Introduction

When the United Irish League re-established the Political Unity broken up for ten years by the Parnell Split of 1890, the "miracle" (see page 18) was followed up by a movement for a wider National Unity, the effects of which are only now beginning to be understood. Its aim was the daring one of reconciling the two antagonistic hosts of the Land War, and combining them for the crowning achievement of a National Settlement by consent.

The inspiring principle of the new movement was the healing of animosity between Irishmen of all the warring classes and religious persuasions, and, upon that basis, an international peace with England. Its fundamental axioms were (a) that a solution of the Irish Difficulty must first be sought among Irishmen in Ireland, and (b) that its legislative enactment must be the work, not of one particular English Party, Liberal or Unionist, but of all British and Irish Parties in common. These are the principles which—received at the time with mild contempt by English politicians as an Eirenicon, and persecuted by certain powerful Irish ones as though they covered some monstrous treason against the Irish Nation—have by this time found all but universal acceptance in both countries and among all Parties in the Act of 1903 for the abolition of Landlordism and (although in a mutilated shape) in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. Not, however, before armed Revolution had to be called in to repair, so far as was possible, the tragic mistakes of Irish and British politicians during nearly twenty ignoble years.

The era of confessions and of contrition has already set in from the British side. One passage from a confidential letter of Mr. Lloyd George to the writer (dated 14th July, 1919), which Mr. Lloyd George has given me permission to publish (see page 416) reveals at a flash the secret of the failure in the intermediate years and explains the necessity for the present volume:

"I think you were fundamentally right when you sought an agreement amongst all sections, creeds and classes of Irishmen. I am afraid settlement is impossible until that has been achieved."

Here is the mature conclusion of the British Prime Minister that the Policy of Conciliation plus Business of the All-for-Ireland League was "fundamentally right" from the start, and that its defeat was the defeat of everything that mattered for the two countries. The confession is all the more interesting because it comes from the man who was long the most potent British instrument in deriding and thwarting the policy to which he now has the courage to do justice. And it will be found that even at that late date he had only half learned the lesson taught by the Irish Revolution.

Another testimony of transcendent interest is that of one who, of all the Liberal Cabinet who might have carried Home Rule and did not, had least of the party politician and most of the far-ranging statesman in his composition—Viscount Grey of Fallodon (the Sir Edward Grey of the Home Rule debates . Here is the fruit of his musings over the Liberal mishandling of Home Rule (House of Lords, 24th November, 1920):

"The question I put to myself is this: In the y ears of failure where have we gone wrong? What has been the root-cause of our failure? . . . I think the mistake we made in the beginning was that we did not sufficiently realize the absolute necessity of taking into consideration the feeling of Ulster."

Truly, a Daniel come to judgment! But that was only half the mistake—the other and the still graver half being that they "did not sufficiently realize" the feeling of Ireland for Ulster as bone of her bone, and the breath of life of her unity as a Nation.

The result was that having first refused to woo Ulster by "compulsory attraction" they proceeded to their opposite extremity of folly by cutting her off from Ireland with the slash of a clumsy surgeon's knife.

The Hibernian politicians, who were the prime movers of the mischief which undid the country and the Liberals and themselves, have not yet imitated the good sense of their British patrons by (as the French would say) entering upon the way of avowals on their own part. They have, however, ceased to count. It is only the evil they have done that lives after them. But how completely all the leaders who succeeded them as the authorised spokesmen of the Irish race since the downfall of the Parliamentarians, share and have made their own of the aspirations which used to be the special reproach of the All-for-Ireland League, two short quotations will sufficiently demonstrate. Wrote Mr. Arthur Griffith, the founder of Sinn Féin and the first President of the Irish Free State:

"The exclusion of Ulster or any part of Ireland would mean for us the nullification of our hopes and aspirations for the future Irish Nation. It would mean the erection of sharp, permanent, eternal dividing-lines between Catholics and Protestants, whereas our ideal has been an Irish nation in the future made up of a blend of all races, of all classes and of all creeds."

Mr. De Valera himself, the first President of the Irish Republic, said to me so late as August 12th, 1922 (see page 429):

"I have been all along in favour of peace with England, and at one time could have carried it all right, if Lloyd George had placed me in a position to offer the young men a measure of National Independence for the whole country on reasonable terms of external association. In the London negotiations I should have preferred to make our first stand upon the Integrity of Ireland, and the inclusion of the Six Counties. All the world would have understood our stand against Partition and would have been with us, and in England's then fix Craig could have been certainly brought to consent. . . . I was always ready to go as far as you went yourself to bring in Ulster by friendly means."

