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

Chapter Seven



Summary of chapter. The Conservatives had long considered that the best way to end the muddle which Gladstone's attempts to satisfy the demands of the tenant farmers and the Land League was to sell the rented lands to those who were renting them. This meant putting public money up front which the purchases would repay by means of an annuity for about sixty years. In 1903 such an Act was passed. Some of the old campaigners in the Land League declared themselves fully satisfied, but not all. Terrorist activity over land questions revived. Ship-building in Belfast was now reaching its peak with ships of ever-increasing size being built culminating in the Titanic in 1912. Ulster reached its greatest peak of prosperity. Racist and socialist movements dedicated to the use of violence were springing up all over Europe and they were represented in Ireland by the newly-farmed Sinn Fein Party and a connected secret society called the Irish Republican Brotherhood. In 1906 the Liberals returned to office and tried to introduce an Irish Council Bill to placate the Catholic nationalists but it pleased nobody. Labour troubles in addition to terrorist land agitation sprang up with new trade union leaders addicted to violence.




The Ministry December 1905 to April 1908 (Liberal)



The Ministry July 1902 to December 1905 (Conservative)

Prime Minister             Arthur Balfour

Home Secretary           Aretas Akers-Douglas

Lord Lieutenant          Earl of Dudley

Chief Secretary             George Wyndham; March 1905 Walter Long

Under Secretary           David Harrell; November 1902 Sir Anthony MacDonnell 

            [July 1902] Aretas Akers-Douglas was a barrister from Kent, with no connection with Ireland. William Humble Ward, second Earl of Dudley, son of the first earl, had been elected Mayor of Dudley in 1895 and 1896 and served with the Imperial Yeomanry on Lord Roberts’ staff in South Africa. Walter Hume Long’s mother was from County Wicklow. He had a long career in Parliament, and sat for South Bristol from 1900 to 1906 and for South County Dublin (Horace Plunkett’s old constituency) from 1906 to 1910. Anthony Patrick MacDonnell (Anthony Pat) was a Catholic from County Mayo. He was educated in the Queen’s College, Galway, a tiny college with little more than 100 students but well-regarded academically, and then joined the Indian Civil Service in 1864, serving in Calcutta. He was much involved in Land Reform in Bengal and was strongly opposed by the local landlords. He had a long career in India in various posts before he was asked by George Wyndham if he would accept the office of Under Secretary in Ireland. He got Wyndham’s agreement on a policy of land purchase, the establishment of some kind of order to the various Boards by which Ireland was governed, the promotion of education, economic reform, and opportunity to influence policy, and with these conditions Wyndham agreed.

          A Board was a group of persons, who normally sat around a table or board, having managerial, supervisory, investigatory, or advisory powers. The members could be called commissioners, directors, guardians, etc. This meant responsibility, especially financial responsibility, was spread over several persons. Boards, unlike Government Departments, were normally not directly responsible to Parliament, though some like the Treasury Board, the Board of Trade, or the Board of Control of India were. (Ireland, it was once observed, had enough boards to make its coffin.) The office was a step down for MacDonnell, and he may have been asked directly by the king to undertake it (Fingall, Seventy Years Young, 277). The king, the Prime Minister, and the Chief Secretary wished to see a constructive policy of development to which Irishmen of all parties could agree. But like Plunkett, he came to be detested by both parties.

