D. D. Sheehan, Ireland Since Parnell (1921)

Chapters VI-IX

VI
VII
VIII
IX
Towards Light and Leading
Forces of Regeneration and Their Effect
The Birth of a Movement and What It Came to
The Land Question and Its Settlement

 

Chapter VI: Towards Light and Leading
Whilst the slow corruption of the Party had been going on in Ireland, the cause of Home Rule had been going down to inevitable ruin. The warnings on which Parnell founded his refusal to be expelled from the leadership by dictation from England were more than justified in the event. And later circumstances only too bitterly confirmed it, that any blind dependence upon the Liberal Party was to be paid for in disappointment, if not in positive betrayal of Irish interests. A Tory Party had now come into power with a large majority, and the people were treated alternately or concurrently to doses of coercion and proposals initiated with the avowed object of killing Home Rule with kindness. This had been the declared policy of Mr Arthur Balfour when his attempt to inaugurate his uncle Lord Salisbury’s policy of twenty years of resolute government had failed, and when, with considerable constructive foresight, he established the Congested Districts Board in 1891 as a sort of opposition show - and not too unsuccessful at that - to the Plan of Campaign and the Home Rule agitation.

With the developments that followed the Irish Party had practically no connection. They were neither their authors nor instruments, though they had the sublime audacity in a later generation to claim to be the legitimate inheritors of all these accomplishments. Mr Dillon had now arrived at the summit of his Parliamentary ambition - he was the leader of “the majority” Party, but his success seemed to bring him no comfort, and certainly discovered no golden vein of statesmanship in his composition. The quarrels and recriminations of the three sectional organisations - the National Federation of the Dillonites, the National League of the Parnellites, and the People’s Rights Association of the Healyites - continued unabated. But beyond the capacity for vulgar abuse they possessed none other. Parliamentarianism was dying on its legs and constitutionalism appeared to have received its death-blow. The country had lost all respect for its “Members,” and young and old were sick unto death of a movement which offered no immediate prospects of action and no hope for the future. A generation of sceptics and scoffers was being created, and even if the idealists, who are always to be found in large number in Ireland, still remained unconquerable in their faith that a resurgent and regenerated Ireland must arise some time, and somehow, they were remarkably silent in the expression of their convictions. Mr William O’Brien thus describes the unspeakable depths to which the Party had fallen in those days:

“The invariable last word to all our consultations was the pathetic one, ‘Give me a fund and I see my way to doing anything.’ And so we had travelled drearily for years in the vicious circle that there could be no creative energy in the Party without funds, and that there could be no possibility for funds for a party thus ingloriously inactive. Although myself removed from Parliament my aid had been constantly invoked by Mr Dillon on the eve of any important meeting of the Party in London, or of the Council of the National Federation in Dublin, for there was not one of them that was not haunted by the anticipation of some surprise from Mr Healy’s fertile ingenuity. There is an unutterable discomfort in the recollections of the invariable course of procedure on these occasions - first, the dozens of beseeching letters to be written to our friends, imploring their attendance at meetings at which, if Mr Healy found us in full strength, all was uneventful and they had an expensive journey for their pains; next, the consultations far into the night preceding every trial of strength; the painful ticking off, man by man, of the friends, foes, and doubtfuls on the Party list, the careful collection of information as to the latest frame of mind of this or that man of the four or five waverers who might turn the scale; the resolution, after endless debates, to take strong action to force the Party to a manful choice at long last between Mr Dillon and his tormentors, and to give somebody or anybody authority enough to effect something; and then almost invariably the next day the discovery that all the labour had been wasted and the strong action resolved upon had been dropped in deference to some drivelling hesitation of some of the four or five doubtfuls who had become de facto the real leaders of the Party.”

I venture to say that a confession of more amazing impotency, indecision and inefficiency it would be impossible to make. It brings before the mind as nothing else could the utter degradation of a Party which only a few brief years before was the terror of the British Parliament and the pride of the Irish race.

One occasion there was between the Parnell Split and the subsequent reunion in 1900 when the warring factions might have been induced to compose their differences and to reform their ranks. A Convention of the Irish Race was summoned in 1906 which was carefully organised and which in its character and representative authority was in every way a very unique and remarkable gathering. I attended it myself in my journalistic capacity, and I was deeply impressed by the fact that here was an assembly which might very well mark the opening of a fresh epoch in Irish history, for there had come together for counsel and deliberation men from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland, the Argentine, as well as from all parts of Great Britain and Ireland - men who, by reason of their eminence, public worth, sympathies and patriotism, were calculated to give a new direction and an inspiring stimulus to the Irish Movement. They were men lifted high above the passions and rivalries which had wrought distraction and division amongst the people at home, and it needs no great argument to show what a powerful and impartial tribunal they might have been made into for the restoration of peace and the re-establishment of a new order in Irish political affairs. But this great opportunity was lost. The factions had not yet fought themselves to a standstill. Mr Redmond and Mr Healy resisted the most pressing entreaties of the American and Australian delegates to join the Convention, and, beyond a series of laudable speeches and resolutions, a Convention which might have been constituted the happy harbinger of unity left no enduring mark on the life of the people or the fate of parties.

When Mr Gerald Balfour became Chief Secretary for Ireland after the Home Rule debacle of 1895 he determined to continue the policy, inaugurated by his more famous brother, of appeasement by considerable internal reforms, which have made his administration for ever memorable. There have ever been in Irish life certain narrow coteries of thought which believed that with every advance of prosperity secured by the people, and every step taken by them in individual independence, there would be a corresponding weakness in their desire and demand for a full measure of national freedom. A more fatal or foolish conviction there could not be. The whole history of nations and peoples battling for the right is against it. The more a people get upon their feet, the more they secure a grip upon themselves and their inheritance, the more they are established in security and well-being, the more earnestly, indefatigably and unalterably are they determined to get all that is due to them. They will make every height they attain a fortress from which to fight for the ultimate pinnacle of their rights. The more prosperous they become, the better are they able to demand that the complete parchments and title-deeds of their liberty and independence shall be engrossed. Hence the broader-minded type of Irish Nationalist saw nothing to fear from Mr Balfour’s attempts to improve the material condition of the people. Unfortunately for his reputation, Mr Dillon always uniformly opposed any proposals which were calculated to take the yoke of landlordism from off the necks of the farmers. He seemed to think that a settlement of the Land and National questions should go hand in hand, for the reason that if the Land Question were once disposed of the farmers would then settle down to a quiescent existence and have no further interest in the national struggle.

Accordingly Mr Balfour’s good intentions were fought and frustrated from two opposing sources. His Land Act of 1906 and his Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, were furiously opposed by the Irish Unionists and the Dillonites alike. The Land Bill was by no means a heroic measure, and made no serious effort to deal with the land problem in a big or comprehensive fashion. The Local Government Bill, on the other hand, was a most far-reaching measure, one of national scope and importance, full of the most tremendous opportunities and possibilities, and how any Irish leader in his senses could have been so short-sighted as to oppose it will for ever remain one of the mysteries of political life. This Bill broke for ever the back of landlord power in Irish administration. It gave into the hands of the people for the first time the absolute control of their own local affairs. It enfranchised the workers in town and country, enabling them to vote for the man of their choice at all local elections. It put an end to the pernicious power of the landed gentry, who hitherto raised the rates for all local services, dispersed patronage and were guilty of many misdeeds and malversations, as well of being prolific in every conceivable form of abuse which a rotten and corrupt system could lend itself to. To this the Local Government Act of 1898 put a violent and abrupt end. The Grand Juries and the Presentment Sessions were abolished. Elected Councils took their place. The franchise was extended to embrace every householder and even a considerable body of women. It was the exit of “the garrison” and the entrance of the people - the triumph of the democratic principle and the end of aristocratic power in local life.

Next to the grant of Home Rule there could not be a more remarkable concession to popular right and feeling. Yet Mr Dillon had to find fault with it because its provisions, to use his own words, included “blackmail to the landlords” and arranged for “a flagitious waste of public funds” - the foundation on which these charges rested being that, following an unvarying tradition, the Unionist Government bribed the landlords into acceptance of the Bill by relieving them of half their payment for Poor Rate, whilst it gave a corresponding relief of half the County Dues to the tenants. He also ventured the prediction, easily falsified in the results, that the tenants’ portion of the rate relief would be transferred to the landlords in the shape of increased rents. As a matter of fact, the second term judicial rents, subsequently fixed, were down by an average of 22 per cent.

