IRELAND SINCE PARNELL
BY CAPTAIN D.D. SHEEHAN
BARRISTER-AT-LAW LATE M.P. FOR MID-CORK
DANIEL O'CONNOR 90 GREAT RUSSELL STREET, W.C.1
FOREWORD CHAPTER I. A LEADER APPEARS II. A LEADER IS DETHRONED! III. THE DEATH OF A LEADER IV. AN APPRECIATION OF PARNELL V. THE WRECK AND RUIN OF A PARTY VI. TOWARDS LIGHT AND LEADING VII. FORCES OF REGENERATION AND THEIR EFFECT VIII. THE BIRTH OF A MOVEMENT AND WHAT IT CAME TO IX. THE LAND QUESTION AND ITS SETTLEMENT X. LAND PURCHASE AND A DETERMINED CAMPAIGN TO KILL IT XI. THE MOVEMENT FOR DEVOLUTION AND ITS DEFEAT XII. THE LATER IRISH PARTY—ITS CHARACTER AND COMPOSITION XIII. A TALE OF BAD LEADERSHIP AND BAD FAITH XIV. LAND AND LABOUR XV. SOME FURTHER SALVAGE FROM THE WRECKAGE XVI. REUNION AND TREACHERY XVII. A NEW POWER ARISES IN IRELAND XVIII. A CAMPAIGN OF EXTERMINATION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES XIX. A GENERAL ELECTION THAT LEADS TO A "HOME RULE" BILL! XX. THE RISE OF SIR EDWARD CARSON XXI. SINN FEIN—ITS ORIGINAL MEANING AND PURPOSE XXII. LABOUR BECOMES A POWER IN IRISH LIFE XXIII. CARSON, ULSTER AND OTHER CONSIDERATIONS XXIV. FORMATION OF IRISH VOLUNTEERS AND OUTBREAK OF WAR XXV. THE EASTER WEEK REBELLION AND AFTERWARDS XXVI. THE IRISH CONVENTION AND THE CONSCRIPTION OF IRELAND XXVII. "THE TIMES" AND IRISH SETTLEMENT XXVIII. THE ISSUES NOW AT STAKE
The writer of this work first saw the light on a modest farmstead in the parish of Droumtariffe, North Cork. He came of a stock long settled there, whose roots were firmly fixed in the soil, whose love of motherland was passionate and intense, and who were ready "in other times," when Fenianism won true hearts and daring spirits to its side, to risk their all in yet one more desperate battle for "the old cause." His father was a Fenian, and so was every relative of his, even unto the womenfolk. He heard around the fireside, in his younger days, the stirring stories of all the preparations which were then made for striking yet another blow for Ireland, and he too sighed and sorrowed for the disappointments that fell upon noble hearts and ardent souls with the failure of "The Rising."
He was not more than seven years of age when the terrible tribulation of eviction came to his family. He remembers, as if the events were but of yesterday, the poignant despair of his mother in leaving the home into which her dowry was brought and where her children were born, and the more silent resignation, but none the less deeply felt bitterness, of his father—a man of strong character and little given to expressing his emotions. He recalls that, a day or two before the eviction, he was taken away in a cart, known in this part of the country as "a crib," with some of the household belongings, to seek a temporary shelter with some friends. May God be good to them for their loving-kindness and warm hospitality!
He wondered, then, why there should be so much suffering and sorrow as he saw expressed around him, in the world, and he was told that there was nothing for it—that the lease of the farm had expired, that the landlord wanted it for himself, and that though his father was willing to pay an increased rent, still out he had to go—and, what was worse, to have all his improvements confiscated, to have the fruits of the blood and sweat and energy of his forefathers appropriated by a man who had no right under heaven to them, save such as the iniquitous laws of those days gave him.
It was something in the nature of poetic justice that the lad whose family was cast thus ruthlessly on the roadside in the summer of 1880, should, after the passage of the Land Act of 1903, have, in the providence of things, the opportunity and the power for negotiating, in fair and friendly and conciliatory fashion, for the expropriation for evermore from all ownership in the land of the class who cast him and his people adrift in earlier years.
The writer has it proudly to his credit that, acting on behalf of the tenants of County Cork, he individually negotiated the sales of more landed estates than any other man, or combination of men, in Ireland, and that with the good will and, indeed, with the gratitude of the landlords and their agents, and by reason of the fact that he applied the policy of Conference, Conciliation and Consent to this practical concern of men's lives, he secured for the tenants of County Cork a margin of from one and a half to two years' purchase better terms than the average rate prevailing elsewhere.
For the rest he devoted himself during the better part of a quarter of a century to the housing and the social betterment of the workers in town and country, with results which are reflected in their present vastly improved condition.
But his greatest effort, and what he would wish most to be remembered for is that, with a faithful few and against overwhelming odds, he took his stand for Mr William O'Brien's policy of National Reconciliation, which all thoughtful men now admit would have saved Ireland from countless horrors and England from a series of most appalling political blunders if only it had been given fair play and a fair trial.
It is no use, however, in a very sordid and material world, sighing for the might-have-beens. What the writer seeks in the present work is to give, fairly and dispassionately, a narrative of what has happened in Ireland since Parnell appeared upon the Irish scene and the curtain was rung down upon the tragedy that brought the career of the one and only "Uncrowned King of Ireland" to a close—and until, in turn, the downfall of Parliamentarianism was accomplished by means which will, in due course, appear in these pages.
IRELAND SINCE PARNELL
A LEADER APPEARS
There are some who would dispute the greatness of Parnell—who would deny him the stature and the dignity of a leader of men. There are others who would aver that Parnell was made by his lieutenants—that he owed all his success in the political arena to their ability and fighting qualities and that he was essentially a man of mediocre talents himself.
It might be enough to answer to these critics that Parnell could never hold the place he does in history, that he could never have overawed the House of Commons as he did, nor could he have emerged so triumphantly from the ordeal of The Times Commission were he not superabundantly endowed with all the elements and qualities of greatness. But apart from this no dispassionate student of the Parnell period can deny that it was fruitful in massive achievement for Ireland. When Parnell appeared on the scene it might well be said of the country, what had been truly said of it in another generation, that it was "as a corpse on the dissecting-table." It was he, and the gallant band which his indomitable purpose gathered round him, that galvanised the corpse into life and breathed into it a dauntless spirit of resolve which carried it to the very threshold of its sublimest aspirations. To Isaac Butt is ascribed the merit of having conceived and given form to the constitutional movement for Irish liberty. He is also credited with having invented the title "Home Rule"—a title which, whilst it was a magnificent rallying cry for a cause, in the circumstances of the time when it was first used, was probably as mischievous in its ultimate results as any unfortunate nomenclature well could be, since all parties in Ireland and out of it became tied to its use when any other designation for the Irish demand might have made it more palatable with the British masses. Winston Churchill is reported to have said, in his Radical days, to a prominent Irish leader: "I cannot understand why you Irishmen are so stupidly wedded to the name 'Home Rule.' If only you would call it anything else in the world, you would have no difficulty in getting the English to agree to it."
But although Isaac Butt was a fine intellect and an earnest patriot he never succeeded in rousing Ireland to any great pitch of enthusiasm for his policy. It was still sick, and weary, and despondent after the Fenian failure, and the revolutionary leaders were not prone to tolerate or countenance what they regarded as a Parliamentary imposture. A considerable body of the Irish landed class supported the Butt movement, because they had nothing to fear for their own interests from it. They were members of his Parliamentary Party, not to help him on his way, but rather with the object of weakening and retarding his efforts.
It was at this stage that Parnell arrived. The country was stricken with famine—the hand of the lord, in the shape of the landlord, was heavy upon it. After a season of unexampled agricultural prosperity the lean years had come to the Irish farmer and he was ripe for agitation and resistance. Butt had the Irish gentry on his side. With the sure instinct of the born leader Parnell set out to fight them. He had popular feeling with him. It was no difficult matter to rouse the democracy of the country against a class at whose doors they laid the blame for all their woes and troubles and manifold miseries. Butt was likewise too old for his generation. He was a constitutional statesman who made noble appeal to the honesty and honour of British statesmen. Parnell, too, claimed to be a constitutional leader, but of another type. With the help of men like Michael Davitt and John Devoy he was able to muster the full strength of the revolutionary forces behind him and he adopted other methods in Parliament than lackadaisical appeals to the British sense of right and justice.
