The Two Policies in Action

It must not be supposed that the mistake concerning the Protestant Minority which "The Home Rule Cabinet" now mournfully acknowledges was made for lack of incessant forewarnings and entreaties, or that those of us who now point the moral of its unwisdom are, like the Ministers themselves, only wise after the event. At each successive stage of the controversy—under a Tory Government, under a Liberal Government, and under a Coalition Government alike—we of the All-for-Ireland school can claim without presumption to have iterated and reiterated, with moderation and solemnity, but without wavering, that any true Irish settlement must be sought by a combination of all Irish and English parties for an object loftier than party strategy, and above all that delicate deference must be paid to the traditional particularities and even prejudices of Ulster. Two further propositions may be respectfully postulated as matters of common agreement by this time: viz. (a) that there is not one of our detailed suggestions—for years held in derision and for a parable of reproach to us as factionist and traitorous—which would not now be recognised as concessions of such obvious good sense as to seem commonplace, and (b) that up to a certain date they would have been closed with by Ulster as a satisfaction of all the reasonable requirements and apprehensions of the Protestant minority.

To make good this claim, it may be convenient once for all to set out the terms of the Settlement by Consent which we proposed in the very words in which I challenged the verdict of the city of Cork, and which I was returned without an opposing voice to press upon the Government. It will be seen that they cover the three points on which "the apprehensions of our Protestant countrymen and not in Ulster alone" were most sensitive.

"1 . (The Ulster terror of parting with the active authority of the Imperial Parliament.)—We propose, for an experimental term of five years, to give the Ulster Party which would remain in the Imperial Parliament (say ten, with the possible addition of two members, one for Trinity College, and one for Rathmines, to represent the Southern minority) a direct suspensory veto upon any Bill of the Irish Parliament unless and until it shall either be approved or rejected by a resolution of the Imperial Parliament, to be passed within one month after the exercise of the Veto. Further, to give the Ulster Party the right upon a signed requisition to the Speaker of discussing on a motion for the adjournment of the House of Commons, any administrative Act of the Irish Executive dealing with Education, Justice, or Police. For the experimental period, these powers would give the Protestant minority the direct and active protection of the Imperial Parliament in a much more effectual way than they possess it at present. Such a suspensory veto may seem an unheard-of concession to a minority, and so it is. It would in my judgment be gladly submitted to by the best thinking men of our race, in the belief that it would serve as a wholesome restraint upon an infant Parliament in its first inexperienced years, and in the firm conviction that nothing will be attempted which would either tempt the Ulster Party to exercise the Veto or the Imperial Parliament to enforce it. The concession would, of course, be unendurable unless (failing a fresh Act of the Imperial Parliament for its renewal) it were to expire at the end of the experimental period, by which time a General Election will have been undergone and the new Imperial Parliament placed in a position to judge of the Irish Legislature by its actual record.

"2. (The insignificance of the minority in a Dublin Parliament.)—As the Bill stands, the Ulster group will undoubtedly be a somewhat attenuated one, as it is bound to be by a pedantic adherence to existing geographical boundaries. Nor would any fancy property franchise be, to my mind, tolerable in the popular chamber under modern democratic conditions. We should propose to deal, unsymmetrically but effectively, with the question of giving the Protestant minority a representation proportioned to their numbers and their natural claim for adequate protection by increasing the proposed representation in the Schedule to 20 for Belfast, 16 for Antrim, 8 for Armagh, 16 for Down, and 8 for Londonderry, which with a proportional vote (or, better still, a cumulative vote) extended to the rest of the country would yield a Protestant minority vote of at least 60 in the Irish House of Commons. Here you would have established a body which could not possibly be put down by oppressive means, and which would only have to win the adhesion of some 30 Catholic Nationalists at the utmost to form a governing majority upon a National Peace programme which would efface all the old distinctions. What a career of unhoped-for power and noble patriotism for the present Unionist Minority, whom the Imperial Parliament has stripped of every vestige of political power over four-fifths of the country and can never by any possibility of its own authority restore it! Sensible Irishmen would make little difficulty about assenting in addition to such local powers as, apparently, Sir E. Grey would delegate to Ulster—appointments, for instance, of County Court judges, Inspectors of Education and County Inspectors of Police from competent panels—either by the Ulster County Councils or some other local authorities, but these would be quite insufficient inducements in themselves, and would be happily overshadowed by the larger concessions which would attract Ulster centripetally to, instead of repelling her from, the National Parliament.