To clinch the matter, President Cosgrave and the Chamber of Deputies of the Irish Free State, while these sheets are passing through the Press, have invited the whole four of the representatives of the Land-owners at the Land Conference of 1902-3—the Earl of Dunraven, the Earl of Mayo, Col. (now Sir) W. Hutcheson Poë, and Col. (now Sir) Nugent Everard—to accept seats in the new Senate, and have acclaimed Mr. T. M. Healy as their first Governor General, thus singling out for honour in the eyes of posterity the Conciliationists who for the previous fifteen years were covered with opprobrium as "swindling landlords" or traitors to Home Rule.

How came it to pass that the policy which all the weightiest of the elder statesmen of Britain and the two most considerable personages of the Irish Revolution are thus united in pronouncing to have been elementary wisdom, had to struggle for a bare hearing throughout a fifteen-years' losing battle? By what arts were a people of keen political intelligence like the Irish hypnotised into silence while they were being led into an opposite policy which it is now hard to distinguish from insanity and which was to bring them nothing but six years of unspeakable anguish and a prodigal waste of their, best blood and treasure? How did it happen that those who, with an all but unanimous mandate from their country and from the Parliamentary Party, had succeeded in restoring four-fifths of the soil of Ireland to the people, and were proceeding to incorporate a million of Irish Protestants with our nation by their free consent, were actually arraigned as though these were the crimes of traitors? Above all, how came it that those who, themselves confessing they were rebelling against the policy which received from the country "an absolutely overwhelming vote of confidence" (see page 17) rose up to frustrate these great enterprises and to alarm and alienate that powerful minority of our countrymen by the establishment of a pseudo-Catholic Hibernian ascendancy leading to no alternative except the Partition of Ireland, to which they became themselves consenting parties—how came it that the mutineers were for a long course of years glorified as the anointed apostles of "Majority Rule" and the heroes of National Unity? These are amongst the enigmas to which the present volume is designed to supply the answers.

Not the least strange part of the story is that this is the first time when the truth will have a dog's chance of coming to the knowledge of the masses of the nation it most vitally concerns. Such is the completeness with which the facts have hitherto been travestied beyond all verisimilitude, it may be safely affirmed that there are comparatively few in Ireland and scarcely a handful in Britain, who can yet see in their true perspective the long train of events which brought a degenerate Parliamentarianism to its doom, and necessitated and justified the Irish Revolution of 1916-21. The time has come when the attempt can be made at all events without unworthy heat, to imitate the triennial custom of the ancient Parliament of Tara and "to purge our contemporary annals of all false and spurious relations." He that is but flesh cannot always hope to preserve a spirit of heavenly detachment while he brings to light the system of suppression and persecution from which his friends and himself suffered during a considerable space of their lives, without any hope of redress or even of an honest hearing. But the protagonists on all sides have by this time passed from the arena of Irish public life. For the personal part of the injury, events have already made generous atonement to ourselves. No tongue, however unclean—no pen, however obscure—is likely henceforth to repeat the accusations which, to the ruin of the country and of our accusers, bewildered the older generation now passing to its account. Nobody of sense will repine if sic vos non vobis mellificatis, apes is the decree of Fate for all the pioneers; what matters is that the honey should be hived if it were only to give to the life of this poor world some taste of sweetness. The young Harmodiuses of the Revolution are, doubtless, still easier in their minds as to their own part of the vilification and of the vindication. But these, after all, are matters of stern historic truth. What remains is that the coming men with whom must lie the making or marring of the nation their valour has called into being should not grow up in piteous ignorance of the deceit which, for their predecessors, placed the events of the early twentieth century in a light so grotesquely the reverse of the truth that the falsification might well pass for some Satanic practical joke at the expense of a whole people. The primary appeal of this book is to the increasing company of scholars, thinkers, and students for whom the truthfulness of her History is the most sacred charge of a nation. They have only—it is submitted with some confidence—to scrutinise the facts and documents herein presented, to be in a position to furnish the youth who will be the architects of our future with the means of demolishing for themselves the edifice of topsy-turvy falsehood which has hitherto been accepted as our contemporary history, but which will be found to crumble at the first touch of honest investigation. Assuredly it shall be the fault of the writer, if the narrative do not prove to be one of fascinating human interest, as well as paying a long overdue debt of truth and justice to the History of our times.

