But as the Roman Catholics constituted three-fourths of the population of Ireland, it is more important to investigate what their feelings were than to scrutinize the division lists of the House, if we wish to ascertain what was really the wish of the nation. Fortunately we have an opportunity of testing whether there is any truth in the statement of O'Connell to which I have already referred—that the Irish Catholics did not assent to the Union. The evidence shows conclusively that the Roman Catholic peerage, episcopate, priesthood and laity all gave the movement their hearty concurrence and co-operation. Lords Kenmare and Fingall assured Lord Cornwallis that the Catholics were in favour of a Union; the entire episcopate—that is, the four archbishops and nineteen bishops, three sees being vacant—expressed the same view by their letters which are still extant or by resolutions signed by them; for instance, the Archbishop of Tuam wrote: "I have had an opportunity of acquiring the strongest conviction that this measure alone can restore harmony and happiness to our unhappy country." The Bishop of Cork wrote: "Nothing in my opinion will more effectively tend to lay these disgraceful and scandalous party feuds and dissensions, and restore peace and harmony amongst us, than the great measure in contemplation, of the legislative Union, and incorporation of this Kingdom with Great Britain. I am happy to tell you it is working its way, and daily gaining ground in the public opinion. Several counties which appeared most adverse to it have now declared for it, and I have no doubt but, with the blessing of God, it will be effected, notwithstanding the violent opposition of Mr. Foster and his party. The Roman Catholics in general are avowedly for the measure. In the south, where they are the most numerous, they have declared in its favour." The Bishop of Ferns presided at a meeting of Catholics of Wexford at which an address in favour of incorporation of both legislatures was signed by 3,000 persons; and throughout the country meetings, presided over by parish priests, were held to further the movement; and the laity were quite as eager as the clergy in the matter. Plowden, the Roman Catholic historian, says: "A very great preponderancy in favour of the Union existed in the Catholic body, particularly in their nobility, gentry and clergy." Thomas McKenna, the Secretary to the Catholic Committee, wrote two pamphlets in the same interest; whilst on the other hand not a single petition against it was presented by any Roman Catholic body.
When the Session of 1800 commenced, a leading member of the Opposition sadly confessed that the people had deserted them. But the struggle in the House of Commons was tremendous. The Anti-Unionists had the advantage of the oratory of Grattan, who, though he had not been in Parliament since 1797, now purchased a seat for L2,400, and entered the House in a theatrical manner in the midst of the discussion. But his vehement and abusive style of declamation could not in debate be compared with the calm reasoning of Castlereagh. The most able speeches against the measure were not those of Grattan, but Foster. Many divisions were taken, the Government majority steadily rising from forty-two to sixty-five, and comprising an actual majority of the members of the House. In the House of Lords it was relatively much larger. But it is constantly affirmed that this majority was only brought about by bribery and intimidation. The word "bribery" has an ugly sound; and in such a case as this, it is only fair to examine what is exactly meant by the term. There is no doubt that compensation was given to the proprietors of boroughs which were not allowed representation in the United Parliament; and it is said that as the return of members to Parliament is a public trust and not a species of property, this was not a fair matter for pecuniary compensation; hence it amounted to bribery. But the ownership of boroughs had grown up insensibly; and they had long been looked upon and treated as private property, not only in Ireland but in England and Scotland also; and there were many honest men in all three countries who contended that the system worked well, as it was the means whereby a large number of distinguished men obtained their first introduction into public life—amongst them being Pitt, Canning, and Fox in England, Grattan, Flood and Plunkett in Ireland. Then in other cases when powers which had long been regarded as property have been abolished, compensation has been given. This was the case when the heritable jurisdictions in Scotland were abolished, and when by the disestablishment of the Irish Church the right of patrons to nominate to livings was taken away. And even granting for the sake of argument that this is wrong, is it fair to call it bribery? Eighty-four places were disfranchised, and a sum of L1,260,000 (which did not nearly amount to the price which the boroughs at that time fetched in the market) was paid. Of this, L67,500 was paid to Englishmen who owned seats in the Irish Parliament; L60,000 to boroughs who had no owners; L30,000 to the executors of a deceased owner; L18,750 to two ladies; and L1,100,000 to Irishmen who owned boroughs—of which L400,000 went to Anti-Unionists who opposed the Bill. In many cases, of course, the actual occupant of the seat was a different person from the owner who received the compensation; for instance, there is reason to believe that all the fifty barristers in the house had purchased their seats, but not one of them was the permanent owner. Now, if compensation is bribery, who was bribed? Really it must be admitted that on investigation the charge of bribery, so far as it refers to compensation to borough-owners, falls to the ground.
Then it is said that the Government made actual payments to members for their votes. This charge was brought forward in a general way at the time in both Houses; the Government indignantly denied it, and called on the Opposition to prove their accusation; but they failed to do so. To repeat it now is therefore unjust. It may be admitted that amongst Lord Castlereagh's letters there is one which taken by itself looks as if a certain sum of money was to be used in bribery; but, as Dr. Ingram has pointed out, a careful investigation of the matter shows that it refers to proposed changes in the tariff, and not to bribery at all.
Again, it is argued that the lavish distribution of titles amounted to bribery. If so, it is hard to find any Government in England or Ireland that has not been to some extent guilty of bribery—though it is true that no British Premier has ever created peerages or salaried offices on anything like the scale that Mr. Asquith has done. After the Bill had passed, Pitt created twenty new Irish peerages and four English ones; and promoted sixteen peers a step in their order; which after all is not very much more than Lord North had done in 1779, on no special occasion, when he had created eighteen Irish peerages and promoted twelve existing peers.
As to the charges of intimidation, they may be dismissed at once; the very few that were brought forward were so completely answered at the time, that even the Opposition dropped them. The presence of such a large number of troops in Ireland was quite accounted for by the fact that the rebellion was still to some extent going on, and that there was again a danger of a French invasion.
And I must contend further that even admitting that there were some acts on the part of the Government which will not bear strict investigation according to present ideas, it is only fair to remember the tremendous difficulties of the occasion. The English House of Commons was almost unanimously in favour of the Union—not more than thirty members ever voted against it; and in the opinion of Lord Cornwallis, who throughout his long and varied career showed himself to be a shrewd observer and an upright, honourable man, "This country could not be saved without the Union."
But really the whole discussion is beside the mark. The Nationalists continually repeat the charge that the Union was carried by fraud; and so it must be answered; but it has no bearing on anything existing at the present day. For the old Irish Parliament has disappeared—merged in the greater and more honourable Assembly of the United Kingdom; and to revive it now would be a physical impossibility. The whole state of circumstances has changed; no assembly that could now be formed in Ireland would bear the faintest resemblance to that which met in the eighteenth century. As Lecky has well expressed it:—
"To an historian of the eighteenth century, however, few things can be more grotesquely absurd than to suppose that the merits or demerits, the failure or the successes of the Irish Parliament has any real bearing on modern schemes for reconstructing the Government of Ireland on a revolutionary and Jacobin basis; entrusting the protection of property and the maintenance of law to some democratic assembly consisting mainly of Fenians and Land-leaguers, of paid agitators and of penniless adventurers. The Parliamentary system of the eighteenth century might be represented in very different lights by its enemies and by its friends. Its enemies would describe it as essentially a government carried on through the instrumentality of a corrupt oligarchy, of a large, compact body of members holding place and pensions at the pleasure of the Government, removed by the system of rotten boroughs from all effectual popular control. Its friends would describe it as essentially the government of Ireland by the gentlemen of Ireland and especially the landlord class.
"Neither representation would be altogether true, but each contains a large measure of truth. The nature of the Irish constituencies and the presence in the House of Commons of a body of pensioners and placemen forming considerably more than a third of the whole assembly, and nearly half of its active members, gave the Government a power, which, except under very rare and extraordinary circumstances, must, if fully exercised, have been overwhelming ... On the other hand, the Irish Parliament was a body consisting very largely of independent country gentlemen, who on nearly all questions affecting the economical and industrial development of the country, had a powerful if not a decisive influence ... and it was in reality only in a small class of political questions that the corrupt power of government seems to have been strained. The Irish House of Commons ... comprised the flower of the landlord class. It was essentially pre-eminently the representative of the property of the country. It had all the instincts and the prejudices, but also all the qualities and the capacities, of an educated propertied class, and it brought great local knowledge and experience to its task. Much of its work was of that practical and unobtrusive character which leaves no trace in history."
THE PERIOD FROM THE UNION UNTIL THE REJECTION OF THE FIRST HOME RULE BILL.
As soon as the Union had become law, the opposition to it died down rapidly. All the members who had voted for it who became candidates for the Imperial Parliament were elected, and Irish orators soon began to make their mark in the greater Assembly. In 1805, however, there was another slight rebellion, led by Robert Emmett. It never had a chance of success; the mass of the people, thoroughly tired of anarchy, refused to take part in it; and though the rebels succeeded in committing a few murders, the movement was speedily quelled, mainly by the yeomen of Dublin. At the trial of Emmett, Plunket, who had been a vehement opponent of the Union, was counsel for the prosecution, and in his speech bitterly denounced the conduct of those men who, having done their utmost to oppose the Irish Parliament, now made the abolition of that Parliament the pretext for rebellion. "They call for revenge," said he, "on account of the removal of the Parliament. These men, who, in 1798, endeavoured to destroy the Parliament, now call upon the loyal men who opposed its transfer, to join them in rebellion; an appeal vain and fruitless."
