Chapter 4: The Home Rule Crisis

by Philip Ferguson; this is thesis chapter 4


In the last chapter, we left the Home Rule crisis as it was about to take on an armed form within Ireland at the end of 1912.  We noted the reasons for the opposition to Home Rule on the part of the Northern Unionist upper class and their fellow class members in Britain.  We also noted the divisions within the working class and the way in which different political groups within the nationalist camp responded to the sectarian divisions between nationalist Ireland and the Unionist-dominated north-east.  Here we pick up the intensification of the Home Rule crisis in 1913 and the response to it by the various political factions.

The Home Rule crisis deepens

In the north, the Unionist upper classes stepped up the organisation of opposition to Home Rule in 1913, launching the Ulster Volunteer Force.  Orange Lodges provided the mechanism for recruitment and by July 1913, the UVF numbered around 50,000 men and had a retired English General, Sir George Richardson, as its commander.  It should be noted that at this stage it was not illegal to drill or, until the Arms Proclamation of December 1913, to import arms; nevertheless the UVF was, in effect, a private militia openly declaring that it would resort to force to prevent the implementation of legislation passed by parliament.  Although the gun had always been maintained in Irish politics by the British state, the UVF were the first indigenous Irish group to take to arms since the Fenian insurrectionists of the 1860s.  In this they were fully backed by the British Tories.[1]

As Laffan notes, “They received moral, political and financial backing from prominent figures in the business world, in the army, among the landed gentry, and even from circles close to the court.”[2]  Among these figures were the Duke of Bedford, Lord Rothschild and Field Marshall Roberts.  Connolly wrote tersely at the time, “Landlords, ex-Crown lawyers, ex-Ministers of the Crown, aspirants to be Ministers of the Crown, Ministers of the Gospel, smug, sweating capitalists and dear ladies living upon the sweated toil of poor women”, all of them “fervent supporters of the established institutions of the British Empire”, were engaged in a “rising crescendo of hysterical eloquence invoking the use of arms as against the verdict of votes.”[3]

However, the upper classes in Britain and Ireland were not alone in welcoming the formation of the UVF.  Many republicans greeted it too.  Padraic Pearse saw it as setting an example to a nationalist Ireland which he believed had lost its honour through years of supine acquiescence to British rule.  He also saw it as a sign of independence from Britain, challenging the right of the British Parliament to legislate for Ireland, and thought “negotiations might be opened with the Orangemen along these lines: You are erecting a Provisional Government of Ulster – make it a Provisional Government of Ireland and we will recognise and obey it. . .  It is unquestionable that Sir Edward Carson’s Provisional government would govern Ireland better than she has been governed by the English Cabinet; at any rate, it could not well govern her worse.”[4]  Sinn Fein leader Arthur Griffith wrote in late 1913 that if Orangemen fired upon the King’s troops it would be the duty of nationalists to join them.[5] Irish Freedom, presumably reflecting the IRB attitude, declared, “In present circumstances accursed be the soul of any Nationalist who would dream of firing a shot or drawing a sword against the Ulster Volunteers in connection with this Bill.  Any such action would be an enforcement of a British law upon an Irish populace which refused it, would be a marshalling under the Union Jack.   We are willing to fight Ulster or negotiate with her, but we will not fight with her over the miserable shadow of autonomy, we will not fight her because she tells England to go to hell.”[6]

The republicans were mistaken about the degree to which the Unionists were challenging England. One who found the republicans’ attitude questionable was Connolly.  He pointed out that the Unionists were saying “We are loyal British subjects.  We hold this country for England.  England cannot desert us.”[7]  They were actually defending their privileged position which, in turn, depended on maintenance of the Union – although some were prepared to throw out England and welcome in the German Kaiser, the Russian Tsar or even the Sultan of Turkey if Westminster undermined their ascendancy.[8]  As Henry put it, the UVF “were a strictly sectarian force formed to promote a strictly sectarian object. . . their close (and, as it seemed to many Irishmen, un-natural) alliance with the English Tory Party was clear proof that their revolt (so far as it went against the authority of Parliament) could and would be utilised to the greater advantage of England and the detriment of Ireland.”[9]

