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IIreland 1850-1920 Copyright © 2005 by Desmond Keenan. Book available from and]

Chapter Ten



Summary of chapter. The issue of Home Rule was shelved for the duration of the war. Most Irishmen and women threw themselves into the struggle against Germany. The Protestant unionists in Ulster were particularly enthusiastic, and the Government promised at least temporary exclusion from the provisions of the Home Rule Act. A tiny group of extreme fanatics attempted a military putsch in 1916. Though the attempt was senseless, the fact that they refused to volunteer for the Army meant that they were free to organise political campaigns for Sinn Fein which was the overt political wing of the IRA and IRB. The Government organised a Convention to see if Irish politicians could come to an agreement among themselves. By this time, Sinn Fein, like Hitler, determined to rely if necessary on force and terrorist tactics and impose their own solution, so the failure of the Convention was an irrelevance. The general election in 1918 resulted in sweeping gains for Sinn Fein. The electoral system enabled minority parties to gain a great majority of the Irish seats.



The Ministry December 1916 to December 1918 (coalition)




The Ministry August 1914 to December 1916 (Liberal)    

Prime Minister             Herbert Asquith

Home Secretary           Reginald MacKenna; May 1915 Sir John Simon; January 1916 Herbert Samuel

Lord Lieutenant          Earl of Aberdeen; February 1915 Baron Wimborne

Chief Secretary             Augustine Birrell; August 1916 Henry Duke

Under Secretary           Sir James Dougherty; Oct 1914 Sir Matthew Nathan; May 1916 Sir Robert Chalmers; Oct 1916 Sir William Byrne

           [August 1914] Sir John Simon from Manchester was educated at Oxford and the Inner Temple and was called to the bar. He entered Parliament as a Liberal MP in 1906, and was appointed Solicitor General and knighted in 1910. He was appointed Home Secretary in 1915 and resigned in January 1916 on the issue of conscription. Herbert Samuel was Jewish, the son of an investment banker belonging to the City firm of Samuel, Montague and Co. Samuel was educated at Oxford, and his father left him sufficient money to pursue any career he liked. While engaged in constituency political work he began to study poverty, not only in Whitechaple in the East End of London but also in rural parts of Oxfordshire. (Whitechaple was the usual destination of poverty-stricken Jewish groups fleeing persecution in their homelands.) He mixed with the early socialists but disagreed with them over nationalisation. He was elected to Parliament as a Liberal in 1902, and was appointed Under Secretary in the Home Office in 1906 where he dealt with young offenders and the introduction of the borstal system, helped to frame the Home Rule Bill (1912) and was involved in dealing with the militant suffragettes. He entered the cabinet in 1909 but lost his position there during the re-shuffle which followed the formation of a coalition Government in May 1915. In January 1916 he was restored to the Cabinet as Home Secretary. He went out of office when Asquith resigned, refused an offer from Lloyd George. He did eventually accept an offering from Lloyd George in 1920 to be the first British High Commissioner in charge of the mandated territory of Palestine.

          Sir Ivor Churchill Guest, 3rd baronet and 1st Viscount Wimborne, was educated at Eton and Cambridge. He served in the South African War as a captain in the Dorset Imperial Yeomanry, and was elected to Parliament as a Conservative in 1900. He, along with Winston Churchill, changed parties over the issue of Free Trade. He was Paymaster General from 1910 to 1912. At the outbreak of the War he returned to the army as an officer on the Staff of Sir Bryan Mahon who had been appointed the commander of the 10th (Irish) Division at the Curragh. In February 1915 he was asked to accept the position of Lord Lieutenant. The Countess of Fingall mentions that he paid a visit to her home, Killeen Castle, though at this period her closest friend in the Castle was Sir Matthew Nathan. Henry Edward Duke was the son of the clerk in a granite works in Devon. He began life a local journalist but soon moved to London. There he read for the bar and was called to the bar by Gray’s Inn. He was elected to Parliament as a Unionist, showing that it was possible for a person of humble origins and poor education to reach high rank on ability alone. In the courts he held his own against Sir Edward Carson. On Birrell’s resignation in 1916 he was appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland. Sir Robert Chalmers was born in London and educated in Oxford, after which he became a career civil servant, serving in the Revenue Departments and the Treasury. From 1913 to 1916 he served as Governor of Ceylon. Following the resignation of Sir Matthew Nathan he was briefly Under Secretary in Ireland.


           On 28 June 1914 the Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in Sarajevo in Bosnia in the Austrian Empire. After months of negotiations involving Austria, Germany, Russia and France on 3 August the Germans launched a pre-emptive stroke against France, through Belgium, and the following day, 4 August 1914, the British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey announced to the House of Commons that the United Kingdom would support France. The Countess of Fingall had been a close friend of the German Ambassador and his wife, and also of the Austrian Ambassador whom she and her daughter occasionally took to mass. Both had to leave London. In the days before ideology came to dominate European politics the crowned heads of Europe visited each other. Similarly, the nobility always had invitations to stay at each others houses when travelling. French was the common language of the upper classes from the Atlantic to the Urals. Generals and admirals were usually from the upper classes and knew each other.

          When war was declared the Fingalls returned to Ireland, and like the great majority of the Irish, were caught up in the war effort. Famously, the Countess of Mayo, Geraldine Bourke, (Lady Mayo) had a flag embroidered for an Irish Brigade which Field Marshal Earl Kitchener the new Secretary of State for War tactlessly returned. (From a strictly military point of view Kitchener was right to resist pressure for particular battalions to serve together. A particular battalion might be seriously weakened in an action, and then the whole brigade would have to be withdrawn until its ranks were made up. The Canadians limited their usefulness in both World Wars by insisting that they fight only as an army. So, in the Second World War, it was not until June 1944 that any use could be made of the Canadian Army. On the other hand there was a precedent in the Irish Brigade in the Boer War, and it proved possible to form three more-or-less Irish divisions.)

          The Earl of Fingall offered his services to the War Office to help with recruitment. This chiefly meant trying to persuade the young men in the two Volunteer Forces to join the Regular Army. An officer called Captain R. C. Kelly was sent to Dublin to organise the recruitment. The countess noted how the great English ladies devoted themselves night and day to the war effort, giving up their houses for hospitals and selling their jewels. The Countess of Limerick ran a canteen at Waterloo Station in London to provide hot tea for the troops going to and coming from the Front. Lady Fingall was herself made Chairman in Ireland of the Central Committee for Women’s Employment which was started by Sir Matthew Nathan. Her eldest son, Lord Killeen finished his military training at Sandhurst. Sir Bryan Mahon wanted him to join the 8th (King’s Royal Irish) Hussars, Desmond Fitzgerald, son of the Duke of Leinster, wanted him in the Irish Guards, while Lieutenant General Douglas Haig, whose sister was a friend of the countess wanted him in his old regiment, the 17th Lancers. It was the latter Killeen chose.

          Much has been written about the recruitment and training of the Volunteers, but we must remember that the regular units of the army were the first that were sent to France. It was not until July 1915 that Sir Bryan Mahon could take the 10th (Irish) division to Gallipoli. Brigadier General Hubert de la Poer Gough took the 3rd cavalry brigade to France in August 1914, and was soon promoted to major general in charge of the 2nd cavalry division. Sir Henry Wilson was sent to France as a senior member of the staff of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force Sir John French. Sir Douglas Haig commanded the 1st army corps.

          Irish industry was geared up for war. The shipyards were filled with orders. The linen industry was worked to full capacity, the Government finally buying all the linen that could be produced. Linen cloth was the preferred fabric for covering aircraft having the greatest strength for weight of any fabric. It could also be ‘doped’ to make it waterproof. Linen was needed on a vast scale for the aircraft of Britain, France, Italy, and America; Tillage too was expanded to make up for the shortfall in imports.

          The British Expeditionary Force under Sir John French took its position on the left of the French line, just to the left of the French Fifth Army under General Lanrezac on the French side of the France-Belgium border. When the Germans invaded Belgium, the British and the Fifth French Army entered Belgium to assist the Belgian army. Belgium and Holland formed a kind of triangular wedge between the German frontier running north-south and the French northern frontier running roughly east-west. The Belgians were relying on the strength of great fortresses they had constructed along their eastern frontier with Germany. The Germans used heavy Austrian siege guns to quickly reduce the fortresses, and began to wheel through Belgium. The British Expeditionary Force, numbering about 80,000 men advanced towards the fortress, and along with the Fifth French Army, arrived at Mons, a few miles beyond the Franco-Belgian frontier. Contrary to what the British and French had expected this was the place where the Germans had decided to launch their main thrust.

          The Irish regiments in the first expeditionary force were the Royal Irish Regiment and Royal Irish Rifles in the 3rd division under General Hamilton, the 2nd Connaught Rangers and the Irish Guards in the 2nd division under General Monro, and the 2nd Munster Fusiliers in the 1st division under General Lomax. These divisions were sent to the Mons-Charleroi line; French’s 80,000 men were opposed by at least 200,000 Germans, with perhaps 40,000 or 50,000 trying to envelop them. Having insufficient numbers to hold the whole front, unless they withdrew rapidly the German army would surround them. So in the first phase of the war the British army marched rapidly back towards Paris as the German army tried to march round them and surround them from one side while others units drove back the Fifth French army and surrounded them on the other side. Then the German army would wheel behind the French army and trap them at Sedan as they did in 187o. The Royal Irish Rifles were stationed in Mons where General Hamilton had his headquarters; they were for a time cut off but extricated themselves with the help of the Gordon Highlanders. The 2nd Munsters also suffered heavily in the engagement as did the Irish Guards now in battle for the first time. The German regiments were pushed forward in masses and they were mowed down by the British rifle and machinegun fire. French's men were compelled by weight of numbers to fall back. The British Expeditionary Force and Lanrezac’s French Fifth Army retreated in a southerly direction towards Paris (Weekly Irish Times 7 Aug 1915; Spears, Liaison 1914).

          There was a general belief on both sides that the war would be over by Christmas. Lord Kitchener disagreed, and set about establishing new armies, avoiding conscription and relying solely on volunteering. He called for 100,000 volunteers. On 30 July 1914 Bonar Law got Asquith to agree to postpone a settlement in Ireland until the impending crisis of a European War was passed. Asquith agreed but Redmond wanted to see the Home Rule Bill safely on the statute book. Asquith pressed on with the Home Rule Bill and it became law as the Government of Ireland Act (1914) on 18 September 1914, and received the royal signature, without the Amending Bill. A Suspensory Act (1914) suspended the implementation of the Home Rule bill, which in fact never came into force.

          As early as 5th August 1914 Carson sent a telegram to the secretary of the Ulster Unionist Council asking that all members of the Ulster Volunteer Force should enlist, and on the same day General Sir George Richardson, commander of the Ulster Volunteer Force, asked that a census of the force be undertaken to see how many were ready to enlist for service overseas, how many for home defence in the UK, and how many for home defence in Ulster. Carson came to an agreement with the War Office on how the Ulster volunteers would be used, and on 7th September 1914 he wrote to the UVF calling for volunteers. Within 10 days Carson was able to tell Kitchener that there were already 10,000 volunteers (Colles, History of Ulster IV, 244ff; Weekly Northern Whig 12 Sept 1914).

          By the middle of September there were 12,000 enlisted and the 36th (Ulster) division was formed from them. Belfast businessmen undertook to have the uniforms and boots made up; so every recruit had his uniform as soon as he enlisted, and the whole division was ready with its uniforms and equipment in October. It was the first of Kitchener’s new divisions to be equipped. Its equipment was also the best and cheapest. It also formed all its own ancillary units, service corps, engineers, signallers, pioneers, cavalry unit, and field ambulance, all except divisional artillery. It also maintained several reserve battalions to supply reinforcements. The whole division first assembled as a unit on 8th May 1915, and subsequently marched through the city of Belfast. It was sent to France in October 1915, where it was split up for training, but was re-united in February 1916 (Colles op. cit.).

          The county system of the Ulster Volunteer Force made it easy to transform them into linked militia battalions of the regular army. For example, Royal Irish Fusiliers had its depot in Armagh. Its 1st battalion was the 87th foot; its 2nd battalion the 89th foot; its 3rd battalion the Armagh militia, its 4th battalion the Cavan militia and its 5th battalion the Monaghan militia. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th (militia) battalions were reserve battalions, responsible for home defence and for providing volunteers to the 1st and 2nd battalions. The new battalions were added in as 6th, 7th, 8th and so on, and were called ‘service’ battalions. These were fighting battalions, but enlisted only for the duration of the War. The Royal Irish Rifles ultimately numbered 20 battalions, including regular, reserve, service, and garrison battalions.

          An officer in the regular army who took over the training of the service battalions noted that the training they had received in the Volunteers was very imperfect, but that when they were taken away from home and given proper training in camps in England they eventually made fine soldiers. For the most part, the service battalions were grouped into their own separate divisions, totally disregarding where the regular battalions of the regiment were.


          Asquith visited Dublin and appealed for Volunteers; Redmond joined him on the platform and was enthusiastically welcomed. A special meeting of the Unionist Council was held; Carson explained that the Acts were suspended for the duration, and urged the volunteers to enlist. He promised to convene the Ulster provisional government after the war. Bonar Law and Carson then appeared in the Ulster Hall in Belfast on 28 September 1914 and Law renewed his pledges of support to the Unionists (Weekly Northern Whig 3 Oct 1914).

          John Redmond, after war was announced, rose in Parliament and said that the entire British Army could be safely withdrawn from Ireland, and the defence of the island left to the Irish Volunteers. He expected that the War Office would recognise the Irish Volunteers north and south would supply them with arms and would train them. This, of course, was going far beyond what was included in the Government of Ireland (1914) Act, but everyone knew, especially the Ulster Unionists, that if the British Army left it would never return, and that the exclusion of the Six Counties would never be raised (DNB Redmond). He decided in spite of the rejection of his offer to recommend that the Irish Catholics should volunteer for Kitchener’s new armies. Their method of recruitment was the same as in Ulster; volunteer battalions were added as service battalions to the existing Irish regular regiments which had depots outside Ulster. There was not the same enrolling as entire companies, and those Protestants outside Ulster could volunteer on the same basis as the Catholics. It is therefore misleading to claim that the service battalions contained only men who had previously been in the two Volunteer Forces.

          To recall, there were eight regular Irish regiments in the peace time army. Leinster had the Leinster Regiment and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers; Munster had the Royal Irish Regiment and the Royal Munster Fusiliers; Connaught had the Connaught Rangers, while Ulster had the Royal Irish Rifles, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. As each regiment had two regular battalions it is clear that of the 16, six were from Ulster, and 10 from the rest of Ireland. By the end of 1914 42 of the 82 Irish battalions including reserve battalions had been raised in Ulster (Colles, History of Ulster.) On 1st August 1914 there were 20,780 Irishmen serving in the army. At the outbreak of war 17,804 reservists and 12,462 special reservists re-joined making a total on mobilisation of 51,046 men. Subsequently three new divisions the 10th, 16th, and 36th were formed each of 12 battalions, which added to the original 16 Irish battalions made 52  battalions; at the same time reserve brigades were formed to act as feeders. No further battalions were created, for all new volunteers were fed into the existing units to replace casualties. Very importantly, the wives of soldiers were paid directly a ‘separation allowance’ while their husbands were in the army.

           According to Lord Wimborne's report on state of recruiting to Secretary of State for War, Earl Kitchener, the total number of recruits raised in Ireland from 2nd Aug 1914 to 8th January 1916 was 86,277. The recruiting districts were roughly the same as the militia districts assigned to the regular battalions. By far the greatest numbers of recruits came from Belfast city with 26,883, followed by Dublin city and county with 16,726. The total for No.11 district which included the nine Ulster counties plus Belfast and Co. Louth was 60,760. The highest regimental area was the 18th area (Kilkenny, Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford) with 7,040, followed by 83rd recruiting area (Antrim and Down excluding Belfast) with 5,441 (Weekly Irish Times 5 February 1916).

