Chapter XIV: Land and Labour
The history of Ireland, ever since the first Englishman set foot on it with the eye of conquest, centres to a more or less degree around the land. We know how the ancient clans tenaciously clung to their heritage and how ruthlessly they were deprived of it by the Plantations and the Penal Laws and by a series of confiscations, the memory of which even still chills the blood. Conquest, confiscation, eviction, persecution - this was the terrible story of Ireland for seven centuries - and the past century worst of all. At the commencement of the nineteenth century Ireland was extensively cultivated. The land had been parcelled out amongst the people; holdings were multiplied and tenancies for life increased amazingly because it meant a larger rent-roll for the landlord and a great increase in the voting power of his serfs. But there came the Corn Laws, making cultivation unprofitable, and earlier the law of Catholic Emancipation, withdrawing the right of voting from the forty-shilling freeholders, and the crisis was reached when the Great Famine appeared and was followed by the Great Clearances. The Famine lasted for three years, the Clearances endured for over thirty. Houses were demolished, fences levelled, the peasants swept out and the notices to quit kept falling, as the well-known saying of Gladstone expressed it, as thick as snowflakes. Between 1849 and 1860, according to Mulhall, 373,000 Irish families were evicted, numbering just about 2,000,000 in all. I do not think the records of any country, civilised or barbarian, said Sir Robert Peel, ever presented such scenes of horror.
Legislation became necessary to counteract the appalling evils arising from such a state of things. It went on through the years with varying fortune, never providing any real solution of the intolerable relations between landlord and tenant, until the blessed Land Conference pact was sealed and signed and the country finally delivered from the haunting terror of landlordism. Now although the entire population may be said in Ireland to be either directly or indirectly dependent on the land, two classes were absolutely dependent on it for their very livelihood - namely, the farmers and the agricultural labourers. And through all the various agrarian agitations they made united cause against their common enemy, the landlord. There was also in the days of my boyhood a far friendlier relation between the farmers and labourers than unhappily exists at present. Their joint heritage of suffering and hardship had drawn them together in bonds of sympathy and friendship. The farmer often shared, in the bitterness of the winter months, something out of his own stock of necessities with his less fortunate labourer. And before the arrival of the Creameries the daily allowance of the gallon of skimmed milk was made to almost every labourers family in the country by kind-hearted neighbouring farmers. In addition, in a land where few were rich, the ancient proverb held good: The poor always help one another. And it is true that, in the darkest days of their suffering, the farmers and labourers shouldered their troubles and their sorrows in a community of sympathy, which at least lessened their intensity. It is only with the growth of a greater independence among either class that the old friendly bonds and relationships have shown a loosening, and newer and more personal interests have tended to divide them into distinctive bodies, with separate class interests and class programmes.
As a very little boy I remember trudging my way to school with children who knew not what the comfort of boots and stockings was on the coldest winters day; who shivered in insufficient rags and whose gaunt bodies never knew any nourishment save what could be got from Indian meal stir-about (a kind of weak and watery porridge made from maize). And it was not the children of the labourers alone who endured this bleak and starved and sunless childhood; the offspring of the smaller struggling farmers were often as badly off - they were all the progeny of the poor, kept poor and impoverished by landlordism. This further bond of blood and even class relationship also bound the farmers and labourers together - the labourers of to-day were, in countless cases, the farmers of yesterday, whom the Great Clearances had reduced to the lowest form of servitude and who dragged out an existence of appalling wretchedness in sight of their former homes, now, alas, razed to the ground. My mind carries me back to the time when the agricultural labourer in Munster was working for four shillings a week, and trying to rear a family on it! I vowed then that if God ever gave me the chance to do anything for this woe-stricken class I would strive for their betterment, according to the measure of my opportunity. And it happened, in the mysterious workings of Providence, that I was able to battle and plan and accomplish solid work for the amelioration of the labourers lot.
When Mr William OBrien was labouring for the wretched congests in the West and founding the United Irish League to make the great final onslaught on the ramparts of landlordism, a few of us in the South were engaged unpretentiously but earnestly to get houses and allotments for the agricultural labourers, and to provide them with work on the roads during the winter months when they could not labour on the land. Ten years previously we had laid the foundations of what we hoped would be a widespread national movement for the regeneration of the working classes. The founder of that movement was the late Mr P.J. Neilan, of Kanturk, a man of eminent talent and of a great heart that throbbed with sympathy for the sufferings of the workers. I was then a schoolboy, with a youthful yearning of my own towards the poor and the needy, and I joined the new movement. Two others - the one John D. OShea, a local painter, and the other John L. OShea, a carman (the similarity of their names often led to amusing mistakes) - with some humble town workers, formed the working vanguard of the new movement, what I might term a sort of apostolate of rural democracy. Our organisation was first known as the Kanturk Trade and Labour Association. As we carried our flag, audaciously enough, as it seemed in those days, to neighbouring villages and towns, we enlarged our title, and now came to be known as the Duhallow Trade and Labour Association. I was then trying some prentice flights in journalism and I managed to get reports of our meetings into the Cork Press, with the result that demands for our evangelistic services began to flow in upon us from Kerry and Limerick and Tipperary. But, even as we grew and waxed stronger we still, with rather jealous exclusiveness, called ourselves the parent branch in Kanturk. We are, by the way, a very proud people down there, proud of our old town and our old barony, which has produced some names distinguished in Irish history, such as John Philpot Curran, Barry Yelverton and the adored fiancée of Robert Emmet.
In time we interested Michael Davitt in our movement, and we achieved the glorious summit of our ambitions when we got him to preside at a great Convention of our Labour branches in Cork, where we formally launched the movement on a national basis under the title of the Irish Democratic Trade and Labour Federation. The credit of this achievement was altogether and entirely due to Mr Neilan, who had founded the movement, watched over its progress, addressed its meetings, framed its programme and carried it triumphantly to this stage of success. Unfortunately, when all seemed favourable for the spread of the movement, though not in opposition to the National League but as a sort of auxiliary force, moving in step with it, the disastrous Split occurred. It spelt ruin for our organisation because I think it will not be denied that the workers are the most vehement and vital elements in the national life, and they took sides more violently than any other section of the population. After trying for a little while to steer the Democratic Trade and Labour Federation clear of the shoals of disunion, and having failed, Mr Neilan and his friends gave up the task in despair. Meanwhile, however, Mr Michael Austin of the Cork United Trades, who was joint-secretary, with Mr Neilan, of the Federation, succeeded in getting himself absorbed into the Irish Party, and, having got the magic letters of M.P. after his name, not very much was ever heard of him in the Labour movement afterwards.
In the pursuit of journalistic experience I left Ireland for a few years, and on my return I found that a new Labour movement had been founded on the ruins of the old, under the title of the Irish Land and Labour Association. Mr James J. OShee, a young Carrick-on-Suir solicitor, was the secretary and moving spirit in this - a man of advanced views, of intense sympathy with the labourers position, and of a most earnest desire to improve their wretched lot. I obtained an editorial position in West Cork which left me free to devote my spare time to the Labour cause, which I again enthusiastically espoused, having as colleagues in County Cork Mr Cornelius Buckley, of Blarney, another of exactly the same name in Cork, my old friend Mr John L. OShea, of Kanturk, and Mr William Murphy, of Macroom - men whose names deserve to be for ever honourably associated with the movement which did as much in its own way for the emancipation and independence of the labourers as the National organisations did for the farmers.