The time came when the older statesman had perforce to make way for the younger leader. The man with a noble genius for statesman-like design—and this must be conceded to Isaac Butt—had to yield place and power to the men whose genius consisted in making themselves amazingly disagreeable to the British Government, both in Ireland and at Westminster. "The Policy of Exasperation" was the epithet applied by Butt to the purpose of Parnell, in the belief that he was uttering the weightiest reproach in his power against it. But this was the description of all others which recommended it to the Irish race—for it was, in truth, the only policy which could compel British statesmen to give ear to the wretched story of Ireland's grievances and to legislate in regard to them. It is sad to have to write it of Butt, as of so many other Irish leaders, that he died of a broken heart. Those who would labour for "Dark Rosaleen" have a rough and thorny road to travel, and they are happy if the end of their journey is not to be found in despair, disappointment and bitter tragedy.
Parnell, once firmly seated in the saddle, lost no time in asserting his power and authority. Mr William O'Brien, who writes with a quite unique personal authority on the events of this time, tells us that there is some doubt whether "Joe" Biggar, as he was familiarly known from one end of Ireland to the other, was not the actual inventor of Parliamentary obstruction. His own opinion is that it was Biggar who first discovered it but it was Parnell who perceived that the new weapon was capable of dislocating the entire machinery of Government at will and consequently gave to a disarmed Ireland a more formidable power against her enemies than if she could have risen in armed insurrection, so that a Parliament which wanted to hear nothing of Ireland heard of practically nothing else every night of their lives.
Let it be, however, clearly understood that there was an Irish Party before Parnell's advent on the scene. It was never a very effective instrument of popular right, but after Butt's death it became a decrepit old thing—without cohesion, purpose or, except in rare instances, any genuine personal patriotism. It viewed the rise of Parnell and his limited body of supporters with disgust and dismay. It had no sympathy with his pertinacious campaign against all the cherished forms and traditions of "The House," and it gave him no support. Rather it virulently opposed him and his small group, who were without money and even without any organisation at their back. Parnell had also to contend with the principal Nationalist newspaper of the time—The Freeman's Journal—as well as such remnants as remained of Butt's Home Rule League.
About this time, however, a movement—not for the first or the last time—came out of the West. A meeting had been held at Irishtown, County Mayo, which made history. It was here that the demand of "The Land for the People" first took concrete form. Previously Mr Parnell and his lieutenants had been addressing meetings in many parts of the country, at which they advocated peasant proprietorship in substitution for landlordism, but now instead of sporadic speeches they had to their hand an organisation which supplied them with a tremendous dynamic force and gave a new edge to their Parliamentary performances. And not the least value of the new movement was that it immediately won over to active co-operation in its work the most powerful men in the old revolutionary organisation. I remember being present, as a very little lad indeed, at a Land League meeting at Kiskeam, Cork County, where scrolls spanned the village street bearing the legend: "Ireland for the Irish and the Land for the People."
The country people were present from far and near. Cavalcades of horsemen thronged in from many a distant place, wearing proudly the Fenian sash of orange and green over their shoulder, and it struck my youthful imagination what a dashing body of cavalry these would have made in the fight for Ireland. Michael Davitt was the founder and mainspring of the Land League and it is within my memory that in the hearts and the talks of the people around their fireside hearths he was at this time only second to Parnell in their hope and love. I am told that Mr John Devoy shared with him the honour of co-founder of the Land League, but I confess I heard little of Mr Devoy, probably because he was compulsorily exiled about this time.
In those days Parnell's following consisted of only seven men out of one hundred and three Irish members. When the General Election of 1880 was declared he was utterly unprepared to meet all its emergencies. For lack of candidates he had to allow himself to be nominated for three constituencies, yet with marvellous and almost incredible energy he fought on to the last polling-booth. The result was astounding. He increased his following to thirty-five, not, perhaps, overwhelming in point of numbers, but remarkable for the high intellectual standard of the young men who composed it, for their varied capacities, for their fine patriotism, and their invincible determination to face all risks and invite all dangers. It has been said of Parnell that he was an intolerant autocrat in the selection of candidates for and membership of the Party, and that he imposed his will ruthlessly upon them once they were elected. I am told by those who were best in a position to form a judgment, and whose veracity I would stake my life upon, that nothing could be farther from the truth. Parnell had little to say with the choosing of his lieutenants. Indeed, he was singularly indifferent about it, as instances could be quoted to prove. Undoubtedly he held them together firmly, because he had the gift of developing all that was best in a staff of brilliant talents and varied gifts, and so jealousies and personal idiosyncrasies had not the room wherein to develop their poisonous growths.
I pass rapidly over the achievements of Parnell in the years that followed. He gave the country some watchwords that can never be forgotten, as when he told the farmers to "Keep a firm grip of your homesteads!" followed by the equally energetic exhortation: "Hold the harvest!" They were his Orders of the Day to his Irish army. Then came the No-Rent Manifesto, the suppression of the Land League after only twelve months' existence, Kilmainham and its Treaty, and the Land Act of 1881, which I can speak of, from my own knowledge, as the first great forward step in the emancipation of the Irish tenant farmer. Mr Dillon differed with Parnell as to the efficacy of this Act, but he was as hopelessly wrong in his attitude then as he was twenty-two years later in connection with the Land Act of 1903. In 1882 the National League came into being, giving a broader programme and a deeper depth of meaning to the aims of Parnell. At this time the Parliamentary policy of the Party under his leadership was an absolute independence of all British Parties, and therein lay all its strength and savour. There was also the pledge of the members to sit, act and vote together, which owed its wholesome force not so much to anything inherent in the pledge itself as to the positive terror of a public opinion in Ireland which would tolerate no tampering with it. Furthermore, a rigid rule obtained against members of the Party seeking office or preferment for themselves or their friends on the sound principle that the Member of Parliament who sought ministerial favours could not possibly be an impeccable and independent patriot.
But the greatest achievement of Parnell was the fact that he had both the great English parties bidding for his support. We know that the Tory Party entered into negotiations with him on the Home Rule issue. Meanwhile, however, there was the more notable conversion of Gladstone, a triumph of unparalleled magnitude for Parnell and in itself the most convincing testimony to the positive strength and absolute greatness of the man. A wave of enthusiasm went up on both sides of the Irish Sea for the alliance which seemed to symbolise the ending of the age-long struggle between the two nations. True, this alliance has since been strangely underrated in its effects, but there can be no doubt that it evoked at the time a genuine outburst of friendliness on the part of the Irish masses to England. And at the General Election of 1885 Parnell returned from Ireland with a solid phalanx of eighty-four members—eager, invincible, enthusiastic, bound unbreakably together in loyalty to their country and in devotion to their leader.
From 1885 to 1890 there was a general forgiving and forgetting of historic wrongs and ancient feuds. The Irish Nationalists were willing to clasp hands across the sea in a brotherhood of friendship and even of affection, but there stood apart, in open and flaming disaffection, the Protestant minority in Ireland, who were in a state of stark terror that the Home Rule Bill of 1886 meant the end of everything for them—the end of their brutal ascendancy and probably also the confiscation of their property and the ruin of their social position.
Then, as on a more recent occasion, preparations for civil war were going on in Ulster, largely of English Party manufacture, and more with an eye to British Party purposes than because of any sincere convictions on the rights of the ascendancy element. Still the Grand Old Man carried on his indomitable campaign for justice to Ireland, notwithstanding the unfortunate cleavage which had taken place in the ranks of his own Party, and it does not require any special gift of prevision to assert, nor is it any unwarrantable assumption on the facts to say, that the alliance between the Liberal and Irish Parties would inevitably have triumphed as soon as a General Election came had not the appalling misunderstanding as to Gladstone's "Nullity of Leadership" letter flung everything into chaos and irretrievably ruined the hopes of Ireland for more than a generation.
And this brings me to what I regard as the greatest of Irish tragedies—the deposition and the dethronement of Parnell under circumstances which will remain for all time a sadness and a sorrow to the Irish race.
[Footnote 1: Devoy, although banished, did turn up secretly in Mayo when the Land League was being organised, and his orders were supreme with the secret societies.]
A LEADER IS DETHRONED!
