JOHN REDMOND'S LAST YEARS
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In writing this book, I have had access to my late leader's papers for the period beginning with the war. These were placed at my disposal by his son, Major William Archer Redmond, D.S.O., M.P. I had also the consent of Mrs. Redmond to my undertaking the task. But for the book and for the opinions expressed in it I am solely responsible. No condition having been imposed upon me, it seemed best, for many reasons, that it should be written, as it has been written, without consultation.
A writer in whom such a trust has been placed may well be at a loss how to express his gratitude, but can never convey the measure of his anxiety. From those who cherish Redmond's memory, and especially from those who were nearest to him in comradeship and affection, I must only crave the indulgence which should be accorded to sincere effort. Differences of interpretation there will be in any review of past events, and others can claim with justice that on many points they were better situated for full understanding than was I. Yet for the period which is specially studied, if there is failure in comprehension it cannot be excused by lack of opportunity to be thoroughly informed.
To readers at large I would say this—that if any sentence in these pages be uncandid or ungenerous, it is most unworthy to be found in the record of such a man.
I. INTRODUCTORY 1
II. REDMOND AS CHAIRMAN 23
III. THE HOME RULE BILL OF 1912 62
IV. THE RIVAL VOLUNTEER FORCES 90
V. WAR IN EUROPE 126
VI. THE RAISING OF THE IRISH BRIGADES 152
VII. THE REBELLION AND ITS SEQUEL 218
VIII. THE CONVENTION AND THE END 259
PORTRAIT OF JOHN REDMOND Frontispiece
JOHN REDMOND'S LAST YEARS
The time has not yet come to write the biography of John Redmond. Not until the history of the pledge-bound Irish Parliamentary party can be treated freely, fully and impartially as a chapter closed and ended will it be possible to record in detail the life of a man who was associated with it almost from its beginning and who from the opening of this century guided it with almost growing authority to the statutory accomplishment of its desperate task; who knew, in it and for it, all vicissitudes of fortune and who gave to it without stint or reservation his whole life's energy from earliest manhood to the grave.
But when the war came, unforeseen, shifting all political balances, transmuting the greatest political issues, especially those of which the Irish question is a type, it imposed upon men and upon nations, but above all on the leaders of nations, swift and momentous decisions. Because that critical hour presented to Redmond's vision a great opportunity which he must either seize single-handed or let it for ever pass by; because he rose to the height of the occasion with the courage which counts upon and commands success; because he sought by his own motion to swing the whole mass and weight of a nation's feeling into a new direction—for all these reasons his last years were different in kind from any that had gone before; and as such they admit of and demand separate study. Intelligent comprehension of what he aimed at, what he achieved, and what forces defeated him in these last years of his life is urgently needed, not for the sake of his memory, but for Ireland's sake; because until his policy is understood there is little chance that Irishmen should attain what he aspired to win for Ireland—the strength and dignity of a free and united nation.
It is of Redmond's policy for Ireland in relation to the war, and to the events which in Ireland arose out of the war, that this book is mainly designed to treat. Yet to make that policy intelligible some history is needed of the startling series of political developments which the war interrupted but did not terminate—and which, though still recent, are blurred in public memory by all that has intervened. Further back still, a brief review of his early career must be given, not only to set the man's figure in relation to his environment, but to show that this final phase was in reality no new departure, no break with his past, but a true though a divergent evolution from all that had gone before.
* * * * *
Ireland, although so small in extent and population, is none the less a country of many and locally varying racial strains; and John Redmond sprang from one of the most typical. He was a Wexfordman; that is to say, he came from the part of Ireland where if you cross the Channel there is least difference between the land you leave and the land you sail to; where the sea-divided peoples have been always to some extent assimilated. Here in the twelfth century the first Norman-Welsh invaders came across. The leader of their first party, Raymond Le Gros, landed at a point between Wexford and Waterford; the town of Wexford was his first capture; and where he began his conquest he settled. From this stock the Redmond name and line descend.
Thus John Redmond came from an invading strain in which Norman and Celt were already blended; and he grew up in a country thickly settled with men whose ancestors came along with his from across the water. Till a century ago the barony of Forth retained a dialect of its own which was in effect such English as men spoke before Chaucer began to write; and even to-day in any Wexford fair or market you will see among the strong, well-nourished, prosperous farmers many faces and figures which an artist might easily assimilate to an athletic example of the traditional John Bull. Redmond himself, hawk-faced and thick-bodied, might have been taken for no bad reincarnation of Raymond Le Gros. To this extent he was less of a Celt than many of his countrymen; but he was assuredly none the less Irish because he was a Wexfordman. The county of his birth was the county which had made the greatest resistance to English power in Ireland since Sarsfield and his "Wild Geese" crossed to Flanders. Born in 1857, he grew up in a country-side full of memories of events then only some sixty years old; he knew and spoke with many men who had been out with pike or fowling-piece in 1798. Rebel was to him from boyhood up a name of honour; and this was not only a phase of boyish enthusiasm. In his mature manhood, speaking as leader of the Irish party, he told the House of Commons plainly that in his deliberate judgment Ireland's situation justified an appeal to arms, and that if rebellion offered a reasonable prospect of gaining freedom for a united Ireland he would counsel rebellion on the instant.
But if he was always and admittedly a potential rebel, no man was ever less a revolutionary. As much a constitutionalist as Hampden or Washington, he was so by temperament and by inheritance. The tradition of parliamentary service had been in his family for two generations. Two years after his birth his great-uncle, John Edward Redmond, from whom he got his baptismal names, was elected unopposed as Liberal member for the borough of Wexford, where his statue stands in the market-place, commemorating good service rendered. Much of the rich flat land which lies along the railway from Wexford to Rosslare Harbour was reclaimed by this Redmond's enterprise from tidal slob. On his death in 1872 the seat passed to his nephew William Archer Redmond, whose two sons were John and William Redmond, with whom this book deals. Thus the present Major William Archer Redmond, M.P., represents four continuous generations of the same family sent to Westminster among the representatives of Nationalist Ireland.
Not often is a family type so strongly marked as among the men of this stock. But the portraits show that while the late Major "Willie" Redmond closely resembled his father, in John Redmond and John Redmond's son there were reproduced the more dominant and massive features of the first of the parliamentary line.
To sum up then, John Redmond and his brother came of a long strain of Catholic gentry who were linked by continuous historic association of over seven centuries to a certain district in South Leinster, and who retained leadership among their own people. The tradition of military service was strong, too, in this family. Their father's cousin, son to the original John Edward Redmond, was a professional soldier; and their mother was the daughter of General Hoey. They were brought up in an old-fashioned country house, Ballytrent, on the Wexford coast, and the habits of outdoor country life and sport which furnished the chief pleasure of their lives were formed in boyhood. Their upbringing differed from that of boys in thousands of similar country houses throughout Ireland only in one circumstance; they were Catholics, and even so lately as in their boyhood Catholic land-owners were comparatively few.
John Redmond was four years older than his younger brother, born in 1861. He got his schooling under the Jesuits at Clongowes in early days, before the system of Government endowment by examination results had given incentive to cramming. According to his own account he did little work and nobody pressed him to exertion. But the Jesuits are skilful teachers, and they left a mark on his mind. It is scarcely chance that the two speakers of all I have heard who had the best delivery were pupils of theirs—Redmond and Sir William Butler. They taught him to write, they taught him to speak and to declaim, they encouraged his natural love of literature. His taste was formed in those days and it was curiously old-fashioned. His diction in a prepared oration might have come from the days of Grattan: and he maintained the old-fashioned habit of quotation. No poetry written later than Byron, Moore and Shelley made much appeal to him, save the Irish political ballads. But scarcely any English speaker quoted Shakespeare in public so often or so aptly as this Irishman.
From Clongowes he went to Trinity College, Dublin, where he matriculated in October 1874 at the age of seventeen. His academic studies seem to have been half-hearted. At the end of a year his name was taken off the College books by his father, but was replaced. At the close of his second year of study, in July 1876, it was removed again and for good.
