IN THE NEW CENTURY
BY THE RIGHT HON.
SIR HORACE PLUNKETT, K.C.V.O., F.R.S.
JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET, W.
Printed by BROWNE AND NOLAN, LTD., Dublin
TO THE MEMORY OF
I DEDICATE ALL IN THIS BOOK THAT IS WORTHY OF THE FRIENDSHIP WITH WHICH HE HONOURED ME, AND OF THE COUNSEL WHICH HE GAVE ME FOR MY GUIDANCE IN IRISH PUBLIC LIFE.
Those who have known Ireland for the last dozen years cannot have failed to notice the advent of a wholly new spirit, clearly based upon constructive thought, and expressing itself in a wide range of fresh practical activities. The movement for the organisation of agriculture and rural credit on co-operative lines, efforts of various kinds to revive old or initiate new industries, and, lastly, the creation of a department of Government to foster all that was healthy in the voluntary effort of the people to build up the economic side of their life, are each interesting in themselves. When taken together, and in conjunction with the literary and artistic movements, and viewed in their relation to history, politics, religion, education, and the other past and present influences operating upon the Irish mind and character, these movements appear to me to be worthy of the most thoughtful consideration by all who are responsible for, or desire the well-being of the Irish people.
I should not, however, in days when my whole time and energies belong to the public service, have undertaken the task of writing a book on a subject so complex and apparently so inseparable from heated controversy, were I not convinced that the expression of certain thoughts which have come to me from practical contact with Irish problems, was the best contribution I could make to the work on which I was engaged. I wished, if I could, to bring into clearer light the essential unity of the various progressive movements in Ireland, and to do something towards promoting a greater definiteness of aim and method, and a better understanding of each other's work, among those who are in various ways striving for the upbuilding of a worthy national life in Ireland.
So far the task, if difficult, was congenial and free from embarrassment. Unhappily, it had been borne in upon me, in the course of a long study of Irish life, that our failure to rise to our opportunities and to give practical evidence of the intellectual qualities with which the race is admittedly gifted, was due to certain defects of character, not ethically grave, but economically paralysing. I need hardly say I refer to the lack of moral courage, initiative, independence and self-reliance—defects which, however they may be accounted for, it is the first duty of modern Ireland to recognise and overcome. I believe in the new movements in Ireland, principally because they seem to me to exert a stimulating influence upon our moral fibre.
Holding such an opinion, I had to decide between preserving a discreet silence and speaking my full mind. The former course would, it appeared to me, be a poor example of the moral courage which I hold to be Ireland's sorest need. Moreover, while I am full of hope for the future of my country, its present condition does not, in my view, admit of any delay in arriving at the truth as to the essential principles which should guide all who wish to take a part, however humble, in the work of national regeneration.
I desire to state definitely that I have not written in any representative capacity except where I say so explicitly. I write on my own responsibility, with the full knowledge that there is much in the book with which many of those with whom I work do not agree.
THE ENGLISH MISUNDERSTANDING.
Fidelity of the Irish to the National Ideal Disregard of Material Advantage in its Pursuit Home Rule Movement under Gladstone The Anti-Climax under Lord Rosebery The Logic of Events and the Dawn of the Practical The Mutual Misunderstanding of England and Ireland The Dunraven Conference produces a Revolution in English Thought about Ireland The Actual Change Examined Future Misunderstanding best averted by considering Nature of Anti-English Feeling Illustration from Irish-American Life Importance of Sentiment in Ireland—English Habit of Ignoring Historical Grievances Still Operative The Commercial Restrictions—Remaining Effects of Irish Land Tenure—Lord Dufferin on Defects of Land Laws—Their Effect on Agriculture Right Attitude towards Historic Grievances Plea for Broader and more Philosophic View of Irish Question Simple Explanations and Panaceas Deprecated A Many-Sided Human Problem
THE IRISH QUESTION IN IRELAND.
Misunderstanding of the Irish People by the English and by Themselves Anomalies of Irish Life The New Movement—Position of Nationalists and Unionists in it North and South The Question of Rural Life Economic Side of the Question Grazing versus Tillage Peasant Organisation to be Supplemented by State-Aid Uneconomic Holdings too Prevalent Remedies Proposed Salvation not by Agriculture Alone Rural Industries and the Irish Home Reasons for Arrested Development of Home Life Inter-Dependence of the Sentimental and Practical in Ireland Outlines of Succeeding Chapters
THE INFLUENCE OF POLITICS UPON THE IRISH MIND.
Legislation as a Substitute for Work Political Shortcomings of Unionism and Nationalism Compared Action of the Unionist Party Reviewed Two Main Causes of its Lack of Success The Contribution of Ulster The Nationalist Party Are Irishmen Good Politicians? The Irish and the Scotch-Irish in America America's Interest in the Problem Part Played by English Government in Producing Modern Irish Disabilities Causes of the Growth of National Feeling Retardation of Political Education by the One-Man System And by Politicians of To-Day Defence of Nationalist Policy on Ground of Tactics Considered The Forces opposed to Home Rule—How Dealt with Local Government—How it might have been utilised After Home Rule? Beginnings of Political Education The Irish Parliamentary Party
THE INFLUENCE OF RELIGION UPON SECULAR LIFE IN IRELAND.
Influences of Religion in Ireland What is Toleration? Protestantism in Irish Life Roman Catholicism and Economics Power of the Roman Catholic Clergy Has it been Abused? Church Building and Monastic Establishments Clerical Education Responsibility of the Clergy for Irish Character The Church and Temperance The Inculcation of Chastity The Priest in Politics New Movement among the Roman Catholic Clergy Duty and Interest of Protestantism What each Creed has to Learn from the other
A PRACTICAL VIEW OF IRISH EDUCATION.
English Government and Education The Kildare Street Society Scheme of Thomas Wyse Early Attempts at Practical Education Recent Reports on Irish Systems The Policy of the Department of Agriculture The Example of Denmark University Education for Roman Catholics Maynooth and its Limitations Trinity College Its Lack of Influence on the Irish Mind A Democratic University Called for National and Economic in its Aims Views of Roman Catholic Ecclesiastics The Two Irelands Lord Chesterfield on Education and Character
THROUGH THOUGHT TO ACTION.
A Word to my Critics The Gaelic League Compared with the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society Objects and Constitution of the League Filling the Gap in Irish Education Patriotism and Industry Nationality and Nationalism A Possible Danger Extravagances in the Movement The Gaelic League and the Rural Home Meeting with Harold Frederic His Pessimistic Views on the Celt A New Solution of the Problem—Organised Self-Help English and Irish Industrial Qualities Special Value of the Associative Qualities Conclusion of Part I.
* * * * *
THE NEW MOVEMENT; ITS FOUNDATION ON SELF-HELP.
Distrust of Novel Schemes often well justified The Story of the New Movement Necessitated by Foreign Competition Production and Distribution Causes of Continental Superiority Objects for which Combination is Desirable How to Organise the Industrial Army Help from England Doubts and Difficulties Some Favouring Conditions The Beginning of the Work—Co-operative Creameries The Social Problem Early Efforts and Experiences Foundation of the I.A.O.S. Its Present Position Agricultural Banks The Brightening of Home Life Staff of the Society Philanthropy and Business Enquiries from Abroad Moral and Social Effects of the New Movement Unknown Leaders
THE RECESS COMMITTEE.
After Six Years Opportunity for State-Aid Combination of Political and Industrial Leadership A Letter to the Press Mr. Justin McCarthy's Reply Mr. Redmond's Reply Formation of the Committee Investigations on the Continent Recommendations of the Committee Position of the Nationalist Members of the Committee Chief Reliance on Local Effort Public Opinion on the New Proposals Adoption of the Bill to give effect to them Mr. Gerald Balfour's Policy Industrial Home Rule
A NEW DEPARTURE IN IRISH ADMINISTRATION.
Functions and Constitution of the New Department How it is Financed The Representative Element in its Constitution The Right to Vote Supplies Consultative Committee on Education The Department Linked with the Local Government System Successful Co-operation with Local Government Bodies And with Voluntary Societies The New Department and the Congested Districts Board The Reception of the Department by the Country Some Typical Callers A Wrong Impression Anticipated
GOVERNMENT WITH THE CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED.