It will be observed from statements already quoted, that the Nationalists of to-day claim that they are the successors of Emmett; he is counted amongst the heroes who fell in the cause of Ireland—thus making it all the more clear how wide is the gulf between the Parliamentary opponents of the Union and the modern Nationalists.
During the early part of the century, Ireland had another period of prosperity. Travellers through Ireland at the present day cannot fail to notice how many of the country seats (now, in consequence of later legislation, mostly deserted and already beginning to fall into ruin) were built at that time. No doubt much of the prosperity was caused by the rebound which often takes place after a period of anarchy and desolation; and it would not be fair to attribute it wholly to the effect of the Union; but at least it proves that the melancholy prognostications of the opponents of the measure were happily unfulfilled. The total value of the produce and manufactures exported from Ireland between 1790 and 1801 amounted to L51,322,620; between 1802 and 1813 it amounted to L63,483,718. In 1800 the population of Ireland was under 5,000,000; in 1841 it was over 8,000,000. The tonnage in Irish ports in 1792 was 69,000; by 1797 it had fallen to 53,000; before 1852 it had risen to 5,000,000. The export of linen in 1796 was 53,000,000 yards; in 1799 it had fallen to 38,000,000; in 1853 it had risen to 106,000,000; and every other department of industry and commerce showed figures almost as satisfactory.
There were, however, three important measures which the leading advocates of the Union had desired to see carried as soon as possible after the great change had been effected, but which—as many writers of various schools of thought to this day consider unfortunately—were postponed. The first was a provision by the State for the payment of the Roman Catholic clergy. The bishops had fully expected that this would be carried. Some modern Nationalists, wishing to win the favour of the English Nonconformists, have represented that the Roman Catholic Church refused to accept the money; but that is not the case. Whether the policy of "levelling up" would have been a wise one or not, it is useless now to conjecture; for once the policy of "levelling down" had been decided upon, and the Irish Church had been disestablished and disendowed, it became impracticable. The second measure was Roman Catholic emancipation. This had been intended by Pitt and other statesmen who helped to bring about the Union; but unforeseen difficulties arose; and unfortunately nothing was done until the agitation led by O'Connell brought matters to a crisis; and the emancipation which might have been carried gracefully years before, and in that case would have strengthened the Union, was grudgingly yielded in 1829.
The third measure was a readjustment of tithes. All will now admit, and very many politicians and thinkers at the time fully realized, that the old law as to tithes was a cruel injustice; but no change was made until the opposition to the payment of tithes amounted to something like civil war, involving a series of murders and outrages. Then the fatal precedent was set of a successful and violent revolt against contracts and debts. In 1838 an Act was passed commuting the tithes into a rent-charge payable not by the occupiers but the landlords. Some modern writers have argued that the change was merely a matter of form, as the landlords increased the rents in proportion; and it seems such a natural thing to have happened that earlier writers may well be excused for assuming that it actually occurred. But there is no excuse for repeating the charge now; for in consequence of recent legislation it has been necessary for the Land Courts to investigate the history of rents from a period commencing before 1838; and the result of their examination has elicited the strange fact that in thousands of cases the rent remained exactly the same that it had been before the Tithe Commutation Act was passed.
But ere long economic causes were at work which tended to check the prosperity of Ireland. It was soon found that the proportion which by the Act of Union Ireland was to contribute to the Imperial Government was too large for the country to bear. The funded debt of Ireland which amounted to L28,000,000 in 1800 rose by 1817 to L130,000,000; in that year the whole liability was taken over by the Imperial Government. Then the fall in prices which naturally resulted from the peace of 1815 pressed heavily on an agricultural community. Improvements in machinery and the development of steam power squeezed out the handlooms of Ulster and the watermills of other parts of the country. Wages were low; and the people who depended mainly on the potato were underfed and undernourished. In 1846 and 1847 came the two terrible blows to Ireland—first, the potato disease; and then the Repeal of the Corn Laws, which made the profitable growing of wheat with its accompanying industries, impossible. During the fearful years of the potato famine, it is only too probable that some of the efforts for relief were unwisely conducted and that some persons sadly failed in their duties; no measures or men in the world are ever perfect; and the difficulties not only of obtaining food but of getting it to the starving people in days when there were few railways and no motors were enormous. But when modern writers shower wholesale abuse over the landlords of the period, and even hint that they brought about the famine, it is well to turn to the writings of an ardent Home Ruler, who was himself an eye-witness, having lived as a boy through the famine time in one of the districts that suffered most—Mr. A.M. Sullivan. He says:—
"The conduct of the Irish landlords throughout the famine period has been variously described, and has been, I believe, generally condemned. I consider the censure visited on them too sweeping. I hold it to be in some respects cruelly unjust. On many of them no blame too heavy could possibly fall. A large number were permanent absentees; their ranks were swelled by several who early fled the post of duty at home—cowardly and selfish deserters of a brave and faithful people. Of those who remained, some may have grown callous; it is impossible to contest authentic instances of brutal heartlessness here and there. But granting all that has to be entered on the dark debtor side, the overwhelming balance is the other way. The bulk of the resident Irish landlords manfully did their best in that dread hour ... No adequate tribute has ever been paid to the memory of those Irish landlords—they were men of every party and creed—perished martyrs to duty in that awful time; who did not fly the plague-reeking work-houses or fever-tainted court. Their names would make a goodly roll of honour ... If they did too little compared with what the landlord class in England would have done in similar case, it was because little was in their power. The famine found most of the resident gentry of Ireland on the brink of ruin. They were heritors of estates heavily overweighted with the debts of a bygone generation. Broad lands and lordly mansions were held by them on settlements and conditions that allowed small scope for the exercise of individual liberality. To these landlords the failure of year's rental receipts meant mortgage fore-one and hopeless ruin. Yet cases might be named by the score in which such men scorned to avert by pressure on their suffering tenantry the fate they saw impending over them.... They 'went down with the ship.'"
Soon after the famine, the Incumbered Estates Act was passed, by which the creditors of incumbered landlords could force a sale. This in effect worked a silent revolution; for whatever might have been said up to that time about the landed proprietors being the representatives of those who acquired their estates through the Cromwellian confiscations, after those proprietors had been forced to sell and the purchasers had obtained a statutory title by buying in the Court, the charge became obsolete. The motive of the Act was a good one; it was hoped that land would thus pass out of the hands of impoverished owners and be purchased by English capitalists who would be able to execute improvements on their estates and thus benefit the country as a whole. But the scheme brought with it disadvantages which the framers of the Act had not foreseen. The new purchasers had none of the local feelings of the dispossessed owners; they regarded their purchases as an investment, which they wished to make as profitable as possible, and treated the occupants of the land with a harshness which the old proprietors would never have exercised. Like most things in Ireland, however, this has been much exaggerated. It is constantly assumed that the whole soil of Ireland after this belonged to absentee proprietors who took no interest in the country. That absenteeism is a great evil to any country, and to Ireland especially, no one can deny; but a Parliamentary enquiry in 1869 elicited the fact that the number of landed proprietors in the rural area of Ireland then (and there is no reason to suppose that any great change had taken place in the previous eighteen years) was 19,547, of whom only 1,443 could be described as "rarely or never resident in Ireland"; and these represented 15.7 per cent. of the rural area, and only 15.1 per cent. of the total poor-law valuation of that area.
Between 1841 and 1851 the population of the country fell from 8,200,000 to 6,574,000. The primary causes of this were of course the famine and the fever which broke out amongst the half-starved people; but it was also to a large extent caused by emigration. A number of devoted and noble-hearted men, realizing that it was hopeless to expect that the potato disease would disappear, and that consequently the holdings had become "uneconomic" (to use the phrase now so popular) as no other crop was known which could produce anything like the same amount of food, saw that the only course to prevent a continuation of the famine would be to remove a large section of the people to a happier country. In this good work the Quakers, who had been untiring in their efforts to relieve distress during the famine, took a prominent part; and the Government gave assistance. At the time no one regarded this as anything but a beneficent course; for the emigrants found better openings in new and rising countries than they ever could have had at home, and the reduced population, earning larger wages, were able to live in greater comfort. One evidence of this has been that mud cabins, which in 1841 had numbered 491,000 had in 1901 been reduced to 9,000; whilst the best class of houses increased from 304,000 to 596,000. In 1883 the Roman Catholic bishops came to the conclusion that matters had gone far enough, and that in future migration from the poorer to the more favoured districts was better than emigration from the country; but they did not say anything against the work that had been done up to that time. Yet a recent Nationalist writer, wishing to bring every possible charge against the landlords, has hinted that the total loss of population from 1841 to 1901 was caused by the brutality of the landlords after the famine, who drove the people out of the country! To show the fallacy of this, it is sufficient to point out that the powers of the landlords for good or evil were considerably reduced by the Land Act of 1870, and after that they were further diminished by each successive Act until the last shred was taken away by the Act of 1887; yet the population went down from 5,412,377 in 1871 to 4,453,775 in 1901—the emigration being larger in proportion from those counties where the National League was omnipotent than from other parts of Ireland.
