R. C. ESCOUFLAIRE
IRELAND---AN ENEMY OF THE ALLIES?
THE INSURRECTION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
THUS, during Easter, 1916, the authorities charged with the duty of governing Ireland laid aside all anxiety and suspicion; optimism was the order of the day. The officers at the Curragh were allowed to be present on the following day at the steeplechases at Fairyhouse, and General Friend, the Commander-in-Chief, went to London on leave. Dublin Castle was guarded by seventeen men. There were no more than 1,000 men in Dublin to hold all the barracks, magazines, etc., and 2,500 at the Curragh.
Farther off, in the west, rumor was busy, secrets were whispered from one to another mysteriously. "The Germans have come to deliver Ireland . . . 30,000 Prussians have landed in Kerry, the same number of Irish-Americans at Wexford . . . Verdun has fallen. France has capitulated and signed the peace, England is imploring for a separate peace . . . the Irish coasts are surrounded by a cordon of submarines, English reinforcements will not be able to land . . . "
Easter Monday was a regular fête day with glorious sunshine. A grand parade of Sinn Fein Volunteers, in green uniforms, had been announced. In the streets of Dublin there were many soldiers on leave, among them Canadians and Australians who had come to see their distant cousins. British troops carry no arms when not on duty, not even a bayonet.
Little squads of Sinn Feiners were all about, on their way to the parade; they were looked at with curiosity, but the sight was nothing new. All of a sudden a young English officer who had just bought a stamp at the General Post Office was told that he was a prisoner, turned round and found himself between two Volunteers with fixed bayonets. Outside, shots were heard; Sinn Fein was shooting down all the unarmed men on leave---a vestige of that atavistic ferocity which Ulster is so greatly blamed for mistrusting. A fortnight later, Mr. Dillon, speaking in the House of Commons, said that he regretted to see the ardor of his fellow-countrymen so misplaced, but he was proud of their courage, and they fought cleanly. The Irish have these euphemisms! Some cavalry were returning from escort duty under a second lieutenant, their lances at rest, and without other arms, and went slowly along by the quays. When the officer, quite a young boy, turned the corner into Sackville Street, several shots rang out; he fell from his horse, killed, then the sergeant.
At the gates of the Castle an old policeman was on duty, a good old fellow, popular and well known in Dublin. Seeing a patrol arrive and thinking it was some new joke, such as he had seen so many of in the last two years, he raised his hand and said: "Now then, boys, be off with you, no nonsense." He was shot down and killed. The patrol was led by a woman who bent down and spat in the face of the corpse. It took two seconds, just time for the sentries to summon the guard. It was thus that Dublin Castle was saved.
Motor-cars, lorries, etc., were stopped and requisitioned for barricades. All civilians who did not obey (for as yet no one took all this seriously) were answered by a revolver bullet without more ado. Saint Stephen's Green was seized by another party, commanded by the famous Countess Markievicz, elegantly attired in a green tunic, breeches, and soft felt hat. A daughter of one of the best and oldest families in the country, the Gore-Booths, æsthetic, eccentric, formerly mixed up with young art students in Montparnasse, she had married in Paris a young Polish count, and had brought him back to Dublin, where she was at the head of the suffragettes, socialist kitchens, futurist art and decadent theater, etc. An admirer attributes this pious wish to the picturesque Amazon: "If I could only shoot one British soldier I should die happy!" Was the wish fulfilled? . . . Some officers coming out from lunch at the Shelbourne Hotel on the other side of the square fell to the ground---they were just casual visitors, and unarmed. Finally the rebels installed themselves in several large buildings, made loopholes in them and sniped the last passers-by in khaki who dared to come within their range.
This began at midday on the Monday. The regular troops from the Curragh did not arrive till that evening, and reinforcements from England not till the Wednesday. In the meantime only defenseless pedestrians were killed, quite an orgy of the "bravery" so dear to Mr. Dillon. Sinn Fein hoisted its white, green, and orange flag on the Post Office and proclaimed the Irish Republic:
"Irishmen and Irishwomen: In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old traditions of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag. . . . Having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she now seizes that moment, and supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe . . . "
During this time, while the armed Sinn Feiners showed a certain amount of discipline, the dregs of the Dublin slums pillaged the big shops in the two main streets, Sackville Street and Grafton Street, furriers, jewelers, sweet-shops, etc. The next day white fox-fur muffs were changing hands for one or two shillings in the poor parts of the city. The men mostly chose to attack the wine and spirit dealers; drunk and enraged they felled one another with the bottles, and by the evening the Dublin hospitals had many more wounded from that cause than by rifle fire.
By nightfall Sinn Fein headquarters declared that they were delighted, and the fact remains that they had shown some tactical skill and a well-concerted plan. The buildings in their hands dominated the bridges and main roads, etc. They had begun the work, and as for the rest, they announced to the people that the Germans would complete it. Instead of Germans, the steamers from England brought regiments of Kitchener's army, with artillery, machineguns, armored cars; the men of the Irish battalions were not behindhand in their determination to make the rebels see reason.
On the Wednesday martial law was proclaimed, and General Maxwell arrived charged with the duty of reestablishing order. The General had just come from defending the Suez Canal and repulsing the Turks, and happened to be in England in order to take up a more important command; in Egypt he had shown himself to be a skillful administrator as well as a successful soldier.
Little by little the rebels were surrounded, but they still held out for a few days. On Friday, although they knew that all was lost, their headquarters issued a final piece of bravado: "The English Army, so proud of the Dardanelles and the Marne, has been conquered by us!" Then the glorious War of Liberation came to an end with the close of the week, and the whole party surrendered on Saturday. The sum total of the adventure was 124 soldiers killed, 400 wounded, 216 civilians killed, 514 wounded. The finest streets in Dublin were destroyed and the damage amounted to £4,000,000. The losses of the Sinn Feiners could never be estimated; many were buried and burned under the ruins of the houses which had been fired, and most of the wounded were carried away and hidden by their friends. The majority of the rebels had only to discard a rifle and bandolier to pose as inoffensive spectators; and if there were instances of summary justice, it was due to the fact that in this case verily "the civilians had fired." Finally, all the witnesses, journalists, officers, and magistrates who saw the captured cases of ammunition, and the cartridge belts left upon the field, agree that Germany had supplied her Irish minions with explosive bullets. That would surprise nobody. To-day the Irish will only remember the corpses of so-called civilians, with the usual resounding anathemas from their melodramatic repertoire.
Had the leaders of the movement ever reckoned sincerely on success? It is hard to believe it. Their true motives may be found in two points. It had been agreed in writing between Casement and the Wilhelmstrasse that if the rebels could hold the capital for one week during the Verdun offensive, Ireland would be represented at the peace negotiations as an independent and sovereign nation. Sinn Fein kept its part of the compact; it is for us to see that it gets no reward for having betrayed us.
The other calculation was better founded and could not fail to succeed. "Our insurrection will be put down, but the moral effect will be immense. It will be followed by repression, and that will be our victory; Ireland the Martyr will be grander than ever."
Sinn Fein left at the mercy of Sir John Maxwell about a thousand rebels taken with arms in their hands, the only ones at least who were wearing the green uniform and could not get through the surrounding cordon. Then, according to the ancient formula, Ireland's martyrdom began. The prisoners were taken before courts-martial. "Bloody courts," howled the Irish. Good heavens! they are not set up to award good-conduct prizes. All the signatories of the proclamation were shot. Altogether there were fifteen executions; sixty-nine others who were condemned to death, including Countess Markievicz, were reprieved by General Maxwell, who had plenary powers of life and death. The Irish called this a butchery. The rest of the prisoners were deported to concentration camps in England.
The moral effect on which Sinn Fein had counted soon made itself felt. A week after the capitulation General Maxwell passed into Irish legend under the name of "sinister brute," and other more or less Homeric epithets. "The soldiery drowned Ireland in blood" . . . it is true that Mr. Birrell would have set about it less severely. One heard of nothing but touching episodes: the daring of Countess Markievicz, kissing her revolver before handing it over to the English officer; or young Plunket, a poet aged twenty, marrying his fiancée in his cell at midnight before going to his execution. A frightful fuss was made about some doubtful incidents, about three bodies of "civilians" found hidden in a cellar, no doubt massacred by bloodthirsty Tommies; or the death of Mr. Sheehy Skeffington, shot without trial. It was proved on the one hand that Mr. Skeffington, one of the promoters of anti-English propaganda, had never taken up arms during the rebellion, and on the other hand that his executioner was a convalescent officer, not recovered from shell-shock which he had contracted in Flanders. Skeffington's widow, raised to the rank of national heroine, now travels about the United States, crying aloud for vengeance and presiding at Irish meetings against recruiting.(30) Thus the two methods succeed one another without respite; first explosive bullets, then pathos and sentiment. Everything else is quickly forgotten! A year later Bishop Fogarty, in Limerick Cathedral, bowed at the name of the "brave and heroic Irishmen shot at Dublin, with unmerciful brutality." There are now only noble victims of Saxon barbarity. Oh, if the Sinn Feiners had had to deal with their "gallant allies"! If they could have enjoyed the "preventive" mildness of Aerschot or of Dinant!