The suggestion of an Inter-Party Home Rule Settlement was first broached by Gladstone after the General Election of 1886 had placed Lord Salisbury in power. For their own sake, as well as Ireland's, wo's the day the Liberal Party were not wise enough to follow the counsel of their greatest leader during their own long spell of power from 1906 to 1914! It has been the hard fate of the Liberal Party that they who were generally the first to sow the seeds of great Irish measures were rarely able themselves to gather the harvest. It was the Liberal Party who disestablished the Irish Church in 1868 and essayed the first considerable reform of the Irish Land Laws in 1881, but it was only the Tory Party who could have ended the Agrarian War by abolishing Feudal Landlordism root-and-branch, and it was only a combination of the two Parties which could have beguiled England into submitting to the Irish Free State Treaty of 1921. For Irish Nationalists, at all events, the lesson of wisdom in our dealings with English Parties ought to have been burned sufficiently deep into our hearts and it was this: Take all you can get from the competition of Tories and Liberals, but enslave yourselves neither to the one English Party nor to the other, and, above all aim at the combination of them both—whether inspired by lofty British statesmanship or by more earthy motives—if you want to ensure legislative sanction to a scheme of National Independence—cautious and gradual, it may be, but unfettered in its force of expansion and broad-based upon a good understanding between the Nationalist majority and the Unionist minority at home in Ireland.

The new movement began with an achievement not less splendid, and at the time immeasurably more surprising than the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which, indeed, its chief Sinn Féin signatory, as will be seen, freely confessed, the work of his predecessors alone could have made possible. In one respect, more splendid still, for it was the work of a United, not of a Partitioned Ireland. The declaration of the Tory Chief Secretary (Mr. George Wyndham) but for which the Land Conference of 1902-3 could never have been assembled pronounced the bankruptcy of English Rule twenty years before it was formally acknowledged by the Imperial Parliament. Here were Wyndham's momentous words: "No Government can settle the Irish land question. It must be settled by the parties interested. The extent of useful action on the part of any Government is limited to providing facilities, in so far as that may be possible, for giving effect to any settlement arrived at by the parties."

It was the germ of National Self-Determination thirteen years before President Wilson's Fourteen Points. The admission and the undertaking pointed the way by which Landlordism was bloodlessly extinguished, and by which, had the fates been kind, English rule might have been extinguished no less bloodlessly. Four representatives commissioned by the Irish Parliamentary Party (Mr. John E. Redmond, Mr. T. C. Harrington, Lord Mayor of Dublin, Mr T. W. Russell and myself) and four representatives of the Irish Unionists elected ad hoc (the Earl of Dunraven, the Earl of Mayo, Col. afterwards Sir William Hutcheson Poë, and Col. afterwards Sir Everard Nugent, His Majesty's Lieutenant for Meath), met in the Dublin Mansion House, and in the course of five sittings effected a settlement of the Irish Land War which had raged without intermission for more than a century, and, notwithstanding more than forty Abortive Acts of the British Parliament to assuage it, was raging more furiously than ever when the Land Conference of 1902-3 assembled for its apparently desperate task.

Incredible as the happy outcome was for the cynics, the conditions of the moment were extraordinarily propitious. The Tories were in power and enjoyed the more or less rueful co-operation of the Liberals in Irish affairs. George Wyndham, the Chief Secretary, inherited the vision and the romance of his great-grandfather Lord Edward Fitzgerald, to whom he bore a singular resemblance, in captivating address as well as in physical beauty. In deference to the diseased suspiciousness which is apt to poison all Irish controversies, I never personally exchanged a word (or except on one occasion, even a letter) with the man with the greatest work of whose life circumstances gave me a closer association than, perhaps, fell to the fate of any other Irishman;[1] but if all who knew him are not in a conspiracy of untruth, his inmost sympathies would have impelled him to go as far in the direction of the most glowing aspirations of Ireland as Irishmen would let him; and he had a Lord Lieutenant (the Earl of Dudley) and an Under Secretary (Sir Antony Mac Donnell) no less sympathetic, if less passionate, than himself. When King Edward the Peacemaker, on the day when the House of Commons was passing the final stage of Wyndham's Bill for the expropriation of Landlordism, was making his triumphal progress through a Dublin delirious with joy (of how many ages ago we seem to be writing!) he as justly as tactfully picked out the handsome young Chief Secretary to sit with him and the queen in his carriage as the real hero of achievements in Ireland which were bound to go a good deal further.