In the early thirties O'Connell commenced his famous agitation for the Repeal of the Union. After he had disappeared from the scene, his work was taken up by those of his followers who advocated physical force; and in 1848 an actual rebellion broke out, headed by Smith O'Brien. It ended in a ridiculous fiasco. The immediate cause of its failure, as A.M. Sullivan has pointed out, was that the leaders, in imitation of the movement of half a century before, endeavoured to eliminate the religious difficulty and to bring about a rising in which Orange and Green should be united; but their fight for religious tolerance exposed them to the charge of infidelity; the Roman Catholic priests (who now possessed immense political influence) denounced them; and their antagonism was fatal to the movement.
But one of the most far-seeing of the party—J.F. Lalor—perceived that mere repeal would never be strong enough to be a popular cry—it must be hitched on to some more powerful motive, which could drag it along. As he clearly explained in his manifesto, his objects were the abolition of British government and the formation of a National one. He considered that neither agitation nor the attempt at military insurrection were likely to attain those objects, but that the wisest means for that end were the refusal of obedience to usurped authority; taking quiet possession of all the rights and powers of government and proceeding to exercise them; and defending the exercise of such powers if attacked. He saw that the motive power which would carry itself forward and drag repeal with it, was in the land. He held that the soil of the country belonged as of right to the entire people of that country, not to any one class but to the nation—one condition being essential, that the tenant should bear true and undivided allegiance to the nation whose land he held, and owe no allegiance whatever to any other prince, power or people, or any obligation of obedience or respect to their will, their orders, or their laws. The reconquest of the liberties of Ireland, he argued, would, even if possible by itself, be incomplete and worthless, without the reconquest of the land; whereas the latter, if effected, would involve the former. He therefore recommended (1) That occupying tenants should at once refuse to pay all rent except the value of the overplus of harvest produce remaining in their hands after deducting a full provision for their own subsistence during the ensuing year; (2) that they should forcibly resist being made homeless under the English law of ejectment; (3) that they ought further on principle to refuse all rent to the present usurping proprietors, until they should in National Convention decide what rents they were to pay and to whom they should pay them; and (4) that the people, on grounds of policy and economy, should decide that those rents should be paid to themselves—the people—for public purposes for the benefit of the entire general people. In that way a mighty social revolution would be accomplished, and the foundation of a national revolution surely laid.
But these views, though shared by J. Mitchel and other leaders, were not at the time generally adopted; and the next agitations were more distinctly political than agrarian. The Fenian movement of 1865—1867, the avowed object of which was the establishment of an independent republic, arose in America, where it was cleverly devised and ably financed. In Ireland it met with little sympathy except in the towns; and the attempted outbreaks, both there and in Canada, were dismal failures. Two of their efforts in England, however, led to important results. Gladstone made the remarkable statement that it was their attempt to blow up Clerkenwell prison that enabled him to carry the Act for the Disestablishment of the Irish Church. Many years afterwards, when this encouragement to incendiarism had done its work, he denied that he had ever said so; but there is no doubt that he did.
Here I must digress for a moment to refer to the position of the Irish Church. By the Act of Union it had been provided that the Churches of England and Ireland as then by law established should be united, and that the continuation and preservation of the United Church should be deemed and taken to be an essential and fundamental part of the Union; and at the time of the agitation for Catholic emancipation the Roman Catholic Bishops of Ireland solemnly declared that their Church would never attempt to destroy the Protestant Establishment. This is interesting as showing how futile are the attempts of one generation to bind posterity by legislation; and how foolish it is to expect that men will regard themselves as bound by promises made by their ancestors. (The same remark may be made with reference to the promises now being made by Nationalists as to the Home Rule Bill.) The general provisions of the Disestablishment Act were simple. Existing clergy were secured in their incomes for life; the disestablished Church was allowed to claim all churches then in actual use, and to purchase rectory houses and glebes at a valuation; and a sum of L500,000 was given to the Church in lieu of all private endowments. Everything else—even endowments given by private persons a few years before the Act was passed—was swept away. The members of the Church showed a liberality which their opponents never anticipated. They bought the glebes, continued to pay their clergy by voluntary assessments, and collected a large sum of money towards a future endowment. Nationalist writers now state that the Act left the Irish Church with an income adequate to its needs and merely applied the surplus revenues to other purposes; and hint that the capital sum now possessed by the Church really came from the State, and that therefore the future Home Rule Government can deal with it as they please. The alarm felt by Irish Churchmen at the prospect can be understood.
The other Fenian attempt in England which has historical importance was of a different kind. Two Fenian prisoners were being conveyed in a prison van at Manchester. Their friends tried to rescue them by force; and in the attempt killed the officer in charge. For this crime, three of them—Allen, Larkin and O'Brien—were tried, convicted and hanged in November 1867. These were the "Manchester Martyrs," in honour of whose unflinching fidelity to faith and country (to quote the words of Archbishop Croke) so many memorial crosses have been erected, and solemn demonstrations are held every year to this day. At the unveiling of the memorial cross at Limerick the orator said: "Allen, Larkin and O'Brien died as truly for the cause of Irish Nationality as did any of the heroes of Irish history. The same cause nerved the arms of the brave men of '98, of '48, of '65 and '67. For the cause that had lived so long they would not take half measures—nothing else would satisfy them than the full measure of Nationality for which they and their forefathers had fought."
Meanwhile another movement was going on, which seems to have been at first wholly distinct from the Fenian conspiracy—the constitutional agitation for Home Rule or Repeal, led by Isaac Butt. It commenced its Parliamentary action in 1874; but was ere long broken up by the more violent spirits within its own ranks. As had so frequently happened in similar movements in Ireland, France and elsewhere, the moderate men were thrust aside, and the extremists carried all before them. Fenianism, though apparently crushed in Ireland, continued to flourish in America. Michael Davitt, who had been a prominent member both of the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood and of the Fenian Society, had been convicted of treason felony, and sentenced to penal servitude. On his release in 1877, he was received as a hero, and amongst those who took part in the welcome to him were C.S. Parnell, J.G. Biggar, J. Carey, D. Curley and J. Brady. He went to America and there matured the plan of his operations on the lines laid down by Lalor, which he proceeded to carry out in Ireland in 1879 by means of a Society which was at first called the "Land League" but which has since been known by various other names. Amongst his allies were J. Devoy, O'Donovan Rossa, and Patrick Ford. Devoy and Rossa took an active part in establishing the Skirmishing Fund, which was subscribed for the purpose of levying war on England with dynamite. Rossa afterwards publicly boasted that he had placed an infernal machine onboard H.M.S. "Dottrell," and had sent it and all its crew to the bottom of the ocean. As a reward for his patriotic conduct he was some years later granted a pension by the County Council of Cork, payable out of the rates. Ford was the ablest and most powerful of the number, for by means of his paper—the Irish World—he collected vast sums for the Parliamentary party. In this paper he strongly advocated the use of dynamite as a blessed agent which should be availed of by the Irish people in their holy war; and elaborated a scheme for setting fire to London in fifty places on a windy night. After D. Curley and J. Brady had been hanged for the murder of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Burke, he collected money for a testimonial to them as heroes, and prayed that God would send Ireland more men with hearts like that of J. Brady. Mr. Redmond has recently described him as "the grand old veteran, who through his newspaper has done more for the last thirty or forty years for Ireland than almost any man alive"; Mr. T.P. O'Connor has congratulated him on the great work he is doing for Ireland; and Mr. Devlin has eulogized him for "the brilliancy in the exposition of the principles inculcated in our programme."
By 1880 the union between the Dynamite party in America (which bore many names, such as the Fenian Society, the Irish Revolutionary Brotherhood, the Invincibles, the Clan-na-gael, and the Physical Force party, but was essentially the same movement throughout), the constitutional agitators for Home Rule in Parliament, and the Land Leaguers in Ireland, was complete. It was but natural that it should be so, for their objects were the same, though their methods differed according to circumstances. The American party (according to their own statements) desired the achievement of a National Parliament so as to give them a footing on Irish soil—to give them the agencies and instrumentalities for a Government de facto at the very commencement of the Irish struggle—to give them the plant of an armed revolution. Hence they gladly contributed large sums for the Parliamentary Fund. Parnell, the leader of the Parliamentary party, stated that a true revolutionary movement should partake of a constitutional and an illegal character; it should be both an open and a secret organization, using the constitution for its own purpose and also taking advantage of the secret combination; and (as the judges at the Parnell Commission reported) the Land League was established with the intention of bringing about the independence of Ireland as a separate nation.
