Declaration of Independence, 1914-1916

From The Historic Case for Irish Independence by Darrell Figgis

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42. In the meantime the attention had been for a while thrown back into the Parliament in London.

The party that Parnell had formed still carried the glamour with which he had endowed it, though it had come into hands far different from his; and when it seemed that the new English Government, by political necessity, would be compelled to grant the old demand of Home Rule, the nation turned to attend. As it turned its attention outward, its intensive life failed. The power of Sinn Fein fell in abeyance; the activity of the Gaelic League weakened. These things, it was felt, would revive when Ireland had won an assembly in which the larger national ambition could renew its effort. The fortune of a political party in the foreign parliament was put to what was admitted to be a critical and final test. It proved unworthy of that test.

Where Parnell had held aloof from English parties, and won his way to strength by a continual national challenge, his successors became the allies of English sections, and were treated with contempt by English sections. With a cynicism hardly to be paralleled, English politicians sought to undo the political demand by the deepest wrong any nation has inflicted on any other nation: the Plantation of Ulster. It is as though a murderer excused his murder by the death of his victim. In a few counties of the province there remained a proportion of the Jailer Ascendancy. In the whole province they were in a minority. In the nation itself they formed so small a minority as to appear negligible. There is no nation or State in the world that can reckon so small a minority to its national will; and if nations could have their right to nationhood and sovereignty cancelled by the existence of a minority even twice as large, there is no State that could continue without general anarchy.

England itself would be glad if its own turbulent minority possessed proportions as convenient. Yet, even so, the men in Ulster and the nation of Ireland had lived at peace. Religious distinctions were as little conceived in Ireland as in any nation in the world. But behind Ulster lurked the cynical political purpose of England. To achieve that political purpose and hold Ireland in continued captivity and thraldom English politicians, acting in accordance with historical precedent, invaded Ulster, and deliberately incited the worst religious rancour. They appealed to every vice in human nature. As those who claimed moral law among nations it was conceivably proper that they should do so. And then they stumbled on an error that undid their case. They appealed to arms. They, English politicians, appealed to arms to threaten their own Parliament. The Irish nation looked on with bewilderment. It had long been forbidden the right to possess arms, much less to create a military force. It was this that, in great measure, had turned its attention to the foreign parliament. But with so good an authority the road was now clear before it.

The nation gladly sprang to arms. It had no intention to use them against its own countrymen; it hoped rather to join with those countrymen in a renewal of war against England. With that act the nation's attention turned again within itself. Those who formed the new Volunteers came from the ranks of Sinn Fein and the Gaelic League, for once again, as ever before, the intellect and worth of the nation were ready for the war of Independence. They were strengthened by veterans who had arisen in 1867. They could now drill and manoeuvre openly and without fear, for they had the security, in this last wonderful event in Time, of English law officers and the whole English Peerage and Ascendancy. By that security, and under that sanction, the war of nation against nation could be renewed. Thus Fate had ordained that the cynicism and debauchery of foreign conquest should be turned against itself. As though to continue the lesson and to point the moral, it befell that England should find herself embroiled in the vast cataclysm of European war, and embroiled on the public profession that she was committed to procure, assert and defend the right of small nationalities to determine their own governments and destiny. So notable a profession could not be improved by the Irish Volunteers, who determined that they, too, would profess the same cause on behalf of their own sovereign nation of Ireland. Therefore, ....

THE END

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