But apart from what he learnt at school, his real education was an apprenticeship; he was trained in the House of Commons for the work of Parliament. He was a boy of fifteen, of an age to be keenly interested, when the representation of Wexford passed from his great-uncle to his father. Probably the reason why he was removed from Trinity College was the desire of Mr. William Redmond to have his son with him in London. Certainly John Redmond was there during the session of 1876, for on the introduction of Mr. Gladstone's second Home Rule Bill he recalled a finely apposite Shakespearean quotation which he had heard Butt use in a Home Rule debate of that year. In May 1880 his father procured him a clerkship in the House. The post to which he was assigned was that of attendant in the Vote Office, so that his days (and a great part of his nights) were spent in the two little rooms which open off the Members' Lobby, that buzzing centre of parliamentary gossip, activity and intrigue. Half a dozen steps only separated him from the door of the Chamber itself, and that door he was always privileged to pass and listen to the debates, standing by the entrance outside the magical strip of matting which indicates the bar of the House. From this point of vantage he watched the first stages of a Parliament in which Mr, Gladstone set out with so triumphant a majority—and watched too the inroads made upon the power and prestige of that majority by the new parliamentary force which had come into being.
Redmond himself described thus (in a lecture delivered at New York in 1896) the policy which came to be known as "The New Departure":
"Mr. Parnell found that the British Parliament insisted upon turning a deaf ear to Ireland's claim for justice. He resolved to adopt the simple yet masterly device of preventing Parliament doing any work at all until it consented to hear."
In the task of systematic and continuous obstruction Parnell at once found a ready helper, Mr. Joseph Biggar. But Parnell, Biggar and those who from 1876 to 1880 acted generally or frequently with them were only members of the body led by Butt; though they were, indeed, ultimately in more or less open revolt against Butt's leadership. When Butt died, and was at least nominally replaced by Mr. Shaw, the growth of Parnell's ascendancy became more marked. In the general election of 1880 sixty Home Rulers were returned to Parliament; and at a meeting attended by over forty, twenty-three declared for Parnell as their leader. A question almost of ceremonial observance immediately defined the issue. Liberals were in power, and Government was more friendly to Ireland's claims than was the Opposition. Mr. Shaw and his adherents were for marking support of the Government by sitting on the Government side of the Chamber. Parnell insisted that the Irish party should be independent of all English attachments and permanently in opposition till Ireland received its rights. With that view he and his friends took up their station on the Speaker's left below the gangway, where they held it continuously for thirty-nine years.
Mr. William Redmond was no supporter of the new policy. As the little group which Parnell headed grew more and more insistent in their obstruction, the member for Wexford spoke less and less. His interventions were rare and dignified. In the debate on the Address in the new Parliament of 1880 he acted as a lieutenant to Mr. Shaw. Yet he was on very friendly terms with Parnell—almost a neighbour of his, for the Parnell property, lying about the Vale of Ovoca, touched the border of Wexford.
Mr. William Redmond's career in that Parliament was soon ended. In November 1880 he died, and, normally, his son, whose qualifications and ambitions were known, would have succeeded him. But collision between Government and the Parnellite party was already beginning. Mr. T.M. Healy, then Parnell's secretary, had been arrested for a speech in denunciation of some eviction proceedings. This was the first arrest of a prominent man under Mr. Forster's rule as Chief Secretary, and Parnell, with whom in those days the decision rested, decided that Mr. Healy should immediately be put forward for the vacant seat. In later days he was to remind Mr. Healy how he had done this, "rebuking and restraining the prior right of my friend, Jack Redmond." Redmond had not long to wait, however. Another vacancy occurred in another Wexford seat, the ancient borough of New Ross, and he was returned without opposition at a crucial moment in the parliamentary struggle.
That struggle was not only parliamentary. From the famine year of 1879 onwards a fierce agitation had begun, whose purpose was to secure the land of Ireland to the people who worked it. Davitt was to the land what Parnell was to the parliamentary campaign: but it was Parnell's genius which fused the two movements.
To meet the growing power of the Land League, Mr. Forster demanded a Coercion Bill, and after long struggles in the Cabinet he prevailed. Against this Bill it was obvious that all means of parliamentary resistance would be used to the uttermost.
They were still of a primitive simplicity. In the days before Parnell the House of Commons had carried on its business under a system of rules which worked perfectly well because there was a general disposition in the assembly to get business done. A beginning of the new order was made when a group of ex-military men attempted to defeat the measure for abolishing purchase of commissions in the Army by a series of dilatory motions. This, however, was an isolated occurrence. Any English member who set himself to thwart the desire of the House for a conclusion by using means which the general body considered unfair would have been reduced to quiescence by a demonstration that he was considered a nuisance. His voice would have been drowned in a buzz of conversation or by less civil interruptions. This implied, however, a willingness to be influenced by social considerations, and, more than that, a loyalty to the traditions and purposes of the House. Parnell felt no such willingness and acknowledged no such loyalty.
"His object," said Redmond in the address already quoted, "was to injure it so long as it refused to listen to the just claims of his country." The House, realizing Parnell's intention, visited upon him and his associates all the penalties by which it was wont to enforce its wishes: but the penalties had no sting. All the displays of anger, disapproval, contempt, all the vocabulary of denunciation in debate and in the Press, all the studied forms of insult, all the marks of social displeasure, only served to convince the Irishmen that they were producing their effect. Still, the House continued to act on the assumption that it could vindicate its traditions in the old traditional way: it was determined to change none of the rules which had stood for so many generations: it would maintain its liberties and put down in its own way those who had the impertinence to abuse them. The breaking-point came exactly at the moment when Redmond was elected.
On Monday, Jan. 24th, 1881, Mr. Forster introduced his Coercion Bill. It was open, of course, to any member to speak once, and once only, on the main motion. But every member had an indefinite right to move the adjournment of the debate, and on each such motion every member could speak again. The debate was carried all through that week. It was resumed on Monday, 31st. The declaration of Redmond's election was fixed for Tuesday, February 1st, in New Ross—there being no contest. A telegram summoned him to come instantly after the declaration to London. He took the train at noon, travelled to Dublin and crossed the Channel. At Holyhead about midnight another telegram told him that the debate was still proceeding. He reached Euston on the Wednesday morning, drove straight to the House, and there, standing at the bar, saw what he thus described:
"It was thus, travel-stained and weary, that I first presented myself as a member of the British Parliament. The House was still sitting, it had been sitting without a break for over forty hours, and I shall never forget the appearance the Chamber presented. The floor was littered with paper. A few dishevelled and weary Irishmen were on one side of the House, about a hundred infuriated Englishmen upon the other; some of them still in evening dress, and wearing what were once white shirts of the night before last. Mr. Parnell was upon his legs, with pale cheeks and drawn face, his hands clenched behind his back, facing without flinching a continuous roar of interruption. It was now about eight o'clock. Half of Mr. Parnell's followers were out of the Chamber snatching a few moments' sleep in chairs in the Library or Smoke Room. Those who remained had each a specified period of time allotted him to speak, and they were wearily waiting their turn. As they caught sight of me standing at the bar of the House of Commons there was a cheer of welcome. I was unable to come to their aid, however, as under the rules of the House I could not take my seat until the commencement of a new sitting. My very presence, however, brought, I think, a sense of encouragement and approaching relief to them; and I stood there at the bar with my travelling coat still upon me, gazing alternately with indignation and admiration at the amazing scene presented to my gaze.
"This, then, was the great Parliament of England! Of intelligent debate there was none. It was one unbroken scene of turbulence and disorder. The few Irishmen remained quiet, too much amused, perhaps, or too much exhausted to retaliate. It was the English—the members of the first assembly of gentlemen in Europe, as they love to style it—who howled and roared, and almost foamed at the mouth with rage at the calm and pale-featured young man who stood patiently facing them and endeavouring to make himself heard."
An hour later the closure was applied, for the first time in Parliament's history. The records of Hansard spoil a story which Redmond was fond of telling—that he took his oath and his seat, made his maiden speech and was suspended all in the same evening. In point of fact he took his seat that Wednesday afternoon, when the House sat for a few hours only and adjourned again. Next day news came in that Davitt had been arrested in Ireland. Mr. Dillon, in the process of endeavouring to extract an explanation from the Government, was named and suspended. When the Prime Minister after this rose to speak, Mr. Parnell moved: "That Mr. Gladstone be not heard."
The Speaker, ruling that Mr. Gladstone was in possession of the House, refused to put the motion. Mr. Parnell, insisting that his motion should be put, came into collision with the authority of the Chair and was formally "named." Mr. Gladstone then moved his suspension and a division was called—whereupon, under the rules which then existed, all members were bound to leave the Chamber. On this occasion the Irish members remained seated, as a protest, and after the division the Speaker solemnly reported this breach of order to the House. For their refusal to obey the Irish members present were suspended from the service of the House, and as a body they refused to leave unless removed by physical force. Accordingly, man by man was ordered to leave and each in turn rose up with a brief phrase of refusal, after which the Sergeant-at-Arms with an officer approached and laid a hand on the recusant's shoulder. Redmond, when his turn came, said:
"As I regard the whole of these proceedings as unmitigated despotism, I beg respectfully to decline to withdraw."