          It was the function of Captain Kelly’s and Lord Fingall’s Department to organise this recruitment. The decision of the Ulster businessmen to provide for the making of the standard uniforms and boots meant that there was no delay over the placing of contracts. Referring to a recruiting meeting in Navan, Co. Meath, addressed by the Earl of Fingall at the end of 1914 the newspaper noted that the earl was serving with the 7th Leinsters along with Lt. T.M. Kettle and Mr Stephen Gwynn. It noted that following Redmond’s speech the Government said it would prefer if the Volunteers served in the regular forces, and the 47th brigade of the new 16th division was cleared to make room for the nationalist volunteers (Weekly Irish Times 2 January 1915). Thomas Kettle, a poet and professor had been a nationalist MP and had joined the Irish Volunteers. He was in Belgium in August 1914 purchasing arms when the War commenced. He was killed on the Somme. Stephen Gwynn was a Nationalist MP who enlisted as a private, but was given a commission in the Connaught Rangers and served in the 16th (Irish) Division until 1917 in which year he became a member of the Irish Convention. He is chiefly remembered as a poet (DNB Gwynn; Encyclopaedia of Ireland).

           In a speech at Woodenbridge, Co. Wicklow on 20 September 1914 Redmond called for the Irish Volunteers to enlist, which they did initially in quite large numbers. His decision to recommend volunteering to the regular army took many people by surprise. In particular he infuriated the IRB who had started the Irish Volunteers for their own purposes. For, as the would-be revolutionaries knew ‘England’s Difficulty is Ireland’s Opportunity’. If they were to make a successful putsch the Volunteers had to be at their maximum strength at the time when most of the regular army units were sucked out of the country. Hence the great interest of the German Ambassador in their affairs. On September 24 the original provisional committee of the Irish Volunteers repudiated both Redmond and his nominees on the provisional committee. The movement split. It was estimated that about 170,000 Volunteers followed Redmond, while about 11,000 followed the IRB and kept the name of Irish Volunteers. Eoin MacNeill remained with the Irish Volunteers, also popularly called Sinn Fein Volunteers for the role of the IRB was not known, though he was one of the few senior figures who was not a member of the IRB.

           Redmond set about reorganising his section of the Volunteers, now called the Irish National Volunteers on the lines he had already envisaged. By the following April 1915 he was able to chair a Convention of the Irish National Volunteers now under his command. He said that a new elected governing body in place of the provisional committee was now ready to take over, and re-appoint the officers, undertake training etc. (Weekly Irish Times 10 April 1915). William O’Brien and Tim Healy supported Redmond. Commenting on a review in the Phoenix Park in Dublin of the National Volunteers who had not volunteered for the army in April 1915 a reporter noted that most of the men were of military age, and though as yet the force was militarily useless, it could be moulded with proper training. It was clear that the training in marching in many of the units was rudimentary. Those from Belfast were remarkably well-drilled and equipped, and carried rifles with fixed bayonets; it was estimated that they carried about 4,000 rifles, of which a quarter were modern Lee-Enfields, and many carried shotguns. He conceded however that many of the best men had enlisted in the army (Weekly Irish Times 10 April 1915). (It should be noted that these remarks would apply equally to the Irish Volunteers who in 1916 would attempt to fight the Army.)             

          Following the split between the Nationalists and the Sinn Feiners the Redmondites gained control in Cork and the United Irish League captured the guns; these guns had been used by Garibaldi’s soldiers (Weekly Irish Times 10 October 1914). By April 1916 the number of the Irish Volunteers was estimated to be 13,500 with about 2,600 rifles. The number of the National Volunteers however continued to shrink (Weekly Irish Times 27 May 1916).

          On the recruiting efforts of the Nationalist Party Professor Bew remarked that ‘it was a new experience for Irish audiences to learn from their leaders that their own sufferings were now in the past or that other countries were being treated more savagely by history (Ideology and the Irish Question, 124). Recruiters were speaking of the sufferings of the Belgians, the destruction of churches and cathedrals. Though stories of the ‘Belgian atrocities’ were doubtless exaggerated, there is no doubt that the German army adopted a deliberate policy of violence and intimidation in the occupied country. Sinn Fein propagandists denied that there were any German atrocities.

          The Protestant newspapers were sceptical about the sudden change of front. However it seems clear that a new note of realism was entering the calculations of the Redmondites while Sinn Fein and the IRB still wallowed in mythology and racial fantasies. The Party however still clung to Protection as their main tool for the development of Ireland. But Redmond envisaged the establishment of small factories in the country towns, a policy that was later adopted by the Free State Government (Bew loc. cit.). A perceived change in the financial balance between the two islands as the result of National Insurance caused a rethink of the financial relations. It became clear too, that though Ireland was allegedly over-taxed the parsimonious funding of the Irish Government meant that there was little to be saved by retrenchment of the public services. (Retrenchment of Government expenditure had been a watchword of the Liberals for a hundred years.) On the other hand, if Government services were to be improved and increased, Irish taxation would have to rise, a point the Unionists made. By the time the Irish Convention met in 1918 the Nationalist Party had worked out what their demands were.


          The armies in France retreated as far as the Marne passing just to the east of Paris. General Joffre realised that the sixth German army which had been pursuing the retreating British Expeditionary Force had exposed its flank to a counterstroke from the direction of Paris. Sir John French, who had been considering pulling out his weary divisions for a rest, was persuaded to counterattack along with the rest of the French army. The German armies were driven back to the Aisne and dug trenches. Soon a double line of trenches stretched across northern France from the Swiss border to the North Sea. Both sides attempted to get past each other near the town of Ypres in Belgium which resulted in the First Battle of Ypres. From the end of 1914 until the middle of 1918 this double line of trenches never moved more than twenty miles either to the east or the west. The line of trenches was more or less L-shaped, north-south in the western half and east-west in the eastern half. The result was that the British normally attacked eastwards and the French northwards. The British Army held the Ypres Salient, a triangular shaped area where the troops could be shot at from both sides, and consequently casualties were twice as high as on any other stretch of front. [TOP]


           [1915] The year began with the replacement of the Earl of Aberdeen by Baron Wimborne. In the House of Lords Lord MacDonnell noted that in 1883 25% of the imperial army was composed of Irishmen; in 1892 it was 15%; in 1903 13% and in 1914 9%; with regard to the nationalists no records were kept. Since the beginning of the present war 115,000 Irishmen had joined from England, Scotland, and Wales; and at least 85,000 from Ireland. Harris describes the battalions raised by the Tyneside Irish, the London Irish, and the Liverpool Irish (Harris The Irish Regiments 247-267). When Winston Churchill had become First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911 he chose Rear Admiral David Beattie, whose family had come from Co. Wexford and who counted as Irish as his naval secretary. They suited each other. Churchill then gave him command of the battle cruiser squadron in the North Sea. At the Dogger Bank Bight Admiral Beattie won the first naval victory of the war, an Irish victory! The mail boats crossing from Dublin to Holyhead were always vulnerable to submarine attack, though it was not until 1918 that one was sunk. Lady Fingall recalled that the captain of the mailboat pointed out a periscope sticking out of the water. We can assume that the mailboats always varied their route so that the much slower U-boats could not catch them.

          A Victoria Cross was awarded to Michael O’Leary, the son of an ardent nationalist from Cork for conspicuous gallantry in capturing a German position on 1st Feb 1915. He had served in the Irish Guards and Canadian North West Mounted Police, until the reserves were called up. A passenger steamer was torpedoed in St George's Channel by a submarine; over 100 were missing. In May the Cunard liner the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of Cork as she was heading for Liverpool.  1,129 were lost and there were sorrowful spectacles at Queenstown. Sir Hugh Lane among those lost. The Lusitania was unfortunate for it steered inadvertently towards the U-boat.

          In May also the 1st battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers were sent to Gallipoli after the Australian and New Zealand forces got bogged down. They were no more successful. In October the 6th (service) battalion was also sent there. Also present were the 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers, and the 6th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.  The editor noted that more than once it was possible to regard  the army in the Dardanelles as an Irish army, with the Dublin, Munster, and Inniskilling fusiliers of the 10th division of the new armies; the 6th Dublins are worthy of the  traditions of the 1st Dublins  (Weekly Irish Times 11th  Sept  1915). On the Western Front the British 1st Army under Douglas Haig attacked at Neuve Chapelle in Artois, and soon the wounded were being sent back to Dublin hospitals.

           Asquith was faced with a crisis in the Government when Churchill and the First Sea Lord (the senior admiral in the navy) could not work together, each having strongly held views about how the war at sea should be fought. Fisher resigned, so Asquith decided to broaden the field of talent available by asking the leaders of the opposition parties to form a coalition. Bonar Law accepted, but made it a condition that Churchill and Lord Haldane, then Lord Chancellor, should not be in the cabinet. Asquith had to accept and Churchill was dismissed, and given a fairly meaningless post. In the new ministry Edward Carson became Attorney General; Churchill Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; Balfour the new First Lord of the Admiralty; Lloyd George the new office of Minister for Munitions, Reginald MacKenna new Chancellor of the Exchequer. Redmond was offered a post, but not an Irish post so he declined.

           Dublin University VAD or Voluntary Aid Detachment was the branch of Dublin University women graduates and undergraduates. The scheme began in 1909 when the Secretary of State for War requested a plan for voluntary aid for the sick and wounded in time of war. In 1911 the Officers Training Corps in the university took advantage of the scheme, and enabled a university VAD to be formed and registered with the Territorial Branch of the St John's Ambulance Brigade. A camp of instruction was held in 1912, and in 1914 the university provided No 19 Mountjoy Square as a hospital, where they worked. There are 24 beds and a resident surgeon. Housework, including cooking is done by voluntary workers, and Belgian refugees (Weekly Irish Times 3 July 1915).

          In August 1915 there was a report of Irish VAD nurses at the front. They were two to a tent at the general hospitals and they had to provide the furniture of the tents themselves. The VADs were at first resented by the trained nurses. Volunteer VADs are put on probation for one month and then accepted for 6 months, and were sent to hospitals in England or France to do the work of junior probationers. There was much work washing in the sink room and cleaning    things, sweeping and dusting the wards; running with fomentations, washing bandages, helping with meals and making beds (Weekly Irish Times 21 Aug 1915).

          John Redmond noted with regard to the supply of war materials that a munitions factory had been established in Dublin and another in Belfast. Everywhere in Ireland  where the machinery was available it was  being used to provide uniforms, bags, shirts, stockings, blankets, picks, shovels, disinfectants, and medicated cotton wool (Weekly Irish Times 23 October 1915).

          The decision was taken to evacuate the Dardanelles, and the 10th (Irish) Division was moved to Salonika. In August 1915 Germany sent reinforcements to Austria's southern front; and, on Sept. 6, 1915, the Central Powers concluded a treaty with Bulgaria, whom they drew to their side by the offer of territory to be taken from Serbia. The Austro-German forces attacked southward from the Danube on October 6.The western Allies, surprised in September by the prospect of a Bulgarian attack on Serbia, hastily decided to send help through neutral Greece's Macedonian port of Salonika. Troops from Gallipoli, under the French General Maurice Sarrail, reached Salonika on October 5 1915.  In October 1915 the 10th (Irish) Division under Sir Bryan Mahon was transferred from Sulva to Salonika. The Allies advanced northward up the Vardar into Serbian Macedonia but found themselves prevented from junction with the Serbs by the westward thrust of the Bulgars. Driven back over the Greek frontier, the Allies were merely occupying the Salonika region by mid-December. No break-out was successful until July 1918 (Encyclopaedia Britannica). (My mother was then a schoolgirl in Dundalk, and she used to hear drunken shouts of ‘Up Salonika’ when passing public houses.) [Sir Bryan Mahon 1862-1930, was born in Galway and commanded of the 10th (Irish) division in 1914. In July 1915 it was sent to Gallipoli and was heavily involved at Sulva Bay, and in October 1915 it was transferred to Salonika where the attempt to stabilise the Serbian front was unsuccessful, and the front was finally established around Salonika. In May 1916 he was relieved by Sir George Milne and was C-in-C Ireland from the end of 1916 to May 1918]         

          It was noted that women were now undertaking a wider variety of jobs along with the decline of the domestic servant. Women were now checking tickets at railway stations, conducting trams, being shop assistants in the grocery business, and at a higher level there were lady professors, typists, Poor Law Guardians, and newspaper editors. There was a protest in Belfast by a trade union against the use of women tram conductors. The National Union of Women Workers was now firmly established in Dublin.  On the committee were the Countess of Fingall, Lady Arnott etc. The Union was open to all creeds and classes.

          A Report on the employment of women sanitary inspectors by the Dublin Corporation showed that there were 22 permanent sanitary sub-officers and 10 female sub-officers. They had to inspect 33,000 rooms in tenement houses and 3,000 in common lodging houses. One alderman said that women could not be employed until 2 a.m. in the common lodging houses for women; he had himself inspected some of these and found women sleeping on tables and on chests of drawers. It was noted too that many women wished to study law as a qualification for jobs as inspectors where knowledge of the Poor Laws, Sanitary laws, Children's Acts; Factories and Shops Acts etc. was essential. There were openings for women as education inspectors, Poor Law Inspectors, Inspectors under the Insurance Acts, Factory inspectors and appointments in Labour Exchanges.

          The President of Kilkenny Gaelic League, the dowager Countess of Desart resigned. The branch was a failure, with no money to pay a Gaelic teacher. There was despondency    everywhere in the League for it was the only one which was doing nothing practical in this period of suffering humanity. More importantly, Douglas Hyde resigned from the presidency of the Gaelic League which had been hi-jacked by the political extremists associated with Sinn Fein.


          In the Intermediate examinations the O’Connell Schools, Dublin, run by the Irish Christian Brothers, maintained its position as the best school in Ireland. In 2nd place was Clongowes College run by the Jesuits, and in 3rd place the Presbyterian Royal Belfast Academical Institution RBAI. The first for girls was Loreto College, St Stephen’s Green, run by the Loreto Sisters, followed by Margaret Byer’s Victoria College, Belfast, and Alexandra College and School, Dublin (Weekly Irish Times18 Sept, 2 Oct, 9 Oct, 6 Nov1915. Margaret Byers died in 1912).

          Charts of education facilities in Ireland were prepared by the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. Scholarships were available from the primary school to technical schools and day trades preparatory schools, and from the latter to apprenticeships. From the technical schools there were scholarships to the Royal College of Science and the Metropolitan School of Art, and to commercial and manual training scholarships and industrial scholarships.  Those who passed from the first two were eligible for employment as commercial, art, and technical teachers. Students in secondary schools too could get scholarships to the Royal College of Science and the Metropolitan School of Art. The scholarships were provided by the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (Weekly Irish Times 9 Oct 1915). Scholarships were neither numerous or of great value but were sufficient to allow bright children from poor families to pursue further education

          After the withdrawal from the Dardanelles, Churchill resigned from the Government, and returned to the army hoping to get a command of a brigade. He was then aged 40. He rejoined his yeomanry regiment, the Oxfordshire Hussars, but was later given command of the 6th (service) battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. Always wanting to be in the thick of things he stayed well-forward in the trenches. Carson was increasingly critical of the way the War was being conducted.

          Redmond continued with his recruiting campaign. He had always argued that Ireland under Home Rule would present no danger to England. Also he had a niece in a convent in Belgium Five by-elections were fought in Ireland between August 1914 and April 1916 and were won comfortably by the Nationalist Party. But as Bew pointed out serious weaknesses were beginning to show in the constituency party organisations. The land issue was largely settled, and the best party workers had gone to the War (Bew, John Redmond, 38).

          The War had not gone well for the Allies in 1915. The stalemate on the Western Front continued, and the attempts to break through in the Dardanelles were blocked off. Douglas Haig replaced Sir John French as the Commander-in-chief of the British armies on 19 December 1915. This again brought the Countess of Fingall close to the centre of things, for Haig was the brother of one of her oldest friends Mrs Willie Jameson. The countess’s son Lord Killeen served for a time on Haig’s staff. She liked him very well. The issue of compulsory conscription came up to meet the daily losses. At the end of December the cabinet decided to introduce conscription to become effective from 8 January 1916. The proposal was opposed by both the Nationalists and Sinn Fein.