Mr Redmond, wiser than Mr Dillon, saw that the Bill had magnificent possibilities; he welcomed it, and he promised that the influence of his friends and himself would be directed to obtain for the principles it contained a fair and successful working. But, with a surprising lack of political acumen, he likewise expressed his determination to preserve in the new councils the presence and power of the landlord and ex-officio element. This was, in the circumstances, with the Land Question unsettled and landlordism still an insidious power, a rather gratuitous surrender to the privileged classes.

Before the Local Government Act was sent on its heaven-born mission of national amelioration another considerable happening had taken place: the Financial Relations Commission appointed to inquire into the financial relations between Ireland and Great Britain having tendered its report in 1896. Financial experts had long contended that Ireland was grievously overtaxed, and that there could be no just dealing between the two countries until the amount of this overtaxation was accurately and scientifically ascertained and a proper balance drawn. It was provided in the Act of Union that the two countries should retain their separate budgets and should each remain charged with their respective past debts, and a relative proportion of contribution to Imperial expenses was fixed. But the British Parliament did not long respect this provision. In 1817 it decreed a financial union between the two countries, amalgamated their budgets and exchequers, and ordered that henceforth all the receipts and expenditure of the United Kingdom should be consolidated into one single fund, which was henceforward to be known as the Consolidated Fund. It was not long before we had cumulative examples of the truth of Dr Johnson’s dictum that England would unite with us only that she may rob us. Successive English chancellors imposed additional burdens upon our poor and impoverished country, until it was in truth almost taxed out of existence. The weakest points in the Gladstonian Home Rule Bills were admittedly those dealing with finance.

The publication of the report of the Financial Relations Commission, which had been taking evidence for two years, created a formidable outcry in Ireland. We had long protested against our taxes being levied by an external power; now we knew also that we were being robbed of very large amounts annually. The Joint Report of the Commission, signed by eleven out of thirteen members, decided that the Act of Union placed on the shoulders of Ireland a burden impossible for her to bear; that the increase of taxation laid on her in the middle of the nineteenth century could not be justified, and, finally, that the existing taxable capacity of Ireland did not exceed one-twentieth part of that of Great Britain (and was perhaps far less), whereas Ireland paid in taxes one-eleventh of the amount paid by Great Britain. Furthermore, the actual amount taken each year in the shape of overtaxation was variously estimated to be between two and three quarters and three millions. Instantly Ireland was up in arms against this monstrous exaction. For a time the country was roused from its torpor and anything seemed possible. All classes and creeds were united in denouncing the flagrant theft of the nation’s substance by the predominant partner. By force and fraud the Act of Union was passed: by force and fraud we were kept in a state of beggary for well-nigh one hundred years and our poverty flaunted abroad as proof of our idleness and incapacity. What wonder that we felt ourselves outraged and wronged and bullied? Huge demonstrations of protest were held in all parts of the country. These were attended by men of all sects and of every political hue. Nationalist and Unionist, landlord and tenant, Protestant and Catholic stood on the same platform and vied with each other in denunciation of the common robber. At Cork Lord Castletown recalled the Boston Tea riots. At Limerick Lord Dunraven presided at a meeting which was addressed by the Most Rev. Dr O’Dwyer, the Catholic bishop of the diocese, and by Mr John Daly, a Fenian who had spent almost a lifetime in prison to expiate his nationality.

There was a general forgetfulness of quarrels and differences whilst this ferment of truly national indignation lasted. But the cohesive materials were not sound enough to make it a lasting union of the whole people. There were still class fights to be fought to their appointed end, and so the agitation gradually filtered out, and Ireland remains to-day still groaning under the intolerable burden of overtaxation, not lessened, but enormously increased, by a war which Ireland claims was none of her business.

The subsidence of the political fever from 1891 to 1898 was not without its compensations in other directions. Ireland had time to think of other things, to enter into a sort of spiritual retreat - to wonder whether if, after all, politics were everything, whether the exclusive pursuit of them did not mean that other vital factors in the national life were forgotten, and whether the attainment of material ambitions might not be purchased at too great a sacrifice - at the loss of those spiritual and moral forces without which no nation can be either great or good in the best sense. There was much to be done in this direction. The iron of slavery had very nearly entered our souls. Centuries of landlord oppression, of starvation, duplicity and Anglicisation had very nearly destroyed whatever there was of moral virtue and moral worth in our nature. The Irish language - our distinctive badge of nationhood - had almost died upon the lips of the people. The old Gaelic traditions and pastimes were fast fading away. Had these gone we might, indeed, win Home Rule, but we would have lost things immeasurably greater, for “not by bread alone doth man live” - we would have lost that independence of the soul, that moral grandeur, that intellectual distinction, that spiritual strength without which all the charters of liberty which any foreign Parliament could confer would be only so many “scraps of paper,” assuring us it may be of fine clothes and well-filled stomachs and self-satisfied minds, but conferring none of those glories whose shining illumines the dark ways of life and leads us towards that light which surpasseth all understanding.

Thanks to the workings of an inscrutable Providence it was, however, whilst the worst form of political stagnation had settled on the land that other deeper depths were stirring and that the people were of themselves moving towards a truer light and a higher leading.

 

Chapter VII: Forces of Regeneration and Their Effect
“George A. Birmingham” (who in private life is Canon Hannay), in his admirable book, An Irishman Looks at his World, tells us: “The most important educational work in Ireland during the last twenty years has been done independently of universities or schools,” and in this statement I entirely agree with him. And I may add that in this work Canon Hannay himself bore no inconsiderable part. During a political campaign in Mayo in 1910 I had some delightful conversations with Canon Hannay in my hotel at Westport, and his views expressed in the volume from which I quote are only a development of those which he then outlined. Both as to the vexed questions then disturbing North and South Ireland and as to the lines along which national growth ought to take place we had much in common. We agreed that nationality means much more than mere political independence - that it is founded on the character and intellect of the people, that it lives and is expressed in its culture, customs and traditions, in its literature, its songs and its arts. We saw hope for Ireland because she was remaking and remoulding herself from within - the only sure way in which she could work out her eventual salvation, whatever political parties or combinations may come or go.

This process of regeneration took firm root when the parties were exhausting themselves in mournful internal strife. Through the whole of the nineteenth century it had been the malign purpose of England to destroy the spirit of nationality through its control of the schools. Just as in the previous century it sought to reduce Ireland to a state of servitude through the operations of the Penal Laws, so it now sought to continue its malefic purpose by a system of education “so bad that if England had wished to kill Ireland’s soul when she imposed it on the Sister Isle she could not have discovered a better means of doing so” (M. Paul Dubois). And the same authority ascribes the fatalism, the lethargy, the moral inertia and intellectual passivity, the general absence of energy and character which prevailed in Ireland ten or twelve years ago to the fact that England struck at Ireland through her brain and sought to demoralise and ruin the national mind.

Thank God for it that the effort failed, but it failed mainly owing to the fact that a new generation of prophets had arisen in Ireland who saw that in the revival and reform of national education rested the best hope for the future. They recalled the gospel of Thomas Davis and the other noble minds of the Young Ireland era that we needs must educate in order that we may be free. They sought to give form and effect to the splendid ideals of the Young Irelanders. A new spirit was abroad, and not in matters educational alone. The doctrine of self-help and self-reliance was being preached and, what was better, practised.