In the cabin, in the shieling, in the home of the "fattest" farmer, as well as around the open hearth of the most lowly peasant, in town and country, wherever there were hearts that hoped for Irish liberty and that throbbed to the martial music of "the old cause," the name of Parnell was revered with a devotion such as was scarcely ever rendered to any leader who had gone before him. A halo of romance had woven itself around his figure and all the poetry and passion of the mystic Celtic spirit went forth to him in the homage of a great loyalty and regard. The title of "The Uncrowned King of Ireland" was no frothy exuberance as applied to him—for he was in truth a kingly man, robed in dignity, panoplied in power, with a grand and haughty bearing towards the enemies of his people—in all things a worthy chieftain of a noble race. The one and only time in life I saw him was when he was a broken and a hunted man and when the pallor of death was upon his cheeks, but even then I was impressed by the majesty of his bearing, the dignity of his poise, the indescribably magnetic glance of his wondrous eyes, and the lineaments of power in every gesture, every tone and every movement. He awed and he attracted at the same time. He stood strikingly out from all others at that meeting at Tralee, where I was one of a deputation from Killarney who presented him with an address of loyalty and confidence, which, by the way, I, as a youthful journalist starting on my own adventurous career, had drafted. It was one of his last public appearances, and the pity of it all that it should be so, when we now know, with the fuller light and knowledge that has been thrown upon that bitterest chapter of our tribulations, that with the display of a little more reason and a juster accommodation of temper, Parnell might have been saved for his country, and the whole history of Ireland since then—if not, indeed, of the world—changed for the better. But these are vain regrets and it avails not to indulge them, though it is permissible to say that the desertion of Parnell brought its own swift retribution to the people for whom he had laboured so potently and well.
I have read all the authentic literature I could lay hold of bearing upon the Parnell imbroglio, and it leaves me with the firm conviction that if there had not been an almost unbelievable concatenation of errors and misunderstandings and stupid blunderings, Parnell need never have been sacrificed. And the fact stands out with clearness that the passage in Gladstone's "Nullity of Leadership" letter, which was the root cause of all the trouble that followed, would never have been published were it not that the political hacks, through motives of party expediency, insisted on its inclusion. That plant of tender growth—the English Nonconformist conscience—it was that decreed the fall of the mighty Irish leader.
It is only in recent years that the full facts of what happened during what is known as "The Parnell Split" have been made public, and these facts make it quite clear that neither during the Divorce Court proceedings nor subsequently had Parnell had a fair fighting chance. Let it be remembered that no leader was ever pursued by such malignant methods of defamation as Parnell, and it is questionable how far the Divorce Court proceedings were not intended by his enemies as part of this unscrupulous campaign. Replying to a letter of William O'Brien before the trial, Parnell wrote: "You may rest quite sure that if this proceeding ever comes to trial (which I very much doubt) it is not I who will quit the court with discredit." And when the whole mischief was done, and the storm raged ruthlessly around him, Parnell told O'Brien, during the Boulogne negotiations, that he all but came to blows with Sir Frank Lockwood (the respondent's counsel) when insisting that he should be himself examined in the Divorce Court, and he intimated that if he had prevailed the political complications that followed could never have arisen. On which declaration Mr O'Brien has this footnote: "The genial giant Sir Frank Lockwood confessed to me in after years: 'Parnell was cruelly wronged all round. There is a great reaction in England in his favour. I am not altogether without remorse myself.'"
Not all at once were the flood-gates of vituperation let loose upon Parnell. Not all at once did the question of his continued leadership arise. He had led his people, with an incomparable skill and intrepidity, not unequally matched with the genius of Gladstone himself, from a position of impotence and contempt to the supreme point where success was within their reach. A General Election, big with the fate of Ireland, was not far off. Was the matchless leader who had led his people so far and so well to disappear and to leave his country the prey of warring factions—he who had established a national unity such as Ireland had never known before? "For myself," writes William O'Brien, "I should no more have voted Parnell's displacement on the Divorce Court proceedings alone than England would have thought of changing the command on the eve of the battle of Trafalgar in a holy horror of the frailties of Lady Hamilton and her lover."
The Liberal Nonconformists, however, shrieked for his head in a real or assumed outburst of moral frenzy, and the choice thrust upon the Irish people and their representatives was as to whether they should remain faithful to the alliance with the Liberal Party, to which the Irish nation unquestionably stood pledged, or to the leader who had won so much for them and who might win yet more if he had a united Ireland behind him, unseduced and unterrified by the clamour of English Puritan moralists. O'Brien and Dillon and other leading Irishmen were in America whilst passions were being excited and events marching to destruction over here. "The knives were out," as one fiery protagonist of the day rather savagely declared. It is, as I have already inferred, now made abundantly clear that Gladstone would not have included in his letter the famous "Nullity of Leadership" passage if other counsels had not overborne his own better judgment.
It was this letter of Gladstone which set the ball rolling against Parnell. Up till then the members of the Irish Party and the Irish people were solidly and, indeed, defiantly with him. No doubt Michael Davitt joined with such zealots as the Rev. Mr Price Hughes and W.T. Stead in demanding the deposition of Parnell, but one need not be uncharitable in saying that Davitt had his quarrels with Parnell—and serious ones at that—on the Land Question and other items of the national demand, and he was, besides, a man of impetuous temperament, not overmuch given to counting the consequences of his actions.
Then there came the famous, or infamous, according as it be viewed, struggle in Committee Room 15 of the House of Commons, when, by a majority of 45 to 29, it was finally decided to declare the chair vacant, after a battle of unusual ferocity and personal bitterness. And now a new element of complication was added to the already sufficiently poignant tragedy by the entry of the Irish Catholic bishops on the scene. Hitherto they had refrained, with admirable restraint, from interference, and they had done nothing to intensify the agonies of the moment. It will always remain a matter for regret that they did not avail themselves of a great opportunity, and their own unparalleled power with the people, to mediate in the interests of peace—whilst their mediation might still avail. But unfortunately, with one notable exception, they united in staking the entire power of the Church on the dethronement of Parnell. The effect was twofold. It added fresh fury to the attacks of those who were howling for the head of their erstwhile chieftain and who were glad to add the thunderbolts of the Church to their own feebler weapons of assault; but the more permanent effect, and, indeed, the more disastrous, was the doubt it left on the minds of thousands of the best Irishmen whether there was not some malign plot in which the Church was associated with the ban-dogs of the Liberal Party for dishing Home Rule by overthrowing Parnell. It was recalled that the Catholic priesthood, with a few glorious exceptions, stood apart from Parnell when he was struggling to give life and force to the Irish movement, and thus it came to pass that for many a bitter year the part of the Irish priest in politics was freely criticised by Catholics whose loyalty to the Church was indisputable.
Even still—if only the temporary withdrawal of Parnell were secured—all might have been well. And it was to this end that the Boulogne negotiations were set on foot. Mr William O'Brien has, perhaps, left us the most complete record of what transpired in the course of those fateful conversations. Parnell naturally desired to get out of a delicate situation with all possible credit and honour, and his magnificent services entitled him to the utmost consideration in this respect. He insisted on demanding guarantees from Mr Gladstone on Home Rule and the Land Question, and these given he expressed his willingness to retire from the position of Chairman of the Party. At first he insisted on Mr William O'Brien being his successor, but O'Brien peremptorily dismissed this for reasons which were to him unalterable. Mr Dillon was then agreed to, and a settlement was on the point of achievement when a maladroit remark of this gentleman about the administration of the Paris Funds so grievously wounded the pride of Parnell that the serenity of the negotiations was irreparably disturbed, and from that moment the movement for peace was merely an empty show.
Chaos had come again upon the Irish Cause, and the Irish people, who were so near the goal of success, wasted many years, that might have been better spent, in futile and fratricidal strife, in which all the baser passions of politics ran riot and played havoc with the finer purposes of men engaged in a struggle for liberty and right.
THE DEATH OF A LEADER
There is no Irishman who can study the incidents leading up to Parnell's downfall and the wretched controversies connected with it without feelings of shame that such a needless sacrifice of greatness should have been made.
Parnell broke off the Boulogne negotiations ostensibly on the ground that the assurances of Mr Gladstone on the Home Rule Question were not sufficient and that if he was to be "thrown to the English wolves," to use his own term, the Irish people were not getting their price in return. But giving the best thought possible to all the available materials it would seem that Mr Dillon's reflection on Parnell's bona fides was really at the root of the ultimate break-away.
