R. C. ESCOUFLAIRE
IRELAND---AN ENEMY OF THE ALLIES?
THE PRICE OF A BARGAIN
IN this traffic between Radicals and Nationalists there was a victim. Was it the Empire? No; that is big enough to lose a bit of territory and to defend itself when necessary. Was it England? No; the English voter, gagged until the next election, that is to say till 1916, had no one to blame but himself for not having foreseen the turn events would take, and had only to take it as became a sportsman. But what of Ulster? There it was no more a matter of the interplay of parties, of skillful Parliamentary combinations; it was a matter of life and death, of a race to be given over to reprisals, sworn on a hundred occasions, to be subject to a rival whom she not only execrates, but despises, and she gives you very good reasons for it. Sold by English demagogues to their Irish fellows, Ulster hung out a signal of distress, and armed for resistance. Some rights are more sacred than laws.
From July, 1912, there had been bloody collisions between Roman Catholic and Protestant workmen at Belfast, and on one occasion at a big football match there were a hundred wounded on the field. But the movement was soon to outstrip these local fights and take on other proportions, to become truly national---for Ulster is a nation---and imperial, for the Empire cannot look on calmly while her best sons are put up for auction.
A man arose to give effect to these two warnings, one of the leaders of the English Bar, endowed both with an iron will and with some of the best brains in the kingdom---Sir Edward Carson. He had become the spokesman of Ulster; in the cottages of Catholic Ireland he is suspected of being anti-Christ, and he is never mentioned without the sign of the Cross or an oath. His adversaries have never denied that his straightforwardness is perfect, but his inexorable logic annoys them exceedingly. Few leaders have been more hated by their enemies and none has served a cause with more firmness, courage, and good sense.
Carson began his campaign by a series of great public meetings, big processions with bands and banners, Orange demonstrations, etc. All the Unionists of the district marched in them, big manufacturers, ordinary workmen, landowners, and farmers. The Ulster question was opened.
What does it consist of ? We have seen whence came the Presbyterian population of the northeast of Ireland, drawn from Scotland and planted by James I. I have summarized its principal conflicts and vicissitudes, racial and religious hatred.
It is important not to confuse it with the other section of Irish Unionists which is of English descent, from the nobility, from officials, and from the soldier-farmers of Cromwell's day. This latter party has kept from its origin the religion which was for a long time the only one permitted to courtiers---Anglican Episcopalianism; the King's Court were compelled to belong to the official Church called in the three kingdoms, Church of England, Church of Scotland, Church of Ireland. Although scattered about the island at the caprice of conquests and royal favors, they are called Southern Unionists, in order to distinguish them from Ulster Unionists. They are hardly less important politically and socially, for they comprise hereditary powers, the majority of the nobility and Anglo-Irish aristocracy; but they are less numerous and more widely dispersed, and in a certain quarter they are treated as a negligible quantity from .a systematic contempt for heredity. Their influence has, moreover, decreased considerably since they gave up their property to the natives.
Ulster is composed otherwise; she forms a complete nation comprising all classes of society. She is practically the only part of Ireland which can seriously be called industrial. Her capital, Belfast, the largest town in the island, has a population of 400,000, nearly 100,000 more than Dublin; her celebrated specialties are her linen trade and shipbuilding.
We are now touching upon another point in the great question of Ulster, upon an element which we have so far subordinated to the claims of race and religion, but which the nineteenth century, as elsewhere, has changed into a preponderant element---the economic question. Leaving the Southern Celts to moan and whine with tub-thumpers and agitators, to curse England while at the same time begging for help from her, to vex the landlords and invoke the State as Providence, Ulster has contrived to grow prosperous, more prosperous than the whole of the rest of the island put together and that, too, we cannot repeat too often, under the same political fiscal and customs régime which her unproductive fellow-countrymen abuse at every turn.
Ulster is the gem of Ireland. Without her the financial stability of the new State would be impossible; unfortunately, to the great indignation of the Nationalists, she declines to be part of it at any price! She refuses to be the milch-cow of hostile politicians, whose methods, bias, program, and incompetence are alike odious to her. She has known them for so long and at such close quarters that her fears probably have some foundation. She reasons as a business man or as a banker, who does not neglect his guarantees for the finest promises in the world. The Nationalists promise her every sort of. toleration and security, she will have none of it.
"We have come into Ireland," said a Deputation from the Belfast Chamber of Commerce which waited on Mr. Gladstone in the spring of 1893, "and not the richest portion of the island, and have gradually built up an industry and commerce with which we are able to hold our own in competition with the most progressive nations in the world. Our success has been achieved under a system and a polity in which we believe. Its non-interference with the business of the people gave play to that self-reliance with which we strove to emulate the industrial qualities of the people of Great Britain. It is now proposed to place the manufactures and commerce of the country at the mercy of a majority which will have no real concern in the interests vitally affected, and who have no knowledge of the science of government. The mere shadow of these changes has so depressed the stocks which represent the accumulations of our past enterprise and labor that we are already commercially poorer than we were."
The Protestant workingmen in Ulster think likewise; they appear in force at every demonstration by the side of their masters.
The Nationalists covet greedily this fine spoil from which the best part of their finances would be drawn. It would be easy to squeeze her, since numerically this rich corner would only be defended in the Irish Parliament by one-quarter of the total number of members. That is exactly why these obstinate Scots will not undertake the adventure! Ulster has not the smallest doubt on the subject; she knows what lies in store for her. Let us glance at the words of one of her most moderate spokesmen, Lord Ernest Hamilton; I summarize his clear and precise reasoning.(16)
"The Protestant attitude is often stigmatized as being uncompromising. It is uncompromising. . . . The fundamental idea at the back of the Ulsterman's attitude is that what has once happened may well happen again. [He has just described all the massacres of the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries.] . . . Such occurrences invariably take the form of systematic attempts to rid the country of the British element by any and every means. . . . The soul of the native Irish has not at the present day changed by the width of a hair from what it was in 1641 and again in 1798. . . .
"The only attraction of Home Rule to the inner soul of the Irish (especially in Ulster) is the hope that it will provide the machinery by which the British colonist can be got rid of and Irish soil revert once more to the Irish. . . .
"In Ulster, then, the cry of 'Ireland for the Irish' is not the mere innocent expression of a laudable patriotism; it has a deeper and far more sinister meaning. It means the expulsion from Ireland of the Protestant colonists, and is so understood clearly by both sections of the population. There are no sentimental illusions in Ulster, whatever there may be in England.