History repeats itself in its contradictions as in its analogies. The man who prescribed for ten years to the English Government the infallible remedy "trust poor Ireland" did not fear to turn accuser; John Redmond asked the Prime Minister on May 8th, 1916:
"whether he was aware that the continuance of military executions in Ireland had caused rapidly increasing bitterness and exasperation among large sections of the population who had no sympathy with the rising, and whether it might not be better to follow the precedent set up by General Botha in South Africa, where only one had been executed and the rest exceedingly leniently treated, and stop the executions forthwith?"
All the Irish members joined in the chorus. Mr. Asquith found himself treated as an assassin. Poor Mr. Asquith! to have coquetted with those rebels for so long and come to that at last!
Mr. Birrell and Lord Wimborne, the Viceroy, resigned of course, bewailing themselves and pleading that they had acted for the best. The Radical party were much mortified, for they had had too many warnings to be excused; but all those who were responsible, Irish and English Liberals, were quickly agreed upon the reply to make: "All that is Carson's fault!" A grand idea! Carson, who for two years had not said a word, who had not uttered one complaint or provocation, and had preached in Ireland nothing but peace; Carson, whose one thought was for the great war, and who was entirely devoted to the great Crusade!
Mr. Redmond and his friends have on many occasions declared that the "Irish people" were not implicated, and had shown no sympathy for the rebellion. We must understand one another. The armed rebels, it is true, only amounted to a few thousands. But if the rest of the nation was willing to insult and curse England, can one say that it was not their accomplice? I believe that Mr. Birrell's evidence before the Commission of Inquiry is conclusive, for no one can accuse the former Chief Secretary of prejudice against Ireland.
"You had a certain number of prosecutions for anti-recruiting and seditious meetings, but you could not get convictions with a jury? ---No. It was not merely that the jury disagreed, but they acquitted?---They acquitted, yes . . . when it was a case against a schoolmaster for having explosives and ammunition in his bag and seditious literature and all that---we could not get a conviction. That was before a jury."(31)
This was confirmed by all the witnesses at the inquiry. Before this same commission, Major Price, one of the heads of the police, gave evidence in these words:
"The one unfortunate thing which hindered us a good deal was the attitude of the official Nationalist party and their press. Whenever General Friend did anything strong in the way of suppressing or deporting the Sinn Fein leaders from Ireland, they at once deprecated it in the Nationalist press and said it was a monstrous thing to turn any man out of Ireland."(32)
It is the same old cry of all riotings and all rebellions: preventive measures are odious, repression and retaliation are criminal!
After the rebellion the Nationalist party, which had for the last two years been forced by its leader to adopt a dignified mien and a reserve to which it was unaccustomed, was delighted to return to its guerrilla warfare, and to be able to spit out all its accumulated venom. It set about it with joy, it monopolized the attention of Parliament, and questions and abuse increased more and more. Would the Government stop the arrests? the requisitions? restore civil supremacy? see that troops were not marched along the high roads of Ireland? treat prisoners properly? treat them as prisoners of war according to international conventions! etc., etc.
I have had to read over all this rubbish, and could find nothing in it but the most surprising pettiness and irrelevance. There is not one gleam of regeneration, no solid basis on which to rebuild the ruins---nothing but obstruction, hatred, rage, scorn.
Not one gleam? Well, yes, one; but it came from England. On May 25th Mr. Asquith and his Coalition Cabinet proposed to the Irish parties that they should resume the conferences which King George had summoned in July, 1914, and try to find a modus vivendi between themselves. The idea was a good one; the quarrel is no longer---if it ever was---between Ireland and England, but between two enemy Irelands. They must begin by examining the situation, and by looking for possible points of contact. A connecting link was necessary, a president of the court, a critic or an impartial adviser; it should be Mr. Lloyd George, at that time Minister of Munitions. He is a Welsh Celt, his fervor and imagination ought to please the Irish, and he has no "Irish past"---he is not compromised by any prejudice on the question. There is strong hope that in this solemn hour, heavy with remorse and anguish, in the shame which must make Irish patriots blush, and after a bloody awakening from too wild dreams , every one will feel inclined to be generous and accommodating over the transaction.
For some weeks people consoled themselves with this illusion. According to gossip from Parliamentary lobbies, Mr. Lloyd George was conferring with the protagonists; he seemed to be smiling and confident, the atmosphere was good and promised an understanding between all the rivals; at last the eternal Irish question was to be solved. Mirage!
There was still no official communiqué upon the result of the conferences, but soon rumors were crystallized: Sir Edward Carson was said to have renewed the proposal submitted in 1914 to the Conference at Buckingham Palace---that is to say, to take no further steps against Home Rule if the Protestant counties of Ulster were excluded---and Lloyd George was said to be negotiating on that basis.
That was enough to dispel the mirage. The Nationalists grew excited, and threatened: "All or nothing: Ireland is indivisible; you have no right to dismember her." Redmond might perhaps have yielded, but he was carefully reminded that he had no longer any authority and that he represented nobody any more. The clergy declared themselves flatly hostile, the Bishops issued a proclamation against Lloyd George's proposal. The Southern Unionists were not content either, for to grant Home Rule thus on the morrow of rebellion was not encouraging to law-abiding men. And Sinn Fein was already exulting openly and saying that its methods had thrown England into a panic and made Ministers bestir themselves. At once Redmond was much alarmed at having accepted the exclusion of the Ulster counties, and the only thing left for him to do was to try to back out, recriminate, quibble over temporary or final exclusion, get tied up in subtleties, trying to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, promising at the same time to his partisans that Ulster would have to "adhere automatically" to Home Rule Ireland after a certain time, and to Ulster that there would never be any question of constraining her by force.
In short, no agreement could be reached. Out of the whole of this sterile conference we need only recall two or three facts, and they will form a fairly accurate summary of the Irish question.
1. Mr. Asquith, the Prime Minister, and Mr. Devlin, the leader of the Roman Catholic Nationalists of Ulster, both expressly admitted the principle of the exclusion of Ulster.
2. The whole of the rest of Ireland was on the contrary violently opposed to it.
3. The desire to arrive at a compromise existed only in London. Several letters from Sir Horace Plunkett reminded the English that in Ireland no one either sought or desired compromise. And if Mr. Redmond made undertakings in the name of Ireland, all, people, press, and clergy, unanimously repudiated him beforehand; once again his is a voice crying in the wilderness.
4. The only man who in the whole of the debate spoke like a statesman and received congratulations from all sides, both friends and enemies, was again Sir Edward Carson, in the speech which is perhaps the noblest in the whole of his career:
"The Home Rule Act was put upon the Statute Book shortly after the war began, but there was accompanying it a statement by . . . the Prime Minister . . . that they never contemplated the coercion of Ulster. . . . After that statement had been made so far as I am concerned . . . Ireland to a very large extent . . . had passed out of my political consideration altogether. I thought only of the war from that day forward. . . The war swallows up everything. . . . Let there be no idea of the coercion of Ulster. Let it be completely struck out of the Bill, and then go on to win her if you can. . . . She can be won when good government is shown or administered in the rest of Ireland. . . . But what have you to look forward to when the war is over? . . . We will resume our old quarrels over how Ulster is to be excluded when we have just come to terms as to how she should be dealt with. I look forward to it with horror. There is one thing: At the end of the war we will have had enough of fighting."(33)
But as the whole of Nationalist Ireland is of a different opinion, Lloyd George and his negotiators received nothing but groans and booings, and England got a little more abuse.
And Ireland returned to her routine of sulkiness, pin-pricks, and outbursts of fury. A new Chief Secretary was appointed, Mr. Duke, one of the most well-meaning men in the world, who felt sure that he would soon have splendid results by his gentleness and tact. Could he forget so speedily the avatars of his predecessor?