Summary of Previous Chapter The Attitude of the People towards the Department Method of Co-operation with Local Bodies State-Aid, Direct and Indirect The Department and the Large Towns The Department's Plans for Developing Agriculture The Industrial Problem and Education The Difficulty of Finding Trained Teachers How Surmounted Difficulties of Agricultural Education Decision to Adopt Itinerant Instruction Double Purpose of this Instruction Relation of the Department with Secondary Schools Importance of Domestic Economy Teaching Provision of Teachers in Domestic Economy Miscellaneous Industries Competition of the Factory The Department's Fabian Policy Justified Its Support by the Country Improvement of Live-Stock Best Method of giving Object Lessons in Agriculture Sea Fisheries Continental Tours for Irish Teachers Cork Exhibition of 1902 Things and Ideas Concluding Words
"It is hard to say where history ends, and where religion and politics begin; for history, religion and politics grow on one stem in Ireland, an eternal trefoil."—Lady Gregory.
THE ENGLISH MISUNDERSTANDING.
Whatever may be the ultimate verdict of history upon the long struggle of the majority of the Irish people for self-government, the picture of a small country with large aspirations giving of its best unstintingly to the world, while gaining for itself little beyond sympathy, will appeal to the imagination of future ages long after the Irish Question, as we know it, has been buried. It may then, perhaps, be seen that the aspirations came to nought because they were opposed to the manifest destiny of the race, and that it should never have been expected or desired that the Dark Rosaleen should 'reign and reign alone.' Nevertheless, the fidelity and fortitude with which the national ideal had been pursued would command admiration, even if the ideal itself were to be altogether abandoned, or if it were to be ultimately realised in a manner which showed that the methods by which its attainment had been sought were the cause of its long postponement. Whatever the future may have in store for the remnant of the Irish people at home, the continued pursuit of a separate national existence by a nation which is rapidly disappearing from the land of all its hopes, and the cherishing of these hopes, not only by those who stay but also by those who go, will stand as a monument to human constancy.
The picture will be all the more remarkable when emphasised by a contrast which the historian will not fail to draw. Across a narrow streak of sea another people, during the same period, increased and multiplied and prospered mightily, spread their laws and institutions, and achieved in every portion of the globe material success which they can call their own. Yet, although Irishmen have done much to win that success for the English people to enjoy, and are to-day foremost in maintaining the great empire which their brain and muscle were ever ready to augment, Ireland makes no claim for herself in respect of the achievement. It is to her but a proof of what her sons will do for her in the coming time; it does not bring her nearer to her heart's desire.
Although the nineteenth century, with all its marvellous contributions to human progress, left Ireland with her hopes unfulfilled; although its sun went down upon the British people with their greatest failure still staring them in the face, its last decade witnessed at first a change in the attitude of England towards Ireland, and afterwards a profound revolution in the thoughts of Ireland about herself. The strangest and most interesting feature of these developments was that in practical England the Irish Question became the great political issue, while in sentimental Ireland there set in a reaction from politics and an inclination to the practical. The twentieth century has already brought to birth the new Ireland upon whose problems I shall write. If the human interest of these problems is to be realized, if their significance is not to be as wholly misunderstood as that of every other Irish movement which has perplexed the statesmen who have managed our affairs, they must be studied in their relation to the English and Irish events of the period in which the new Ireland was conceived.
In 1885 Gladstone, appealing to an electorate with a large accession of newly enfranchised voters, transferred the struggle over the Irish Question from Ireland to Great Britain. The position taken up by the average English Home Ruler was, it will be remembered, simple and intelligible. The Irish had stated in the proper constitutional way what they wanted, and that, in the first flush of a victorious democracy, when counting heads irrespective of contents was the popular method of arriving at political truth, was assumed to be precisely what they ought to have. A long but inconclusive contest ensued. At times it looked as if the Liberal-Irish alliance might snatch a victory for their policy. But when Gladstone was forced to break with the Irish Leader, and Parnellism without Parnell became obviously impossible, the English realised that the working of representative institutions in Ireland had produced not a democracy but a dictatorship, and they began to attach a lesser significance to the verdict of the Irish polls. Their faith in democracy was unimpaired, but, in their opinion, the Irish had not yet risen to its dignity. So most English Radicals came round to a view which they had always reprobated when advanced by the English Conservatives, and political inferiority was added to the other moral and intellectual defects which made the Irish an inferior race!
The anti-climax to the Gladstone crusade was reached when Lord Rosebery in 1894 took over the premiership from the greatest English advocate of the Irish cause. The position of the new leader was very simple. In effect, he told the Irish Nationalists that the English party he was about to lead had done its best for them. They must now regard themselves as partners in the United Kingdom, with the British as the predominant partner. Until the predominant partner could be brought to take the Irish view of the partnership, the relations between them must remain substantially as they were. And not only must the concession of Home Rule await the conversion of the British electorate, but before the demand could be effectively preferred, another leader must rise up among the Irish; and he, for all Lord Rosebery knew, was at the moment being wheeled in a perambulator. This apparently cynical avowal of the new premier's own attitude towards Home Rule accurately stated the facts of the situation, and fairly reflected the mind of the British electorate, after Irish obstruction had given them an opportunity of studying the bearing of the Irish Question on English politics.
If the logic of events was thus making for the removal of Home Rule from the region of practical politics in England, an even more momentous change was taking place in Ireland. Whilst the Home Rule controversy was at its height in the 'eighties and early 'nineties, some Irish grievances were incidentally dealt with—not always under the best impulses or in the best way. The concentration of all the available thought and energy of Irish public men upon an appeal to the passions and prejudices of English parties had led to the further postponement of all Irish endeavour to deal rationally and practically with her own problems at home. But during the welter of contention which prevailed after the fall of Parnell, there grew up in Ireland a wholly new spirit, born of the bitter lesson which was at last being learned. The Irish still clung undaunted to their political ideal, but its pursuit to the exclusion of all other national aims had received a wholesome check. Thought upon the problems of national progress broadened and deepened, in a manner little understood by those who knew Ireland from without, and, indeed, by many of those accounted wise among the observers from within. Was the realisation of a distinctive national existence, many began to ask themselves, to be for ever dependent upon the fortunes of a political campaign? In any scheme of a reconstructed national life to which the Irish would give of their best, there must be distinctiveness—that much every man who is in touch with Irish life is fully aware of—but the question of existence must not be altogether ignored. At the rate the people were leaving the sinking ship, the Irish Question would be settled in the not distant future by the disappearance of the Irish. Had we not better look around and see how other countries with more or less analogous conditions fared? Could we not—Unionists and Nationalists alike—do something towards material progress without abandoning our ideals? Could we not learn something from a study of what our people were doing abroad? One seemed to hear the voice of Bishop Berkeley, the biting pertinence of whose Queries is ever fresh, asking from the grave in which he had been laid to rest nearly a century and a half ago 'whether it would not be more reasonable to mend our state than complain of it; and how far this may be in our own power?'
These questionings, though not generally heard on the platform or even in the street, were none the less working in the depths of the Irish mind, and found expression not so much in words as in deeds. Yet though the downfall of Parnell released many minds from the obsession of politics, the influence of that event was of a negative character, and it took time to produce a beneficial effect. That fruitful last decade of the nineteenth century saw the foundation of what will some day be recognised as a new philosophy of Irish progress. Certain new principles were then promulgated in Ireland, and gradually found acceptance; and upon those principles a new movement was built. It is partly, indeed, to expound and justify some, at any rate, of the principles and to give an intelligible account of the practical achievement and future possibilities of this movement that I write these pages.
For English readers, to whom this introductory chapter is chiefly addressed, I may here reiterate the opinion, which I have always held and often expressed, that there is no real conflict of interest between the two peoples and the two countries, and that the mutual misunderstanding which we may now hope to see removed is due to a wide difference of temperament and mental outlook. The English mind has never understood the Irish mind—least of all during the period of the 'Union of Hearts.' It is equally true that the Irish have largely misunderstood both the English character and their own responsibility. The result has been that their leaders, despite the brilliant capacity they have shown in presenting the unhappy case of their country to the rest of the world, have rarely presented it in the right way to the English people. There have been many occasions during the last quarter of a century when a calm, well-reasoned statement of the economic disadvantages under which Ireland labours would, I am convinced, have successfully appealed to British public opinion. It could have been shown that the development of Ireland—the development not only of the resources of her soil but of the far greater wealth which lies in the latent capacities of her people—was demanded quite as much in the interest of one country as in that of the other.