The Gaelic League, founded in 1893 by a few enthusiastic Irish spirits, was formed to effect an Irish renascence in matters of the mind and spirit. It was non-sectarian and non-political. Its purpose was purely psychological and educational - it sought the preservation of the Irish language from a fast-threatening decay, it encouraged the study of ancient Irish literature and it promoted the cultivation of a modern literature in the Irish language. Its beginnings were modest, and its founders were practically three unknown young men whose only special equipment for leadership of a new movement were boundless enthusiasm and the possession of the scholastic temperament. Douglas Hyde, the son of a Protestant clergyman, dwelt far away in an unimportant parish in Connaught, and, while still a boy, became devoted to the study of the Irish language. Father O’Growney was a product of Maynooth culture, whose love of the Irish tongue became the best part of his nature, and John MacNeill (now so well known as a Sinn Fein leader) was born in Antrim, educated in a Belfast school and acquired his love for Irish in the Aran islands. It is marvellous to consider how the programme of the new League “caught on.” Some movements make their appeal to a class or a cult - to the young, the middle-aged or the old. But the Gaelic League, perhaps because of the very simplicity and directness of its objects, made an appeal to all. It numbered its adherents in every walk of life; it drew its membership from all political parties; it gathered the sects within its folds, and the greatest tribute that can be paid it is that it taught all its disciples a new way of looking at Ireland and gave them a new pride in their country. Ireland became national and independent in a sense it had not learnt before - it realised that “the essential mark of nationhood is the intellectual, social and moral patrimony which the past bequeaths to the present, which, amplified, or at least preserved, the present must bequeath to the future, and that it is this which makes the strength and individuality of a people.”

Its branches spread rapidly throughout Ireland, and the movement was taken up abroad with equal enthusiasm. Irish language classes were organised, Irish history of the native - as distinct from the British - brand was taught. Lessons in dancing and singing were given and the old national airs were revived and became the popular music of the day. It would take too much of my space to recount all the varied activities of the League, all that it did to preserve ancient Irish culture, to make the past live again in the lives of the people, to foster national sports and recreations, to organise Gaelic festivals of the kind that flourished in Ireland’s artistic past, to create an Irish Ireland and to arrest the decadence of manners and the Anglicisation which had almost eaten into the souls of the people and destroyed their true Celtic character. Mr P.H. Pearse truly said of it: “The Gaelic League will be recognised in history as the most revolutionary influence that ever came into Ireland.” It saved the soul of Ireland when it was in imminent danger of being lost, and its triumph was in great measure due to the fact that it held rigidly aloof from the professedly political parties, although it may be said for it that it undoubtedly laid the foundations of that school of thought which made all the later developments of nationality possible. And the amazing thing is that the priest and the parson, the gentry and the middle classes, equally with the peasantry, vied with each other in extending the influence and power of the movement. One of its strongest supporters was a leader of the Belfast Orangemen, the late Dr Kane, who observed that though he was a Unionist and a Protestant he did not forget that he had sprung from the Clan O’Cahan. The stimulation given to national thought and purpose spread in many directions. A new race of Irish priests was being educated on more thoroughly Irish lines, and they went forth to their duties with the inspiration, as it were, of a new call. A crusade was started against emigration, which was fast draining the country of its reserves of brain, brawn and beauty. The dullness of the country-side, an important factor in forcing the young and adventurous abroad, was relieved by the new enthusiasm for Irish games and pastimes and recreations - for the seanchus, the sgoruidheacht, the ceilidhe and the Feiseanna.

In giving to the young especially a new pride in their country and in their own, great and distinctive national heritage, it did a great deal to strengthen the national character and to make it more independent and self-reliant. It started the great work of rooting out the slavery which centuries of dependency and subjection had bred into the marrow of the race. Mr Arthur Griffith has admitted that the present generation could never have effected this work had not Parnell and his generation done their brave labour before them, but considered in themselves the achievements of the Gaelic League can only be described as mighty both in the actual revolution it wrought in the moral, intellectual and spiritual sphere, in the reaction it created against the coarser materialism of imported modes and manners, and in the new spirit which it breathed into the entire people.

Coincident with the foundation of the Gaelic League, other regenerative influences were also at work. These aimed at the economic reconstruction and the industrial development of the country by the inculcation of the principles of self-help, self-reliance and co-operation, and by the wider dissemination of technical instruction and agricultural education. Ireland, by reason, I suppose, of its condition, its arrested development and its psychology, is a country much given to “new movements,” most of which have a very brief existence. They are born but to breathe and then expire. In the ease, however, of the Gaelic League, and the movements for co-operation amongst the farmers, and for technical instruction in the arts and crafts most suitable to the country, these movements were conceived and created strongly to endure. And to the credit of their authors and, be it said also, of the country for whose upliftment and betterment they were intended, they have endured greatly, and greatly fulfilled their purpose.

It is conceded by all who have any knowledge of the subject that the economic decadence of Ireland is not due to any lack of natural resources; neither is it due to insufficiency of capital or absence of workers. It is due to want of initiative, want of enterprise, want of business method, want of confidence, and want of education on the right lines. The education which should have been fashioned to fit the youth of Ireland for a life of work and industry and usefulness in their own land was invented with the express object of making of them “happy English children.” There are possibly a few hundred millions sterling of Irish money, belonging in the main to the farmers and well-to-do shopkeepers, lying idle in Irish banks, and the irony of it is that these savings of the Irish are invested in British enterprises. They help to enrich the British plutocrat and to provide employment for the British worker, whilst the vast natural resources of Ireland remain undeveloped and the cream of Ireland’s productive power, in the shape of its workers, betake themselves to other lands to assist in strengthening the structure and stability of other nations, when they should be engaged in raising the fabric of a prosperous commonwealth at home.

Those, however, who would blame Ireland for its present position of industrial stagnation forget that it was not always thus - they do not bear it in mind that Ireland had a great commercial past, that it had its own mercantile marine doing direct trade with foreign countries, that it had flourishing industries and factories and mills all over the country, but that all these were killed and destroyed and driven out of existence by the cruel trade policy of England, which decreed the death of every Irish industry or manufacture which stood in the way of its own industrial progress.

Those who sought the economic reconstruction of the country had accordingly to contend against a very evil inheritance. The commercial spirit had been destroyed; it should be educated anew. The desire to foster home products and manufactures had ceased to exist; it should be re-born and a patriotic preference for home manufactures instilled into the people. Pride in one’s labour - the very essence of efficiency - had gone out of the country. It should be aroused again. Economic reform should proceed first on educational lines before it could be hoped to establish new industries with any hope of success. The pioneer in this work was the Hon. (now Sir) Horace Plunkett who returned to Ireland after some ranching experiences in the United States and set himself the task of effecting the economic regeneration of rural Ireland by preaching the gospel of self-help and co-operation. It is no part of my purpose to inquire into the secret motives of Sir Horace Plunkett, if he ever had any, or to allege, as a certain writer (M. Paul Dubois) has done, that Sir Horace promoted the movement for economic reform in the hope of reconciling Ireland to the Union and to Imperialism. I may lament it, as I do, that Sir Horace, who now believes himself to be the discoverer of Dominion Home Rule, did not raise his voice either for the Agrarian Settlement or for Home Rule during all the years while he was a real power in the country. I am not however going to allow my views on these questions to deflect my judgment from the real merit of the work performed by Sir Horace and his associates in the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, which in the teeth of considerable difficulties and obstacles succeeded in propagating through Ireland the principles of self-help and co-operation.

From the first, the Society had many and powerful enemies, most of the opposition springing from interested and malevolent parties. But there is, perhaps, no man in all the world so quick to see what is really for his advantage as the Irish farmer, and so the movement gradually found favour, and co-operative associations began to be formed in all parts of Ireland. The agricultural labourer has all along regarded the Creamery side of co-operation with absolute dislike. He declares that it is fast denuding the land of labour, that it tends to decrease tillage, and is one of the most active causes of emigration. They say, and there is ocular evidence of the fact, that a donkey and a little boy or girl to drive him to the Creamery now do the work of dairymaids and farm hands. But, whilst this is a criticism justified by existing conditions, it does not mean that co-operation is a thing bad in itself, or that there is anything inherently vicious in it to cause or create the employment of less labour. What it does mean is that the education of the farmer is still far from complete, that he does not yet know how to make the best use of his land, and that he does not till and cultivate it as he ought to make it really fruitful. Besides the Creamery system there are other forms of co-operation which have exercised a most beneficent influence amongst the peasantry. These include agricultural societies for the improvement of the breed of cattle, a number of country banks, mostly of the Raiffeisen type, co-operative associations of rural industries, principally lace, and societies for the sale of eggs and fowls, the dressing of flax, and general agriculture.