That was his maiden speech. Having delivered it, "Mr. Redmond," says Hansard, "was by desire of Mr. Speaker removed by the Sergeant-at-Arms from the House." It was a strange beginning for one of the greatest parliamentarians of our epoch—and one of the greatest conservatives. The whole bent of his mind was towards moderation in all things. Temperamentally, he hated all forms of extravagant eccentricity; he loved the old if only because it was old; he had the keenest sense not only of decorum but of the essential dignity which is the best guardian of order. Yet here he was committed to a policy which aimed deliberately at outraging all the established decencies—at disregarding ostentatiously all the usages by which an assembly of gentlemen had regulated their proceedings.
What is more, it was an assembly which Redmond found temperamentally congenial to him—an assembly which, apart from its relation to Ireland, he thoroughly admired and liked. In 1896, when Irish members were fiercely in opposition to the Government, he concluded his description of Parliament with these words:
"In the main, the House of Commons is, I believe, dominated by a rough-and-ready sense of manliness and fair-play. Of course, I am not speaking of it as a governing body. In that character it has been towards Ireland always ignorant and nearly always unfair. I am treating it simply as an assembly of men, and I say of it, it is a body where sooner or later every man finds his proper level, where mediocrity and insincerity will never permanently succeed, and where ability and honesty of purpose will never permanently fail."
That was no mean tribute, coming from one who held himself aloof from all the personal advantages belonging to the society whose rules he did not recognize. The opinion to which the Irish members of Parnell's following were amenable was not made at Westminster; it did not exist there—except, and that in its most rigid form, amongst themselves.
It is worth while to recall for English readers—and perhaps not for them only—what membership of Parnell's party involved. In the first place, there was a self-denying ordinance by which the man elected to it bound himself to accept no post of any kind under Government. All the chances which election to Parliament opens to most men—and especially to men of the legal profession—were at once set aside. Absolute discipline and unity of action, except in matters specially left open to individual judgment, were enforced on all. These were the essentials. But in the period of acute war between the Irish and all other parties which was opening when Redmond entered there was a self-imposed rule that as the English public and English members disapproved and disliked the Irishmen an answering attitude should be adopted: that even private hospitality should be avoided and that the belligerents should behave as if they were quite literally in an enemy's country.
Later, when Mr. Gladstone had adopted the Irish cause and alliance with the Liberal party had begun, the rigour of this attitude was modified. Many Irish members joined the Liberal clubs and went freely to houses where they were sure of sympathy. Yet neither of the Redmonds followed far in this direction, and the habit of social isolation which they formed in their early days lasted with them to the end. If John Redmond ever went to any house in London which was not an Irish home it was by the rarest exception.
For society, Parnell's party depended on themselves and their countrymen and sympathizers. But they were in no way to be pitied; they were the best of company for one another. It was a movement of the young, it had all the strength and audacity of youth, it was a great adventure. A few men from an older generation came with them, Mr. Biggar, Justin McCarthy and others. But their leader, though older than most of his followers, was a young man by parliamentary standards. In 1880 Parnell was only thirty-three; and within four years more he was as great a power in the House as Mr. Gladstone. Some few years back I heard Willie Redmond say in the Members' smoking-room, "Isn't it strange to think that Parnell would be sixty now if he had lived. I can't imagine him as an old man." Yet the accent of maturity was on Parnell's leadership; the men whom he led were essentially young. In 1881, when Redmond entered Parliament, Mr. Dillon was thirty, Mr. T.P. O'Connor and Mr. Sexton veterans of thirty-three, Mr. Healy twenty-six. Mr. William O'Brien (who did not come in until 1883) was of the same year as Mr. Dillon. Redmond was younger than any of them, being elected at the age of twenty-four. Yet nobody then thought it surprising that he should be sent in 1882 to represent the party on a mission to Australia and the United States at a most difficult time. The Phoenix Park murders had created widespread indiscriminating anger against all Irish Nationalists throughout the Empire, and Redmond found it difficult to secure even a hall to speak in. For support there was sent to him his brother, then a youth of twenty-one, and feeling ran so strong against the two that the Prime Minister of New South Wales (Sir Henry Parkes) proposed their expulsion from the colony. Nevertheless, Redmond made good. "The Irish working-men stood by me," he said, "and in fact saved the situation." Fifteen thousand pounds were collected before they left the island continent.
It indicates well the changed conditions to remember that when in 1906 Mr. Hazleton and the late T.M. Kettle were selected to go on a far less arduous and difficult mission to America, there was much talk about the astonishing youth of our representatives. Yet both were then older than John Redmond was in 1882—to say nothing of his brother, who must have been the most exuberantly youthful spokesman that a serious cause ever found.
The Redmonds' stay in Australia, which lasted over a year, determined one important matter for both young men; they found their wives in the colony whose Prime Minister proposed to expel them. John Redmond married Miss Joanna Dalton and his brother her near kinswoman, Miss Eleanor Dalton. Willie Redmond was elected to Parliament in his absence for his father's old seat—Mr. Healy having vacated Wexford to fight and win a sensational election in county Monaghan.
This early visit to the great transmarine dominions, and the ties which he formed there, left a marked impression on John Redmond's mind, which was reinforced by other visits in later years, and by all the growing associations that linked him to life and politics in the dominions. Redmond knew vastly more, and in truth cared vastly more, about the British Empire than most Imperialists. His affection was not based on any inherited prejudice, nor inspired by a mere geographical idea. He was attracted to that which he had seen and handled, in whose making he had watched so many of his fellow-countrymen fruitfully and honourably busy. He felt acutely that the Empire belonged to Irish Nationalists at least as much as to English Tories. America also was familiar to him, and he had every cause to be grateful to the United States; but his interest in the dominions was of a different kind. He felt himself a partner in their glories, and by this feeling he was linked in sympathy to a great many elements in British life that were otherwise uncongenial to him—and was, on the other hand, divided in sympathy from some who in Irish politics were his staunch supporters. He could never understand the psychology of the Little Englander. "If I were an Englishman," he once said to me, "I should be the greatest Imperialist living." From first to last his attitude was that which is indicated by a passage of his speech on Mr. Gladstone's first Home Rule Bill:
"As a Nationalist, I may say I do not regard as entirely palatable the idea that for ever and a day Ireland's voice should be excluded from the councils of an Empire which the genius and valour of her sons have done so much to build up and of which she is to remain a part."
To follow in detail Redmond's career under Parnell's leadership would be beyond the scope of this book. Less conspicuous in Parliament than such lieutenants of "the Chief" as Mr. Sexton, Mr. Dillon and Mr. Healy, John Redmond acted as one of the party whips and was in much demand outside Parliament as a platform speaker. In August 1886 he was once more sent overseas to attend the Convention of the Irish Race at Chicago. He had to tell his hearers of victory and of repulse.
"When you last assembled in Convention, two years ago, the Irish party in Parliament did not number more than forty; to-day we hold five-sixths of the Irish seats, and speak in the name of five-sixths of the Irish people in Ireland. Two years ago we had arrayed against us all English political parties and every English statesman; to-day we have on our side one of the great English political parties, which, though its past traditions in Ireland have been evil, still represents the party of progress in England, and the greatest statesman of the day, who has staked his all upon winning for Ireland her national rights. Two years ago England had in truth, in Mitchel's phrase, the ear of the world. To-day, at last, that ear, so long poisoned with calumnies of our people, is now open to the voice of Ireland. Two years ago the public opinion of the world—aye, and even of this free land of America—was doubtful as to the justice of our movement; to-day the opinion of the civilized world, and of America in particular, is clearly and distinctly on our side."
On the other hand, in England the forces of reaction had succeeded. The Home Rule Bill had been defeated and the Liberal party broken up. A Government was in power whose programme was one of coercion. But Ireland, Redmond said, was ready for the fight and confident that with the weapons at command the enemy could be defeated.
Who were the enemy, and what the weapon? His speech made this plain.
"Once more Irish landlords have behaved themselves with unaccountable folly and stupidity. They have once more stood between Ireland and her freedom, and have refused even an extravagant price for the land because the offer was coupled with the concession of an Irish Parliament. So be it. I believe the last offer has been made to Irish landlordism. The ultimate settlement of this question must now be reserved for the Parliament of Ireland, and meantime the people must take care to protect themselves and their children. In many parts of Ireland, I assert, rent is to-day an impossibility, and in every part of Ireland the rents demanded are exorbitant, and will not, and cannot, be paid."