Here, indeed, is an untilled field for those to whom the Irish Question is yet a living one. If I could think that each country fully realised its own responsibility in the matter, if I could think that the long-continued misunderstanding was at an end, nothing would induce me to trouble the waters at this auspicious hour, when a better feeling towards Ireland prevails in Great Britain, and when the Irish people are fully appreciative of the obviously sincere desire of England to be generous to Ireland. But an examination of the events upon which the prevailing optimism is based will show that, unhappily, misunderstanding, though of another sort, still exists, and that Ireland is as much as ever a riddle to the English mind.
Now this new optimism in the English view of Ireland seems to be based, not upon a recognition of the development of what I have ventured to dignify with the title of a new philosophy of Irish progress, but upon a belief that the spirit of moderation and conciliation displayed by so many Irishmen in connection with the Land Act is due to the fact that my incomprehensible countrymen have, under a sudden emotion, put away childish things and learned to behave like grown-up Englishmen. Throughout the press comments upon the Dunraven Conference and in public speeches both inside and outside Parliament there has run a sense that a sort of portent, a transformation scene, a sudden and magical alteration in the whole spirit and outlook of the Irish people, has come to pass.
I feel some hesitation in asking the reader to believe that a great and lasting revolution in Irish thought has been brought about in such a moment in the life of a people as twelve short years. But a lesser number of months seemed to the English mind adequate for the accomplishment of the change. And what a change it was that they conceived! To them, less than a year ago, the Irish Question was not merely unsolved, but in its essential features appeared unaltered. After seven centuries of experimental statecraft—so varied that the English could not believe any expedient had yet to be tried—the vast majority of the Irish people regarded the Government as alien, disputed the validity of its laws, and felt no responsibility for administration, no respect for the legislature, or for those who executed its decrees. And this in a country forming an integral part of the United Kingdom, where the fundamental basis of government is assumed to be the consent of the governed! Nor were any hopes entertained that the cloud would quickly pass. During the Boer war the prophets of evil, in predicting the calamity which was to fall upon the British Empire, took as their text the failure of English government in Ireland. When they wanted to paint in the darkest colours the coming heritage of woe, they wrote upon the wall, 'Another Ireland in South Africa'; and if any exception was taken to the appropriateness of the phrase, it was certainly not on the ground that Ireland had ceased to be a warning to British statesmen.
I believe, quite as strongly as the most optimistic Englishman, that there has been a great change from this state of things in Irish sentiment, and my explanation of that change, if less dramatic than the transformation theory, affords more solid ground for optimism. This change in the sentiment of Irishmen towards England is due, not to a sudden emotion of the incomprehensible Celt, but really to the opinion—rapidly growing for the last dozen years—that great as is the responsibility of England for the state of Ireland, still greater is the responsibility of Irishmen. The conviction has been more and more borne in upon the Irish mind that the most important part of the work of regenerating Ireland must necessarily be done by Irishmen in Ireland. The result has been that many Irishmen, both Unionists and Nationalists, without in any way abandoning their opposition to, or support of, the attempt to solve the political problem from without, have been trying—not without success—to solve some part of the Irish Question from within. The Report of the Recess Committee, on which I shall dwell later, was the first great fruit of this movement, and the Dunraven Treaty, which paved the way for Mr. Wyndham's Land Act, was a further fruit, and not the result of an inexplicable transformation scene.
The reason why I dwell on the true nature of the undoubted change in the Irish situation is not in order to exaggerate the importance of the part played by the new movement in bringing it about, nor to detract from the importance of Parliamentary action, but because a mistaken view of the change would inevitably postpone the firm establishment of an improved mutual understanding between the two countries, which I regard as an essential of Irish progress. I confess that my apprehension of a new misunderstanding was aroused by the debates on the Land Bill in the House of Commons. As regards the spirit of conciliation and moderation displayed by the Irish, and the sincere desire exhibited by the British to heal the chief Irish economic sore, the speeches were, if not epoch-making, at any rate epoch-marking; but they showed little sense of perspective or proportion in viewing the Irish Question, and little grasp or appreciation of the large social and economic problems which the Land Act will bring to the front. Temporary phenomena and legislative machinery have been endowed with an importance they do not possess, and miracles, it is supposed, are about to be worked in Ireland by processes which, whatever rich good may be in them, have never worked miracles, though they have not seldom excited very similar enthusiasms in the economic history of other European lands.
I agree, then, with most Englishmen in thinking, though for a different reason, that the passing of the Land Act marked a new era in Ireland. They regard it as productive of, or co-incident in time with, the dawn of the practical in Ireland. I antedate that event by some dozen years, and regard the Land Act rather as marking a new era, because it removes the great obstacle which obscured the dawn of the practical for so many, and hindered it for all.
Whatever may have been the expectations upon which this great measure was based, I, in common with most Irish observers, watched its progress with unfeigned delight. The vast majority regarded the hundred millions of credit and the twelve millions of 'bonus' as a generous concession to Ireland; and I sympathised with those who deprecated the mischievous suggestion, not infrequently heard in English political circles, that this munificence was the 'price of peace.' On one point all were agreed: the Bill could never have become law had not Mr. Wyndham handled the Parliamentary situation with masterly tact, temper, and ability. To him is chiefly due the credit for the fact that the Land Question, in its old form at any rate, no longer blocks the way, and that the large problems which remain to be solved, and, above all, the spirit in which they will have to be approached by those who wish the existing peace to be the forerunner of material and social progress, can be freely and frankly discussed.
It is true, as I have said, that Ireland is becoming more and more practical, and that England is becoming more anxious than ever to do her substantial justice. But still the manner of the doing will continue to be as important as the thing which is done. Of the Irish qualities none is stronger than the craving to be understood. If the English had only known this secret we should have been the most easily governed people in the world. For it is characteristic of the conduct of our most important affairs that we care too little about the substance and too much about the shadow. It is for this reason that I have discussed the real nature of one phase of Irish sentiment which has been largely misunderstood, and it is for the same reason that I propose to preface my examination of the Irish Question with some reference to the cause and nature of the anti-English sentiment, for the long continuance of which I can find no other explanation than the failure of the English to see into the Irish mind.
I am well acquainted with this sentiment because, in my practical work in Ireland, it has ever been the main current of the stream against which I have had to swim. Years spent in the United States had made me familiar with its full and true significance, for there it can be studied in an atmosphere not dominated by any present Irish controversies or struggles. I have found this sentiment of hatred deeply rooted in the minds of Irishmen who had themselves never known Ireland, who had no connection, other than a sentimental one, with that country, who were living quiet business lives in the United States, but who were ever ready to testify with their dollars, and genuinely believed that they only lacked opportunity to demonstrate in a more enterprising way, their "undying hatred of the English name."
With such men I have reasoned, and sometimes not in vain, upon the injustice and unreason of their attitude. I have not attempted to controvert the main facts of Ireland's grievances, which they frequently told me they had gleaned from Froude and Lecky. I used to deprecate the unqualified application of modern standards to the policies of other days, and to protest against the injustice of punishing one set of persons for the misdoings of another set of persons, who have long since passed beyond the reach of any earthly tribunal. I have given them my reasons for believing that, even if such a course were morally admissible, the wit of man could not devise any means of inflicting a blow upon England which would not react injuriously with tenfold force upon Ireland. I have gone on to show that the sentiment itself, largely the accident of untoward circumstances, is alien to the character and temperament of the Irish people. In short, I have urged that the policy of revenge is un-Christian and unintelligent, and, that, as the Irish people are neither irreligious nor stupid, it is un-Irish. I well remember taking up this position in conversation with some very advanced Irish-Americans in the Far West and the reply which one of them made. "Wal," said my half-persuaded friend, "mebbe you're right. I have two sons, whom I have raised in the expectation that they will one day strike a blow for old Ireland. Mebbe they won't. I'm too old to change."