However naive the republicans’ view, it shows, at least, that they entertained no sectarian hostility to Ulster Protestants.  A part of their attitude may also have been that they regarded Home Rule as setting back the struggle for complete independence since the Irish people would have to test it out for years before its limitations would be revealed.[10]  Given that they themselves were not strong enough to prevent its implementation, they may have seen the Unionist campaign as at least being able to do so.  In any case, given that the republicans believed the experience of the Irish people showed that Britain never conceded anything except by the use, or threatened use, of force, it was understandable that Pearse would view “the Orangeman with a rifle a much less ridiculous figure than the Nationalist without a rifle. . .”  Since the armed Unionists triumphed over Home Rule, and the Nationalist Party collapsed five years after Pearse’s article, it could also be argued that he was right when he finished the sentence by saying, “and the Orangeman who can fire a gun will certainly count for more in the end than the Nationalist who can do nothing cleverer than make a pun.”[11]

The Unionist resistance created a major problem for the Home Rulers.  As Henry notes, having unequivocally renounced any claim to sovereign independence and submitted fully to the British Parliament they now found that their Unionist opponents “challenged in advance the competence of Parliament to decide, and fell back upon the weapons which Nationalist Ireland had been persuaded to abandon.”[12]  When the Irish Volunteers were formed in November 1913 at a meeting attended by 8-9000 people in Dublin, the Parliamentarians were also faced with the danger of an alternative nationalist force emerging and outflanking them.  Among the thousands joining the new nationalist militia were the IRBers, who saw it as a great opportunity to be part of – and capture the control of – an organisation much larger than themselves.

However, the Irish Volunteers were, from the beginning, far from a seditious organisation.  Fronted by eminently respectable individuals such as Professor Eoin MacNeill and Colonel Moore – the former commander of the Connaught Rangers – most of the Volunteers were still followers of Redmond.  Nevertheless, a section of the leadership, comprising both MacNeill and the IRBers, were not tied to the Parliamentary Party and, should the party continue to compromise with Britain, the IVs provided a potential alternative pole of attraction.

In 1914, the Liberals began to backtrack on Home Rule in relation to Ulster, creating a difficult situation for the IPP.  Redmond had originally argued that any exclusion of Ulster was totally impractical and unworkable”[13] and that “Irish nationalists can never be assenting parties to the mutilation of the Irish nation; Ireland is a unit”, while the idea that two separate nations existed in Ireland was “an abomination and a blasphemy.”[14]  Speaking in Bradford on March 15, 1914, Dillon declared that “Rather than consent to a permanent division of Ireland they would kill the bill and commence all over again.”[15]  Two days later Redmond told the Irish National Banquet in London that “to agree to the permanent partition of Ulster would be an outrage upon nature and history.”[16]  Yet that very month Liberal Prime Minister Asquith, who had just the month before assured Redmond that the Liberal Cabinet were opposed to even a temporary exclusion of any part of Ulster, adopted the very exclusion position he had previously held would be “most disastrous” for Ireland.[17]

The Tory-dominated House of Lords passed an Amending Bill keeping all nine Ulster counties out of Home Rule until the province voted, as a unit, to accept Home Rule.  This could have meant the permanent exclusion of all the nine counties, even the overwhelmingly nationalist Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal, as well as Fermanagh and Tyrone which had clear nationalist majorities plus substantial parts of Armagh and Derry in which nationalists outnumbered Unionists.  Although Redmond could not, and did not, accept this he agreed to the county option which allowed individual counties to opt out for a period of six years.  Given that this option allowed for the British parliament to make new arrangements in the interim, and that it was quite possible the Tories would return to power during that period, Redmond was in effect agreeing to the possibility of permanent exclusion of an area containing about a third of the population and the bulk of Ireland’s industry.  It should also be remembered that in Ulster parliamentary seats, the Unionist and Nationalist parties were evenly matched.  In fact a by-election in early 1913      gave the Nationalists a 17-16 majority of the Ulster seats at Westminster.[18]

In March 1914, Tory opposition to Home Rule took on a new dimension.  General Sir Hubert Gough, commander of the Cavalry Brigade and fifty-nine of his officers at the Curragh camp in County Kildare, to the west of Dublin, declared that they would resign rather than follow orders to march against the Ulster Unionists.  General Douglas Haig, the commanding officer at Aldershot in England, warned that all the officers stationed there could be expected to resign if the Government punished Gough.[19]  The Army officers were supported by the Tory establishment in Britain and the Irish Times claimed, “The public opinion of the whole country applauds its action; and the Government has been compelled to acknowledge the justice of the Army’s position”, although also noting that such action could threaten “the rooted traditions and fundamental principles of our national life. . .”[20]  The Liberal government backed down, pledging that the army would never be used to force Ulster into Home Rule.