"Among the Irish of the South and West the popular conception of Ireland under Home Rule may be said to be, and in fact is, nebulous. The aspirations of the peasant, when reduced by persuasive inquiry to concrete form, will generally be found to stop short at a kind of Pan-Celtic Arcadia, where all will be rich on a minimum of work and a maximum of whisky supplied by American millionaires. . . .
"In Ulster, however, a very different spirit broods over the land. . . . Half the lands of Ulster, and these the best and the richest, are in the hands of the stranger within the gates. It matters nothing that the lands when originally granted were waste, and that the industry of the colonists has made them rich. . . . The natives know none of these things; they are not politically educated on these lines. . . . And so they cry, or, rather, they mutter under their breath, 'Ireland for the Irish,' a cry which becomes freely translated into 'to hell or to the sea with every bloody Protestant.' Two prima facie questions arise:
(1) "Are the aspirations of the native Irish for a restitution of their forfeited lands justified?
(2) "Would Home Rule give practical expression to such aspirations?
"The first question obviously opens up problems which reach far beyond the case of Ulster. It touches, more or less, the whole civilized world. Should England be evacuated in favor of the Welsh, the relies of the ancient Britons? Canada in favor of the Red Indians? New Zealand in favor of the Maoris? Should the French clear out of Algiers, the British out of Uganda, the Spanish out of the Argentine?
"The second question at once raises more practical issues than the first. Would Home Rule result in attempts to dispossess the Protestant settlers of their footing in Ireland, and if so, how? The first part of the question can be shortly disposed of. The attempt would be made; it has been made on every occasion in the history of Ireland on which the native element has been in the ascendancy, and it would be made again. . . .
"The attempt would not be made by methods of open violence, but by more characteristic methods of which the more conspicuous would be as follows:
(1) "Petty injustices and persecutions which may be further subdivided as follows:
(a) Taking the Parliamentary representation;
(b) Establishing native officials in every executive and remunerative post in the country.
(2) "Agrarian outrages.
(3) "Tammany methods (shameless political corruption, blackmail, intimidation, violence, by which the Irish once made the Municipal Corporation of New York notorious).
"Such have been the native methods from time immemorial. . . . They are the fighting methods of the race, to which the fear of conviction and punishment have always been the only deterrent; and under Home Rule neither convictions nor punishment would follow. Magistrates, constables, judge and jury, would be on the side of the perpetrators."
This is Ulster's idea of Home Rule, and we agree that the picture is not an attractive one. It is easy to laugh at it and describe it as fanciful, but history---and that is why I have made a point of reminding you of it briefly---history of the past and of the present does not gainsay them.
Ulster is quite happy in her Union with Great Britain; she has the most profound reasons for dreading separation and the yoke which will be imposed upon her. By what right is it to be imposed? There is only one pretext, the "unity of Irish nationality; Ulster is an integral part of Ireland." Nothing more fatuous can be conceived. It is the logic of more than one nationalism, lucubrations emanating from the brain of three or four professors, poets, ethnologists, geographers, and so on, which end by creating in masses which are perfectly amorphous and apathetic an "irresistible movement," with the help of priests, lawyers, and school-teachers. German science and intrigue have produced not a few of these brilliant fabrications.
The case of Ulster is by far the most artificial example, and those who cannot see it must be shutting their eyes to facts. Moreover, the Nationalists betray their confusion on the subject, and alas! also their bad faith. They do not even try to reason; they assert, they threaten. As they are masters of the Parliamentary majority at Westminster, they are content to give orders without mincing matters.
Mr. Dillon said: "The thing the Protestants of Ulster cannot bear to accept is equality with their fellow-countrymen,"(17) or again: "The people of Ulster will have to come down from that proud eminence, bow their lofty crests, and accept equality with their fellow-countrymen."(18)
In plain English that means that Ulster must submit to being strangled in the Dublin Parliament by three votes to one.
Ireland does not form one nation, replies the Unionist, but two nations sharply divided by race, religion, and politics. There are no reasons justifying a Nationalist Parliament at Dublin which do not similarly justify a Unionist Parliament at Belfast. Ulster does not even want that; she simply asks to stay united to Great Britain and be ruled by the Government in London. Why should she not have the right to remain as she is?
What reply can be given to the following conclusions of the late Duke of Devonshire?
"The people of Ulster believe, rightly or wrongly, that under a Government responsible to an Imperial Parliament they possess at present the fullest security which they can possess of their personal freedom, their liberties, and their right to transact their own business in their own way. You have no right to offer them any inferior security to that; and if, after weighing the character of the Government which it is sought to impose on them, they resolve that they are no longer bound to obey a law which does not give them equal and just protection with their fellow-subjects, who can say-how, at all events, can the descendants of those who resisted King James II say that they have not a right, if they think fit to resist, if they think they have the power, the imposition of a Government put upon them by force?"(19)
This is what Ulster is compelled to do to her great regret, and the Conservative party, the old defender of established order and of the Constitution, agrees with her and promises her support. On September 28th, 1912, Sir Edward Carson appealed to all his partisans, and 218,000 men signed a solemn covenant at Belfast not to recognize the authority of a Dublin Parliament. A covenant is a religious vow and not a catchword for electioneering advertisement. Those who know the dour resoluteness of the Scottish character, without exaggeration and without vain boasting, realize that the vow will be kept and that nothing will bend them. Those forces are not easily stirred, but woe to those who resist them!
Carson began to raise an army of volunteers, and imported arms, rifles, bayonets, and munitions; in all the villages of eastern Ulster, workingmen were practicing drill and rifle-shooting with enthusiasm. Mr. Asquith and his Radicals, who began by laughing at the whole thing, soon discovered that the time for speeches and shifts had passed. There was hesitation in the ranks. Anaesthesia was tried, the invalid was to be put to sleep. Lord Loreburn, the Lord Chancellor, suggested a conference for conciliation. Mr. Churchill mentioned possible amendments, and promised Imperial Federation, Home Rule for everybody, believing that the word "Imperial" would seduce the Ulster patriots. Sir Edward Grey suggested autonomy for Ulster within autonomy for Ireland.