It is not my purpose here to recount the fierce opposition that was given to the labourers programme. It had at first no friends either in the Party or in the Press. I verily believe that there were otherwise good and honest men who thought the labourers had no citizen rights and that it was the height of conscious daring for anybody to lift either hand or voice on their behalf. But those of us who had taken up the labourers cause were well aware of all the difficulties and obstacles that would confront us; and we knew that worst of all we had to battle with the deadly torpor of the labourers themselves, who were trained to shout all right for the Land for the People but who had possibly no conception of their own divine right to an inheritance in that selfsame land. Furthermore, since the Land and Labour Association was an organisation entirely apart from the Trade and Labour movement of the cities and larger corporate towns we received little support or assistance from what I may term, without offence, the aristocracy of labour. We nevertheless simply went our way, building up our branches, extending knowledge of the labourers claims, educating these humble folk into a sense of their civic rights and citizen responsibilities and making thinking men out of what were previously little better than soulless serfs. It was all desperately hard, uphill work, with little to encourage and no reward beyond the consciousness that one was reaching out a helping hand to the most neglected, despised, and unregarded class in the community. The passage of the Local Government Act of 1898 was that which gave power and importance to our movement. The labourers were granted votes for the new County and District Councils and Poor Law Guardians as well as for Members of parliament. They were no longer a people to be kicked and cuffed and ordered about by the shoneens and squireens of the district: they became a very worthy class, indeed, to be courted and flattered at election times and wheedled with all sorts of fair promises of what would be done for them. The grant of Local Government enabled the labourers to take a mighty stride in the assertion of their independent claims to a better social position and more constant and remunerative employment. The programme that we put forward on their behalf was a modest one. It was our aim to keep within the immediately practical and attainable and the plainly justifiable and reasonable. In the towns and in the country they had to live in hovels and mud-wall cabins which bred death and disease and all the woeful miseries of mankind. One would not kennel a dog or house any of the lower animals in the vile abominations called human dwellings in which tens of thousands of Gods comfortless creatures were huddled together in indiscriminate wretchedness. Added to that, most of them had not a haggart (a few perches of garden) on which to grow any household vegetables. They were landless and starving, the last word in pitiful rags and bare bones. They were in a far greater and more intense degree than the farmers the victims of capricious harvests, whilst their winters were recurrent periods of the most awful and unbelievable distress and hunger and want. The first man to notice their degraded position was Parnell, who, early in the eighties, got a Labourers Act passed for the provision of houses and half-acre allotments of land. But as the administration of this Act was entrusted to the Poor Law Boards, as it imposed a tax upon the ratepayers, and as the labourers had then no votes and could secure no consideration for their demands, needless to say, very few cottages were built. With the advent of the Local Government Act and the extension of the franchise, the labourer was now able to insist on a speeding-up of building operations. But the Labourers Act needed many amendments, a simplification and cheapening of procedure, an extension of taxing powers, an enlargement of the allotment up to an acre and, where the existing abode of the labourers was insanitary, an undeniable claim to a new home. Moderate and just and necessary to the national welfare as these claims were, it took us years of unwearied agitation before we were able to get them legislatively recognised. What we did, however, more promptly achieve was the smashing of the contract system by which the roads of the country were farmed out to contractors, mostly drawn from the big farming and grazier classes who, by devious dodges, known to all, were able to make very comfortable incomes out of them. We insisted - and after some exemplary displays of a resolute physical force we carried our point - that in the case of the main roads, particularly, these should be worked under the system known as direct labour - that is, by the county and deputy surveyors directly employing the labourers on them and paying them a decent living wage. In this way we removed at one stroke the black shadow of want that troubled their winters and made these dark months a horror for them and their families. But we had still to remove the mud-wall cabins and the foetid dens in the villages and towns in which families were huddled together anyhow, and in our effort to bring about this most necessary of social reforms we received little or no assistance from public men or popular movements. We were left to our own unaided resources and our own persistent agitation. As I have already stated, I was elected Member of Parliament for Mid-Cork on the death of Dr Tanner in 1901, and Mr OShee had been previously elected for West Waterford, but not strictly on the Land and Labour platform as I was. Nevertheless, we heartily co-operated in and out of Parliament in making the Labour organisation a real and vital force, and our relations for many useful years, as I am happy to think, were of the most cordial and kindly character.
In the Land Purchase Act of 1903 Mr Wyndham included a few insignificant clauses bearing on the labourers grievances, but dropped them on the suggestion of Mr OBrien, to whom he gave an undertaking at the same time to bring in a comprehensive Labourers Bill in the succeeding session. When that session came Mr Wyndham had, however, other fish to fry. The Irish Party and the Orange gang were howling for his head, and his days of useful service in Ireland were reduced to nothingness. Meanwhile we kept pressing our demands as energetically as we could on the public notice, but we were systematically boycotted in the Press and by the Nationalist leaders until a happy circumstance changed the whole outlook for us. It was our custom to invite to all our great Labour demonstrations the various Nationalist leaders, without any regard to their differences of opinion on the main national issue. The way we looked at it was this - that we wanted the support of all parties in Ireland, Unionist as well as Nationalist, for our programme, which was of a purely non-partisan character, and we were ready to welcome support from any quarter whence it came.
Our invitations were, however, sent out in vain until, on Mr OBriens re-election for Cork in October 1904, a delegation from the Land and Labour Association approached him and requested him to come upon our platform and to specifically advocate the labourers claims, now long overdue. Without any hesitation, nay, even with a readiness which made his acceptance of our request doubly gracious, Mr OBrien replied that now that the tenants question was on the high road to a settlement he considered that the labourers had next call on the national energies and that, for his part, he would hold himself at our disposal.
What followed is so faithfully and impartially related in Mr OBriens book, An Olive Branch in Ireland, that I reproduce it:
Chapter XV: Some Further Salvage from the Wreckage
The fruits of the work of the Advisory Committee, ranging over a number of years, are blazoned in the official statistics. They make it clear that if only a similar policy had been working elsewhere the tenant purchasers all over Ireland would have got infinitely better terms than they did. The bare fact is that in County Cork, where we had proportionately the largest number of tenant purchasers (in Mid-Cork, I am glad to say, there was scarcely a tenant who did not purchase, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred through my intervention), the prices are, roughly, two years purchase lower than the average all over the rest of Ireland.
In Cork, where Mr OBriens policy prevailed, we had, outside the Congested Districts, from 1st November 1903 to 31st March 1909, a total of 16,159 tenant purchasers, and the amount of the purchase money was £7,994,591; whilst in Mayo, one of whose divisions Mr Dillon represented in Parliament, and where his doctrines held sway, the number of tenant purchasers in the same period was 774, and the amount of the purchase money only £181,256. And be it noted what these unfortunate and misguided Mayo men have to be grateful for: that they have remained for all these years, since the Act of 1903 was placed on the Statute Book, under the old inexorable rent-paying conditions, whilst down in Cork the tenants are almost to a man the proprietors of their own holdings, owning their own improvements, knowing that every year that passes brings the time nearer when their land will be free of annuities, and having all that sweet content and satisfaction that flow from personal ownership. Up in Mayo, in a famous speech delivered at Swinford, 12th September 1906, three years after the Land Purchase Act was passed, Mr Dillon declared:
There, in a nutshell and sufficiently stated, are the two policies. Mr OBrien wanted to expedite land purchase by every means in his power, but he wished that the tenants should have proper advisers and should act under the skilled guidance of their own organisation, so that they may make no bad bargains. Mr Dillon, on his part, sought to kill land purchase outright, but why he should have had this mad infatuation against the most beneficent Act that was passed for Ireland in our generation, I am at a loss to know, if it is not that he allowed his personal feeling against Mr OBrien to cloud the operations of his intellect. It is a curious commentary, however, on the good faith of the Party leaders, that whilst Mr Dillon was making the speech I have quoted to his constituents at Swinford, his bosom friend and confidant, Mr T.P. OConnor, who was seeking the shekels in New York, was telling his audience that the Irish landlords were on the run, and, if they continued to yield, in fifteen years the very name of landlordism would be unknown. I say to the British power: - after seven centuries we have beaten you; the land belongs now to the Irish; the land is going back to the old race.
What is one to say of the manhood or honour of the men who spent their days denouncing the policy of Conciliation in Ireland, but who, when they went across the Atlantic, and wanted to coax the money out of the exiles pockets, spoke the sort of stuff that Mr OConnor so soothingly slithered out at New York?
I say it with full and perfect knowledge of the facts, that it was the dishonest policy of Mr Dillon, Mr T.P. OConnor and the men who, blindly and weakly, and with an abominable lack of moral courage, followed their leadership, which has kept one hundred thousand tenants still under the heel of landlordism in Ireland. These men, in driving a nail into the policy of Conciliation, drove a nail far more deeply into their own coffin. In burying the Land Act of 1903 they were only opening graves for themselves, but, in the words of Mr Redmond, they were so short-sighted and unwise they could not see the inevitable result of their malicious side-stepping.