"3. (The fears of a Spoils system worked by a twopenny-ha'penny Tammany.)—The Unionist minority are not the only Irish minority who regard with repugnance the ascendancy of a Secret Association confined to men of one particular religious persuasion, and using as its most powerful instrument the disposal of all offices and patronage from the highest to the lowest, not according to the merits of the candidates, but according to their proficiency in the signs and passwords of the Order. The growth of this sectarian organisation (whose object nobody has yet ventured publicly to put into words) is indeed responsible for the creation of three-fourths of the Ulster Difficulty which now darkens the horizon. I am confident that most of the far-seeing supporters of Mr. Redmond must be in their hearts as anxious as either the Ulster Minority or the Munster Minority to put an end to any danger from this undemocratic secret agency by having provision made that all offices of emolument (save only Ministers, Heads of Departments, and Judges) should be disposed of by a carefully chosen body of Irish Civil Service Commissioners who should throw them open to all candidates upon equal terms, and put an end to the scandal of dispensing Government patronage in partisan newspaper offices by sectarian preferences and secret intrigues."

These proposals were never made public by the Hibernian Press, nor by any newspaper in England. The only version of them circulated in three-fourths of Ireland was that I proposed to "hand over Ireland to the veto of twelve Orangemen"—the only justification for that atrocious libel being the proposal for an experimental period of five years, to give a minority of a million the security of a possible appeal to the Imperial Parliament, to be decided within one month, under circumstances which made it all but certain that, by reason of the very completeness of the security, the power would never be exercised. And this moderate price to purchase the confidence of one-fourth of the Irish population was held up to execration as "handing over Ireland to the veto of twelve Orangemen"—that, too, in a Home Rule Bill which, in the words of Mr. T. P. O'Connor, "contained as many English vetoes as there were padlocks in a jail." Who can wonder if a country debarred from all chance of reading our proposals for themselves and so infamously led astray as to their real purport, should have taken half a generation of suffering to learn that the "factionists and traitors were "fundamentally right" all along? For ourselves, so little did we claim any special foresight in discerning the possibilities of an incomparable National settlement in "an agreement amongst all sections, creeds, and classes of Irishmen," that the only clue we could find to the enigma how any sane body of Irishmen could detect in it any trace of treason to Ireland was that those who only saw in the Land Conference settlement "a landlord swindle" infallibly bound to "end in national insolvency" felt themselves now constrained to persist in the error at any cost against all evidence and commonsense.

Stand fast by our proposal, at all events, we did from start to finish against all the buffets of unpopularity and of carefully nurtured ignorance in Ireland and in England. Persons familiar with the state of feeling in the Ulster Party, and especially among the mass of the Northern population, prior to the Larne gun-running, will scarcely deny that "a Bill thus conceived, far from being a grievance in the sight of embittered Irish Protestants, would have been hailed by them as an Act of Political Emancipation such as the Imperial Parliament could never otherwise secure to them." But what of its reception by the Republicans? They were not then in existence, and with wiser counsels they might never have been, in any ponderable numbers. The opposition came from the self-aggrandising place-hunters of the Board of Erin; the clean-souled adolescents who were to be the rebels of Easter Week had not yet been made sick with the cajoleries of the Parliamentary politicians, and would see no more trace of treason to Ireland in our doctrines than in Davis's genial version of the Orange war-song, "The Battle of the Boyne," which they had been taught to lisp from their cradles:

"Boyne's old water,

Red with slaughter,

Now is as pure as the children at play;

So, in our souls,

Its history rolls,

Orange and Green will carry the day!"[19]