He was wrong. The settlement of this vast question was to be accomplished through the Imperial Parliament, not the Irish. Yet it was accomplished in essence by an agreement between Irishmen for which Redmond himself was largely responsible.
That settlement, however, merely ratified in 1903 the final stage in the conversion of both countries to Parnell's policy of State-aided land purchase. Tentative beginnings were made with it under the Government which was in power from 1886 to 1892; but the main characteristic of this period was a fierce revival of the land war. It was virulent in Wexford, and in 1888 Redmond shared the experience which few Irish members escaped or desired to escape; he was sentenced to imprisonment on a charge of intimidation for a speech condemning some evictions. He and his brother met in Wexford jail, and both used to describe with glee their mutual salutation: "Good heavens, what a ruffian you look!" Cropped hair and convict clothes were part of Mr. Balfour's resolute government.
Yet in those days Ireland was winning, and winning fast. Mr. Gladstone's personal ascendancy, never stronger than in the wonderful effort of his old age, asserted itself more and more. Public sympathy in Great Britain was turning against the wholesale evictions, the knocking down of peasants' houses by police and military with battering-rams. The Tory party sought for a new political weapon, and one day The Times came out with the facsimile of what purported to be a letter in Parnell's hand. This document implied at least condonation of the Phoenix Park murders.
Other letters equally incriminating were published. Parnell denied the authorship, his denial was not accepted; fierce controversy ended in the establishment of one of the strangest Commissions of Enquiry ever set up—a semi-judicial tribunal of judges. Its proceedings created the acutest public interest, drawn out over long months, up to the day when Sir Charles Russell had before him in the witness-box the original vendor of the letters—one Pigott. Pigott's collapse, confession of forgery, flight and suicide, followed with appalling swiftness: and the result was to generate through England a very strong sympathy for the man against whom, and against whose followers, such desperate calumnies had been uttered and exploited. Parnell's prestige was no longer confined to his own countrymen: and the sense of all Home Rulers was that they fought a winning battle, under two allied leaders of extraordinary personal gifts.
Then, as soon as it was clear that the attack of the Pigott letters had recoiled on those who launched it, came the indication of a fresh menace. Proceedings for divorce were taken with Parnell as the co-respondent: the case was undefended. Mr. Gladstone and probably most Englishmen expected that Parnell would retire, at all events temporarily, from public life, as, in Lord Morley's words, "any English politician of his rank" would have been obliged to do. Parnell refused to retire; and Gladstone made it publicly known that if Parnell continued to lead the Irish party, his own leadership of the Liberal party, "based, as it had been, mainly on the prosecution of the Irish cause," would be rendered "almost a nullity." The choice—for it was a choice—was left to the Irish. To retain Parnell as leader in Gladstone's judgment made Gladstone's task impossible, and therefore indicated Gladstone's withdrawal from public life. To part with Parnell meant parting with the ablest leader that Nationalist Ireland had ever found.
A more heartrending alternative has never been imposed on any body of politicians, and John Redmond, unlike his younger brother, was not of those to whom decision came by an instinctive act of allegiance. His nature forced him to see both sides, but when he decided it was with his whole nature. The issue was debated by the Irish party in Committee Room 15 of the House of Commons, with the Press in attendance. In this encounter Redmond for the first time stepped to the front. He had hitherto been outside the first flight of Irish parliamentarians. Now, he was the first to state the case for maintaining Parnell's leadership, and throughout the discussions he led on that side. When Parnell's death came a few months after the "split" declared itself, there was no hesitation as to which of the Parnellites should assume the leadership of their party. Redmond resigned his seat in North Wexford and contested Cork city, where Parnell had long been member. He was badly beaten, and for some three months the new leader of the Parnellites was without a seat in the House—though not during a session. Another death made a new opening, and in December 1891 his fight at Waterford against no less a man than Michael Davitt turned for a moment the electoral tide which was setting heavily against the smaller group. It was a notable win, and the hero of that triumph retained his hold on the loyalty of those with whom he won it when the rest of Ireland had turned away from him. The tie lasted to his death—and after it, for Waterford then chose as its representative the dead leader's son, and renewed that choice in the general election of 1918, when other allegiances to the old party were like leaves on the wind.
Other ties were formed in these years, which lasted through Redmond's life. I have deliberately abstained from entering into either the merits or the details of the "split." But certain of its aspects must be recognized. In the division into Parnellites and Anti-Parnellites, Parnellites were a small but fierce minority. It needed resolution for a man to be a Parnellite, all the more because the whole force of the Catholic Church was thrown against them, and in some instances disgraceful methods were used. One of Redmond's best friends was the owner of a local newspaper; it was declared to be a mortal sin to buy, sell, or read his journal. The business was reduced to the verge of ruin but the man went on, till a new bishop came and gradually things mended. He, like Redmond, was a staunch practising Catholic, and later on was the friend and trusted associate of many priests; but he stood for an element in Ireland which refused to allow the least usurpation by ecclesiastical authority in the sphere of citizenship.
Willie Redmond won East Clare, as his brother won Waterford city, after a turbulent election with the priests against him. He gave in that contest, as always, at least as good as he got; but his collision with individuals never affected his devotion or his brother's to their Church.
But in social life the estrangements of these days were far-reaching, and, at least negatively, so far as Redmond was concerned, they were lasting. His existence had been saddened and altered shortly before the break up by the death of his first wife, which left him a young widower with three children. After the "split" the whole circle of friends among whom he had lived in Dublin and in London was shattered and divided; and in later life none, I think, of those broken intimacies was renewed.
In Redmond's nature there was a total lack of rancour. Clear-sighted as he was, he realized how desperately difficult a choice was imposed on Nationalists by Parnell's situation, and he knew how honestly men had differed. He could command completely his intellectual judgment of their action, and there were many whom in later stages of the movement he trusted none the less for their divergence from him at this crisis. But he was more than commonly a creature of instinct; and the associations of his intimate life were all decided in these years. His affection was given to those who were comrades in this pass of danger. The only two exceptions to be made are, first and chiefly, Mr. Devlin, who was too young to be actively concerned with politics at the time of Parnell's overthrow; and, to speak truth, it is not possible to be so closely associated as Redmond was with this lieutenant of his, or to be so long and loyally served by him, and not to undergo his personal attraction. The other exception is Mr. J.J. Mooney, who entered Parliament and politics later than the "split," but whose personal allegiance to Mr. Redmond was always declared. He acted for long as Redmond's secretary and always as his counsellor—for in all the detail of parliamentary business, especially on the side of private bill legislation, the House had few more capable members. He was perhaps more completely than Mr. Devlin one of the little group of intimates with whom Redmond loved to surround himself in the country. All the rest were old champions of the fight over Parnell's body; but by far the closest friend of all was his brother Willie. Their marriages to kinswomen had redoubled the tie of blood.
It should be noted here that Redmond married for the second time in 1899, after ten years of widowerhood. His wife was, by his wish and her own, never at all in the public eye. All that should be said here is that his friends found friendship with him easier and not more difficult than before this marriage, and were grateful for the devoted care which was bestowed upon their leader. She accompanied him on all his political journeyings, whatever their duration, and gave him in the fullest measure the companionship which he desired.
[Footnote 1: This speech is included in "Home Rule: Speeches of John Redmond, M.P.," a volume edited in 1910 by Mr. Barry O'Brien. It contains also the American addresses quoted in this chapter, and a speech to the Dublin Convention in 1907, quoted in the next.]
REDMOND AS CHAIRMAN
The Parliament of 1892-5 was barren of results for Ireland, being consumed by factious strife, at Westminster between the Houses and in Ireland between the parties. With Gladstone's retirement it seemed as if Home Rule were dead. But thinking men realized that the Irish question was still there to be dealt with, and approach to solution began along new lines. When Lord Salisbury returned to power in 1895, Land Purchase was cautiously extended with much success: the Congested Districts Board, originally established by Mr. Arthur Balfour, was showing good results, and his brother Mr. Gerald Balfour, now Chief Secretary, felt his way towards a policy which came to be described as "killing Home Rule with kindness." A section of Irish Nationalist opinion was scared by the menace contained in this epigram; and consequently, when in 1895 Mr. Horace Plunkett (as he then was) put forward proposals for a conference of Irishmen to consider possible means for developing Irish agriculture and Irish industries under the existing system, voices were raised against what was denounced as a new attempt to divert Nationalist Ireland from its main purpose of achieving self-government. Mr. Plunkett's original proposal was that a body of four Anti-Parnellites, two Parnellites and two Unionists should meet and deliberate in Ireland, during the recess. In the upshot the Nationalist majority refused to take any part; but Redmond, with one of his supporters, Mr. William Field, served on the "Recess Committee" and concurred in its Report, out of which came the creation of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction.