          On the 9th October 1915 the total number of enlistments was 75,293 which added to the pre-war total gave 126,339. In  the same month it was decided by the War Office not to increase the numbers of units but to try to fill up the wastage on the basis of 100% replacement per annum; this would require a weekly supply of 1,1000. In the earlier months of 1915 this target was reached, but not in the later months, so it was decided in October 1915, following a conference representative of all Irish parties, to ask the Lord Lieutenant to undertake the task of Director of Recruiting. A Department of Recruiting was established, but in the following 7 weeks a weekly average of only 1,063 was obtained.

          It was estimated that there were 400,000 men of military age in Ireland. However, after the exclusion of those required for the needs of agriculture, or war work, and the unfit, it was doubtful if the pool would exceed 100,000. It was not expected that there were many more volunteers from the industrial workers from whom most of the volunteers had come. There was scope in the commercial classes who could be replaced in their occupations by women. By and large there was a poor response from the agricultural sector; the slowness of recruitment was attributed to the conservative tendencies of rural areas. The total number of recruits raised in Ireland from 2nd August 1914 to 8th January 1916 was 86,277 (Weekly Irish Times 5 Feb 1916). At the beginning of the period there were 5,100 sailors from Ireland, and after August 1914 a further 3,446 joined; the total for both services was thus 145,869.  No account could be given of Irishmen who enlisted in Britain.

          Lady Wimborne inspected the war hospitals supplies depots in Ireland where some thousands of women were engaged in making hospital requisites for the wounded men. The several Irish depots were manned by volunteers and were supported by voluntary contributions. The Central Depot had a register of 1,000 voluntary workers who made up many kinds of bandages and swabs etc. Much use was made of sphagnum moss in the dressings. [TOP]


           [1916] The Compulsory Service Act (1916) was introduced into the Commons in January 1916, with Ireland exempted from its provisions. The Unionists objected to this exemption. The Nationalists abstained from voting.

          The national shell factory in Dublin was now in full production. Captain Downie, who was in charge of it, worked miracles with obsolete machinery; very good 4.5in shells were made on lathes dating from 1847. The great majority of the workers were girls. The wage for women workers was 15 shillings a week when many employers in Dublin were paying only 6 shillings a week. In the factory in Dublin there was a canteen which served wholesome food which many of the working girls were not accustomed to. The ladies’ committee presiding over the canteen was chaired by the Marchioness of Waterford (Weekly Irish Times 11 March 1916).

          The enlarged and re-constructed General Post Office in Sackville Street re-opened for business early in March. The old entrance under the portico in Sackville Street was re-opened and gave access to the public office which ran the full length of the portico and was 40 feet wide. The public were in the centre while the desks were arranged in horse-shoe fashion around the three walls. In the centre of the public space were the writing tables and a telephone booth or call box (Weekly Irish Times 11 March 1916).

          Irish nurses of the Irish Nurses Association were in favour of the proposed Irish College of Nursing; they were also strongly in favour of state registration of nurses. The high fees for probationers in Dublin hospitals, where they were an important part of the revenue of the hospital boards were noted, and also that the low wages of nurses compared unfavourably with those of domestic servants. In some hospitals the entrance fee was low or non-existent, but the trainee had to sign on for four years, and after two she was sent out to nurse private patients to gain revenue. All nurses should have a three year period of training as was the rule in the army and navy, and are only really useful in the hospital in their third year. With state registration the only fully-qualified nurses would be those who had done a full three-year course, which would provide a financial problem for the Hospital Boards. With few exceptions hospitals were self-financing (Weekly Irish Times 25 March 1916).

           The death of the Marquis of Clanrickarde was reported.  He was selected as one of the victims of the Plan of Campaign, and in December 1886 the first attempt was made to impound his rents. This was frustrated by the arrest of the campaigners and the assistance of the Government. His manner caused much exasperation but he was no grasping savage or implacable landlord as depicted by his opponents. The long struggle with the Congested Districts Board did not end until last year and required a special Act of Parliament; he resisted compulsory purchase with great tenacity. The Board acquired the entire estate for £238,000. The earldom of Clanrickarde, re-granted in 1800, passed to the Marquis of Sligo; the Irish marquisate and the English peerage ceased.


          At this point Dublin was hit, almost literally by a bombshell. If there was any act in the whole history of Ireland to be voted as the most stupid, the most ineffective, and the most injurious, then the attempted putsch by the IRB and the remnant of the Volunteers must be a strong candidate. The nominal leader was Patrick Pearse who must be labelled the Irish Don Quixote with his head full of romantic dreams about Ireland as a fair maiden waiting to be rescued from giant windmills. But people considered sane in later life, like Eamon de Valera who occupied Boland’s Mills with an armed band and expected the whole country would rush to rescue him, took part.

          The Under Secretary, Sir Matthew Nathan, the Countess of Fingall’s friend, knew that the IRB were plotting an armed rebellion, but when a shipment of arms which Roger Casement had procured in Germany was captured, he assumed that the leaders could not possibly be so stupid as to proceed with the little equipment they had got. He was proved wrong. Eoin MacNeill, the nominal head of the Irish Volunteers at the last moment got wind of what was intended, and sanely countermanded the order to assemble, but was told he was no longer in charge. MacNeill’s order was countermanded again leaving the Volunteers outside Dublin totally confused. The plan adopted by the leadership of the IRB lacked all military sense. Instead of trying to occupy the seat of administration, Dublin Castle, as their prime objective they established themselves in the refurbished General Post Office and other prominent buildings, and waited to be attacked! In this madness they were joined by James Connolly with his little band of street fighters who called themselves the Irish Citizen Army. In fact Connolly’s ‘Citizen Army’ formed the bulk of those who took up arms in Dublin. This was symptomatic of the general madness of the enterprise, for if Connolly had reflected he would have realised that right wing bodies like the IRB were the last people he should assist.

          The Chief Secretary, Birrell, was absent in England, as he usually was. Nathan assured the Countess of Fingall that with the capture of the arms procured from Germany by Roger Casement, and the cancelling of the proposed parade of the Irish Volunteers by Eoin MacNeill it would be perfectly safe to go to the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse racecourse on Easter Monday. The Earl of Fingall took Captain Kelly of the recruiting department and Mrs Kelly to the races, while the countess planned to take Mrs Nathan to the Abbey Theatre that night. When she rang the Under Secretary’s Lodge she was told Nathan was unavailable because there was a rebellion in Dublin. She shouted the news to Horace Plunkett who rang the Kildare Street Club for confirmation. Fingall and his party, in Horace Plunkett’s big car, made their way home by a circuitous route. He dropped the Kellys at the backdoor of the Castle which was not surrounded! Even more astonishing was the fact that Horace Plunkett could drive to the Castle every day for conferences on food supplies. He also drove down to meet the mailboat every day and offered assistance to those who were travelling to Dublin or elsewhere. The Castle was partially surrounded and shots were fired into it continually. Lieutenant General Sir John Maxwell was sent over to Ireland as Commander-in-Chief, taking over the post from Major General L. B. Friend and martial law was proclaimed in Ireland. He was a soldier from Liverpool and had previously served in Ireland on the staff of the Duke of Connaught, the then Commander-in-Chief. His first objective was to secure the approach from Kingsbridge station of the Great Southern and Western Railway (i.e. on the line from the Curragh) to the Castle and from there to Trinity College Dublin. The College had been overlooked by the rebels but it was put into a state of defence by the Provost, Dr Mahaffy. When this was done the gunmen to the north of the river were effectively cut off from those to the south and could be reduced in detail.

          The madness lasted less than a week. Nathan was a very experienced colonial administrator and recognised that the proposed revolution had gone off at half-cock. He immediately instituted a censorship of the press. The Dublin newspapers appeared during the week with blank spaces where the censors had removed all references to the events in Dublin. The Volunteers in the rest of Ireland thus could get no idea what was happening.

          A gunboat in the harbour shelled the Post Office whose location was marked by the tall Nelson’s Pillar. (The Pillar, like the similar Nelson’s Column in London commemorated Admiral Lord Nelson who was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and effectively put an end to Napoleon’s wish to conquer England.) Sir John Maxwell was a scrupulously correct man. There was no special anti-terrorist legislation apart from three general Acts. The Defence of the Realm Act (1914) (8th August 1914) DORA applied to the whole of the United Kingdom for the duration of the War but its teeth were drawn as far as Ireland was concerned by the Defence of the Realm Amendment Act (1915) which provided that any British subject, not subject to military law, might choose trial by jury instead of by court-martial; this power could be suspended by Order in Council in case of invasion or other emergency. These Acts allowed the proclamation of martial law, at least to the extent of being able to hold courts martial, the normal courts not being suspended. The leaders were tried by court martial, their military ranks in the Volunteers being recognised. Ninety prisoners including one woman, the Countess Markievicz, were sentenced to death.  Presumably there was never any intention to shoot all of them, but some had to be shot as a warning that armed rebellion would be treated as such. Fifteen were executed, and from these executions stems the real rise of support for Sinn Fein. John Redmond had been criticised for ignoring Sinn Fein, but in fact support for Sinn Fein was negligible before Easter 1916. Over 1800 men were interned but were released after a few months. There was a general feeling, echoed by the Countess of Fingall, that capital charges in most cases should not have been brought. (In 1798, in the last comparable case, the Government of the day contented itself with banishment as most of the defendants came from good families.)

          The insane decision to fight in the centre of Dublin resulted in the killing of 450 people, and the wounding of 2,614 people. A large number of these were civilians caught up in the crossfire and the shelling. The damage to property was estimated to be £2.5 million. To this must be added the estimated 752 killed and 866 wounded between 1919 and 1921. The figures for the gang warfare between the pro- and anti-Treaty forces where the total casualties were put at around 4,000 and total damage at £30 million must also be added (Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 375, 417, 468). Again the deaths and damage cause by the renewed IRA campaign after 1970 must be added to the cost in lives and damage of the attempted putsch of the IRB in 1917.

          Birrell was severely criticised for not being aware of what was happening in Ireland and of ignoring warnings about developments. But he had grown accustomed to depending on John Redmond for his information, and the latter had assured him there was nothing to worry about. It is worth remembering that even if Casement’s shipload of arms had safely arrived and been distributed to the Volunteer units around the country the attempted putsch still would not have lasted more than a week. The idea that the Volunteers should march out in uniform for a straight fight with the entire British Army, and with the vast bulk of the people of Ireland opposed to them is ludicrous. They would have been rapidly driven from any positions they occupied by armoured cars and light field artillery. Three years later, and with the bulk of the population either behind them or neutral, they reverted to the kind of conflict that might produce results, namely a terrorist campaign, mostly at night, using the tactics of the agrarian terrorists.

          Birrell resigned and insisted that Nathan do likewise, though Nathan was not a politician but a civil servant. Their resignations were accepted. Nathan was transferred to the Ministry of Pensions. It is clear that the Irish administration had got into a mess after the deal between the Liberals and Redmond in 1910. Birrell, though in the Cabinet, was by-passed on policy issues regarding Ireland by Asquith. He was not summoned to the Buckingham Palace Conference in 1914. He, in turn, kept the Lord Lieutenant in the dark even about everyday matters. Things were bad enough during the troubles with Larkin, but at the time of the gun-running in 1914 he had clearly lost control. Nathan, who could have run Ireland efficiently, was not allowed to do so. Wimborne too tendered his resignation, and it was accepted. Lords Justices were appointed to exercise the function of the Lord Lieutenant as was the rule when there was no Lord Lieutenant or he was out of the country. As it was obvious that he was a newcomer, and not in charge, he was persuaded to stay and was re-appointed in August. Had Wimborne been in the cabinet instead of Birrell and made the senior officer he would probably have done well. But nobody could have foreseen the lunacy of the actual attempted putsch. Birrell was never again given public office, and he did not stand for Parliament in 1918. The office of Chief Secretary was given to Henry Duke with a seat in the Cabinet. At least now his chief duty was made clear, and that was to prepare for the hand-over of power to the John Redmond’s Home Rule Party, and in the meantime to try to get some accommodation with the Ulster Unionists. Sir Robert Chalmers was appointed temporary Under Secretary, and was replaced in October by Sir William Byrne.

          The position of the Ulster Unionists was unexpectedly made stronger by military developments in France. The German General Erich von Falkenhayn believed in a strategy of attrition and argued that Germany should bleed France to death by choosing a point of attack "for the retention of which the French would be compelled to throw in every man they have." The fortress of Verdun and its surrounding fortifications along the Meuse River was the point selected. The battle lasted from February to July 1916. The British were urged by the French to attack to take the pressure of Verdun. The point selected was along the River Somme. Douglas Haig launched the attack on 1st July 1916, a day remembered as the one in which the British Army suffered the most casualties in a single day in its entire history. It was the day when the 16th (Ulster) division was first launched into battle. Though casualties were concealed the days that followed were long remembered as the days when the War Office telegrams arrived and the curtains in each house that received one were drawn. The casualties of an entire town could be found out by counting the blinds. After this sacrifice there never could be any attempt to coerce Ulster.

          Negotiations were resumed with regard to Home Rule, with Lloyd George now taking a leading part. In June 1916 Lloyd George put forward proposals to the Ulster Unionists. These were that six counties were to be excluded from the Act at the pleasure of the Imperial parliament, and Ulster was to be administered through a branch of the Home Office in Belfast.  Carson met the full Unionist council of over 300 as he wanted them all to consider the matter. The feeling in Belfast was that the Cabinet wished to settle the matter on the basis of the exclusion of the six counties without the consent of either the Nationalists or Unionists (Weekly Irish Times 10 June 1916). The length of the exclusion was not mentioned, but Carson believed it would be permanent and Redmond believed it would be temporary. It was now the policy of the Liberals to enact a settlement in Ireland with a form of partition, but such that the two parts could grow together. The Government of Ireland Act (1920) intended establishing two Irish states with quasi-Dominion status and a Council of Ireland to bring both sides together. It might have worked had the terrorist campaign of the IRA with the stated intention of coercing Ulster into an independent republic not prevented it. But in June 1916 nobody was concerned about the Sinn Feiners.

          The following was printed in the Weekly Irish Times: The Ulster Unionist Council accepted the exclusion of the Six Counties; the new proposals were:

1) To bring in the Home Rule Bill immediately
2) To introduce an amending Bill to cover the duration of the War and a short time after it
3) During that time the number of MPs at Westminster would not be decreased
4) During the War the six north-eastern counties would be excluded
5) Immediately after the war an Imperial Conference would be held to consider the future government of the Empire
6) After the war but during the period under (2) the outstanding questions of the exclusion of Ulster, of finance, etc would be discussed (Weekly Irish Times 17 June 1916; Bew, John Redmond, 40).

          Unionists in Cavan, Donegal, and Monaghan protested; so too did the nationalists in Tyrone, and they were supported by the Roman Catholic bishop of Derry. In a Nationalist Party convention called to consider the proposals there were about 180 Catholic priests present.

          In a statement Redmond said that Asquith returned from his visit to Dublin convinced that law and order had broken down and he had no wish to face a long period of military rule. Mr Lloyd George was asked to negotiate a settlement. The proposals were accepted as a working document by both sides. A problem was raised with regard to the control of the railways. Buckland points out that the Ulster Unionist Council now for the first time realised the inevitability of a Home Rule Bill, and accepted the idea of partition (Buckland, Irish Unionism, 402). Bew cites Stephen Gwynn as saying that Redmond’s acceptance of even temporary partition marked the end of his influence (Bew, John Redmond, 41).The reason was that Sinn Fein was able to claim that they could get the whole island without partition.