Among those eager to draw lessons from the Curragh affair was militant labour.  The ITUC’s parliamentary committee, chaired by Larkin, protested the Curragh officers’ attempt “to utilise the armed forces in this country for the purpose of furthering the interests of their class”, while declaring its own desire “to impress on the workers the necessity for learning aright and fully digesting the full significance of this action, and in the future apply it in a similar manner of the interests of their own class.”[21]

Militant labour also denounced any scheme for the separation of Ulster counties.  The Belfast branch of the ILP(I) declared, “Cromwell in his worst days, the Orange Order in its most atrocious moments, never planned a more dastardly outrage upon the Irish nation than this.”[22]  Connolly wrote on March 14, 1914 that partition would lead to “a carnival of reaction both North and South”, “paralyse all advanced movements”, and should be fought “even to the death”.[23]  The following week he wrote again that partition “should be resisted with armed force if necessary” as it would be disastrous for the nationalist stranded in Ulster under Orange tyranny and would also disrupt the labour movement allowing both “the Home Rule and Orange capitalists and clerics” to continue dominating Irish politics.[24]  On April 5, the labour movement organised a national rally in Dublin.  The organisers declared that the object was “to deal with this important crisis in our history – viz, the suggested amputation of Ireland’s right arm, the exclusion of Ulster – and the conduct of a privileged class conscious group masquerading as Army officers, who have set themselves up as a military junta determined to thwart the will of the people.”[25]  Transport Union leader William O’Brien, speaking about the Curragh, declared, “Army officers had never shown any reluctance to order the shooting down of their fellow countrymen of the working classes.  Now the law had been laid down that no soldier need obey an order unless he was satisfied that it was just and in accordance with the dictates of his conscience.”[26]  Several days earlier, a larger labour anti-partition rally had taken place in Belfast.[27]  Captain Jack White, a radical Protestant and Boer War hero who was subsequently associated with the labour movement in Dublin, sent a message saying, “Ulster was all right, but she was conceited, and if Ulster received a licking from those whom she despised it would do her all the good in the world.”[28]

Redmond also met strong opposition from the IRB, Griffith’s Sinn Fein and its constitutional nationalist rival, the All for Ireland Party.  Irish Freedom declared, “If this nation is to go down. . . let it go down fighting, but let it not sink into the abjectness of carving a slice out of itself and handing it over to England.”[29]  Griffith, rather interestingly considering his position seven years later,  wrote that any Irish leader who accepted “any measure which alienated for a day – for an hour – for one moment of time – a square inch of the soil of Ireland would act the part of the traitor and would deserve a traitor’s fate.”[30]  Sinn Fein declared also that “to even discuss the exclusion of Ulster or any portion of Ulster from a Home Rule measure is itself traitorous.”[31]  On May 3, All for Ireland MP William O’Brien warned England that separating Ulster “would be the signal for a revolutionary movement of resistance against England more formidable than any which had confronted her since the days of Wolfe Tone” and excoriated Redmond, Devlin and the Board of Erin Hibernians, accusing the Parliamentary Party of getting their organisers to launch a campaign against Protestant members of local governments in Munster.[32]  T.P. O’Connor MP, in his column in Reynolds’ Newspaper, asked how anyone could expect Irish people to accept “this practically perpetual mutilation of their country, and the stereotyping of the abominable and disastrous theory that there are two Irelands separated by the hideous gulf of sectarianism and racial differences.”[33]

Southern Unionists were also totally opposed to any partition of Ireland.  As their principal mouthpiece, the Irish Times, farsightedly put it, “exclusion would be permanently fatal to every Irish hope and every Irish interest.  It would condemn our country to national weakness, industrial impotence and sectarian strife”, while making southern Unionists “a helpless minority in a community embittered by the loss of Ulster.”[34]  The paper thought, when partition was first mooted that the IPP would reject it, commenting “Mr Redmond and Mr Dillon could never give the lie to their own vehement assurances, could never face the anger of a tricked and outraged people” and that, since no-one in Ireland wanted it and it was not geographically practical, “exclusion is impossible” and a “will o’ the wisp.”[35]

Kee has noted that Redmond “seemed to accept with little more than wistful disappointment the series of fait accomplis with which he was presented and his own increasing impotence in the situation.”  He puts this down partly to Redmond’s “political personality” and partly to the Dublin labour struggle which made, as Dillon wrote to O’Connor, the Ulster issue appear “dim and distant and of minor importance.”[36]  Yet this is not convincing.  Firstly, it was not just Redmond, but Dillon, Devlin and the rest of the IPP who accepted these measures; secondly, the Dublin labour dispute was effectively over by February 1914; from March the Liberal back-tracking became manifest.