Ireland was again plunged in obscurity, for the other conflict continued, far more terrible, and during all that time there were many more urgent matters to think about than the Irish imbroglio---the battles of the Somme and of Jutland, Brussiloff's offensive, the martyrdom (genuine in this case) of Miss Cavell and Captain Fryatt and of all our tortured prisoners.
Those who visited Ireland in the autumn of 1916 were surprised to note a change of which the London newspapers had spoken little; that was the fact that Sinn Fein was winning sympathy on all sides, and that its propaganda had made striking progress. Its flag flew everywhere, its rosette was in every button-hole, its publications were all over the place, and its songs were heard at every meeting, both in the towns and in the villages. The portraits of the Easter Monday rebels were in the shop windows, and workingmen raised their hats as they passed. The deed was done, the scheme of the rebels had materialized, the rebellion had brought the "moral victory" on which they had reckoned; this is quite consonant with all the past history of the distressful isle.
A Nationalist member, one of the party which was by way of disapproving of Sinn Fein, stated openly in an address that during Easter week they had witnessed abominable executions: the brutal murder of the best men whom Ireland had ever produced (sic).(34)
The English Government was even blamed for having allowed Casement to be executed! A petition asking for his reprieve had been signed by Cardinal Logue and several Catholic prelates. Moreover, in a long speech in the House of Commons on October 18th, 1916, Mr. Redmond himself took up the thread of the national legend which had hardly been interrupted. For the last two years he could see nothing but English stupidity, he forgot that nothing had been done without his advice or his orders. According to him, if the Irish regiments were short of men it was the fault of the blind and obstinate War Office which would not follow his recommendations, adopt such-and-such a flag, such-and-such emblems, grant commissions to his good inoffensive Nationalists, keep up the troops in barracks or let regiments parade at the places, days, and hours which Mr. Redmond wished, etc. . . . in a word, would not give in to the whims of those fine fellows whom they did wrong to mistrust. The rebellion? pshaw!---a small matter when all was said and done; was it not almost justified by the horrors of its suppression? You will often find these a posteriori arguments in Irish polemic. This is how the history of this martyred race is written; one could laugh at it if one did not know that in twenty years' time earnest men will take these fables, so solemnly, stated, as true facts.
By thus persistently demanding mercy for traitors and indulgence for rebels, Mr. Redmond and his satellites did not seem to realize that they were compromising themselves. They would soon have to realize it: contrary to their expectations it was not they who were to recover their lost prestige, it was the rebels whose audacity increased and whose halo shone still more brightly, for their influence increased in an amazing way in 1917.
Mr. Lloyd George having replaced Mr. Asquith as head of the Cabinet, the Nationalist leader saw fit to ask him another question: "Would the Government without further delay confer upon Ireland the free institutions long promised to her and put Ulster under compulsion?"
That is frank enough! at last we know what they are aiming at. Mr. Redmond, in order to allay anxiety, had allowed Mr. Asquith to suspend the application of so keenly disputed a measure until after the war; moreover, he had promised Ulster divers delays in order to bring her in of her own free will; had guaranteed ample safeguards, etc. All that no longer counted; since the sick man had declined an anaesthetic, he was to be bound and cut up alive. Irish "independence" has made a decidedly bad beginning.
The Prime Minister's reply was clear, and let us hope final:
"There are two questions to be asked by all of us. The first is this. Are the people of this country prepared to confer self-government on the parts of Ireland which unmistakably demand it? The answer which I give on behalf of the Cabinet is that the Government are firmly of that opinion, and they are firmly of the opinion that that represents the views of the vast majority of the people of this country. The next point is this. Are the people of this country prepared to force the population of the northeastern corner of Ireland to submit to be governed by a population with whom they are completely out of sympathy? In my judgment, and here I speak on behalf of the Government, there is but one answer to that. They are not."(35)
Mr. Redmond rose from his seat, followed by the whole of his party, and left the House and banged the doors. The following day he cabled a proclamation to the President of the United States and to the Premiers of the colonial Governments, accusing the British Government of treason and disloyalty. In Ireland itself there was a great to-do, a chorus of protests, a fresh manifesto from the Bishops against the "partition of the nation." The Times asked for the views of eminent Americans, statesmen, professors, cardinals, Roosevelt, Taft, Monsignor Gibbons, Monsignor Ireland: all were opposed to partition and decided light-heartedly that Ulster had only to yield. It was easily said. Sinn Fein continued to gain ground, carried off with a high hand all the vacant seats in the by-elections; the official Nationalists who openly professed to espouse the cause of the Allies were left stranded.
In a word, the question relapsed into the deadlock from which it is still far from freeing itself. Home Rule is offered to Ireland---she will have none of it, insists on having Ulster on the pretext of national unity. The demand is folly: England really cannot be expected to use force to make Ulster separate from her. The only possible conclusion, one which foreign critics still do not seem to understand, is that England has not much to do with the matter. It is simply a quarrel between the Irish groups, and the two conflicting proposals are irreconcilable. Every solution conceived in London dissatisfies one or the other party; it rests with them to come to an agreement.
There are precedents for this; the most recent and best known is that of the South African constitution, drawn up on the spot by the interested parties; let Ireland do likewise and submit her scheme. Till now she has never wished to take the initiative, and has been satisfied with criticizing everything which Great Britain suggests to her. In that she has a characteristic in common with many oppressed nationalities---so-called; her policy is in its essence negative, obstructionist and destructive.
Now Lloyd George is the antithesis of all this. Though a Celt himself---and Heaven knows he is proud enough of the fact---he belies Mommsen's celebrated dictum, he has the sense of "constructive" politics. Moreover, with the faults of his race and his dangerous impulsiveness, he also has its imagination and enthusiasm, everything which the Irish deny to the "despicable Saxon." Seeing this unhappy nation going adrift once more, more distracted than ever, he repeats what the English have already said to her hundreds of times:
"My good friends," he says to them in effect, "your imprecations are very eloquent, your repertory of insults have a picturesqueness of their own, your tragic history, your painful past, your sentimental soul all combine to make you attract our sympathy. But all that is very barren; could you not agree to give a little thought to other matters"---(interruptions and protest from outraged patriotism) ---"to imitate the methods which have given elsewhere results of which you are jealous; in a word, could you not complain less and work harder?
"For see, the opportunity has arisen. You accuse us of all your misfortunes, you say that you are in bondage. Well, I will leave you masters of your destinies. I will call together the chosen spirits from among your people, a hundred of your most eminent men by reason of their rank, wisdom, and experience; we will include all the responsible bodies in the State, lawyers, administrators, financiers, bishops, politicians, theoretical and practical economists---Irishmen all. But as your case is based upon the self-government of minorities of distinct nationality, we will give the latter a large share of representation, even those whom you dislike. I invite your fiercest extremists, those Sinn Feiners who have just attacked us with arms in their hands. They refuse? I regret it; they would have been welcome, we were so anxious to know their arguments.
"Apart from that this Senate can do as if pleases. I promise you not to interfere with it. It shall be absolute master of the choice of its methods of work, of the secrecy of its deliberations. I hope that it will bring to its work all the wisdom, all the dignity, conciliation, breadth ,of view, and foresight expected from such an august assembly. It will endeavor to draw up your Constitution, to organize that much-longed-for liberty which will at last allow you" (here the speaker smiles), "I am sure, to recover your former splendors" (here the speaker keeps his countenance).
"And when it has accomplished this noble task, I promise you once more to ratify its decisions and to obtain the consent of my Parliament and my sovereign. On one condition, be it understood: these schemes must be adopted within the bosom of your commission by considerable majorities, thus representing concessions and compromises. If you persist in voting solidly by races, by religious, by factions, nothing can be done; I will have none of these promises of civil war. And now, to work."
The whole House applauded and all the party leaders agreed to try the experiment. But, there is always a "but" to entangle matters in the history of Ireland!---murmurs were already heard; the abstention of Sinn Fein, the most popular party, was significant, and pamphlets abused the English Ministers who wanted to evade their responsibilities.
Nevertheless there is no doubt that Lloyd George by this very simple and very lucid inspiration had just won a far more decisive victory than the Irish believed; a moral victory of which the result would be felt chiefly abroad, in Europe, and farther afield: it was his turn to put the plaintiffs in the dock and hand over to them the burden of proof.
The Convention sat in secret, and in order to avoid polemics and hostile criticisms the newspapers were forbidden to publish anything about the deliberations, except the official communiqués. At the opening meeting Sir Horace Plunkett was unanimously elected President, and all serious-minded men welcomed the choice of such a man.