          Two important measures with regard to time were brought in. The Daylight Saving Bill (1916) was passed. Clocks were to be advanced one hour from the 20th May from Greenwich Mean Time and Dublin Mean Time respectively; there was now  the need to synchronise the two  times. Dublin Mean Time, or as the railways put it Dublin time, was taken at the longitude of Dublin and was about 25 minutes later than Greenwich time. Dublin time was controlled from the observatory at Dunsink which was under the Irish Astronomer Royal. There was the clock which fixed the standard time for Ireland, and which was connected by electricity to several main clocks in Dublin and so arranged that it could be seen whether the other clocks were slow or fast. The one in Trinity College Dublin was 4 seconds slow, the first time that occurred in five years (Weekly Irish Times 26 February 1916).

          The second was the adoption of Greenwich Mean Time in Ireland. It was established in Ireland from the 1st October 1916, the Act having received the royal assent. The change was made on the day clocks went back from summer time; Irish clocks being put back only 35 minutes. The change affected rail timetables by 25 minutes on the main lines.  The third hand on ships clocks could now be removed to the great satisfaction of seamen, and there would be no need for passengers to alter their watches every trip. The change was proposed by Herbert Samuel the Home Secretary. He proposed a clause to bring Ireland under Greenwich Mean Time saying there was great demand for it in Ireland. Mr Dillon professed himself amazed to hear of such a demand. Carson noted that almost every chamber of commerce in Ireland supported the Time Bill; Mr Samuel was unwilling to proceed if it were controversial. Despite Mr Dillon’s ignorance it was not.

          To avoid having to hold a general election in the middle of the War, an Act was passed allowing for the extension of the life of the present Parliament, the last general election having been held in 1910. Carson demanded the vote for every man on active service. The Parliament insisted on an adequate Registration Act as well.

          Irish agriculture was prosperous. Prices were rising all the time. Inflation caused by War-time borrowing caused an inflation in prices of about 100% so the actual value of a pound fell from 20 shillings to roughly 10 shillings by the end of the War. Nevertheless there was increasing prosperity for farmers and full employment. The wives of the volunteers in the army were getting a ‘separation allowance’ and the pensions and insurance schemes were making life easier for the elderly and the unemployed. Some of those who were employed in factories producing equipment for the army, especially women, were getting astonishing levels of wages.

          By 1916 Harry Ferguson had given up flying and had concentrated on his motor business in Belfast. The Government was anxious to increase food production and Mr Ferguson was asked to take responsibility for the promotion of farm machinery in Ireland. He decided that the tractor must replace the horse and began negotiations with the Ford Motor Company, and he explained to them that the tractors would be more useful if the machinery was mounted on the back of the tractor instead of being towed behind it. This had another advantage for if the weight of the plough for example was added to the back wheels of the tractor, the tractor itself could be made correspondingly lighter and therefore more economical to run (DNB Ferguson). Henry Ford of Detroit established a tractor factory in 1917 in Cork. Ferguson’s invention of the three-point linkage system matches in importance Dunlop’s pneumatic tyre, and Harland’s iron ships.

          By an Order in Council 22 Dec 1916 the Irish railways were placed under Government control and agreements were made with the Irish Railway Companies. The move was hastened by the threat of a strike on the Great Southern and Western Railway. An Irish Railway Executive was then appointed. State control of the Irish railways had long been a demand of the Irish railway workers.

          The National Board of Education was very concerned at the drop-out rate in the primary schools under its care, especially in Belfast. Any boy who reached 14 or who has reached 5th standard before that age could be sent to work. In 1912-13 only 2.6% of the children in Belfast reached 6th standard compared with 5.8 for Ireland as a whole, and only 1.1% reached 7th standard as against 2.6% for Ireland. Concern was expressed at children leaving school before they were fully educated, and it was proposed to introduce a higher grade Certificate for pupils in 6th or higher standards which would stand in good stead when he was seeking a job (Weekly Irish Times 29 Jan 1916).

          The London Daily Express noted that the Sinn Fein party had long since joined in a secret organisation called the IRB. Until recently the party was tiny and ineffective, but now circles were springing up all over Ireland fuelled by anti-British feeling. The IRB was trying to acquire arms from the moribund Irish Volunteers, which was the Sinn Fein army who were believed to have many rifles and ammunition stored away. They were making similar efforts among the National Volunteers. In Belfast where the Sinn Feiners never mustered more than 200, the IRB now had 2000 (cited in the Weekly Irish Times 14 October 1916). There is a mixture of reliable information and journalistic speculation in this quotation. Though later historians could often separate out the activities of the secret society, the IRB, from the public bodies, the Irish Volunteers and the Sinn Fein party, most of this information was not publicly available at the time. The police information was usually good, and most of the leaders of the IRB could have been arrested before Easter 1916 if Nathan and Birrell had considered them a real threat.

          The quotation also reflects the struggle going on all over Ireland between the Irish Volunteers and the National Volunteers especially over the control of the arms. There was a great difference between the two bodies of Volunteers. The Irish Volunteers, like Sinn Fein, were growing in numbers and confidence, while the National Volunteers suffered from the fact that their best men had left for the front. The organisation of the National Volunteers, like that of the Nationalist Party gradually weakened. The horrific carnage on the Western Front strengthened the case of the Irish Volunteers who opposed joining the Army while correspondingly weakened the case of the National Volunteers. The same process was happening in Russia at the same time to the great benefit of the Bolsheviks. The resolve of the Ulster Volunteer Force to support their comrades on the Western Front never weakened.

          Excerpts from the Registrar General’s figures on Irish manpower were published, and showed the total male population of military age, those excused military service by reason of occupation or health, and the number of eligible men. The figure for Belfast showed that an astonishing 83 % of eligible men had already unlisted. In Ulster as a whole 60% of the men had volunteered. The highest county in the South was Tipperary with 44% and in the whole of Munster and Leinster about 33% had enlisted. In Connaught, largely a rural province, only 21% had volunteered, and in Kerry 13%. [TOP]


The Ministry December 1916 to December 1918 (coalition)

Prime Minister             David Lloyd George

Home Secretary           Sir George Cave; Jan 1919 Edward Shortt

Lord Lieutenant          Baron Wimborne; May 1918 Lord French; May 1921 Lord Fitzalan

Chief Secretary            Henry Duke; May 1918 Edward Shortt; Jan 1919 James (Ian) Macpherson; April 1920 Sir Hamar Greenwood

Under Secretary           Sir William Byrne; July 1918; James MacMahon; May 1920 Sir John Anderson (additional Under Secretary)


          [December 1916]David Lloyd George was the son of a Welsh schoolmaster. When his father died he was raised by a master shoemaker. He was articled to a local firm of solicitors, and plunged into speaking on local issues in Wales especially against the Established Church in Wales, his family being Nonconformists. In 1890 he was elected to Parliament as a Liberal, and he was always on the Radical wing of the Party. He was Winston Churchill’s mentor in politics, and together they put together a programme of reforms under Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith. He had the reputation of being the most corrupt and most promiscuous of all British Prime Ministers. His great target in Parliament was the House of Lords which he regarded as the great obstacle to radical reform. He fully approved of Home Rule for Ireland and of the deal to grant Home Rule in return for John Redmond’s support against the House of Lords. Apart from meeting Home Rule MPs he had no knowledge of Ireland or the bitter opposition it would provoke in Ulster. Nor had he any interest in finding out more about Ireland.

          George Cave was a barrister from London, who was elected as a Unionist in 1906. In 1915 he was made a privy councillor and then Solicitor General in the Coalition Government. Lloyd George made him Home Secretary. Edward Shortt was a barrister from Newcastle-upon-Tyne but not a very successful one. He was elected as a Liberal in 1910. He spoke frequently and with mastery of detail on the Home Rule Bill (1912). Field Marshal Lord French was a career soldier. Though born in Kent, his family had a vague connection with Ireland. When raised to the peerage he chose the title of Viscount French of Ypres and of High Lake, Co. Roscommon.  As Sir John French he led the British Expeditionary Force to France in 1914. As a younger man he had served under both Garnet Wolseley and Frederick Roberts. His chief connection with Ireland was that, as Chief of the General Staff, he had to deal with the Curragh incident and he agreed with the officers that they would not be forced to coerce Ulster. His residence in Ireland was Rockingham House, Co. Roscommon, and it was when he was returning from there to Dublin that an assassination attempt was made on him by rogue elements in the IRA.

          Edmund Bernard Fitzalan-Howard, Viscount Fitzalan was a son of the 14th Duke of Norfolk. He was educated at the Catholic Oratory School Birmingham. In his youth he was called Lord Edmund Talbot. He joined the army and later was elected to Parliament as a Conservative. From 1913 to 1921 he was Conservative Chief Whip and gave his full support during the War to Asquith and Lloyd George. James (Ian) Macpherson was born near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. He was elected to Parliament as a Liberal. He was given various posts in the War Office before being made Chief Secretary. Sir Hamar Greenwood was Canadian of Welsh origin by birth and he studied in Toronto University. He came to England, studied for the bar and was called to the bar by Gray’s Inn in 1906, in which year he was elected to Parliament. In 1914 he was employed in the recruiting department of the War Office, and later was Under Secretary for Home Affairs. Sir John Anderson was born in Edinburgh and studied science and humanities in Edinburgh University. After passing the Civil Service examinations he was sent to the Colonial Office. In 1912 he was transferred to the newly established National Health Insurance Commissions and was one of those who developed the necessary huge administrative machine. (His greatest work was during the Second World War when as Lord President of the Council was in charge of the civilian and economic aspects of the War in Britain.) James MacMahon Under Secretary 1918-22 was born in Belfast, and educated in the Christian Brothers’ Schools, Armagh and Blackrock College

          Lloyd George had been made Minister for Munitions by Asquith, and with enormous energy set about remedying the shortage of shells that had hampered the army. None of the armies had envisaged the enormous expenditure of shells and ammunition, so capacity had to be built up before output could be increased. In the Coalition Government he drew closer to Conservatives like Bonar Law, Sir William Maxwell Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook) another Canadian, and Sir Edward Carson. He became increasingly critical of the conduct of the War, and resigned in 5 December 1916, and Asquith also resigned. Carson had already resigned in October 1916. Lloyd George succeeded Asquith on 7 December 1916 and immediately offered Carson the post of First Lord of the Admiralty which he was delighted to accept, relying on the Prime Minister’s word that Ulster would never be coerced. Carson re-organised the Admiralty, his reorganisation mirroring that which had taken place in the army. There, strategic direction was placed solely in the hands of the General Staff, and administration and supply was placed under the War Office. The same division was applied to the navy. Admiral Jellico, Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet became First Sea Lord, but was also made Chief of Naval Staff. Administration and supply devolved on the civilian members of the Board under Sir Eric Geddes of the North Eastern Railway with the title of Controller [of the Navy] in May 1917, who though an honorary major general was made a temporary vice-admiral. He soon dismissed Jellico. Under him was concentrated all shipbuilding (Weekly Irish Times 19 May 1917). [TOP]


           [1917] The War was beginning to affect Ireland in other ways. The principle of compulsory tillage now established, and each farmer had to cultivate 25% of his arable land, or the local authority could step in and take it over. The Local Government Board announced a scheme to allow local authorities to provide allotments. The scheme was generally welcomed by the farmers, who however wished the prices to be fixed for three or five years. Though there was at first much criticism of the way the scheme for compulsory tillage was administered. The Government advanced £200,000 to enable the new regulations for tillage to be implemented. The Tillage Order (1918) laid down that at least 15% of farm land must be tilled where untilled before; where tilled before an additional 15%. On the Allotment scheme, Mr T.W.  Russell noted that 13,000 allotments had been provided in the first year of the scheme.        

          There was an article on the coming of the tractor to the farm especially with regard to the American Overtime tractor as advertised. The new motor tractor, unlike heavy and clumsy steam tractors, was light and versatile and could be used in quite small fields, and for driving threshers, corn crushers, chaff cutters, pulpers etc; it did the  work of six horses [pulper  for pulping  roots or fruit etc]. It had two-cylinders of robust construction, with a speed fixed at 2 1/2 mph and was 24 hp. It would run on petroleum or paraffin (Weekly Irish Times 13 Jan 1917).

          An Agricultural Wages Board for Ireland was set up under the Corn Production Act (1917) with powers for fixing agricultural wages. Martin Henry Fitzpatrick Morris, 2nd Baron Killanin, a Commissioner for National Education, and a director of the Bank of Ireland was a member of the Irish Agricultural Wages Board 1917-19. He later was chairman of the vice-regal commission on primary education 1918-19. In January 1917 the Government took control of food prices; a comprehensive scheme was devised for Ireland. An Irish Food Control Committee had power to make regulations regarding the prices of foods. A National Service Department for Ireland was set up. The Irish Director of National Service explained his scheme; enrolment would be voluntary and offers very much welcomed. The chief tasks envisaged were assisting with the operations on the land; especially saving the hay, the corn crops (cereals), and the potatoes. Every effort would be made to provide good accommodation for volunteers for farm work (Weekly Irish Times 12 May 1917).

          The Flax Control Board was formed in the autumn of 1917 when the collapse of Russia endangered the supply of flax; the Board sought the co-operation of workers in all parts of the industry and secured supplies of seed for Ireland. In 1917, because of the shortage of linen especially for the manufacture of aeroplanes, the Flax Control Board fixed a good guaranteed price, but below market price, which led to an increase in acreage especially in Ireland where 140,000 acres were grown. In 1918 the Flax Control Board was moved from the War Office to the Board of Trade, with the object of promoting the growth of flax; but they immediately lowered the price of flax to £80 a ton. The flax plant is not cut but is pulled up by hand, very laborious work. When the Board was formed the output of aeroplane linens was 574,000 yards a week. The Government asked for a million and a half yards a week, and by October 1918 1,662,750 yards a week were being made. During  the  period  when Mr R.J. MacKeown  was  chairman of the Irish Power Loom Manufacturers’ Association a uniform 48 hour week  was established in the industry and a uniform scale of  wages for all in the  weaving industry  was established (Linen  and Jute Trades’ Journal 15 May 16 Aug 1920).

          The Flax Order (1917) by the Ministry of Munitions on 25th August 1917 taking over all supplies of flax, applied also to Ireland: the Controller of Aeronautical Supplies supervised the    arrangements; two committees were appointed; the Flax Supplies Committee  which was the buying  committee, and the Flax Allocation Committee. The prices for flax in 5 grades were set out, and the dates of the only authorized flax markets were appointed. These were in Belfast, Limavady, Monaghan, Kilkeel, Londonderry, Newtownards, Portadown, Armagh, Coleraine, Strabane, Ballymoney, Castleblaney, Rathfriland, Newry, Ballinahinch, Magherafelt, Cootehill, Lisnaskea, Belfast, Ballymena, Cookstown, and Omagh. Flax from Ballina had to be delivered to Belfast.  All the markets were one day a week markets, but flax for the Belfast market could be delivered on any day of the week. The market in Strabane was held on two days a week, one for suppliers from Donegal, the other for those from Tyrone. The minor markets in Cavan and Monaghan opened every second week (Weekly Irish Times 29 Sept 1917). Dundalk in Co. Louth was not made a recognised market though it formerly had a linen hall.

          After taking control of the railways, the Government imposed price controls on the Irish canals in July 1917. The Grand Canal which had considerable freight of agricultural produce, peat, and miscellaneous goods in and out of Dublin was the one principally affected.