I would suggest that the IPP’s own backtracking was partly due to their being tied to the Liberals and partly to the fact that the horizons of the Parliamentarians under Redmond were never very high.  As Kee himself has noted, the essence of Redmond’s brand of nationalism was that it was still “a part of a wider family relationship with the rest of Great Britain.”[37]  This viewpoint is well expressed by one of the IPP’s leading supporters in Britain, T.P. O’Connor MP.  He favoured Home Rule not as a step on the road to full political independence, let alone as a prerequisite for social transformation in Ireland, but because it would “remove from the escutcheon of England the one blot which strains its dazzling splendour.”  He favoured devolution for Ireland, Scotland and Wales “and an Imperial Parliament to control the whole.  That would be the result of Home Rule for Ireland, and it would be for the good of the Empire.”[38]  The IPP’s acceptance of the same political framework as the Liberals made it, in my view, impossible for them to offer any alternative as the Liberals reneged on the issue.  And, as the issue threatened to shatter the stability of the British establishment itself, the Liberals – who defended those interests just as the Tories did – would inevitably sacrifice Home Rule.  These social realities,  not Redmond’s political personality or the already-ended Dublin labour dispute, are at the heart of Redmond’s “wistful disappointment” and “increasing impotence”.

The Unionists, meanwhile, pressed their advantage after the Curragh Affair, the UVF landing a huge arms shipment at Larne in April.  It is estimated that 35,000 Mauser magazine rifles and three-and-a-half million rounds of ammunition were landed in what the Irish Times enthusiastically described as “one of the most daring, most skilful, and most perfectly organised achievements in modern history.”[39]  The paper added, “We suspect that there is no man in Ireland today – not even the most extreme Nationalist politician – who is not proud that this thing was done by Irishmen and in Ireland.”[40]  That the weapons came from Britain’s chief foreign rival seemed not to matter to the usually ultra-patriotic paper.

The compromise over Home Rule along with the growth of the UVF, which claimed around 100,000 men, spurred the growth of the Irish Volunteers.  Among the membership was a section of young Protestants, mainly “of the shop assistant class” according to Colonel Moore.  At Galway College ten percent of the IVs were estimated to be Protestants.[41]  Protestant supporters of Home Rule had been taking other initiatives, too.  On October 24, 1913, for instance, they held a meeting in Ballymoney in County Antrim.  The hall was full half an hour before the meeting started, reported the anti-Home Rule Irish Times,[42] with the audience “includ(ing) many ladies”, “apparently drawn from all sections of the townspeople”, while “The farming class was prominently represented” also.  Banners proclaimed “No Provisional or Provincial Government for Us” and “Ulster for Ireland and Ireland for Us”.  The meeting was for Protestants only, so that Unionists could not claim it was really packed with Catholic Home Rulers.  All the speakers were prominent Protestants, including Alice Stopford Green, Alice Milligan, Capt Jack White, Sir Roger Casement and Rev J.D. Armour.  It unanimously passed a series of resolutions pledging to oppose Carson and “disput(ing) the narrow claim that differences of creed necessarily separated Irish men and women into hostile camps.”  Casement pointed out that while nationalist Ireland showed only good-will to Ulster, this was not reciprocated: “Sectarian passion had shut out Ireland, the true Ireland, from their gaze.”  He also pointed out, “A hundred years ago there was only one Ireland.  The Wexford Catholic and the Antrim Presbyterian were then equal rebels in the cause of that one Ireland.”  White read an alternative Covenant which noted that Irish self-government would strengthen “the popular forces”, “pave the way to a civil and religious freedom which we do not now possess” and also “give scope for a spirit of citizenship”.  Justice of the Peace John Dinsmore noted that seventy-five percent of Carson’s Provisional Government was comprised of landlords and linen lords, that “Bigotry was the bedrock on which the vaunted linen industry was built” and wages in that industry in Ulster were half those in Lancashire.  “Ulster loyalty and low wages” went hand in hand, he argued.

Yet most Ulster workers remained behind the Orange banners.  On April 30, 1914, 3000 “skilled workmen” attended a trade union rally in Belfast against Home Rule.  They sang “Rule Britannia”, and when the chair asked them to stand up and affirm their loyalty to the monarch by singing “God Save the King”, reports the Irish Times, “the entire audience at once stood up and sang the National Anthem, this being followed by cheering.”  At the rally it was claimed that 80 percent of the city’s trade unionists were opposed to Home Rule.[43]  This rally and other similar activities, such as the formation of an Ulster Unionist Labour Association by Carson and J.M. Andrews in May 1914, showed that, unlike the nationalist working class, the Unionist workers were incapable of class independence; they followed their own employers.

