor of Arts. In October 1912 Waller helped organise student opposition to the Campbell amendment, which proposed exempting TCD from the jurisdiction of the home rule parliament. Two years later he used his inaugural address as president of the University Philosophical Society to argue that home rule was inevitable, at least in the south, to warn against the coercion of Ulster and to urge protestants to engage with Irish self-government. Waller’s politics were conciliatory: he hoped to bring together Irish factions, ensure the unity of Ireland, and wished that protestantism would remain a vigorous force once home rule was introduced.
Following the outbreak of the first world war in 1914, Waller abandoned his divinity studies and volunteered for military service. He took a commission in the Royal Army Service Corps and served in Mesopotamia for four years, where he attained the rank of captain (temporary) and was mentioned in dispatches. His experiences during the war had a lasting effect, ‘to such an extent that on his return to Ireland he determined to devote his time to the cause of peace’ (Irish Times, 29 July 1936). Stationed overseas, Waller was unable to play a direct role in efforts by constitutionalists to bring about an agreed settlement in the aftermath of the Easter rising; however, his pseudonymously published pamphlet, Ireland’s opportunity: a plea for settlement by conference (1916), prefigured the summoning of the Irish Convention in calling for a representative assembly to draw up a constitution for a self-governing Ireland.
Waller moved to London following his demobilisation in 1919, where he continued his work in favour of a moderate settlement to the Irish crisis. He was active in the London branch of the Irish Dominion League, and as secretary of the Peace with Ireland Council he helped publicise British misrule during the war of independence. Partition and the collapse of the moderate political movement was a disappointment; he would devote much of the remainder of his career to conciliation and the unity of Ireland.
Waller became known as an expert on minority rights and the settlement of boundary disputes. In 1922 he was appointed as a researcher at the Irish Free State government’s North-Eastern Boundary Bureau (initially part time though he was quickly employed on a full-time basis), a position he held until 1926. Waller worked towards a solution that would allow for peaceful unification; in 1924, he co-authored a report which recommended that the government should seek an all-Ireland assembly, with the Northern Ireland parliament to continue. In 1923 he produced a cabinet memorandum which argued in favour of Irish Free State membership of the League of Nations, stating that advantages included gaining recognition of the country’s independence, providing a means of protesting aggression by another state, and allowing for an opportunity to influence world affairs and work towards world peace. By the mid-1920s he had become Ireland’s leading expert on, and advocate for, the League. In 1927 he became secretary of the League of Nations Society of Ireland, remaining in post for three years; he also edited Concord, the society’s journal. Waller’s work was also recognised internationally: in 1924 he won the £1,000 Filene Prize for the best proposal for the restoration of peace in Europe, and in 1927 he won the Bok Prize for an essay on the solution to world peace. Waller also developed a journalistic career: from 1924 to 1930 he was a frequent contributor to George Russell’s (Æ) (qv) Irish Statesman and spent four years on the editorial staff of the Church of Ireland Gazette.
Waller believed that protestants should engage more fully with Free State politics. In the June 1927 general election, he contested the Dublin University dáil constituency, arguing that the existing TDs – and other southern protestant representatives – should play a more assertive role. Waller’s candidacy was opposed by the large Ulster unionist or Ulster unionist-sympathetic group among electors, who objected to his work with the Boundary Bureau. In late May 1927 a group of students egged Waller while he addressed a campaign meeting in the TCD Examination Hall. Waller placed fourth in the three-seat constituency, missing out on a seat by a mere eight votes. Undeterred, he continued to argue that protestants should regain their voice in independent Ireland and play a more prominent role in public affairs: ‘timidity is bad both for themselves and for Ireland. Outspokenness is needed, combined with a readiness to join energetically in any effort for the benefit of Ireland’ (Waller, 1928, 68). In 1928 he was a member of a Church of Ireland delegation that met with the minister for justice, James FitzGerald-Kenney (qv), at which he highlighted protestant objections to the Censorship of Publications Bill. His pamphlet, Hibernia, or the future of Ireland advanced his non-sectarian, unifying conception of nationalism. He criticised compulsory Irish on the grounds that it would alienate protestants, and maintained that Northern Ireland could be tempted into a united Ireland but only on the basis of continued Commonwealth membership.
In 1930, at the comparatively advanced age of forty, Waller renewed his divinity studies at TCD. He was ordained a deacon in 1931, and a priest the following year. Initially serving as a curate in Rathmines, in February 1936 he was appointed rector of Clondalkin. While remaining committed to peace activism and the League of Nations, he enjoyed a high profile as a clergyman. Church unity became his principal clerical cause: he chaired the Irish branch of the Friends of Reunion movement, which sought to unite protestant denominations into a single church. He was prominent among the protestant clergymen who criticised the creation of the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake in 1930. Arguing that systematic attempts were being made to convert Irish protestants, his pamphlet The Pope’s claims and why we reject them (1932) refuted catholic doctrine. The Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 was Waller’s last public cause: both in public meetings and in print, he demanded that a stronger line should be taken by the international community.
Waller’s varied career offers a rare example of a protestant home ruler who remained active in the politics of the Free State, and some insight into the reaction of a southern protestant who responded to the trauma of partition by promoting peace, minority rights and the harmonious reunification of the island.
Bolton Waller died in the Adelaide Hospital, Clondalkin, on 28 July 1936, following a brief illness. The Church of Ireland Gazette described him as ‘A man of very wide sympathies, allied to the gift of single-mindedness; it was generally thought that he would be numbered not many years hence among the Bishops of the Church of Ireland’ (31 July 1936). He was memorialised by a festschrift, Looking at Ireland (1937), edited by Margaret Cunningham, and the creation of the Bolton Waller Memorial Trust, which between 1938 and 1950 held seven lectures on the topics of peace and international affairs.