Mr Barry O'Brien, in his Life of Parnell, thus describes the incident:
"Parnell went to Calais and met Mr O'Brien and Mr Dillon. The Liberal assurances were then submitted to him and he considered them unsatisfactory; but this was not the only trouble. Mr O'Brien had looked forward with hope to the meeting between Parnell and Mr Dillon. He believed the meeting would make for peace. He was awfully disappointed. Mr Dillon succeeded completely in getting Parnell's back up, adding seriously to the difficulties of the situation. He seemed specially to have offended Parnell by proposing that he (Mr Dillon) should have the decisive voice in the distribution of the Paris Funds.... Mr Dillon proposed that the funds might be drawn without the intervention of Parnell; that, in fact, Mr Dillon should take the place Parnell had hitherto held. Parnell scornfully brushed aside this proposal and broke off relations with Mr Dillon altogether, though to the end he remained on friendly terms with Mr O'Brien."
It is a vivid memory with me how closely we in Ireland hung upon the varying fortunes and vicissitudes of the Boulogne pourparlers, and how earnest was the hope in every honest Irish heart that a way out might be found which would not involve our incomparable leader in further humiliations. But alas for our hopes! The hemlock had to be drained to the last bitter drop. Meanwhile Parnell never rested day or night. He rushed from one end of the country to the other, addressing meetings, fighting elections, stimulating his followers, answering his defamers and all the time exhausting the scant reserves of strength that were left him.
Considering all the causes of his downfall in the light of later events the alliance of the Irish Party with English Liberalism was, in my judgment, the primary factor. Were it not for this entanglement or obligation—call it what you will—the Gladstone letter would never have been written. And even that letter was no sufficient justification for throwing Parnell overboard. If it were a question of the defeat of the Home Rule cause and the withdrawal of Mr Gladstone from the leadership of the Liberal Party, something may be said for it, but the words actually used by Mr Gladstone were: "The continuance of Parnell's leadership would render my retention of the leadership of the Liberal Party almost a nullity." Be it observed, Gladstone did not say he was going to retire from leadership; nor did he say he was going to abandon Home Rule—to forsake a principle founded on justice and for which he had divided the Liberal Party and risked his own reputation as a statesman.
To think that Gladstone meant this is not alone inconceivable, but preposterous. And, indeed, it has been recently made abundantly clear in Lord Morley's book of personal reminiscences that the Parnell Split need never have taken place at all had steps been taken by any responsible body of intermediaries to obtain Gladstone's real views. We now know it for absolute fact that Gladstone had had actually struck out of his letter as prepared by him for publication the fatal and fateful passage and that it was only reinserted at Mr John Morley's dictation. Mr Morley's own narrative of the circumstances deserves quotation:
"At 8 to dinner in Stratton Street. I sat next to Granville and next to him was Mr G. We were all gay enough and as unlike as possible to a marooned crew. Towards the end of the feast Mr G. handed to me, at the back of Granville's chair, the draft of the famous letter in an unsealed envelope. While he read the Queen's speech to the rest I perused and reperused the letter. Granville also read it. I said to Mr G. across Granville: 'But you have not put in the very thing that would be most likely of all things to move him,' referring to the statement in the original draft, that Parnell's retention would mean the nullity of Gladstone's leadership. Harcourt again regretted that it was addressed to me and not to P. and agreed with me that it ought to be strengthened as I had indicated if it was meant really to affect P.'s mind. Mr G. rose, went to the writing-table and with me standing by wrote, on a sheet of Arnold M.'s grey paper, the important insertion. I marked then and there under his eyes the point at which the insertion was to be made and put the whole into my pocket. Nobody else besides H. was consulted about it, or saw it."
Thus the fate of a great man and, to a very considerable extent also, the destiny of an ancient nation was decided by one of those unaccountable mischances which are the weapons of Fate in an inscrutable world. I think that to-day Ireland generally mourns it that Parnell should ever have been deposed in obedience to a British mandate—or perhaps, as those who conscientiously opposed Mr Parnell at the time might prefer to term it, because of their fidelity to a compact honestly entered into with the Liberal Party—an alliance which they no doubt believed to be essential to the grant of Home Rule.
We have since learned, through much travail and disappointment, what little faith can be reposed in the most emphatic pledges of British Parties or leaders, and we had been wiser in 1890 if we had taken sides with Parnell against the whole world had the need arisen. As it was, fought on front and flank, with the thunders of the Church, and the ribaldry of malicious tongues to scatter their venomed darts abroad, Parnell was a doomed man. Not that he lacked indomitable courage or loyal support. But his frail body was not equal to the demands of the undaunted spirit upon it, and so he went to his grave broken but not beaten—great even in that last desperate stand he had made for his own position, as he was great in all that he had undertaken, suffered and achieved for his country. It was a hushed and heart-broken Ireland that heard of his death. It was as if a pall had fallen over the land on that grey October morning in 1891 when the news of his passing was flashed across from the England that he scorned to the Ireland that he loved. It may be that those who had reviled him and cast the wounding word against him had then their moment of regret and the wish that what had been heatedly spoken might be unsaid, but those who loved him and who were loyal to the end found no consolation beyond this, that they had stood, with leal hearts and true, beside the man who had found Ireland broken, maimed and dispirited and who had lifted her to the proud position of conscious strength and self-reliant nationhood.
[Footnote 1: This is not exact. What Dillon proposed was that Parnell, McCarthy and Dillon himself should be the trustees, the majority to be sufficient to sign cheques. When Parnell objected to a third being added, Dillon made the observation which ruined everything: "Yes, indeed, and the first time I was in trouble to leave me without a pound to pay the men" (O'Brien's An Olive Branch in Ireland).]
AN APPRECIATION OF PARNELL
With the death of Parnell a cloud of despair seemed to settle upon the land. Chaos had come again; indeed, it had come before, ever since the war of faction was set on foot and men devoted themselves to the satisfaction of savage passions rather than constructive endeavour for national ideals. We could have no greater tribute to Parnell's power than this—that when he disappeared the Party he had created was rent into at least three warring sections, intent for the most part on their own miserable rivalries, wasting their energies on small intrigues and wretched personalities and by their futilities bringing shame and disaster upon the Irish Cause. There followed what Mr William O'Brien describes in his Evening Memories as "eight years of unredeemed blackness and horror, upon which no Irishman of any of the three contending factions can look back without shame and few English Liberals without remorse."
And thus Ireland parted with "the greatest of her Captains" and reaped a full crop of failures as her reward. Too late there were flashing testimonials to his greatness. Too late it became a commonplace observation in Ireland, when the impotence of the sordid sections was apparent: "How different it would all be if Parnell were alive." Too late did we have tributes to Parnell's capacity from friend and foe which magnified his gifts of leadership beyond reach of the envious. Even the man who was more than any other responsible for his fall said of Parnell (Mr Barry O'Brien's Life of Parnell):
"Parnell was the most remarkable man I ever met. I do not say the ablest man; I say the most remarkable and the most interesting. He was an intellectual phenomenon. He was unlike anyone I had ever met. He did things and said things unlike other men. His ascendancy over his Party was extraordinary. There has never been anything like it in my experience in the House of Commons. He succeeded in surrounding himself with very clever men, with men exactly suited for his purpose. They have changed since—I don't know why. Everything seems to have changed. But in his time he had a most efficient party, an extraordinary party. I do not say extraordinary as an opposition but extraordinary as a Government. The absolute obedience, the strict discipline, the military discipline in which he held them was unlike anything I have ever seen. They were always there, they were always ready, they were always united, they never shirked the combat and Parnell was supreme all the time."
"Parnell was supreme all the time." This is the complete answer to those—and some of them are alive still—who said in the days of "the Split" that it was his Party which made him and not he who made the Party. In this connection I might quote also the following brief extract from a letter written by Mr William O'Brien to Archbishop Croke during the Boulogne negotiations:
"We have a dozen excellent front bench men in our Party but there is no other Parnell. They all mean well but it is not the same thing. The stuff talked of Parnell's being a sham leader, sucking the brains of his chief men, is the most pitiful rubbish."
Time proved, only too tragically, the correctness of Mr O'Brien's judgment. When the guiding and governing hand of Parnell was withdrawn the Party went to pieces. In the words of Gladstone: "they had changed since then"—and I may add that at no subsequent period did they gain the same cohesion, purpose or power as a Party.
