From the mid-1860s to 1914 the Irish problem was frequently the prime issue in British politics. Quantatively it absorbed more time and energy than any other question. There was little about Ireland which was not aired at length in the press, in Parliament and at the dinner tables of the British political elite. Fenianism obsessed British minds at the beginning of the period while at the end it seemed all too possible that Irish home rule would spark off the largest civil disruption in the British Isles since the seventeenth century. Throughout the late Victorian and Edwardian eras Ireland never drifted far from political consciousness. The importance of the Irish question in modern British history is undeniable. It remains a staple of schools and university history syllabuses. For many William Gladstone's long career, most of which had little connection with Ireland, was bound up with his mission to pacify the Emerald Isle.