In order that the Convention should start its work in an unimpeachable atmosphere, the Government thought it advisable to grant a general amnesty and to release the last rebels of 1916 who were interned in England. Their intention was certainly excellent, but as usual the result was disappointing; at the very moment when the liberated prisoners were landing in Ireland very serious riots broke out in Cork; the mob attacked the prison and the recruiting office, threw the flags of the Allies into the river and hoisted that of Sinn Fein. Everywhere the prisoners had a triumphant return; the town of Kilkenny elected the Countess Markievicz to the freedom of the city.
The seat of Major Redmond, who had just been killed at Messines, was immediately won by an immense majority by the Sinn Feiner de Valera,(36) who had been a section commander during the rebellion, had been condemned to death and reprieved. The incident was very mortifying for the Nationalists, who had already profited by William Redmond's noble end to pose as a lot of misunderstood heroes.
Young priests figured more and more frequently in Sinn Fein meetings and processions. On August 5th, the anniversary of Casement's execution was fêted, and thousands of peasants made a pilgrimage to the shore at Ardfert where the traitor was captured.
Therefore everything was done from the English side to obtain the concurrence and goodwill of the Irish; it is the Irish alone who refuse to give it, and as they repudiate beforehand in a hundred different ways the Nationalist leaders who claim to represent them at the Convention, what good can be expected to come of it? Once again promises will be worthless. All that is of very bad omen.
For months on end we look on at a disconcerting contrast. On the one hand there is a Convention for settlement, which the initiated say is on a fair way to success, working in secret---all the members who are questioned on the subject between the meetings declare that everything is going well, all the symptoms are encouraging, and there is every hope that it will come to a satisfactory solution. On the other hand there is the nation which persists in agitations, compromising and damning itself at the very moment when efforts are being made for its salvation. The Sinn Fein Volunteers now amount to 200,000 according to Mr. Duke,(37) to 500,000 according to de Valera, and the whole island was given over to a fresh access of terrorism as it was ten years previously; policemen were assassinated, boycotting in the villages, and cattle driving, etc., were in full swing---in a word, all those amenities which the Irish peasants, who since the war started had been fully occupied coining money, had almost forgotten to indulge in.
Take this little incident. In November, 1917, a humble village schoolmistress, Mrs. Ryan, was expelled by a party of Sinn Feiners. Her crime? "For having played the Dead March in Saul on the school piano before her pupils on hearing of the death of Lord Kitchener," in 1916! That was definite enough. Sinn Feiners decreed that the school should be closed, and posted sentries until another teacher arrived. The spokesmen of Sinn Fein confess quite openly that their keenest wish is to see the Convention fail and to make it fail. At the same time, within the said Convention all the Unionist and Ulster delegates, who are to be converted to the principle of Irish unity, have a hundred more excellent reasons for looking at it with suspicion.
We now come to 1918, and as the feeling grows that the Convention is drawing to its end excitement increases. Rumor has it that the unity of views or the spirit of conciliation, so miraculously preserved until then on subsidiary questions, has been badly shattered since the really essential problem has been under discussion, namely the national status and its exact relations with Great Britain. At this moment Sir Edward Carson left the Cabinet.
"It is, however, apparent that whatever the result of the Convention may be, its proceedings may lead to a situation demanding a decision by the Government on grave matters of policy in Ireland.
"After anxious consideration I feel certain that it will be of advantage to the War Cabinet to discuss this policy without my presence, having regard to the very prominent part which I have taken in the past in relation to the Home Rule controversy and to the pledges by which I am bound to my friends in Ulster."
Every one congratulated him for taking this step.
On the following day, January 23rd, a bomb fell, and all the bitterness which, thanks to compulsory silence, had been dormant since the opening of the Convention, revived again. The Times correspondent at Washington(38) sent his newspaper threatening warnings as to what the United States and President Wilson expected, if he were to be believed, from the Convention and the British Government.
He began by answering for the President's private views on the subject of Irish claims, by recalling the fact that he had recently accepted a little statuette commemorating the rebel Emmet (see Chapter II, p. 24), and had just given an interview with much warmth to Sheehy Skeffington's widow. He stated that the President had on several occasions brought considerable pressure to bear on Lord Bryce, and on Mr. Balfour during his tour in the States, in favor of the Nationalists. He warned us that if the Convention resulted in a fresh disappointment the interest and help of America in this war would thereby be greatly reduced (sic) ; that numerous Congressmen were to raise questions upon English bad feeling; and that, counting on that to gain the Irish vote at the next election, this competition of Republicans and Democrats would give the next Congress a large anti-English majority.
Let us hope that the correspondent exaggerated, that both elected and rulers, in spite of the impetuous enthusiasm of young countries, have enough tact and foresight to know to what point one can interfere with other people's business. This slight danger seems to be farther off to-day, and since January, 1918, many facts have already enlightened our oversea friends and their President, who have been won over to our cause so loyally. Mrs. Skeffington, when she left the White House, set to work to denounce our Alliance throughout the country, by taking up the calumnies of the late Bishop O'Dwyer, and by beseeching the Americans not to come to our help. The States learnt little by little all the outrages to the Stars and Stripes perpetrated by the mad Sinn Feiners, all the insults which Mr. de Valera and his friends hurled at the President and his Ministers. Finally the attitude of Ireland on the subject of conscription, and the recent official revelations on the direct relations between Sinn Fein and Berlin, changed the sympathy of many. The conclusion which The Times correspondent cabled was very simple: Ulster must yield; a minority cannot stand out against the wishes of the Irish majority. He does not seem to realize that Ulster is not a minority of the Irish people, but a separate race.
At all events the effect of this brutal dictation on the Old World was disastrous: polemics revived, British pride was roused, Ulster shook with rage, and the success of the Convention was still further compromised!
The month of March, 1918, brought Ireland a double calamity---the death of Mr. Redmond and the deplorable choice of his successor.
John Redmond was behind his time; he could hardly make himself understood by his fellow countrymen. Attached to the grand Parliamentary manner of the two most illustrious servants of Nationalist Ireland, perhaps the only two genuine statesmen whom she has ever produced, Grattan and O'Connell; careful, as they were, of constitutional forms, of respect for order, knowing, as they did, when to bow before world-wide necessities of a higher level than national egoism, he had become almost an anachronism among his people. He marked a reaction from his immediate predecessor and from the violence of Parnell. He was able to hold the reins for some time, thanks to great tactical skill and to the substantial results which he knew so well how to extract from the English Ministers. But his methods never had the same attraction for his race as those of Parnell: Ireland ended by finding him too prudent, and sent his advice to the winds. They wanted picrate, powder and shot, and Redmond had none of those articles. His was the painful end of deserted leaders and repudiated saints.
We shall never be able to forget that he undertook and embraced our great cause spontaneously, courageously, and with perseverance, and that on the whole he risked and lost his popularity in the service of our rights.
On March 12th, 1918, the Nationalist party elected as his successor the man who was imprisoned with Parnell in 18817 Mr. John Dillon. Nothing could show better what are the present tendencies in Ireland, how Redmond's policy has failed, and what concessions must be granted in order to win popular favor once more.
Mr. John Dillon is a very outspoken man. He glories in never having taken any part in a recruiting meeting. On the morrow of the Dublin rebellion he delivered in the House of Commons, as we have seen, a panegyric on the rebels, and declared loudly that he was proud of those brave men. Redmond had at least given Ulster promises of safeguards, temporary exclusion, etc.; with Dillon there is no longer any danger that we shall suffer from illusions. I have quoted above enough of his assertions; there is no need to repeat all his speeches here, and give him more importance than he deserves.
Since his election he is engaged, as one had to expect, in trying more or less shamelessly to draw nearer to Sinn Fein. We need only be patient a little longer, and we shall soon see him throw aside the mask and cast off what little shame he still possesses.
It did not need all this to consummate the final failure of the Convention. Of what use is it to promise political toleration and fiscal equity in the name of a people who has no other ideal than terrorism?
In presenting the final report, Sir Horace Plunkett stated in the letter with which he prefaces it, "The difficulties of the Irish Convention may be summed up in two words---Ulster and Customs."
We know how firmly Ulster was prepared to oppose the Asquith scheme in 1914. In now consenting to confer with the Nationalist party in order to come to some arrangement which might preserve Irish unity, she certainly reckoned on more reassuring proposals than those of 1914. She was disappointed again and again by the following clauses by which, instead of concessions, she was offered fresh ultimata.