I know of no greater glory that any man, or Party, or organisation could aspire to than to be, in any way, however humble, associated with the policy which made three hundred thousand of the farmers of Ireland the owners of their own hearths and fields. Where the Land Purchase Act operated it gave birth to a new race of peasant owners, who were frugal, industrious, thrifty, and assiduous in the cultivation and improvement of the soil. In a few years the face of the country was transformed. A new life and energy were springing into being. The old tumble-down farm-houses and out-offices began to be replaced by substantial, comfortable, and commodious buildings. Personal indebtedness became almost a thing of the past, and the gombeen man - one of Irelands national curses - was fast fading out of sight. The tenant purchasers, against whose solvency the determined campaigners issued every form of threat, took a pride in paying their purchase instalments as they fell due. The banks began to swell out into a plethoric affluence on their deposits. And who can estimate the social sweetness that followed on land purchase - the sense of peace and security that it gave to the tenant and his family, the falling from him of the numbing shadows of unrest and discontent? Also with the disappearance of agrarian troubles and the unsettlement that attended them there has been a notable decline in the consumption of alcohol. To reverse an old saying: Ireland sober is Ireland free - it may be said that Ireland free (of landlordism) is Ireland sober. And then the happiness of being the master of ones own homestead! No race in the world clings so lovingly to the soil as the Irish. We have the clan feeling of a personal love and affection for the spot of earth where we were born, and when the shadows of evening begin to fall athwart our lives, do we not wish to lay ourselves down in that hallowed spot where the bones of our forefathers mingle with the dust of ages? Truly we love the land of our birth - every stone of it, every blade of grass that grows in it, its lakes, its valleys, and its streams, each mountain that in rugged grandeur stands sentinel over it, each rivulet that whispers its beautiful story to us - and because we would yet own it for our very own, we grudge not the sacrifices that its final deliverance demands, for it will be all the dearer in that its liberty was dearly purchased with the tears and the blood of our best!
The settlement of the Evicted Tenants Question was another of the vital issues salved from the wreckage. There were from eight to ten thousand evicted tenants - the wounded soldiers of the Land War as they were termed - to whom the Irish Party and the National Organisation were pledged by every tie of honour that could bind all but the basest. The Land Conference Report made an equitable settlement of the Evicted Tenants problem an essential portion of their treaty of peace. But the revival of an evil spirit amongst the worst landlords and the interpretations of hostile law officers reduced the Evicted Tenants clause in the Act of 1903 almost to a nullity. In this extremity the Cork evicted tenants requested the Land Conference to reassemble and specify in precise language the settlement which they regarded as essential. All the representatives of the landlords and of the tenants on the Conference accepted the invitation, with the single exception of Mr Redmond. Eventually, despite these and other discouragements, the Conference met in Dublin in October 1906, sat for three days, and agreed upon lines of settlement which were given effect to in legislation by Mr Bryce the following year. True, the restoration of these unhappy men did not proceed as rapidly as their sacrifices or interests demanded. They were also the victims of the malign opposition extended to the policy of Conciliation, even when it embraced a deed so essentially charitable as the relief of the families who had borne the burden and the heat of the day in the fierce agrarian wars. Lamentable to relate, Mr Dillon tried to intimidate Mr T.W. Russell and Mr Harrington from joining the Conference, and when he failed, publicly denounced their Report. And if there are still some of them on the roadside, as I regret to think they are, the blame does not lie with the Conciliationists, but with those who persistently opposed their labours.
In the settlement of the University Question Cork also took the lead when its prospects were in a very bad way. This had been for over a century a vexed and perplexing problem. I have dealt cursorily with primary education, which is even still in a deplorably backward state in Ireland. Secondary education has not yet been placed on a scientific basis, and is not that natural stepping-stone between the primary school and the university that it ought to be. There is no intelligent co-ordination of studies in Ireland and we suffer as no other country from ignorantly imposed systems which have had for their object, not the development of Irish brains but the Anglicisation of Irish youth, who were drenched with the mire of foreign learning when they should have been bathed in the pure stream of Irish thought and culture.
It would require a volume in itself to deal with all the evils, not only intellectual and educational, but social, economic and political, which Ireland has suffered owing to the absence of a higher education directed to the development of her special psychological and material needs. It took eighty years of agitation before anything like educational equality in the higher realms of study was established. The Protestants had in Trinity College a university with a noble tradition and a great historic past. The Catholics had only University College and a Royal University, which conferred degrees without compulsion of residence. In hounding Mr Wyndham from office and killing him (in the political sense, though one would be sorely tempted to add, also in the physical sense), the Irish Party also destroyed, amongst other things, the prospects of a University settlement in 1904. A University Bill had, as a matter of fact, been promised as the principal business for that session. The question was in a practically quiescent state, nobody taking any particular interest in it, when the Catholic laity of Cork, supported by the mass of the Protestant laity as well (as was now become the custom on all great questions in the leading Irish county), came together in a mighty and most representative gathering, which instantly impressed statesmen that this educational disability on religious grounds could no longer be tolerated. Mr Birrell, who failed in most other things during his ill-starred Irish administration, was admirably energetic and suave in getting his University proposals through. And it was by employing wisely the methods of conciliation and winning over to his side men of opposite political views, like Mr Balfour, Mr Wyndham, Sir Edward Carson, and Professor Butcher that he piloted the Bill safely through its various Parliamentary stages.
With the success of Land Purchase, with the introduction and passage of the Labourers and University Acts, with the settlement of the Evicted Tenants Question, and with the offering of any resistance to the effort made to remove the embargo on Canadian cattle, which would seriously have affected the prospects of the farmers, the Irish Party had exercised no initiative and could not legitimately claim one atom of credit in respect of them. Yet when their Parliamentary prestige began to shake and show unmistakable signs of an approaching collapse, it was ever their habit to group these among their achievements in the same way that they appropriated the fruits of Parnells genius - it was the Party that did everything, and so they demanded that the people should sing eternal Hosannas to its glory.
In justice to the Party, or, more correctly, to Mr J.J. Clancy, M.P., who stood sponsor for the measures and watched over their progress with paternal care, they did get inscribed on the Statute Book two Acts of considerable importance - the Town Tenants Act and the Housing of the Working Classes Act, but beyond these the less said of their Parliamentary conquests from 1903 onward the better. Their achievements were rather of the destructive and mischievous than the constructive and beneficent.
Chapter XVI: Reunion and Treachery
When the General Election of 1906 took place those of us in County Cork and elsewhere who had taken our stand by Mr OBrien were marked out for opposition by the Party chiefs. But a truce was arranged through the intervention of Mr George Crosbie, editor of The Cork Examiner, who generously sought to avert a fight between brother Nationalists, which, whatever its effects at home, would be bound to have grave results abroad, where the only thing that would be strikingly apparent was that brother Nationalists were at one anothers throats. So we all came back, if not exactly a happy family at least outwardly in a certain state of grace.
This state of things was not, however, to last. Without rhyme or reason, without cause stated or charge alleged, with no intimation of any sort or kind that I was acting contrary to any of the Party tenets, I was, so to speak, quietly dropped overboard from the Party ship in November 1906. I did not get any official intimation that I was dismissed the Party or that I had in any way violated my pledge to sit, act and vote with it. I was simply cut off from the Party Whips and the Parliamentary allowance and, without a word spoken or written, thus politely, as it were, told to go about my business. The matter seemed inconceivable and I wrote a firm letter of remonstrance to Mr Redmond. It drew from him merely a formal acknowledgment - an adding of insult to injury. To test the matter I immediately resigned my seat for Mid-Cork, placed the whole facts before my constituents, published my letter and Mr Redmonds acknowledgment and challenged the Party to fight me on the issue they had themselves deliberately raised - namely, as to whether in supporting the policy of Conciliation I was in any way faithless to my pledge. Wise in their generation, the men who were courageous enough to expel me from the Party, to which I belonged by as good a title as they, were not brave enough to meet me in the open in a fair fight and, where there could be no shirking a plain issue, and accordingly I had a bloodless victory. It was satisfactory to know I had the practically unanimous support and confidence of the electors of Mid-Cork. It would have been more satisfactory still if we had the policy of Conciliation affirmed, as we undoubtedly would have, by an overwhelming vote in a genuine trial of strength. There were at this time outside of the Party, besides myself, Mr William OBrien, Mr T. M. Healy, M.P. for North Louth (who had not been readmitted after 1900), Sir Thomas Esmonde, M.P. for North Wexford, Mr John ODonnell, M.P. for South Mayo, Mr Charles Dolan, M.P. for South Leitrim, and Mr Augustine Roche (Mr OBriens colleague in the representation of Cork).