          In Parliament a Bill to extend the Franchise was introduced. The franchise was to be extended by 8 millions, and a Representation of the People Act (1918) was introduced into the Commons. It proposed giving the vote to women over 30, who were entitled to register as Local Government electors, or were married to one so qualified, or were university graduates.  Redistribution of seats would not be applied to Ireland pending the passing of Home Rule legislation (Weekly Irish Times 26 May 1917). The Bill passed in 1918. It at long last conceded the Chartist demand of universal adult male suffrage (Richards and Hunt, Modern Britain 161, 262),

          The Report of the Irish electoral boundary commission (1917) showed great divergences in population in the various constituencies. The three largest were East Belfast 135,788, North Belfast 101,699, North County Dublin 95,240. The lowest were Newry 12,841, Kilkenny City 13,269, and Galway City 15,944. There was to be no change in the total number of seats which was to remain at 101. The average should be 43,000 but it would not be possible to get this mathematical equality. The general rules laid down by the Speaker's Conference in Britain laid down 30,000 as the smallest figure entitling a town to separate representation; on this basis Newry, Kilkenny, Galway and Waterford would lose their seats. 13 counties should strictly lose one seat, but they recommend that only six be so altered to compensate for six gains in other counties. Dublin and Belfast were to be allocated extra seats along the boundaries of municipal wards. The following counties would be one-seaters- King's Co (Offaly), Queen's Co (Laois), Louth, Leitrim, Longford, and Westmeath. The towns of Galway, Waterford, Kilkenny, and Newry would lose separate representation (Weekly Irish Times 8 Dec 1917; the Redistribution Act (1885) had split counties with two seats into two single-seat constituencies).

          Women Police were introduced in the Dublin Metropolitan Police following on the success of the women's patrols which aimed at keeping young girls out of danger. They succeeded in convincing the Dublin Police who now appointed two women police officers with a similar remit to patrol the streets of central Dublin and they would also try to deal with the    persistent street beggars in Dublin, who were a public nuisance. They would not arrest offenders but call the attention of the nearest police officer to them. Civilian Women Patrols in Dublin were introduced in 1915. They patrolled in pairs, one Catholic and one Protestant. They aimed to make friends of girls on the street, to gain their confidence, and to put them in contact with clubs, societies, or classes in connection with their religion. This work was different from rescue  work- the aim was to prevent young girls being carried away by the excitement of  war and the presence of young  soldiers (Weekly Irish Times 14 Aug 1915, 20 Oct 1917). 

          The Film Company of Ireland was launched. It commenced in March 1916 and by January 1917 had produced nine complete photo-plays. Before it was started two or three attempts had been made unsuccessfully to produce motion pictures in Ireland. Their first efforts were wiped out in the Dublin fire in 1916 but they started up again and produced the nine plays mentioned. They were able to distribute their products in America, England, Australia, France, and Italy. The stars who made the Abbey Theatre famous helped as the Company made a point of selecting the best actors to play the parts (Irish Limelight January 1917). Limelight’s editor noted that the scare of the cinema as a source of moral evil for the young had died away, and the cinema was accepted as a normal part of life; the "Saw it on the Pictures" plea lost its force as an argument against the cinema. The great box-office success of 1917 was the Battle of the Ancre, showing the advance of the tanks, and the Irish regiments taking up their positions in the trenches, and also enjoying a well-earned rest. (The river Ancre was a tributary of the Somme, and the battle was in the British sector of the attack). You saw, or believed you saw, the whole battle except the bayoneting and the    corpses, the wounded, the shells being carried on horseback up to the guns. There were pictures taken of the great guns firing, taken from in front of  them; there  were pictures of the tank, and the boy lieutenant taking the mascot, a  little black  kitten, with him in his tank going into battle (Irish Limelight January 1917).

          The end of the year saw the growth of food queues in Dublin; retail prices 105% above pre-war level. There were shortages of essential goods, and sugar ration cards were distributed in Ireland. Dublin dairymen said they could not make a profit at the controlled price. The food shortages were the result of the unrestricted German submarine campaign against shipping in British waters which brought the United States into the War.       


          The War in 1917 was marked by two major events, the Russian Revolution and the entry of the United States into the War. The former had the greatest immediate impact on Ireland. The first stage of the Russian Revolution took place March 8-12 [Feb. 24-28, old style], 1917, in which the monarchy was overthrown and replaced by the Provisional Government. This government, intended as an interim stage in the creation of a permanent democratic-parliamentary polity for Russia, was in turn overthrown by the Bolsheviks in October (November, new style) of the same year. Riots over the scarcity of food broke out in the capital, Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg), on February 24 (March 8), and, when most of the Petrograd garrison joined the revolt Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate March 2 (March 15). When his brother, Grand Duke Michael, refused the throne, more than 300 years of rule by the Romanov dynasty came to an end. A committee of the Duma appointed a Provisional Government to succeed the autocracy, but it faced a rival in the Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies. The 2,500 delegates to this soviet were chosen from factories and military units in and around Petrograd. The Soviet soon proved that it had greater authority than the Provisional Government, which sought to continue Russia's participation in the European war. On March 1 (March 14) the Soviet issued its famous Order No. 1, which directed the military to obey only the orders of the Soviet and not those of the Provisional Government. The Provisional Government under Aleksandr F. Kerensky was unable to countermand the order (Encyclopaedia Britannica). The Provisional Government was overthrown in October 1917 by the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky. Immediately on taking over, the Bolsheviks proposed to the belligerent countries an end to the fighting. The Germans and Austrians promptly agreed to the proposal. In negotiations held at Brest-Litovsk, an armistice was arranged (December 1917).

          With the Russians out of the War, the Germans had to transfer the bulk of their troops from the Eastern Front to France to launch a knock-out blow at the British and French armies before the American army could be trained and transported to Europe. The importance of the Russian Revolution to Ireland and to many other countries was that it showed that groups of ordinary workers could overthrow a Government and end their participation in the War. President Woodrow Wilson, with the assent of Congress declared war on Germany on 6th April 1917. American destroyers arrived at Queenstown at the end of May.

          The French replaced General Joffre with General Nivelle who launched an offensive against the Germans. It commenced with a British attack towards Vimy in Artois on 9 April 1917 and the Canadian Army quickly captured Vimy Ridge before getting bogged down. Nivelle launched the French offensive on 16 April on the Aisne front in Champagne, but with little success. He was superseded by General Petain while mutinies broke out in the French Army. Petain was the general who had successfully defended Verdun the previous year. He spoke to the troops, listened to their grievances. He found they were in many ways less well provided for than the British troops. He did his best to remedy the grievances and the mutinous spirit passed. (The British Army was the only one in which there was not a major mutiny in the four years of war.) Field Marshal Douglas Haig had over a million troops under his command, the largest army ever commanded by a British general, so by activity in the British sector of the front he had to mask the fact that the French were incapable of resisting a major German attack. (There were many Catholic chaplains with the British forces, one of whom, the Irish Jesuit Fr. Willy Doyle was killed, and left a reputation for sanctity. On one occasion, often retold, when a German shell came in through the roof of the upstairs room in which he was sleeping, and went out through the floor without exploding, he moved his bed over the hole, reasoning that they never fired twice at the same spot. On another occasion, when the Royal Irish Regiment was secretly being withdrawn from the front line at midnight, a German voice shouted in English ‘Goodbye, Royal Irish’. How they learned about the changeover was never found out.) Haig launched a campaign in Flanders, based on the Ypres salient on 31 July 1917, and made considerable gains on the first day, but after that the rains commenced. The Irish battalions from north and south were heavily involved. The 3rd Battle of Ypres is chiefly remembered for the mud of Passchendaele, where the battle was called off on 10 November 1917. Haig however had a victory at Cambrai where primitive tanks were used for the first time. Major Willie Redmond of the 6th (service) battalion of the Royal Irish Regiment was killed outside Ypres in the attack on the Messines (or Wytschaete) ridge. John Redmond’s brother had been imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol along with Charles Stewart Parnell in 1881, and was imprisoned again along with John in 1888. In 1891 he was elected to East Clare and held the seat until his death. He was 56 years old. When wounded he was carried back to the field hospital of the Ulster division by Ulster soldiers.

          The British Empire had no constitution any more than the United Kingdom had. It just grew and evolved. Some parts of it were very big, others were tiny. In some, like Australia and New Zealand, the great bulk of the population was derived from emigrants from the home countries. In others like Canada and South Africa, a considerable proportion of the white population came from two European countries, France in one case and Holland in the other. India was a special case for the vast bulk of the population was Indian but it was ruled by administrators from the home countries who never settled in India. Nevertheless, the great mass of the Indian native ruling elites accepted and preferred this form of rule where they themselves provided the local administrators and the bulk of the army. When the First World War was declared the various imperial territories, especially the great self-governing Dominions, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa raised armies to fight for the king and Empire. In 1917, the prime ministers of these dominions and the Secretary of State for India were invited to take part in the Imperial War Cabinet and got the right to separate representation at the Peace Conference in 1918-19 (Keith, Speeches and Documents, 4). Lloyd George later commented that if the Government of Ireland Act had been in force, Ireland too would have participated in the War Cabinet and the Peace Conference. These five countries became founder members of the League of Nations. Though there were difficulties with regard to conferring dominion status on Ireland as well as India, there is little doubt that Ireland too could have become a founder member of the League of Nations and a signatory of the Treaty of Versailles (1919).


          Though the attempted putsch by the IRB in 1916 had a totally negative, not to say disastrous, effect on the Ulster Unionists, it stimulated Asquith and Lloyd George to press forward with initiatives to try to break the impasse. The year 1917 saw the eclipse of the Home Rule Party which had largely dominated Catholic politics in Ireland since 1880. This was not obvious at first, and a large part of the year was taken up with manoeuvrings at the Irish Convention. Lloyd George, under pressure from the United States, felt that he should do something about the situation in Ireland and offered to hold a conference for all interested parties. The Government set out its proposals for the settlement of Ireland:

1) the immediate application of Home Rule, but with the exclusion of the six North Eastern counties; this to be re-considered after 5 years;
2) the constitution of a Council of Ireland composed of MPs from both parts of Ireland in equal numbers with powers of legislation over both parts;
3) failing the acceptance of these proposals, the summoning of a Convention to draft a constitution.

In the commons the Lloyd George said the Convention would include all classes and interests, and the Government would pass any legislation on which agreement was reached. The Editor of the Irish Times (26 May 1917) noted, "All  parties in Great Britain are almost pathetically anxious not merely to get rid of the burden of Irish government, but to get rid of it on Ireland's own terms." And again (2 June) "The path to any positive  agreement seems at this moment to be  absolutely blocked by the refusal of the Ulster Unionists to consider anything but partition as  an alternative to the Act of Union. There is no present prospect that this fence can be either ridden round or jumped. In the first place there has not been the slightest sign of weakening in Unionist Ulster’s attitude: Nationalists may deplore this adamantine consistency, but sensible men will take facts as they find them. In the next place the clamour in the nationalist press for the coercion of Unionist Ulster if she rejects a majority decision is a counsel of anarchy. The Government is pledged against the coercion of Ulster, and any breach of this pledge would multiply the difficulties and dangers which are calling the Convention into existence".

          The composition of the Irish Convention was announced; 15 would represent the Crown, 33 would represent county councils; the Nationalists, Sinn Feiners, Ulster Unionists, and Southern Unionists would be allowed 5 representatives each and the O’Brienites 2; there would also be 2 representative peers; the Catholic Church would have 4 places, and the Protestant    Churches 3; Labour Organisations, Chambers of Commerce, and representatives of local councils will make up the balance. Sinn Fein decided not to attend; the Ulster Unionist Council would (Weekly Irish Times 16 June 1917). Sir Horace Plunkett, by now, like most southern Unionists and the Countess of Fingall reluctantly accepting Home Rule, was made Chairman of the Convention. To the great disgust of the countess who knew everybody, Sir Edward Carson, the leader of the southern Unionists threw in his lot with the Ulster Unionists. Carson to the end of his life retained a strong Dublin accent.   

          The Convention could have worked if the Catholics, both Redmondites and Sinn Fein had conceded to the Ulster Unionists the right they claimed for themselves, namely the right to rule themselves by their own laws. If the Redmondites and Sinn Fein had been prepared to accept in 1917 what they eventually accepted in 1921 Ireland would have been spared many long years of misery and a legacy of bitterness that persists in places to this day. The IRA largely working-class gunmen had not become a serious threat and the Orange stalwarts and their southern counterparts were fighting together in the British Army. Just after this period there arose the two stereotypes of Irishmen known around the world and regarded as defining Irishness. The first was the flat-capped IRA gunman and the other was the bowler-hatted parading Orangeman. Oddly the bowler hat of the Orangemen parading was very much a symbol of the respectable businessmen not the flat-capped shipyard worker. (Very much later, the paramilitary UVF was recruited from the Protestant working classes, but the Orange Order was never a military force, regular or irregular.)

          The Catholic and Protestant middle and upper classes shared a common culture and a common outlook. Both disliked any interference, minimal though it was, of London influence on Irish domestic affairs. It was obvious to both Catholics and Protestants that tariffs against English goods could benefit Ireland. The exception to this consensus was the businessmen in Ulster in the great industries who depended on free trade. The Gaelic League and the promotion of a ‘Celtic’ culture had been started largely by Protestants. Both sides envisaged a strong connection with England and the Crown. Both sides knew that the real object of Home Rule was to get control of the local rackets, but that was a matter about which a deal could be done. The leading members of the Home Rule Party had not the same dogmatic and totalitarian views of some of the leading members of Sinn Fein. The great stumbling block was the utter, perhaps irrational, refusal of the Ulster Protestants to submit themselves to ‘Rome Rule’.

          Both sides realised that neither of the great Parties in Britain wanted them. Britain had got some things out of the Union but not much. The chief benefit to Britain was that neither Spain nor France and now Germany controlled Ireland and so could not use it in time of War to invade Britain. Ireland had supplied many soldiers, but would probably continue to do so. Britain got little or no financial or economic benefit Ireland, despite the harping of Irish nationalists about over-taxation. Nor, unlike India and most other parts of the Empire, did it provide positions or jobs for younger sons. Now, with the new National Insurance, Ireland was likely to become a financial drag on England. Irish Catholic Members of Parliament had been obstructing Parliament for as long as anyone recalled without any of them contributing anything useful. The chief argument in Britain, apart from the protection of its shores in wartime, was sentiment, and that sentiment was wearing thin.

          Dr Mahaffy offered the Regent House in Trinity College to Sir Horace Plunkett for the meetings. The first meeting of the Convention took place on 25th July 1917. The large number of chairmen of County Councils unused to debating constitutional affairs was noted. No reporting was allowed, but it was made clear an unacceptable settlement would not be enforced. Sir Horace Plunkett was chosen unanimously chairman of the Convention. A leading spokesman for the Nationalist Party was Dr  Patrick O’Donnell, Catholic bishop of Raphoe (Donegal), an old classmate of Mr John Dillon. He was a strong party man and a supporter of John Redmond. Though not supporting partition he did not sign the anti-partition manifesto of the other bishops. He was a capable orator in Gaelic and English, and noted for his work on the Congested Districts Board. The Earl of Mayo (7th earl) was the son of the 6th earl who was assassinated when Viceroy of India in 1872. He sat as a representative peer in the House of Lords since 1890 and took an active part in discussions of Irish affairs in the Lords. (His wife, Geraldine, Lady Mayo was the lady whose banner was rejected by Kitchener.)

          The discussions dragged on in an increasingly irrelevant atmosphere until April 1918. John Redmond died and was succeeded as chief of the Nationalist Party by John Dillon, Sir Horace Plunkett’s new friend. A Blue Book of 151 pages was issued containing the Convention Report.  The two main difficulties were Ulster and the customs, the nationalists insisting on full control over customs and excise as in the dominions; Dr O’Donnell whose diocese of Raphoe (Donegal) was probably the poorest in Ireland was the most insistent on the need for tariffs. The Southern Unionists agreed with the Ulster Unionists in rejecting the customs. Dr O’Donnell insisted

1)  the Irish parliament should be co-equal with the British
2)  complete fiscal autonomy including over customs and tariffs, the right to make foreign treaties, and full control of taxation
3)  the right to raise military (territorial) forces in Ireland
4)  the repudiation of any share in the National Debt on grounds of previous over-taxation, but the principle of a small imperial contribution was admitted
5) denial of the right of the Imperial Parliament to impose conscription in Ireland without the consent of the Irish parliament. 

Discussion broke down when the question of fiscal authority was reached (Belfast Weekly Telegraph 20 April 1918.)

