One hundred years ago, in the Ireland of 1914, many pacifists adhered to the legacy of Daniel O’Connell’s and Charles S. Parnell’s non-violent course and put their hopes in Home Rule and John Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) as an answer to equal rights for the native Irish. Unfortunately, Home Rule meant different things to different people. O’Connell had seen a domestic Parliament for Ireland under the Crown while Young Ireland and the Fenians saw Home Rule as total separation from Great Britain. Parnell sought a Parliament in Dublin through constitutional means with limited legislative powers while Arthur Griffith envisaged a dual monarchy along Austro-Hungarian lines – two separate parliaments and two Prime Ministers under a single Royal head of state. However to Unionists, Home Rule meant an Irish Parliament dominated by the Catholic Church. It was a threat to their cultural identity and they feared discrimination as a religious minority as they had discriminated against others. Unionist leader Edward Carson encouraged that interpretation since it is harder to defeat a prejudice than a point of view. Loyalist opposition to Home Rule was underpinned by that deep-seated prejudice.
In 1886, British Prime Minister (PM) Gladstone first asked Parliament to grant Home Rule to Ireland rather than be forced to do so as a result of Irish unrest. Unionists were fierce in their resistance; for them, any measure of Home Rule was denounced as Rome Rule. The Bill was defeated and the Loyalists celebrated the Bill’s defeat by attacking the Catholic section of Portadown and killing 50. After this attempt to introduce Home Rule, Unionists formed the ‘Irish Unionist Alliance’ (IUA) to fight any further attempted implementation. The IUA gained support with the Conservative Members of Parliament (MP) who felt that if Ireland broke away, they could no longer rely on Ulster’s conservative voters. In 1892, the Liberals regained power and despite threats from Unionists, Gladstone introduced a second Home Rule Bill in 1893. It was passed by the House of Commons, but vetoed by the House of Lords.
By the general election of December 1910, Liberals and Conservatives in Commons were evenly matched. The new PM, Herbert Asquith, asked Redmond for IPP support of the Parliament Act to pass his budget and promised, in return, to introduce another Home Rule Bill. The Parliament Act curtailed the veto power of the House of Lords stating that if a bill passed Commons twice, Lords could not veto it; they could only delay it for two years. An agreement was made and Asquith introduced the Parliament Act. It passed in August 1911! Now it was time for the next Home Rule Bill which could not be vetoed, only delayed. Padraic Pearse gave that Bill a qualified welcome at a Home Rule Rally in March 1912. He said, it is clear to me that the bill today will be for the good of Ireland, and that we will be stronger with it than without it. Let us unite and win a good Act from the British: I think it can be done. But he concluded with the warning, However, if we are tricked this time, there is a party in Ireland, and I am one of them, that will advise the Gael to have no counsel or dealing with the Gall (foreigner), but to answer henceforward with the strong arm and the sword’s edge. If we are cheated once more there will be red war in Ireland!
Meanwhile, Unionists made plans to set up their own Parliament to rule Ulster in the event of Home Rule being passed and five men, led by MP Sir James Craig and Carson, drew up a constitution. A propaganda campaign was inaugurated to incite the electorate against Home Rule and local militias were formed. They were called the Ulster Volunteers and were dedicated to resist Home Rule by force of arms. The Liberals introduced the third Home Rule Bill in April 1912 and it passed Commons. The Lords veto could now only delay it for two years; it would become law in September 1914 – one hundred years ago! But, prejudice still ruled. An article in the March 1912 Irish Review noted that there were literally thousands of Ulster Unionists whose whole political creed could be summed up in one sentence, I would be a Home Ruler tomorrow only for the Church of Rome. The Unionist Council played on that prejudice and gradually reorganized their Ulster Volunteers into the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) to oppose Home Rule and membership increased.