If ever there was an United Ireland it was that which at one stroke and for ever put an end to the Land War—an infinitely deeper dividing-line between Irishmen than Home Rule, because it was a question of their very existence for tenants and landlords alike—and put an end to it by the co-operation of the warring classes themselves, and upon terms which have stood the test of satisfying both sides equally well. The Protestant and Presbyterian farmers who form the bulk of the Unionist inhabitants of Ulster—at all times as determined foes of Landlordism as the Catholics of the South—found themselves the owners in fee of their own lands and homesteads, and that through the direct agency of those whom they had been brought up to regard as the most extreme of the Nationalist leaders. The Unionist landlords themselves—again, thanks to that co-operation of the fiercest of their old Nationalist antagonists "which alone made the Act of 1903 possible"—became the happy possessors of an income as safe as the Bank of England, in lieu of one that had to be every year fought for by hateful and costly eviction campaigns, when it was not being hacked to pieces by Judicial Rent Commissioners or legislators at Westminster. The most influential of the Irish nobles and country gentlemen who, later on, did not stop short of proclaiming their adhesion to the National Independence of Sinn Féin were, even already, eager to follow Lord Dunraven in continuing the work of the Land Conference by a Home Rule Settlement conceived in the same spirit which had already given them the status of honoured citizenship in the pleasantest country in the world. Mr. Redmond and myself had actually to interfere, not to stimulate but to moderate their pace, lest it should be charged that their "surrender" to Home Rule was their price for the handsome terms the Land Conference settlement was to yield to them.

The apprehensions and the religious rancour which, five or six years afterwards, were to constitute the Ulster Difficulty the most formidable of all stumbling-blocks to the unity and freedom of Ireland, had at that time no existence outside the most arriéré quarters of Belfast and the surrounding towns. Even there a new spirit was arising. Lord Dunraven and Captain Shawe-Taylor received a sympathetic welcome in the city where "six special trainsful of troops" could not in later days protect Mr. Winston Churchill from being obliged to fly for his life. They were heard without an interruption in the Ulster Hall, the future headquarters of the Provisional Government of the Covenanters. The Loyal Orange Institution itself was undergoing an internal reform, not to say revolution, which has strangely escaped the notice it deserved. An Independent Orange Order was established whose watchword—"Irishmen first of all!"—was its sufficient programme. The new Order came to a pitch of power at which it was able to organise vast rival processions of its own on "the Belfast Anniversaries." One of its leaders was Mr. Tom Sloane, who, as a Democrat, had won a seat in Parliament for Belfast, without the leave of the local Tory panjandrums, and commanded an enormous influence with the Protestant populace of that city as a religious zealot by his Sunday revivalist preachments from "the Custom-house steps." That I was paving the way for some traitorous "scratch alliance with Tom Sloane" (with whom, as it happened, I had never had the good fortune to exchange a word) came to be positively one of the most heinous of the charges thundered out against me by Mr. Dillon in his rabble-rousing days. The new Order had produced a young leader of vastly greater capacity in Mr. Lindsay Crawford, who had inherited the finest of the National and tolerant traditions of the United Irishmen of the older day when Belfast was a fiery furnace of Irish revolutionary thought. Mournful to relate, it was the fate of Mr. Lindsay Crawford, as it was Wyndham's, to be compelled to quit the country, less by the force of Orange fanaticism than of Hibernian intrigue. He had to take refuge in Canada, where he carved out for himself a position of considerable distinction, and true to the last to the Independent Orange watchword, "Irishmen first of all! " is, at this writing, President of the Irish Self-Determination League of that great Dominion.

Lastly, be it remarked, Sir E. Carson—the only leader with the genius and daring that could have made Orangeism a power of the first political magnitude—had probably up to that time never set his foot within the Ulster border. He was a rather effacé English Solicitor-General, who, it is curiously forgotten, prophesied ruin and bankruptcy as a result of Wyndham's Purchase Act in as sepulchral terms as Mr. Dillon himself, and assuredly had then as little thought of becoming the ringleader of an Ulster Rebellion as of snatching the King's Crown off his Majesty's head and assuming it himself.