It may be well when dealing with Parnell's position in Irish history to quote the considered opinion of an independent writer of neutral nationality. M. Paul Dubois, a well-known French author, in his masterly work, Contemporary Ireland, thus gives his estimate of Parnell:
"Parnell shares with O'Connell the glory of being the greatest of Irish leaders. Like O'Connell he was a landlord and his family traditions were those of an aristocrat. Like him, too, he was overbearing, even despotic in temperament. But in all else Parnell was the very opposite of the 'Liberator.' The Protestant leader of a Catholic people, he won popularity in Ireland without being at all times either understood or personally liked. In outward appearance he had nothing of the Irishman, nothing of the Celt about him. He was cold, distant and unexpansive in manner and had more followers than friends. His speech was not that of a great orator. Yet he was singularly powerful and penetrating, with here and there brilliant flashes that showed profound wisdom. A man of few words, of strength rather than breadth of mind—his political ideals were often uncertain and confused—he was better fitted to be a combatant than a constructive politician. Beyond all else he was a Parliamentary fighter of extraordinary ability, perfectly self-controlled, cold and bitter, powerful at hitting back. It was precisely these English qualities that enabled him to attain such remarkable success in his struggle with the English. Pride was perhaps a stronger motive with him than patriotism or faith."
We have here the opinions of those who knew Parnell in Parliament—the one as his opponent, the other as, perhaps, his most intimate friend—and of an independent outsider who had no part or lot in Irish controversies. It may be perhaps not amiss if I conclude this appreciation of Parnell with the views of an Irishman of the latest school of Irish thought. Mr R. Mitchell Henry, in his work, The Evolution of Sinn Fein, writes:
"The pathetic and humiliating performance (of the Butt 'Home Rulers') was ended by the appearance of Charles Stewart Parnell, who infused into the forms of Parliamentary action the sacred fury of battle. He determined that Ireland, refused the right of managing her own destinies, should at least hamper the English in the government of their own house; he struck at the dignity of Parliament and wounded the susceptibilities of Englishmen by his assault upon the institution of which they are most justly proud. His policy of Parliamentary obstruction went hand in hand with an advanced land agitation at home. The remnant of the Fenian Party rallied to his cause and suspended for the time, in his interests and in furtherance of his policy, their revolutionary activities. For Parnell appealed to them by his honest declaration of his intentions; he made it plain both to Ireland and to the Irish in America that his policy was no mere attempt at a readjustment of details in Anglo-Irish relations but the first step on the road to national independence. He was strong enough both to announce his ultimate intentions and to define with precision the limit which must be placed upon the immediate measures to be taken.... He is remembered, not as the leader who helped to force a Liberal Government to produce two Home Rule Bills but as the leader who said 'No man can set bounds to the march of a nation....' To him the British Empire was an abstraction in which Ireland had no spiritual concern; it formed part of the order of the material world in which Ireland found a place; it had, like the climatic conditions of Europe, or the Gulf Stream, a real and preponderating influence on the destinies of Ireland. But the Irish claim was, to him, the claim of a nation to its inherent rights, not the claim of a portion of an empire to its share in the benefits which the Constitution of that empire bestowed upon its more favoured parts."
Judged by the most varied standards and opinions the greatness of Parnell as the leader of a nation is universally conceded. The question may be asked: But what did Parnell actually accomplish to entitle him to this distinction? I will attempt briefly to summarise his achievements. He found a nation of serfs, and if he did not actually make a nation of freemen of them he set them on the high road to freedom, he gave them a measure of their power when united and disciplined, and he taught them how to resist and combat the arrogance, the greed and the inbred cruelty of landlordism. He struck at England through its most vulnerable point—through its Irish garrison, with its cohorts of unscrupulous mercenaries and hangers-on. He struck at it in the very citadel of its own vaunted liberties—in the Parliament whose prestige was its proudest possession and which he made it his aim to shatter, to ridicule and to destroy. He converted an Irish Party of complaisant time-servers, Whigs and office-seekers into a Party of irreproachable incorruptibility, unbreakable unity, iron discipline and a magnificently disinterested patriotism. He formulated the demand for Irish nationhood with clearness and precision. He knew how to bargain with the wiliest and subtlest statesman of his age, and great and powerful as Gladstone was he met in Parnell a man equally conscious of his own strength and equally tenacious of his principles. In fact, on every encounter the ultimate advantage rested with Parnell. He won on the Land Question, he won on the labourer's demands, he won on the Home Rule issue and he showed what a potent weapon the balance of power could be in the hands of a capable and determined Irish leader.
Not alone did he create an impregnable Irish Party; he established a united Irish race throughout the world. His sway was acknowledged with the same implicit confidence among the exiled Irish in America and Australia as it was by the home-folk in Ireland. He was the great cementing influence of an Irish solidarity such as was never before attempted or realised. He did a great deal to arrest the outflow of the nation's best blood by emigration, and, if he had no strong or striking policy on matters educational and industrial, he gave manhood to the people, he developed character in them, he gave them security in their lands and homes, and, if the unhappy cataclysm of his later days had not be-fallen, he would unquestionably have given them a measure of self-government from which they could march onward to the fullest emancipation that the status of nationhood demands.
There was never stagnation, nor stupidity, nor blundering in the handling of Irish affairs whilst his hand was on the helm. It was only later that the creeping paralysis of inefficiency and incompetence exhibited itself and that a people deprived of his genius for direction and control sank into unimagined depths of apathy, indifference and gloom.
He thwarted and defeated what appeared to be the settled policy of England—namely, to palter and toy with Irish problems, to postpone their settlement, to engage in savage repressions and ruthless oppressions until, the race being decimated by emigration or, what remained, being destroyed in their ancient faiths by a ruthless method of Anglicisation, the Irish Question would settle itself by a process of gradual attenuation unto final disappearance.
It was Parnell who practically put an end to evictions in Ireland—those "sentences of death" under which, from 1849 to 1882, there were no less than 363,000 peasant families turned out of their homes and driven out of their country. It was his policy which invested the tenants with solid legal rights and gave them unquestioned guarantees against landlord lawlessness. He and his lieutenants had their bouts with Dublin Castle, and they proved what a very vulnerable institution it was when courageously assailed.
Taken all in all, he brought a new life into Ireland. He left it for ever under manifold obligations to him, and whilst grass grows and water runs and the Celtic race endures, Ireland will revere the name of Parnell and rank him amongst the noblest of her leaders.
THE WRECK AND RUIN OF A PARTY
The blight that had come upon Irish politics did not abate with the death of Parnell. Neither side seemed to spare enough charity from its childish disputations to make an honest and sincere effort at settlement. There was no softening of the asperities of public life on the part of the Parnellites—they claimed that their leader had been hounded to his death, and they were not going to join hands in a blessed forgiveness of the bitter years that had passed with those who had lost to Ireland her greatest champion. On the other hand, the Anti-Parnellites showed no better disposition. It had been one of their main contentions that Parnell was not an indispensable leader and that he could be very well done without. They were to prove by their own conduct and incapacity what a hollow mockery this was and how feeble was even the best of them without the guidance of the master mind. They cut a pitiful figure in Parliament, where their internal bickerings and miserable squabbles reduced them to positive impotence. For years the "Antis," as they were termed, were divided into two almost equal sections, one upholding the claims of John Dillon and the other faithful to the flag of T.M. Healy. Meanwhile Justin McCarthy, a man of excellent intention but of feeble grasp, occupied the chair of the Party, but did nothing to direct its policy. He was a decent figurehead, but not much else. William O'Brien lent all the support of his powerful personality to Mr Dillon in the hope that, by establishing his leadership and keeping the door open for reconciliation with the Parnellite minority, he could restore the Party to some of its former efficiency and make it once again the spear-head of the constitutional fight for Ireland's liberties. Mr Healy, whose boldness of attack upon Parnell had won him the enthusiastic regard of the clergy as well as the title of "The Man in the Gap," was also well supported within the Party—in fact, there were times when he carried a majority of the Party with him. After Parnell's overthrow a committee was elected by the Anti-Parnellites to debate and decide policy, but it was in truth left to decide very little, for the agile intellect of Mr Healy invariably transferred the fight from it to the Party, which had now become a veritable hell of incompatibilities and disagreements.