The Party were now in a rather parlous state. The country was disgusted with their mismanagement of the Irish Council Bill. Branches of the United Irish League had ceased to subscribe to the Party funds and it was evident that a temper distinctly hostile to the Party managers was widely springing up. Furthermore, an irresistible movement of popular opinion set in, demanding that there should be a reunion of all the Nationalist forces and Unity demonstrations of huge dimensions were held in Kerry, Limerick, Cork, Clare and Wexford. There was no denying the intensity of the demand that there should be an end of those differences which divided brother Nationalists and dissipated their strength. Finally, at Ballycullane, in Mr Redmonds native constituency, Mr OBrien formulated proposals for reunion, the first of which is so notable as a declaration of Nationalist principle that I quote it fully:
Further conditions declared that it was the duty of Nationalist representatives to devote themselves honestly to working for every measure of practical amelioration which it may be possible to obtain from either English Party, or from both, and that the co-operation of Irishmen of all creeds and classes willing to aid in the attainment of any or all of those objects should be cordially welcomed. Within a week Mr Redmond conveyed to Mr OBrien his desire for a Conference on unity. It was duly held. Mr OBriens proposals were substantially agreed to. It will be observed that they were a solemn reiteration of the principles of Conference and Conciliation, which was the bed-rock basis of the Party policy in its most useful and memorable year, 1903. It is possible that if Mr OBriens suggestion for a National Convention to give the new Unity an enthusiastic send-off had been agreed to, many things might have been different to-day. But Mr Dillon never wanted, in those days, if he could help it, to appear before a great assemblage of his countrymen in company with Mr OBrien. He knew his own limitations for popular appeal too well to risk comparison with the most persuasive Irish orator since the days of OConnell.
The six of us who rejoined the Party under the foregoing peace treaty were sincerely anxious that the reunion should be cordial and thorough. We saw, however, no manifestations of a similar spirit on the part of Mr Dillon or his special coterie of friends. Mr OBrien published in his own paper, The Irish People, a communique in which he said:
Our optimism was sadly disappointed when the first occasion came for testing the sincerity of the reunion. A Treasury Report was issued containing proposals for lessening the landlords bonus under the Purchase Act of 1903 and for increasing the tenants annuities. (These proposals were later embodied in Mr Birrells Land Act of 1909 and practically put an end to land purchase and to the beneficent operations of the Act of 1903.) A meeting of the reunited Party was summoned for the Mansion House, Dublin (29th April 1908), to deal with this grave situation, rendered all the more serious by reason of the fact that the Treasury proposals were openly advocated by The Freemans Journal. One of the clauses of the articles of reunion declared that the co-operation of Irishmen of all classes and creeds willing to aid in the attainment of, among other things, the completion of the abolition of landlordism is cordially welcomed. When Mr OBrien moved, in order that the demands of the Treasury should be met with a united and resolute Irish front, that the Party was prepared to appoint representatives to confer with representatives of the landlords, Mr Dillon at once showed that on no account would be agree to any Conference, and he proposed an amendment that the whole matter should be referred to a Committee of the Irish Party exclusively. This was a fatal blow at the principle on which the Party had been reunited. Whilst the controversy raged around the Conference idea, Mr Redmond spoke never a word, though he saw that the short-sighted and unwise policy was again getting the upper hand. Mr Dillon carried his amendment by 45 votes to 15, and thus the treaty on which the Party was reunited was practically torn to pieces before the ink was scarce dry on it.
One further effort was made to try to preserve the Act of 1903 from being ham-strung by the Treasury. A short time previously a deputation of the foremost landed men and representative bodies of Cork had saved Ireland from the importation of Canadian cattle into Britain. It was decided to organise now a still more powerful deputation from the province of Munster to warn the Government of the fatal effects of the proposed Birrell Bill. I had a great deal to do with the preliminaries of the meeting at which this deputation was selected, and I can say with all certainty that if we had had only the most moderate display of political wisdom from Mr Dillon and his friends we could have the great mass of the landlords in Ireland agreeing to the full concession of the constitutional demand for Irish liberty. The Cork meeting was beyond all doubt or question the most remarkable held in Ireland for a century. It was summoned by a Joint Committee drawn from the Nationalist and landlord ranks. On its platform were assembled all the men, either on the landlord or the tenant side, who had been the fiercest antagonists in the agrarian wars of the previous twenty-five years - men who had literally taken their lives in their hands in fighting for their respective causes. It is but the barest truth to say that the evictors and the evicted - the leading actors in the most awful of Irelands tragedies - stood for the first time in Irish history side by side to join hands in a noble effort to obliterate the past and to redeem the future. It was one of the greatest scenes of true emotion and tremendous hope that ever was witnessed in any land or any time. If its brave and joyous spirit could only have been caught up and passed along, we would have seen long before now that vision glorious which inspired the deeds and sacrifices of Tone and Emmet and the other magnificent line of martyrs for Irish liberty - we would have witnessed that brotherhood of class and creed which is Irelands greatest need, and upon which alone can her eventual happiness and liberty rest. And, most striking incident of all, here had met, in a blessed forgetfulness of past rancours and of fierce blows given and received, the two most redoubtable champions of the landlords and the tenants - Lord Barrymore and Mr William OBrien, the men whose sword blows upon each others shields still reverberated in the minds of everyone present. What a study for a painter, or poet, or philosopher! The most dauntless defender of landlordism, in a generous impulse of what I believe to be the most genuine patriotism, stood on a platform with Mr William OBrien, whom he had fought so resolutely in the Plan of Campaign days, to declare in effect that landlordism could no longer be defended and to agree as to the terms on which it could be ended, with advantage to every section of the Irish nation. It was only magnanimous men - men of fine fibre and a noble moral courage - who could stretch their hands across the yawning chasm of the bad and bitter years, with all their evil memories of hates and wounds and scars and defy the yelpings of the malicious minds who were only too glad to lead on the pack, to shout afterwards at Mr OBrien: Barrymore! when of a truth, of all the achievements of Mr OBriens crowded life of effort and accomplishment there is not one that should bring more balm to his soul or consolation to his war-worn heart than that he should have induced the enemy of other days to pay this highest of all tributes to his honesty and worth. He had convinced his enemy of his rectitude, and what greater deed than this! I confess it made my ears tingle with shame when I used to hear unthinking scoundrels, egged on by others who should have known better, shout Barrymore! at Mr OBrien in their attempts to hold him up to public odium for an act which might easily have been made the most benign in his life, as it certainly was one of the most noble.
This memorable meeting of the erstwhile warring hosts agreed absolutely as to the main conditions on which the Land Settlement of 1903 ought to be preserved - viz. that the abolition of landlordism should be completed in the briefest possible time, that the rate of tenant purchasers annuity should remain undisturbed, and that the State bonus to the landlords should not be altered. If there were to be losses on the notation of land loans the loss should be borne by the Imperial Treasury for the greatest of all Imperial purposes. A deputation of unequalled strength and unrivalled representative character was appointed to submit these views to the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary for Ireland. But jealous and perverse and, I must add, blindly malignant, influences had been at work, and a deputation which comprised six peers, eleven Members of Parliament, and some of the leading public men in Munster was refused a hearing by Mr Birrell. Though the act was the act of Mr Birrell, all the world knew that the sinister figure in the background was Mr Dillon. And they have both paid the penalty since then of their follies, not to say crimes - though a nation still suffers for them.