          The Irish Convention Home Rule Scheme rejected partition but allowed the Unionists a guaranteed 40% of the seats in the new Irish House of Commons. Control of Irish Customs and Excise was to be delayed till after the war. The Irish Parliament was to have no powers affecting the Crown, peace and war, army and navy, treaties, coinage etc. The main report was carried by 44 votes to 29, the 44 being less than half of the Convention. There were two sticking points, Ulster and the Customs. The Ulster Unionists claimed that they had an equal right to secede. The Nationalists made various concessions but not enough to win their consent. 19 Ulster delegates issued a memorandum saying why they disagreed with the majority report. They claimed that the Nationalists had made concessions on only minor points and no real attempt was made to bridge the gap between the parties. By the time the Report was made it was almost an irrelevance, and it failed in the crucial point; it was not a solution that all were agreed on, and so could not form the basis of a new Act.


          The year 1917 saw the emergence of full-blown racist fascism in Ireland out of the Fenian/Home Rule movement. The Fenian movement was originally a strictly revolutionary one, but a majority of Irish Fenians decided to follow a dual path, combining parliamentary tactics with secret agrarian terrorism. This link was never openly acknowledged. Though the parliamentarians since 1890 had the upper hand it was never possible to purge the terrorists out of their ranks. The link could always be denied, and any priest or bishop for example, could always with good conscience support a parliamentary party which had no official links with violence. It was also possible to deny the link between Sinn Fein and atrocities, so priests and bishops could similarly lend their support. Many of the people in Sinn Fein had no links with violence and were very close in outlook, objectives and tactics to many of the leaders of the Home Rule Party. John Redmond and William Congrave a Sinn Fein member of the Dublin Corporation could have exchanged parties.

          Sinn Fein and the Irish Parliamentary Party were similar in economic outlook (Bew, Ideology and the Irish Question 124-5). Alike rejecting Horace Plunkett’s ideas that product innovation and improvement, hard work and co-operation were necessary to match the Swiss, the Dutch and the Danes, they put all their hope in a native Parliament. All the evils of Ireland, low economic growth and a falling population, could be explained by foreign oppression and enforced free trade. Therefore, a native Irish Parliament would enact laws to suit Irish industry, and protect Irish businesses from competition from cheap imports. The idea of Ireland having huge manufacturing towns like those in England was rejected. But smaller factories in every little town would soak up the increase in population and provide work for all. The whole Irish market would be protected, foreign imports kept out, and everything that Irish people needed, boots, nails, shoe laces, suits, hats, glass, newspapers, etc. would be made in Ireland. All the little industries that Ireland had had a hundred years could be built up again. The population of Ireland would rise from 4 million to at least 20 million. (These ideas were first put forward by Arthur Griffith but became common currency.) All this was economic fantasy. A sane economist would have told them that the result would be poor quality goods at higher prices for the home market while the export markets would be lost because of higher production costs not to mention retaliatory tariffs. (This is largely what did occur.) As noted above, the tactics of parliamentary activity accompanied by forcible activity by the local ‘lads’ to achieve home government was also shared. Nor was Sinn Fein opposed to a monarchy, though it now specified that the monarch could not be of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Windsor).

          Despite these resemblances flowing from a common origin Sinn Fein was radically different. It was the difference between a violent and corrupt movement of the Tammany Hall variety, and an ideologically and racially motivated, violent and corrupt one. One just cannot see a member of the Land League or the United Irish League slowly starving themselves to death over a period of 80 days for a political motive. The element of fanaticism marked Sinn Fein as it did the Nazi Party and the Bolsheviks and the extremists in Italy and Spain. The two great distinctive elements of racist fascism came to the fore, as they came to the fore in many European countries in the following decade especially in Nazi Germany. One was the emphasis on race and all the benefits which flowed from a pure race. So the Gaelic language was to be restored by force. Irish was to be made compulsory, and anyone seeking access to education or any public employment would be made to display some proficiency in the language. This applied equally to Protestants who never claimed to be ‘Celts’. Foreign games, foreign dances, music hall songs and so on were to be banished from Ireland as from Germany. Sinn Fein was no more a stranger to reality than were the Bolsheviks or the Nazis.

          The other was the cult of violence. Again here the resemblance is strongest with Nazi Germany. Warfare was glorified; the ‘armed struggle’ was to be the summit of Irish manhood’s ambition until the least foreigner was forced to leave the sacred soil of Ireland. The first manifestation of this was the glorification of those who fought the British in 1916; they were made national heroes. This madness was to grip almost the whole of the Catholic population of Ireland. If one of the ‘lads’ was wounded he was almost worshipped by the nurses in the local hospital. If one was killed everyone turned out to bury him with full military honours. That monumental piece of romantic rubbish, the ‘Proclamation of Independence’ read out in the General Post Office in Dublin in 1916, became almost holy writ. But its statement that ‘Six times in the last three hundred years Ireland asserted its nationhood in arms’ though totally false was accepted as factually true. These shared fantasies generated an extraordinary fanaticism which was later to be emulated by the German boys who entered the SS in Germany and by the Falangists in Spain.

          The first manifestation of this was the death of the hunger-striker Thomas Ashe from forced feeding in Mountjoy prison in 1917. A wave of emotion swept the country, and the hunger-strike was to become a test of manhood for members of the IRA. A helpful Jesuit priest explained that this was not suicide but murder by the British Crown. The argument went like this. Britain was an unjust aggressor. The ‘British Government’ should recognise the evils it was carrying out in Ireland and withdraw from the country thus preventing the death of the young man. This once again shows the atmosphere of unreality in Ireland. Catholic bishops in England just regarded them as men who had committed suicide.

          The IRA claimed to be fighting a ‘just war’, though not a single one of the criteria for a just war existed outside their own imaginations. There were no enormous injustices or oppressions sufficient to justify the wholesale shedding of blood and destruction of property. There was no reasonable chance of success. There were always available channels of negotiation by which grievances could be remedied. The unwillingness of the Ulster Unionists to submit to them was not a grievance. There was not a properly constituted body capable of taking decisions for the people of Ireland. This remained true even after the election of the so-called ‘First Dail’ for it never received recognition as a legitimate Government from anybody, and there was a legitimate Government already in existence. It had as much right to declare war as an elected body governing sport for example.

          ‘A war, to be just, must be waged by a sovereign power for the security of a perfect right of its own (or of another justly invoking its protection) against foreign violation in a case where there is no other means available to secure or repair the right; and must be conducted with a moderation which, in the continuance and settlement of the struggle, commits no act intrinsically immoral, nor exceeds in damage done, or in payment and in penalty exacted, the measure of necessity and of proportion to the value of the right involved, the cost of the war, and the guarantee of future security’ (Catholic Encyclopaedia ‘War’).

          However the conviction that the Catholics in the IRA were fighting a just war was extremely useful. In practice in meant that the Ten Commandments were suspended. One had only to say ‘I am doing it for my country’ and theft, murder, arson, wounding, lies, intimidation, etc. ceased to exist and became legitimate ‘acts of war’. 1916 had shown that it was only by acts like theft, murder, intimidation, incendiarism, that an ‘armed struggle’ could be carried out.

          The official policy of Sinn Fein the political party did not in itself envisage the use of violence. The Catholic MPs elected to Westminster would meet in Dublin, declare themselves the legitimate government of Ireland, and ignore the police and the law courts for which they would substitute their own. Sinn Fein members of County Councils would collect the revenue and transfer it to the new Government and the old Government would wither from lack of funds. It was foreseen that the Ulster counties would not co-operate but they would be forced to comply. This again shows how far Sinn Fein had become distanced from all reality. The existing police and courts continued to function, and the real Irish Government simply intercepted the revenue on the way to Dublin.

          Many of the supporters of Sinn Fein and the IRA were young idealists, but it cannot be doubted that many too were opportunists who joined in order to benefit themselves. This would have been particularly true after the victory in the General Election. It is remarkable that like their contemporaries in Russia and Germany they too did not lose faith in their ideology after it had patently failed. People sent to slave camps in Russia, and people in bombed German cities quite often never lost faith in their leaders, Lenin, Stalin or Hitler. So too in Ireland, doubt never seems to have crossed the minds of those who supported Sinn Fein and the IRA. Every failure of the new Government to show results in line with their promises was just greeted with the mantra ‘After eight hundred years of British misrule improvement overnight cannot be expected’. What was not known at the time was the extent that he IRB was manipulating both Sinn Fein and the Irish Volunteers/IRA for its own purposes. (I had an uncle in Co. Louth, formerly a supporter of Tim Healy, who by this time had joined both Sinn Fein and the IRA. He was an extremely honest and conscientious man who never for a moment doubted that he had been right to ‘fight for Irish freedom’ and never lost his trust in Eamon de Valera.)

          The first sign of the swing to Sinn Fein was the victory in a by-election in February 1917 in North Roscommon of Count Plunkett who stood as an abstentionist, namely that he would not take his seat in Westminster but only in a Parliament in Dublin. In April another Sinn Fein candidate was elected in South Longford despite the fact that John Dillon, backed by the local bishop and clergy, personally took charge of the campaign. Though at a by-election held in Newry in February 1918 where Arthur Griffith, Eamon de Valera, and the Countess Markievicz campaigned for the Sinn Fein candidate he was defeated. A Sinn Fein Convention summoned by Count Plunkett was in held in Mansion House, Dublin 19 April 1917. Over 500 delegates from Labour organisations, Hibernians, Sinn Fein clubs, Women's League, and the Roman Catholic clergy who numbered about 100 priests, mostly young men, attended. It set out a claim that Ireland should be represented at the Peace Conference as a separate nation, and that Ireland should declare itself a separate state. A motion was proposed by Sean Milroy and seconded by Arthur Griffith that a council of interested parties, to be called the Executive Council of the Irish National Alliance be created. It stated the need for concerted action between Sinn Fein, the National League (Irish Nation League), the Irish-American Alliance, the Irish Volunteers, and the Irish Labour Party (Weekly Irish Times 28 April 1917). The purpose of this meeting was to hammer out a common front which the various political movements could act against the Home Rule and Unionist Parties. The IRB was as usual controlling events without ever declaring its own existence, Count Plunkett being a sworn member. (Various communist movements were to use the tactic of the ‘popular front’. George Noble Plunkett was the son of a wealthy Dublin builder and had no connection with the families of the Earls of Fingall or the Barons of Dunsany.) It had as a result the multiplication of Sinn Fein clubs, and the chief beneficiary in the short term was Arthur Griffith who had founded the party. But the release from prison, largely at John Redmond’s request, of those sentenced to terms of imprisonment after Easter Week 1916 and who joined Sinn Fein led to the eclipse of its founder (Lyons, Ireland since the Famine, 390).

          Rioting followed the return of Sinn Fein prisoners to Cork and the gaol and recruiting offices were smashed. There was a great demonstration in Cork on their behalf; the Sinn Fein flag (three vertical stripes of green, white and orange) was displayed everywhere. It was the worst riot in forty years with at least 5,000 persons involved. The soldiers took possession of the streets, and Sinn Fein ordered their supporters off the streets to prevent a recurrence of events that only bring discredit to national organisations (Weekly Irish Times 30 June 1917). As often at this time the term Sinn Fein was used loosely. The command could have been issued by the IRB, the Irish Volunteers, or the Sinn Fein club, but these had cross membership. The movement was not as closely organised or controlled as the press imagined. Most activities were planned and carried out locally. One great exception to this was the collection of money in the United States. John Devoy, an old Fenian long settled in the United States was responsible for raising at least a million dollars for the IRB. It was alleged that the German Government was supporting the IRA through societies in America. It is doubtful that without this money the activities of Sinn Fein/IRB/IRA could have lasted as long as they did (Devoy DNB 2004).

          Among those released in the general amnesty in June 1917 was Eamon de Valera. His name is explained by the fact that he was born in America, supposedly the son of a Spanish father and an Irish mother, but there were doubts expressed about his legitimacy after his mother returned with him to Ireland without his father, even though she had a marriage certificate to prove her marriage and respectability. He had joined the Irish Volunteers, but did not belong to the IRB, and had no responsibility for planning the putsch in 1916. However he commanded the company holding Boland’s Mills and was sentenced to death and was reprieved. He stood for East Clare. The campaign in Clare was a throwback to the olden days with the presence of priests on all platforms of both candidates; young curates were heard singing ‘The Soldier's Song’, a marching song of the Irish Volunteers. Sinn Fein denied that they were preparing another rebellion. They looked to the Peace Conference where they imagined England would be on trial before the whole world. In the meantime the Irish Volunteer movement was to be carried on a larger scale than before. The fact that de Valera, a capable but not very inspiring figure and nominally at least the political leader, did not belong to the inner councils of the IRB was to be of great importance. Arthur Griffith too had once briefly belonged to the IRB but no longer did. This meant that members of the IRB were able to manipulate the Sinn Fein party for their own ends. (Catholic members of the IRB were excommunicated, a point which affected de Valera’s decision not to remain in the Brotherhood. de Valera had been briefly sworn into the IRB before the Easter rising, but refused to re-join it after he came out of prison. I was told once that de Valera had said that he had never agreed with the Catholic Church’s ban on secret societies. But when he had joined the IRB he had found out why. The fact was that a self-appointed clique could pronounce sentence of death in secret on anyone who stood in their way. For convenience sake, though anachronistically, I will refer to the Irish Volunteers from this date as the IRA, the name by which they are best known)

          The Irish Catholic bishops renewed instructions to priests about participating in politics, citing the relevant passages of the National Synod (1900). The Sinn Fein candidate de Valera won a convincing victory. The victory of de Valera focused attention on republicans. Their programme consisted of abstention from Westminster, arming the Volunteers, the appointment of a Constituent Assembly for Ireland, an appeal to the Peace Conference, and the coercion of Ulster (Weekly Irish Times 7, 21 July 1917). It was symptomatic of the total disconnection of Sinn Fein and their allies from reality that they were looking forward to Woodrow Wilson’s proposed Peace Conference at which they imagined they would be represented and would be able to expose Britain’s guilt to the world. (The Sinn Fein or Irish Volunteer flag, the tricolour of green, white and orange, was adopted by Sinn Fein as the flag of the Irish Free State, and ‘The Soldiers Song’ as their national anthem. Neither had any historical connection with Ireland. The Protestants considered that Ireland’s historic national flag was a golden harp on a blue field.)

          In August 1917 William Cosgrave of Dublin won Kilkenny City for Sinn Fein, and in October was made one of the honorary treasurers of the Party. At a National Volunteer Convention a resolution was passed to re-merge with the Irish Volunteers. The Irish Trades Union Congress welcomed the Russian Revolution, and sent a cable of support to the Workers' Council, Petrograd. The death of a rebellion leader Thomas Ashe after a hunger strike was reported. His remains were removed after a requiem mass from the Catholic pro-cathedral to City Hall, Dublin, and lay in state in the City Hall. The hunger strike was started because Sinn Fein prisoners wished to be given political status and be treated as prisoners of war. The death was caused by forcible feeding. (The Pankhursts had called off their hunger strikes at the outbreak of the War and were released from prison.) The Gaelic League passed a vote of sympathy for Thomas Ashe, one of its members; Mr John (Eoin) MacNeill denied that the Gaelic League was now a political organisation despite the public comments of Cardinal Logue, and Canon O’Leary.