In the preceding autumn the agitation against the payment of rent had begun; and persons of ordinary intelligence could see that a fresh outbreak of anarchy was imminent. But Gladstone, when coming into power in March 1880, assumed that air of easy optimism which his successors in more recent times have imitated; and publicly stated that there was in Ireland an absence of crime and outrage and a general sense of comfort and satisfaction such as had been unknown in the previous history of the country. His Chief Secretary, Forster, however, had not been long in Ireland before he realized that this was the dream of a madman; and that the Government must either act or abdicate in favour of anarchy; but the Cabinet refused to support him. Before the end of the year the Government had practically abdicated, and the rule of the Land League was the only form of Government in force in a large part of the country. The name of the unfortunate Captain Boycott will be for ever associated with the means the League employed to enforce their orders. What those means were, was explained by Gladstone himself:—
"What is meant by boycotting? In the first place it is combined intimidation. In the second place, it is combined intimidation made use of for the purpose of destroying the private liberties of choice by fear of ruin and starvation. In the third place, that which stands in the rear of boycotting and by which alone boycotting can in the long run be made thoroughly effective is the murder which is not to be denounced."
And a few years later—1886—the Official Report of the Cowper Commission stated it more fully:—
"The people are more afraid of boycotting, which depends for its success on the probability of outrage, than they are of the judgments of the Courts of Justice. The unwritten law in some districts is supreme. We deem it right to call attention to the terrible ordeal that a boycotted person has to undergo, which was by several witnesses graphically described during the progress of our enquiry. The existence of a boycotted person becomes a burden to him, as none in town or village are allowed, under a similar penalty to themselves, to supply him or his family with the necessaries of life. He is not allowed to dispose of the produce of his farm. Instances have been brought before us in which his attendance at divine service was prohibited, in which his cattle have been, some killed, some barbarously mutilated; in which all his servants and labourers were ordered and obliged to leave him; in which the most ordinary necessaries of life and even medical comforts, had to be procured from long distances; in which no one would attend the funeral, or dig a grave for, a member of a boycotted person's family; and in which his children have been forced to discontinue attendance at the National School of the district."
This was the ordinary form of Government as conducted by the Nationalists; and any attempt to interfere with it and to enforce the milder laws of England, is now denounced as "coercion."
In 1881 Gladstone carried another and a more far-reaching Land Act. To put it shortly, it may be said that all agricultural land (except that held by leaseholders, who were brought in under the Act of 1887) was handed over to the occupiers for ever (with free power of sale), subject only to the payment of rent—the rent not being that which the tenants had agreed to pay, but that which a Land Court decided to Be a "fair rent." This was to last for fifteen years, at the end of which time the tenant might again claim to have a fair rent fixed, and so ad infinitum. The Land Court in most cases cut down the rent by about 20 or 25 per cent.; and at the end of fifteen years did the same again. As tithes (which had been secularized but not abolished), mortgages and family charges remained unchanged, the result was that a large proportion of landlords were absolutely ruined; in very many cases those who appear as owners now have no beneficial interest in their estates.
In examining the Act calmly, one must observe in the first place that it was a wholesale confiscation of property. Not of course one that involved the cruelty of confiscations of previous ages, but a confiscation all the same. For if A. bought a farm in the Incumbered Estates Court, with a Parliamentary title, and let it to B. for twenty years at a rent of L100; and the Act gave B. the right of occupying it for ever subject to the payment of L50 a year, and selling it for any price he liked, that can only mean the transfer of property from A. to B. Secondly, the Act encouraged bad farming; for a tenant knew that if his land got into a slovenly state—with drains stopped up, fences broken down, and weeds growing everywhere—the result would be that the rent would be reduced by the Commissioners at the end of the fifteen years; as the Commissioners did not go into the question of whose the fault was, but merely took estimates as to what should be the rent of the land in its actual condition. That farms were in many instances intentionally allowed to go to decay with this object, has been proved; and this pressed hard on the labouring class, as less employment was given. Thirdly, although the remission of debt may bring prosperity for a time, it may be doubted whether it will permanently benefit the country; for it will be noticed that the attempt to fix prices arbitrarily applied only to the letting and hiring and not to other transactions. To give a typical instance of what has occurred in many cases: a tenant held land at a rent of L1. 15s. 0d. per acre; he took the landlord into Court, swore that the land could not bear such a rent, and had it reduced to L1. 5s. 0d.; thereupon he sold it for L20 an acre; and so the present occupier had to pay L1. 5s. 0d. to the nominal landlord, and the interest on the purchase-money (about L1 per acre) to a mortgagee; in fact, he has to pay a larger sum annually than any previous tenant did; and this payment is "rent" in the economic sense though it is paid not to a resident landlord but to a distant mortgagee. In other words, rent was increased, and absenteeism became general. Fourthly, it sowed the seeds for future trouble; for it was the temporary union of two antagonistic principles. On the one hand it was said that "the man who tills the land should own it," and therefore rent was an unjust tax (in fact it was seriously argued that men of English and Scotch descent who had hired farms in the nineteenth century had a moral right to keep them for ever rent free because tribal tenure had prevailed amongst the Celts who occupied the country many hundreds of years before); on the other it was said that the land belonged to the people of Ireland as a whole and not to any individuals. If that is so, what right has one man to a large farm when there are hundreds of others in a neighbouring town who have no land at all? The passing of the Land Acts of 1881 and 1887 made it inevitable that sooner or later a fresh agitation would be commenced by "landless men." And fifthly, when an excitable, uneducated people realize that lawlessness and outrages will be rewarded by an Act remitting debts and breaking contracts, they are not likely in future to limit their operations to land, but will apply the same maxims to other contracts. The demoralizing of character is a fact to be taken into consideration.
However, the Act was passed; and if Gladstone really imagined that it would satisfy the Nationalist party he must have been grievously disappointed. During 1881, 4,439 agrarian outrages were recorded. The Government declared the Land League to be illegal, and lodged some of the leaders in gaol. Thereupon Ford, carrying out the plan laid down by Lalor in 1848, issued his famous "No Rent" proclamation. It was not generally acted upon; but his party continued active, and in May 1882 Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Burke (the Chief and Under Secretary) were murdered in the Phoenix Park. This led to the passing of the Crimes Prevention Act, by which the detectives were enabled to secure evidence against the conspirators, many of whom (as is usual in Irish history) turned Queen's evidence. The Act was worked with firmness; and outrages, which had numbered 2,507 during the first half of 1882, fell to 836 in the latter half, to 834 in 1883, and to 774 in 1884.
In the autumn of 1885, Gladstone, expecting to return to power at the ensuing election, besought the electors to give him a majority independent of the Irish vote. In this he failed; and thereupon took place the "Great Surrender." He suddenly discovered that everything he had said and done up to that time had been wrong; that boycotting, under the name of "exclusive dealing," was perfectly justifiable; that the refusal to pay rent was just the same as a strike of workmen (ignoring the obvious facts that when workmen strike they cease both to give their labour and to receive pay, whereas the gist of the "No Rent" movement was that tenants, whilst ceasing to pay, should retain possession of the farms they have hired; and that a strike arises from a dispute between employers and employed—usually about rates of pay or length of hours; whereas Ford's edict that no rent was to be paid was issued not in consequence of anything that individual landlords had done, but because Gladstone had put the leaders of the Land League in gaol); that the men whom he had previously denounced as "marching through rapine to the dismemberment of the Empire" were heroes who deserved to be placed in charge of the government of the country; and introduced his first Home Rule Bill. Some of his followers went with him; others refused. His life-long ally, John Bright, said: "I cannot trust the peace and interests of Ireland, north and south, to the Irish Parliamentary party, to whom the Government now propose to make a general surrender. My six years' experience of them, of their language in the House of Commons and their deeds in Ireland, makes it impossible for me to consent to hand over to them the property and the rights of five millions of the Queen's subjects, our fellow-countrymen, in Ireland. At least two millions of them are as loyal as the population of your town, and I will be no party to a measure which will thrust them from the generosity and justice of the United and Imperial Parliament."
The Bill was rejected; at the general election which ensued the people of England declared against the measure; Gladstone resigned, and Lord Salisbury became Prime Minister.
THE UNIONIST GOVERNMENT OF 1886.
The Unionists, on returning to power in 1886, fully realized the difficulty of the problem with which they were faced. The Nationalists held a great Convention at Chicago, at which they resolved to make use of the Land League not merely for the purpose of exterminating landlords but as a means for promoting universal disorder and so bringing about a paralysis of the law. As J. Redmond stated at the Convention: "I assert that the government of Ireland by England is an impossibility, and I believe it to be our duty to make it so." And, as he afterwards explained in Ireland, he considered that if the Tories were able to carry on the government with the ordinary law, the cause of Home Rule might be set back for a generation; but if the Nationalists could succeed in making such government impossible, and the Tories were obliged to have recourse to coercion, the people of Great Britain would turn them out of office, and Gladstone would return to power and carry Home Rule. (This avowed determination on the part of the Nationalists to reduce the country to anarchy should be borne in mind when people now express their horror at the Ulstermen being guilty of such conduct as breaking the law.) With this object, the Nationalists in 1887 organized the "Plan of Campaign," which was in fact an elaboration of the "No Rent" manifesto of 1881, and a scheme for carrying out, step by step, the programme laid down by Lalor in 1848. One of Lalor's adherents had been a young priest named Croke. By 1887 he had become Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cashel. He had considered the "No Rent" manifesto inopportune; but now formally sanctioned the "Plan of Campaign," and in a violent letter urged that it should be extended to a general refusal to pay taxes. The Plan was also approved by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin and the leaders of the Nationalist movement in Ireland and America, such as J. Dillon and Ford; but Parnell seemed doubtful, and in England the Daily News denounced it.