I have chosen this incident from a long series of similar reminiscences of my study of Irish life, to illustrate an attitude of mind, the historical explanation of which would seem to the practical Englishman as academic as a psychological exposition of the effect of a red rag upon a bull. The English are not much to be blamed for resenting the survival of the feeling, but it appears to me to argue a singular lack of political imagination that they should still fail to appreciate the reality, the significance, and the abiding force of a sentiment which has so far successfully resisted the influence of those governing qualities which have played a foremost part in the civilisation of the modern world. The Spectator some time ago came out bluntly with a truth which an Irishman may, I presume, quote without offence from so high an English authority:—"The one blunder of average Englishmen in considering foreign questions is that with white men they make too little allowance for sentiment, and with coloured men they make none at all." I am afraid it must be added that 'average Englishmen' make exactly the same blunder in under-estimating the force of sentiment when considering Irish questions, with the not unnatural consequence that the Irish regard them as foreigners, and that, as those foreigners happen to govern them, the sentiment of nationality becomes political and anti-English.
There is one reason why this sentiment is not allowed to die which should always be remembered by those who wish to grasp the inner workings of the Irish mind. Briefly stated, the view prevails in Ireland that in dealing with questions affecting our material well-being, the government of our country by the English was, in the past, characterised by an unenlightened self-interest. Thoughtful Englishmen admit this charge, but they say that the past referred to is beyond living memory and should now be buried. The Irish mind replies that the life of a nation is not to be measured by the life of individuals, and that a wrong inflicted by a Government upon a community entitles those who inherit the consequences of the injury to claim reparation at the hands of those who inherit the government. With this attitude on the part of the Irish mind I am not only most heartily in sympathy, but I find every Englishman who understands the situation equally so. In the later portions of this book it will be shown that practical recognition, in no small measure, has been given by England to the righteousness of this part of the Irish case, and that if the effect thus produced has not found as full an outward expression as might have been expected, the Irish people have at any rate responded to the new treatment in a manner which must, in no distant future, bring about a better understanding.
The only historical causes of our present discontents to which I need now particularly refer, are the commercial restrictions and the land system of the past, which stand out from the long list of Irish grievances as those for which their victims were the least responsible. No one can be more anxious than I am that we should cease to be for ever seeking in the past excuses for our present failures. But it is essential to a correct estimation of Irish agricultural and industrial possibilities that we should notice the true bearings of these historical grievances upon existing conditions.
In this connection there arises a question which is very pertinent to the present inquiry and which must therefore be considered. I have seen it argued by English economists that the industrial revolution which took place at the end of the eighteenth and commencement of the nineteenth century would in any case have destroyed, by force of open competition, industries which, it is admitted, were previously legislated away. They point out that the change from the order of small scattered home industries to the factory system would have suited neither the temperament nor the industrial habits of the Irish. They tell us that with the industrial revolution the juxtaposition of coal and iron became an all-important factor in the problem, and they recall how the north and west of England captured the industrial supremacy from the south and east. Incidentally they point out that the people of the English counties which suffered by these economic causes braced themselves to meet the changes, and it is suggested that if the people of Ireland had shown the same resourcefulness, they, too, might have weathered the storm. And, finally, we are reminded that England, by her stupid Irish policy, punished her own supporters, and even herself, quite as much as the 'mere Irish.'
Much of this may be true, but this line of argument only shows that these English economists do not thoroughly understand the real grievance which the Irish people still harbour against the English for past misgovernment. The commercial restraints sapped the industrial instinct of the people—an evil which was intensified in the case of the Catholics by the working of the penal laws. When these legislative restrictions upon industry had been removed, the Irish, not being trained in industrial habits, were unable to adapt themselves to the altered conditions produced by the Industrial Revolution, as did the people in England. And as for commerce, the restrictions, which had as little moral sanction as the penal laws, and which invested smuggling with a halo of patriotism, had prevented the development of commercial morality, without which there can be no commercial success. It is not, therefore, the destruction of specific industries, or even the sweeping of our commerce from the seas, about which most complaint is now made. The real grievance lies in the fact that something had been taken from our industrial character which could not be remedied by the mere removal of the restrictions. Not only had the tree been stripped, but the roots had been destroyed. If ever there was a case where President Kruger's 'moral and intellectual damages' might fairly be claimed by an injured nation, it is to be found in the industrial and commercial history of Ireland during the period of the building up of England's commercial supremacy.
The English mind quite failed, until the very end of the nineteenth century, to grasp the real needs of the situation which had thus been created in Ireland The industrial revolution, as I have indicated, found the Irish people fettered by an industrial past for which they themselves were not chiefly responsible. They needed exceptional treatment of a kind which was not conceded. They were, instead, still further handicapped, towards the middle of the century, by the adoption of Free Trade, which was imposed upon them when they were not only unable to take advantage of its benefits, but were so situated as to suffer to the utmost from its inconveniences.
I am convinced that the long-continued misunderstanding of the conditions and needs of this country, the withholding, for so long, of necessary concessions, was due not to heartlessness or contempt so much as to a lack of imagination, a defect for which the English cannot be blamed. They had, to use a modern term, 'standardised' their qualities, and it was impossible to get out of their minds the belief that a divergence, in another race, from their standard of character was synonymous with inferiority. This attitude is not yet a thing of the past, but it is fast disappearing; and thoughtful Englishmen now recognise the righteousness of the claim for reparation, and are willing liberally to apply any stimulus to our industrial life which may place us, so far as this is possible, on the level we might have occupied had we been left to work out our own economic salvation. Unfortunately, all Englishmen are not thoughtful, and hence I emphasise the fact that England is largely responsible for our industrial defects, and must not hesitate to face the financial results of that responsibility.
When we pass from the domain of commerce, where we have seen that circumstances reduced to the minimum Ireland's participation in the industrial supremacy of England, and come to examine the historical development of Irish agrarian life, we find a situation closely related to, and indeed, largely created by, that which we have been discussing. 'Debarred from every other trade and industry,' wrote the late Lord Dufferin, 'the entire nation flung itself back upon the land, with as fatal an impulse as when a river, whose current is suddenly impeded, rolls back and drowns the valley which it once fertilised.' The energies, the hopes, nay, the very existence of the race, became thus intimately bound up with agriculture. This industry, their last resort and sole dependence, had to be conducted by a people who in every other avocation had been unfitted for material success. And this industry, too, was crippled from without, for a system of land tenure had been imposed upon Ireland that was probably the most effective that could have been devised for the purpose of perpetuating and accentuating every disability to which other causes had given rise.
The Irish land system suffered from the same ills as we all know the political institutions to have suffered from—a partial and intermittent conquest. Land holding in Ireland remained largely based on the tribal system of open fields and common tillage for nearly eight hundred years after collective ownership had begun to pass away in England. The sudden imposition upon the Irish, early in the seventeenth century, of a land system which was no part of the natural development of the country, ignored, though it could not destroy, the old feeling of communistic ownership, and, when this vanished, it did not vanish as it did in countries where more normal conditions prevailed. It did not perish like a piece of outworn tissue pushed off by a new growth from within: on the contrary, it was arbitrarily cut away while yet fresh and vital, with the result that where a bud should have been there was a scar.
This sudden change in the system of land-holding was followed by a century of reprisals and confiscations, and what war began the law continued. The Celtic race, for the most part impoverished in mind and estate by the penal laws, became rooted to the soil, for, as we have seen, they had, on account of the repression of industries, no alternative occupation, and so became, in fact, if not in law, adscripti glebae. Upon the productiveness of their labour the landlord depended for his revenues, but he did little to develop that productiveness, and the system which was introduced did everything to lessen it. The wound produced by the original confiscation of the land was kept from healing by the way in which the tenants' improvements were somewhat similarly treated. I do not mean that they were systematically confiscated—the Devon and Bessborough Commissions, as well as Gladstone, bore witness to the contrary—but the right and the occasional exercise of the right to confiscate operated in the same way. In the Irish tenant's mind dispossession was nine-tenths of the law.
An enlightened system of land tenure might have made prosperity and contentment the lot of the native race, and, perhaps, have rendered possible such a solution of the Irish problem as was effected between England and Scotland two centuries ago. What was chiefly required for agrarian peace was a recognition of that sense of partnership in the land—a relic of the tribal days—to which the Irish mind tenaciously adhered. But, like most English concessions, it was not granted until too late, and then granted in the wrong way. The natural result was that, when at last the recognition of partnership was enacted, it became a lever for a demand for complete ownership. But this was the aftermath, for in the meantime, from the seed sown by English blundering, Ireland—native population and English garrison alike—had reaped the awful harvest of the Irish famine, which was followed by a long dark winter of discontent. Upon the England that sowed the wind there was visited a whirlwind of hostility from the Irish race scattered throughout the globe.