A direct outcome of the Co-operative Movement was the creation by Act of Parliament in 1899 of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in Ireland - a Department which, though it possesses many faults of administration and of policy, has nevertheless had a distinctly wholesome influence on Irish life. In relation to the Co-operative Movement the judgment of Mr Dillon was once again signally at fault. He gave it vehement opposition at every point and threw the whole weight of his personal following into the effort to arrest its growth and expansion. Happily, however, the practical good sense of the people saved them from becoming the dupes of parties who had axes of their own, political or personal, to grind, and thus co-operation and self-help have won, in spite of all obstacles and objections, a very fair measure of success.

Meanwhile a remarkable development was taking place in the matter of bringing popular and educative literature within reach of the masses. Public and parish libraries and village halls were widely established. These were supplementary to the greater movements to which reference has been made, but they were indicative of the steady bent of the national mind towards enlightenment and education, and of a desire in all things appertaining to the national life for more and better instruction. Another important movement there was to which little reference is made in publications dealing with the period - namely, the organisation of the town and country labourers for their political and social improvement. It was first known as the Irish Democratic Trade and Labour Federation, but this went to pieces in the general confusion of the Split. It was resurrected subsequently under the title of the Irish Land and Labour Association. I mention it here as an additional instance of the regenerative agencies that were at work in every domain of Irish life, and among all classes, at a time when the politicians were tearing themselves to pieces and providing a Roman holiday for their Saxon friends.

 

Chapter VIII: The Birth of a Movement and What It Came To
Whilst Ireland was thus finding her soul and Mr Gerald Balfour pursuing his beneficent schemes for “killing Home Rule with kindness,” the country had sickened unto death of the “parties” and their disgusting vagaries. Mr William O’Brien, although giving loyal support and, what is more, very material assistance to Mr Dillon and his friends, was not himself a Member of Parliament, but was doing far better work as a citizen, studying, from his quiet retreat on the shores of Clew Bay, the shocking conditions of the Western peasantry, who were compelled to eke out an existence of starvation and misery amid the crags and moors and fastnesses of the west, whilst almost from their very doorsteps there stretched away mile upon mile of the rich green pastures from which their fathers were evicted during the clearances that followed the Great Famine of 1847, and which M. Paul Dubois describes as “the greatest legalised crime that humanity has ever accomplished against humanity.”

“To look over the fence of the famine-stricken village and see the rich green solitudes, which might yield full and plenty, spread out at the very doorsteps of the ragged and hungry peasants, was to fill a stranger with a sacred rage and make it an unshirkable duty to strive towards undoing the unnatural divorce between the people and the land” (William O’Brien in an Olive Branch in Ireland).

Mr Arthur Balfour had established the Congested Districts Board in 1891 to deal with the Western problem, where “the beasts have eaten up the men,” and when Mr O’Brien settled down at Mallow Cottage he devoted himself energetically to assisting the Board in various projects of local development. But his experiences proved that these minor reforms were at the best only palliatives, “sending men ruffles who wanted shirts,” and that there could be only one really satisfactory solution - to restore to the people the land that had been theirs in bygone time, to root out the bullocks and the sheep and to root in the people into their ancient inheritance. It was only after years of patient effort that he at last succeeded in persuading the Congested Districts Board to make its first experiment in land purchase for the purpose of enlarging the people’s holdings and making them the owners of their own fields.[1] The scene was Clare Island, “the romantic dominion of Granya Uaile, the ‘Queen of Men,’” who for many years brought Elizabeth’s best captains to grief among her wild islands. The lordship of this island of 3949 acres, with its ninety-five families, had passed into the hands of a land-jobber, “with bowels of iron,” who sought to extract his cent. per cent. from the unfortunate islanders by a series of police expeditions in a gunboat, with a crop of resulting evictions, bayonet charges and imprisonments.

The result of the experiment was, beyond expectation, happy. After many delays the Congested Districts Board handed over the island to its new peasant proprietors, now secure for ever more in their own homesteads, but this transfer was not completed until the Archbishop of Tuam and Mr O’Brien had guaranteed the payment of the purchase instalments for the first seven years - a guarantee which to the islanders’ immortal credit never cost the guarantors a farthing.

Fired to enthusiasm by the success of this experiment Mr O’Brien conceived the idea of a virile agitation for the replantation of the whole of Connaught, so that the people should be transplanted from their starvation plots to the abundant green patrimony around them. He avows that no political objects entered into his first conceptions of this movement in the West. But the approach of the centenary of the insurrection of 1798, with its inspiring memories of the United Irishmen, furnished him with the idea, and the happy title for a new organisation which, in his own words, “drawing an irresistible strength and reality from the conditions in the West, would also throw open to the free air of a new national spirit those caverns and tabernacles of faction in which good men of all political persuasions had been suffocating for the previous eight years.” Accordingly the United Irish League was born into the world at Westport on the 16th January 1898, to achieve results which, if they be not greater - though great, indeed, they are - the fault assuredly rests not with the founder of the League, but with those others who malevolently thwarted his purposes. The occasion was opportune. The three several movements of the Dillonites, Redmondites and Healyites were in ruins, and Ireland went its way unheeding of them. The young men were busy with their ‘98 and Wolfe Tone Clubs. They drank deep of the doctrines of a heroic age. Centenary celebrations were held throughout the country, at which men were exhorted to study the history of an era when men were proud to die for the land they loved. For a space we listened to the martial music of other days, and our hearts throbbed to its stirring notes. The soul of the nation was uplifted above the squalid rivalries of the “’ites” and the “’isms.” It awaited a unifying influence and a programme which would disregard the factions and leave a wide-open door for all Nationalists to come in, no matter what sides they had previously taken or whether they had taken any at all.

This wide-open door and this broad-based programme the United Irish League offered. Mr Dillon attended the inaugural meeting, but from what Mr O’Brien tells us he did not seem to grasp the full potentialities of the occasion, “and he made his own speech without any indication that any unusual results were expected to follow.” Mr Timothy Harrington, one of the leading and most levelheaded of the Parnellite members, also attended, in defiance of bitter attack from his own side, showing a moral courage sadly lacking in our public men, either then or later. By what I cannot help thinking was a most fortuitous circumstance for the League, at a moment when its existence was not known outside three or four parishes, Mr Gerald Balfour determined to swoop down upon it and to crush it with the whole might of the Crown forces. Two Resident Magistrates and the Assistant Inspector-General of Constabulary, with a small army corps of special police, were sent to Westport. Result - the inevitable conflict between the police and people took place, prosecutions followed, extra police taxes were put on and a store of popular resentment was aroused, the League getting an advertisement which was worth scores of organisers and monster meetings. I am myself satisfied that it was the ferocity of the Crown attack upon the League which gave it its surest passport to popular favour. Whilst the United Irish League was struggling into life in the west I was engaged in the south in an attempt to lead the labourers out of the bondage and misery that encompassed them - their own sad legacy of generations of servitude and subjection - but I am nevertheless pleased to recall now that, as the editor of a not unimportant provincial newspaper in Cork, I followed the early struggles of the new League with sympathy and gave it cordial welcome when it travelled our way.

As a mere statement of indisputable fact, it is but just to say that the entire burden of organising the League fell upon the shoulders of Mr O’Brien. When it was yet an infant, so to speak, in swaddling-clothes, and indeed for long after, when it grew to lustier life, he had to bear the whole brunt of the battle for its existence, without any political party to support him, without any great newspaper to espouse his cause and without any public funds to supply campaign expenses. Nay, far worse, he had to face the bitter hostility of the Redmondites and Healyites “and the scarcely less depressing neutrality” of the Dillonites, whilst under an incessant fire of shot and shell from a Coercion Government. After Mr Dillon’s one appearance at Westport he was not seen on the League platform for many a day. At Westport he had exhorted the crowd to “be ready at the call of their captain by day or night,” but having delivered this incitement he left to others the duty of facing the consequences, candidly declaring that he had made up his mind never to go to jail again. Mr Harrington, however, remained the steadfast friend of the League, and Mr Davitt also gave it his personal benediction, all the more generous and praiseworthy in that his views of national policy seldom agreed with those of Mr O’Brien. Confounding all predictions of its early eclipse, and notwithstanding a thousand difficulties and discouragements, the League continued to make headway, and after eighteen months’ Herculean labours Mr O’Brien and his friends were in a position to summon a Provincial Convention at Claremorris, in the autumn of 1899, to settle the constitution of the organisation for Connaught. Two nights before the Convention Mr Dillon and Mr Davitt visited Mr O’Brien at Mallow Cottage to discuss his draft Constitution. It is instructive, having in mind what has happened since, that Mr Dillon took exception to the very first clause, defining the national claim to be “the largest measure of national self-government which circumstances may put it in our power to obtain.” This was the logical continuance of Parnell’s position that no man had a right to set bounds to the march of a nation, but Mr Dillon seemed to have descried in it some sinister purpose on the part of Mr O’Brien and Mr Davitt to abandon the constitutional Home Rule demand in the interest of the physical force movement. Eventually a compromise was agreed on, but in regard to other points of the Constitution - particularly that which made the constituencies autonomous and self-governing - Mr Dillon was obstinately opposed to democratic innovation. It would appear to me that in these days was sown the seeds of those differences of opinion between those close friends of many years’ standing which were later to develop into a feeling of personal hostility which, on the part of one of them (Mr Dillon) at least, was black and bitter in its unforgivingness. The Claremorris Convention was such a success its “dimensions and character almost took my own breath away with wonder; all other feelings vanished from the minds of us all except one of thankfulness and rapture in presence of this incredible spectacle of the foes of ten years’ bitter wars now marching all one way ‘in mutual and beseeming ranks,’ radiant with the life and hope of a national resurgence” (Mr O’Brien).