From the poorest standpoint of expediency, there stood one-fourth of the Irish population who must either be lived with or exterminated. The latter course was, happily, as impossible as it would have been heathenish. It would have expelled from the service of Ireland a leisured class of soldiers, sportsmen, and genial comrades as ineradicably Irish as a free admixture of Gaelic blood for centuries could make them, and an industrial population whose energy, probity, and solidity of character would endow an Irish State with some of its most precious elements of stability. To acknowledge that there were two unmixable Irelands would be to fly in the face of some of the most shining truths of our history. Gaelic Ireland's ethnic genius had never found any difficulty, even as late as the Williamite wars, in fascinating and absorbing all the successive invaders who, in conquering, were themselves conquered—the Norman Geraldines in Munster and the Norman Burkes in Connacht, the Danes in Dublin, the Scotsmen in Dalriada, the Belgians in Wexford, the Welshmen in Tyrawley, the grim Cromwellians themselves amidst the bewitching homes of Tipperary. The beadroll of statutes from century to century forbidding the adventurers from England—and forbidding them in vain—to "live Irishly" and take Irish wives, is one long English protestation of the homogeneity of the nation. Even the era of the diabolical Penal Laws, if it raised up fiends to debase the Catholic Gaels almost out of human shape into a separate race, "in the English and Protestant interest," produced also a dynasty of Protestant patriots as truly Irish as the eternal mountains that towered over Henry Grattan's woods at Tinnahinch. Flood was the only man of genius in the Irish Parliament who represented anti-Catholic bigotry at its darkest; yet even he made atonement for that one sunspot in his character by the will in which he left a considerable property for the encouragement of the study of Gaelic in Trinity College and the publication of the ancient manuscript literature of the Gael. With the graces and accomplishments of a cultured Irish nobleman, Charlemont strangely mingled in his character a gloomy Protestant bigotry; yet he, too, was so passionate a fanatic for Irish liberty that, as Commander-in-Chief of Grattan's Volunteers, his preparations for a war against the Parliament of England were more formidable than Sir E. Carson's more than a century later, and were authorised by sounder constitutional warrant. The man whom the English intellectual world now acclaim as the most sublime of their philosophers and statesmen was the Irish Protestant, Edmund Burke, who, for the inspired eloquence with which he scathed England's doings in Ireland, went within an ace of being slain by the Gordon rioters as an Irish papist adventurer. To tear out from the journals of the Irish Parliament the splendid pages which record the Protestant struggle for Irish freedom from Molyneux' first daring claims to the dying hours in which it succumbed to the Act of Union—to disown the romantic chapters added to our story by the Protestant Wolfe Tone when, after Parliamentary methods had failed, he appealed to the God of battles, and to disown them because the martyrs who died at his call on the scaffolds of Belfast and Carrickfergus and at Antrim Fight were Protestant Dissenters who had not taken the Catholic Sacrament—would be to cancel the entire history of Ireland since the Middle Ages, and has only to be set out in cold terms of logic to excite the abhorrence of every Catholic Nationalist with an uncorrupted heart.

Irish Protestant patriotism did not die even under the scalpel of Castlereagh's Act of Union. Lecky, whom certain family sufferings during the Land War unhappily alienated from the Irish Cause in his declining years, has left us in his books an immortal monument of the inborn Nationalism of the Irish Protestant genius. It would be scarcely possible for prejudice itself to study the unexpurgated edition of his Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland without being convinced that religious rancour was steadily disappearing in the generous sunheat of Grattan's Parliament and was only resuscitated after the Union when the contagion of the Evangelical Revival in England spread in a virulent form to the North of Ireland. Dr. Boulter, the English Archbishop of Armagh, owns with frank brutality how truly religious feuds in Ireland are the product of English policy and not of native perversity, when, inveighing against every measure "that tends to unite Protestant with Papist," he adds, "whenever that happens, good-bye to the English interest in Ireland for ever." And the Union gave England the means of fomenting the war of creeds in Ireland during the bitter generation for which the Catholic Emancipation, more than half accomplished by the Irish Parliament during the Viceroyalty of Lord Fitzwilliam, was obliged to prolong its hate-engendering debates in the Parliament of England. Even so, the unquenchable embers of Protestant patriotism flared up again and again in Ulster itself. Too little is known of Gavan Duffy's "League of the North and South," in whose ranks the mass of the Protestant Dissenters and their clerical leaders in the Fifties were, beyond question eager to join hands with their Catholic countrymen, and which was only crushed by the apostacy of the ruffians, Keogh and Sadleir, unluckily condoned by the simplicity of two or three Catholic prelates. So much an affair of yesterday is the Ulster Protestant bloc which Sir E. Carson managed to persuade England was ancient and unbreakable, that within living recollection the Dissenters, who formed the weightier half of Sir E. Carson's Covenanters, were wholly at one with the Catholics on the two questions—religious disabilities and the land—which were the staple interest of their lives, and were the active allies of the Catholics in every electioneering and democratic campaign against the other half—the Episcopalian Tories. So late as 1885, it was Presbyterian votes that returned Justin MacCarthy for the City of Derry, and Mr. Tim Healy for South Derry, and myself for South Tyrone.