In 1896 the Commission on Financial Relations, which had been set up by the Liberal Ministry in 1894, reported, and its findings produced a state of feeling which for a moment promised co-operation between divided interests in Ireland. Unionist magnates joined with Nationalists in denouncing the system of taxation, which the Commission—by a majority of eleven to two—had described as oppressive and unjust to the weaker country.
Redmond was one of the members of this Commission, which included also distinguished representatives of his Nationalist opponents—Mr. Blake and Mr. Sexton; and he no doubt cherished hopes arising from the resolute demands for redress uttered by Lord Castletown and other Irish Unionist Peers. Those hopes were soon dispelled; nothing but much controversy came of the demand for improved financial relations. Mr. Gerald Balfour's schemes were more tangible, and in 1897 Redmond announced that the Government's proposal to introduce a measure of Local Government for Ireland should have his support. The Bill, when it came, exceeded expectation in its scope, and Redmond gave it a cordial welcome in the name of the Parnellites. The larger group, however, then led by Mr. Dillon, declined to be responsible for accepting it.
Later, in the working of this measure, Redmond pressed strongly that elections under it should not be conducted on party lines and that the landlord class should be brought into local administrative work. His advice unfortunately was not taken.
Then followed the South African struggle, and in giving voice to a common sentiment against what Nationalist Ireland held to be an unjust war the two Irish parties found themselves united and telling together in the lobby. Formal union followed. By this time the cleavage between Parnellite and Anti-Parnellite was less acute than that between Mr. Healy's section and the followers of Mr. Dillon and Mr. O'Brien. The choice of Redmond as Chairman was due less to a sense of his general fitness than to despair of reaching a decision between the claims of the other three outstanding men.
The sacrifice to be made was made at Mr. Dillon's expense, and he did not acquiesce willingly or cordially. The cordiality which ultimately marked his relations with Redmond was of later growth—fostered by the necessity which Mr. Dillon found imposed on him of defending loyally the party's leader against attacks from the men who had been most active in selecting him.
A part of the compact under which Redmond was elected to the chair limited the power of the newly chosen. He was to be Chairman, not leader; that is to say, he was not to act except after consultation with the party as a whole: he was not to commit them upon policy. This meant in practice that he acted as head of a cabinet, which from 1906 onwards consisted of Mr. Dillon, Mr. Devlin and Mr. T.P. O'Connor—the last representing not only a great personal parliamentary experience and ability, but also the powerful and zealous organization of Irish in Great Britain. Redmond adhered scrupulously to the spirit of this compact. There was only one instance in which he took action without consultation. But that instance was the most important of all—his speech at the outbreak of the war.
Another thing which governed his conduct in the chair of the party, as indeed it governed that of nearly all the rank and file, was his horror of the years which Ireland had gone through since Parnell's fall. He loathed faction and he had struggled through murky whirlpools of it; for the rest of his life he was determined, almost at any cost, to maintain the greatest possible degree of unity among Irish Nationalists. Yet in the end he unhesitatingly made a choice and took an action which risked dividing, and in the last event actually divided, Nationalist Ireland as it had never been divided before. There were things for which he would face even that supreme peril. Deep in his heart there was a vision which compelled him. It was the vision of Ireland united as a whole.
All this, however, lay far in the future when he was elected to the chair; for the moment his task was to reunite Irish Nationalists, and it began prosperously. From the first his position was one of growing strength. Irishmen all the world over were heartsick of faction and rejoiced in even the name of unity. Redmond made it a reality. While leading the little Parnellite party, reduced at last to nine, his line of action was comparable to that pursued by Mr. William O'Brien from 1910 onwards. It had, to put things mildly, not been calculated to assist the leader of the main Nationalist body. In 1904, Justin McCarthy, then retired from politics, wrote in his book on British Political Parties: "Parnell's chief lieutenant had shown in the service of his chief an energy and passion which few of us expected of him, and was utterly unsparing in his denunciations of the men who maintained the other side of the controversy. From this it was not unnatural to expect difficulties occasioned both by the leader's temper and by the temper of those whom he led. But men who had been adverse assured me that they had changed their opinions and were glad to find they could work with Redmond in perfect harmony and that his manners and bearing showed no signs whatever of any bitter memories belonging to the days of internal dispute."
In truth, the man's nature was kindly and tolerant; courtesy came more natural to him than invective. Above all, he was sensitive for the reputation of his country in the eyes of the world, and the spectacle of Irishmen heaping vilifications on each other always filled him with distaste. Whether the taunts passed between Nationalist and Unionist or Nationalist and Nationalist made little difference to his feeling. With him it was no empty phrase that he regarded all Irishmen in equal degree as his fellow-countrymen.
In 1902 he was once more a party to a continued effort made by Irishmen outside of party lines to solve a part of the national difficulty. The policy of land purchase had proved its immense superiority over that of dual ownership and had even been introduced on a considerable scale. But its very success led to trouble, because on one side of a boundary fence there would be farmers who had purchased and whose annual instalments of purchase money were lower than the rents paid by their neighbours on the other side of the mearing. Renewed struggle against rent led to new eviction scenes on the grand scale; and by this time landlord opinion was half converted to the purchase policy, as a necessary solution. The persistency of one young Galway man, Captain John Shawe Taylor, brought about the famous Land Conference of 1902, in which Mr. O'Brien, Mr. Healy, Mr. Redmond and Mr. T.W. Russell on behalf of the tenants met Lord Dunraven, Lord Mayo, Colonel Hutcheson Poe and Colonel Nugent Everard representing (though not officially) the landlord interest: and the result of the agreement reached by this body was seen in Mr. Wyndham's Land Purchase Act of 1903. This great and drastic measure altered fundamentally the character of the Irish problem. Directly by its own effect, and indirectly by the example of new methods, it changed opinion alike in Ireland and Great Britain. In Ireland hitherto, as has been already seen, resistance to Home Rule had come primarily from the landlord class, by whom the Nationalist desire for self-government was construed as a cloak for the wish to revive or reverse the ancient confiscations. Now, the land question was by general consent settled, at least in principle; in proportion as landlords were bought out the leading economic argument against Home Rule disappeared. The opposition reduced itself strictly to political grounds; and it began to be plain that the true heart of resistance lay in Ulster.
Also, lines of cleavage in the Unionist camp began to appear. Already, landlords in the South and West had found a common ground of action with representatives of the tenants. It was felt, alike in Ireland and England, that this precedent might be developed further.
In England political opinion was much affected by the apparent success of an attempt to deal with the Irish problem piecemeal. The Congested Districts Board had done much to relieve those regions where famine was always a possibility; Local Government had given satisfactory results; and now Land Purchase was hailed as the beginning of a new era. The idea of seeing how much farther the principle of tentative approach could be carried took strong hold of many minds, and the word "devolution" came into fashion.
When it became known that Sir Antony MacDonnell, then Under-Secretary at Dublin Castle, had, in consultation with Lord Dunraven, drafted a scheme for transferring parts of Irish administration to a purely Irish authority, a situation rapidly defined itself in which Ulster broke away from the more liberal elements in Irish Unionism. The Ulster group demanded and obtained the resignation of Mr. George Wyndham; they demanded also the dismissal of the Under-Secretary. But Sir Antony MacDonnell was not of a resigning temper; he had not acted without authority, and he was defended zealously by the Irish members. The section of Liberal opinion which adhered rather to Lord Rosebery than to Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman probably drew the conclusion that the Irish party were prepared at least to tolerate the policy of approaching Home Rule step by step; and beyond doubt they were impressed by the prestige of Sir Antony MacDonnell's record and personality. The son of a small Irish Catholic landlord, educated at the Galway College of the Queen's University, he had entered the Indian Civil Service and in it risen to the highest point of power. The recommendation that he should be brought home to assist in the Government of Ireland had come from Lord Lansdowne, then Governor-General of India, who knew that the famous administrator of the Punjab was a Catholic Irishman of Nationalist sympathies. He had been accepted by Mr. Wyndham, his official chief, "rather as a colleague than as a subordinate." Officially and publicly, the credit for the Land Act of 1903 went to the Chief Secretary, and Mr. Wyndham deserves much of it. But no one who knew the two men could have doubted that in the shaping of a measure involving so wide a range of detail, the leading part must have been taken by the Irish Civil Servant who in India had acquired most of his fame from a sweeping measure of land reform.