The first test of the strength and power of the League was shortly to come. Mr Davitt resigned his seat for South Mayo and proceeded to South Africa to give what aid he could to the Boers in their desperate struggle for freedom. A peculiar situation arose over the Parliamentary vacancy that was thus created. The enemies of the United Irish League hit upon the astute political device of nominating Major M’Bride, himself a Mayo man, who was at the moment fighting in the ranks of the Irish Brigade in the Boer service. Mr O’Brien was naturally confronted with a cruel dilemma. To allow the seat to go uncontested was to confess a failure and to give joy to another brigade - the Crowbar Brigade - who wished for nothing better than the early overthrow of the League, which was the only serious menace to their power in the country. To contest the seat was to have the accusation hurled at his head that he was lacking in enthusiasm for the Boer cause, which Nationalist Ireland to a man devotedly espoused. The question Mr O’Brien had to ask himself was what was his duty to Ireland and to the oppressed peasantry of the West. It could not affect the Boer cause by a hair’s-breadth who was to be future member for South Mayo, but it meant everything to Irish interests whether the United Irish League was to make headway and to gain a grip on the imagination and sympathies of the people. And, influenced by the only consideration which could be decisive in a situation of such difficulty, Mr O’Brien offered to the electors of South Mayo Mr John O’Donnell, the first secretary and organiser of the League, who was then lying in Castlebar Jail as the result of a Coercion prosecution. After a contest, in which all the odds seemed to lie on the side of the South African candidate, Mr O’Donnell was returned by an overwhelming majority.

The South Mayo election meant the end of one chapter of Irish history and the opening of another in which the political imbecility and madness which had distorted and disgraced the years since the Parnell Split could no longer continue their vicious courses. The return of Mr O’Donnell had focussed the attention of all Ireland on the programme and policy of the League. Branches multiplied amazingly, until it would be no exaggeration to say that they spread through the country like wildfire. The heather was ablaze with the joy of a resurgent people who had already almost forgotten the weary wars that had sundered them and who blissfully joined hands in one more grand united endeavour for the old land.

Having in several pitched battles defeated the forces of the Rent-offices and the politicians and disposed of some of the vilest conspiracies which the police emissaries of the Castle could hatch against it, the League had to engage in more desperate encounters before it could claim its cause won. I have already remarked that when the Local Government Bill was receiving the benediction of all parties in Parliament, except Mr Dillon, Mr Redmond promised that his influence would be extended to an effort to return the landlord and ascendancy class to the new Councils. The United Irish League determined to take issue with him on this. When the elections under the new Act were announced, Mr Redmond, honestly enough, proceeded to give effect to his promise. Mr O’Brien decided, and very rightly and properly in my judgment, that it would be a fatal policy, and a weak one, to surrender to the enemy, whilst he was still unconquered and unrepentant, any of those new Councils which could be made citadels of national strength and a new fighting arm of the constitutional movement. It meant that having driven the landlords forth from the fortresses from which they had so long oppressed the people, they should be immediately readmitted to them, having made no submissions and given no guarantees as to their future good behaviour. Mr Redmond and his followers made brave appeal from the landlord platforms to their supporters “not to be bitten by the Unity dog.” Mr Healy’s newspaper and influence took a similar bent. Mr Dillon’s majority, as usual helpless and indecisive, promulgated no particular policy. For Mr O’Brien and the United Irish League there could be no such balancings or doubts. It is good also to be able to say of Mr Davitt that he assisted in fighting the insidious attempt to denationalize the County and District Councils. The League and its supporters won all along the line. The few reverses they sustained were negligible when compared with the mighty victories they obtained all over Ireland, and when the elections were over the League was established in an impregnable position as the organisation of disinterested and genuine nationality.

The Parliamentarians, seeing how matters stood, and no doubt with a wise thought of their own future, now proceeded to compose their quarrels. They saw themselves forgotten of the people, but they were resolved apparently that the people should not forget them. They took their cue from a country no longer divided over sombre futilities, and unable to make up their minds for themselves they accepted the judgment of the country once they were aware that it was irrevocably come to. Mr Dillon after his re-election to the chair of his section in 1900 immediately announced his resignation of the office, and being, as we are assured on the authority of Mr O’Brien, always sincerely solicitous for peace with the Parnellites, he caused a resolution to be passed binding the majority party in case of reunion to elect as their chairman a member of the Parnellite Party, which numbered merely nine.

Naturally Mr Redmond and his friends did not hesitate to close with this piece of good fortune, which opened an honourable passage from a position of comparative isolation to one of triumph and power. The Healyites, whose quarrel appeared to be wholly with Mr Dillon, to whom Mr Healy in sardonic mood had attached the sobriquet of “a melancholy humbug,” made no difficulty about falling in with the new arrangement, and the three parties forthwith met and signed and sealed a pact for reunification without the country in the least expecting it or, indeed, caring about it. Probably the near approach of a General Election had more to do with this hastily-made pact than any of the nobler promptings of patriotism. I believe myself the country would have done much better had the United Irish League gone on with its own blessed work of appeasement and national healing unhampered by what, as after knowledge conclusively proved to me, was nothing but a hypocritical unity for selfish salvation’s sake. Mr O’Brien puts the whole position in a nutshell when he says: “The Party was reunified rather than reformed.” The treaty of peace they entered into was a treaty to preserve their own vested interests in their Parliamentary seats.

But a generous and forgiving nation was only too delighted to have an end of the bickerings and divisions which had wrought such harm to the cause of the people, and accordingly it hailed with gratification the spectacle of a reunited Irish Party.

It is probable, nevertheless, that had the process of educating the people into a knowledge of their own power gone on a little further the United Irish League would have been able at the General Election to secure a national representation which would more truly reflect national dignity, duty and purpose.

The first result of the Parliamentary treaty was the election of Mr John E. Redmond to the chair. In the circumstances, the majority party having pledged themselves to elect a Parnellite, no other choice was possible. Mr Redmond possessed many of the most eminent qualifications for leadership. He had an unsurpassed knowledge of Parliamentary procedure and seemed intended by nature for a great Parliamentary career. He was uniformly dignified in bearing, had a distinguished presence, a voice of splendid quality, resonant and impressive in tone, and an eloquence that always charmed his hearers. Had he possessed will power and strength of character in any degree corresponding to his other great gifts, there were no heights of leadership to which he might not have reached. As it was, he lacked just that leavening of inflexibility of purpose and principle which was required for positive greatness as distinct from moderately-successful leadership. At any rate, he was the only possible selection, yet once again Mr Dillon exhibited a disposition to show the cloven hoof. For some inscrutable reason he made up his mind to oppose Mr Redmond’s election to the chair, but when Mr O’Brien and Mr Davitt (who had returned from the Transvaal) got word of the plot they wired urgent messages to their friends in Parliament that Mr Redmond’s selection was the only one that could give the leadership anything better than a farcical character. Result - Mr Redmond was elected by a very considerable majority, and Mr Dillon had further reason for having his knife in his former friend and comrade, Mr O’Brien.