The former text had excluded from the competence of the Irish Parliament, among other matters, the army and navy, treaties, land purchase, the constabulary, and previous loans. Now the spokesmen of Ireland demanded all these. Conscription could no longer be applied without their consent---that is equivalent to saying never; they wish to raise a territorial army in their pay and under their orders---that is very subtle! In future they are to arbitrate without appeal on the subject of land purchase between the peasants---their constituents---and the landlords---English for the most part; they would have the management of all the millions lent by the English who trusted in Imperial caution; they would have all police powers---as well say impunity for their turbulent friends. The first suspicions, the first clouds have appeared on the horizon.
But the Unionist delegates were to have other shocks. Under the pretext that the island had paid too many taxes in the past (the Nationalists assume that to be a self-evident truth), she is to be exonerated from all share in the National Debt, including the debt for the Great War, which has, however, protected Ireland as well as the rest of the Empire. Here we have finance marvellously simplified; the Bolsheviks have made disciples!
Finally the touchstone of the whole Convention was the claim, put forward categorically and unanimously by the Nationalists, to raise Customs barriers and negotiate any commercial treaties which they chose; "on that matter our national dignity cannot yield!" Neither could Ulster's imperialist patriotism. From the moment that this confession was made negotiations were superfluous, and the blindest might read the hidden motives, however well-disguised.
It would take too long to reproduce here all the arguments of the two parties. Ireland maintains that her agricultural interests will never be preserved by the Customs system of an industrial Great Britain. Must we recall the fact that at present England is still a Free Trade country, and that Ireland is very prosperous under the present régime? Her produce is at a premium, and never have her farmers handled so many banknotes. Ulster replies that she, for her part, is industrial, and that the Customs arranged by Ireland, three-quarters of which are agricultural, will not hesitate to sacrifice her interests. The pseudo-separatists had never dared in 1914 to make such a suspicious demand. If, on the contrary, Protection is wanted to reconstitute Irish industry, Ulster's example is sufficient proof that it is quite unnecessary.
These poor creatures imagine innocently that they need only make the laws in Dublin, in order to see magnificent factories springing up everywhere, and it appears that the Americans have promised them dazzling combines. They would do well to begin by inspiring confidence, in the indispensable capitalist, that bugbear of "the friends of the people." Now capital needs order and security, and it is a bad plan to start by repudiating the National Debt for a historical fad.
The Convention discussed the intrinsic merits of scores of amendments. Was it necessary? It took as its theme colonial precedents, and demanded the status of Dominions with full fiscal autonomy. Well, yes, that could be done elsewhere. Why does the analogy not hold good? Because, as the report of the Ulster delegates has it, there is a preliminary question:
"We cannot overlook the strong probability that the controlling force in such a Parliament would to-day be the Republican or Sinn Fein party, which is openly and aggressively hostile to Great Britain and the Empire. During recent months in many parts of Ireland outside of Ulster there has been a great renewal of lawlessness and crime bordering on anarchy."(39)
That has been said over and over again, at the risk of fatiguing the reader in an effort to prove the point; but at bottom that is the pith of the matter. Theories are confounded by the facts. Seeing the peril of the conflict of principles on the fiscal question, Sir Horace wrote on November 6th, 1917, to the sub-committee of nine appointed to endeavor to find a basis of agreement: "To this end we must also assume---and I am sure our Ulster friends will agree to assume---that in its economic policy the Irish Parliament will be guided by common sense." The report of the Nationalist delegates asks much the same thing:
"Any settlement founded on distrust of Ireland will fail in its effect."(40)
That is highly probable. But when you want to win people's confidence, you should be careful not to alarm them as clumsily as did the Nationalists during the Convention.
First of all you try to have some consistency and continuity in your undertakings. On April 17th, 1918, the Municipal Council of Cork demanded a measure of Home Rule which would give satisfaction to the Irish race. There lies the rub. The history of the nineteenth century has proved that the Irish race is not easy to satisfy. After having pretended to accept a Constitution in 1914 and sworn to be satisfied with it, you should not, three years later, assert that it is ridiculous, insulting to national dignity, unacceptable by a free people, etc. . . . To-morrow, Sinn Fein, which has not chosen to lend a hand in the new structure of 1917, will hurriedly demolish it with similar arguments, and this is all the more certain that it is already stating the fact.
Then again, you do not in a deed of settlement pile up threats of friction, and a hundred ways of damaging your creditor as soon as he has renounced his due. Finally you do not go surety for the goodwill of a people which refuses to carry out its undertakings and which is engaged in giving you the lie by flagrant acts.
What security is left? Hopes and wishes. Ulster is besought to "assume" Irish good faith, but can you ask a people to risk its fate on an assumption? She has never been offered anything more substantial than temporary guarantees to be revised after five or ten years. So much the worse for Irish unity, but she will have none of it at that price; she is perfectly content to belong to the British Union, and she has no wish to change masters.
CONCLUSIONS AND FORECASTS
THERE is a curious contrast in this unfortunate quarrel. The Irish, dogmatically minded, do not wish sincerely for a conciliatory solution; the English never appear to realize this, and are still under illusions which would be dangerous if Ulster did not recall them to realities.
Talk about Ireland in any London drawing-room, even at a moment when the Irish are indulging in the most outrageous lawlessness and treason, you will never hear a word of hatred, but an indulgence is shown which amazes one. John Bull even smites his breast and confesses humbly that, to tell the truth, he has never been able to govern this people. But the actual Irish mentality is so foreign to him that he still dreams of being able to arrange matters by logic and common sense. He often says to you, and believes it, that everything will settle itself, the Irish cannot really be as unreasonable as they say.
Sometimes the English go the greatest lengths in making concessions in order to reach a compromise, but there must be two to make a bargain. Read leading articles in the big newspapers, speeches of party leaders, books by the best critics, and you will see that the subject always closes on an optimistic note. This confidence in the future, in spite of what has gone before, seems rather forced when one has just considered the long and troublesome history of Irish obstinacy and paradox. Like Ulster, I for one do not share it.
Sir Horace Plunkett, in presenting his report to the Prime Minister, closes his letter with these words:
"The Convention has therefore laid a foundation of Irish agreement unprecedented in history. . . . Notwithstanding the difficulties with which we were surrounded, a larger measure of agreement has been reached upon the principles and details of Irish Self-government than has ever yet been attained."
It is very misleading. One can understand that Sir Horace should wish to feel that he had not worked in vain; but in spite of all the respect which his intentions and loyalty deserve, one must admit that his own summary does not justify such conclusions. The Convention had not to obtain England's consent to Home Rule, for that had already been given subject to certain safeguards and the exclusion of Ulster. But on the other hand it had to convert Ulster to the new dogma of Irish Unity; instead of which it made her more suspicious and more hostile than ever by justifying all her suspicious. Can one say under these circumstances that they were any nearer coming to an understanding?
This is a brief analysis of the final vote of the Convention. On April 5th, 1918, there were ninety delegates; forty-four voted for the Report ---that is, less than half. All the Catholic Bishops present voted against it, as also did Mr. Devlin, M.P., and Mr. W. Murphy, whose influence was considerable. Among the forty-four there were eleven Southern Unionists; Lord Midleton has since recanted in their name, asserting that in view of the ill-feeling now paramount in Ireland no Unionist would now venture to attempt Home Rule. The forty-four also included a certain number of Nationalist Chairmen of County Councils; their own press now treats them as "defeatists" for having appeared to grant concessions, and Sinn Fein has undertaken to punish them by making them lose their seats. Seven of them have already been removed by these means in two months. An eighth was only enabled to keep his place by a casting vote---his .own. Let us therefore subtract eleven Unionists and seven delegates who have been disowned and reduced to silence: there remain twenty-six signatories of the Report as against twenty-nine opponents. Can we call that a substantial agreement and reckon upon it in future legislation?
Besides, of what consequence are these consultations of legislators and theorists? What does it matter if they are agreed if their supporters never ratify their signature? These supporters answer for no one, it will be said, they do not represent Ireland. John Redmond was "answerable" for Ireland; what notice was taken of his leading principles? Who, then, represents Ireland? That recalls to my mind a correspondent in The Times who wished to show indulgence to the nation and not judge it by this class or that; according to him no notice should be taken of these mistaken people who did not represent the true Ireland---pretentious, half-educated artisans, idle, quarrelsome young men, shop girls led away to sedition by sentimentalism, sincere enthusiasts. . . . But if you choose, sincere enthusiasts may mean a whole nation. Add to these politicians of every calibre, from town and country, priests, teachers, publicans, etc.