It was too late for all these palliatives; Ulster had no longer any confidence in this political jugglery. Carson refused a conference which could lead to nothing (events proved that he was in the right), and appointed Lieutenant-General Sir George Richardson Commander-in-Chief of the Ulster Volunteers; he reviewed 100,000 men outside Belfast.
Finally, in September, 1913, the Unionist Council of Ulster adopted a distinct Constitution of Provisory Government in preparation for the day when Home Rule would become law. A large sum was raised by a subscription to indemnify the victims of the approaching struggle, the disabled, widows and orphans. In England a committee prepared an organization to receive refugees from Ulster, who would have to flee before the horrors of civil war---the organization was so thorough that a few months later Lady Lugard offered it to the Government for the Belgian refugees, and for a long time it was their principal refuge.
Everything was therefore ready for the fray, and to such a pitch that on March 1st, 1914, it was announced that the ranks of the Ulster Army, consisting of 111,000 volunteers, were full and that no further recruits were to be enrolled. English public opinion was profoundly stirred, and Liberal orators felt, very conscious that their audiences did not approve of them. It might have been possible to defend a measure of generosity towards Nationalist Ireland, but it was contrary to John Bull's idea of common sense to sacrifice to this defiant, hostile rebel a vast population which was perfectly loyal and friendly. Therefore Mr. Asquith, though refusing to solve the question by a general election or a plebiscite, consented to offer the following concession on March 8th.
As some counties in Ulster, namely those in the west, were not Unionist, it would not be just to treat the province as a homogeneous whole; that agreed upon, each of the Ulster counties might, by a vote with a bare majority, decide whether it wanted to be under London or Dublin. This was a tempting proposal with which every one would have agreed . . . but it was to be a beautiful dream without the reality.
At the end of six years every one was to fall into line, and the refractory counties were to be compelled to revert automatically under the law of the Dublin Parliament. By the same amendment the right of Protestant Ulster to decide her fate was recognized, and yet after a short interval it was to be taken from her!
In the name of his fellow-citizens Sir Edward Carson refused this sentence of death of which the execution was postponed for six years, and afterwards stated his final conditions; he accepted the proposed geographical division, though it was a bad dissection, for there are many Protestants in the counties which would pass under the Nationalist thumb, and many Catholics in the others. But if he submitted to the democratic injustices of the bare majority, he insisted that at least this minimum of equity should be durable and definite, and not revocable.
This declaration will be historic, for it is probable that any future solution of the Irish imbroglio will have to take it into account. Nationalists and Liberals, dismayed at seeing their plans upset by this resistance, moaned daily "Ulster is unreasonable," and reproached Carson for his extreme intransigeance. They forgot that he was master of the situation, and might exact much more at a time when the Government was changing its tune, hesitating, and offering a compromise. Was he not meeting them half-way when he accepted the stupid verdict of the bare majority in questions of independence and of national existence? Is there another Constitution in Europe which would be satisfied with it?
However that may be, Carson's reply was very badly received. Mr. Redmond and Mr. Churchill, the great military strategist of the Liberal party---oh, shade of an illustrious ancestor!---called to arms, to the great dismay of Mr. Asquith and the old Gladstonians, who are not bellicose. Did they expect Ulster to retreat? Sir Edward Carson immediately took up the challenge, and on March 19th, after the Commons had voted against his final recourse to a referendum, he solemnly left the House amid the applause of his party, announcing that he was going to Belfast to put himself at the head of his friends and await events.
The days which followed were stormy ones. The day after Sir Edward's departure, orders were received at the Curragh for troops to hold themselves in readiness to march on Ulster. The Secretary of State authorized the officers to leave the army if they did not wish to take part in the expedition; a hundred of them resigned their commissions.
The Government, angrily questioned in the House, vowed that it had only wished to take the simplest precautions to protect public buildings. The Secretary of State for War ordered those officers who bad resigned to rejoin their regiments, and General Gough, commanding at the Curragh, returned from conferring with his chiefs in London and announced that he had a promise in writing not to have to send the cavalry brigade to Ulster. Instantly the Radicals protested against the "military camarilla" and forced Mr. Asquith to repudiate the promise given by the Secretary of State for War, Colonel Seely, and countersigned by General French, Chief of the Staff, and General Ewart, his chief staff officer. In short, there were contradictions, misunderstandings, and muddles, followed by the resignations of Seely, French and Ewart, etc. On his side Mr. Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, as ever on the lookout for martial glory, raised another storm by sending a cruiser squadron to Belfast.
All this precipitated the change in public opinion already noted above; and Mr. Asquith, the subtlest orator in England, again adopted a conciliatory tone, protested that the fears of Ulster were vain, that before six years had passed a vast system of Federation would extend over the whole Empire and would ensure every guarantee to Ulster, etc. Sir Edward Carson, coldly skeptical, was not convinced, and spurned the proposal. His view amounted to this:
"It is not we who ask to make any change. Do not include us in Home Rule, let the Nationalists make their experiments in practical government without us. If they do well, if they dissipate our fears and reassure us, they will win us by persuasion, as I wish with all my heart that they may do. When we have seen them at work, if they keep their fine promises of wisdom, toleration, social and economic progress, loyalty and good-will towards our mother country, we shall be happy to cooperate with them. But not before. We know only too well on what our suspicions are founded!"
Mr. Asquith gave it up; bullied by his creditors the Nationalists, he stuck to his original scheme, his amendment, and the six-years' clause. The House of Lords , on the other hand, making use of what little initiative remained to it, adopted a motion of Lord Lansdowne's to exclude the whole of Ulster, including the western counties. This scheme was no more justifiable than the Nationalist claim to the Unionist counties; Lord Lansdowne has never shown much sagacity with regard to Irish problems.
The new conflict between the two Houses of Parliament marks the culminating point of the crisis, and it was hard to see how the Government could avoid resorting to force. But to what force? The regular army had failed; the only alternative was the army of National Volunteers which had just been started in Dublin, modeled upon their rivals in Belfast, with the official approval of Mr. Redmond and his lieutenants.
In face of imminent civil war King George made a final attempt at pacification, and summoned to Buckingham Palace eight leaders of the English and Irish parties. Unfortunately, on July 24th, 1914, the Conference broke down on the question of the delimitation of the counties which were to be excluded.
At that moment other clouds were banking up on the European horizon, and grave questions brought about a truce in this intestine quarrel. The diplomatic tension of the end of July, growing apprehension, dread of the gigantic drama which was to be performed, finally the enthusiasm of August, the unanimous rising of the whole British nation for the defense of the weak and for Right, all made the Irish squabbles and the servile maneuvres of the Radical Cabinet appear infinitely paltry in comparison.