It would be altogether outside the scope or purpose of this chapter to present a complete history of the remedial legislation applied to Irish land tenure. That history, however, illustrates so vividly the English misunderstanding, that a short survey of one phase of it may help to point the moral. The English intellect at long last began to grasp the agrarian, though not the industrial side of the wrong that had been done to Ireland, and the English conscience was moved; there came the era of concessions to which I have alluded, and for over a quarter of a century attempts, often generous, if not very discriminating, were made to deal with the situation. In 1870, dispossession was made very costly to the landlord. In 1881, it became impossible, except on the tenant's default, and the partnership was fully recognised, the tenant's share being made his own to sell, and being preserved for his profitable use by a right to have the rent payable to his sleeping partner, the landlord, fixed by a judicial tribunal. These rights were the famous three F's—fixity of tenure, free sale, and fair rent—of the Magna Charta of the Irish peasant. If these concessions had only been made in time, they would probably have led to a strengthening of the economic position and character of the Irish tenantry, which would have enabled them to take full advantage of their new status, and meet any condition which might arise; and it is just possible that the system might have worked well, even at the eleventh hour, had it been launched on a rising market. Unhappily, it fell upon evil days. The prosperous times of Irish agriculture, which culminated a few years before the passing of the 'Tenants' Charter,' were followed by a serious reaction, the result of causes which, though long operative, were only then beginning to make themselves felt, and some of which, though the fact was not then generally recognised, were destined to be of no temporary character. The agricultural depression which has continued ever since was due, as is now well known, to foreign competition, or, in other words, to the opening up of vast areas in the Far West to the plough and herd, and the bringing of the products of distant countries into the home markets in ever-increasing quantity, in ever fresher condition, and at an ever-decreasing cost of transportation. Great changes were taking place in the market which the Irish farmer supplied, and no two men could agree as to the relative influence of the new factors of the problem, or as to their probable duration.
Whatever may be said in disparagement of the great experiment commenced in 1881, there can be no doubt that it enormously improved the legal position of the Irish tenantry, and I, for one, regard it as a necessary contribution to the events whose logic was finally to bring about the abolition of dual ownership. But what a curious instance of the irony of fate is afforded by this genuine attempt to heal an Irish sore, what a commentary it is upon the English misunderstanding of the Irish mind! Mr. Gladstone found the land system intolerable to one party; he made it intolerable to the other also. For half a century laissez-faire was pedantically applied to Irish agriculture, then suddenly the other extreme was adopted; nothing was left alone, and political economy was sent on its famous planetary excursion.
When Mr. Gladstone was attempting to settle the land question on the basis of dual ownership, the seed of a new kind of single ownership—peasant proprietorship—was sown through the influence of John Bright. The operations of the land purchase clauses in the Church Disestablishment Act of 1869, and the Land Acts of 1870 and 1881, were enormously extended by the Land Purchase Acts introduced by the Conservative Party in 1885 and in 1891, and the success which attended these Acts accentuated the defects and sealed the fate of dual ownership, which all parties recently united to destroy. In other words, Parliament has been undoing a generation's legislative work upon the Irish land question.
This is all I need say about that stage of the Irish agrarian situation at which we have now arrived. What I wish my readers to bear in mind is that the effect of a bad system of land tenure upon the other aspects of the Irish Question reaches much further back than the struggles, agitations, and reforms in connection with Irish land which this generation has witnessed. The same may be said with regard to the other economic grievances. No one can be more anxious than I am to fasten the mind of my countrymen upon the practical things of to-day, and to wean their sad souls from idle regrets over the sorrows of the past. If I revive these dead issues, it is because I have learned that no man can move the Irish mind to action unless he can see its point of view, which is largely retrospective. I cannot ignore the fact that the attitude of mind which causes the Irish people to put too much faith in legislative cures for economic ills is mainly due to the belief that their ancestors were the victims of a long series of laws by which every industry that might have made the country prosperous was jealously repressed or ruthlessly destroyed. Those who are not too much appalled by the quantity to examine into the quality of popular oratory in Ireland are familiar with the subordination of present economic issues to the dreary reiteration of this old tale of woe. Personally I have always held that to foster resentment in respect of these old wrongs is as stupid as was the policy which gave them birth; and, even if it were possible to distribute the blame among our ancestors, I am sure we should do ourselves much harm, and no living soul any good, in the reckoning. In my view, Anglo-Irish history is for Englishmen to remember, for Irishmen to forget.
I may now conclude my appeal to outside observers for a broader and more philosophic view of my country and my countrymen with a suggestion born of my own early mistakes, and with a word of warning which is called for by my later observation of the mistakes of others. The difficulty of the outside observer in understanding the Irish Question is, no doubt, largely due to the fact that those in intimate touch with the actual conditions are so dominated by vehement and passionate conviction that reason is not only at a discount but is fatal to the acquisition of popular influence. Of course the power of knowledge and thought, though kept in the background, is not really eliminated. But it is in the circumstances not unnatural that most of us should fall into the error of attributing to the influence of prominent individuals or organisations the events and conditions which the superficial observer regards as the creation of the hour, but which are in reality the outcome of a slow and continuous process of evolution. I remember as a boy being captivated by that charming corrective to this view of historical development, Buckle's History of Civilization, which in recent years has often recurred to my mind, despite the fact that many of his theories are now somewhat discredited. Buckle, if I remember right, almost eliminates the personal factor in the life of nations. According to his theory, it would not have made much difference to modern civilisation if Napoleon had happened, as was so near being the case, to be born a British instead of a French subject. It would also have followed that if O'Connell had limited his activities to his professional work, or if Parnell had chanced to hate Ireland as bitterly as he hated England, we should have been, politically, very much where we are to-day. The student of Irish affairs should, of course, avoid the extreme views of historical causation; but in the search for the truth he will, I think, be well advised to attach less significance to the influence of prominent personality than is the practice of the ordinary observer in Ireland.
The warning I have to offer, I think, will be justified by a reflection upon the history of the panaceas which we have been offered, and upon our present state. To those of my British readers who honestly desire to understand the Irish Question, I would say, let them eschew the sweeping generalisations by which Irish intelligence is commonly outraged. I may pass by the explanation which rests upon the cheap attribution of racial inferiority with the simple reply that our inferior race has much of the superior blood in its veins; yet the Irish problem is just as acute in districts where the English blood predominates as where the people are 'mere Irish.' If this view be disputed, the matter is not worth arguing about, because we cannot be born again. But there are three other common explanations of the Irish difficulty, any one of which taken by itself only leads away from the truth. I refer, I need hardly say, to the familiar assertions that the origin of the evil is political, that it is religious, or that it is neither one nor the other, but economic. In Irish history, no doubt, we may find, under any of these heads, cause enough for much of our present wrong-goings. But I am profoundly convinced that each of the simple explanations to which I have just alluded—the racial, the political, the religious, the economic—is based upon reasoning from imperfect knowledge of the facts of Irish life. The cause and cure of Irish ills are not chiefly political, broaden or narrow our conception of politics as we will; they are not chiefly religious, whatever be the effect of Roman Catholic influence upon the practical side of the people's life; they are not chiefly economic, be the actual poverty of the people and the potential wealth of the country what they may. The Irish Question is a broad and deeply interesting human problem which has baffled generation after generation of a great and virile race, who complacently attribute their incapacity to master it to Irish perversity, and pass on, leaving it unsolved by Anglo-Saxons, and therefore insoluble!
 My own experience confirms Mr. Lecky's view of the chief cause of this extraordinary feeling. "It is probable," he writes, "that the true source of the savage hatred of England that animates great bodies of Irishmen on either side of the Atlantic has very little real connection with the penal laws, or the rebellion, or the Union. It is far more due to the great clearances and the vast unaided emigrations that followed the famine."—Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland, Vol. II., p, 177.
 Spectator, 6th September, 1902.