The growing depth of the Home Rule crisis made it increasingly imperative for the Parliamentary Party to subordinate the Irish Volunteers.  At first, probably unused to any significant nationalist enterprise outside their control, the IPP leaders had attacked the IVs; however, by June 1914, they were clambering to appear on Volunteer platforms.  The Irish Times which, while totally opposed to Home Rule had taken a relatively friendly attitude to the formation of the nationalist militia, commented:

a new and sinister element has been introduced into the armed peace of Ireland.  The official Nationalist Party, hitherto openly hostile to the National Volunteer movement, has been frightened by its success, and has decided that, since it could not be killed, it must be captured.  Within the last two or three days a swarm of Nationalist members of Parliament has invaded the platforms of the organisation. . .[44]

At this stage, June 1914, the IVs claimed an estimated 41,000 members in Ulster, 42,000 in Leinster, 27,000 in Munster and 18,500 in Connaught, a total of 128,500,[45] although the Irish Times estimated they numbered only 50,000 in total.[46]  If we accept that the Volunteers may well have exaggerated their strength and the Irish Times underplayed it, the organisation was still a considerable force.  Therefore, as the Redmondites continued to compromise on Home Rule, it became imperative for them to capture the Volunteers.  Another factor in the Redmondite perspective may have been that they were the only political group without guns to back up their claims.  Moreover, the Curragh affair had made it clear that a large section of the officer class of the British Army would not act against Ulster and that the British government would not order them to.

In dealing with the Irish Volunteer leadership Redmond displayed neither wistfulness nor impotence.  On June 9 he wrote to the Volunteers’ Provisional Committee, through the public press, claiming “strong representation” had been made to him that the Committee “should be reconstructed and placed on a thoroughly representative basis, so as to give confidence to all shades of nationalist opinion.”[47]  Given that 15 of the 25 members of the Provisional Committee were already known Redmondites,[48] this was nothing but a demand for complete control over the organisation.  Redmond’s actions put the IV leaders in a difficult situation – if they acceded to Redmond they were signing away the organisation; if they refused he could largely destroy it by calling on all supporters of the IPP to withdraw and using the local government apparatus to squeeze the remaining section.  The Irish Times noted of the Parliamentarians’ strategy, that the IPP was “out, not to control the movement, but to kill it.”  The Redmondites, the paper said, “propose to split the Volunteers – to detach the majority, and to leave Colonel Moore and Mr MacNeill in possession of a faithful remnant.  Then the majority, starved and discouraged by the party, will soon be disbanded.”[49]

On June 10, Kettle and MacNeill, responded by welcoming Redmond’s interest, but avoided committing themselves to his request.[50]  In fact, that night the Provisional Committee had met and made evident their resentment at the tone of Redmond’s letter and that he had sent it to the press. They noted how the IPP had attempted “to destroy the movement, which extended and flourished despite this determined disapproval” by the official Party, and decided to resist handing control to the Redmondites, instead asking Volunteer areas to elect delegates to the Provisional Committee.[51]   The Redmondites were also attacked by Sinn Fein which declared, “As long as they plotted and intrigued against this movement in their mumbo-jumbo lodges and branches we could remain silent” but now the IPP attack was out in the open there would be a fight in which the Parliamentary Party’s methods would be exposed.[52]

Redmond backed up his demands through attacks on the Provisional Committee in the official nationalist press.  The IPP intervened vigorously with resolutions in local IV areas to support Redmond’s demand that 25 of his nominees be added to the Provisional Committee.  Kettle, a long-time Redmondite, took Redmond’s part.  Neither MacNeill nor the IRB proved capable of resisting the Parliamentarians’ offensive, although they were urged to do so by militant labour on the one side and the Irish Times on the other.  The Dublin Unionist paper warned that Redmond would pack the organisation “with the trusted nominees of the United Irish League and the Ancient Order of Hibernians”, and denounced the IPP for being “tainted with intrigue and jobbery” and “expert in the arts of sap and mine”.[53]

Meeting on June 16, the Provisional Committee decided that, while deploring Redmond’s actions, they would give way rather than see the organisation split.  They declared that they saw this as only holding until a genuinely elected leadership could be established and also that no-one could accept a nomination honourably unless they were “in favour of the undelayed arming and the permanence of the Volunteer organisation.”[54]  A key role in giving way to Redmond was played by leading IRBer Bulmer Hobson, who never recovered his standing with Clarke, Pearse and the other republican militants.[55]

The Irish Worker had asked, “why allow the foulest growth that ever cursed this land (the Hibernian Board of Erin) to control an organisation that might if properly handled accomplish great things.”[56]  Now Connolly roared contemptuously, “On your knees, Provisional Committee!”[57]  Although an Irish Freedom editorial described the business as “The Kiss of Judas”, and declared, “after the British Government the Irish Parliamentary Party in its later years has been the most evil force in Ireland”,[58] the capitulation to the IPP revealed the inherent weakness of the republican militants.  Because they themselves organised as a clandestine group, the IRB, they could do no public work of their own and had to rely on allying with rather less committed forces which inevitably gave way, as MacNeill had done.  However much they disliked this, and chaffed about it, they had to accept such compromise because of their own lack of an independent political strategy.