The three sectional organisations - the National Federation, the National League and the People’s Rights Association thereafter died a natural death. There were no ceremonial obsequies and none to sing their requiem.

The first National Convention of the reunited country was then summoned by a joint committee consisting of representatives of the United Irish League and the Party in equal numbers, and it gave the League a constitution which made it possible for the constituencies to control the organisation, to select their own Parliamentary representatives and generally to direct national affairs within their borders. The conception of the Constitution was sound and democratic. But in any organisation it is not the constitution that counts, but the men who control the movement. And the time came all too soon when this was sadly true of the United Irish League.

Notes
1] To Dr Robert Ambrose belongs the credit for having first introduced, as a private member, in 1897, a Bill to confer upon the Congested Districts compulsory powers for land purchase. This was subsequently adopted as an Irish Party measure. Dr Ambrose was also the author of a measure empowering the County Councils to acquire waste lands for reclamation. He was one of the pioneers of the Industrial Development Movement and wrote and lectured largely on the subject. He was, with the late Bishop Clancy, prominent in promoting “the All-Red Route,” which would have given Ireland a great terminal port on its western coast at Blacksod Bay. He, at considerable professional sacrifice, entered the Party, at the request of Mr Dillon and Mr O’Brien, as Member for West Mayo. The reward he received for all his patriotic services was to find himself opposed in 1910 by the Dillonite caucus because of his independent action on Irish questions. Mr Dillon had no toleration for the person of independent mind, and thus a man who had given distinguished service to public causes was ruthlessly driven out of public life.

 

Chapter IX: The Land Question and Its Settlement
The General Election of 1900 witnessed a wonderful revival of national interest in Ireland. Doubtless if the constituencies had been left to their own devices they would have returned members responsive to the magnificent resolves of the people. But the Parliamentarians were astute manipulators of the political machine: they had for the most part wormed themselves into the good graces of the local leaders, and arranged for their own re-election when the time came. But there was nevertheless a considerable leavening of new members - young, enthusiastic and uncontaminated by the feuds and paltry personalities of an older generation. They brought, as it were, a whiff of the free, democratic air of the country to Parliament with them, and gave an example of fine unselfishness and devotion to duty which did not fail to have their influence on their elder and more cynical brethren. The feud between the Dillonites and Healyites had not, however, been ended with the general treaty of peace. Mr Redmond did not want Mr Healy fought, but in the interests of internal peace Mr Dillon, Mr Davitt and Mr O’Brien appear to have come to the conclusion that they could not have Mr Healy in the new Party. Accordingly, Mr Healy and his friends were fought wherever they allowed themselves to be nominated, and Mr Healy himself was the only one to survive after a desperate contest full of exciting incidents in North Louth.

I made my first bid for Parliamentary honours in the 1900 election, when I had my name put forward as Labour candidate at the South Cork convention. I was not very strongly supported then, but the following May, on the death of Dr Tanner, I was nominated again as Labour candidate for Mid-Cork, and after a memorable tussle at the Divisional Convention I headed the poll by a substantial majority. Hence I write from now onward with what I may claim to be an intimate inside knowledge of affairs.

The first few years after the 1900 election saw us a solidly united opposition in Parliament for the first time for ten years. Question time was a positive joy to us younger members, who developed almost diabolical capacity for heckling Ministers on every conceivable topic under the sun. Our hostility to the Boer War also brought us into perennial conflict with the Government. The Irish members in a very literal sense once more occupied “the floor of the House,” and there were some fierce passages-at-arms, resulting on one occasion in the forcible ejection of a large body of Nationalists by the police - an incident which had no relish for those who were jealous of the prestige and fair fame of the Mother of Parliaments. In Ireland the fight for constitutional reform went on with unabated energy. All the old engines of oppression and repression were at work, and the people proved that they had lost none of their wit or resource in the struggle with the forces of the Crown. Mr George Wyndham, whom I like to look back upon as one of the most courtly and graceful figures in the public life of the past generation, was installed in Dublin Castle as Chief Secretary. I can imagine that nothing could have been more distasteful to his generous spirit than to be obliged to use the hackneyed weapons of brute force in the pursuance of British policy. As an answer to the agitation for compulsory land purchase and a settlement of the western problem Mr Wyndham introduced in 1902 a Land Purchase Bill which fell deplorably short of the necessities of the situation. It would have deprived the tenants of all free will in the matter of the price they would be obliged to sell at, and left them wholly at the mercy of two landlord nominees on the Estates Commissioners, whilst it did not even pretend to find any remedy for the two most crying national scandals of the western “congests” and the homeless evicted tenants. No doubt there were many good and well-meaning men in the Party, and out of it, who thought this Bill should have been accepted as “an instalment of justice.” But there are times when to be moderate is to be criminally weak, and this was one of them. It is as certain as anything in life or politics can be that if the Bill of 1902 had been accepted, the Irish tenants would be still going gaily on under the old rent-paying conditions. The United Irish League was still in the first blush of its pristine vigour, and when the delegates of the National Directory came up from the country to Dublin they soon showed the mettle they were made of. They wanted no paltry compromises, and it was then and there decided to enter upon a virile campaign against rack-renters, grazing monopolists and land-grabbers such as would convince the Government in a single winter how grossly they had under-estimated the requirements of the country.

Some of the older men of the Party were pessimistic about the new campaign. Messrs Dillon, Davitt and T.P. O’Connor wrote a letter to Mr O’Brien remonstrating with him, in a tone of gentle courtesy, on the extreme character of his speeches and actions. But Mr O’Brien was not to be deflected from his purpose by any friendly pipings of this kind. The country was with him. The country was roused to a pitch of passionate resistance to the Wyndham Bill, and the Government, seeing which way the wind blew, and realising that the time for half-measures was past, withdrew their precious Purchase Bill. Then followed a fierce conflict along the old lines. The Government sought to suppress the popular agitation by the usual antiquated methods. Proclamation followed proclamation, until two-thirds of the Irish counties, and the cities of Dublin, Cork and Limerick, were proclaimed under the Coercion Act and the ordinary tribunals of justice abolished. Public meetings were suppressed. The leaders of the people were thrown into prison: at one time no less than ten members of Parliament were in jail. The country was seething with turmoil and discontent and there was no knowing where the matter would end. The landlords, feeling the necessity for counter-action of some kind, organised a Land Trust of £100,000 to prosecute Messrs Redmond, Davitt, Dillon and O’Brien for conspiracy. The United Irish League replied by starting a Defence Fund and arranging that Messrs Redmond, Davitt and Dillon should go to the United States to make an appeal in its support. All the elements of social convulsion were gathering their strength, when an unknown country gentleman wrote a letter to the Irish newspapers dated 2nd September 1902, in the following terms:

“For the last two hundred years the land war in this country has raged fiercely and continuously, bearing in its train stagnation of trade, paralysis of commercial business and enterprise and producing hatred and bitterness between the various sections and classes of the community. To-day the United Irish League is confronted by the Irish Land Trust, and we see both combinations eager and ready to renew the unending conflict. I do not believe there is an Irishman, whatever his political feeling, creed or position, who does not yearn to see a true settlement of the present chaotic, disastrous and ruinous struggle. In the best interests, therefore, of Ireland and my countrymen I beg most earnestly to invite the Duke of Abercorn, Mr John Redmond, M.P., Lord Barrymore, Colonel Saunderson, M.P., the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the O’Conor Don, Mr William O’Brien, M.P., and Mr T. W. Russell, M.P., to a Conference to be held in Dublin within one month from this date. An honest, simple and practical suggestion will be submitted and I am confident that a settlement will be arrived at.”

