Taken from `Ireland as it is, and as it would be under Home Rule' by the Special Commissioner of the Birmingham Daily Gazette, 1893.
Ulster will fight, and fight to the death. The people have taken a resolution--deep, stern, and irrevocable. Outwardly they do not seem so troubled as the Dubliners. They are quiet in their movements, moderate in their speech. They show no kind of alarm, for they know their own strength, and are fully prepared for the worst. They speak and act like men whose minds are made up, who will use every Constitutional means of maintaining their freedom, and, these failing, will take the matter in their own strong hands. Meanwhile they preserve external calm, and systematically make their arrangements. If ever they went through a talking stage, that is now over. They have passed the time of discussion, and are preparing for action. If ever they showed heat, that period also is past. They have reached the cold stage, in which men act on ascertained principles and not in the frenzy of passion. There is nothing hysterical about the Belfast men. They are by no means the kind of people who run hither and thither wringing their hands. Neither are they men who will sit down under oppression. And oppression is what they expect from a Dublin Government. Mr. Gladstone and his tribe may pooh-pooh this notion, but the feeling in Ulster is strong and immovable. The tens of thousands of Protestants thickly scattered over other provinces feel more strongly still; as well they may, for they have not the numbers, the organisation, the unity which is strength, that characterise the province of Ulster. They hold that Home Rule is at the bottom a religious movement, that by circuitous methods, and subterranean strategy, the religious re-conquest of the island is sought; that the ignorant peasantry, composing the large majority of the electorate, are entirely in the hands of the priests, and that these black swarms of Papists have a congenital hatred of England, which must bring about separation. These are the opinions of thousands of eminent men whose ability is beyond argument, who have lived all their lives on the spot, who from childhood have had innumerable facilities for knowing the truth, whoso interests are bound up with the prosperity of Ireland, and who, on every ground, are admittedly the best judges. Said Mr. Albert Quill, the Dublin barrister:--
"Mr. Gladstone, who in eighty-four years has spent a week in Ireland, puts aside Sir Edward Harland, who has built a fleet of great ships in an Irish port, and sneers at the opinion of the Belfast deputation who have lived all their lives in Ireland." A Roman Catholic Unionist, an eminent physician, said to me:--
"I fear that Catholicism would ultimately lose by the change, although at first it would undoubtedly obtain a strong ascendant. The bulk of the Irish Catholics have a deep animosity to the English people, whom they regard as heretics, and the Protestants of Ireland would in self-defence be compelled to band themselves together, for underneath the specious surface of the Home Rule movement are the teeth and claws of the tiger. Persecution would follow separation, which is inevitable if the present bill be carried. A Dublin Parliament would make a Protestant's life a burden. This would react in time, and Catholicism would suffer in the long run. And for this reason, amongst others, I am against Home Rule."
But what are the Belfast men doing? Imprimis they are working in what may be called the regular English methods. Unionist clubs are springing up in all directions. The Earl of Ranfurly opened three in one evening, and others spring up almost every day. The Ulster Anti-Repeal and Loyalist Association will during the month of April hold over three hundred meetings in England, all manned by competent speakers. The Irish Unionist Association and the Conservative Association are likewise doing excellent work, which is patent to everybody. But other associations which do not need public offices are flourishing like green bay trees, and their work is eminently suggestive. By virtue of an all-powerful introduction, I yesterday visited what may be called the Ulster war department, and there saw regular preparation for an open campaign, the preliminaries for which are under eminently able superintendence. The tables are covered with documents connected with the sale and purchase of rifles and munitions of war. One of them sets forth the particulars of a German offer of 245,000 Mauser rifles, the arm last discarded by the Prussian Government, with 50,000,000 cartridges. As the first 150,000 Mausers were manufactured by the National Arms and Ammunition Company, Sparkbrook, Birmingham, it may be interesting to record that the quoted price was 16s. each, the cartridges being thrown in for nothing. Another offer referred to 149,000 stand of arms, with 30,000,000 cartridges. A third document, the aspect of which to a native of Bruin was like rivers of water in a thirsty land, was said to have been summarily set aside by reason of the comparative antiquity of the excellent weapon offered, notwithstanding the tempting lowness of the quoted price.