At this time also indications came from outside that all was not well within the Liberal ranks. Some of the most prominent members of this Party began to think that the G.O.M. was getting too old for active leadership and should be sent to the House of Lords. Justin McCarthy also reported an interview he had with Gladstone, in which the G.O.M. plainly hinted that, so far as Home Rule was concerned, he could no longer hope to be in at the finish, and that there was a strong feeling among his own friends that Irish legislation should be shelved for a few years so that place might be yielded to British affairs. The General Election of 1892 had taken place not, as may be imagined, under the best set of circumstances for the Liberals. The Nationalist members were still faithful to their alliance, which had cost Ireland so much, and which was to cost her yet more, and this enabled the Liberals to remain in office with a shifting and insecure majority of about 42 when all their hosts were reckoned up.
It is claimed for the Home Rule Bill of 1893 that it satisfied all Mr Parnell's stipulations. However this may be, Mr Redmond and his friends seemed to think otherwise, for they raised many points and pressed several amendments to a division on one occasion, reducing the Government majority to 14 on the question of the Irish representation at Westminster, which the Parnellites insisted should remain at 103. How the mind of Nationalist Ireland has changed since then!
Mr Thomas Sexton was one of the brilliant intellects of the Party at this period, a consummate orator, a reputed master of all the intricacies of international finance, and in every sense of the word a first-rate House of Commons man. But he had in some way or other aroused the implacable ire of Mr T.M. Healy, whose sardonic invective he could not stand. A politician has no right to possess a sensitive skin, but somehow Mr Sexton did, with the result that he allowed himself to be driven from public life rather than endure the continual stabs of a tongue that could be very terrible at times—though I would say myself of its owner that he possesses a heart as warm as ever beat in Irish breast.
The fate of the Home Rule Bill of 1893 was already assured long before it left the House of Commons. Like the Bill of 1886 it came to grief on the fear of the English Unionists for the unity of the Empire. Home Rule was conquered by Imperialism, and the Ulster opposition was merely used as a powerful and effective argument in the campaign.
Ireland had sunk meanwhile into a hopeless stupor. The attitude of the Irish masses appeared to be one of despairing indifference to all the parties whose several newspapers were daily engaged in the delectable task of hurling anathemas at each other's heads. Interest in the national cause had almost completely ebbed away. A Liberal Chief Secretary, in the person of Mr John Morley, reigned in Dublin Castle, but all that he is remembered for now is that he started the innovation of placing Nationalist and Catholic Justices of the Peace on the bench, who became known in time as "the Morley magistrates." Otherwise he left Dublin Castle as formidable a fortress of ascendancy authority as it had ever been. Under conditions as they were then, or as they are now, no Chief Secretary can hope to fundamentally alter the power of the Castle. "Imagine," writes M. Paul Dubois in Contemporary Ireland: "the situation of a Chief Secretary newly appointed to his most difficult office. He comes to Ireland full of prejudices and preconceptions, and, like most Englishmen, excessively ignorant of Irish conditions.... It does not take him long to discover that he is completely in the hands of his functionaries. His Parliamentary duties keep him in London for six or eight months of the year, and he is forced to accept his information on current affairs in Ireland from the permanent officials of the Castle, without having even an opportunity of verifying it, and to rely on their recommendations in making appointments. The representative of Ireland in England and of England in Ireland he is 'an embarrassed phantom' doomed to be swept away by the first gust of political change. The last twenty years, indeed, have seen thirteen chief secretaries come and go! With or against his will he is a close prisoner of the irresponsible coterie which forms the inner circle of Irish administration. Even a change of Government in England is not a change of Government in Ireland. The Chief Secretary goes, but the permanent officials remain. The case of the clock is changed, but the mechanism continues as before.... The Irish oligarchy has retained its supremacy in the Castle. Dislodged elsewhere it still holds the central fortress of Irish administration and will continue to hold it until the concession of autonomy to Ireland enables the country to re-mould its administrative system on national and democratic lines."
When it came to Gladstone surrendering the sceptre he had so long and brilliantly wielded, I do not remember that the event excited any overpowering interest in Ireland. Outside the ranks of the politicians the people had almost ceased to speculate on these matters. A period of utter stagnation had supervened and it came as no surprise or shock to Nationalist sentiment when Home Rule was formally abandoned by Gladstone's successor, Lord Rosebery. "Home Rule is as dead as Queen Anne," declared Mr Chamberlain. These are the kind of declarations usually made in the exuberance of a personal or political triumph, but the passing of the years has a curious knack of giving them emphatic refutation.
Divided as they were and torn with dissensions, the Nationalists were not in a position where they could effectively demand guarantees from Lord Rosebery or enter into any definite arrangement with him. They kept up their squalid squabble and indulged their personal rivalries, but a disgusted country had practically withdrawn all support from them, and an Irish race which in the heyday of Parnell was so proud to contribute to their war-chest, now buttoned up its pockets and in the most practical manner told them it wanted none of them.
In this state of dereliction and despair did the General Election of 1895 surprise them. The Parnellites had their old organisation—the National League—and the Anti-Parnellites had established in opposition to this the National Federation, so that Ireland had a sufficiency of Leagues but no concrete programme beyond a disreputable policy of hacking each other all round. As a matter of fact, we had in Cork city the curious and almost incredible spectacle of the Dillonites and Healyites joining forces to crush the Parnellite candidate, whilst elsewhere they were tearing one another to tatters, as it would almost appear, for the mere love of the thing.
There was one pathetic figure in all this wretched business—that of the Hon. Edward Blake, who had been Prime Minister of Canada and who had surrendered a position of commanding eminence in the political, legal and social life of the Dominion to give the benefit of his splendid talents to the service of Ireland. It was a service rendered all in vain, though, to the end of his life, with a noble fidelity, he devoted himself to his chosen cause, thus completing a sacrifice which deserved a worthier reward.
At this period the Home Rule Cause seemed to be buried in the same grave with Parnell. It may be remarked that there were countless bodies of the Irish peasantry who still believed that Parnell had not died, that the sad pageant of his funeral and burial was a prearranged show to deceive his enemies, and that the time would soon come when the mighty leader would emerge from his seclusion to captain the hosts of Irish nationality in the final battle for independence. This idea lately found expression in a powerful play by Mr Lennox Robinson, entitled The Lost Leader.
But, alas! for the belief, the chieftain had only too surely passed away, and when the General Election of 1895 was over it was a battered, broken and bitterly divided Irish Party which returned to Westminster—a Party which had lost all faith in itself and which was a byword and a reproach alike for its helpless inefficiency and its petty intestine quarrels.
TOWARDS LIGHT AND LEADING
Whilst the slow corruption of the Party had been going on in Ireland, the cause of Home Rule had been going down to inevitable ruin. The warnings on which Parnell founded his refusal to be expelled from the leadership by dictation from England were more than justified in the event. And later circumstances only too bitterly confirmed it, that any blind dependence upon the Liberal Party was to be paid for in disappointment, if not in positive betrayal of Irish interests. A Tory Party had now come into power with a large majority, and the people were treated alternately or concurrently to doses of coercion and proposals initiated with the avowed object of killing Home Rule with kindness. This had been the declared policy of Mr Arthur Balfour when his attempt to inaugurate his uncle Lord Salisbury's policy of twenty years of resolute government had failed, and when, with considerable constructive foresight, he established the Congested Districts Board in 1891 as a sort of opposition show—and not too unsuccessful at that—to the Plan of Campaign and the Home Rule agitation.