The country rubbed its eyes to see who it was that had put forward this audacious but not entirely original proposal. (It had been suggested by Archbishop Walsh fifteen years before.) Captain John Shawe-Taylor’s name suggested nothing to the Nationalist leaders. They had never heard of him before. In the landlord camp he stood for nothing and had no authority - he was simply the young son of a Galway squire, with entire unselfishness and boundless patience, who conceived that he had a mission to settle this tremendous problem that had been rendered only the more keen by forty-two Acts of the Imperial Parliament that had been vainly passed for its settlement. It is surely one of the strangest chances of history that where generations of statesmen and parliaments had failed the via media for a final arrangement should have been made by an unknown officer who prosecuted his purpose to such effect that he forced his way into the counsels of the American Clan-na-Gael, and even, as we are told, “beyond the ante-chambers of royalty itself.” It is probable that Captain Shawe-Taylor’s invitation would have been regarded as the usual Press squib had it not been followed two days later by a public communication from Mr Wyndham in the following terms: -

“No Government can settle the Irish Land Question. It must be settled by the parties interested. The extent of useful action on the part of any Government is limited to providing facilities, in so far as that may be possible, for giving effect to any settlement arrived at by the parties. It is not for the Government to express an opinion on the opportuneness of the moment chosen for holding a conference or on the selection of the persons invited to attend. Those who come together will do so on their own initiative and responsibility. Any conference is a step in the right direction if it brings the prospect of a settlement between the parties near, and as far as it enlarges the probable scope of operations under such a settlement.”

This official declaration gave an importance and a significance to Captain Shawe-Taylor’s letter which otherwise would never have attached to it. The confession that “no Government can settle the Irish Land Question” was in itself a most momentous admission. It was the most ample justification of nationalism, which held that a foreign Parliament was incompetent to legislate for Irish affairs, and now the accredited mouthpiece of the Government in Ireland had formally subscribed to this doctrine. This admission was in itself and in its outflowing an event comparable only to Gladstone’s conversion to Home Rule. It amounted to a challenge to Irishmen to prove their competence to settle the most sorely-beset difficulty that afflicted their country. Not only were Irishmen invited to settle this particularly Irish question, but they were given what was practically an official assurance that the Unionist Party would sponsor their agreement, within the limits of reason.

Immediately Captain Shawe-Taylor’s proposal became canvassed of the newspapers and the politicians. Mr Dillon seemed to be sceptical of it, as a transparent landlord dodge. It was, however, enthusiastically welcomed by the Freeman, whilst The Daily Express, the organ of the more unbending of the territorialists, denounced it mercilessly, and no sooner did the Duke of Abercorn, Lord Barrymore, the O’Conor Don and Colonel Saunderson learn that Mr Redmond, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Mr T. W. Russell and Mr O’Brien were willing to join the Conference than they wrote to Captain Shawe-Taylor declining his invitation. The Landowners Convention, the official landlord organisation, also by an overwhelming majority decided against any peace parley with the tenants’ representatives. But the forces in favour of a conference were daily gaining force even amongst the landlord class; whilst on the tenants’ side a meeting of the Irish Catholic Hierarchy, attended by three archbishops and twenty-four bishops, with Cardinal Logue in the chair, cordially approved the Land Conference project and put on record their earnest hope “that all those on whose co-operation the success of this most important movement depends may approach the consideration of it in the spirit of conciliation in which it has been initiated.” The Irish Party, on the motion of Mr Dillon, also unanimously adopted a resolution approving of the action taken by Messrs Redmond, O’Brien and Harrington in expressing their willingness to meet the landlord representatives. The mass of the landlords were so far from submitting to the veto of the Landowners’ Convention that, headed by men of such commanding position and ability as the Earl of Dunraven, Lord Castletown, the Earl of Meath, Lord Powerscourt, the Earl of Mayo, Colonel Hutcheson-Poë and Mr Lindsay Talbot Crosbie, they formed a Conciliation Committee of their own to test the opinion of the landlords over the heads of the Landowners Convention. The plebiscite taken by this Committee more than justified them. By a vote of 1128 to 578 the landlords of Ireland declared themselves in favour of a Conference, and empowered the Conciliation Committee to nominate representatives on their behalf.

Thus the first stage of the struggle for a settlement by consent was victoriously carried.

The next stage was the discussion of the terms upon which the landlords would allow themselves to be expropriated throughout the length and breadth of the land. Here there were, unfortunately, violent divergences of opinion on the tenants’ side. Mr O’Brien postulated, as an essential ingredient of any settlement that could hope for success, that the State should step in with a liberal bonus to bridge over the difference between what the tenants could afford to give and the landlords afford to take. When this proposal was first mooted it was regarded as a counsel of perfection, and Mr O’Brien was looked upon as a genial visionary or a well-meaning optimist. But nobody thought it was a demand that the Government or Parliament would agree to. Happily, however, for the foresight of Mr O’Brien, it was his much-derided bonus scheme which became the very pivot of the Land Conference Report.

Meanwhile events were moving rapidly behind the scenes. It was conveyed to Messrs Redmond, Davitt, Dillon and O’Brien that Mr Wyndham had offered the Under-Secretaryship for Ireland to Sir Antony MacDonnell, who had lately retired from the position of Governor of Bengal. They were told by his brother, Dr Mark Antony MacDonnell, who was one of the Nationalist members, that Sir Antony was hesitating much as to his decision. Sir Antony conveyed that he had made it clear to Mr Wyndham that, as he was an Irish Nationalist and a believer in self-government, he could not think of going to Ireland to administer a Coercion regime, and, further, that he favoured a bold and generous settlement of the University difficulty. Mr Wyndham, it was understood, had given the necessary assurances, and Sir Antony now wished it to be conveyed to the Irish leaders that he would not accept the post against their will or without a certain measure, at least, of benevolent toleration on their part.

All these happenings foreshadowed a joyous transformation of the political scene, to the incalculable advantage of those who had made such a magnificent stand for Irish rights; but the Irish Party was determined that until rumours had crystallised into realities they were going to relax none of their extra-constitutional pressure upon the Government. It was, for instance, resolved to begin the Autumn Session with a resounding protest against Coercion and to carry on the conflict in the country more determinedly than ever.

The just and reasonable demand for a day to debate the administration was unaccountably avoided by the Government, whose reply was that a day would be granted if the demand came from the official Liberal Opposition. The Nationalists could not submit to this degradation of their independent position in Parliament, and when they attempted to secure their end by a motion for the adjournment of the House they found that two Irish Unionists had “blocked” them by placing on the Order Paper certain omnibus resolutions on the state of Ireland. Since the days of Parnellite obstruction such scenes were not witnessed as those that followed. The Party defied all rules of law and order, worried the Government by all sort of lawless interruptions and irrelevant questions, flagrantly flouted the authority of the chair and, finally, after a week of Parliamentary anarchy, it was determined that even more extreme courses would be adopted unless the constitutional right of Ireland to be heard in the Chamber was conceded. Hint of this was conveyed to Mr Speaker Gully, who, regardful of the honour of the House, used his good offices with the Government to such effect that the blocking motions were incontinently withdrawn and the discussion in due course took place.

Whilst these developments were taking place Mr O’Brien had taken every possible precaution to guard himself against any charge of autocracy in the direction of the movement, whether in Parliament or in the country. At the request of his colleagues on the Land Conference he had drafted a Memorandum containing the basis of settlement which would be acceptable to Nationalist opinion. This was submitted to Messrs Redmond, Davitt and Sexton, with an urgent entreaty for their freest criticism or any supplementary suggestions of their own. None of these could, therefore, complain that Mr O’Brien was attempting to do anything over their heads. And impartial judgment will declare that if either Mr Sexton, Mr Dillon or Mr Davitt had views of their own, or had any vital disagreements with Mr O’Brien’s suggestions, now was the time to declare them. Far from committing himself to any dissent, when Mr O’Brien, after a fortnight, wrote to Mr Sexton for the return of his Memorandum, Mr Sexton wrote:

“I have read the Memo. carefully two or three times and now return it to you as you want to use it and have no other copy. It will take some time to look into your proposals with anything like sufficient care. You will hear from me as soon as I think I can say anything that may possibly be of use.”

Be it here noted that Mr Sexton never did communicate, even when he had looked into Mr O’Brien’s proposals “with sufficient care.” Later he waged implacable war on the Land Conference Report and the Land Act from his commanding position as Managing Director of The Freeman’s Journal (the official National organ). He did so in violation of the promise on which the Party had entrusted him with that position, that he would never interfere in its political direction.