However, the Unionist Government had decided on their policy, which they were determined to carry through. The main items of their programme were (1) To enforce the law; (2) To facilitate land purchase; (3) To develop the industries of the country; and (4) To extend local government. It is well to examine these in detail, so as to arrive at a just estimate of the two rival policies.
(i) The Crimes Prevention Act passed by Gladstone in 1882 had lapsed, having been limited to a period of three years. Mr. Balfour (who had become Chief Secretary) was of opinion that the continual passing of temporary measures was a mistake (as some one has said, it was like a man burning his umbrella every fine day and then complaining of the expense of buying so many new ones), as was shown by the fact that the Irish Parliament had passed fifty-four of such Acts in the seventeen years of its independent existence. He therefore, in spite of vehement opposition from the combined forces of the English Radicals and the Irish Nationalists, carried the Crimes Act of 1887, which was a permanent measure, to be put in force in disturbed districts by proclamation when necessary. This was the famous "Coercion Act" which has been the subject of so much violent denunciation. But in considering the matter, one must ask, What Government has there ever been in the world that did not employ force in the carrying out of the law? It is true that in the early days of New Zealand Mr. Busby was sent out as a Commissioner with no means of enforcing his orders; but the only result was that he was laughed at by the natives as "a man-of-war without guns"; and no one can say that the scheme was a success. In fact, how can a law be a law unless it is enforced? The Act does not make anything a crime that was not a crime before; it merely provides a shorter form of procedure when a district is so completely terrorized by an illegal association that injured persons dare not make complaints, witnesses dare not give evidence, and juries dare not convict. This, as we have seen, had been the case in parts of Ireland at the beginning of the rebellion of 1798; and the Nationalists, who claimed to be the modern representatives of the rebels of that time, had succeeded in bringing about the same state of things. In some of its most stringent provisions the Act is a copy of the Police Act permanently in force in London; yet ordinary residents in the Metropolis do not seem to groan much under its tyranny, nor do the Radicals propose to repeal it.
And certainly the Act has worked satisfactorily from the point of view of those who desire to see the country in a state of peace and prosperity, though disastrously in the opinion of those who aim at making government impossible. Between July, 1887, when the Act came into force, and the end of the year, 628 persons were prosecuted, of whom 378 were convicted and 37 held to bail. In 1888 there were 1,475 prosecutions, 907 convictions, and 175 persons required to find bail. By 1891 (the last full year of Unionist Government) crime had sunk so rapidly that in that year there were only 243 persons prosecuted, of whom 105 were convicted, and 81 held to bail. In 1901 (when the Unionists were again in power) there were 29 prosecutions and 22 convictions. In 1902 there was a revival of crime; the Act was again brought into operation, with much the same result as before—there were 157 prosecutions, 104 convictions, and 17 persons were held to bail. In 1903 there were 3 prosecutions and 3 convictions.
(2) Land Purchase. The Unionist Government considered that the dual ownership set up by the Act of 1881 would be a constant source of trouble, and that its working could not be for the benefit of the country. They believed that the best solution of the land question would be a system of purchase whereby the occupiers would become owners. This of course was entirely opposed to the wishes of the Nationalists; for if the land question was settled, the motive power which was to carry separation with it, would be gone.
Some efforts in the direction of Land Purchase had been made in 1870 (at the instance of Mr. Bright) and in 1881; but nothing was done on a large scale until 1885, when the "Ashbourne Act" was passed; and various further steps were taken by the Unionist Government, culminating in the great "Wyndham Act" of 1903. By the earlier Acts, 73,858 tenants became owners; by the Wyndham Act, 253,625. As the total number of agricultural tenants of Ireland amounted to slightly under 600,000, it will be seen that more than half of them have now purchased their holdings. To explain the general principles of the Act, it is sufficient to say that when the landlord and tenants of an estate agree to a sale, the Government advance the money, and the tenant purchasers undertake to repay it by annual instalments extending over a period of 68 years. As these annual payments must be less than the existing rent as fixed by the Land Court under the Act of 1881, the purchasing tenant has no ground for complaint; and though the income of the landlord is reduced by the sale, he is freed from further anxiety; and besides, the Government give a bonus to the vendor from Imperial funds. It will be seen at once that the scheme would have been impossible under Home Rule; for the English Government had by the end of March 1911, agreed to advance the enormous sum of nearly L118,000,000; an amount which no Irish Government could have raised except at such an exorbitant rate of interest that it would have been out of the question. On the other hand, England has become the creditor of the new Irish landowners for this vast amount; and in the event of Separation a serious difficulty may arise as to its repayment.
It may interest readers in the Colonies to learn that the Government thoughtfully passed a Registration of Titles Act in 1891; so that the Irish purchasers under the various Land Acts have the benefits which were first introduced in Australia by Sir Robert Torrens.
The Act of 1903 had the cordial support of a small minority of Nationalists; but to the majority it was gall and wormwood. Hence Mr. Birrell, when he became Chief Secretary, threw every obstacle he could into the way of its working; and in 1909 he passed a new measure, under which land purchase has practically ceased.
(3)The development of the Industries of the Country. That has of course taken various forms, of which only a few can be mentioned here. By the Light Railways (for which the country has to thank Mr. Balfour himself) remote and hitherto inaccessible districts have been brought into touch with the rest of the world; and by an expenditure of L2,106,000 the railway mileage of Ireland has been increased from 2,643 miles in 1890 to 3,391 in 1906. Then it is hardly too much to say that the Labourers' Cottages Act, and the grants made under it, have transformed the face of the country.
By this Act, District Councils are enabled, in localities where accommodation for labourers is insufficient, to take land compulsorily and erect cottages, the money advanced by the Government for the purpose being gradually repaid by the ratepayers. The wretched hovels which were the disgrace of Ireland from the dawn of history until a period within living memory, have almost disappeared; and comfortable, sanitary and pleasing dwellings have taken their place.
Even this excellent Act, however, is now used by the Nationalists to further their own objects. One instance may suffice. In 1907 a farmer fell under the ban of the League and was ordered to be boycotted. The District Council found that one occupant of a "Labourer's Cottage" disregarded the order and continued to work for the boycotted farmer. They promptly evicted him. What would be said in England if a Tory landlord evicted a cottager for working for a Radical farmer?
But even more important than these measures has been the establishment of the Department of Agriculture. The success of this has been due to the ability, energy and unselfishness of Sir Horace Plunkett. The main object of the Department was to instruct the farming classes in the most effective methods of agriculture and the industries connected with it. This by itself would have been a great work; but Sir Horace has also founded the Irish Agricultural Organization Society, to encourage co-operative organization amongst farmers, based on the principle of mutual help; and the success of this, worked in conjunction with the Department, has been marvellous. More than nine hundred local societies have been established, for the promotion of industries such as dairying and poultry farming; co-operative credit banks have been formed, based on what is known in Germany as the Raffeisen system. The turnover of these societies in 1908 amounted to more than L2,250,000. Agricultural Organization Societies, in imitation of the Irish one, have been formed in England and Scotland; and so far did its fame reach that the Americans sent over an agent to enquire into its working.
Of course it is unfair to attribute the prosperity or the decline of a country to any one measure; and more than that, it is only by taking into consideration a number of circumstances and a long term of years that we can decide whether prosperity is real or merely transitory. But that Ireland increased in prosperity under the influence of the Unionist Government, cannot be denied; indeed Mr. Redmond, when shepherding the Eighty Club (an English Radical Society) through Ireland in 1911, did not deny the prosperity of the country, and could only suggest that the same reforms would have been introduced and better carried out under an Irish Parliament—regardless of the facts that no Nationalist Government could have found the money for them; and that Nationalists are orators and politicians, not men of business. The combined value of exports and imports rose from 104,000,000 in 1904 to 125,000,000 in 1909; and the gross receipts on railways from L4,140,000 to L11,335,000. The deposits in savings banks rose from L3,128,000 in 1888 to L10,627,000 in 1908. The tonnage of shipping in Irish ports was 11,560,000 in 1900; in 1910 it was 13,475,000.
Sir Horace had done his utmost to prevent the curse of political strife from entering into his agricultural projects. He had been careful to appoint Nationalists to some of the most important offices in his Department, and to show no more favour to one part of the country than another. But all in vain; the National League, when their friends returned to power, at once resolved to undo his labours, some of them openly saying that the increased attention devoted to trade and agriculture was turning men's thoughts away from the more important work of political agitation. Mr. T.W. Russell, a man totally ignorant of agricultural affairs, whose only claim to the office was that he was a convert to Nationalism, was appointed in place of Sir Horace. He promptly declined to continue to the Agricultural Organization Society the support which it had previously received from the Department; and, with the aid of the United Irish League, succeeded in preventing the Society from receiving a grant from the Board of Agriculture similar to those given to the English and Scotch societies; threw discredit on the Co-operative Credit Banks, and denounced the Co-operative Farming Societies as injurious to local shopkeepers. And thus he made it clear that it is impossible in Ireland to conduct even such a business as the development of agriculture without stirring up political bitterness.