At Westminster, as at the Palais Bourbon, the hour was poignant, vows were sublime, union was to be sacred. There was to be an end of spite, intrigue, individual or national selfishness. Carson told his volunteers at once to go and fight in Belgium, and Redmond himself recognized with true nobility that our cause was just and must take precedence of his. A united front was presented to the barbarous enemy, and very fine it was.
Alas! democracies have their organic vices, and the truce did not last long; we shall see that the Irish policy of the Asquith Ministry had a sad epilogue.
IRELAND DURING THE WAR
THE English Parliament, faithful to its resolutions, gave for six weeks a fine example of concord and moderation; the victory of the Marne was a consolation to all, and every one had forgotten political chicanery, when all of a sudden Mr. Asquith made a most unexpected move. Thinking that his adversaries were distracted by their patriotic emotions and the grave preoccupations of the world-struggle, the Prime Minister thought fit to profit by it to steal a march on them.
The amendments proposed by Mr. Asquith to appease Ulster had satisfied no one, but when war broke out the House of Lords was still examining them and trying to correct them by counter-proposals. Whatever might be the outcome of any of them, one fact stood out as a result of this long struggle between the two Houses: the Government had recognized the necessity of giving Ulster a certain measure of satisfaction. So long as this measure was insufficient or indefinite, Ulster had remained on guard ---until August 4th, 1914; since then on the contrary her patriotic self-denial had disarmed her.
On September 14th the Prime Minister announced that the Government was going to present the Home Rule Act for the Royal signature without amendments, but would not put it into force until after the war. As for the amendments, he promised, but without specifying them, that he would introduce them in a separate Bill during the following session. You can imagine how indignant the Unionists were at this bombshell. In a word, Home Rule became law, and instead of amendments there was nothing but promises! And what promises? Mr. Asquith began by breaking his pledges of March 9th and the express conditions of the party truce concluded at the outbreak of war.(20) The Times wrote that "once again Mr. Redmond had compelled our Ministers to toe the line."
Sir Edward Carson that same evening issued his manifesto "to the loyalists of Ulster":
"By an act of unparalleled treachery and betrayal the Radical Government, at the dictation of their Nationalist allies, have announced their intention of passing into law, without discussing the Amending Bill which they themselves introduced, the detestable Home Rule Bill, which we are pledged to resist at all costs. They are taking advantage of the situation created by the war, which threatens the very existence of the United Kingdom and the Empire, to inflict upon us this degradation and humiliation. The Government have thought it an opportune moment, when a great number of members of Parliament are serving their country and so many of our own people have nobly responded to Lord Kitchener's appeal, and when, therefore, we could not enter upon resistance without injuring and weakening our country, to seek a party triumph without any regard to national interests. The infamy of such a proceeding will, I know, sink deeply into the heart of every loyal and patriotic man, and will, I am sure, act as a stimulus to the fight to the finish which we have covenanted to carry out.
"But I ask my followers in Ulster to remember that this is not the action of the nation, but of a despicable political faction, and our duty at the present moment is towards our country and the Empire. 'Our country first' is and always has been our motto. We must, therefore, notwithstanding this indignity, go on with our preparations to assist our country, and strain every nerve to defeat its enemies.
"But you may rest assured that we shall not slacken for a moment our efforts to be prepared, when our country is out of danger, to carry out our covenant to the end. I once more promise to go straight on with. you in the fight, strengthened by the belief that Great Britain will never forgive the base treachery of the Government., "We will not have Home Rule-Never.
September 15th, 1914.
Comment seems superfluous. For want of anything better we will recall some of the promises made during the debate on September 15th, and first of all we will quote Mr. Asquith:
"The employment of force, any kind of force, for what you call the coercion of Ulster is an absolutely unthinkable thing."
Then Mr. Bonar Law, leader of the Unionists:
"They said to themselves, 'Whatever we may do, they are bound in a crisis like this to help their country. Whatever injustice we inflict upon them we can count upon them.' It is not a pretty calculation, but I would like to say, with the whole authority of our party, that it is a correct calculation---they can count on us."
Finally, Mr. Redmond spoke in the name of his Irishmen:
"This moratorium which the Government propose is a reasonable one. . . . There are two things that I care most about in this world of politics. The first is that the system of autonomy which is to be extended to Ireland shall be extended to the whole country, and that not a single sod of Irish soil and not a single citizen of the Irish nation shall be excluded from its operation. Let me say . . . that the second thing that I most earnestly desire is that no coercion shall be applied to any single county in Ireland to force them against their will to come into the Irish Government. . . . Catholic Nationalist Irishmen and Protestant Unionist Irishmen from the North of Ireland will be fighting side by side on the battlefields of the Continent, and shedding their blood side by side. . . . The result of all that must inevitably be to assuage bitterness and to mollify the hatred and misunderstanding which have kept them apart, and I do not think I am too sanguine when I express my belief that . . . we may have been able by this process in Ireland to come to an agreement amongst ourselves whereby we can suggest to the Government an Amending Bill which they can easily accept and ratify. . . In my opinion it will be the highest duty of every Irish Nationalist . . . during that interval to cultivate sedulously the spirit of conciliation, to suppress the voice of faction, sectarian strife and hatred, and to unite, as I hope we will be able to unite, all the sons of Ireland in the great task which this war imposes upon our nation. . . . In the past the Irish people have furnished a larger quota by far, in proportion to their population, than the people of England or Scotland. . . . What, I ask you, will be the record now that the sentiment of the whole Irish people undoubtedly is with you in this war?
"For the first time---certainly for over one hundred years---Ireland in this war feels her interests are precisely the same as yours. She feels, she will feel, that the British democracy has kept faith with her. She knows that this is a just war. She knows, she is moved in a very special way by the fact that this war is undertaken in the defense of small nations and oppressed peoples. . . . The manhood of Ireland will spring to your aid in this war. . . . I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that on hundreds of platforms in this country during the last few years I have publicly promised, not only for myself, but in the name of my country, that when the rights of Ireland were admitted by the democracy of England, then Ireland would become the strongest arm in the defense of the Empire. The test has come sooner than I or any one expected. I tell the Prime Minister that that test will be honorably met. . . . I would feel myself personally dishonored if I did not say to my fellow-countrymen that it is their duty, and should be their honor, to take their place in the firing line in this contest. . . .