Proposals to alter the method and conduct of Irish administration before touching the parliamentary power to legislate and to tax came with extraordinary weight in coming from such a man; and the history of the previous Home Rule Bills was not encouraging to anyone, especially to those who had been members of Mr. Gladstone's two last administrations. From the time of the Parnell divorce case onwards, the Irish question had brought to Liberals nothing but embarrassment and embitterment. The enthusiasm for Home Rule which grew steadily from 1886 up to the severance between Gladstone and Parnell had vanished in the squalid controversies of the "split." Moreover, now, by the action of Mr. Chamberlain, a new dividing line had been brought into British politics. The cry of Protection seemed in the opinion of all Liberals to menace ruin to British prosperity; the banner of Free Trade offered a splendid rallying-point for a party which had known fifteen years of dissension and division. Prudent men thought it would be unsafe, unwise and unpatriotic to compromise this great national interest by retaining the old watch-word on which Gladstone had twice fought and twice been beaten.
It was clear, too, that a Home Rule Bill would provoke a direct conflict with the House of Lords and would raise that great struggle on not the most favourable issue. Statesmen like Sir Edward Grey and Mr. Asquith probably believed that a partial measure, an instalment of self-government, to which some influential sections of the Tory party would not be unfriendly, might have strong hopes of passing into law.
So it came to pass that in the election of 1906 the Liberal Party came into power with a majority of unexampled magnitude, but with a Government pledged, negatively, not to introduce a Home Rule Bill in that Parliament, but, positively, to attempt an Irish settlement by the policy of instalments.
In all this lay the seeds of trouble for the Irish leader. Liberals have never understood that Ireland will not take from them what it would take from the Tories. It will accept, as a palliative, from the party opposed to Home Rule what it will not accept from those who have admitted the justice of the national demand.
"For myself," said Redmond in his speech to the Irish Convention in May 1907, "I have always expressed in public and in private my opinion that no half-way house on this question is possible; but at the same time I am, or at any rate I try to be, a practical politician. In the lodgment this idea of instalments had got in the minds of English statesmen I recognized the fact—and after all in politics the first essential is to recognize facts—I recognized the fact that in this Parliament we were not going to get a pure Home Rule Bill offered, and I consented, and I was absolutely right in consenting, that whatever scheme short of that was put forward would be considered calmly on its merits."
This meant that during the whole of the year 1906 and a part of 1907 the proposal of the new Irish Bill was under discussion with the Irish leaders. The course of these deliberations was undoubtedly a disappointment. Mr. Bryce was replaced by Mr. Birrell as Chief Secretary, but the scheme still fell short of what Redmond had hoped to attain. Unfortunately, and it was a characteristic error, his sanguine temperament had led him to encourage in Ireland hopes as high as his own. The production of the Irish Council Bill and its reception in Ireland was the first real shock to his power.
Mr. Birrell in introducing the measure spoke with his eye on the Tories and the House of Lords. He represented it as only the most trifling concession; he emphasized not the powers which it conveyed but the limitations to them. Redmond in following him was in a difficult position. He stressed the point that to accept a scheme which by reason of its partial nature would break down in its working would be ruinous, because failure would be attributed to natural incapacity in the Irish people. Acceptance, therefore, he said, could not be unconditional and undoubtedly to his mind it was conditioned by his hope of securing certain important amendments, which he outlined. None the less, the tone of his speech was one of acceptance, and he concluded:
"I have never in all the long years that I have been in this House spoken under such a heavy sense of responsibility as I am speaking on this measure this afternoon. Ever since Mr. Gladstone's Bill of 1886 Ireland has been waiting for some scheme to settle the problem—waiting sometimes in hope, sometimes almost in despair; but the horrible thing is this, that all the time that Ireland has been so waiting there has been a gaping wound in her side, and her sons have had to stand by helpless while they saw her very life-blood flowing out. Who can say that is an exaggeration? Twenty years of resolute government by the party above the gangway have diminished the population of Ireland by a million. No man in any position of influence can take upon himself the awful responsibility of despising and putting upon one side any device that may arrest that hemorrhage, even although he believed, as I do, that far different remedies must be applied before Ireland can stand upon her feet in vigorous strength. We are determined, as far as we are concerned, that these other remedies shall be applied; but in the meantime we should shrink from the responsibility of rejecting anything which, after that full consideration which the Bill will receive, seems to our deliberate judgment calculated to relieve the sufferings of Ireland and hasten the day of her full national convalescence."
There is no doubt that the element in him which urged him to welcome anything that could set Irishmen working together on Irish problems made it almost impossible for him to throw aside this chance. It was clear to me also that by long months of work in secret deliberation the proposals originally set out had been greatly altered, so much so that in surveying the Bill he was conscious mainly of the improvements in it; and that in this process his mind had lost perception of how the measure was likely to affect Irish opinion—especially in view of his own hopeful prognostications. At all events, the reception of Mr. Birrell's speech, even by Redmond's own colleagues, marked a sudden change in the atmosphere. Some desired to vote at once against the measure; many were with difficulty brought into the lobby to support even the formal stage of first reading. In Ireland there was fierce denunciation. A Convention was called for May 21st. The crowd was so great that many of us could not make our way into the Mansion House; and Redmond opened the proceedings by moving the rejection of the Bill. In the interval since the debate he had been confronted with a definite refusal to concede the amendments for which he asked.
These were mainly two, of principle: for the objection taken to the finance of the Bill was a detail, though of the first importance. The Bill proposed to hand over the five great departments of Irish administration to the control of an Irish Council. The decisions of that Council were to be subject to the veto of the Lord-Lieutenant, as are the decisions of Parliament to the veto of the Crown. But the Bill proposed not merely to give to the Viceroy the power of vetoing proposed action but of instituting other action on his own initiative. Secondly, the Council was to exercise its control through Committees, each of which was to have a paid chairman, nominated by the Crown.
"It would be far better," Redmond had said in the House of Commons, "to have one man selected as the chairmen of these committees are to be selected, to have charge, so far as the Council is concerned, of the working of the Department, and then all these chairmen acting together could form a sort of organic body which would give cohesion, would co-ordinate and give stability to the whole of the work. I am afraid that the Government seem to have shrunk from that for fear the argument would be used against them that they were really creating a Ministry."
That was the real difficulty. A Council subject only to a veto on its acts, even though it could neither pass a by-law nor strike a rate, would undoubtedly be said by the Unionist opposition to be a rudimentary parliament. A group of chairmen possessing administrative powers like those of Ministers would be labelled a Ministry; and the Liberals who had pledged themselves not to give effect to their Home Rule principles were sensitive to charges of breach of faith.
It is a curious fact in politics that the public promise conveyed in the adoption of certain principles is generally taken to be on the level of ordinary commercial obligation. Failure to keep it jeopardizes a man's reputation for political stability, just as failure to pay a tailor's bill imperils a man's financial character. But a promise to political opponents that you will not give effect to your principles stands on the level of a card debt: it is a matter of honour to make good; and on this point Mr. Asquith in particular has always shown an adamantine resolution.
From 1907 onwards it was with Mr. Asquith that Redmond had chiefly to count. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who, personally, had given no such limiting pledges, and who during his two years of leadership commanded a respect, an affectionate allegiance, from his followers in the House without parallel at all events since Mr. Gladstone's day, was fast weakening in health. He lived long enough to give freedom to South Africa, the one outstanding achievement of that Parliament; and by the success of that great measure he did more to remove British distrust of Home Rule than even Gladstone ever accomplished. It was no fault of his if Liberalism failed to settle the Irish question at the moment when Liberal power reached its highest point.
The failure of the Council Bill had one good result, and one only. It cleared the way for a definite propaganda on Home Rule. But before this could be undertaken it was necessary to pull Nationalist Ireland together, for it was once more rent with division and distrust. Mr. Healy, who in 1901 had been expelled from the Irish party and its organization on the motion of Mr. O'Brien and against Redmond's advice, and Mr. O'Brien, who had subsequently retired from the party against Redmond's wish, were both of them formidable antagonists; and each was vehement in attack on the main body of Nationalists and their leader. It was some time before Redmond braced himself to the struggle; but from the opening of the autumn recess in 1907 he undertook a campaign throughout Ireland which it would be difficult to overpraise. In a series of speeches at chosen centres, delivered before great audiences, he laid down once more the national demand as he conceived it; and in each speech he dealt with a different aspect of the case for Home Rule.