With the developments that followed the Irish Party had practically no connection. They were neither their authors nor instruments, though they had the sublime audacity in a later generation to claim to be the legitimate inheritors of all these accomplishments. Mr Dillon had now arrived at the summit of his Parliamentary ambition—he was the leader of "the majority" Party, but his success seemed to bring him no comfort, and certainly discovered no golden vein of statesmanship in his composition. The quarrels and recriminations of the three sectional organisations—the National Federation of the Dillonites, the National League of the Parnellites, and the People's Rights Association of the Healyites—continued unabated. But beyond the capacity for vulgar abuse they possessed none other. Parliamentarianism was dying on its legs and constitutionalism appeared to have received its death-blow. The country had lost all respect for its "Members," and young and old were sick unto death of a movement which offered no immediate prospects of action and no hope for the future. A generation of sceptics and scoffers was being created, and even if the idealists, who are always to be found in large number in Ireland, still remained unconquerable in their faith that a resurgent and regenerated Ireland must arise some time, and somehow, they were remarkably silent in the expression of their convictions. Mr William O'Brien thus describes the unspeakable depths to which the Party had fallen in those days:
"The invariable last word to all our consultations was the pathetic one, 'Give me a fund and I see my way to doing anything.' And so we had travelled drearily for years in the vicious circle that there could be no creative energy in the Party without funds, and that there could be no possibility for funds for a party thus ingloriously inactive. Although myself removed from Parliament my aid had been constantly invoked by Mr Dillon on the eve of any important meeting of the Party in London, or of the Council of the National Federation in Dublin, for there was not one of them that was not haunted by the anticipation of some surprise from Mr Healy's fertile ingenuity. There is an unutterable discomfort in the recollections of the invariable course of procedure on these occasions—first, the dozens of beseeching letters to be written to our friends, imploring their attendance at meetings at which, if Mr Healy found us in full strength, all was uneventful and they had an expensive journey for their pains; next, the consultations far into the night preceding every trial of strength; the painful ticking off, man by man, of the friends, foes, and doubtfuls on the Party list, the careful collection of information as to the latest frame of mind of this or that man of the four or five waverers who might turn the scale; the resolution, after endless debates, to take strong action to force the Party to a manful choice at long last between Mr Dillon and his tormentors, and to give somebody or anybody authority enough to effect something; and then almost invariably the next day the discovery that all the labour had been wasted and the strong action resolved upon had been dropped in deference to some drivelling hesitation of some of the four or five doubtfuls who had become de facto the real leaders of the Party."
I venture to say that a confession of more amazing impotency, indecision and inefficiency it would be impossible to make. It brings before the mind as nothing else could the utter degradation of a Party which only a few brief years before was the terror of the British Parliament and the pride of the Irish race.
One occasion there was between the Parnell Split and the subsequent reunion in 1900 when the warring factions might have been induced to compose their differences and to reform their ranks. A Convention of the Irish Race was summoned in 1906 which was carefully organised and which in its character and representative authority was in every way a very unique and remarkable gathering. I attended it myself in my journalistic capacity, and I was deeply impressed by the fact that here was an assembly which might very well mark the opening of a fresh epoch in Irish history, for there had come together for counsel and deliberation men from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland, the Argentine, as well as from all parts of Great Britain and Ireland—men who, by reason of their eminence, public worth, sympathies and patriotism, were calculated to give a new direction and an inspiring stimulus to the Irish Movement. They were men lifted high above the passions and rivalries which had wrought distraction and division amongst the people at home, and it needs no great argument to show what a powerful and impartial tribunal they might have been made into for the restoration of peace and the re-establishment of a new order in Irish political affairs. But this great opportunity was lost. The factions had not yet fought themselves to a standstill. Mr Redmond and Mr Healy resisted the most pressing entreaties of the American and Australian delegates to join the Convention, and, beyond a series of laudable speeches and resolutions, a Convention which might have been constituted the happy harbinger of unity left no enduring mark on the life of the people or the fate of parties.
When Mr Gerald Balfour became Chief Secretary for Ireland after the Home Rule debacle of 1895 he determined to continue the policy, inaugurated by his more famous brother, of appeasement by considerable internal reforms, which have made his administration for ever memorable. There have ever been in Irish life certain narrow coteries of thought which believed that with every advance of prosperity secured by the people, and every step taken by them in individual independence, there would be a corresponding weakness in their desire and demand for a full measure of national freedom. A more fatal or foolish conviction there could not be. The whole history of nations and peoples battling for the right is against it. The more a people get upon their feet, the more they secure a grip upon themselves and their inheritance, the more they are established in security and well-being, the more earnestly, indefatigably and unalterably are they determined to get all that is due to them. They will make every height they attain a fortress from which to fight for the ultimate pinnacle of their rights. The more prosperous they become, the better are they able to demand that the complete parchments and title-deeds of their liberty and independence shall be engrossed. Hence the broader-minded type of Irish Nationalist saw nothing to fear from Mr Balfour's attempts to improve the material condition of the people. Unfortunately for his reputation, Mr Dillon always uniformly opposed any proposals which were calculated to take the yoke of landlordism from off the necks of the farmers. He seemed to think that a settlement of the Land and National questions should go hand in hand, for the reason that if the Land Question were once disposed of the farmers would then settle down to a quiescent existence and have no further interest in the national struggle.
Accordingly Mr Balfour's good intentions were fought and frustrated from two opposing sources. His Land Act of 1906 and his Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, were furiously opposed by the Irish Unionists and the Dillonites alike. The Land Bill was by no means a heroic measure, and made no serious effort to deal with the land problem in a big or comprehensive fashion. The Local Government Bill, on the other hand, was a most far-reaching measure, one of national scope and importance, full of the most tremendous opportunities and possibilities, and how any Irish leader in his senses could have been so short-sighted as to oppose it will for ever remain one of the mysteries of political life. This Bill broke for ever the back of landlord power in Irish administration. It gave into the hands of the people for the first time the absolute control of their own local affairs. It enfranchised the workers in town and country, enabling them to vote for the man of their choice at all local elections. It put an end to the pernicious power of the landed gentry, who hitherto raised the rates for all local services, dispersed patronage and were guilty of many misdeeds and malversations, as well of being prolific in every conceivable form of abuse which a rotten and corrupt system could lend itself to. To this the Local Government Act of 1898 put a violent and abrupt end. The Grand Juries and the Presentment Sessions were abolished. Elected Councils took their place. The franchise was extended to embrace every householder and even a considerable body of women. It was the exit of "the garrison" and the entrance of the people—the triumph of the democratic principle and the end of aristocratic power in local life.
Next to the grant of Home Rule there could not be a more remarkable concession to popular right and feeling. Yet Mr Dillon had to find fault with it because its provisions, to use his own words, included "blackmail to the landlords" and arranged for "a flagitious waste of public funds"—the foundation on which these charges rested being that, following an unvarying tradition, the Unionist Government bribed the landlords into acceptance of the Bill by relieving them of half their payment for Poor Rate, whilst it gave a corresponding relief of half the County Dues to the tenants. He also ventured the prediction, easily falsified in the results, that the tenants' portion of the rate relief would be transferred to the landlords in the shape of increased rents. As a matter of fact, the second term judicial rents, subsequently fixed, were down by an average of 22 per cent.
Mr Redmond, wiser than Mr Dillon, saw that the Bill had magnificent possibilities; he welcomed it, and he promised that the influence of his friends and himself would be directed to obtain for the principles it contained a fair and successful working. But, with a surprising lack of political acumen, he likewise expressed his determination to preserve in the new councils the presence and power of the landlord and ex-officio element. This was, in the circumstances, with the Land Question unsettled and landlordism still an insidious power, a rather gratuitous surrender to the privileged classes.
Before the Local Government Act was sent on its heaven-born mission of national amelioration another considerable happening had taken place: the Financial Relations Commission appointed to inquire into the financial relations between Ireland and Great Britain having tendered its report in 1896. Financial experts had long contended that Ireland was grievously overtaxed, and that there could be no just dealing between the two countries until the amount of this overtaxation was accurately and scientifically ascertained and a proper balance drawn. It was provided in the Act of Union that the two countries should retain their separate budgets and should each remain charged with their respective past debts, and a relative proportion of contribution to Imperial expenses was fixed. But the British Parliament did not long respect this provision. In 1817 it decreed a financial union between the two countries, amalgamated their budgets and exchequers, and ordered that henceforth all the receipts and expenditure of the United Kingdom should be consolidated into one single fund, which was henceforward to be known as the Consolidated Fund. It was not long before we had cumulative examples of the truth of Dr Johnson's dictum that England would unite with us only that she may rob us. Successive English chancellors imposed additional burdens upon our poor and impoverished country, until it was in truth almost taxed out of existence. The weakest points in the Gladstonian Home Rule Bills were admittedly those dealing with finance.