          A full Sinn Fein convention with over 1000 delegates met in the Mansion House, Dublin (the offices of the Lord Mayor) on 25 October 1917. It was chaired by Arthur Griffith, the out-going president of Sinn Fein. A constitution was adopted and Mr de Valera was elected president in his place. He gave the reasons why Sinn Fein had refused to join the Irish Convention; they had required that all delegates be elected, and that any majority decision, even the founding of a republic, be accepted in advance (even by the Unionists) and openly pledged. Count Plunkett and Arthur Griffith were nominated for the Presidency and both withdrew; de Valera was then selected unanimously. Arthur Griffith and Fr Michael O’Flanagan were elected vice-presidents; W. T. Cosgrave and L. Ginnell Hon. Treasurers; Austin Stack and Darrell Figgis Hon. Secretaries. de Valera denied that the existing Government was a legitimate one, and so it could be legitimately expelled by physical force; it was the constitution of a foreigner and they could legitimately despise it; it was not a legitimate government; it was oppressing them; though they sought an Irish republic, that would only be after a referendum; they could have a king, but not of the House of Windsor. The issue of the monarchy was left to be decided (Weekly Irish Times 3 Nov 1917; Lyons, Ireland since the Famine, 391). de Valera was a notorious logic-chopper who could always justify his own choice at least to himself. But like Hitler he was very plausible. Lloyd George had no difficulty in convincing President Wilson that the Government was willing to enact any legislation that the Irish themselves agreed on, saving always the right of Ulstermen to self-determination. The hypocrisy of Sinn Fein which demanded self-determination for itself and refused it to Ulstermen was obvious to all. Also it was obvious that the existing Government in Ireland, whether some people liked it or not, was as legitimate as that of the United States itself. Sir Shane Leslie spent the war in Washington along with the British ambassador, Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, putting the Government’s point of view. It was entirely coincidental but helpful that this task fell to two Irishmen.

          Immediately after the Sinn Fein convention the Irish Volunteers were re-organised and de Valera was made their President. But the IRB moved to appoint their own members to key positions. Michael Collins was made Director of Operations. On the other hand Cathal Brugha (cahal brooa or Charles Burgess) who was now an opponent of the IRB was Chief of Staff of the Volunteers. (Many members in Sinn Fein adopted real or supposed Gaelic forms of their names. Edward de Valera became Eamon, Ay-mon, de Valera). Both de Valera and Brugha felt that the IRB had outlived its usefulness and was only causing confusion in the leadership. By far the most important appointment was that of Michael Collins as Director of Operations. He can be regarded as Ireland’s Himmler. He was an extremely hard worker, and efficient organiser, and was totally without a conscience. He was from Cork and was thirty seven years old. He was in the GPO in 1916, was interned, and was released without being charged the following Christmas. To his friends he could be very charming. Lady Fingall regarded him as ‘a big simple Irishman’. Collins, like most people at the time found his way to Sir Horace Plunkett’s house, Kilteragh, which Lady Mayo and the countess had furnished for him. Collin’s name was the last in the visitors’ book before the house was burned by a rival faction of the IRA. Director of Operations was a rather grandiose title but it gave him some organisational powers. (It would seem that most of the American money allotted for military operations passed through his hands.) But like in the agrarian secret societies from which they were derived the local units organised their own activities. Apart from training there were no official activities at this time, but the post became more important later. Like Stalin sometime later he made a disregarded organisation post one of strategic importance.)

          At the end of November 1917 Cardinal Logue in a letter to his clergy denounced Sinn Fein as "ill-considered and Utopian", and said that the dream of an Irish republic might lead to disaster. Nevertheless Dr Michael Fogarty, bishop of Killaloe backed Sinn Fein. [TOP]


           [1918] Serious shortages developed in Ireland, especially of potatoes and bread; and there was no sugar for Irish private jam makers. The export of butter from Ireland was prohibited. An urgent appeal was made to Irish farmers. The Tillage Order (1918) required an addition of 5% of tillage that year, as well as making up the shortfall of the previous year. The buying of a tractor was proposed as a solution, as a 200 acre farm must now plough 40 acres, so it could afford the  price of £500, and money could be borrowed at advantageous rates from the Department of Agriculture. There were advertisements for tractors and other farm machinery, one tractor being advertised at £375. There was a shortage of coal in Ireland, and fuel shortages imposed severe restrictions on Irish railways. Schemes to reduce the consumption of coal, gas, and electricity, were to be introduced at once. Although the convoy system was not adopted in World War I until losses of British merchant ships became catastrophic in 1917, it then quickly proved effective. One of Lloyd George's most notable efforts was in combating the submarine menace, which, in early 1917, threatened to starve Britain into submission. He achieved this by forcing the adoption of the convoy system upon a reluctant Admiralty, and even more reluctant ship-owners and sea captains. The food shortage resulting from the submarine war was acute. Drastic action had to be taken to step up agricultural production, and eventually a system of food rationing had to be introduced (1918). In these matters Lloyd George was at his best, contemptuous of red tape, determined to take action and to make his will prevail (Encyclopaedia Britannica. ‘David Lloyd George.).

          A development arising out of the shortages was experiments to find which crops gave the greatest profit and nutritional value per acre. These were potatoes, for human food, and mangels (or mangolds, a form of beetroot used for animal feed) for animals. Beef cattle gave a better return than milk cattle except in the case of the 1,000 gallon cow. Milk from a 400 gallon cow was twice as costly to produce as from a 1,000 gallon cow. Sheep were more efficient converters of grass into meat per pound, though the bullock was regarded as better for preserving the fertility of the soil. There was perhaps not much that was particularly new or startling in these figures, but what was interesting was that they were published in the daily newspapers instead of farming publications, or The Homestead of Plunkett’s IOAC. Sinn Fein never grasped the point that efficient farming, the way of the future, was in total opposition to protected farming where tariffs guaranteed profits. (Weekly Irish Times 15 June 1918)

          Another trend which manifested itself was the upsurge in agrarian crime especially in the West of Ireland. As usual in this kind of activity it arose at local level. From the nature of things it is scarcely possible to decide which were organised by groups connected with the failing United Irish League and which with the rising Sinn Fein clubs and Volunteer units. But the belief was that Sinn Fein units now had the upper hand and they were responsible. Also the lawlessness went beyond the traditional agrarian grievances. Driving cattle off the large cattle farms was still practiced but it went beyond that. There was a plot to destroy the railways, presumably because they were used by the army, and many men were arrested. The Co. Dublin aerodrome watchmen were held up, and there were malicious injuries to ploughs, either to wreck the tillage campaign, or perhaps as part of a local plot. In March an outbreak of lawlessness in Clare was reported, and two policemen were shot. There were extensive seizures of lands, a robbery of a bank manager; a robbery of a post office in Galway; an attempt to derail a mail train; gunpowder stolen in Cork; cattle-driving in Clare organised by a man in a Volunteer uniform.  A desire to confiscate the large farms was always prominent among the rank and file of the Volunteers, though neither the Free State Government not that of de Valera ever conceded it. Robberies of local post offices became a trade mark of the IRA. The robberies took place on the day the pensions were delivered to the local post office. The old age pensioners suffered little by this as the Government always replaced the money stolen. (The Bolsheviks in Russia largely financed themselves by robbing banks).

          The Countess of Fingall recounts how the Volunteers stole firearms from every house in the country, though she does not mention the year. She mentions also that the earl was asked to contribute to IRA funds, and he replied that he would do so wherever they were the legitimate Government of Ireland, and oddly enough they were satisfied with his reply. Robbery of houses for arms had been an infallible sign for a century and a half that an agrarian criminal conspiracy was being hatched, and of this the Government was perfectly aware.

          For the Government Earl Curzon explained the policy regarding Ireland; the primary object  was to secure  the success of the Convention, and to this end no strong measures would be taken which might precipitate a reaction. This despite the fact that the police and military authorities requested strong measures. In fact for the next three years it was the policy of the Government to do as little as possible with regard to the activities of the IRA. The police in particular, though they and their families were the prime targets of the IRA, were officially instructed to take as little action as possible against the terrorists, and this led to a serious breakdown in the discipline of the RIC. The failure to take strong measures against them Sinn Fein regarded as a sign of weakness not of restraint. But it was in keeping with Lloyd Georges’ belief that the problem was now an Irish one to be solved by the Irish themselves. However, with the retirement of Henry Duke from the Office of Chief Secretary and the appointment Edward Shortt, the Government was compelled to take a stronger line.

          In January 1918 Carson resigned from the War Cabinet. In his letter to the Prime Minister he explained that when he joined the Cabinet he did so on the understanding that the constitutional question was postponed until after the war. It was clear that the Cabinet would be better able to discuss any proposals without his presence. Sir James Craig resigned from the post of Treasurer of the Household.

          A meeting was held in the Mansion House, Dublin to support the Russian Bolsheviks. It was chaired by William O’Brien ICTU, chairman of the executive of the ICTU Irish Congress of Trade Unions (not the MP). Some bolsheviki were on the platform; republican and red flags waved, and the Red Flag sung. Madame Markievicz, Mrs Gonne-MacBride and Mr Ginnell spoke; Mr Coates proposed that after liberty was won the vice-regal lodge would be turned into the headquarters of the Transport Workers' Union (Weekly Irish Times 9 February 1918.)

          John Redmond died after an operation for an intestinal obstruction. The Belfast Weekly Telegraph in its obituary of Redmond praised him for his moderating influence; in recent years his moderation was denounced with spleen by Sinn Fein (9 Mar 1918). He did not live to see the total eclipse of the Party he had led for so long. He was succeeded as leader of the Nationalist Parliamentary Party by John Dillon.


          At this time in England Lloyd George appointed Herbert Albert Fisher, the Vice-Chancellor of the new Sheffield University, as President of the Board of Education. He immediately undertook a survey of the schools of which the English Board had oversight. His recommendations were enshrined in the Fisher Acts. Some parts of his recommendations eventually found their way in the Londonderry Education (N.I) Act (1923). Also in England at this time a committee under Viscount Burnham devised scales of teachers’ salaries which Irish teachers could only envy. An increase in teachers' salaries was sanctioned by the Irish Government and the Treasury in December 1917, and had been implemented by April 1918, though the sums involved were less than had been requested. A committee under Lord Killanin, the Killanin Committee, was established by the Lord Lieutenant to consider the future development of primary education. The Killanin committee was the first to be composed largely of teachers; it recognised that a wider and more liberal approach to the training of teachers was required (Irish School Weekly 10 July 1920).

          Another committee was established by the Lord Lieutenant to consider the office of sheriff in Ireland. Almost all the executive functions of the sheriffs had been removed when the County Councils were established in 1898. The committee made drastic recommendations which were to be enshrined in an Act in 1920

          By July 1918 the flu epidemic had reached Belfast, and was now spreading to Dublin and Cork; captured Germans said it was rife the German army. It was called the Spanish influenza. The flu was to rage in Ireland until the following Easter. It was one of the most lethal epidemics ever and 228,000 deaths were attributed to it in the United Kingdom and more than half a million in the United States.


          The War went through two phases in 1918. The first was the great German attack under General Erich Ludendorff who had transferred half a million men from the Eastern Front to the Western Front.  Manpower shortages meant that it was no longer possible to have a continuous system of trenches, so the front line consisted of strong points which could support each other with machine gun fire. From all the German forces available, the best and fittest soldiers were chosen to by-pass the strong points, and if necessary to attack them from the rear. The blow fell mainly of Sir Hubert Gough’s Fifth Army. Haig had expected that the main thrust would be delivered further north and be aimed at the Channel Ports, which indeed was Ludendorff’s intention. To get his reserves there he had to thin out elsewhere so the Fifth Army held 42 miles of front with only 14 divisions. The Fifth Army was the southernmost British in the north-south section of the line. The French Army beside it was in the east-west section and so in a position, if necessary to attack the Germans on the flank. It was understood that in case of a strong German attack, General Petain would supply the reserve troops from the French army. The German offensive was launched on the 21 March 1918, and the Fifth Army was driven back. Though steadily retreating the front never broke and the pressure of the attack weakened the further it got from its base line. The German troops often went looking for the British Army’s food dumps, for food was desperately in short supply in Germany even for the army. The Army was driven back to its base line on the Somme of 1916. Though gaining ground, Ludendorff gained no strategic advantage. To meet the crisis, all the Allied armies were unified under a single commander, Marshal Foch. However Sir Hubert Gough was blamed for the retreat and was removed from command by Haig who felt that the public were demanding a scapegoat.

          On the 6th April 1918 the Irish Times reported that the German advance had been stopped, and Foch appointed Generalissimo. It estimated that the Germans had lost half a million men in this attack and it praised the steady conduct of the Ulster regiments. A week later it announced that the Prime Minister had decided on Home Rule and conscription for Ireland. The military age was to be raised from 41 to 50 with a revision of exemptions, and lads of 18 to be sent overseas. There was to be a clear-out of Government staff, and new rules for fitness. The editor agreed that it was no longer possible in view of these facts to exempt Ireland; all the Irish MPs had voted for the war and he referred to the declaration of the Irish Party 17 September 1914 which  declared the war a just one (Weekly Irish Times 13 April 1918). Cardinal Logue deplored the haste in which conscription was introduced, but refused to back physical resistance. Archbishop Walsh stated that he was sure that if Irish MPs supported conscription linked to Home rule he was sure they meant conscription passed by an elected Irish parliament (Weekly Irish Times 20 April 1918). It is clear that the Irish Catholic bishops supported the view that the United Kingdom was right to go to war to defend Belgium in 1914 and had no moral objections conscription as such if that was the price that had to be paid. Also, in view of the fact that it was daily becoming clear that Sinn Fein was a front for a terrorist organisation plotting to overthrow the lawful Government with German help, they could not be happy with their fellow objectors. The bishops however agreed that resistance to conscription was lawful by all means consonant with the law of God. Nor does there seem to have been any opposition to conscription in Ireland apart from that inspired by Sinn Fein propaganda. The latter party had to oppose it on the grounds that Irishmen should fight for their version of what Ireland should be, and the fittest men in the ranks of the Volunteers would again be removed from the country. Sinn Fein had no moral objection to shedding blood, nor had it the financial capability of arming the Volunteers. But it was handed the great chance to pose as the saviour of Ireland by opposing conscription. They were of course at the same time negotiating with Germany for support for their cause.

          A letter by Sir Edward Carson to the Press was published which said  that the attitude of the Nationalists, Sinn Fein, and the Catholic bishops towards national defence  showed how little  confidence could be placed on any reservation in a Home Rule Bill. He maintained that the Government had no intention of enforcing conscription, at least until after a Home Rule Bill became law. The appointment of Edward Shortt who spoke against conscription confirmed his opinion on this matter. However a Home Rule Parliament would be united against conscription (Weekly Irish Times 11 May 1918). On the other hand, a letter from Horace Plunkett considered  that the aim of getting more troops was attainable, especially as America was in the war, simply by  conceding Home Rule now; he  remained  convinced  that a new Irish Executive  would not  shrink  from the  task of promoting  voluntary  recruitment.


          When the German advance was held up on the Somme it proved to be the decisive turning point of the War. Ludendorff was to continue to launch attacks in the direction of the Channel ports and indeed broke the front further north where it was held by Portuguese brigades. On 15 July 1918, Foch, aided by the influx of American troops, began its counter-offensive. The Americans were given a relatively quiet sector to themselves in the Argonne Forest and the St. Michiel salient, and there the modern United States Army was born.


          In April 1918 the Irish Convention reported on largely sectarian lines, and it was obvious that little real concessions had been made to the Ulster Unionists. In May 1918 Lloyd George replaced the Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary. Wimborne had refused to support the Government’s attitude on conscription. Duke had resigned and returned to his career in the courts. It was clear that the Government could no longer, in the interests of promoting free discussion, ignore the activities of Sinn Fein and the IRA, The experienced soldier, Sir John French, was made Lord Lieutenant. This was more of a gesture towards those outraged by the apparent impunity with which Sinn Fein organisers could carry out their illegal acts, than of any intention to deal with them with a strong hand. He also claimed to be a Roscommon gentleman and had his residence in that county. French announced, on somewhat tenuous evidence that there was a plot to import arms from Germany, and it appears that some efforts had been made in that direction (Lyons, Ireland since the Famine, 395). The Government issued a statement on the continuing German complicity with Sinn Fein, noting that long before the outbreak of the war the German government was financing Sinn Fein through American societies; and this was publicly stated in 8th Nov 1914 by John (Eoin) MacNeill. After 1916 the Sinn Fein leaders were still begging for German money through the German Embassy in Washington and obtained it. The Government had clear evidence of the continuing co-operation between the Germans and Sinn Fein, and the latter were to stage another rising as soon as German assistance arrived. Without the arms to be delivered by submarine the new rising could not take place (Weekly Irish Times 1 June 1918). Apart from confusing Sinn Fein with the IRB this was no doubt broadly true, but there was no evidence that the IRB were at that very moment planning to land a huge cargo of arms by submarine. Though German surface ships were not able to approach the Irish coast, German submarines did, and were still active in the Irish Sea. Obviously, as the Government realised, the situation could change rapidly if the Germans achieved a major success on the Western Front, and as it were on cue Ludendorrf launched another major offensive and the City of Cork Steam Packet Company’s steamer was torpedoed.