Chapter XVII: A New Power Arises in Ireland
This is a remarkable admission from an independent and unprejudiced authority. He candidly declares they never understood the situation in America. Neither was it understood in England, and the House of Commons is the last place which tries to understand anything except party or personal interests. There is just about as much freedom of opinion and individual independence in Parliament as there could be in a slave state. In Ireland, as I have said, outside Munster the truth was never allowed to reach the people. Even the great national movement which Mr William OBrien re-created in the United Irish League had almost ceased to function. It was gradually superseded by a secret sectarian organisation which was the absolute antithesis of all free development of democratic opinion and the complete negation of liberty and fair play.
Up in the north of Ireland there existed an organisation of a secret and sworn character which was an evil inheritance of an evil generation. From the fact that the Ribbonmen used to meet in a shebeen owned by one Molly Maguire, with the Irish adaptability for attaching nicknames to anything short of what is sacred, they became known as Molly Maguires, or, for short, the Mollies. In some ill-omened day branches of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which had seceded from the American order of that name, began to interest themselves in Ulster in political affairs. They called themselves the Board of Erin, but they were, as I have said, more generally known as the Mollies. They were a narrowly sectarian institution and they had the almost blasphemous rule that nobody but a Catholic frequenting the Sacraments could remain a member. They had their own ritual and initiation ceremony, founded on the Orange and Masonic precedents, and had their secret signs and passwords. It is possible that they were at first intended to be a Catholic protection society in Ulster at the end of the eighteenth century to combat the aggressiveness and the fanatical intolerance of the Orange Order, who sought nothing less than the complete extermination of the Catholic tenantry. A Catholic Defence organisation was a necessity in those circumstances, but when the occasion that gave it justification and sanction had passed it would have been better if it were likewise allowed to pass. Any organisation which fans the flames of sectarianism and feeds the fires of religious bigotry should have no place in a community which claims the sacred right of freedom. It was the endeavour of Mr OBrien and his friends finally to close this bitter chapter of Irish history by reconciling the ancient differences of the sects and inducing all Irishmen of good intent to meet upon a common platform in which there should be no rivalries except the noble emulations of men seeking the weal of the whole by the combined effort of all.
Whatever unfortunate circumstance or combination of circumstances gave impulse to the Board of Erin, I know not-whether it arose out of a vainglorious purpose to meet the Orangemen with a weapon of import similar to their own, or whether it was merely the love of young people to have association with the occult, I can merely conjecture - but it was only when Mr Joseph Devlin assumed the leadership of it that it began to acquire an influence in politics which could have no other ending than a disastrous one.
Never before was the cause of Irish liberty associated with sectarianism. Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet and Thomas Davis are regarded as the most inspired apostles and confessors of Irish nationality. It was a profanation of their memory and an insult to their creed that in the first decade of the twentieth century any man or band of men should have been audacious enough to superimpose upon the structure of the national movement an organisation which in addition to being secret and sectarian was grossly sordid and selfish in its aims.
Stealthily and insidiously the Board of Erin got its grip in the United Irish League. It bossed, by establishing a superiority of numbers, the Standing Committee. Then by getting hold of the officers of Divisional Executives and branches it acquired control over the entire machinery of the movement, and thus, in an amazingly short space of time, it secured an ascendancy of a most deadly and menacing character. Its first overt act of authority was to strangle freedom of speech and to kill land purchase. What Mr John Dillon had been unable to do through his control of the Party and his collusion with The Freemans Journal the Board of Erin most effectively accomplished by an energetic use of boxwood batons and, at a later time, weapons of a more lethal character.
A National Convention had been summoned to pronounce on the Birrell Land Bill of 1909 - a measure which, with incomparable meanness, was designed to save the Treasury by ridding it of the honourable obligations imposed by the Wyndham Act of 1903. This Bill, on the ground that the finance of the Act of 1903 had broken down, proposed to increase the rate of interest on land loans from 2-3/4 to 3-1/4 per cent., and to transform the bonus from a free Imperial grant to a Treasury debt against Ireland. Apparently it should require no argument to prove that this was a treacherous repeal of an existing treaty, guaranteed by considered legislative enactment, and that it was a proposal which no Irishman with any sense of the duty he owed his country could for one moment entertain. But it was the unthinkable and the unbelievable thing which happened. Mr Dillon was determined, at all costs - and how heavy these costs were, one hundred thousand unpurchased tenants in Ireland to-day have weighty reason to know - to wreak his spite against the Wyndham Act, which he had over and over again declared was working too smoothly, and prayed that he might have the power to stop it. Mr Redmond I regard in all this wretched business as the unwilling victim of the forces which held him, as a vice in their power. Yet from the sin of a weak compliancy in the unwise decrees of others he cannot be justly acquitted. Although the Party had rejected the proposal for a new Land Conference, and thereby broken the articles of reunion under which Mr OBrien and his friends re-entered it, we continued to remain within its fold. We could not, for one thing, believe that the country was so steeped in ignorance and blindness that if the facts were once allowed to reach it, or the arguments to be temperately addressed to any free assembly of Irishmen, they would not see where national interests lay. Accordingly Mr OBrien and his friends determined to submit, in constitutional fashion, the overwhelming objections to Mr Birrells Bill to the judgment of the National Convention which was to consider whether the Bill would expedite or destroy land purchase. It was conveyed to Mr OBrien beforehand that it was madness on his part to attempt to get a hearing at the Convention, that this was the last thing the powers that be would allow, and that as he valued his own safety it would be better for him to remain away.
Just as he had never submitted to intimidation when it was backed by the whole force of the British Government, Mr OBrien was equally resolved that the arrogance of the new masters of the Irish democracy was not going to compel him to a mood of easy yielding and he properly decided to submit his arguments to a Convention which, though he was well aware it would be packed against him, yet he had hopes might be swayed by the invincibility of his arguments. In the ordinary course the stewards for managing and regulating the Convention would be drawn from Dublin Nationalists. On this occasion, however, they came by special train from Belfast and were marched in military order to the Mansion House, where some sackfuls of policemens brand-new batons were distributed amongst them. They were the Special Constables of the Molly Maguires recruited for the first time by an Irish organisation to kill the right of free speech for which Irishmen had been contending with their lives through the generations. It would be quite a comedy of Irish topsy-turvydom were it not, in fact, such a disastrous tragedy.
The favourite cry of the enemies of Conciliation was that the Purchase Act would bankrupt the Irish ratepayers. By means which it is not necessary to develop or inquire into, the British Treasury was induced on the very eve of the Convention to present to a number of the Irish County Councils claims for thousands of pounds on foot of expenses for the flotation of land loans. A base political trick of this kind is too contemptible for words. It, however, gave Mr Redmond one of the main arguments for impressing the Convention that the Birrell Bill could alone save the ratepayers from the imminence of this burden. It would have been easy to demolish the contention had the reply been allowed to be made. But this was just the one thing the bosses were determined not to allow - Mr OBrien had given notice of an amendment, the justification of which is attested by the facts of the succeeding twelve years. It expressed the view that the Birrell Land Bill would lead to the stoppage of land purchase, that it would impose an intolerable penalty upon the tenant purchasers whose purchase money the Treasury had failed to provide, and that it would postpone for fifty years any complete solution of the problem of the West and of the redistribution of the untenanted grass lands of the country. The moment Mr OBrien stood up to move this, at a concerted signal, pandemonium was let loose. I was never the witness of a more disgraceful incident - that an Irishman whose life had been given in so full and generous a fashion to the people should, by secret and subsidised arrangement, be howled down by an imported gang and prevented from presenting his views in rational fashion to men the majority of whom at least were present for honest consideration of arguments. It is a thing not easily forgotten or forgiven for the Irishmen who engineered it, that such a ferocious and foolish display of truculent cowardice should have taken place. For an hour Mr OBrien manfully faced the obscene chorus of cat-cries and disorder. He describes one of the incidents that occurred in the following words: -
So does this Convention go down to history as the beginning of an infamous period when the sanctity of free speech was a thing to be ruthlessly smashed by the hireling or misguided mobs of an organisation professing democratic principles. The miracle of the Easter Rising was that it put an end to the rule of the thug and the bludgeonman. But many things were to happen in between.