The publication of the report of the Financial Relations Commission, which had been taking evidence for two years, created a formidable outcry in Ireland. We had long protested against our taxes being levied by an external power; now we knew also that we were being robbed of very large amounts annually. The Joint Report of the Commission, signed by eleven out of thirteen members, decided that the Act of Union placed on the shoulders of Ireland a burden impossible for her to bear; that the increase of taxation laid on her in the middle of the nineteenth century could not be justified, and, finally, that the existing taxable capacity of Ireland did not exceed one-twentieth part of that of Great Britain (and was perhaps far less), whereas Ireland paid in taxes one-eleventh of the amount paid by Great Britain. Furthermore, the actual amount taken each year in the shape of overtaxation was variously estimated to be between two and three quarters and three millions. Instantly Ireland was up in arms against this monstrous exaction. For a time the country was roused from its torpor and anything seemed possible. All classes and creeds were united in denouncing the flagrant theft of the nation's substance by the predominant partner. By force and fraud the Act of Union was passed: by force and fraud we were kept in a state of beggary for well-nigh one hundred years and our poverty flaunted abroad as proof of our idleness and incapacity. What wonder that we felt ourselves outraged and wronged and bullied? Huge demonstrations of protest were held in all parts of the country. These were attended by men of all sects and of every political hue. Nationalist and Unionist, landlord and tenant, Protestant and Catholic stood on the same platform and vied with each other in denunciation of the common robber. At Cork Lord Castletown recalled the Boston Tea riots. At Limerick Lord Dunraven presided at a meeting which was addressed by the Most Rev. Dr O'Dwyer, the Catholic bishop of the diocese, and by Mr John Daly, a Fenian who had spent almost a lifetime in prison to expiate his nationality.
There was a general forgetfulness of quarrels and differences whilst this ferment of truly national indignation lasted. But the cohesive materials were not sound enough to make it a lasting union of the whole people. There were still class fights to be fought to their appointed end, and so the agitation gradually filtered out, and Ireland remains to-day still groaning under the intolerable burden of overtaxation, not lessened, but enormously increased, by a war which Ireland claims was none of her business.
The subsidence of the political fever from 1891 to 1898 was not without its compensations in other directions. Ireland had time to think of other things, to enter into a sort of spiritual retreat—to wonder whether if, after all, politics were everything, whether the exclusive pursuit of them did not mean that other vital factors in the national life were forgotten, and whether the attainment of material ambitions might not be purchased at too great a sacrifice—at the loss of those spiritual and moral forces without which no nation can be either great or good in the best sense. There was much to be done in this direction. The iron of slavery had very nearly entered our souls. Centuries of landlord oppression, of starvation, duplicity and Anglicisation had very nearly destroyed whatever there was of moral virtue and moral worth in our nature. The Irish language—our distinctive badge of nationhood—had almost died upon the lips of the people. The old Gaelic traditions and pastimes were fast fading away. Had these gone we might, indeed, win Home Rule, but we would have lost things immeasurably greater, for "not by bread alone doth man live"—we would have lost that independence of the soul, that moral grandeur, that intellectual distinction, that spiritual strength without which all the charters of liberty which any foreign Parliament could confer would be only so many "scraps of paper," assuring us it may be of fine clothes and well-filled stomachs and self-satisfied minds, but conferring none of those glories whose shining illumines the dark ways of life and leads us towards that light which surpasseth all understanding.
Thanks to the workings of an inscrutable Providence it was, however, whilst the worst form of political stagnation had settled on the land that other deeper depths were stirring and that the people were of themselves moving towards a truer light and a higher leading.
FORCES OF REGENERATION AND THEIR EFFECT
"George A. Birmingham" (who in private life is Canon Hannay), in his admirable book, An Irishman Looks at his World, tells us: "The most important educational work in Ireland during the last twenty years has been done independently of universities or schools," and in this statement I entirely agree with him. And I may add that in this work Canon Hannay himself bore no inconsiderable part. During a political campaign in Mayo in 1910 I had some delightful conversations with Canon Hannay in my hotel at Westport, and his views expressed in the volume from which I quote are only a development of those which he then outlined. Both as to the vexed questions then disturbing North and South Ireland and as to the lines along which national growth ought to take place we had much in common. We agreed that nationality means much more than mere political independence—that it is founded on the character and intellect of the people, that it lives and is expressed in its culture, customs and traditions, in its literature, its songs and its arts. We saw hope for Ireland because she was remaking and remoulding herself from within—the only sure way in which she could work out her eventual salvation, whatever political parties or combinations may come or go.
This process of regeneration took firm root when the parties were exhausting themselves in mournful internal strife. Through the whole of the nineteenth century it had been the malign purpose of England to destroy the spirit of nationality through its control of the schools. Just as in the previous century it sought to reduce Ireland to a state of servitude through the operations of the Penal Laws, so it now sought to continue its malefic purpose by a system of education "so bad that if England had wished to kill Ireland's soul when she imposed it on the Sister Isle she could not have discovered a better means of doing so" (M. Paul Dubois). And the same authority ascribes the fatalism, the lethargy, the moral inertia and intellectual passivity, the general absence of energy and character which prevailed in Ireland ten or twelve years ago to the fact that England struck at Ireland through her brain and sought to demoralise and ruin the national mind.
Thank God for it that the effort failed, but it failed mainly owing to the fact that a new generation of prophets had arisen in Ireland who saw that in the revival and reform of national education rested the best hope for the future. They recalled the gospel of Thomas Davis and the other noble minds of the Young Ireland era that we needs must educate in order that we may be free. They sought to give form and effect to the splendid ideals of the Young Irelanders. A new spirit was abroad, and not in matters educational alone. The doctrine of self-help and self-reliance was being preached and, what was better, practised.
The Gaelic League, founded in 1893 by a few enthusiastic Irish spirits, was formed to effect an Irish renascence in matters of the mind and spirit. It was non-sectarian and non-political. Its purpose was purely psychological and educational—it sought the preservation of the Irish language from a fast-threatening decay, it encouraged the study of ancient Irish literature and it promoted the cultivation of a modern literature in the Irish language. Its beginnings were modest, and its founders were practically three unknown young men whose only special equipment for leadership of a new movement were boundless enthusiasm and the possession of the scholastic temperament. Douglas Hyde, the son of a Protestant clergyman, dwelt far away in an unimportant parish in Connaught, and, while still a boy, became devoted to the study of the Irish language. Father O'Growney was a product of Maynooth culture, whose love of the Irish tongue became the best part of his nature, and John MacNeill (now so well known as a Sinn Fein leader) was born in Antrim, educated in a Belfast school and acquired his love for Irish in the Aran islands. It is marvellous to consider how the programme of the new League "caught on." Some movements make their appeal to a class or a cult—to the young, the middle-aged or the old. But the Gaelic League, perhaps because of the very simplicity and directness of its objects, made an appeal to all. It numbered its adherents in every walk of life; it drew its membership from all political parties; it gathered the sects within its folds, and the greatest tribute that can be paid it is that it taught all its disciples a new way of looking at Ireland and gave them a new pride in their country. Ireland became national and independent in a sense it had not learnt before—it realised that "the essential mark of nationhood is the intellectual, social and moral patrimony which the past bequeaths to the present, which, amplified, or at least preserved, the present must bequeath to the future, and that it is this which makes the strength and individuality of a people."
Its branches spread rapidly throughout Ireland, and the movement was taken up abroad with equal enthusiasm. Irish language classes were organised, Irish history of the native—as distinct from the British—brand was taught. Lessons in dancing and singing were given and the old national airs were revived and became the popular music of the day. It would take too much of my space to recount all the varied activities of the League, all that it did to preserve ancient Irish culture, to make the past live again in the lives of the people, to foster national sports and recreations, to organise Gaelic festivals of the kind that flourished in Ireland's artistic past, to create an Irish Ireland and to arrest the decadence of manners and the Anglicisation which had almost eaten into the souls of the people and destroyed their true Celtic character. Mr P.H. Pearse truly said of it: "The Gaelic League will be recognised in history as the most revolutionary influence that ever came into Ireland." It saved the soul of Ireland when it was in imminent danger of being lost, and its triumph was in great measure due to the fact that it held rigidly aloof from the professedly political parties, although it may be said for it that it undoubtedly laid the foundations of that school of thought which made all the later developments of nationality possible. And the amazing thing is that the priest and the parson, the gentry and the middle classes, equally with the peasantry, vied with each other in extending the influence and power of the movement. One of its strongest supporters was a leader of the Belfast Orangemen, the late Dr Kane, who observed that though he was a Unionist and a Protestant he did not forget that he had sprung from the Clan O'Cahan. The stimulation given to national thought and purpose spread in many directions. A new race of Irish priests was being educated on more thoroughly Irish lines, and they went forth to their duties with the inspiration, as it were, of a new call. A crusade was started against emigration, which was fast draining the country of its reserves of brain, brawn and beauty. The dullness of the country-side, an important factor in forcing the young and adventurous abroad, was relieved by the new enthusiasm for Irish games and pastimes and recreations—for the seanchus, the sgoruidheacht, the ceilidhe and the Feiseanna.