"Just as Botha and Smuts have been able , to say that the concession of free institutions to South Africa has changed the men who but ten or a little more years ago were your bitter enemies in the field into your loyal comrades and fellow-citizens in the Empire, just as truthfully can I say to you that by what of recent years has happened in this country with the democracy of England, Ireland has been transformed from what George Meredith described a short time ago as 'the broken arm of England' into one of the strongest bulwarks of the Empire."(21)
Thus spoke the leader, and he spoke well. I have thought fit to quote his speech fully, for it is so fine that one would like to see in it the act of faith of a nation. Mr. Redmond had just made similar promises to Cardinal Mercier, who passed through London on his return from the Conclave: "We shall avenge Belgium!" I believed in it, just as others did, and so firmly that although I had made up my mind to write this book for three years, I kept putting it off, hoping to the end that Ireland would not go back on the signature of her proxy. Not a voice was raised from the Irish benches to repudiate Mr. Redmond, not even Mr. Dillon's.
Yet, even from that day, a paragraph in Mr. Redmond's speech ought to have given a warning:
"The Times in an article to-day, says: 'A Nationalist Ireland still disowns her gallant soldiers, flaunts placards against enlistment, and preaches sedition in her newspapers.'
"That is a cruel libel on Ireland. The men ,who are circulating hand-bills against enlistment, and the men who are publishing little wretched rags once a week or once a month---which none of us ever see---who are sending them by some mysterious agency through the post in this country and day by day to members---these are the little group of men who never belonged to the National Constitutional party at all, but who have been all through, and are to-day, our bitterest enemies. If you take up these wretched rags you will find praises of the Emperor of Germany in the same sentence as are denunciations of my colleagues and myself."(22)
Then the disloyal were merely exceptions? .Very well, that may have been so, but then why are they to-day the favorites of Irish opinion? Mr. Redmond has died recently, mortified by the default of his people who did not keep the promises he made on their behalf. What followed? His successor, Mr. Dillon, has thrown off the mask which impeded him, and has joined the men who are publishing little "wretched rags."
At the end of September Mr. Asquith, accompanied by Mr. Redmond, had a great welcome in Dublin, and Mr. Redmond repeated his call to arms.
"Her right to autonomy has been conceded by the democracy of Great Britain, and therefore Ireland will feel bound in honor to take her place side by side with all the other autonomous portions of the King's dominions in upholding her interests."
This time Mr. Dillon and Mr. Devlin on the same platform announced their complete agreement. A few days later Sir Edward Carson and Mr. Bonar Law spoke at Belfast in their turn: "Drop politics for the moment and serve your country."
Ulster recruited well. In the rest of Ireland there was rather more confusion, and it is impossible to say exactly what happened. It appears from Mr. Redmond's declaration that he wanted two separate things: an "Irish Brigade" which would go and fight on the Continent with Irish officers only, and perhaps if possible under the green flag with the golden harp; and a corps of "Irish Volunteers" for the defense of the island---that is to say, that under this pretext the arming of the National Volunteers who had been recently preparing to subdue Ulster should be continued. Did he imagine that the British authorities would give arms to equip what was after all a corps of partisans of doubtful integrity?
The War Office showed no enthusiasm in encouraging these two schemes according to the demands of the Irish. It gladly accepted recruits from Ireland on the same conditions as the others, to draft into the heroic Irish regiments which were already in existence; but not to let them form a separate brigade, and to make stipulations as to where they chose to fight, etc. ---in short, to excite still further the old spirit of separatist rivalry.
The Nationalist leaders, seeing that their people did not respond to the appeal as they had promised, required nothing more to make them put all the blame for their failure on the War Office, and on the usual English stupidity. This insinuation appears for the first time in a speech of Mr. Redmond's at Waterford on October 11th, 1914: a fortnight of propaganda had sufficed to show him that among his fellow-countrymen there was an indifference and a hostility which augured ill.
On October 31st, after two months of friendly reticence, The Times decided to lend him a hand and speak openly. It asked why a meek Government allowed the multiplication and free distribution in Ireland of quantities of dangerous and seditious leaflets, which conjured the peasant not to sell his soul for the Saxon's shilling, not to help England out of her cruel difficulty, to abstain from an English war so long as the Germans did not disembark on the island. . . . .It asked why Mr. Birrell, smiling as usual, allowed so much freedom to these scribblers, while the censorship was so severe for English newspapers. It asked where the money came from for so costly a campaign, and finally it pointed out that the Irish bishops kept an ill-omened silence, and had not yet approved Mr. Redmond's statements---prophetic remarks, whose deplorable accuracy the history of the following months will reveal. Great Britain has suffered much from the errors, ambiguous associations, tergiversations, and weaknesses of those who governed her in 1914. Had not Mr. Asquith confided the censorship of the press to Sir Stanley Buckmaster, since become Lord Buckmaster, and one of the leading lights of the pacifist-defeatist cabal?
There was of course a certain amount of variation, a few fine movements along the right road, and some of the Nationalist leaders made praiseworthy efforts to spur on recruiting. But a slight comparison seems to me to summarize very well the attitude of the two great divisions of Ireland: by the middle of November the municipality of Dublin bad sent 42 of their employees to the army, Belfast 439.
About this time seditious tendencies became more defined. It was no longer a question of sly abstention, but of open sympathy for the enemy. The poisonous press, led by The Irish Volunteer, that flashy organ of the National Volunteers, preached Germany's innocence, rejoiced impudently over our reverses, calumnied in a hateful manner French, English, and Algerian troops, and promised that Albion's collapse would shortly supervene. Irish Freedom wrote that "when that putrid old carcass could no longer move, a paean of exultation would rise from the Irish nation which would rend the skies." The Irish Volunteer wrote:
"Do not, you Irishmen, fight for dirty little England." and "our only path to the glorious happy Ireland of our aspirations lies through the downfall of the British Empire."(23)
Dear creatures! It looks hopeful. But none of this disturbs Buckmaster ---nor Birrell ---nor the Viceroy Lord Aberdeen. What in the name of fortune would upset their equanimity? Mr. Birrell, in reply to a question in the House, even asserted that
"These publications appear to have an unusually large free circulation, particularly in England. . . . Although I do not myself regard them as a danger, I am sure they are an insult to the sentiment of the vast majority of the Irish people."(24)
About this time, too, a society, which has since been very prominent, took over the direction of all this seditious agitation, the Sinn Fein Society. "Sinn Fein" in Gaelic means "we ourselves"; in a word, it is the party which wants integral autonomy, and it has a very realistic and very practical program. Above all, Sinn Fein professes great contempt for the Irish Nationalist party and its Parliamentary efforts; it simply wants to ignore the British Parliament, asserting that neither Mr. Redmond nor his eighty-four deputies, nor even the great leaders of the past, have ever achieved anything. It has a Constitution:
"First: That we are a distinct nation.