Certain police court proceedings followed, in which Mr Crean, M.P., was the plaintiff. The only comment on these that need now be made is that Mr Creans summons for assault was dismissed, and he was ordered to pay £150 costs or to go to gaol for two months, whilst the police magistrate who tried the case was shortly afterwards rewarded with the Chief Magistracy of Dublin!
The Board of Erin now began to march south of the Boyne and to usurp the functions of the United Irish League wherever it got a footing. It was frankly out for jobs, preferments and patronage of all kinds, so that even the dirty crew of place-hunting lawyers which Dublin Castle had plentifully spoon-fed for over a century became its leaders and gospellers, seeing that through it alone could they carve their way to those goodly plums that maketh easy the path of the unctuous crawlers in life - the creed of the Mollies, and it gained them followers galore, being that nobody who was not a member of the Ancient Order was eligible for even the meanest public office in the gift of the Government or the elected of the people. Even a Crown Prosecutor, one of the Castle Cawtholic tribe whose record of life-long antipathy to the vital creed of Irish Nationality was notorious, now became a pious follower of the new Order and was in due course saved by receiving an exalted position in the judicial establishment of the country, which owed nothing to his honour or his honesty. Under the auspices of the Board of Erin the shoneen - the most contemptible of all our Irish types - began to flourish amain. It was a great thing to be a Jay Pay in the Irish country-side. It added inches to ones girth and ones stature, and to the importance of ones lady. It was greatly coveted by the thousands who always pine to swagger in a little brief authority, and thus the Board of Erin drew its adherents from every low fellow who had an interest to serve, a dirty ambition to satisfy, an office to gain or probably even a petty score to pay off. No doubt there were many sincere and honest and enthusiastic young men attracted to it by the charm of the secret sign and password, and others who believed that its Catholic pomp and parade made for the religious uplift of the people. But taken all in all, it was unquestionably an evil influence in the lives of the people and it degraded the fine inspiration of Nationality to a base sectarian scramble for place and power.
Gone were the glorious ideals of a nobler day wherever it pushed out its pernicious grip. Surrendered were the sterner principles which instructed and enacted that the man who sought office or preferment from a British Minister unfitted himself as a standard-bearer or even a raw recruit in the ranks of Irish Nationality. The Irish birth-right was bartered for a mess of pottage and, worst of all, the fine instincts of Irelands glorious youth were being corrupted and perverted. The cry of Up the Mollies! became the watchword of the new movement and the creed of selfishness and sectarianism supplanted the evangel of self-denial and self-sacrifice. It was a time when clear-sighted and earnest men almost lost hope, if they did not lose faith. To be held in subjection by the tyranny of a stronger power was a calamity of destiny to be resisted, but that the people should themselves bind the chains of a more sordid tyranny of selfishness around their spirits was wholly damnable and heart-breaking.
It was to fight this thing that Mr William OBrien proposed yet another crusade of light and liberty. As he founded the United Irish League when the country was sunk in the uttermost depths of despair and indifference, he now made a first gallant effort to establish a new national organisation to preach a nobler creed of brotherhood and reconciliation among all Irishmen, and to this he gave the appropriate title of the All-for-Ireland League. The city and county of Cork rallied to his side, with all the old-time fervour of Rebel Cork. The inaugural meeting of the League was held in my native town, Kanturk, and was splendidly attended by as gallant a body of Irishmen as could be found in all Ireland - men who knew, as none others better, how to fight, when fighting was the right policy, but who knew also, in its proper season, when it was good to make peace. The Press, however, shut its pages to the new movement and a complaisant Irish Party, now utterly at the mercy of the Board of Erin, at a meeting specially summoned for the purpose, passed a resolution of excommunication against the new League and against every Member of Parliament who should venture upon its platform, on the ground that it was usurping the functions and authority of the United Irish League, which was now nothing more than a cloak for the operations of the Board of Erin.
No human being could struggle under the mountain weight of responsibility that now rested on the shoulders of Mr OBrien. Wearied by the monstrous labours and fights of many years, deserted by his own colleague in the representation of Cork City, with the Nationalist Press engaged in a policy of suppression and a system of secret intimidation springing up all over the country, it would have been madness for him to attempt to continue.
Accordingly he decided to quit the field again and to leave the clever political manipulators in possession. After he had sent in his application for the Chiltern Hundreds I came across specially from Ireland to meet him at the Westminster Palace Hotel. It were meet not to dwell upon our interview, for there are some things too sacred for words. I know that he had then no intention of ever returning to public life, and though he was obviously a man very, very ill, in the physical sense, yet I could see it was the deeper wounds of the soul that really mattered.
I have had sorrows in my life and deep afflictions, the scars of which nothing on this earth can cure, yet I can say I never felt parting so poignantly as with this friend, whom I loved most and venerated most on earth. I returned to Ireland that night, not knowing whether I should ever see the well-beloved face again. He went to Italy on the morrow to seek peace and healing, away from the land to which he had given more than a lifes labour and devotion. He enjoined his friends not to communicate with him, but he promised to watch from a distance, and that if the occasion ever arose he would not see them cast to destruction without effort of his duty made.
How well and generously he kept that promise these pages will show.
Chapter XVIII: A Campaign of Extermination and Its Consequences
In the autumn of 1909 I was attending my law lectures in Dublin when it was conveyed to me that a raid on my constituency was contemplated, that the officials at the League headquarters in Dublin were, without rhyme or reason, returning the affiliation fees of branches which were known to be friendly to me, and that a Divisional Conference of my enemies was summoned for the purpose of organising me out of Mid-Cork. I immediately resolved that if the issue were to be knit at all the sooner the better, and I took my own steps to circumvent the machinations of those who were out, so to speak, for my blood. Hence when the bogus delegates were brought together in Macroom one Saturday afternoon a little surprise awaited them, for as they proceeded to the Town Hall to deliberate their plans for my overthrow, another and a more determined militant body, with myself at their head, also marched on the same venue. There was a short and sharp encounter for possession of the hall: the plotters put up a sorry fight; they were soon routed, and my friends and myself held our meeting on the chosen ground of our opponents. Moreover, Mr Denis Johnston, the Chief Organiser of the League, who had come down from Dublin with all his plans for my extermination cut and dried, dared not take the train that evening in the ordinary course from the Macroom station, but, like a thief in the night, stole out of the town in a covered car and drove to a station farther on.
Thus began the foul attempt to exterminate Mr OBriens friends, who, be it noted, were still members of the Irish Party, against whom no crime was alleged or any charge of Party disloyalty preferred. The funds of the League, its organisers and its executive machinery, instead of being used for the advancement of the Irish movement along constitutional lines, were brutally directed to the political execution of Mr OBriens friends, who, now that he had gone for good, and was reported to be in that state of physical breakdown which would prevent him from ever again taking an active part in Irish affairs, were supposed to be at the mercy of the big pots and their big battalions.
Mr Maurice Healy, who had been elected for Cork City by an overwhelming majority over the nominee of the leaders after Mr OBriens retirement, was unconstitutionally and improperly refused admission to the Party, although he was quite prepared to sign the pledge to sit, act, and vote with it. There was scarcely a thing wrong they could do which these blind leaders of the blind did not clumsily attempt at this juncture. They might have shown us, whose only crime was loyalty to principle and to a policy which had been signally ratified by the repeated mandates of the people, a reasonable measure of generosity and a frank fellowship and all would be well.
But no; we had committed the cardinal offence of preferring a policy to a personality and, in famous phrase, we were marked down to suffer for it. Hordes of organisers were dispatched to our constituencies to pull the strings against us. I can aver, with a certain malicious satisfaction, that wherever they made their appearance in Cork, we met them and we routed them. This may appear an ill way to conduct a political campaign, but be it remembered that we were fighting for our lives, almost resourceless, and that the aggressors had practically limitless powers, financially and otherwise. I will mention one incident to explain many. It was announced that Mr Redmond was to speak at Banteer, on the borders of my constituency. I could not allow that challenge to pass unnoticed without surrendering ground which it would be impossible to recover; and so I took the earliest opportunity of proclaiming that if Mr Redmond came to Banteer my friends and I would be there to meet him. He never came! Meanwhile through a private source - for none of his colleagues were in communication with him - Mr OBrien heard of the nefarious attempts that were being made to exterminate his friends and he broke silence for the first time since his retirement by despatching the following message to the Press Association: If these people are wise they will drop their campaign of vengeance against my friends.