As we shall see in subsequent chapters, the republican militants’ failure to develop such a strategy and organisation constantly led them into combinations with allies who were not committed to the same far-reaching political and social goals as the militants themselves.  The limited goals of these allies reflected their own class position; they were caught between their desire for Irish political independence and their fear of class conflict and disorder.  This meant that they continually proved unreliable as co-fighters in the cause of complete political independence.  They continually vacillated and always refused to break unconditionally with the Parliamentarians.  They could therefore never be other than unreliable allies.  Moreover their actions continuously alienated the working class forces who were the republican militants’ natural allies.  For instance, MacNeill and Hobson’s capitulation to Redmond was not the first problem the republican militants had faced in this particular alliance.  In May, they had given records of the Volunteer membership to the British authorities and also declared they would support the government in quelling public disorder.  It was unlikely that the militant labour movement, which had just come through a long and bitter period of “public disorder” would welcome such a stance by the Volunteer leadership and they were bitterly denounced by Larkin.

Despite these problems, some steps forward were taken in the development of the Volunteer movement.  On Saturday, July 25, 1914, they succeeded in landing weapons at Kilcoole and Howth, on the outskirts of Dublin.  The Volunteers’ arms landing was treated rather differently by the authorities to the Unionists’ Larne operation.  The authorities tried to seize the weapons and ammunition after it was landed, although most of it was dispersed among Volunteers and some Citizen Army men, with Fianna boys also playing a role in the operation.  That night, in the aftermath of the landing, clashes broke out in the centre of Dublin between nationalist civilians and the authorities, leaving three people dead.  The Irish Times distanced the Irish Volunteers from this strife, saying “the conflict was the result of an attack upon His Majesty’s troops by the sort of slum crowd which gave so much trouble during the slum strikes.”[59]  Although the paper did not greet the IVs gun-running with the same fulsome praise lavished upon the Ulster Volunteers’ effort at Larne, it did say it would not criticise the IVs for doing what the UVF had already done.  It went on to argue that the state of Ireland “is desperately critical.  The Administration is helpless and discredited.  Everywhere men are taking the law into their own hands.”[60]

When Birrell, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, attacked the Dublin police chiefs for the killings on the Saturday night, the Irish Times laid the blame upon the Liberal Government itself and their Arms Proclamation.  The Proclamation, it said, “has been enfaced when the timid bunglers at Dublin Castle thought they could enforce it without danger to themselves.  It has been openly defied by everybody of whom the bunglers were afraid.”  The Government, it argued, had no policy.[61]

In London, however, the last scenes of the Home Rule crisis were being played out, as the Liberal leaders retreated further from Home Rule.  On July 10 Carson’s “Ulster Provisional Government” had held its first meeting in Belfast, declaring itself ready to take over the running of Ulster (or as much of Ulster as it might be able to hold) the minute Home Rule became law.  The Irish Times reported happily that the Provisional Government leaders were in such a strong position that “The transition from the nominal authority of the Imperial Government to the full authority of the Provisional Government will be almost natural.”[62]  Raising the spectre of civil war, the paper declared that the answer was not exclusion of Ulster from Home Rule, but a new election.

As the crisis intensified, the king summoned a conference at Buckingham Palace, involving the Liberals, Nationalists, Tories and Ulster Unionists.  In his speech to the conference opening on July 21, the king described the situation as having been “brought to the brink of fratricidal strife.”[63]  At the same time, 100 Liberal MPs met in London to protest against any further concessions to the Unionists and to call upon the Government to carry out the purpose of the Parliament Act.  In Fermanagh, Catholic clergy, local government members and Irish Volunteer personnel met on July 20, announcing that Fermanagh would never submit to exclusion from Home Rule.[64]