What is there left?
What have we to do with all this, and does concern us Frenchmen and Belgians?
Ireland was one of the first to bring forward her claims as an international question; she has therefore given us the right to judge her. She has made great capital out of, and reaped many benefits from foreign sympathies, and she can hardly complain if we ask to verify her title-deeds and her references.
Above all, in this matter of foreign sympathies, the Irish are very proud of the support of their American and colonial cousins. At bottom, the fact that the Irish in Australia or America espouse the quarrel of their former home is too natural and would not have any great moral importance, if all that did not add fresh fuel to the fire of legends and mystification. Thus when American Cardinals appeal to our pity for "Irish distress" which no longer exists, it is as well to put our people on their guard.
On his return from a tour among his oversea compatriots, Mr. T. P. O'Connor, the Nationalist member, raised this cry of alarm: "Never was feeling more bitter---I might almost say so frenzied and anti-English among my countrymen in America as it is now."
That may be so; but nothing justifies it; it is hallucination, pure and simple, or blind hatred; and if that is to be perpetuated one would despair not only of the famous League of Nations, but of the common sense of humanity.
But though they are numerous and influential, there are other people besides Irishmen in the United States. I might almost go so far as to say that all the Irish there are not so mad.
But apart from sentiment one often bears over there quite unfounded statements on Irish matters. The American whom Erin calls as a witness at every other moment genuinely believes, or did believe, all the fables about Ireland being oppressed, exploited, enslaved, etc. He is equally mistaken about the remedies to be applied, as The Times proved by its inquiry in April, 1917. The replies of all the people interviewed have the same refrain: the Irish question must be settled! They do not say how, or else ---what is not worth much more---they think that by some magic formula they can sweep away obstacles which are centuries old and cannot be got over. Some ignore Ulster completely, others assert light-heartedly that she must submit. Many of them borrow analogies from their own history and their own American Constitution like the following:
"Why does England object to give Ireland satisfaction? Did our Union suffer by leaving each State its own legislature?"
Then what about federalism? In England, too, one hears a great deal about federalism in a certain school which finds in it a panacea for an overgrown body. The word is very fashionable, but the thing itself is ill-defined; the newspapers are filled with letters from zealous persons pointing out the urgency of this reform which is as vague as it is indispensable according to them, which will settle every vexed question, beginning with Ireland. Of what use is it to indulge in this chimera? It shows complete misunderstandings of the demands of Nationalist Ireland. What Sinn Fein and even Dillon want is not that, it is integral separation, the very secession of which the United States has such a poignant memory.
"We cannot admit the separation of Ulster from Ireland any more than we could consent to detach South Carolina from our Union."
Then, why wish to detach Ireland from her present Union? There would be a much closer analogy in the example of Virginia. When this State decided on May 23rd, 1861, to secede from the Union, the districts situated to the west of the Alleghany Mountains refused to have anything to do with this separation, and claimed the right to form a new and distinct State, West Virginia, which was officially admitted to the Union in June, 1863. Has not Ulster got in that a very formidable precedent?
"Ulster's fears are hysterical and ridiculous. Our Southerners were afraid, too, that they would be oppressed by the North, and see how mistaken they were."
You might as well compare Dillon to Lincoln! Lincoln, whose memory is now revered by all democracies.
Those who want conciliation at any price all say precisely the same thing to Ulster: "You are wrong to be alarmed, to look too much to the past, to nurse your jealous hatred, etc. . . ." It is word for word what we have been reproaching Nationalist Ireland for doing, but with this difference: the wrongs of Ireland have disappeared, the damage has been made good, the debts have been paid; those of Ulster are unfortunately in the present and yet to come---only too much so. If the people of Belfast wished to forget past history, they would have daily reminders in the words and deeds of the Irish of 1914, 1916, and 1918. Can we blame them for seeing therein more threats than promises?
Moreover, the Americans since they have become our Allies, and have had to suffer with us from the ill-timed jests of the Irish, begin to see matters in a clearer light. For the last year there have been various little ill-omened incidents, insults to President Wilson, the Stars and Stripes trampled in the mud, and so on. Uncle Sam was not expecting anything of that sort, and he is beginning to ask himself at last if England really is the guilty party or whether Ireland is simply cross-grained and ungovernable. I believe that he is getting nearer to the truth and that soon the Martyred Isle will have one dupe the less.
When a few more Americans have passed through Ireland, when there have been a few troops in camp, when the boys from New Jersey have seen this poor tragedy queen a little closer at hand, we may be certain of one thing; they will soon change their opinions of the tales told by their cardinals or Tammany's electoral agents. They will see Ireland petted and cosseted, rather foolishly exempted by England from all the burdens of the war, even from the small food and other restrictions which all the Allies have had to impose upon themselves. The little colleen with the red shawl and green skirt has become the spoilt child of her stepmother; no conscription, no increase in railway fares,(41) no stoppage of race meetings, no limit on petrol, and so on. While their mothers in Boston and Chicago are rationing themselves voluntarily in order to help us to stand fast, they will see Sinn Fein forbidding farmers to export pigs or butter to England. In short, they will see that when they were told that Ireland was to be pitied they were told lies.
When the Irish try, in spite of all, to make them believe it still, they will ask themselves as we have: what can be done to satisfy people like this? Neither England nor anybody else will ever satisfy Ireland. Recrimination has become second nature and she plays the martyr with consummate art, without realizing that we have already seen the performance and that her acting impresses us less in consequence. "The best way to overcome pain," said one of the Fathers of the Church, "is not to love it." Go and say that to Ireland, take away her halo and deprive her of the profit she makes out of it! Ireland is in distress out of habit.
The gentle poet Edmund Spenser said it to her three hundred years ago in these prophetic lines: "Marry, there have been divers good plots devised and wise counsels cast already about the reformation of that realm; but they say it is the fatal destiny of that land that no purposes whatsoever which are meant for her good, will prosper and take good effect."
The English, who are so fortunate and so skillful in their other colonies, have often been reproached with their failure in this case. But does not the very fact that they have succeeded everywhere else show that they are not primarily responsible for the Irish muddle? Matthew Arnold used to complain of this British habit, according to him the most serious obstacle to the good fellowship of the two islands---that of adopting a conventional point of view, of being satisfied with it and instantly expecting others to be satisfied with it likewise. That may be: but why not apply that to Ireland? Why sacrifice the principles and practices of Government which have been proved satisfactory in an immense empire with most diverse races, in the greatest administrative experiment which has ever been made? Why sacrifice the mature political experience of 40,000,000 Anglo-Saxons and Scots to the paradoxes of 3,500,000 Irish? As for knowing whether they are paradoxes, and where common sense is to be found, I leave that to the reader to judge after what he has just read.
L. G. Redmond-Howard is pleased to quote a remark by W. T. Stead, the celebrated journalist since drowned in the Titanic disaster: "We have made every mistake possible as a ruling race in Ireland. We shall never keep our Empire by force like Ireland." True, the British Empire does not depend upon its heavy artillery, and that is the very reason why the Germans, short-sighted psychologists that they are, never could understand its solidity. Stead might have spared himself the trouble of giving England this piece of advice, for she has wisely acted on this principle for more than a century---since her misfortune with America and the stern lessons learnt from George Washington. Then why has Ireland still to be periodically broken in? Because other methods---has not everything been tried?---come to nothing, because madmen cannot be tamed.
Let us take one case out of a thousand. Ten years ago the Irish were moaning because they had no recognized Catholic University. They wanted one which should be both free as regards its teaching and subsidized by that enemy whose money alone is acceptable to them. They were given what they asked. The consequences were predicted by men who were at that time accused of religious or political intolerance, but whose forecasts were soon realized: the National University is the most dangerous hotbed of conspiracies, revolts, of the whole seditious propaganda. Many of its professors are section leaders of Sinn Fein; Professor MacNeill divides his time between lectures on the Gaelic language and manuals of tactics, fortification, and so on for the use of the rebels. The students who leave the National University sow the seeds of rebellion, and, since the instruction of the whole nation is in their hands, the harvest will be rich; in the national schools of Ireland, small and great, primary or secondary, nothing is taught but hatred, hatred, and yet more hatred.
Mr. Redmond had described eloquently the benefits of a higher education which, while respecting religious scruples, would create more enlightened and more law-abiding ruling classes. Cassandra shrugged her shoulders and sneered . . . and Cassandra was right.