Doubtless these people thought this the threat of a man helpless through illness, and not to be seriously noticed, for they went on with their preparations, surreptitious and otherwise, for our destruction, in suitable time and form. I will ever remember it with pride and gratitude that the labourers of the south, the President of whose Association I was, were gloriously staunch and loyal and that there never was a demand I made upon them for support and encouragement they did not magnificently respond to. They gave repayment, in full measure and flowing over, for whatever little I was able to accomplish in my lifetime for the alleviation of their lot and the brightening of their lives.
Meanwhile the Party had matters all their own way, yet their only great achievement was to get the Birrell Land Bill passed into law and to put an end to the operations of the Purchase Act of 1903 which was so rapidly transforming the face of the country. They also passed for Mr Lloyd George what Mr Dillon termed the great and good Budget, but which really added enormously to the direct taxation of Ireland - imposing an additional burden of something not far from three millions sterling on the backs of an already overtaxed country. But if the people were plundered the place-hunters were placated. The Irish Party had now become little better than an annexe of Liberalism. They sat in Opposition because it was the tradition to do so, but in reality they were the obsequious followers of a British Party and browsing on its pasturage in the hope of better things to come.
Not far off were heard the rumblings of an approaching General Election. There were the usual flutterings of the ins who wanted to remain in, and of the outs who were anxious to taste the social sweets and the personal pomp of the successful politician, who had got the magic letters M.P. to his name. It is wonderful what an appeal it makes to the man who has made his pile somehow or anyhow (or who wants to make it) to have the right to enter the sacred portals of Westminster, but it is more wonderful still to see him when he gets there become the mere puppet of the Party Whips, without an atom of individual independence or a grain of useful initiative. The system absorbs them and they become cogs in a machine, whose movements they have little power of controlling or directing.
It was pretended by the leaders of the Nationalists that their subservient surrender to the Liberal Party was a far-sighted move to compel Mr Asquith and his friends to make Home Rule the dominant issue, as they termed it, at the General Election. The veto of the House of Lords, the hitherto one intractable element of opposition to Home Rule, was to go before long and the House of Commons, within certain limits, would be in a position to impose its will as the sovereign authority in the State. Yet it is the scarcely believable fact that in all these precious months, and after all the servile sycophancy they had given to the Liberals, neither Mr Redmond nor those true-blue Liberals, Mr Dillon and Mr OConnor, had ever sought to extract from Mr Asquith an irrefragable statement of his intentions regarding the Irish Question, or whether he and his Government intended to make it a prime plank in the Liberal platform at the polls. The rejection of the Budget by the Lords was made the real issue before the electors, and little was heard of Home Rule, either on the platform or in the Press. True, Mr Asquith made a vague and non-committal reference to it at the Albert Hall on the eve of the election, but the Liberal candidates, with extraordinary unanimity, fought shy of it in every constituency, except where there was a considerable Irish vote to be played up to, and one of the Liberal Party Whips even went so far as to declare there was no Home Rule engagement at all. Far different was it in other days, when Parnell was in power. He would have pinned the Party to whom he was giving his support down to a written compact, which could not be broken without dishonour, and he would leave nothing to the mere emergencies and expediencies of politics, which are only the gamblers dice in a devils game.
But the men of lesser calibre who had now the destiny of a nation in their hands trusted in the good faith of the Liberals and in return asked the country to trust them. There never was such a puckish game played in history. Criticism was stifled and the people were told, and no doubt in their innocence believed it, that Home Rule was already as good as carried and that the dream of all the years was come true. Mr Dillon was audaciously flying the flag of Boer Home Rule as a minimum, although he had not a scrap of authority or a line of sanction for his pronouncements.
It seemed as if every friend of Mr OBrien was to go under in the campaign of opposition that was being elaborately carried out against them. Our constituencies were swarming with paid organisers and men and money galore were pouring in from outside, so that our downfall and defeat should be made an absolute certainty.
It was in this crisis that the generous spirit of Mr OBrien impelled him to come to our assistance. For my own part I never had a doubt that when the hour struck the champion of so many noble causes would be found once again stoutly defending the men who had staked all for the sake of principle, but who, without his aid, must be mercilessly thrown to the wolves. We were in a most benighted state, without any trace of organisation of our own (except that I had the Land and Labour Association unflinchingly on my side), without any newspaper to report our speeches, and with only the bravest of the brave to come upon our platforms and say a good word for us. The outlook was as bleak as it well could be, when suddenly, towards the end of December 1909, the joyous news reached us that the hero of a hundred fights was about to throw himself into the breach on our behalf. Our enemies laughed the rumour to scorn, but we knew better and we bided in patience the coming of our man.
One stipulation, indeed, Mr OBrien did make, that in coming to our assistance it was not implied that he was to be a candidate himself and that he was merely to deliver three speeches in Cork City to put the issue clearly before the people. Matters had now reached so grave a pitch that not only were Mr OBriens own friends to be attacked by the Board of Erin, which was now in complete control of the machinery of the national organisation, but that every other Member of Parliament who had not bent the knee to its occult omnipotence was to be run out of public life without cause assigned. All this while there was rumour and counter-rumour about Mr OBriens return. The Dillonites up to the last moment believed we were playing a game of bluff and went on right merrily with their preparations for making a clean sweep of every man who was suspect of possessing an independent mind. Then on one winters night, shortly before the election writs were issued, the doubters and the scoffers were once and for all confounded. Mr OBrien arrived in the city which was always proud to do him honour, but which never more proudly did him honour than on this occasion, when they mustered in their thousands at the station and lined the streets, a frantic, cheering, enthusiastic and madly joyous people, to see him back amongst them once again, neither bent nor broken nor physically spent, but gloriously erect, acknowledging the thunderous salutations of the tens of thousands who loved him, even to the little children, with a love which was surely compensation for many a bitter wound of injustice and ingratitude.
Chapter XIX: A General Election that Leads to a Home Rule Bill!
I consider this incident worthy of special emphasis in view of the ignorant and malicious statements of English and Unionist publicists, who make it a stock argument against the grant of independence to Ireland that the Catholics will vote as they are bidden by their priests. I have sufficient experience and knowledge of my countrymen to say that whilst in troublous times the Irish soggarths were the natural leaders and protectors of their flocks, even to the peril of their lives, yet in these times, when other conditions prevail, whilst in religion remaining staunchly loyal to their faith and its teachers, when it comes to a question of political principle there is no man in all the world who can be so independently self-assertive as the Irish Catholic. There is nothing to fear for Ireland, either now or in the future, from what I may term clericalism in politics, whilst on the other hand it is earnestly to be hoped that nothing will ever happen to intrude unnecessarily the question or authority of religion in the domain of more mundane affairs.
Mr OBrien sums up the result of the General Election briefly thus:
Mr OBrien had established a campaign sheet during the election called The Cork Accent (as a sort of reminder of the Baton Convention, at which the order was given that no one with a Cork accent should be allowed near the platform), and surely never did paper render more brilliant service in an exceptional emergency. It was his intention that his attitude in the new Parliament should be one of patient observation and of steady but unaggressive allegiance to the principles of national reconciliation. But such a rôle was rendered impossible by the active hostility of Mr Dillon and his followers. The doors of the Party were shut and banged against every man who was independently elected by the voters. It was proclaimed that we would be helpless in the country without organisation or newspaper to support us and that we would be left even without the means of travelling to London to represent our constituents.