On July 30, however, Parliament decided not to have a second reading of the Home Rule Amending Bill.  The bitter conflict over the Irish question “would have comforted the king’s enemies, and the patriotism of Parliament has decided that those enemies must be disappointed.”[65]  Several days later, war broke out in Europe and Home Rule was shelved.  Yet on August 3, Redmond committed not only his own party but also the Irish Volunteers to support Britain fully in the war.  In Dublin, Larkin called on workers not to do England’s “dirty work” and urged them, “Stop at Home.  Arm for Ireland  Fight for Ireland and no other land.”[66]  When Redmond, speaking at Woodenbridge in September, pledged the Volunteers to Britain, Larkin described him as “The Irish Judas” and asked “Is there no man to provide a rope and a tree for this twentieth century Judas, who, not even as clever as his predecessor, failed to receive the thirty pieces of silver?”[67]  The following month Larkin colourfully headed one of his editorials, “Redmond Eats His Own Vomit”.[68]  The ILP(I) launched an “Appeal to the Irish Working Class” asking them to remember that they and foreign workers belonged to the same class and had no cause to quarrel.  It urged a revolutionary defeatist position, pointing out that the humiliation of Britain in the war could help open the way for “an Ireland nationally free”.[69]  The Belfast division of the workers’ militia, the Irish Citizen Army[70] declared “We have no foreign enemy except the treacherous government of England – a government that even whilst it is calling upon us to die for it, refuses to give a straight answer to our demands for Home Rule.”[71]

Redmond, however, acted as if he had won.  In October 1914, speaking in Dublin, he declared boldly “We have won at last a free Constitution.”[72]  Dr Fogarty, the Bishop of Killaloe and a leading supporter of the IPP took a somewhat different view, claiming “Home Rule is dead and buried and Ireland is without a national party or press.”[73]  Although some historians, most recently Foster, have argued that Home Rule had been won, the view of Fogarty on the right-wing and the labour and republican militants on the left is more compelling.  Home Rule had been shelved for the duration of the war, and  Parliament was empowered to “alter, modify and qualify” its provision after the war.  A substantial part of the country, containing a third of its population and a majority of its industry was excluded, quite possibly indefinitely.  Moreover, a change of government in Britain could reverse Home Rule.

According to Maire nic Shuibhlaigh, one of Ireland’s leading actresses who was also a participant in the events of this period, the suspension of Home Rule “raised a storm of protest” and Redmond’s decision to back Britain despite this was “a shocking blunder. . . The young men were outraged.”[74]  In effect the IPP opened the way for the initiative of the national question to pass to the militant labour and republican groups.  How Connolly took up that initiative will be examined in chapter six.  In chapter five, however, we turn to the development of the labour and women’s movements, including a review of their relationships with each other and with the national question.


[1] At this time the British Conservatives and Ulster Unionists formed a single party, which was often called the Unionists, sometimes the Conservatives, and sometimes the Tories.  In general, I  use the term Unionist only to describe the Irish supporters of the Union with Britain.

[2] Michael Laffan, The Partition of Ireland 1912-1925, Dublin, Dublin Historical Association, 1983, p23.

[3] Connolly, “Arms and the Man”, Irish Worker, December 13, 1913.  Reprinted in the collection Socialism and Nationalism.

[4] Padraic Pearse, “From a Hermitage”, Irish Freedom, November, 1913.

[5] Pearse mentions this in the article above, adding, “there is a good deal of wisdom in the thought as well as a deal of humour.”

[6] “The Ulster Volunteers”, editorial column, Irish Freedom, April, 1914.

[7] James Connolly, “Our Duty in this Crisis”, Irish Worker, August 8, 1914.  Reprinted in Socialism and Nationalism.

[8] Laffan, Partition. . ., p22.

[9] Henry, Evolution. . ., p134.  In contrast to the UVF’s sectarianism, he noted “Sinn Feiners and Republicans stood for the union of all Irishmen without distinction of creed.”

[10] Ibid,  p131.

[11] Pearse, “From a Hermitage”, Irish Freedom, November 1913.

[12] Henry,  p130.

[13] Redmond quoted in Irish Times editorial, October 20, 1913.

[14] Redmond quoted in Denis Gwynn, Life of John Redmond, London, 1932, p232.

[15] Irish Times, March 16, 1914.

[16] Irish Times, March 18, 1914.

[17] Gwynn, John Redmond, p250-1.

[18] Kee, Green Flag, p473.

[19] Ibid, p488.

[20] Irish Times, March 23, 1914.

[21] Report of the Twenty-First  ITUC, 1914, p18.  Cited from Mitchell, Labour In. . ., pp160-1.

[22] The manifesto is reprinted in Socialism and Nationalism, pp202-205.

[23] James Connolly, “Labour and the Proposed Partition of Ireland”, Forward, March 14, 1914.  Reprinted in Socialism and Nationalism.