 The title to the greater part of Irish land is based on confiscation. This is true of many other countries, but what was exceptional in the Irish confiscations was that the grantees for the most part did not settle on the lands themselves, drive away the dispossessed, or come to any rational working agreement with them.
THE IRISH QUESTION IN IRELAND.
Whilst attributing the long continued failure of English rule in Ireland largely to a misunderstanding of the Irish mind, I have given England—at least modern England—credit for good intentions towards us. I now come to the case of the misunderstood, and shall from henceforth be concerned with the immeasurably greater responsibility of the Irish people themselves for their own welfare. The most characteristic, and by far the most hopeful feature of the change in the Anglo-Irish situation which took place in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and upon the meaning of which I dwelt in the preceding chapter, is the growing sense amongst us that the English misunderstanding of Ireland is of far less importance, and perhaps less inexcusable, than our own misunderstanding of ourselves.
When I first came into practical touch with the extraordinarily complex problems of Irish life, nothing impressed me so much as the universal belief among my countrymen that Providence had endowed them with capacities of a high order, and their country with resources of unbounded richness, but that both the capacities and the resources remained undeveloped owing to the stupidity—or worse—of British rule. It was asserted, and generally taken for granted, that the exiles of Erin sprang to the front in every walk of life throughout the world, in every country but their own—though I notice that in quite recent times endeavours have been made to cool the emigration fever by painting the fortunes of the Irish in America in the darkest colours. To suggest that there was any use in trying at home to make the best of things as they were was indicative of a leaning towards British rule; and to attempt to give practical effect to such a heresy was to draw a red herring across the path of true Nationalism.
It is not easy to account for the long continuance of this attitude of the Irish mind towards Irish problems, which seems unworthy of the native intelligence of the people. The truth probably is that while we have not allowed our intellectual gifts to decay, they have been of little use to us because we have neglected the second part of the old Scholastic rule of life, and have failed to develop the moral qualities in which we are deficient. Hence we have developed our critical faculties, not, unhappily, along constructive lines. We have been throughout alive to the muddling of our affairs by the English, and have accurately gauged the incapacity of our governors to appreciate our needs and possibilities. But we recognised their incapacity more readily than our own deficiencies, and we estimated the failure of the English far more justly than we apportioned the responsibility between our rulers and ourselves. The sense of the duty and dignity of labour has been lost in the contemplation of circumstances over which it was assumed that we have no control.
It is a peculiarity of destructive criticism that, unlike charity, it generally begins and ends abroad; and those who cultivate the gentle art are seldom given to morbid introspection. Our prodigious ignorance about ourselves has not been blissful. Mistaking self-assertion for self-knowledge, we have presented the pathetic spectacle of a people casting the blame for their shortcomings on another people, yet bearing the consequences themselves. The national habit of living in the past seems to give us a present without achievement, a future without hope. The conclusion was long ago forced upon me that whatever may have been true of the past, the chief responsibility for the remoulding of our national life rests now with ourselves, and that in the last analysis the problem of Irish ineffectiveness at home is in the main a problem of character—and of Irish character.
I am quite aware that such a diagnosis of our mind disease—from which Ireland is, in my belief, slowly but surely recovering—will not pass unchallenged, but I would ask any reader who dissents from this view to take a glance at the picture of our national life as it might unfold itself to an unprejudiced but sympathetic outsider who came to Ireland not on a political tour but with a sincere desire to get at the truth of the Irish Question, and to inquire into the conditions about which all the controversy continues to rage.
This hypothetical traveller would discover that our resources are but half developed, and yet hundreds of thousands of our workers have gone, and are still going, to produce wealth where it is less urgently needed. The remnant of the race who still cling to the old country are not only numerically weak, but in many other ways they show the physical and moral effects of the drain which emigration has made on the youth, strength, and energy of the community. Our four and a quarter millions of people, mainly agricultural, have, speaking generally, a very low standard of comfort, which they like to attribute to some five or six millions sterling paid as agricultural rent, and three millions of alleged over-taxation. They face the situation bravely—and, incidentally, swell the over-taxation—with the help of the thirteen or fourteen millions worth of alcoholic stimulants which they annually consume. The still larger consumption in Great Britain may seem to lend at least a respectability to this apparent over-indulgence, but it looks odd. The people are endowed with intellectual capacities of a high order. They have literary gifts and an artistic sense. Yet, with a few brilliant exceptions, they contribute nothing to invention and create nothing in literature or in art. One would say that there must be something wrong with the education of the country; and most people declare that it is too literary, though the Census returns show that there are still large numbers who escape the tyranny of books. The people have an extraordinary belief in political remedies for economic ills; and their political leaders, who are not as a rule themselves actively engaged in business life, tell the people, pointing to ruined mills and unused water power, that the country once had diversified industries, and that if they were allowed to apply their panacea, Ireland would quickly rebuild her industrial life. If our hypothetical traveller were to ask whether there are no other leaders in the country besides the eloquent gentlemen who proclaim her helplessness, he would be told that among the professional classes, the landlords, and the captains of industry, are to be found as competent popular advisers as are possessed by any other country of similar economic standing. But these men take only a dilettante part in politics, and no value is set on industrial, commercial or professional success in the choice of public men. Can it be that to the Irish mind politics are, what Bulwer Lytton declared love to be, "the business of the idle, and the idleness of the busy"?
These, though only a few of the strange ironies of Irish life, are so paradoxical and so anomalous that they are not unnaturally attributed to the intrusion of an alien and unfriendly power; and this furnishes the reason why everything which goes wrong is used to nourish the anti-English sentiment. At the same time they give emphasis to the growing doubt as to the wisdom of those to whom the Irish Question presents itself only as a single and simple issue—namely, whether the laws which are to put all these things right shall be made at St. Stephen's by the collective wisdom of the United Kingdom, aided by the voice of Ireland—which is adequately represented—or whether these laws shall be made by Irishmen alone in a Parliament in College Green.
It is obviously necessary that, in presenting a comprehensive scheme for dealing with the conditions I have roughly indicated. I should make some reference to the attitude towards Home Rule of both the Nationalists and the Unionists who have joined in work which, whatever be its irregularity from the standpoint of party discipline as enforced in Ireland, has succeeded in some degree in directing the energies of our countrymen to the development of the resources of our country. Many of my fellow-workers were Nationalists who, while stoutly adhering to the prime necessity for constitutional changes, took the broad view, which was unpopular among the Irish Party, that much could be done, even under present conditions, to build up our national life on its social, intellectual, and economic sides. The well-known constitutional changes which were advocated in the political party to which they belonged would then, they believed, be more effectively demanded by Ireland, and more readily conceded by England. Unionists who worked with me were similarly affected by the changing mental outlook of the country. They, too, had to break loose from the traditions of an Irish party, for they felt that the exclusively political opposition to Home Rule was not less demoralising than the exclusively political pursuit of Home Rule. Just as the Nationalists who joined the movement believed that all progress must make for self-government, so my Unionist fellow-workers believed it would ultimately strengthen the Union. Each view was thoroughly sound from the standpoint of those who held it, and could be regarded with respect by those who did not. We were all convinced that the way to achieve what is best for Ireland was to develop what is best in Irishmen. And it was the conviction that this can be done by Irishmen in Ireland that brought together those whose thought and work supplies whatever there may be of interest in this book.
If I have fairly stated the attitude towards each other of the workers to whose coming together must be attributed as much of the change in the Irish situation as is due to Irish initiation, it will be seen that what had so long kept them apart in public affairs, outside politics, was a difference of opinion, not so much as to the conditions to be dealt with, nor, indeed, as to the end to be sought, but rather as to the means most effective for the attainment of that end. I naturally regard the view which I am putting forward as being broader than that which has hitherto prevailed. Some Nationalists may, however, contend that it is essential to progress that the thoughts and energies of the nation should be focussed upon a single movement, and not dissipated in the pursuit of a multiplicity of ideals. I quite admit the importance of concentration. But I strongly hold that any movement which is closely related to the main currents of the people's life and subservient to their urgent economic necessities, and which gives free play to the intellectual qualities, while strengthening the moral or industrial character, cannot be held to conflict with any national programme of work, without raising a strong presumption that there is something wrong with the programme. The exclusively political remedy I shall discuss in the next chapter, but here I propose to consider some of the problems which the new movement seeks to solve without waiting for the political millenium.