A novel and unexpected accession of information was the revelation of a deep and sincere sympathy among the working men of England, who, with gentlemen of position and rifle volunteers by hundreds and thousands, are offering their services in the field, should civil war ensue. The letters were shown to me, all carefully filed, and sufficient liberty was permitted to enable me to be satisfied as to the tenour of their contents. Among the more important was a short note from a distinguished personage, offering a contribution of £500, with his guarantee of a force of two hundred men. This also was from England, a fact which the scoffers at Ulster will do well to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. The guarantee fund for the first campaign now amounts to nearly a million and a half, which the best financial authority of Belfast tells me is "as good as the Bank of England." What the Dublin police-sergeant said of John Bull may also be said of the Ulsterman--"He may have faults, but--he Pays!" Funds for current purposes are readily forthcoming, £50,000 being already in hand, while promises of a whole year's income seem thick as autumnal leaves in Vallombrosa. No means is left untried, no stone is left unturned to render abortive what the dry and caustic Northerners call the Home Ruin Bill, or the Bill for the Bitter Government of Ireland.
Moving hourly among people accurately and minutely acquainted with the local position, you cannot fail to be struck by the marvellous unanimity with which all Irish Unionists predict the exact result of such a bill as constitutes the present bone of contention, and their precise agreement as to concerted action should the crisis arise. They ridicule the English notion that they intend to take the field at once. Nothing of the kind. They will await the imposition of taxes by a Dublin Parliament, and will steadfastly refuse to pay. The money must then be collected by force of arms, that is, by the Royal Irish Constabulary, who will be met by men who under their very noses are now becoming expert in battalion drill, having mastered company drill, with manual and firing exercise; and whose numbers--I love to be particular--amount to the respectable total of one hundred and sixty-four thousand six hundred and fourteen, all duly enrolled and pledged to act together anywhere and at any time, most of them already well armed, and the remainder about to be furnished with splendid and effective weapons, which before this appears in print will have been landed from a specially chartered steamer, and instantly distributed from a spot I am forbidden to indicate, by an organisation specially created for the purpose.
All these particulars--and more--were furnished by gentlemen of high position and unimpeachable integrity, whose statements, of themselves sufficient, were abundantly confirmed by the exhibition under restrictive pledges, of undeniable documentary proofs, with partial but satisfactory glimpses of the work actually in hand. No vapouring here, no breathless haste, not a suspicion of excitement. Nothing but a cold, emotionless, methodical, business-like precision, a well-considered series of commercial transactions, conducted by men specially acquainted with the articles required and regularly trained to office routine. English Home Rulers, unable to see a yard in front of them, whose training and instincts are of the goody-goody, milk and water type,--the lily-livered weaklings, who measure the courage of others by their own,--may be excused their inability to conceive the situation. They cannot understand the dour, unyielding spirit of the Ulsterman in a matter which affects his property, his religion, his freedom. A party backboneless as the Globerigina ooze, and, like that sub Atlantic production, only held together by its own sliminess, must ever fail to realise the grit which means resistance, sacrifice, endurance; cannot grasp the outlines of the Ulster character and spirit, which resemble those which actuated the Scottish Covenanters, the Puritan army of Cromwell, or even--and this illustration should be especially grateful to Gladstonians--the Dutch Boers of the Transvaal.