[24] James Connolly, “The First Hint of Partition”, Forward, March 21, 1914.  These themes are repeated in other articles by Connolly, such as “Ireland and Ulster: An Appeal to the Working Class”, Irish Worker, April 4, 1914 and “The Exclusion of Ulster”, Forward, April 11, 1914.  Both these articles are reprinted in Socialism and Nationalism.

[25] The march and its official object is reported in Irish Times, April 6, 1914.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.  The paper gives no information on the Belfast rally, except that it was larger than the Dublin rally.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Cited from Henry, Evolution of. . .,  p149.

[30] Sinn Fein, February 21, 1914.

[31] Cited from Henry, Evolution of. . ., p148.

[32] O’Brien’s meeting and speech are reported in Irish Times, May 4, 1914.

[33] Irish Times, May 8, 1914.

[34] Irish Times, editorial, February 19, 1914.  The comment about the fate of Unionists in the South was somewhat paranoid, as when partition was imposed in 1921-22 they were given special representation through the establishment of an upper house and their economic and social position and power was unchanged.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Dillon’s letter to O’Connor is cited from F.S.L. Lyons, John Dillon, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1968, p335.

[37] Kee, Green Flag, p515.

[38] O’Connor speech at Peterborough, October 15, 1913, reported in Irish Times, October 16, 1913.

[39] Irish Times, editorial, April 27, 1914.

[40] Ibid.

[41] The Moore quote and Galway College figure is taken from the Irish Times, May 1, 1914.

[42] The information on this meeting comes from the Irish Times, October 25, 1913.  The texts of the speeches were shortly afterwards published in a pamphlet, Protestant Protest, a copy of which is held in the National Library of Ireland, Dublin.  When the Times in London responded that Ballymoney was probably the only place such a gathering could be held, Casement responded that there were many such districts in Antrim and Down – the two most Protestant counties – where similar meetings could be held.  The meeting obviously irked the Carsonites and on November 21 they organised an anti-Home Rule meeting in the town.  North Antrim MP P. Kerr Smiley declared ominously that “the handful of Protestant Home Rulers in Ulster. . . would incur serious responsibility in case any blood was shed as a result of the scandalous attempt of the Government to impose Home Rule on the Protestant community.” (Irish Times, November 22, 1913)

[43] A report of the meeting, including the description of those attending as “skilled workmen” appears in the Irish Times, April 30, 1914.

[44] Irish Times, editorial, June 2, 1914.

[45] Irish Times, June 1, 1914.

[46] Irish Times, editorial, June 6, 1914.

[47] Irish Times, June 10, 1914.

[48] Ibid, editorial.

[49] Irish Times, June 6, 1914.

[50] Their reply appears in Irish Times, June 11, 1914.

[51] Irish Times, June 12, 1914.

[52] The Sinn Fein article is quoted from the Irish Times, June 12, 1914.  The “mumbo-jumbo lodges” presumably refers to the Ancient Order of Hibernians which controlled much of the apparatus of the Parliamentary Party.

[53] Irish Times, editorial, June 13, 1914.

[54] The Provisional Committee’s letter appears in Irish Times, June 17, 1914.

[55] Clarke, who had treated him like a son and defended him from attack by people such as Irish Worker writer Sean O’Casey, broke off relations with Hobson.  Hobson, however, retained his formal position in the leadership of the IRB and went on to help undermine preparations for the Easter Rising.

[56] Henry, p154.

[57] Irish Worker, June 20, 1914.

[58] Editorial, Irish Freedom, July 1914.

[59] Irish Times, July 27, 1914.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Irish Times, editorial, July 28, 1914.

[62] Irish Times, editorial, July 11, 1914.

[63] Irish Times, July 22, 1914.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Irish Times, July 31, 1914.

[66] Irish Worker, August 8, 1914.

[67] Irish Worker, September 26, 1914.

[68] Irish Worker, October 17, 1914.

[69] The Appeal is reprinted in Socialism and Nationalism, pp209-11.

[70] See next chapter for details of the formation of the ICA.

[71] Irish Citizen Army (Belfast Division), “War – what it means to you”, Belfast, 1914, reprinted in Socialism and Nationalism, pp206-8; the quote is pp207-8.

[72] Freeman’s Journal, October 19, 1914.

[73] Fogarty cited from Kee, Green Flag, p528.

[74] The Splendid Years: Maire nic Shiubhlaigh’s story of the Irish National Theatre as told to Edward Kenny, Dublin, James Duffy and Co, 1955, p159.  Presumably she means the young women too.

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Posted on August 11, 2011, in James Connolly, Partition, Republicanism post-1900, The road to the Easter Rising, Thesis chapters, Unionism, loyalism, sectarianism. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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