For one like myself, who as a boy had followed Smith O'Brien—the flower of Irish knighthood—to his grave; who esteemed it the glory of his youth to have been asked by John Mitchel to compose his Election Address to Tipperary; who had seen Isaac Butt and Professor Galbraith reconstruct a broad-based national movement from the ruins of Fenianism, and later on followed Parnell to the very Jordan's brink of Irish Independence—it can easily be imagined how little disposed I was to disown the co-religionists of men such as these as a tribe of unmixable aliens and pariahs. To be accused of some monstrous heresy against Ireland for the bare proposal to incorporate that million of religiously-minded, laborious, and stout-hearted men everlastingly in our nation on terms of equality and honour, might well seem the prank of some practical joker, if it were not unhappily the stock-in-trade of powerful politicians trading upon the boundless ignorance of the truth in which they were able to keep the public. It cannot be denied that it was an experience of grievous personal pain, as well as of public misfortune, but it can truly be claimed that, if ever I was in danger of sinking under the injustice, I had only to re-read the story of the generous measure in which the Protestant Parliament parted with their privileges and ascendancy in the Relief Bill of 1793 to redeem their Catholic brother-Irishmen from their degradation—of the all but unanimity of the Protestant Bar for a Catholic Emancipation which would put an end to their monopoly—of the glowing words in which the youth of Trinity College threw open their arms to the Catholic claims—of the twenty-eight years during which Grattan and Plunkett pressed their unflinching battle for Emancipation in a brutalized English Parliament, before a Catholic Irishman could pass its portals; and, before the page was turned down, the spirits of the Protestants of genius who had suffered persecution of their own for their noble constancy to the friendless Catholic helot, seemed to be sufficiently near to make it a sacred privilege for Irish Catholics to suffer in the converse sense now, when there was question of a different ascendancy and of different victims. Persecution at the hands of our own household, at all events, never weakened our determination to resist any counter-ascendancy in the hour of triumph for the Catholics as stoutly as the leaders of Grattan's Parliament and of the United Irishmen met and overthrew the Protestant Ascendancy in its own days of insolent power.

Such was our way of reconciling the Protestant minority, in doctrine and in action. To turn to our critics' plans for aggravating, embittering, and maddening the opposition of the Minority seems like laying down the speech of Grattan on the day of his Declaration of Independence in order to watch the ignoble wars which make horrid the streets of Belfast on Anniversary Days, when the mobs of "The Orange Walk" and "The Green Walk" come into collision and exchange their volleys of paving-stones and battle-cries, and beat their drums in each other's faces until the blood runs from the wrists of the drummers. Young Mr. Winston Churchill's raid on Belfast gives us a typical illustration of the plan of campaign in its boldness and in its unwisdom. It was in February 1912, shortly before the introduction of Mr. Asquith's Home Rule Bill, and at a moment when the most elementary prudence, and even decency, ought to have forbidden a vulgar challenge to Ulster feeling in the Ulster capital on the part of the First Lord of the Admiralty of the Home Rule Cabinet. That moment was chosen for Mr. Devlin's invitation to Mr. Winston Churchill to attend an Hibernian torchlight procession in his honour in Belfast. The First Lord of the Admiralty, in undertaking the raid, gave a first blazing example of the indiscretions which were afterwards to run his country dangerously near to ruin at Ostend and the Dardanelles and Archangel and Mesopotamia. It is not enough to plead that, in his own estimation, Mr. Churchill's adventure was not that of an Hibernian gamin, but of a benign statesman. There has always been a dash of greatness in his impetuosities. But even his boyish self-sufficiency ought not to have blinded him to the preposterous folly of his mission of peace under the auspices of the Board of Erin Hibernians to that very city of Belfast where his father, fresh from his desertion of his alliance with Parnell, had appealed to the worst passions of the Orangemen with his doggerel war-cry: " Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right." He speedily realized into what a hornets' nest he had thrust himself. The Devlin torchlight procession was first given up. Unfortunately, the torches were not quenched until they had set fire to a powder magazine. He fell back upon an indoor meeting in the Ulster Hall. The Ulster Unionist Council retorted by hiring the Ulster Hall for a meeting on the previous night, after which the design was to take and hold armed possession of the Hall as long as Mr. Churchill remained in Belfast, and Sir E. Carson came over as a rival angel of peace to superintend operations.