          Lord French then proceeded to intern 150 of the known leaders of Sinn Fein. Fourteen counties and two boroughs were proclaimed. The following month a hospital ship fully lit up was torpedoed off the Irish coast. In July Sinn Fein was proclaimed, and all  their meetings were banned;  other organisations  banned were the Sinn Fein Organisation, Sinn Fein clubs, the Irish Volunteers, the Cumann na m-Ban (Women’s League, an auxiliary branch of the Irish Volunteers), and the Gaelic  League. These were merely driven underground. Sinn Fein at this time had no particular revolutionary strategy. It was concentrating on Griffith’s ‘Hungarian Option’ which it hoped would be bloodless, namely refusing to sit in Westminster and sitting instead in Dublin. The acts of agrarian terrorism were no worse than they had been in the previous 18 years. The real terrorist campaign was forced on Sinn Fein by members of the IRA after the atrocity at Soloheadbeg in Tipperary in January 1919.


          In July 1918 Mr James MacMahon replaced Sir William Byrne as Irish Under Secretary. The Government proceed with its own business and indeed the end of the War seemed in sight. As Sinn Fein/IRA had apparently been successfully disposed off, one of the first items on the agenda had to be to prepare an updated version of the Government of Ireland Act (1914).

          Unlike Sinn Fein the Government had to proceed in a manner consistent with law, precedent, treaty, and democratic rights. It had to recognise that the situation in Ireland had arisen over several hundred years, and there were different interpretations of that history. It had to recognise that injustices might have been done in the past, but that also various statutes of limitation limited the time for seeking redress. The Catholic Church, for example, could not demand the return of Church lands seized at the Reformation as of right. The modern possessors of those lands had the right in law and conscience to retain them. Nor could a man, just because his surname was O’Neill, for example, claim lands formerly owned by Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, but which had been confiscated in the seventeenth century. Acts of Parliament conferred rights on various individuals which it was perfectly possible for a later Parliament to limit or withdraw, but it would require an Act of the same Parliament or of another Parliament established by it, such as a Dominion Parliament. In the passing of such an Act the lawyers who drafted it would dot all i’s and cross all t’s to make sure that the legal rights of everyone involved were protected, or if necessary compensated for. This was the approach which eventually had to accepted after the fruitless murder of several hundred people.

          Drafting such a Bill was not the immediate concern, or even the province of the Irish Government. In the United Kingdom as a whole it was recognised that the War was coming to an end, even if the sudden collapse of Germany in November was not foreseen. Thought had to be given to post-War conditions, and as Lloyd George put it, ‘To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in (Speech 24 Nov 1918). Most women were to be given the vote, conditions for teachers and schools were to be improved, housing was to be improved, a Ministry of Health and a Ministry of Transport were envisaged. Whitley Councils were to be established to deal with labour disputes. It was a period when Radical Liberalism and the Socialist Movement seemed in a position to bring about great improvements in society.

          The first proposal for social improvement came from the hitherto backward Corporation of Dublin. A gigantic housing scheme was proposed for Dublin in which 700 families were to be provided with housing. Land was to be procured in suburban areas like Clontarf, Drumcondra, Cabra, and Crumlin, with access to the tramlines; Dublin Corporation was already the landlord of 1880 households. It was not intended that it should be the landlord of perhaps 29,000 new tenants; rather it was proposed to sell the houses as soon as purchasers could be found (Weekly Irish Times 17 August 1918).

          Speaking in Belfast Lord French outlined a new industrial strategy for Ireland which the Chief Secretary, Shortt was considering; he said that the Government would make every effort to promote industry and agriculture. The first point was to try to get Ireland to contribute her fair share of the armies; the second was to promote the health and welfare of children by developing good housing and healthy surroundings; the third was to develop Irish industry especially by developing the transport sector. It was a common complaint that higher costs of transport in Ireland made it difficult for Irish companies to compete equally with British ones. A great effort was made to encourage volunteering for the Front.

          In September 1918 the Parliamentary sub-committee on the development of Irish transport resources examined Mr M.A. Ennis of the Development Commission. He said that £108,500 had been allocated for the purpose of fishery harbours and similar purposes. They had received an application from Drogheda Harbour Commissioners for improvements with regard to handling cattle, in conjunction with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, and they had offered them a loan. With regard to Galway there was a fine dock with 22 feet of water at the cill, but it was useless at present. The Commission was inclined to offer a loan of £60,000 provided Galway County Council advanced £20,000, but it had no authority to raise such sum for the purpose required; what was needed was blasting to clear rocks from the channel. With regard to the Development Fund there was one million left out of three millions. With regard to inland transport the Commission favoured light railways rather than motor traffic; for the latter the roads would have to be improved and the County Councils had not the money. (In 1920 a ‘Road Fund’ was created into which motor taxation was paid and from which the new Ministry of Transport could make grants to County and Borough Councils for road building. This transformed the economics of road transport to the detriment of rail, Richards and Hunt, Modern Britain, 346.)

          Sir John P. Griffith said that there were many small piers around the Irish coasts but they were unsuitable for larger vessels; consequently the deep-sea fisheries were in the hands of the French, Scotch, and English fishing companies. He considered it possible to make Galway a centre for deep-sea fisheries with large fishing steamers as in England and Scotland. The fishery piers were often constructed as a means of giving employment, and to satisfy local demand, rather than from any advantage for fishing other than local. Ireland got more grants for fisheries than Scotland, but the results were not so good, nor was it a good idea to provide facilities before the demand. Lord Mounteagle mentioned the proposal to develop Foynes as a combined naval and deepwater mail port. Mr P.C. Cowan of the Local Government Board noted that the canals carried only a sixth of the volume of goods as the railways. The discussion centred largely on the need to rationalise the railways with port facilities.

          In November 1918 the Report of the Irish Transport sub-committee enquiry was published. It was chiefly concerned with ports and water transport; roads and railways not being included in its remit.  It noted the fine natural harbours and great natural and interior waterways on which public and private money had been lavished; despite the fact that railways were not included in the enquiry, the rail connections with ports had been considered. The main defects they found were

1) Insufficiency of discharging berths
2) Lack of efficient and up-to-date equipment for handling cargoes,
3) Inadequate linkage of piers and harbours with railways and waterways,
4) At times insufficient dept of water in the approach channels.

It noted that the canals were constructed in pre-railway days, when delays in transit were regarded as unimportant; if they were to be worked in conjunction with the railways to allow them to be utilized fully much reconstruction work would be required. Specifically  with regard  to the Arigna coalfield to which the Government was at present constructing a rail link, the construction of a canal, the deepening of the waterway from Killaloe to Limerick, and the  enlarging of the locks should be considered; this section was at present totally inadequate to provide a link between the west coast and  the Grand Canal. (This latter suggestion was the latest in a long series of proposals and schemes dating from early in the eighteenth century to deal with the Shannon, both with regard to water transports and as an efficient drainage system; in proved a most intractable river. The Shannon is used nowadays for leisure activities.) It had considered all the harbours at present under either the Board of Works, the Congested Districts Board, the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, or Fisheries, and recommended that a Government Harbour Department should be formed to take over from them. It considered  that dredging of  the approaches  should be a responsibility of the Central Government,  but inside  the harbours  controlled by local authorities, it  should  be  their  responsibility (Weekly Irish Times 14 Sept 16 Nov 1918).

          October saw Ireland’s greatest maritime disaster of the War. The Kingstown to Holyhead mail boat, City of Dublin mail steamer the Leinster was torpedoed with 500 lives lost. If only one torpedo had been fired many more lives could have been saved. The editorial noted that the mail steamers for 4 years had defied the submarines so that people began to under-rate the menace. This group of steamers were among the fastest in the world, and travelled from Kingstown to Holyhead in a few minutes under three hours.

          In November 1918, before the end of the War, there was a debate in the House of Commons on the Irish question led by T. P. O’Connor; it was asked that Ireland should immediately be given her freedom and allowed to attend the Peace Conference. The House was not convinced that Ireland was under a yoke like that from which Jugo-slavs and the Czecho-Slovaks had been released.  Mr Shortt replied that the Ulster difficulty had not been resolved yet, and that the physical force party dominated by the  Republican Brotherhood had not yet been subdued, but were at that very time planning further acts of violence. He noted that if the nationalists were given power tomorrow they would have to crush those elements.  The Nationalists and the Labour Party refused to consider the wishes of the Ulster people and pressed on with their motion for immediate 'self-government'. The motion was defeated by 196 votes to 115 (Weekly Irish Times 9 Nov 1918).


          In November 1918 there were great rejoicings as the armistice was declared, and the flight of Kaiser and Crown Prince. There were great rejoicings in Dublin; animated scenes; dense crowds filling the streets; Union Jacks widely displayed. There were counter-demonstrations organised by Sinn Fein causing considerable disturbance and damage to property (Weekly Irish Times 16 Nov 1918). Ireland was far from being the only country in Europe where the War was followed by violent clashes between different groups.

          The Lord Lieutenant set up a committee of seven gentlemen to advise how Ireland could capitalise on the industrial development which had occurred during the course of the War. The greatest example was in ship-building in Belfast. Losses from submarines meant that the two shipyards worked at full capacity, and were now planning to extend their facilities so that it would be possible to build several ships of up to 1,000 feet in length at the same time. New records had been set in riveting, in fitting out a ship in the shortest time, and in building ships from scratch. The battlecruiser Glorious of 19,000 tons was built by Harland and Wolff in 1917. It was later converted into an early aircraft carrier and was sunk by the battlecruiser Scharnhorst on 8 June 1940. In Londonderry there had been a shipbuilding boom; vessels up to 11,000 tons deadweight could be constructed, and they could rapidly turn out 1,000 ton barges. At Warrenpoint, Co. Down there was construction of ferro-concrete ships. 400 people were employed in making 1,000 ton barges, and 750 hp steam tugs; it was the only one of its kind in Ireland.

          Kynoch's in Arklow were laying off men from their explosives factory, and it was expected that the whole factory which employed 1,000 persons would be closed down. The linen industry had enjoyed a great expansion during the war. Coalmining had also been developed to the limit of Ireland’s small coalfields of which seven were producing, three in Ulster, two in Munster, and one each in Leinster and Connaught. A tractor factory had been established in Cork. The war had brought an end to the building trade, but construction of aerodromes for training purposes brought much welcome work. This involved the construction of buildings and aeroplane sheds, widening roads, and levelling the runways by pulling down walls and filling in ditches. A new effort was being made to start an Irish dead meat trade; the Irish Packing Company acquired two factories in Drogheda. One of the two factories in Drogheda dealt with chilled meat, the other with tanning. It was proposed to handle 156,000 cattle a year; chilling would avoid the losses of fresh meat, and the expense of freezing such as was required for long voyages. A plan was also afoot to harness the Liffey for hydro-electricity where by constructing a dam a fall of 40 feet could be obtained (Weekly Irish Times 30 Nov 1918)


          A General Election was called for December 14. Labour broke with the War Coalition. Bonar Law pledged the continuation of the coalition as the best means for ensuring peace abroad and preventing revolution at home. The 106 Liberals who followed Asquith in his call for an enquiry into the state of the army in France before Ludendorff’s offensive were blacklisted by the coalition. Each loyal MP was given a letter of commendation from the Prime Minister and Bonar Law, which Asquith described as a coupon, stating their loyalty to the Coalition Government which had won the War.

          A special meeting of the Irish Trades Union Congress and the Irish Labour Party decided not to put up Labour candidates at the next election, so that the issue of self-determination should not be obscured by the partition proposed for Ireland. The Irish Labour Party and the Irish Trades Union Congress were the thing.  The most prominent figure in both was an Englishman called Thomas Ryder Johnson. Though Johnson disliked militant nationalism he failed to oppose Sinn Fein in 1918 and 1921 (Johnson DNB 2004).

          The Government had made it clear that the new Government of Ireland Bill would include partition. At the annual convention of Sinn Fein in the Mansion House, Dublin, there was a large attendance. The director of elections said that in a general election at least 80 seats could be won. The chairman, the Rev. M. O’Flanagan said that he looked for Ireland’s seat at the peace conference. The General Election held on 18 December 1918 was novel in two respects. For the first time women were allowed to vote, and, except for the university seats, the election was held on a single day. The coalition obtained 526 seats out of 707 of whom 133 were Liberals. Asquith lost his seat, and only 26 Independent Liberals were returned. The Conservatives did very well, and formed the majority in the new coalition government. Bonar Law was in effect deputy Prime Minister and was in charge of the Government during Lloyd George’s prolonged absences at the Peace Conference. In Ireland the Unionists gained 8 seats; the Nationalists lost 62; Independent Nationalists lost 9; the Liberals lost 2.  Sinn Fein gained 67 giving them 73 seats to the Unionists’ 26 and the Nationalists’ 6 (7 including T.P. O’Connor elected in Liverpool). de Valera defeated Dillon in East Mayo but Joseph Devlin retained West Belfast. Dillon then retired from politics.

          As Lyons pointed out, as far as votes were concerned Sinn Fein’s landslide was not as impressive as it seemed. Nearly a third of the voters did not vote, and of those that did Sinn Fein received 47.7 % of the votes cast. By popular anecdote, the election was the most corrupt since 1613. The Nationalists and the Unionists were no slouches when it came to electoral mal-practice but the common belief was that they were thoroughly beaten at their own game by the young bloods of Sinn Fein, which even went as far as taking over polling stations at pistol point, and themselves filling in the ballot papers. Lyons rather plays down this aspect. In the Six Counties, it was to be nearly 80 years before Sinn Fein could gain the majority of Catholic votes in Northern Ireland. As usual, when there is to be a change of regime, former opponents rush to display their loyalty (Lyons, Ireland since the Famine, 399).

          It is difficult to gauge the electoral support for Sinn Fein at any given point. It was negligible in 1916, but by-elections in 1917 showed it was growing. In the General Election in 1918 Sinn Fein won 73 seats out of 105. Yet in a parliamentary democracy with single seat constituencies it is possible to be elected with a quarter of the votes, for example with a turnout of 50% of eligible voters and 50% of the votes cast. Lyons points out that 31% of the electorate did not vote, and that Sinn Fein got 47.7 of the votes cast, i.e. about 33% of the total electorate. If Ulster is excluded this was 65%. As Unionist votes were minimal in Catholic areas the Nationalists would have 35% of the actual voters. He is inclined to minimise personation, intimidation and electoral mal-practice such as seizing and stuffing the ballot boxes though these were reported as having been practised on a massive scale by Sinn Fein. This did not matter, for after the election support for Sinn Fein soared as everyone knew that they would form the next government. It was time to wave their tricolour flag and shout ‘Up the IRA’ instead of ‘Up Salonika’. (In 1829 when Daniel O’Connell was first standing for Parliament against a popular landlord he was just ahead of him at the end of the first day when the sheriff announced the number of votes cast for each candidate that day. It was clear that O’Connell had a very good chance of winning and on the second day a landslide in his favour commenced.) It is far more difficult to say what support for Sinn Fein was before the General Election in 1918; it would be difficult to prove that Sinn Fein had the support of a majority of the Catholic population. Its support could be as low as 30% or as high as 60%.         



Copyright Desmond J. Keenan, B.S.Sc.; Ph.D. ;.London, U.K.