"Second: That we will not make any voluntary agreement with Great Britain, until Great Britain keeps her own compact which she made by the Renunciation Act of 1783 which enacted 'that the right claimed by the people of Ireland to be bound only by laws enacted by His Majesty and the Parliament of that Kingdom is hereby declared to be established, and ascertained for ever, and shall, at no time hereafter, be questioned or questionable.'
"Third: That we are determined to make use of any powers we have, or may have at any time in the future, to work for our own advancement and for the creation of the prosperous, virile, and independent nation."
Then follow the methods which are to be employed:
The introduction of a Protective System for Irish Industry and Commerce (against England, of course).
An Irish Consular Service.
An Irish Mercantile Marine, so as to dispense With the English.
The General Survey of Ireland and development of its mineral resources.
An Irish National Bank and a National Stock Exchange.
The creation of a National Civil Service; officials are to be appointed by the institution of a common national qualifying examination and a local competitive examination, the latter at the discretion of the local bodies. Compulsory teaching of the Irish language, of Irish history; "national" ( !) methods of manufacture and agriculture---and other specimens of progress backwards.
The non-consumption of articles paying duty to the British Exchequer. Withdrawal of all voluntary support to the British Armed Forces.
The non-recognition of the British Parliaments as invested with constitutional or moral authority to legislate for Ireland. The Annual Assembly in Dublin of persons elected . . . to formulate measures for the benefit of the whole people of Ireland.
It is ambitious. The society started in a humble way at the time when the Nationalist party was at its zenith, that party whose hegemony it was one day to undermine. Its founder is Mr. Griffith, a journalist of Welsh extraction, and the principal directors are college and university professors, young poets, etc.
At first they were laughed at and treated as "visionaries," but it must be confessed that their program is practical rather than Utopian, "Stop begging for everything from England, let us get to work ourselves." They began by opening a bank, starting a newspaper, and asking for the suffrages of municipal and provincial voters.
They dissociated themselves from the two elements which had led the country till now, the clergy and the Nationalist party. "A century of fine speeches has given us nothing." Evidently the fine talkers, politicians by profession, had no love for them and returned their insults with interest. The clergy, more prudent, did not commit themselves, but waited to see which would win the day; but the young priests did not conceal their sympathy with these out-and-out rebels, and were present at Sinn Fein meetings; it often happened that in a parish the old priest was a Redmonite and his curates enthusiastic Sinn Feiners. Lastly---Sinn Fein has another ally, the group of revolutionary Socialists in Dublin, led by one of the most violent of demagogues, Jim Larkin, and delighted to find this help for the coming great social upheaval.
What is the conspicuous feature in this movement? For the last century since O'Connell's day, the official spokesman of Ireland, the elected representatives and the Roman Catholic priesthood, have demanded under the name of Home Rule an autonomy subject to the supremacy of the Crown, promising to behave nicely and to ask for nothing more, to be reasonable and maintain the same mutual advantages between the two islands, and finally never to constitute a military danger for England. As a guarantee of good faith it was always understood that the Imperial authorities alone would keep control over military matters and international relations. And at the very moment when all this was granted, when, as Mr. Redmond solemnly asserted, her right to autonomy had been conceded by the democracy of Great Britain, and therefore Ireland would feel in honor bound to keep her promises, a new party arose which replied to Mr. Redmond: "You had no right to make this promise; we do not recognize any engagement made with England. We do not want either to have anything to do with your constitutional transaction, we must have an independent Republic."
Thereupon, in the course of two or three years, the whole of Ireland turned its back on Mr. Redmond, repudiated his declarations, and adopted the new formula of Sinn Fein. The game was up, and it might have been foreseen. Had not Parnell sworn to sever the last link? The situation was reached by slow stages, but it was reached surely. Redmond's fine deeds and moving phrases soothed the Radical idealists of England and made them oblivious of many other compromising threats. Unfortunately these were the only statements in Ireland which were worth anything. The Unionists were told to trust Ireland, and they shrugged their shoulders. Let us see if they were mistaken. In December, 1914, as Mr. Birrell refused to intervene, the military authorities, tired of the official inertia, took upon themselves to seize these little seditious papers. And so the trouble began. Sinn Fein complained of persecution, held some stormy meetings and defied the police openly. Its success exceeded all its hopes; the National Volunteers deserted Redmond and turned over wholesale to the Irish Volunteers of Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein began to talk of "our brave allies the Germans," and adopted a new motto, "Gott strafe England!" Obviously Irish sympathies were drawing closer and closer to Berlin. On December 6th the German Dr. Kuno Meyer, formerly professor of the Celtic language at Dublin University, announced to the Clan-na-Gael in New York that Germany was engaged in forming an Irish Brigade from among her prisoners.
That was the first confession of this fresh intrigue.
There are only two things to note of the first months of 1915: the great prosperity of Ireland ---for though dissociating herself from the war she did not refuse to profit by it---and the indifference of English public opinion to what was going on in the Emerald Isle. Ireland was not provoked in any way---in fact, no notice was taken of her, for England had other fish to fry. Some other pretext must be invented to excuse the attitude of suspicious Erin.
On March 15th Mr. Redmond complained at Manchester that his Volunteers had not been allowed to defend Irish soil by themselves. It was a fairly naïve hint to withdraw the English garrison. Ulster had made fewer reservations, and Belfast by March 1st had provided 19,000 men---that is, almost 5,000 for every 100,000 inhabitants, more than any other town in the United Kingdom; the Unionist counties of Ulster represent 30 per cent. of the population of Ireland, but they provided 60 per cent. of its recruits.