Another effort of Mr. Balfour's—the establishment of the Congested Districts Board—has had a strange and instructive history. It was established in 1891. Mr. Balfour decided to entrust to a small body of Irishmen, selected irrespective of party considerations, the task of making an experiment as to what could be done to relieve the poorest parts of Ireland; and with this object, the Board, though endowed with only small funds, were given the widest powers over the area within which they were to operate. They were empowered to take such steps as they thought proper for (1) Aiding migration or emigration from the congested districts, and settling the migrant or emigrant in his new home; and (2) Aiding and developing agriculture, forestry, and breeding of live stock and poultry, weaving, spinning, fishing (including the construction of piers and harbours, and supplying fishing boats and gear and industries subservient to and connected with fishing), and any other suitable industries. Both the powers and the revenues of the Board were increased from time to time, until by 1909 its annual expenditure amounted to nearly L250,000. It became clear almost at the beginning of its labours that amongst the many difficulties which the Board would have to face there were two pre-eminent ones; if it was desired to enlarge uneconomic holdings by removing a part of the population to other districts, the people to be removed might not wish to go; and the landless men in the district to which they were to be removed might say that they had a better right to the land than strangers from a distance, and the result might be a free fight. As the only chance of success for the labours of the Board was the elimination of party politics, Mr. J. Morley, on becoming Chief Secretary in the Gladstonian Government of 1892, appointed as Commissioners Bishop O'Donnell of Raphoe (the Patron of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and a Trustee of the Parliamentary Fund of the United Irish League); and the Rev. D. O'Hara, a leading Clerical Nationalist of a violent type. It is needless to say that under their influence the action of the Board has been conducted on strictly Nationalist lines. One instance may suffice. In 1900, the Board, having come into the possession of the Dillon estate, wished to sell it to the tenants; and when doing so, considering the sporting rights to be a valuable asset, decided to reserve them. A considerable number of the tenants expressed their readiness to purchase their holdings subject to the reservation. The Board received an offer of L11,000 for the mansion, demesne and sporting rights over the estate. The reservation of sporting rights when, taking the whole estate, they were of pecuniary value, had been the common practice of the Board in other sales; but an agitation was at once got up (not by the tenants) against the reservation in this case, on the ground that it was not right for the Board to place any burden on the fee simple of the holdings; the offer of L11,000 was refused, and soon afterwards the Board sold the mansion and the best part of the demesne to a community of Belgian nuns for L2,100. The sporting rights, which became the property of the purchasing tenants, ceased to be of any appreciable pecuniary value, though in a few cases the tenants succeeded in selling their share of them for small sums to local agitators. When a witness before the Royal Commission of 1906 ventured to point out that the taxpayers thus lost L8,900 by the transaction, he was severely rebuked by the Clerical members of the Commission for suggesting that the presence of the Belgian nuns was not a great benefit to the neighbourhood.
This Royal Commission was appointed ostensibly for the purpose of enquiring into and reporting upon the operations of the Board since its foundation. After going through a mass of evidence, the Chairman (Lord Dudley) said that the Board had tried for twenty years to develop new industries and had failed; and another member (Lord MacDonnell) said that it had only touched the fringe of the question; and, considering that in spite of all its efforts at promoting local industries, emigration continued to be greater from the district subject to its control than from any other part of Ireland, it is hard to see what other view was possible. But the large majority of the Commission were ardent Nationalists—in fact, one of them a short time before his appointment had publicly advocated an absolute, rigorous, complete and exhaustive system of boycotting; and the witness who spoke for the United Irish League told the Commission that it was the strong view of the League that the Board should be preserved. It was only natural therefore that the Commission should report that in their opinion the powers and scope of its operations should be extended and its income largely increased. This was accordingly done by the Birrell Act of 1909. One of the most important functions of the Board was the purchase of land, for which they possessed compulsory powers. The witness who had appeared before the Commission as representing the United Irish League was Mr. FitzGibbon, Chairman of the Roscommon County Council, and now a Member of Parliament. He had previously been sent to prison for inciting to the Plan of Campaign, and for criminal conspiracy. He had also taken a leading part in the cattle-driving agitation (to which I shall refer later) and had announced that his policy was "to enable the Board to get land at fag-end prices." He was therefore appointed by Mr. Birrell to be a member of the Board, as being a suitable person to decide what compensation should be paid for land taken compulsorily. He publicly stated that his object was to carry out the great work of Michael Davitt. And he certainly has been active in doing so; and now the agitators, when they want to have an estate transferred to the Board, commence by preventing its being let or used, and so compelling the owner to leave it derelict and unprofitable; then, when by every description of villainy and boycotting it has been rendered almost worthless, the Congested Districts Board (who have carefully lain by until then) step in with a preposterous offer which the unfortunate owner has no choice but to accept. This may appear strong language to use with reference to a Government Department presided over by Roman Catholic bishops and priests; but the words are not mine; they are taken from the judgment of Mr. Justice Ross, in the case of the Browne Estate.
At any rate, whatever else the Congested Districts Board may have achieved, they have done one good thing; they have shown to Unionists in Ireland what the principles of justice are by which the Nationalist Government will be conducted.
(4) The fourth division of the Unionist policy was the extension of local government. By the Act of 1898 County and District Councils were formed, like those which had been existing in England for a few years previously; and the powers of the old Grand Juries (who it was admitted had done their work well, but were now objected to on principle as not being elected bodies) were abolished. The importance of the measure can hardly be overestimated; for not only did it re-organize local government on what would elsewhere be a democratic but is in Ireland a Clerical basis; but also it may be described as Home Rule on a small scale. By examining into the practical working of the scheme we may form an idea as to what Home Rule is likely to be; and both parties refer to it as a ground for their opinion. It is curious now to note that it was Gerald Balfour, the Unionist Chief Secretary, who, when introducing the measure, appealed to the Irish gentry not to stand aloof from the new order of things, but to seek from the suffrages of their fellow-citizens that position which no others were so well qualified to fill as themselves—in much the same way that English Radical orators now accuse the Ulstermen of want of patriotism when they declare that they will never take part in a Nationalist Government. The Nationalists were of course loud in their protestations that in the noble work of local government all narrow political and sectarian bitterness would be put aside, and all Irishmen irrespective of creed, class or party would be welcome to take part—just as they are now when they promise the same about the National Parliament. Thus J. Redmond said:
"No man's politics or religion will be allowed to be a bar to him if he desires to serve his country on one of the new bodies. Men of different creeds, who have had an almost impassable gulf between them all their lives, will be brought together for the first time in the working of this scheme of Local Government.... On every one of the juries in Ireland there have been county gentlemen who have shown the greatest aptitude for business, the greatest industry, and the greatest ability; and I say it would be a monstrous thing if, by working the election of these County Councils on narrow sectarian or political lines, men of that class were excluded from the service of their country."
And another Nationalist Member added: "We are anxious for the co-operation of those who have leisure, wealth and knowledge." Irish Unionists who refused to believe these assurances were denounced by Nationalists as bigots and humbugs. The value of the assurances of 1912 may be gauged by the manner in which those of 1898 have been fulfilled. At the election of 1899 a few Protestants and Unionists were returned. But the general feeling of the newly-formed Councils may be gathered from the following resolution which was passed by the Mayo County Council in that year:
"That we, the members of the Mayo County Council, congratulate the gallant Boers on their brilliant defeats of the troops of the pirate Saxon. That we hope that a just Providence will strengthen the arms of these farmer fighters in their brave struggle for their independence. And we trust that as Babylon fell, and as Rome fell, so also may fall the race and nation whose creed is the creed of greed, and whose god is the god of Mammon."
And by 1902, when the next triennial elections were coming on, the mask was thrown off. The Freeman's Journal (the principal Nationalist organ) said:—
"In every County or District Council where a landlord, however amiable, or personally estimable, offers himself for election, the answer of the majority must be the same: 'No admittance here.'" And J. Redmond stated the case still more plainly:
"We have in our hands a weapon recently won, the full force of which is not yet, I believe, thoroughly understood by the English Government or by ourselves. I mean the weapon of freely-elected County Councils and District Councils who to-day form a network of National organizations all over Ireland, and who to-morrow, I doubt not, if the other organizations were struck, would be willing to come forward and take their place, and, in their Council Chambers, carry on the National work."
Pledges in the following form were presented for signature to all candidates by the United Irish League (except of course in north-east Ulster):—
"I —— hereby pledge myself, if elected to represent the —— Division on the County Council, to promote the interests of the United Irish League, and to resign my position whenever called upon to do so by the —— Divisional Executive."
So completely has the policy been carried out that by 1911, to quote the words of Mr. FitzGibbon, M.P. (to whom I have previously referred):—
"There was not a landlord in the country who could get his agent returned as District Councillor or County Councillor, or even his eldest son or himself. The Organization had emancipated the people; it had given them the power which their enemies had wielded; it had cleared the road for Ireland's freedom."