But although the surface is placid the depths are turbulent. If Dublin is simmering, Belfast is boiling. The breed is different. The Northerner is not demonstrative, is slow to anger, but being moved is not easily appeased. The typical Irishman, with his cutaway coat, his pipe stuck in his conical caubeen, his ''sprig of shillelagh," or bludgeon the Donnybrook Fair hero who "shpinds half a-crown, Mates wid a frind An' (for love) knocks him down" is totally unknown in these regions. The men who by their ability and industry have lifted Ireland out of the slough, given her prosperity and comparative affluence, marched hand in hand with the English people, have only seen, with wonder, the rollicking Kelt, devoid of care, forethought, and responsibility, during their trips to the South and West--or wherever Home Rulers most do congregate. Strange it is, but perfectly true, that in most cases an Irishman's politics may be determined by outward and visible signs, so plain that he who runs may read. In Dundalk, which should be a thriving port, you see in and around the town long rows of low thatch-covered cabins, with putrid dunghills "convaynient," dirty, half-fed, barefooted children, and--magnificent Catholic churches. Home Rule rules the roost. As you move northwards, the symptoms of poverty gradually disappear. Scarva, the annual meeting ground of 5,000 to 10,000 Orangemen, who on July 13, the day after the anniversary of the battle of the Boyne, fight the battle o'er again, with a King William and a King James, mounted respectively on their regulation white and bay chargers--Scarva is neat, clean and civilised. Bessbrook, the Quaker colony, is, as might be expected, a model community. Lurgan is well built, smart, trim, and delightful, a wealthy manufacturing place with the general aspect of Leamington. As the train steamed into the station an American traveller took a general survey of the district, and said to the general company--"I reckon this is a Unionist place."
A fierce - looking man from Dundalk admitted the soft impeachment.
''Thought so. Can spot a Home Rule town far off as I can see it. Mud huts, whitewashed cabins with no upstairs, muck-heaps, and bad fences. Can spot a Home Ruler as far as I can see him. Darned if I couldn't track him by scent, like a foxhound. That's the rank and file--very rank, I should say, most of them. And old J. Bull concludes to let the dunghill folks, powerful lazy beggars they seem, come top-sawyer over the fellows that built a place like this, eh?"
The Newry man, taking off his hat, revealing a head of hair like a disorderly halo, took from the lining a little paper which called upon the Irish peasantry to remember their wrongs, referred to the time when Englishmen could murder Irishmen with impunity, stated that the thing had often been done, and called upon every male from fifteen to fifty to enrol himself in the Irish Independent Army--referring to the Protestants as "a cruel and bloody minority." The Yankee returned the bill contemptuously.
"You think this a question of counting noses. Now, I'm a sympathiser of Home Rule, but if I was J. B. it would be different. I'm hanged if I would not stick to my clean, clever, faithful friends, though they were outnumbered by twenty to one. An' I'm a Republican, mind ye that. Ye might ask me to put the muck-heap men at the head of affairs--ye might ask till doomsday, but ye'd never get it. An' any man's a fool that would do it."
A placard announcing the formation of an Irish Army of Independence, and calling on the people to enrol themselves, has been extensively circulated, and it is said that the Roman Catholics, like the Protestants, are industriously drilling, north, south, east and west. I am careful to use the term Protestants, as the force available is drawn from the general body of Nonconformists. Orangemen are members of the Church of Ireland, and have always been regarded as Conservative. On the contrary, Presbyterians and Methodists are considered to be advanced Liberals, and herein lies a popular English fallacy--Gladstonians often refer to the Orange agitation against the disestablishment of the Irish Church, which they would fain compare with the present opposition to Home Rule, forgetting or ignoring the fact that the strength of Ulster resides in the Nonconformist bodies, and that these were all in favour of disestablishment, leaving the Orangemen in a hopeless minority. Now, however, the Nonconformists have joined their forces with those of the Orange bodies, which creates a very different aspect of affairs. The English Home Rulers say the opposition will end in smoke. It is said that the most insane are sometimes wiser than they dream, just as liars sometimes speak truth by accident. The movement will end in smoke, but it will be the smoke of battle. Every man who supports the Home Rule Bill incurs the stigma of blood-guiltiness. The bill that succeeds Home Rule will be the Butchers' Bill. No doubt Mr. Gladstone will explain away the "painful occurrences which we all deplore," and will endeavour to transfer the blame to other shoulders. His talent for explanation is unapproachable, but unhappily he cannot explain the slain to life again.