During the month of May, Dublin, headed by the Lord Mayor and its Nationalist members, began to agitate on the subject of the new duties on beer and spirits, for they would not even help us financially. Thereupon Mr. Redmond produced his ultimatum, supported by the vociferations of his whole party; and Asquith's Cabinet, unable to refuse him anything, yielded at the first demand and withdrew its scheme. The lesson was not lost; and the little scene was repeated every time that any help was asked from Ireland.
A few days later England went through the first serious crisis in internal politics since the declaration of war. The slowing down of voluntary recruiting, the insufficiency of munitions, the military disappointments of Neuve Chapelle and Gallipoli, bickerings at the Admiralty, reverses in Galicia, an intrigue against Lord Kitchener, who was thought to be opposed to conscription---in short, there was a quantity of dirty linen to be washed, and Lord Northcliffe's press took charge of it with its accustomed vigor. It was a question of getting rid of the little petty back-stairs intrigues of pottering Radicals, of putting an end to Mr. Asquith's delays, of removing from office various lukewarm if not suspect personages, of insisting upon new blood, administrative reorganization, and perfect unity of all the party leaders for the conduct of the war. This produced the Coalition Government, when Mr. Asquith took unto himself the great Conservative supporters, Lord Curzon, Mr. Balfour, Mr. Bonar Law, Mr. Walter Long, Mr. Austen Chamberlain, and the Trade Unionist leader, Mr. Henderson.
In order to complete this union of willing spirits, it was only necessary to summon the leaders of the two rival factions in Ireland, Redmond and Carson. The latter gladly accepted one of the junior legal appointments, but Mr. Redmond declined the offer and preferred to remain outside as a free lance. It is said that he only refused because he was forced to do so to obey his party; at all events his refusal marked a change and withdrawal from his fine promises of August, 1914.
To tell the truth, the Nationalist party were much dismayed to see the disappearance of the Home Rule Cabinet which they had held in bondage for so long, and they did not conceal their annoyance. The rest seemed a secondary matter. The rest! Civilization with its back to the wall, the uncertain fate of other little nations, unpunished crimes, martyrs to avenge---no, Ireland did not trouble about them. Can Nationalism only be racial egoism?
Do you know what Dublin got excited about, a fortnight after the infernal affair of the Lusitania? In the reconstruction of his Cabinet Mr. Asquith wished to appoint as Lord Chancellor of Ireland a former political opponent, a capable and respected lawyer, but a convinced Unionist. Instantly the Nationalists held a great Council of War and Mr. Redmond hurled his thunderbolts: "It is an insult to Ireland!" Mr. Campbell withdrew his candidature in order to appease these sensitive patriots; but what must Ulster think about the matter---she to whom has been promised later on under Home Rule the most absolute impartiality in nominations?
In July there came another "insult to Ireland." Great Britain, having enrolled 3,000,000 men, saw that the flow of voluntary enlistment was practically exhausted, and prepared for conscription. For this purpose the population had to be registered and classified into the different categories from which fit men should be drawn. Ireland protested, and as the new Cabinet still contained Messrs. Asquith and Birrell, Mr. Redmond ordered them to resort to the traditional expedient. Registration shall not apply to Ireland---only to Ulster.
But still promises were not fulfilled, recruiting in Ireland was slack and far below the normal average. Fresh pretexts had to be found to excuse this. There was much indignation at Sir Edward Carson's appointment; it was insinuated that the Ulster division was not being sent to the front, but was being retained in its camps with sinister motives, etc. It was even maintained that the mere presence of Carson in the Government was enough to absolve recalcitrant young Irishmen.
The apathy of these able-bodied young men was, it is true, merely superficial. On August 1st this fact was suddenly revealed, and there were many who thought it ominous. On that day O'Donovan Rossa was buried in Dublin; he was an old dynamiter of great age, of many crimes; he had been pardoned by Gladstone and exiled to America; in a word, he was a perfect type of an "Irish martyr." The funeral was magnificent, and 10,000 Volunteers, both Redmondites and Sinn Feiners, marched in the procession in good order. At least 5,000 of them were armed with rifles. Under the Birrell régime the police were always forbidden to interfere, and the recruiting sergeants could only look on with envious eyes. And Mr. Redmond was naively more and more amazed that the War Office refused to recognize his Volunteers officially!
At the end of October, Sir Edward Carson resigned, as he would not be responsible for the pusillanimous diplomacy in the Balkans. His opponents had then one excuse the less for neglecting their duty, but recruiting did not improve for all that. Mr. Redmond tried to comfort himself by pointing out the heroism of those Irish who were serving, and of those who came from Australia and Canada. We certainly admire them all, but what had they to do with the matter? I will just quote in passing a statement on the same theme by an Irishman who, however, has no ill-feeling. "The country was not with it [i.e. the rebellion], for be it remembered that a whole army of Irishmen, possibly 300,000 of our race [he includes colonials], are fighting with England instead of against her"; and a little farther on: "It was hard enough that our men in the English armies should be slain for causes which no amount of explanation will ever render less foreign to us, or even intelligible" (sic!). (25)
The commentary spoils it all.
Redmond made out that he was very proud of the attitude of his fellow-countrymen. He assured Parliament on November 2nd that for the first time in the course of history the whole Irish race fully sympathized with England in the war. It is true that Ireland was quiet, or appeared to be quiet. The following months will show us what that conceals.
In December, 1915, The Times raised another alarm about Sinn Fein propaganda, and about small leaflets, so called, which had a considerable circulation. Mr. Birrell was obliged to confess that the Irish Volunteers tried to prevent recruiting and to foment sedition. Unfortunately he still did not decide to take any steps, and his panacea was as usual a policy of laissez-faire. The malcontents armed themselves and drilled with more enthusiasm than ever; the Bishop of Limerick blessed their cause and wrote that "this war does not concern Ireland." All agreed upon a fresh argument. "We do not owe England anything so long as she does not put into force the Home Rule Act which she has passed. Mr. Redmond betrayed us when he accepted this postponement, when he neglected to make use of circumstances to force Mr. Asquith's hand and oblige him to give immediate and complete satisfaction, including the submission of Ulster. The English are in difficulties; the war is giving them more trouble than was expected. So much the better. 'England's difficulty, Ireland's opportunity.' Let us make the most of it." Just at this time the Government wished to retrench and reduce administrative expenditure. A commission was suggested to examine notorious abuses of Irish administration. Mr. Redmond opposed it: "no Irish economies." The Government gave in. Yet for forty years the Nationalist party has been objecting to that very wastefulness and extravagance in the Irish estimates! How logical! How consistent!