It is a commonplace that there are two Irelands, differing in race, in creed, in political aspiration, and in what I regard as a more potent factor than all the others put together—economic interest and industrial pursuit. In the mutual misunderstanding of these two Irelands, still more than in the misunderstanding of Ireland by England, is to be found the chief cause of the still unsettled state of the Irish Question. I shall not seek to apportion the blame between the two sections of the population; but as the mists clear away and we can begin to construct a united and contented Ireland, it is not only legitimate, but helpful in the extreme, to assign to the two sections of our wealth-producers their respective parts in repairing the fortunes of their country. In such a discussion of future developments chief prominence must necessarily be given to the problems affecting the life of the majority of the people, who depend directly on the land, and conduct the industry which produces by far the greater portion of the wealth of the country. It is, of course, essential to the prosperity of the whole community that the North should pursue and further develop its own industrial and commercial life. That section of the community has also, no doubt, economic and educational problems to face, but these are much the same problems as those of industrial communities in other parts of the United Kingdom; and if they do not receive, vitally important as is their solution to the welfare of Ireland, any large share of attention in this book, it is because they are no part of what is ordinarily understood by the Irish Question.
Nevertheless, the interest of the manufacturing population of Ulster in the welfare of the Roman Catholic agricultural majority is not merely that of an onlooker, nor even that of the other parts of the United Kingdom, but something more. It is obvious that the internal trade of the country depends mainly upon the demand of the rural population for the output of the manufacturing towns, and that this demand must depend on the volume of agricultural production. I think the importance of developing the home market has not been sufficiently appreciated, even by Belfast. The best contribution the Ulster Protestant population can make to the solution of this question is to do what they can to bring about cordial co-operation between the two great sections of the wealth-producers of Ireland. They should, I would suggest, learn to take a broader and more patriotic view of the problems of the Roman Catholic and agricultural majority, upon the true nature of which I hope to be able to throw some new light. My purpose will be doubly served if I have, to some extent, brought home to the minds of my Northern friends that there is in Ireland an unsettled question in which they are largely concerned, a rightly unsatisfied people by helping whom they can best help themselves.
The Irish Question is, then, in that aspect which must be to Irishmen of paramount importance, the problem of a national existence, chiefly an agricultural existence, in Ireland. To outside observers it is the question of rural life, a question which is assuming a social and economic importance and interest of the most intense character, not only for Ireland North and South, but for almost the whole civilised world. It is becoming increasingly difficult in many parts of the world to keep the people on the land, owing to the enormously improved industrial opportunities and enhanced social and intellectual advantages of urban life. The problem can be better examined in Ireland than elsewhere, for with us it can, to a large extent, be isolated, since we have little highly developed town life. Our rural exodus takes our people, for the most part, not into Irish or even into British towns, but into those of the United States. What is migration in other countries is emigration with us, and the mind of the country, brooding over the dreary statistics of this perennial drain, naturally and longingly turns to schemes for the rehabilitation of rural life—the only life it knows.
We cannot exercise much direct influence upon the desire to emigrate beyond spreading knowledge as to the real conditions of life in America, for which home life in Ireland is often ignorantly bartered. We cannot isolate the phenomenon of emigration and find a cure for it apart from the rest of the Irish Question. We must recognise that emigration is but the chief symptom of a low national vitality, and that the first result of our efforts to stay the tide may increase the outflow. We cannot fit the people to stay without fitting them to go. Before we can keep the people at home we have got to construct a national life with, in the first place, a secure basis of physical comfort and decency. This life must have a character, a dignity, an outlook of its own. A comfortable Boeotia will never develop into a real Hibernia Pacata. The standard of living may in some ways be lower than the English standard: in some ways it may be higher. But even if statesmanship and all the forces of philanthropy and patriotism combined can construct a contented rural Ireland for the people, it can only be maintained by the people. It will have to accord with the national sentiment and be distinctively Irish. It is this national aspiration, and the remarkable promise of the movements making for its fruition, which give to the work of Irish social and economic reform the fascination which those who do not know the Ireland of to-day cannot understand. This work of reform must, of course, be primarily economic, but economic remedies cannot be applied to Irish ills without the spiritual aids which are required to move to action the latent forces of Irish reason and emotion.
* * * * *
The task which we have to face is, then, a two-sided one, but its economic and its purely practical aspects first demand consideration. Many even of the agrarian aspects of the question have, so far, been somewhat neglected in Ireland owing to a cause which is not far to seek. It has often been asserted that the Irish Question is, at bottom, the Land Question. There is a great deal of truth in this view, but almost all those who hold it have fallen into the grave error of tacitly identifying the land question with the tenure question—an error which vitiates a great deal of current theorising about Ireland. It was, indeed, inevitable that Irish agriculturists, with such an economic history behind them as I have outlined in the previous chapter, should have concentrated their attention during the latter half of the nineteenth century upon obtaining a legislative cure for the ills produced by legislation, to the comparative neglect of those equally difficult, if less obvious economic questions, which have been brought into special prominence by the agricultural depression of the last quarter of a century. Now, however, that the Land Act of 1903 has been passed and the solution of the tenure question is in sight, we in Ireland are more free to direct our attention to what is at present the most important aspect of the agrarian situation—the necessity for determining the social and economic conditions essential to the well-being of the peasant proprietary, which, though it is to be started with as bright an outlook as the law can give, must stand or fall by its own inherent merits or defects. Not only are we now free to give adequate consideration to this question, but it is also imperative that we should do so, for whilst I am hopeful that the Land Act will settle the question of tenure, it will obviously not merely leave the other problems of agricultural existence—problems some of which are not unknown in other parts of the United Kingdom—still unsolved, but will also increase the necessity for their solution, and will, moreover, bring in its train complex difficulties of its own.
The main features of the depressing outlook of rural life in the United Kingdom are well known. The land steadily passes from under the plough and is given over to stock raising. As the kine increase the men decay. In Ireland the rural exodus takes, as I have already said, the shape, mainly, not of migration to Irish urban centres, but rather the uglier form of an emigration which not only depletes our population but drains it of the very elements which can least be spared.
The reason generally given for the widespread resort to the lotus-eating occupation of opening and shutting gates, in preference to tilling the soil, is that in the existing state of agricultural organisation, and while urban life is ever drawing away labour from the fields, the substitution of pasturage for tillage is the readiest way to meet the ruinous competition of Eastern Europe, the Western Hemisphere, and Australasia. Yet upon the economic merits of this process I have heard the most diverse opinions stated with equal conviction by men thoroughly well informed as to the conditions. One of the largest graziers in Ireland recently gave me a picture of what he considered to be an ideal economic state for the country. If two more Belfasts could be established on the east coast, and the rest of the country divided into five hundred acre farms, grazing being adopted wherever permanent grass would grow, the limits of Irish productivity would be reached. On the other hand, Dr. O'Donnell, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Raphoe, who may be taken as an authoritative exponent of the trend of popular thought in the country, not long ago advocated ploughing the grazing lands of Leinster right up to the slopes of Tara. Moreover, many theories have been advanced to show that the decline of tillage, whatever be its cause, involves an enormous waste of national resources. But of practical suggestion, making for a remedy, there is very little forthcoming.
The solution of all such problems largely depends upon certain developments which, for many reasons, I regard as absolutely essential to the success of the new agrarian order. One of these developments is the spread of agricultural co-operation through voluntary associations. Without this agency of social and economic progress, small landholders in Ireland will be but a body of isolated units, having all the drawbacks of individualism, and none of its virtues, unorganised and singularly ill-equipped for that great international struggle of our time, which we know as agricultural competition. Moreover, there is another equally important, if less obvious, consideration which renders urgent the organisation of our rural communities. From Russia, with its half-communistic Mir to France with its modern village commune, there is no country in Europe except the United Kingdom where the peasant land-holders have not some form of corporate existence. In Ireland the transition from landlordism to a peasant proprietary not only does not create any corporate existence among the occupying peasantry but rather deprives them of the slight social coherence which they formerly possessed as tenants of the same landlord. The estate office has its uses as well as its disadvantages, and the landlord or agent is by no means without his value as a business adviser to those from whom he collects the rent.