In 1914, the year that Home Rule was to be implemented, the government’s willingness to oppose the UVF threat was thrown into question in March by the Curragh Mutiny. The Curragh Camp in Kildare was the main base for the British Army in Ireland and the officers of the camp resigned rather than be ordered to resist the UVF and enforce Home Rule. The government backed down and the officers were reinstated. On 24 April, the UVF smuggled 30,000 arms and three million rounds of ammunition into Larne, Co. Antrim and Bangor and Donaghadee, Co. Down. The loyalists had achieved both a military as well as a political victory. They had amplified the UVF’s fire-power while backing up their challenge against Home Rule. When asked about the UVF arming, Padraic Pearse, stated that, it is a goodly thing to see arms in Irish hands. I would like to see the A.O.H. armed. I would like to see the Transport Workers armed. I would like to see any and every body of Irish citizens armed. The only thing more ridiculous than an Ulsterman with a rifle is a nationalist without one! On 5 July, 1914, an American Volunteer Fund promised a gun to every volunteer ready to fight. On 26 July, Erskine Childers, his wife Molly and Mary Spring Rice brought 900 rifles from pre-war Germany into Howth Harbor and distributed them to waiting Irish Volunteers, a force formed to counter the Ulster Volunteers. Another shipment of 600 was smuggled into Kilcoole a week later by Sir Thomas Myles; a small number of the Irish Volunteers were now armed. (See Historical Happenings at NYAOH.COM for that story)
In June 1914, Asquith’s Liberals proposed an amendment to the Home Rule Bill to let Ulster’s counties vote individually to be included in or excluded from Home Rule for a term of six years. Sensing that Cavan, Donegal, Monaghan, Fermanagh and Tyrone held large nationalist majorities and would vote to be included in an all-Ireland Home Rule parliament, the Unionist majority in the House of Lords further amended this to be an indefinite exclusion of all nine counties of Ulster since they knew a four-county Northern Ireland could not survive. That was too controversial and the Liberals dropped the plan. Those nationalists who wanted total separation from the Crown, but agreed to accept Home Rule as a moderate first step, were frustrated. With the delay of Home Rule, the possible segregation of Ulster from the bill, the Curragh Mutiny and the obvious collusion between the government and the Loyalists, it seemed as if their dreams of equality had once more been shattered. Anger seethed among the militants. Then, on 4 August, Britain declared war on Germany and Asquith put off implementing Homer Rule until after the war. However, it soon became clear that WWI would not be as brief as first anticipated and the Conservatives in Parliament began attacking PM Asquith’s policies, including Home Rule. In May 1915, Asquith was forced to agree to a coalition government. The liberal government that had passed Home Rule now had anti-Home Rule Conservatives in some of its cabinet posts.
In April, 1916 Irish nationalists made a stand in Dublin in the failed but gallant Easter Rising. After the rising, Asquith charged liberal Minister David Lloyd George with implementing a modified Bill, drawn up on 17 June 1916, which excluded six counties and reduced Ireland’s representation in the House of Commons. It was not the Bill originally voted and passed! Lloyd George told Redmond that partition would only be temporary while Carson was assured that it would be permanent! On 22 July, Redmond accused the government of treachery. Duplicity was again being practiced, but this time it would not succeed for the Easter Rising patriots who gave their lives for an independent Ireland had seen to that. Pearse was right when he predicted, If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed. Clarke was also right when he added, The next blow, which we have no doubt Ireland will strike, will win through. In the two years that followed the rising, the mutilated Home Rule Bill for an Ireland within the British Empire was no longer acceptable to the Irish who were now voicing support for the old dream of an independent republic.
After the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919 ended WWI, PM Lloyd George tried to implement the revised Home Rule scheme with two parliaments. It was approved by Westminster on 11 November 1920, even though a number of the Irish MPs voted against it. The majority of Irish MPs however, did not vote at all — they weren’t even in attendance! They had already given their allegiance elsewhere. They refused to recognize the parliament chosen for them and instead established an independent legislature of their own in Dublin; they called it Dáil Eireann (the Assembly of Ireland). They had their first meeting on 21 January 1919 in which they restated the goal of 1916. In September, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland declared the Dáil illegal, but that did not diminish Irish support for the new assembly nor the independence they sought. The first meeting of the new Dáil had also coincided with the unauthorized ambush of a gelignite transport in Tipperary by nine IRA men under Dan Breen and Sean Tracey in which two members of the RIC were shot dead. It was the start of the War of Independence which had indirectly resulted from the deceit and perfidy of the events of 1914!