On the other hand, the Parliamentary Party and the Nationalist masses were as nearly unanimous as it is given to thinking men to be. Mr. Devlin had not yet emerged from the obscurity of his Debating Society on the Falls Road in Belfast and was little known outside save for a bitter local quarrel with his Bishop. The Secret Society of the Hibernian "Board of Erin" of which he became in after years the master and which in turn he caused to overmaster and absorb the public organisation of the United Irish League, had not yet gained a footing save in one or two corners of the North, and was too insignificant to make any appeal to his ambitions. Singularly enough, the Hibernians who gradually assumed the function of accredited apostles of Catholicity and admitted no catechumen to the Order who did not make profession of the Catholic faith and pledge himself to frequent the Catholic sacraments, were themselves at the time we are speaking of under the ban of ecclesiastical censures and threats of excommunication. We were still far from the days when the Board of Erin erected far and wide a self-styled Catholic ascendancy which did more than all other causes to work up Protestant Ulster into an irreconcileable aversion to Home Rule. Nor did "the extreme men" present the slightest obstacle. It was not until two years later that Arthur Griffith was able to form the group of earnest young believers in his teachings into an almost unnoticed Sinn Féin organisation. They were not revolutionists but evolutionists. They were to the full as "constitutional" in their aims as the Parliamentary Party, and would never have developed to anything more dangerous than a Platonic aspiration for super-Parliamentary methods had not "the Party" fallen from one depth to a deeper of inefficiency and self-seeking. The Republicans had no vocal or organised existence at all. The youth of the country still found satisfaction for their most ardent aspirations in the triumphs of a Parnell movement conducted in the Parnell spirit and the most thrilling of those triumphs had only just been gained. They would have abhorred, if they could have conceived, the doctrines of religious disability which subsequently proposed to exclude the co-religionists of Parnell from equal participation in the tasks of Irish patriotism.

The trouble came, not from the bottom, but from the top. The more conscientiously the records of the time are searched, the clearer, I believe, must be the conclusion that, were it not for the revolt of three or four leading Irish politicians against the "absolutely overwhelming" determination of the country (the words are Mr. Dillon's own), a Home Rule Settlement by consent must have been devised and passed into law with little more difficulty than the Land Conference Settlement, and with effects upon the stability and strength of our nation, and upon the ordered expansion of her liberties, for which, it is to be feared, children yet unborn will sigh in vain.

Here were all the materials (including the endorsement of 82 out of the 83 members who then composed the Irish Parliamentary Party) for an amalgamation of all the racial and denominational elements of the Irish Nation such as must have irresistibly effected its purpose without a trace of the hideous sectarian passions and political demoralization which were to disgrace the succeeding years—without the shedding of the smallest rivulet of the blood with which the country was to be drenched during the prolonged revolutionary war which was required in order to work out a remedy—must have effected a settlement, too, upon terms of moderation which can scarcely be recalled without a remorseful pang by the Prime Minister who was to welcome the chiefs of the Irish Republican Army to Downing Street upon practically their own terms.

How these propitious omens were cast to the winds and Parliamentary methods finally abandoned for the ruder ones of Revolution, it shall be the business of these pages to endeavour to make clear. In order to make all that is to follow comprehensible, let us first dispel the darkness in which one of the most fundamental realities of the case has hitherto been artfully enwrapped. The favourite device for deadening public interest in what was going on was the hardihood with which it was pretended there was no real difference in public policy between those who advocated the Policy of Conference and Conciliation and its remorseless antagonists—nothing better worth serious public attention than the personal rivalries of politicians. Inasmuch as the bulk of the public was deprived of all means of listening to or reading our answer, the deceit was never fully found out until the final thunder crash, which did indeed awaken the Irish people from their infatuation sharply enough, but only to discover that the worst had already happened. It will be convenient to begin by giving the reader a birdseye view of those differences from which it may be judged how deeply the division cut into the most vital interests of the nation—how true it was that the chasm between the two policies was so profound and fateful as to make all the difference between a bloodless triumph for an United Ireland and the degradation and annihilation of the Parliamentary movement and the Partition of the country. And perhaps the bitterest drop of the water of gall which the nation was given to drink was that the Revolution was not the work of the Revolutionists but of those who were careful to describe themselves as "Constitutionalists."

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The Irish Revolution

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William O'Brien was a County Cork M.P. who participated in the negotiations for Home Rule in Ireland. In this account, first published in 1923, he provides an insight into the politics and politicians of the time - John Redmond, John Dillon, Arthur Griffith, Sir Edward Carson, Bonar Law, Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, etc. - and gives his analysis of the origins of the Easter Rising of 1916 and the subsequent Irish Civil War. From his own perspective, O'Brien was very much anti-Partition, and was evidently frustrated at the failure to give adequate reassurance to the Northern Unionists.

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