Other informal meetings between Sir Antony MacDonnell and the Irish leaders followed, the purpose of Sir Antony being, before he accepted office in the Irish Government, to gather the views of leading Irishmen, especially as to the possibility of a genuine land settlement, which he regarded as the foundation of all else. Subsequently it transpired that Mr Sexton had engaged in some negotiations on his own account with Sir Antony MacDonnell, and it is not improbable that part at least of his quarrel with the Land Conference was that the settlement propounded by it superseded and supplanted his own scheme. Neither Mr O’Brien nor his friends were made aware of these private pourparlers, entered into without any vestige of authority from the Party or its leader, and they only learnt of them casually afterwards. The incident is instructive of how the path of the peacemaker is ever beset with difficulties, even from among his own household.

After surmounting a whole host of obstacles the Land Conference at long last assembled in the Mansion House, Dublin, on 20th December 1902. Mr Redmond submitted the final selection of the tenants’ representatives to a vote of the Irish Party and, with the exception of one member who declined to vote, the choice fell unanimously upon those named in Captain Shawe-Taylor’s letter. Although their findings were subsequently subjected to much embittered attack, no one had any right to impugn their authority, capacity, judgment or intimate knowledge of the tenants’ case.

The landlords’ representatives were also fortunately chosen. The Earl of Dunraven was a man of the most statesmanlike comprehension, whose high patriotic purpose in all the intervening years has won for him an enduring and an honourable place in the history of his country. He strove to imbue his own landlord class with a new vision of their duty and their destiny, and if only a few of the later converts to the national claim of Ireland had supported him when he came forward first, in favour of the policy of national reconciliation, many chapters of tragedy in our national life would never have been written. With a close knowledge of his labours and his personality I can write this of him - that a man more passionately devoted to his country, more sincerely anxious to serve her highest interests, or more intrepid in pursuing the courses and supporting the causes he deems right, does not live. He has been a light in his generation and to his class, and he deserves well of all men who admire a moral courage superior to all the shafts of shallow criticism and a patriotism which undoubtedly seeks the best, as he sees it, for the benefit of his country. And more than this cannot be said of the greatest patriot who ever lived. The Earl of Mayo also brought a fine idealism and high patriotism to the Conference Council Board. He had a genuine enthusiasm for the development of Irish industries and was the moving spirit in the Irish Arts and Crafts Exhibitions. Colonel Hutcheson-Poë, a gallant soldier, who had lost a leg in Kitchener’s Soudan Campaign, a gentleman of sound judgment and excellent sense, was one of the moderating elements in the Conference. Finally, Colonel Nugent Everard represented one of the oldest Anglo-Irish families of the Pale and the author of several projects tending to the betterment of the people. The tenants’ representatives presented a concise list of their own essential requirements as drafted by Mr O’Brien. It was as follows:

Basis - Abolition of Dual Ownership
1. For landlords, net second-term income, less all outgoings.
2. For occupiers, reduction of not less than 20 per cent. in second-term rents or first-term correspondingly reduced. Decennial reductions to be retained.
3. Difference between landlords’ terms and occupiers’ terms to be made up by State bonus and reduced interest with, in addition, purchase money in cash and increased value for resale of mansion and demesne.
4. Complete settlement of evicted tenants’ question an indispensable condition.
5. Special and drastic treatment for all congested districts in the country (as defined by the Bill of 1902).
6. Sales to be between parties or through official commissioners as parties would prefer.
7. Non-judicial and future tenants to be admitted.
8. (Query.) Sporting rights to be a matter of agreement.

I do not propose to go into any detailed account of what transpired at the sittings (six in number) of the Land Conference. All this information is available in Mr O’Brien’s An Olive Branch in Ireland. Suffice it to say that seven out of eight of the tenants’ requirements were conceded outright and the eighth was covered by a compromise which would have enabled any tenant in the country, whether non-judicial or future tenants, to become the proprietor of his own holding on reasonable terms. On 4th January 1903 a unanimous report was published. The country scarcely expected this, and its joy at this ever-memorable achievement was correspondingly greater. It was inconceivable that the landlords should have, in solemn treaty, signed their own death warrant as territorialists, yet this was the amazing deed to which they affixed their sign manual when their four representatives signed the Land Conference Report.

Ever since the first Anglo-Norman set foot in Ireland and began to despoil the ancient clans of their land there has been trouble in connection with the Irish Land Question. The new race of landlords regarded their Irish land purely as a speculation, not as a home; they were in great part absentees, having no aim in Ireland beyond drawing their rents. They had no duties to their tenants in the sense that English landlords have. They had no natural ties with the country and they regarded themselves as free from all the duties or obligations of ownership. They never advanced capital for the improvement of the land or the erection of buildings, and never put a farthing into the cultivation of the soil. The tenant had to do everything out of his own sweat and blood - build his home and out-offices, clean and drain the land, make the fences, lay down the roads and, when he had done all this and made the property more valuable, his rent was raised on him, even beyond the value of the improvements he had effected. Woe to the industrious man, for he was taxed upon his industry! And yet who is not familiar with the foolish and the ignorant tribe of scribblers who, with no knowledge of the facts, prate about “the lazy Irish”? And if they were lazy - which I entirely deny - who made them so? Had they no justification for their “laziness”? Why should they wear their lives out so that a rapacious landlord whom they never saw should live in riotousness and debauchery in the hells of London or the Continent?

“One could count on one’s fingers,” said the Cowper Commission in 1887, “the number of Irish estates on which the improvements have been made by the landlord.” The Irish landlord class never did a thing for Ireland except to drain her of her life-blood - to rob and depopulate and destroy, to make exaction after exaction upon the industry of her peasants, until their wrongs cried aloud for redress, if not for vengeance. In England it was estimated in 1897 that the landlord class had spent in investments in landlord property a sum estimated at £700,000,000. These can justly claim some right in the land. In Ireland the landlord was simply the owner of “the raw earth” - the bare proprietor of the soil, a dead weight upon the industry and honest toil of the tenant, receiving a rent upon the values that the labour and the energy of generations of members of a particular family had created. The Irish landlord and his horde of hangers-on - his agents, his bailiffs, his process-servers, his bog-rangers, his rent-warners - created a system built upon corruption, maintained in tyranny, and enforced with all the ruthless severities of foreign laws enacted solely for the benefit of England’s garrison. “I can imagine no fault,” said Mr Arthur Balfour, speaking as Prime Minister in the House of Commons, 4th May 1903, “attaching to any land system which does not attach to the Irish system.” Evictions in Ireland came to be known as “sentences of death,” so cruel and numerous were they until the popular agitation was strong enough to check them.

Even the Gladstonian legislation of 1881, though it admittedly did something substantial towards redressing the balance between landlord and tenant by securing to the tenants what were known as “the three F.’s “ - viz. Fixity of Tenure, Fair Rent, and Free Sale - yet left the question in a wholly unsettled state. The fixing of fair rents, no doubt, acted as a curb on landlord rapacity, but from the tenants’ point of view it was a wholly vicious, indeterminate and unsatisfactory system. It was incentive to indifferent farming, since the commissioners who had the fixing of rents, and the inspectors who examined the farms, made their valuations upon the farms as they saw them. True, the tenant could claim for his improvements, but in practice this was no real safeguard. The more industrious the tenant the higher the rent - the less industrious and the less capable the lower the figure to be paid.

Hence, after the failure of countless Acts of Parliament, it was borne in upon all earnest land-reformers that there could be only one final and satisfactory solution: that was the abolition of dual ownership - in other words, the buying out of the landlord and the establishment of the tenant in the single and undisputed ownership of the soil on fair and equitable terms. A tentative start had been made in land purchase by the Land Purchase Act of 1885 - called, after its author, the Ashbourne Act. This experiment had proved an immense success, for in six years the ten millions sterling assigned for its operations were exhausted and 25,867 tenants had been turned into owners of their farms.

It became clear that a scheme of purchase which would, within a definite period, root out the last vestige of landlordism was the one only real and true solution for the land problem. And now, blessed day, and glory to the eyes that had lived to see it, and undying honour to the men whose genius and sacrifices had made it possible, the decree had gone forth that end there must be to landlordism. And, wonder of wonders, the landlords themselves had agreed to the fiat decreeing their own extinction as a ruling caste. It was with heartfelt hope and relief, and with the sense of a great victory achieved, that the country received the wondrous news of the success of the Land Conference. The dawn of a glorious promise had broken through the long night of Ireland’s suffering, but the mischief-makers were already at work to see that the noonday sun of happiness did not shine too strongly or too steadily.