Before accepting the Chief Secretaryship of Ireland, Mr. Duke said to his electors at Exeter: "Only two courses are open---coercion or an amicable agreement."(42)
And in spite of the disaster of his immediate predecessor, Mr. Birrell, he wanted to venture upon showing more leniency, release the prisoners, moderate stringent police regulations, shut his eyes to the agitation of the Irish. That lasted for two years, a last respite to calm Nationalist fever---and here we are in delirium, worse than ever. Mr. Duke had to be replaced by Field-Marshal Lord French and martial law had to be rigidly enforced.
We are still far from Home Rule! First of all, the state of feeling in which it would have now to be applied would, with the best intentions, make its failure certain. The Daily News in June, 1918, wrote: "The election of a Home Rule Parliament now is practically impossible from the point of view of British statesmanship, because it would create a Parliament with an overwhelming separatist majority. Such a Parliament would have to be dissolved almost as soon as it began to sit."
Then again, if British statesmen and public opinion have been very indulgent and very generous towards Ireland for the last fifty years, the way in which they have been rewarded will bring us once more to the inevitable and recurrent reaction. The Irish have never tried to conciliate England, but have exasperated her, and in spite of that, her self-denial, raising her above petty considerations, has led her to adopt altruistic courses, and, to sacrifice many of her own interests in order to appease Celtic neurosis. So little was needed to obtain from England Home Rule in Ireland as elsewhere, since she has granted it so sensibly to her young Dominions---not even gratitude, only a little tact and common sense. She has never been given anything but hatred in return for what she has done.
Concessions are refused, victory is desired; Irish hatred demands a victim and has had wild schemes for undermining the columns of the magnificent Imperial structure. Now the best and surest way to hurt England to-day is to join hands with the hateful brood whose way she bars, and whose foul debauchery she stamps underfoot. Ireland did not hesitate; she threw herself into those bloody arms with the same ardor as the paralytic of Constantinople and the loathsome Ferdinand of Bulgaria. She is at liberty to find her ideal there, but it is for us to guard our own, the ideal of Right and Justice, written with capitals. It is for us to see what that Irish victory would signify to-morrow if it were helped by our sympathy: after the following confessions we should be foolish indeed if we were to err in the matter.
Since the war a Germano-Irish Society has been founded at Berlin, under the august patronage of the Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg; we can guess its aims and its disinterested motives. It has three Presidents, including von Schorlemer, the Prussian Minister of Agriculture, and Dr. Kuno Meyer, former Professor at Dublin University, who initiates it into the mysteries of Celtic Kultur and into the gloomy beauties of Gaelic folklore. It is all very innocent. But as the secret funds of the Auswürtiges Amt are not frittered away in trifles, the Society devotes itself to more fruitful applications of Weltpolitik. According to the Kölnische Zeitung it dispatched in March, 1918, some edifying telegrams.
To Hindenburg the superman:
"Filled with the conviction that a free Ireland, independent of England, will guarantee the freedom of the seas, and thereby the liberation of the world from English sea-tyranny, we hope for a strong German peace, which can alone create real guarantees for Germany and for Ireland."
To the pious Count Hertling:
"The independence of Ireland is the real guarantee for the freedom of the seas from the Anglo-Saxon yoke the freedom which is longed for unanimously, not only by the whole German people, but by all peoples."(43)
A few days later, on St. Patrick's day, the Society gave a banquet at the Hotel Adlon, and the Wilhelmstrasse sent as its representative one Herr von Stumm, who made a long speech on the theme of the above telegrams. When Admiral von Hintze took office after Kühlmann's hurried retirement, he promised the same "liberation" in his famous confidence to the ex-Khedive: chivalrous Germany is fighting only to save those two oppressed sisters, Egypt and Ireland, from England's grasp!
After these official benedictions , we know henceforth what to expect of what Germany means by the independence of Ireland. It is more than enough to justify the chief argument of Anglo-Irish Unionists, the strategic argument. It is no longer very fashionable, I know; men prefer the idealism of the platform, Bolshevist candor, or the angelic formula of the Reichstag, "no annexations, no indemnities." It is no longer admitted that any people should be allowed to exist under a yoke of which it disapproves. Granted. But there is such a thing as a right to legitimate self-defense for nations as for individuals, and for great nations as well as for small.
Let us suppose that England renounces her historical rights, her prescriptive titles, and lawful sovereignty. Let us suppose the impossible, that Ireland consents to the exclusion of Ulster. She would not be content for long with self-government under Imperial supremacy; she would at once demand absolute separation: we know it, she has said so often enough and proved it by repudiating those who brought her Home Rule at last.
This absolute separation is inadmissible, and why? Because Ireland would be an intolerable menace to the neighboring island. An economic menace; we have lately seen her Customs schemes. A military menace; Germany and Sinn Fein will see to that.
At the close of the Congress of Friends of Irish Liberty at New York, John Devoy, one of those heroes or martyrs to whom the municipal councils of Ireland send moving addresses every year, a former dynamiter and jail-bird, stated that Ireland would continue to threaten the British Empire as long as there was a British Empire ---and that would not be long.
That was said quite recently, May 19th, 1918. When a people has such wild men as spokesmen and refuses to contradict them---far from that, loads them with honors---when an Empire hears itself threatened in this manner, can you wonder that stern measures are taken? So much the worse for the principle of nationalities! If you go to Dublin you will read at the foot of Parnell's monument: "No man has a right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation. No man has a right to say to his country: thus far shalt thou go and no farther. We have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Irish nationhood, and we never shall." Treitschke, Bernhardi, William II, could not improve upon that.
No right to fix a boundary? I beg your pardon, my poor friend, the right of neighbors, the right of Ulster, the security of Great Britain and that Empire which you stand on your honor to threaten. Your formula is a lie---we ourselves---you must change that, you are not the only people in the world, and great empires have the right occasionally to the same safeguards as a small nation which is too infuriated and too aggressive.
All Irish Nationalism is vitiated by these two emanations---a hateful spite which will never be satisfied without England's humiliation, and a ruthless egoism.
Ah! that egoism! in its very title Sinn Fein glories in it. It has two corollaries: astonishing vanity, and crass ignorance of all outside matters. Just as in the fifth century she conceived the monastic régime, so now Ireland still delights to live in a moral seclusion. Roman Catholic discipline, ever intent upon avoiding the slightest contact with heresy in any of its forms, men, ideas, or institutions, has given hearty support to this isolation. When pronouncing a panegyric upon the too famous O'Dwyer, Monsignor Fogarty, Bishop of Killaloe, thinking that he was paying the highest tribute to his vindictive colleague, said: "For him there was only one country in the world, and that was Ireland---no lakes, no mountains, no people as grand as hers. He never took a vacation outside her shores; he never wore a suit of clothes that was not made in Ireland, and if possible in Limerick."
Truly, that explains somewhat narrow views on world-events! This is the man who presumed to criticize the diplomacy of Downing Street. Erin lives too much aloof, geographically and morally, "on the edge of beyond." She battens too much on her bitter memories and national hallucinations, on her history falsified by fanaticism and intolerance. She does not control her auto-suggestions; points of comparison are missing; like the Bishop of Limerick she prefers to ignore the other world, our world. But to add to her folly, and this is where her vanity comes in, she thinks that the eyes of the whole world are on her, admiring her, pitying her, applauding her. What would you? All her orators tell her so.
Vanity! We are told that towards the end of the rebellion of 1916, in a village near Dublin, Swords, two hundred Sinn Feiners, barricaded in an old convent, wanted to surrender. Unfortunately so little notice had been taken of their heroism until then that there was no one to receive their submission except two local policemen. Mortified at the idea of going through the village under this escort, our warriors themselves telephoned to the nearest barracks to demand a respectable force, and two hours later the two hundred were able to march between two dozen genuine bayonets: national pride was saved.
Ireland to-day is flattering her vanity by another bright idea: she thinks she is the ulcer which is eating into the old British carcass. Apparently that consoles her completely for the loss of many friendships of which she was proud. People take their happiness where they can, but the poor creature is mistaken once again. Is John Bull not in good form, looking very healthy, and more vigorous than ever? Has he a malignant tumor? Nonsense---nothing more than a wart.