The organisation of the peasantry by an extension of voluntary associations, which is a condition precedent of social and economic progress, will not, however, suffice to enable them to face and solve the problems with which they are confronted, and whose solution has now become a matter of very serious concern to the British taxpayer. The condition of our agrarian life clearly indicates the necessity for supplementing voluntary effort with a sound system of State aid to agriculture and industry—a necessity fully recognised by the governments of every progressive continental country and of our own colonies. An altogether hopeful beginning of combined self-help and State assistance has been already made. Those who have been studying these problems, and practically preparing the way for the proper care of a peasant proprietary, have overcome the chief obstacles which lay in their path. They have gained popular acceptance for the principle that State aid should not be resorted to until organised voluntary effort has first been set in motion, and that any departure from this principle would be an unwarrantable interference with the business of the people, a fatal blow to private enterprise.
The task before the people, and before the State, of placing the new agrarian order upon a permanent basis of decency and comfort is no light one. Indeed, I doubt whether Parliament realises one-tenth of the problems which the latest land legislation—by far the best we have yet had—leaves unsolved. This becomes only too clear the moment we consider seriously the fundamental question of the relation of population to area in rural Ireland, or, in other words, when we inquire how many people the agricultural land will support under existing circumstances, or under any attainable improvement of the conditions in our rural life. Roughly speaking, the surface area of the island is 20,000,000 acres, of which 5,000,000 are described in the official returns as 'barren mountain, bog and waste.' This leaves us with some 15,000,000 acres available for agriculture and grazing, which area is now divided into some 500,000 holdings. Thus we have an average of thirty acres in extent for the Irish agricultural holding. But, unhappily, the returns show that some 200,000 of these holdings are from one to fifteen acres in extent. Nor do the mere figures show the case at its worst. For it happens that the small holdings in Ireland, unlike those on the Continent, are generally on the poorest land, and the majority of them cannot come within any of the definitions of an 'economic holding.'
These 200,000 holdings, the homes of nearly a million persons, threaten to prove the greatest danger to the future of agricultural Ireland. As the majority of them, as at present constituted, do not provide the physical basis of a decent standard of living, the question arises, how are they to be improved? Putting aside emigration, which at one period was necessary and ought to have been aided and controlled by the State, but which is now no longer a statesman's remedy, there is obviously no solution except by the migration of a portion of the occupiers, and the utilisation of the vacated holdings in order to enable the peasants who remain to prosper—much as a forest is thinned to promote the growth of trees. In typical congested districts this operation will have to be carried out on a much larger scale than is generally realised, for a considerable majority of families will have to be removed, in order to allow a sufficient margin for the provision of adequate holdings for those who remain. In some cases, there are large grazing tracts in close proximity to the congested area which might be utilised for the re-settlement, but where this is not so and the occupiers of the vacated holdings have to migrate a considerable distance, the problem becomes far more difficult. I need not dwell upon the administrative difficulties of the operation, which are not light. I may assume, also, that there will be no difficulty in obtaining suitable land somewhere. I do not myself attach much weight to the unwillingness of the people to leave their old holdings for better ones, or to the alleged objection of the clergy to allow their parishioners to go to another parish. More serious is the possible opposition of those who live in the vicinity of the unoccupied land about to be distributed, and who feel that they have the first claim upon the State in any scheme for its redistribution with the help of public credit. Mr. Parnell promoted a company with the sole object of practically demonstrating how this problem could be solved. A large capital was raised, and a large estate purchased; but the company did not effect the migration of a single family. Still these are minor considerations compared with the larger one, to which I must briefly refer.
Under the Land Act of 1903 much has been done to facilitate the transfer of peasants to new farms, but it is obvious that land cannot be handed over as a gift from the State to the families which migrate. They will become debtors for the value of the land itself, less perhaps a small sum which may be credited to them in respect of the tenant's interest in the holdings they have abandoned. This deduction will, however, be lost in the expenditure required upon houses, buildings, fences, and other improvements which would have to be effected before the land could be profitably occupied. Speaking generally they will have no money or agricultural implements, and their live stock will in many cases be mortgaged to the local shopkeeper who has always financed them. It will be necessary for the future welfare of the country to give them land which admits of cultivation upon the ordinary principles of modern agriculture; but without working capital, and bringing with them neither the skill nor the habits necessary for the successful conduct of their industry under the new conditions, it will be no easy task to place them in a position to discharge their obligations to the State. It is all very easy to talk about the obvious necessity of giving more land to cultivators who have not enough to live upon; and there is, no doubt, a poetic justice in the Utopian agrarianism which dangles before the eyes of the Connaught peasantry the alternative of Heaven or Leinster. But when we come down to practical economics, and face the task of giving to a certain number of human beings, in an extremely backward industrial condition, the opportunity of placing themselves and their families on a basis of permanent well-being, it will be evident that, so far, at any rate, as this particular community is concerned, the mere provision of an economic holding is after all but a part of an economic existence.
I have touched upon this question of migration from uneconomic to economic holdings because it signally illustrates the importance of the human, in contradistinction to the merely material considerations involved in the solution of the many-sided Irish Question. I must now return to the wider question of the relation of population to area in rural Ireland, as it affects the general scheme of agricultural and industrial development.
It is obvious that there must be a limit to the number of individuals that the land can support. Allowing an average of five members for each family, and allowing for a considerable number of landless labourers, it seems that the land at present directly supports about 2,500,000 persons—a view which, I may add, is fully borne out by the figures of the recent census; and it is hard to see how a population living by agriculture can be much increased beyond this number. Even if all the land in Ireland were available for re-distribution in equal shares, the higher standard of comfort to which it is essential that the condition of our people should be raised would forbid the existence of much more than half a million peasant proprietors. Hence the evergreen query, 'What shall we do with our boys?' remains to be answered; for while the abolition of dual ownership will enable the present generation to bring up their children according to a higher standard of living, the change will not of itself provide a career for the children when they have been brought up. The next generation will have to face this problem:—the average farm can support only one of the children and his family, what is to become of the others? The law forbids sub-division for two generations, and after that, ex hypothesi, the then prevailing conditions of life will also prevent such partition. A few of the next generation may become agricultural labourers, but this involves descending to the lowest standard of living of to-day, and in any case the demand for agricultural labourers is not capable of much extension in a country of small peasant proprietors.
Against this view I know it is pointed out that in the earlier part of the nineteenth century the agricultural population of Ireland was as large as is the total population of to-day; but we know the sequel. Instances are also cited of peasant proprietaries in foreign countries which maintain a high standard of living upon small, sometimes diminutive, and highly-rented holdings. We must remember, however, that in these foreign countries State intervention has undoubtedly done much to render possible a prosperous peasant proprietary by, for example, the dissemination of useful information, admirable systems of technical education in agriculture, cheap and expeditious transport, and even State attention to the distribution of agricultural produce in distant markets. Again, in many of these countries rural life is balanced by a highly industrial town life, as, for instance, in the case of Belgium; or is itself highly industrialised by the existence of rural industries, as in the case of Switzerland; while in one notable instance—that of Wuerttemberg—both these conditions prevail.
The true lesson to be drawn from these foreign analogies is that not by agriculture alone is Ireland to be saved. The solution of the rural problem embraces many spheres of national activity. It involves, as I have already said, the further development of manufactures in Irish towns. One of the best ways to stimulate our industries is to develop the home market by means of an increased agricultural production, and a higher standard of comfort among the peasant producers. We shall thus be, so to speak, operating on consumption as well as on production, and so increasing the home demand for Irish manufactures. Perhaps more urgent than the creation or extension of manufactures on a larger scale is the development of industries subsidiary to agriculture in the country. This is generally admitted, and most people have a fair knowledge of the wide and varied range of peasant industries in all European countries where a prosperous peasantry exists. Nor is there much difficulty in agreeing upon the main conditions to be satisfied in the selection of the industries to meet the requirements of our case. The men and boys require employment in the winter months, or they will not stay, and the rural industries promoted should, as far as possible, be those which allow of intermittent attention. The female members of the family must have profitable and congenial employment. The handicrafts to be promoted must be those which will give scope to the native genius and aesthetic sense. But unless we can thus supply the demand of the peasant-industry market with products of merit or distinctiveness, we shall fail in competition with the hereditary skill and old established trade of peasant proprietors which have solved this part of the problem generations ago. This involves the vigorous application of a class of instruction of which something will be said in the proper place.