At present Unionists and Nationalists are pretty evenly divided in the County Councils of Ulster; in the other three Provinces amongst 703 County Councillors there are only fifteen Unionists. In other words, the Act has enabled the Nationalist party to carry out the plan laid down by Lalor of taking quiet and peaceable possession of all the rights and powers of government, as a stepping-stone towards Independence.
Of course it may be said with much truth that if the large majority of the people are Nationalists they are perfectly justified in choosing Nationalists as their representatives. But that is not the point. The real point is that in spite of the protestations of the Nationalists at the time of the passing of the Act, politics in their bitterest form have been brought in, and the Unionist minority have been deprived of all share in the local government of the country.
To illustrate this still further, I may add that a General Council of County Councils was formed in 1900, for the purpose of promoting a fair and equitable administration of the Act. In order that the Ulster Councils might unite with the others, it was agreed that politics should be excluded. But after the election of 1902, that agreement was abandoned; and, rather than take part in what had become a mere political gathering, the Ulster representatives withdrew. Left to themselves, the Nationalist General Council in 1906 passed the following resolution:—
"That the Irish people are a free people, with a natural right to govern themselves; that no Parliament is competent to make such laws for Ireland except an Irish Parliament, sitting in Dublin; and that the claim by other bodies of men to make laws for us to govern Ireland is illegal, unconstitutional, and at variance with the rights of the people."
If such a body as the General Council of County Councils pass a resolution like this, is there much probability that the Nationalist Parliament will refrain from doing the same, should the Imperial Parliament attempt to exercise the power given to it by the present Bill, and to legislate for Ireland?
But again it may be said that though the Councils have thus become political bodies, they have conducted their business so admirably that their conduct is a powerful argument to show that a Nationalist Parliament will be equally practical and liberal. This is the view put forward by Nationalist orators and their humble follower Mr. Birrell, who in November 1911, informed his friends at Bristol that the Irish had shown a great capacity for local government and that from what people who had seen a great deal of the south and west of Ireland told him there was no fear of persecution or oppression by the Catholic majority of their Protestant fellow-subjects. In support of this, various facts are adduced, which it is well to examine in detail, remembering the poet's words that
"A lie which is half a truth is ever the blackest of lies."
One of the greatest powers possessed by the County Councils is the exercise of patronage. It would probably be generally admitted in any country but Ireland that there, if anywhere, religion and politics should be excluded, and men selected only for their qualifications. The Nationalists, wishing to demonstrate the fairness of the Councils which hold their views, contrast the bigotry shown by the Unionist Corporation of Belfast with the liberality of similar bodies in other parts of the country. And certainly the figures they adduce, when addressing audiences in England or writing for English readers, are very striking. Thus Mr. Birrell said at Skipton in November 1911 that he had been told that in the great Unionist City of Belfast there was only one Roman Catholic in the employment of the Corporation, and he was a scavenger. (It will be observed that here, as in many of his speeches, he carefully used the expression "he had been told"—so that what he said may be literally true, even though when he heard the statement he knew that it was false.) And Stephen Gwynn, M.P., in his "Case for Home Rule," says: "In Belfast, Catholics are a third of the population; but the Corporation pays L51,405 in a year in salaries, of which only L640 goes to Catholics." And about the same time as Mr. Birrell's oration, Mr. Redmond, speaking at Swindon, said that in Galway, Cork, Westmeath and King's County (where Roman Catholics form the large majority of the population) Protestants held 23 per cent. of the salaried appointments in the gift of the Councils.
But when we descend from the airy height of Nationalist rhetoric to the prosaic region of fact, we find that the rates of the City of Belfast amount to about L342,000; of this sum, Roman Catholic ratepayers pay less than L18,000. There are nine hundred Roman Catholics in the employment of the Corporation, and they receive in salaries about L48,000 per annum. And as to the figures quoted by Mr. Redmond, we find that he omitted to state that not one of the 23 per cent. had been appointed by a County Council; they were all survivals of the system in force before 1899, whose positions were secured by statute; and in not one of the counties he mentioned has a Unionist been appointed to any salaried office since that date. To take the County of Cork as a specimen; there are ninety-four salaried offices in the gift of the County Council; of these nine are held by Protestants—but they were all appointed before 1899. Of the thirty-three salaried offices in the gift of the City Corporation, two are held by Protestants—but these also were appointed before 1898; and yet the Protestants pay nearly half the rates. And in Ireland there is not the slightest attempt at concealment in the matter; thus in one case a District Council adopted by formal resolution the request of the local priests not to support any candidate who did not produce a testimonial from the parish priest; as a Councillor remarked, it was the simplest way of stating that no Protestant need apply.
But it is in the appointment of medical officers ("dispensary doctors" as they are technically called in Ireland) that the policy of the Nationalists has been most marked. Many years ago, the late Cardinal Cullen ruled that it was a mortal sin to vote for a heretic for such an office; now, however, the bishops have gone further. There are three medical schools in Dublin—Trinity College, the College of Surgeons, and the Catholic University School; and three in the provinces—at Belfast, Cork and Galway. The Medical School of Trinity College has a world-wide reputation. The students are required to complete their Arts course before specializing in medicine (thus ensuring that they shall be men of general culture and not merely of professional training); the professors and lecturers are amongst the ablest men of the day; the students have the advantage of the large city hospitals for their clinical studies; and the standard required for a degree is high. And not only is Trinity College open to all students without distinction of creed, but the College authorities have frequently offered a site within their grounds for a Roman Catholic Chapel and the salary of a Chaplain who would take spiritual care of his flock. Nevertheless the Roman Catholic bishops have ordered that no candidate who has been trained at any College except the Catholic University school shall be eligible for the post of Dispensary Doctor; and when an election takes place (as for instance that at Kiltimagh in 1905) the question of professional qualification is not taken into consideration—having been trained at a "godless college" is a fatal bar to any candidate, however able. In the Kiltimagh case, the resolution passed shortly after the election by the local branch of the United Irish League is instructive reading:—
"That we, the members of the Kiltimagh Branch of the United Irish League, take advantage of this our first meeting since the important Election of Medical Officer for the Kiltimagh Dispensary District, to express our appreciation of all the Guardians for the several divisions in this parish for the faithful honesty with which they represented us on that occasion. We feel proud to know that not one of our representatives voted for a Queen's College man against a Catholic University man. They voted for a man who is the stamp of man we want—a sound Catholic, a sound Nationalist, a Gaelic Leaguer, and a highly qualified medical man. We believe their action will meet with the approval of the Bishops and Priests of Ireland."
To one who lives in Ireland it is sad enough to see year by year the most able and promising of the medical students being driven out of the country on account of their religion, and forced to look for openings elsewhere; but to a thoughtful observer it is even worse than that; it is the beginning of the new Penal Laws.
And when we turn to other matters, where the marvellous efficiency of the County Councils exists, is hard for an unprejudiced enquirer to find. The old Grand Juries handed over the roads and bridges in excellent order; they are certainly not better now, and in many cases worse. In fact, one English theoretical Radical who paid a brief visit to Ireland, inhaled so much Hibernian logic during his hurried tour that he solemnly argued that the badness of the roads proved that the Councils had been governing too economically; and therefore what was needed was a central body—that is, an Irish Parliament—to stir up the local administration! Nationalist writers claim that the rates are going down; but that merely means that they are not so high now as they were soon after the Act came into force, not that they are lower than before 1898. It was expected that the rates would be reduced by the operation of the Old Age Pensions Act; but that has not proved to be the case. And the increase in local indebtedness is alarming.
To sum up, therefore, I trust that I have, even in this brief sketch, made it clear that the policy of the Unionist Government, taken as a whole, has been of immense benefit to the social and material prosperity of Ireland; and that the points in which it has failed have been those where their reforms have fallen under the power of the Nationalists, who have either thwarted them, or made use of them to further their own ideas. I shall next proceed to examine the alternative policy, which is being carried out by the present Government.
THE GLADSTONIAN GOVERNMENT OF 1892. THE POLITICAL SOCIETIES.