In the New Year of 1916 the British Cabinet came to the stern decision to bring in conscription. The idea was repugnant to Liberal Englishmen, but when people are willing they can stifle their objections at so tragic a crisis and in so noble a cause. The debate was a solemn one and the Bill was passed by a very large majority.(26) Here again Mr. Redmond opposed his veto: the new Act was not to extend to Ireland. Heaven knows what worries that clause has caused!
The speech of the Irish leader was feeble. His main object was to assert that his country had done her duty; is his assertion enough to make us believe it? He even dared to risk a comparison between Great Britain and Ireland. Is it not a challenge? To do it justice we produce the exact figures which the Government had to publish at the time.
Great Britain had up to October 23rd, 1915, produced nearly 3,000,000 volunteers (in the regular army, the reserve, the navy, and Kitchener's army).(27) She still had 5,000,000 men of military age of whom 2,830,000 came forward under Lord Derby's scheme between October 23rd and December 15th---on the condition that they would be called up in groups, unmarried men first, etc.
At the instance of Mr. Redmond, Lord Derby's scheme of enrolling men under categories had also not been applied to Ireland. Mr. Birrell drew up the following table for the four Irish provinces: (1) men of military age on August 15th, 1915; (2) voluntary enlistments up to December 15th.
|or 15.7 per cent|
|.." 10.4 ...."|
|..." 4.4 ...."|
|.." 29.5 ...."|
The reader can see whether the percentages justify Mr. Redmond's patriotic pride so far as the first three provinces are concerned, which belong to his party. Mr. Campbell, member for Dublin University, in one of the finest speeches in the debate, said:
"I would not be honest---and in this matter one is bound to speak plainly and frankly---if I were to live up, or attempt to live up, to that conspiracy of make-believe in regard to recruiting in Ireland which prevails to-day. . . . There are many parts of Ireland to-day in which you could not hold a recruiting meeting. There have been, to my own knowledge, in the last few months many of those recruiting meetings broken up, hostile resolutions carried, and even that great soldier Lieutenant O'Leary, who gained the Victoria Cross as the result of conspicuous gallantry, has to my own knowledge been received with jeers and hoots."(28)
Mr. Campbell, in a fine passage, takes up and turns round the hateful formula, "England's difficulty, Ireland's opportunity," in an ardent appeal; yes, now is come the chance for Ireland, the opportune moment, the hour for exalted inspiration; yes, let us be loyal to the cause of justice and liberty, let us help England in her noble task. Then, indeed, we shall have deserved everything and we shall be able to ask for everything. We shall have won our rights otherwise than by rebellions and stabs in the back . . . ! Alas! as Mr. Campbell is an old Unionist, the Nationalists listened to all this with amusement, and a voice whispers to them the new creed---the motto of Sinn Fein---"Ourselves alone."
Sir Edward Carson protested in the name of Ulster; his province was humiliated by this insulting favor, and valiant Irish regiments will be short of recruits. Mr. Redmond was angry; he undertook that the Irish regiments would not be thus neglected, there would be no lack of volunteers. A fine promise certainly, but who would keep it? Was it not flouted a year ago? No, Ireland will not have conscription, and the hour is approaching when she will thank us after her manner.
Imperceptibly we draw near to the edge of the abyss. The rebels prepared their plot under better conditions than they could have expected; everything looked most promising for their schemes. No one is thinking about them, all eyes are turned elsewhere; the tragic anxiety of Verdun engrosses every one, and since midnight on March 1st there is unrestricted submarine war. Poor Ireland! another insult, the mortification of interesting nobody! Even those who ought to be thinking about her, such as Mr., Birrell, do not appear to be doing so. The Sinn Feiners have a clear field; they are no longer content with field days in the country, they have maneuvers in Dublin itself. Night maneuvers, street fighting, sham sieges of the Castle, the citadel of the Government; and all this is done with modern rifles, with impunity, under the eyes of a muzzled police. Mr. Birrell and his subordinates make out that this is very amusing and quite harmless. The reign of these nonchalant gentlemen is drawing to its close, and soon we shall have no need to refer to them, but before forgetting them I will just recall one of the hundreds of little incidents which are typical of the methods of these ineffable administrators.
The Budget of 1916 instituted a tax upon public entertainments, sports meetings, etc. In Ireland, where everything is politics, sports are regulated by the Gaelic League, a sort of replica of Sinn Fein. Football and hockey with new names and trifling alterations have been turned by the Gaelic League into "national games for developing the national spirit." It simply means that they object to one of the forms of Anglo-Saxon influence, and no effort is made to conceal it. Moreover, the rules of the League exclude rigorously any Irishman "so cowardly as to wear the English uniform," and no soldier can enter its precincts.
Moreover, this League demanded that it should pay no entertainment tax on gate-money for its football matches, on the plea of the higher interests of national idealism and other fooltraps. Mr. Birrell was the fool: he gave way with his usual suavity. Sedition was at a premium, and this happened a fortnight before civil war in Dublin!
Finally, the Courts were useless. As soon as a judge dared to show severity, he was reprimanded by Government. The juries were the accomplices in all misdemeanors: for a speech inciting to treason the fine was one shilling, and the Kaiser was applauded in open court. No steps were taken, the police had to keep quiet.
The forts of Verdun fall one by one, we are being driven into a corner, the savage brute has us at bay . . . we have only to be shot from behind: Sinn Fein undertakes the job.
On April 25th, 1916, Easter Tuesday, the Admiralty published a brief communiqué:
"During the period between p.m. April 20th and p.m. April 21st, an attempt to land arms(29) and ammunition in Ireland was made by a vessel under the guise of a neutral merchant ship, but in reality a German auxiliary, in conjunction with a German submarine. The auxiliary sank and a number of prisoners were made, amongst them was Sir Roger Casement."
That same evening there were other surprises: the German cruisers
come out, the east coast of England is bombarded, an armed rebellion
in Dublin, the General Post Office seized by rioters, etc. . .
. We can all remember these events as they were described in the
newspapers. The coincidences were conclusive: the German has been
at work, and the Irish, too. Ireland has given herself away. And
Mr. Birrell will have to allow, before he goes into retirement,
after ten years of culpable weakness, that Ireland cannot be won
by kindness. May other statesmen, no less sincere and well-meaning,
not fall again into his mistake!
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