What is going to happen now? Let us beware of official orations whose perorations are always so sickly sweet. Here is a choice specimen---Mr. Shortt is speaking, the new Chief Secretary for Ireland: "These are all German plots. . . . Ireland---I mean the great true heart of the Irish people---is not responsible for what the Germans do and is not responsible for what the two or three hundred extremists in Ireland do. Ireland I believe is sound at the core to-day."
You would hardly believe, as you read this, that the most authoritative spokesmen and the most effective representatives of the people, the national clergy, led by their bishops, had, not a month before, forbidden conscription to the faithful from the pulpits; offering for this beautiful "intention" a Mass as solemn as it was blasphemous in all churches on April 21st, 1918, a Mass followed by a great collective oath in the presence of the Holy Sacrament; collecting every Sunday funds for resistance, and advising their terrorized flocks "under penalties of eternal damnation to resist conscription to the uttermost."(44)
For instance, the constable or policeman who wanted to arrest a shirker, or who posted up a recruiting list, would be damned. Do not smile; 95 per cent of the Irish police are Roman Catholics and have to respect these priests of theirs.
Sir Edward Carson replied to Mr. Shortt:
"My right honorable friend looks forward with great hopes to the settlement of Ireland during his régime. I earnestly hope that he may succeed. It has been the aspiration of innumerable Chief Secretaries who have long since been forgotten." (Laughter!)(45)
Optimism by order---chaff before the wind. Do not let us be led away any more by ministerial rhetoric.
Now just hold your head and try to resolve this conundrum, and tell me how you could dare to reckon upon the settlement of Ireland? In view of the physical impossibility of applying conscription, the Government promised through Lord French, the new Viceroy, that every Irish volunteer would be given a holding of land on his return home. Now the land of Ireland is already claimed by farmers and tenants. We know the ideas the countryfolk hold as to their right of occupation, their bad feeling, etc.; they would not stand being supplanted and replaced by rivals, the land belongs to them. In France we have seen the most amenable peasant grow fierce in similar cases. In Ireland, where men are violent by nature, we must add to this contention, which is common to all countries, the effect of a whole century of agrarian agitation and organized crimes, of which we have said quite enough elsewhere. If there is one matter which the Irish do take seriously, that is the one.
The farmers' sons are the very people who will not fight; the farmers will not have their sons taken at any price, for they treasure them jealously as heirs presumptive to Irish soil, soon to benefit by land purchase, with the alluring fruits of the promised land almost within their grasp. Are these fruits to be snatched from them to be given away? And given to whom? To those whom national opinion has sworn to execrate, and to pay out; to those hateful renegades, "traitors to Ireland," who have gone to serve the cause of hell; to those wretches in khaki who were shot remorselessly, like rats, with contempt and disgust, in the streets of Dublin on Easter Monday, 1916.
Does it seem only fair to you, reader, that those who volunteered for the war should be rewarded? Ah, you do not understand Irish logic. . . . Are you possibly as stupid as the Britons who never understand Ireland?
But have patience, you will soon learn to know her. Let them but come to take their bloodmoney, these unspeakable creatures, new land-thieves, after the manner of Cromwell's soldiers, and the Irish will soon let them know of what stuff they are made. The thatched roofs will be set alight as if by magic (for magic plays a large part in Celtic superstition), the small-holder's cow will stray mysteriously into a bog-hole on some fine moonlight night. That will last for fifty years if necessary, but it shall not be said that one man disabled in the great war will have stolen with impunity their rights from our honest farmers' sons.
Peace in Ireland? Let us hope for it---but do not let us be so fatuous as to count much on it. Let us be prepared for fatal but natural reaction. Will the mark be overstepped? Possibly, and after what we have just read the English must be somewhat excused if they lose their calm. We know that they never do so unless provocations are excessive, but how should we like to hear chuckles of delight in our rear at every reverse while we were weeping for our glorious dead? We should see red---and John Bull has a heart the same as we have.
Will Ulster become more confirmed in her intolerance towards her Roman Catholic neighbors? It is unfortunate, but has she not been given the best of reasons for being so? She has .never seen around her the best side of the Roman hierarchy; the priests and bishops whom she knows and hears are shameless inciters to sedition, daily compromising their spiritual mission in order to serve blind passions or the interests of the parish pump.
And as for political solutions properly so-called, which innumerable Chief Secretaries pursue with such touching constancy according to the exigencies of their office, I reckon nothing to them either. Do you call this a negative conclusion, obstructionist, sterile? I know it full well, but one has sometimes to take a negative view knowingly. I do not believe in a peaceable solution of the Irish problem, and I have stated my reasons over and over again. The Irish want reparation for colonization carried out in the distant past upon a race which was then backward and brutish, but which has since developed; reparation means abolition of the fruits of colonization, and the expulsion of the colonists, or, which would be worse, submission to the natives. This raises the question of the legitimacy of colonization throughout the whole world. It is impossible. Do not let us seek for the impossible.
But for all that the Irish question will remain an acute and ever-present problem. It will certainly continue to be one of the favorite trump cards of English political parties, and a century hence some one will probably repeat Lord Rosebery's aphorism, "The Irish question has never passed into history because it has never passed out of politics."(46)
English Governments will still try to content Ireland with Home Rule in one form or another, with which no one will be satisfied. The combination will never last, especially if they try to make an explosive mixture the danger of which Ulster has already scented. Perhaps one day at some moment when nerves are soothed and passions slumbering, if the Almighty ever permits such a thing to occur in Ireland, they will manage to deceive each other, flout Ulster or extract more serious safeguards from the Nationalists. But how long would you expect that to last? With such temperaments there can be only one issue---civil war, inevitably.
Or perhaps they will contrive, as a result of the events of the last ten years, to come to the following modus vivendi:
Give Home Rule to Roman Catholic Ireland. Exclude the north-east of Ulster. Define clearly military, economic, and political safeguards, without which the Empire cannot exist, or she will go to her doom. Ireland would be dissatisfied with this régime, that I need hardly say. There will be nothing to be done but let her howl. She will then attempt another rising---and perhaps she will have to be brought to reason more or less harshly, more or less brutally. She will howl louder than ever.
Then we shall remember what we have just read, we shall know where our sympathies should go, we shall take care not to misplace or prostitute them once again.
If it be true that the policy of Great Britain in Ireland is incoherent it is partly our fault. If English Governments hesitate so long before showing the iron hand, or only make up their minds to do so when it is too late, it is because they have been looking too much our way, too careful of what we might say, too anxious about our criticisms. They have not all Pitt's power and fine moral assurance; and then the English Radicals, having interfered with other people's business a great deal in the nineteenth century, have nowadays to submit to this counterblast. Their hands are no longer free; they are afraid of upsetting our ill-informed public opinion, and of getting oversea Irishmen on their shoulders ---1,000,000 in Australia, 1,000,000 in Canada, 16,000,000 in the United States---very influential in those young republics whose susceptibilities Old England is so anxious---and rightly so---not to offend. As Wu Ting Fang, the former Chinese ambassador at Washington, used to say, "The only two countries in the world where I should like to live are China and Ireland: they are the only two countries where the Irish do not rule." English Ministers have been obliged to take it into account, and their Irish policy has often been warped by it.
Let us then enlighten our public opinion, and do not let us be taken in any more in the future. England will one day have, very unwillingly, to call for her lictors and restore order: Pax Britannica! Do not let us disturb it by encouraging with our pity those fraudulent beggars who do not deserve it.
Perhaps the opportunity will come very soon, if it is decided to hear Ireland's cause at the Peace Conference after the cries of distress of' other small nationalities. We will begin by reminding her of what Casement said to his countrymen: "Irishmen . . . you have fought for Belgium in England's interest, though it was no more to you than the Fiji Islands."
That can be turned round.
On which side of the green table will Erin take her place? Her new motto, translated into good Gaelic by Kuno Meyer, would seem to give us the clew:
"A Dhia saor Eirinn agus Almain! God save Ireland and Germany!"
Which God? William the Second's old God? Much good may he do them. Let those cronies disentangle their intrigue, and do not let us undertake the job. The Irish reserve their right to fight for their national ideal. But an ideal which includes an alliance with Germany and remains deaf to all the great altruisms of our cause does not seem to us greatly to be recommended.
That chatterbox Meyer, in a speech at Cologne, last April, promised Germany's gratitude to Ireland for her hostility to England during the war, thus immobilizing an army, partly in Ireland, partly in England, in view of Irish risings. The German professor spoke the truth, and we have neither to rejoice over the matter nor to thank Ireland: she tried to stab us in the back---John Redmond's words---and it would be intolerable if she were to profit thereby.
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