We could not sit inactively under this decree of annihilation. It was decided to continue The Cork Accent in a permanent form as a daily journal under the title of The Cork Free Press, which was founded at a public meeting presided over by the Lord Mayor. The All-for-Ireland League was also established to advocate and expound the principles for which we stood in Irish life. Its purposes are clearly stated in the resolution which gave it birth - viz.:
The All-for-Ireland League made memorable progress in a brief space of time. Mr OBriens return to public life was hailed even by the late W.T. Stead in The Westminster Gazette as nothing short of a great political resurrection. The noble appeal of the Leagues programme to the chivalrous instincts of the race attracted the young men to its side with an enthusiasm amounting to an inspiration. The Protestant minority in Southern Ireland were being gradually won over to a genuine confidence in our motives and generous intentions to safeguard fully their interests and position and to secure them an adequate part in the future government of our common country. Even the great British parties began to see in the new movement hopes of that peace and reconciliation between Great Britain and Ireland which must be the hope of all just and broad-minded statesmanship.
It was in these circumstances that the Party surrendered at discretion to the expediencies of Liberalism, abjectly waiving their position as an independent entity in Parliament, with no shadow of the pride and spirit of the Parnell period left, seeming to exist for the favours and bonuses that came their way, and for the rest playing to the gallery in Ireland by telling them that Home Rule was coming at no far distant date, and that they had only to trust to Asquith and all would be well. Never had a Party such a combination of favourable circumstances to command success. They possessed a strategical advantage such as Parnell would have given his life for - they held the balance of power and they could order the Government to do their bidding or quit. Yet instead of regarding themselves as the ambassadors of a nation claiming its liberty they seemed to be obsessed with a criminal selfishness passing all possible belief. When it was proposed to make Members of Parliament stipendiaries of the State, they at first protested vehemently against the application of this principle to the Irish representatives, and therein they were right. From a purely democratic standpoint no reasonable objection can be urged against the payment of those who give their time and talent to the public service, but Ireland was in different case. Her representatives were at Westminster unwillingly, not to assist in the government of the Empire with gracious intent, but rather definitely to obstruct, impede and hamper this government until Irelands inalienable right to self-government was conceded, and therefore it was their clear duty to say that they would accept payment only from the country and the people they served and that they cast back this Treasury bribe in the teeth of those who offered it. But having ostentatiously resolved that they would never accept a Parliamentary stipend, they finally allowed their virtuous resistance to temptation to be overcome and voted for payment of members, which, without their votes, would never have been adopted by the House of Commons. There were placemen now in Parliament, and place-hunting was no longer a pastime to be proscribed amongst Nationalists. It may be there was no wilful corruption in thus accepting from the common purse of the United Kingdom payment which was made to all Members of Parliament alike, but it deprived the Irish people of control of their representatives and handed them over to the control of the English Treasury, and thus opened the way to the downfall of Parliamentarianism in Ireland that rapidly set in. Abandoned all too lightly was the rigid principle that to accept favours from England was to betray Ireland, and the pursuit of place and patronage was esteemed as not being inconsistent with a pure patriotism.
Furthermore, as if to cap the climax of their imbecilities and blunders, the Irish Party allowed the first precious year of their mastery of Parliament to be devoted to the passage of an Insurance Act which nobody in Ireland outside the job-seekers wanted, which every independent voice in the country, including a unanimous Bench of Bishops, protested against, and whose only recommendation was that it provided a regular deluge of well-paid positions for the votaries of the secret sectarian society that had the country in its vicious grip. Such a debauch of sham Nationalism as now ensued was never paralleled in the worst period of Irelands history, and that this should be done in the name of patriotism was not its least degrading feature. Nemesis could not fail to overtake this conscious sin against the national ideal. It met with its own condign punishment before many years were over. To show the veritable depths of baseness to which the so-called National Movement had fallen it need only be stated that it was charged against their official organ - The Freemans Journal - that no less than eighteen members of its staff had obtained positions of profit under the Crown, including a Lord Chancellorship, an Under-secretaryship, Judgeships, Crown Prosecutorships, University Professorships, Resident Magistracies, Local Government Inspectorships, etc. In this connection it is also worthy of mention that when the premises of this concern were burnt out in the course of the Easter Week Rebellion it was reendowed for national purposes, with a Treasury grant of £60,000, being twice the amount which the then directors of the Freeman confessed to be the business value of the property.
Thus did the Board of Erin attract to its side all the most selfish and disreputable elements in Irish Catholic life, and thus also did it repel and disgust the more broad-minded and tolerant Protestant patriots whom the All-for-Ireland programme, under happier circumstances, would have undoubtedly won over to the side of Home Rule. Much might even yet be forgiven to the men who had the destiny of Ireland in their hands if they had shown any striking capacity to exact a measure of self-government sufficiently big and broad to justify the national demand as then understood. But they showed neither strength nor wisdom, neither courage nor sagacity in their dealings with the English Liberal leaders and old Parliamentary hands against whom they were pitted. They were hopelessly out-manoeuvred and overmatched at every stage of the game. It is but just to state that the members of the Party as a whole had scarcely an atom of responsibility for these miserable failures and defects of policy. They owed their election to the machine. They were the complaisant bondsmen of the secret Order. Whatever they felt they dared not utter a word which would bring the wrath of the Bosses upon their heads. They were never candidly consulted as to tactics or strategy, or even first principles.
The decisions of the little ring of three or four who dominated the situation within the Party were sometimes, it may be, submitted to them for their formal approval, but more often than otherwise this show of formal courtesy was not shown them. The position of Mr Redmond was most humiliating of all. He did not lack many of the qualities which might have made for greatness in leadership, but he did undoubtedly lack the quality of backbone and that strength of character to assert himself and to maintain his own position without which no man can be truly considered great. Whenever it came to an issue between them it is well known he had to submit his judgment and to bend his will to the decision of the three others - Messrs Dillon, Devlin and T.P. OConnor - who must historically be held responsible for the mistakes and weaknesses and horrible blunders of those years, which no self-respecting Irishman of the future can ever look back upon without a shudder of horror.
The Home Rule Bill, which was the product of those shameful years of debility and disgrace, was so poor and paltry a thing as to be almost an insult to Irish patriotism and intelligence. It proposed to establish merely a nominal Parliament in Dublin. It was financially unsound, besides being a denial of Irelands right to fix and levy her own taxes. As a matter of fact, the power of taxation was rigorously maintained at Westminster with a reduced Irish representation of two-thirds. And this was the measure which was proclaimed to be greater than Grattans Parliament or than any of the previous Home Rule Bills! Furthermore, it made no provision for the completion of land purchase, but Mr Asquith was not really to be blamed for this, as Mr Dillon proclaimed that one of the great attractions of the Bill was that it would leave the remnant of the landlords to be dealt with by him and his obedient henchmen. Finally, neither the Liberal Party nor their faithful Irish supporters would hear of any concessions to Ulster.
These people were now so arrogant in the fancied security and strength of their position to do just as they pleased that Mr Redmond rashly undertook to put down Ulster with the strong hand and rather prematurely declared: There is no longer an Ulster difficulty. One further financial infamy the Bill perpetrated. The twenty millions sterling which were, under the Land Purchase Act of 1903, to have been a free Imperial grant to lubricate the wheels of agrarian settlement, was henceforth and by a Home Rule Government to be audaciously charged as a debt against Ireland. And this, be it noted, was part of the pact come to with the Nationalist leaders at the Downing Street breakfast-table, where Irelands fate was sealed, and which they joyously supported in the House of Commons against such opposition as the All-for-Ireland minority was allowed to give it by the ruthless application of the guillotine.
The Independent Nationalist members were willing to make the best of a very bad bargain, if only they could succeed in getting adopted three amendments which they regarded as vital to the success of the measure: (1) A new financial plan; (2) the completion of land purchase, and (3) such concessions as would win the consent of Ulster. But our reward for thus endeavouring to make the Bill adaptable to Irish requirements and acceptable to the whole of Ireland was to be dubbed factionists and traitors by the official Irish Party, who never once during three years debates in Parliament made the slightest attempt to amend or improve the Bill, but who remained silent and impotent as graven images on the Irish benches whilst the way was being paved for all the ruin and desolation and accumulated horrors that have since come to Ireland through their compliant and criminal imbecility.
They had a perfect Parliamentary unity; they certainly seemed to have the most perfect understanding with their Liberal friends, but they had no more claim to represent an independent, vigilant, self-respecting nation than they had to represent, say, Morocco!