During the Gladstone-Rosebery Government—from 1892 to 1895—matters in Ireland were quiet. The Nationalists were at first on their best behaviour, in consequence of the promised introduction of the Home Rule Bill; and after its rejection by the Upper House, the time was too short for anything serious to happen. But the period was marked by the commencement of one great change in Irish administration. It must be admitted by impartial observers that the old landlord party, with all their faults, made as a rule excellent magistrates. A large proportion of them were retired military officers, who had gained some experience in duties of the sort in their regiments; others were men of superior education, who studied with care the laws they were to administer. Living in the locality, they knew the habits and feelings of the people; and yet they were sufficiently separated from them to be able to act as impartial judges; and no charges of bribery were ever made against them. And, the work being congenial, they gladly devoted their spare time to it. Gladstone's Chief Secretary (the present Lord Morley) determined to alter all this; he accordingly appointed to the Bench a large number of men drawn from a lower social stratum, less educated and intelligent than those previously chosen, but more likely to administer "Justice according to Irish ideas." Then the operation of the Local Government Act, by which Chairmen of Councils (all of course Nationalists) became ex officio magistrates, completed a social revolution by entirely altering the character of the Bench. In some localities the magistrates previously appointed realizing that, being now in a minority, they could be of no further use on the Bench, withdrew; in others, though the old magistrates continued to sit, they found themselves persistently outvoted on every point; so what good they have done by remaining, it is hard to see. Amongst the men appointed under the new system, there have been several instances of justices who have continued to act without the slightest shame or scruple although they have been convicted of such offences as drunkenness, selling drink on unlicensed premises, or corrupt practices at elections. But worse than that: the new order of justices do not regard their duties as magisterial, but political; they give but little attention to ordinary cases, but attend in full strength to prevent the conviction of any person for an outrage organized by the United Irish League; and do not hesitate to promise beforehand that they will do so. If by any chance a sufficient number are not present to carry their purpose, the names of the absentees are published in the Black List of the League—and the result of that is so well known that they are not likely to offend again. Hence comes the contemptible exhibition—now not infrequent—of men being charged before the Bench, and no evidence being offered for the defence; yet the Stipendiary Magistrate being obliged to say that though he considers the case proved, the majority of the Bench have decided to refuse informations. Even a Roman Catholic Bishop has confessed that now magistrates too often have no respect for their obligations to dispense the law justly and without favour; and that the Bench is sometimes so "packed" that the culprits, though guilty, are certain to be acquitted.
* * * * *
Before discussing the policy of the present Government since it came into power in 1906, it is well to explain what the principal societies—secret or other—are which now conduct the Government of Ireland. In one sense indeed the names are immaterial; for, as in 1798, in whatever various ways the societies have commenced, they are all working towards the same end, and being controlled by the same forces.
The Land League, which was founded in 1879 as a league for ruining landlords as a stepping-stone towards independence, having been suppressed by Gladstone in 1881, was reformed under the name of the Irish National League. This was in its turn suppressed in 1887, and in 1898 appeared once more under the name of the United Irish League with J. Redmond as President and J. Devlin as Secretary. In 1901 Mr. Redmond explained the objects of the League as follows:—
"The United Irish League is not merely an agrarian movement. It is first, last, and all the time a National movement; and those of us who are endeavouring to rouse the farmers of Ireland, as we endeavoured twenty years ago in the days of the Land League, to rouse them, are doing so, not merely to obtain the removal of their particular grievances, but because we believe by rousing them we will be strengthening the National movement and helping us to obtain our end, which is, after all, National independence of Ireland."
And to make the exact meaning of the phrase "National Independence of Ireland" quite clear, he soon afterwards stated that their object was the same as that aimed at by Emmett and Wolfe Tone—in other words, to place Ireland in the scale of nations with a constitution resembling that of the United States.
By March 1908 (that is, about two years after the present Government came into power), to quote the words of Mr. Justice Wright, "the only law feared and obeyed was the law not of the land but of the United Irish League"; and before the end of that year Mr. Redmond was able to report to his friends in America:—
"We have in Ireland an organization which is practically a government of the country. There is in O'Connell Street, Dublin, a great office managed by the real Chief Secretary for Ireland, J. Devlin, the Member for Belfast."
The organization of the League is admirable. The country is covered with a network of branches, to which people in the district are obliged to contribute under penalty of being boycotted; these branches are united under provincial executives, whilst the Directory in Dublin controls the whole. The union between the League and the Roman Catholic Church is as complete as the union between that Church and some societies started on a non-sectarian basis became during the rebellion of 1798; as we have seen, a bishop is one of the trustees, and other bishops are amongst the subscribers; the Sunday meetings of the various branches, at which boycotting and other measures of the kind are arranged, are usually presided over by the parish priests. On the other hand, few laymen, whatever their religion may be, who have any stake in the country, can be got to join the League; in the words of A.J. Kettle, M.P.:—
"On its roll of membership there are no landlords or ex-landlords, few merchants, fewer Irish manufacturers. There are few of the men who are managing the business of Ireland in city or town, connected with the League. The bankers who regulate our finances, the railway or transit men who control our trade, internal and external, even the leading cattle men who handle most of our animal produce, are not to be found in its ranks."
In further evidence of this it may be noted that in spite of all the efforts of the League at collecting money, the subscriptions to the Irish Parliamentary Fund do not amount to a halfpenny per head of the population; as J. Dillon has remarked: "The National cause in Ireland could not live for six months if it were deprived of the support of the Irish across the Atlantic."
Closely allied with the League is the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a secret political and exclusively Roman Catholic association, of which J. Devlin, M.P. (the Secretary of the League), is President. It is also called the Board of Erin, to distinguish it from the American branch. The American branch, I may remark, is also known as the Molly Maguires, as it was under that name that it conducted the series of murders and outrages at the Pennsylvanian mines thirty years ago. Hence the Irish branch is sometimes nicknamed the "Molly Maguires." The Order is very religious, in the sense that part of its programme is to deprive heretics of every means of earning their livelihood; as a Nationalist who did not sympathize with the operations of the Order expressed it: "If Protestants are to be robbed of their business, if they are to be deprived of public contracts, and shut out of every office and emolument,—what is that but extermination?" The political principles of the Order can be gathered from the Address presented by them to Captain Condon on the occasion of his visit to Dublin in 1909. Captain Condon, I may explain, had been a prominent Fenian and member of the Irish Republican brotherhood, and had taken part in the riot at Manchester in 1867 which resulted in the murder of Sergeant Brett; he now resides in America. In 1909 he visited Ireland on the invitation of J. Redmond; and the address presented to him by the Ancient Order of Hibernians contained the following words:—
"In you, O'Meagher Condon, we recognize one of those connecting links with the past which all nations cherish, and you are ready to-day with voice and pen to give your unflagging support to Ireland's leaders with as much enthusiasm as you grasped the sword to lead Ireland in the dark but historic '67. We are sure it will interest you to know that the ranks of the Hibernians to-day are composed of the men and children of those who swore allegiance to the Irish Republic with you."
The Order has lately acquired additional strength by becoming an "Approved Society" under the Insurance Act of 1911. In Ireland it is no more possible for life insurance than for anything else to exist without being dragged into the vortex of religious and political quarrels.
The "Clan-na-gael"—that is, the Dynamite Club—still flourishes in America; but for obvious reasons it does not make any public appearance in Ireland; and the exact part which it takes in the movement at the present time, it is impossible to say.
"Sinn Fein" (which means "Ourselves") is another Separatist Association, aiming at the establishment of Ireland as a Sovereign State, and teaching that the election of Irishmen to serve in the British Parliament is treason to the Irish State. As its name implies, it desires to make use of the revival of the Irish language as a means towards the end for which it is working. It was founded in 1905. Why this Society and the United Irish League, whose objects seem identical, should be ready to fly at one another's throats, is one of the things that those who are outside the Nationalist circle cannot understand. But the Clerical leaders, who do their utmost to further the operations of the League, look askance at Sinn Fein; its ultimate success therefore is very doubtful.
Then, working in conjunction with these societies is the "Gaelic League," founded for the "de-Anglicizing" of Ireland, as helping towards separation. As J. Sweetman (who, besides being a prominent member of the Gaelic League, is also Vice-President of Sinn Fein and Vice-Chairman of the Central Council of Irish County Councils and may therefore be regarded as speaking with authority) has expressed it:—
"Out of the Gaelic League's de-Anglicizing propaganda have already grown a series of movements not only strongly political but each and all making for a separate independent Irish nation, freed from every link of the British connection."
Were it not for its political object, the folly of this "revival of the Irish language" would be past belief. The language of Shakespeare and Milton, of Gibbon and Macaulay, ought surely to be good enough for ordinary people; and it must be obvious to every reasoning being that at the present moment of the world's history, English is one of the most useful languages in existence. It is spoken by 40,000,000 of people in Europe and twice that number in America, not to mention Australasia and South Africa. It is the language of commerce, of science, and of a vast amount of literature. Europeans of various nationalities learn it, for the sake of its convenience; although, as we all know, one of the difficulties of modern life is that boys and girls have too much to study; educationalists everywhere complain that the curriculum is overloaded. Its position in Ireland can be seen exactly by the census returns; for the papers contain a "language column," each person being required to state whether he speaks English or Irish or both. According to the returns of 1891, the total population was in round numbers 4,725,000; of whom 4,037,000 spoke English only, 643,000 both languages, and 44,000 Irish only. And that trifling minority existed only in certain localities, and was confined to the less educated classes. The only counties in which a majority of the population spoke Irish (including those who spoke both languages) were Mayo and Galway. Yet now it is solemnly said that Ireland, being an independent nation, must have a language of its own; even in counties where no language but English has been spoken for centuries, and where probably none of the ancestors of the present population ever spoke any other language, Irish is being taught in the Roman Catholic primary schools, and the unhappy children who might be studying arithmetic or elementary geography, are wasting their time over a totally useless language. I say "totally useless" deliberately; for the arguments usually brought forward in favour of the study, apart from the political one—that Irish is of use in the study of philology, and that the MSS. of centuries ago contain fine specimens of poetry—are too absurd to be worth discussing. The real object of the Nationalists in "encouraging the revival of the Irish language" is clearly set out in the following words of T. MacSeamus in a recent number of the Irish Review:—