In a former letter I pointed out how cleverly the Nationalists dissect the bill, how they point out that its proposals are insulting to Ireland, how they prove that its provisions are inconsistent and unworkable, how they propose to discount the trumpery restrictions and the gimcrack "safeguards" of the proposed measure, how in short, they tear the bill to rags, laugh its powers to scorn, and hold its authors in high derision. The Belfast men do not discuss the bill, do not examine it clause by clause, do not quibble over the purport of this or the probable effect of that, do not ask how the customs are to be collected, or who is to pay for this, that, or the other. They descend to no details, enter into no particulars, point out no minor fallacies, argue no questions of the ultimate effect of any one section of the bill. They reject the measure as a whole. The principle is bad, radically rotten, and cannot be amended. With the Home Rulers they agree that the bill means Separation, and therefore they put it away en bloc. They will have no part with the unclean thing, but cast it to the winds, bundle it out neck and crop, kick it downstairs, treat it with immeasurable contempt. They are well versed in the broad principles of Constitutional law, as it at present exists; will tell you that the Irish Constabulary is the only force that can be brought against them for the collection of the taxes, which they will absolutely refuse; declare that the military can only be used against them for this purpose by Act of Parliament; cite the preamble of the Army Bill, which shows that there is no standing army, but only a force renewed in its functions from year to year; show that the monarch has ceased to be generalissimo of the British troops since such a year, refer to the sad case of Charles I., who would fain have collected Ship-money from a certain John Hampden, and endeavoured to use the English army for this laudable purpose, meeting a fate at once horrible and instructive. Then conies the application. Similar causes, say they, will bring about similar effects, and if the quality and temper of the people be considered their arguments seem reasonable.
The Irish army of Independence is already a subject of mockery. "Ten of our men would make a hundred of them run like hares. On the 27th ult. a party of Orangemen were fired upon near Stewartstown, and although unarmed they stormed the hill whence came the shots, while the heroic riflemen who had fired 14 bullets, luckily without effect, showed that if too cowardly to fight, they were not too lazy to run." This occurrence, of which I had the description from authority, would have excited some attention in England, but here it is lightly passed over as nothing exceptional. "We are holding back our men. The other party are egging us on to outbreak, in the hope that our cause will be discredited, and that Lord Salisbury's visit in May might be hindered." There is a mutual repugnance between the two peoples, but the character of the repulsion is different. The Roman Catholics manifest an unmistakable hatred--the term is no whit too strong--a hatred of the social and intellectual superiority of their fellow-countrymen, who in turn look upon the Catholics (as a whole) with mistrust, mingled with contempt. As well ask Brother Jonathan to submit to the rule of the negro, as well ask the London trader to put his interests in the hands of a Seven Dials' syndicate, as well ask Mr. Gladstone and his followers to listen to reason or to talk common sense, as to expect the powerful and influential Protestants of Belfast and Ulster generally to entrust their future to a Legislature elected by the most illiterate electorate in the three kingdoms, and under the thumb of the priests--who wield a despotic power which people in England cannot be made to understand. A short time ago the Dublin Freemasons held a bazaar in aid of a charity whose object was the complete care of orphan children. The Catholic Archbishop immediately fulminated a decree that whosoever patronised the show would incur the terrors of the church, which means that they would perish everlastingly. Some poor folks, servant girls and porters and the like, who were sent by their mistresses or called by their honest avocations, dared to enter the accursed precincts, and emerging alive, rushed to confession, that the leprosy of Masonic charity might be washed from their souls by absolution.
Absolution was refused. The wretched outcasts were referred to the Bishop, who in this dire emergency had sole power to unlock the gates of heaven. Do English people know what an Irish Catholic feels when refused absolution? I trow not, and that therefore they cannot justly estimate the power of the priests.
Another illustration. A friend of mine made some purchases and sent a man for them, one of five hundred Catholics in his employ. The poor fellow halted two hundred yards from the contaminating circle, and by the aid of a policeman, got the parcel brought to him--without risking his immortal soul.
The bazaar realised twenty-two thousand pounds.
The Ireland of the harp and vesper bell, free from the dominion of England, having the prestige of an independent Catholic State, the Ireland of excommunication by bell, book, and candle, the Ireland of the priest and Pope--that, and no other, according to Ulstermen, is the ultimate end of Home Rule. They will have none of it, their determination is announced, and they will stand by what they say. From what I have seen and heard I am convinced that Ulster means business, and also has the power to win. The Irish Unionists are worthy co-partners in the great fight, and Englishmen should stand with them shoulder to shoulder. But with or without English aid, Ulster may be trusted to hold its own.
Belfast, April 1st.