The Ulster Hall people gladly accepted the hint and cancelled the letting of the Hall for both meetings. The triumphant Orangemen flatly announced that, First Lord of the Admiralty or no, they would allow him no meeting-place within the Forbidden City. There was nothing for it but to take refuge in a marquee erected on the Celtic Football-field on the outskirts of the city and within the sheltering arms of the Nationalist quarter, the Falls Road. But the First Lord of the Admiralty's cup of humiliation was not even yet full. Although "six special trains laden with troops" arrived the previous day for his protection, and his movements were conducted with the utmost secrecy, the First Lord allowed himself to be chivied from post to pillar by the Orange hooligans, who were waiting for him at Larne, mobbed him the moment he reached Belfast, thronged around him at the modest hotel at which he descended, and ceased not to hoot, and sting, and threaten him, until he escaped in the midst of a phalanx of policemen and cavalry to the faithful Falls Road. There he was safe enough in the arms of a Catholic and Nationalist population as valiant and true-hearted as the world could produce and passed along to the football-ground amidst the fluttering of green flags and the belabouring of effigies inscribed "Carson, the King of the Bluffers." But even there, the luckless Minister was drenched with torrents of rain, which penetrated the clothes of his listeners through the frail covering of the marquee, and when all was over the problem how to get the First Lord safely out of Belfast, without returning to his hotel, where an enormous Orange mob was lying in wait for him, was only solved by an escape along a circuitous route to Larne, where he was finally placed in safety on board the Glasgow boat after a five hours' experience such as rarely falls to the lot of a great Minister of State. To complete the picture, his competitor angel of peace, Sir E. Carson, addressed his triumphant hooligans and complimented them upon "their magnificent self-restraint."

Mr. Winston Churchill's escapade in Belfast—the bounce with which it began, and the tameness with which he accepted the position that a Cabinet Minister protected by "six special trains laden with troops" must give up the right of free speech the moment the howls and revolvers of the least enlightened section of the Orange populace gave their orders—had two fatal effects on the course of events in Ulster. It gave wanton offence to the most respectable part of the Protestant population, and it filled the most retrograde of the Orangemen and their leaders with contempt for a Government whose poltroonery they took to be even grosser than their folly. Mr. Churchill's challenge and his flight, it is scarcely an exaggeration to say, had more to do with exasperating and crystallising the opposition of Ulster to Home Rule than "the King of the Bluffers" himself, whose incitements up to that time had been addressed to only half-convinced and unarmed men.

While Mr. Devlin's torchlights had thus kindled Ulster into a blaze, on the eve of the introduction of the Home Rule Bill, his organizers were busy in the rest of the country rivalling the unreasonableness of Protestant Orangeism by the terror of a Catholic Orangeism no less odious to the friends of enlightened liberty. As soon as the Home Rule Cabinet was installed in power and their Home Rule Bill announced, the All-for-Ireland League was so determined to prepare for it an untroubled atmosphere that we freely ran the risk of misconstruction by an appeal for co-operation among all Nationalists to secure the largest possible measure of well-considered public sympathy in its support. Even after our overtures were scoffed at with the amiable taunt that Mr. Healy and I "were now of less importance than the rawest recruit in Mr. Redmond's Party," we suspended altogether the propaganda of the All-for-Ireland League, just as it was beginning to spread from county to county and from province to province, knowing as we did that our programme of meetings, no matter how temperately conducted on our part, could only be carried out in the teeth of an organized Hibernian opposition with bludgeons and revolvers which must disgrace our cause in the eyes of the world and lead to the inevitable destruction of the Bill.[20] If our voices were stifled by organized violence and by still fouler methods in the Press, it cannot be doubted it was because the cabal realized that the Irish people had only to be allowed the opportunity of hearing for themselves the arguments for and against the two programmes which divided the country, and they would have recoiled with horror from the policy of mad sectarianism of which they were being made the unconscious instruments. The Home Rule Bill once produced in the House of Commons, no further public controversy was to be thought of. The people knew nothing further and understood nothing further until the mischief had been done beyond repair. This was how it came to pass that the sinister secret organization which Cardinal Logue had described as, in his own archdiocese, "a pest, a cruel tyranny, and an organized system of blackguardism," spread its tentacles over every parish in the country—with the blessings and the "doubled subscriptions," it must with a pang be owned, of some of His Eminence's brethren in the Hierarchy—reducing the wholesome public influence of the United Irish League to a shadow, feeding its own disciples fat with governmental and local offices and honours, enkindling the honest alarms of Protestant Ulster to a white heat, and making Sir E. Carson's task an easy one of uniting the most peacefully-minded of the Protestant and Presbyterian farmers and shopkeepers with the fiery Orange fanatics of Belfast in resistance to the new racial and religious exclusiveness.

A blindfolded people, in setting up the "Party Unity" of the Liberalized Hibernian politicians for their god, destroyed the last hope of "National Unity," which was the thing that really mattered, and destroyed "The Party," and their nation with it.

Read "The Irish Revolution" at your leisure

The Irish Revolution

Read The Irish Revolution at your leisure and help support this free Irish library.

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.

The ebook is available in .mobi (for Kindle), .epub (for iBooks, etc.), and .pdf formats, and a sample PDF can be downloaded. For more information on the book see details ».


Library Ireland Facebook