A formal outcome of this campaign was the re-establishment of national unity. Mr. O'Brien and Mr. Healy returned to the Irish party for a brief period. But the more important result was the re-establishment of Redmond's personal position. He had made an effort which would have been great for any man, but for him was a victory over his own temperament. That temperament had in it, negatively, a great lack of personal ambition and, positively, a strong love for a quiet life. He did his work in Parliament regularly and conscientiously, always there day in and day out; and it was work of a very exacting kind. This had become the routine of his existence and he did it without strain. But to go outside it was for him always an effort. He hated town life; but more than this, he hated ceremonies, presentations, receptions in hotels, and all the promiscuous contact of political gatherings. Nevertheless, when he came to such an occasion no living man acquitted himself better. Apart from his oratory, he had an admirable manner, a dignified yet friendly courtesy which gained attachment. In the course of the autumn and winter following the Irish Council Bill he must have met and been seen by a hundred times more of his adherents than in any similar period of his leadership. People all over Ireland heard him not only on the public platform but in small addresses to deputations, in impromptu speeches at semi-public dinners, and all of this strengthened him where an Irish leader most needs to be strengthened—in the hearts of the people. The hold which he gained then stood to him during the years which followed and up to the outbreak of the war. But it could have been still further strengthened, and if ambition had been a motive force in him, he would have strengthened it. More than that, if he had realized his full value to Ireland, he would have felt it his duty to do so. Modesty, combined with a certain degree of indolence, made him leave all that contact with the mass of his followers which is necessary to leadership to be effected through his chief colleagues, Mr. Dillon and Mr. Devlin—who, through no will of theirs, became rather joint leaders than lieutenants, so far as Ireland was concerned.
Circumstances helped to emphasize this tendency. His work lay very greatly in London, Parliament occupied every year a longer and longer space. The task of platform advocacy all over England was urgent, and in England Redmond stood out alone. It was little to be wondered at that when each long deferred recess came he made it a vacation and not a change of work. The seclusion from direct intercourse with the mass of his followers which conditions imposed upon him was further accentuated by his personal tastes and his choice of a dwelling.
In the early years of the nineteenth century the mountain range which runs along the east coast from outside Dublin through Wicklow into county Wexford was a country difficult of access and unsubdued. Here in 1803 Emmet found a refuge, and after Emmet's death here Michael Dwyer still held out: Connemara itself was hardly wilder or less accessible, till the "military road" was run, little more than a hundred years ago, from Dublin over the western slopes of Featherbed, past Glencree, and through Callary Bog, skirting Glendalough and traversing the wild recesses of Glenmalure, so that it cuts across the headwaters of those beautiful streams which meet in the Vale of Ovoca. From Glenmalure the road climbs a steep ridge and then travels in wide downward curves across the seaward side of Lugnaquilla—fifth in height among Irish mountains. Here, at the head of a long valley which runs down to the Meeting of the Waters, was built one of the barracks which billeted the original garrison of the road. Later, these buildings had been used for constabulary; but with peaceful times this grew needless, for there was little disturbance among these Wicklow folk, tenants of little farms, each with a sheep-run on the vast hills. Nothing could be less like the flat sea-bordering lands of the Barony of Forth in which the Redmonds spent their boyhood than these wild, sweeping, torrent-seamed folds of hill and valley; but the place came to him as part of his inheritance from "the Chief." Parnell's home at Avondale was some ten miles from here, lying in woods beside the Ovoca River; but the Parnell property stretched up to the slopes of Lugnaquilla, and the dismantled barrack was used by him as a shooting lodge. Here, in the early days before his life became absorbed in the masterful attachment which led finally to his overthrow, he spent good hours; and here the two Redmonds and those others of his followers who were his companions came to camp roughly in this strange, gaunt survival of military rule. After Parnell's death Redmond bought the barrack and a small plot of land about it, and it became increasingly and exclusively his home in Ireland. It was, indeed, Ireland itself for him. In it and through it he knew Ireland intimately, felt Ireland intensely and intensively, not only as a place, but as a way of being. Ireland to him meant Aughavanagh.
Partly, no doubt, the almost unbroken wildness of his surroundings appealed to an element of romance in his character, which was strongly emotional though extremely reticent. Only an artist would have recognized beauty in those scenes, for in all Ireland it would be difficult to find a landscape with less amenity; the hill shapes are featureless, without boldness or intricacy of line. Redmond, a born artist in words, possessing strongly the sense of form, was sensitive to beauty in all kinds—yet rather to the beauty that is symmetrical, graceful and well-planned. A sailor does not love the sea for its beauty, and Redmond loved Ireland as a sailor loves the sea—yet with a difference. Ireland to him in a great measure was Aughavanagh, and Aughavanagh was a place of rest. Ireland is a good country to rest in. But it would have been far better for Redmond and for Ireland if Ireland had been the place not of his rest, but of his work.
His work was essentially that of an agent of Ireland carrying on Ireland's affairs in a strange capital. He spent more of his time in London than in Ireland, but he was never part of the life of London, never in any sense a Londoner. He was part of the life of the House of Commons, for that was his place of work; and when he left it he went to Aughavanagh as a man returns from the City to his home. This home of his was in no sense connected with his active occupations. He was no lover of gardening or of farming; he had none of the Irishman's taste for the overseeing of stock or land; he enjoyed shooting, but he was not a passionate sportsman. What was a passion with him—- for he sacrificed much to it—was rest in the place of his choice.
It was not a lonely habitation. He was no recluse, and when there he was always surrounded by his friends. I do not know precisely how one could constitute a list of them—but half a dozen men at least came and went there as they chose. Mr. Mooney, Mr. Hayden, "Long John" O'Connor, Dr. Kenny—these, and above all, Paddy O'Brien, the party's chief acting whip—were constant there. Some came to shoot, and Willie Redmond used to come over from his house at Delgany, where the Glen of the Downs debouches seaward; walking generally, for he was the fastest and most untiring of mountaineers: very few cared to keep beside him on the hills. Others were content to share the daily bathes, morning and afternoon, in a long deep pool where the little stream tumbling down a series of cascades makes a place to dive and swim in. These were the friends of Redmond's own generation, and they were also his son's friends; but the two daughters had their allies, and one way or another the party was apt to be a big one—very simply provided for. When I went there first (in 1907) you climbed a narrow stone stair to the first floor; on the left was a dining-room, beyond that a billiard-room; on the right, Redmond's study, and beyond that his bedroom. Another flight took you to the upper regions, where were two dormitories—the girls to the right, the men to the left. Later, he made some alterations, and the upstair rooms were subdivided off; the garden was developed; it became more of a house and less of a barrack; but the character of the life did not change. It was most simple, most hospitable, most unconventional and most remote.
Certainly a great part of Aughavanagh's charm for him lay in its remoteness. It was seven Irish miles up a hilly road from the nearest railway station, post office or telegraph station. Aughrim was three hours' train journey from Dublin, on a tiny branch line, and trains were few. Until motors brought him (to his intense resentment) within reach, he was as inaccessible as if he had lived in Clare or Mayo.
So it came to pass that though he knew to the very core one typical district of Ireland, and was far more closely in touch with a few score of Irish peasants through their daily life than any of his leading associates, he was yet cut off by his own choice from much that is Ireland—and perhaps from much that was most important to him. Political opinion is created in the towns, and he knew the Irish townsfolk, so far as he could manage it, only through his correspondence, and through those business visits to Dublin which he made as few as possible.
If his work had lain, where it should by rights have lain, in a ministerial office in Dublin, all would have been well. As it was, the deliberate and extreme seclusion of his life in Ireland weakened his influence. He was far too shrewd not to know this, and far too unambitious to care. Work he never shrank from. But the daily solicitations of people with personal grievances to lay before him, personal interests which they desired him to promote, made a form of trouble which in his periods of rest from work he refused to undergo.
The same qualities in him were responsible for his persistent refusal to accept private hospitality where he went on public business. Whether in Ireland or in Great Britain, he must stay at a hotel, and many were the magnates of Liberalism whose ruffled feelings it was necessary to smooth down on this account. He detested being lionized and wanted always, when the public affair was over, to get away to his own quarters.
The demands on him in England for platform work were portentous. Every constituency which wanted a meeting on the Home Rule question wanted Redmond and no other speaker. Of course he could not go to one-twentieth of the places where he was asked for; and his objection to going was not the effort involved but the impossibility either of indefinitely repeating himself or of finding something new to say each time. "If it was in America," he would say, "I would speak as often as you asked me" (it was my misfortune to have to do the asking), "because they never report a speech." The fact is worth noting, for in scores of instances what was adduced by opponents as quotation from his utterances in the United States represented simply some American journalist's impression, perhaps less of what Redmond said than of what, in the reporter's opinion, he should have said. Those who represented him as putting one face on the argument in America and another in Great Britain did not know the man. "I have made it a rule," he said to me more than once, "to say the extremest things I had to say in the House of Commons."
However, all the machinery which was employed by the opponents of Home Rule to prejudice Ireland's case in the British constituencies proved very ineffectual. For one thing, the lesson of South Africa had gone home. For another, and perhaps a greater, no cause ever had a missionary better adapted to the temperament of the British democracy. The dignity and beauty of Redmond's eloquence, the weight which he could give to an argument, his extraordinary gift for simplifying an issue and grouping thoughts in large bold masses—all these things carried audiences with them.
Between 1908 and 1910 we were still, though with rapidly increasing success, trying to get a hearing for the Irish question—trying to push it once more to the front. The change of leadership from Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman to Mr. Asquith had damped Liberal enthusiasm. We got solid work done for Ireland in the University Act of 1908, though Redmond would have preferred a university of the residential type, like that in which he had himself been an undergraduate. A highly contentious measure was also carried in the Land Act of 1909. But a new power was coming to the front, at once assisting and thwarting our efforts. Mr. Lloyd George put a new fighting spirit into Liberalism: but the objects which he had at heart could only be achieved by a great expenditure of electoral power, and among those objects Irish self-government found only a secondary place. When Mr. Gladstone spoke of liberty he thought of what he had helped to bring to Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and Montenegro—what he had tried to bring to Ireland. When Mr. Lloyd George spoke of liberty, he thought of what he wanted to bring to England first, and to Ireland by the way; his conviction that Ireland needed self-government was not so deeply rooted as his conviction that the poor throughout the United Kingdom needed help.
Old Age Pensions had been popular, but had not been a fighting issue. Mr. Lloyd George provided the fighting issue with a vengeance when he set himself to pay for them. Unfortunately, Nationalist Ireland had no enthusiasm for the Budget which English Radicalism made its flag. A country of peasant proprietors was easily scared by the very name of land taxes. But above all the Finance Bill dealt drastically, and many thought unfairly, with the powerful liquor trade, which in its branches of brewing and distilling included the main manufacturing interest of southern Ireland, and on its retail side was incredibly diffused through the whole shopkeeping community.
The dissident Nationalists saw their chance. Mr. O'Brien emerged from one of his periodic retirements to lead a whirlwind campaign against the "robber Budget." Redmond and our party were obliged to oppose a measure which pressed so hard as this undoubtedly did on Ireland. Our opposition to the land taxes was withdrawn when valuable concessions had been made, but no such compromise was considered possible on the liquor taxes. On the other hand, it grew clear that the measure was likely to produce a conflict in which the power of the House of Lords might be challenged on the most favourable ground: and for that reason, when the third reading was reached, the Irish party abstained from voting against it. This course, while it facilitated close co-operation with Liberalism in the general election which followed, weakened us in Ireland; and eleven out of the eighty-three Nationalist members returned in January 1910 ranked themselves as outside the party; though Mr. O'Brien's actual following was limited to seven Cork members and Mr. Healy.
The action of the Lords in rejecting the Budget of 1909 had an important personal result. It placed Mr. Asquith in a role which no one was ever better qualified to fill—that of a Liberal statesman defending principles of democratic control menaced after a long period of security. The Prime Minister, not the Chancellor of the Exchequer, now became the protagonist; and this was to Redmond's liking, for he felt that Mr. Asquith was more concerned with the problems which had occupied Gladstone's closing years and Mr. Lloyd George with those of a later day.
Yet in the first grave encounter after the rejection of the Budget, Redmond and the leader of the Liberal party came to sharp differences. The general election had amply justified the advice which was urged by him on Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman when the House of Lords rejected the Education Bill in 1906—namely, that the Liberal party should take up at once the inevitable fight before their enormous strength had been frittered away in a series of disappointments. The majority of 1906 was too swollen to be healthy: owing to the ruling out of Home Rule, it included a number of men only partial adherents of the full Liberal programme; and a diminution of its proportions owing to the traditional swing of the pendulum was certain. But in January 1910 the losses were more than even sanguine Tory prophets predicted. Tories came back equal in strength to the Liberals: Labour was only forty, so that the Irish party held the balance in the House.
The election had been fought expressly on the issue of Government's claim to enable a Liberal Government to deal with certain problems, among which the Irish question occupied the foremost place. It was easy now for the Tories to argue that the Government appealing to the country on that issue had lost two hundred seats. They said: "You have authority to pass your Budget—but for these vast unconstitutional changes you have no mandate." The temper of their party, which had more than doubled its numbers, was very high: in the Liberal ranks depression reigned and counsels were divided.
At the beginning of the election Mr. Asquith had made a great speech in the Albert Hall in which he outlined the Liberal policy. In it he declared that the pledge against introducing a Home Rule Bill was withdrawn, and that the establishment of self-government for Ireland, subject to the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament, was among the Government's main purposes. But the House of Lords was in the way.
"We shall not assume office and we shall not hold office unless we can secure the safeguards which experience shows us to be necessary for the legislative utility and honour of the party of progress."
This was universally taken to mean that he would obtain a guarantee that the King would, if necessary, consent to the creation of sufficient new peers to override the hostile majority. But as the election progressed, uncertainties developed and an alternative policy of attempting to reform the Upper House was advocated in certain quarters. The question arose also as to whether the first business of the new House should be to pass the Budget which the Lords had thrown out or to proceed with the attack on the power of veto.
Redmond's view on this was not in doubt. At a meeting in Dublin on February 10, 1910, he declared in the most emphatic manner that to deal with the Budget first would be a breach of Mr. Asquith's pledge to the country, since it would throw away the power of the House of Commons to stop supply. This speech attracted much attention, and the memory of it was present to many a fortnight later when Mr. Asquith was replying to Mr. Balfour at the opening of the debate on the Address. The Prime Minister dwelt strongly on the administrative necessity for regularizing the financial position disturbed by the Upper House's unconstitutional action. He indicated also the need for reform in the composition of that House. But, above all, he disclaimed as improper and impossible any attempt to secure in advance a pledge for the contingent exercise of the Royal prerogative.
"I have received no such guarantee and I have asked for no such guarantee," he said.
The change was marked indeed from the moment when he uttered in the Albert Hall his sentence against assuming office or holding office without the necessary safeguards—an assurance at which the whole vast assembly rose to their feet and cheered. Every word in his speech on the Address added to the depression of his followers and the elation of the Opposition. Redmond followed him at once. In such circumstances as then existed, it was exceedingly undesirable for the Irish leader to emphasize the fact that his vote could overthrow the Government: and the least unnecessary display of this power would naturally and properly have been resented by the Government's following. No one knew this better than Redmond, yet the position demanded bold action. His speech, courteous, as always, in tone, and studiously respectful in its reference to the position of the Crown, was an open menace to the Government. He quoted the Prime Minister's words at the Albert Hall, he appealed to the House at large for the construction which had been everywhere put on them; and it was apparent that he had the full sympathy not only of his own party and of Labour, but of most of Mr. Asquith's own following. He concluded in these words:
"If the Prime Minister is not in a position to say that he has such guarantees as are necessary to enable him to pass a Veto Bill this year, and if in spite of that he intends to remain in office and proposes to pass the Budget into law and then to adjourn—I do not care for how short or how long—the consideration of the Bill dealing with the veto of the House of Lords, that is a policy which Ireland cannot and will not support."
The effect on the House was such that no one rose to continue the debate. Next day it was resumed, and not only Labour speakers, but one after another of the Liberals, including some of the Prime Minister's most docile, old-fashioned supporters rose and declared that Redmond and not the Leader of the House had expressed their views. So began a remarkable struggle in which the combined forces of the private members—Liberal, Labour and Irish—united by a common desire to destroy the domination of the Peers, contended against the Cabinet's policy of attempting not merely to limit the power of veto but to reconstitute the Upper House. In such a process men saw that the driving force of the majority would waste away and that the composite character of their alliance would lead to certain disruption.
Before the debate on the Address concluded it was plain that Redmond had won. From that period onwards his popularity, and, through him, the popularity of the party which he led, was immensely increased in Great Britain. He was regarded as one of the men who had rendered best service to democracy against privilege. He himself believed that in this first contest Ireland had decided the victory—had decided the overthrow of the House which had so long opposed its liberties. Labour had then neither the essential leader nor the necessary parliamentary strength: Liberalism was confused and uncertain at the critical moment.