          Unlike Earl Cadogan the Dudleys were young, rich, and beautiful. They were determined to do their best for Ireland, and also to maintain a magnificent court. The salary of a Lord Lieutenant was sufficient for ordinary purposes, but if the office was held by a wealthy nobleman he could put on magnificent displays from his own pocket. Lord Dudley was the first Lord Lieutenant to use a motor car, and he used to drive to the golf links nine miles away. This caused difficulties for his police escort who had only bicycles, so they had to be provided with motorcycles. He drove the twenty miles to Killeen Castle, the Fingalls’ home, in County Meath in two hours. The Countess of Fingall has an amusing story about how Lady Dudley extracted more money for Ireland from Charles Ritchie, by then Balfour’s Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lady Dudley mapped out a route where the Vice-regal car would pass the worst looking cottages, outside of which the parish priest had been instructed to assemble the most ragged children. They even drove past the same cottage twice, and the chauffeur was instructed to slow down when passing. Ritchie was appalled, and George Wyndham got £12 million (Fingall, Seventy Years Young, 281-2). Lady Dudley devoted herself to helping the poor in Ireland, and her scheme for Dudley nurses brought trained district nurses and midwives to parts of the West which never had them. Lady Dudley’s committee continued to meet under her successor the Countess of Aberdeen. She also took a close interest in the Countess of Mayo’s School of Art Needlework. On a motor tour of the West the wives of the Maamtrasna prisoners begged Lady Dudley during the Lord Lieutenant’s tour of the West to secure their release.  Lord Dudley said he would    carefully consider the petition. Three men, Martin Joyce, Patrick Joyce, and Thomas Joyce were sentenced in 1882 to penal servitude for life; none of the convicted had in fact inflicted any of the fatal wounds, but were present with common consent to commit the murder; the death penalty was commuted to penal servitude for life. The men were released (Warder 11 Oct 1902).


          The new century opened in 1900 and the Irish Times marked it with a lengthy article on the position of women  in 1900 which is worth quoting at length. ‘Woman and the New Century’ by Lady Violet Greville paid tribute to the great women of the preceding century Mary Woolstonecraft, Hannah More, Elizabeth Fry, and Jane Austen. She noted that Jane Austen's novels conveyed a very accurate description of the restricted middle class life of that day; long hours of needlework, dull domestic duties, short walks taken in thin shoes and white stockings, the subjection of all natural desires to lady-like behaviour.

          She noted the immense changes, and great openings now for women. A woman now has her own latchkey, her bicycle, her hansom, her trips abroad by herself or with another woman; a large part of this is due to the more ordered state of society which allowed a woman to go without male escort. Early in Victoria's reign a woman never went abroad even to walk in the park unless accompanied by a maid, but now a woman can walk alone in respectable streets. Nowadays women are allowed to do almost anything, go to the play and the opera, stay in hotels, dine in a restaurant, belong to a club, without male escort or approval. Foreigners are astonished at young ladies walking, climbing mountains, boating, cycling, sightseeing, accompanied only by one of her own sex. Much of this can be attributed to athletics where a young girl can take part in tennis, croquet, golf, and hockey in their clubs, go to skating rinks, and gymkhanas without mother or chaperone. The result is well-developed, physically-fit young women; though some women exercise excessively, on the whole habits of early rising and healthy exercise stand to them well in the rest of their lives.

          The education of women too is now highly developed; at one time Lady Mary Wortley Montague noted that women were not allowed serious books, and educated women of that century educated themselves. Dr. More prevented his daughter Hannah from pursuing her studies of Latin and mathematics; Mrs Elizabeth Carter and Mrs Montague and her set were nicknamed bluestockings. The Queen's College was founded in 1848, having grown out of the Governesses' Benevolent Institution; in 1869, a college was founded in Hitchin from which derived Girton in 1872, quickly followed by Newham in 1875, and new schools were provided by people like Miss Buss to improve girls' education.

          Women flocked into new careers in medicine, science, nursing, bookbinding, printing, and all the branches of art; women competed for the highest prizes; they became doctors in medicine, members of the School Board, factory inspectors, and teachers of a wide variety subjects. Girls of the class who formerly became domestic servants now prefer to be shop assistants and clerks.  Long hours, unfair agreements, capricious and vexatious deductions of salary, unsanitary surroundings and poor living count for nothing compared with increased liberty. The women of the poorer classes are still confined to making shirts, mantels, and trousers, and making matchboxes invariably at a lower wage than for men; women's work is considered as supplementary to the man's earnings. Gentlewomen have been driven by the vicissitudes of fortune into trade. The Post Office Savings Bank and the Telegraph employ many women; type writers and shorthand secretaries find ready employment; shops for dresses, millinery, and bric-a-brac employ women; some women keep tea-shops; others take up journalism; while the stage is no longer considered immoral or degrading.

           The first women’s' trade union was founded in 1874 by Emma Pattison, and women's leagues have been formed, among them the Primrose League [formed in honour of Beaconsfield] and the Women's Liberal Foundation. The vast schemes in connection with religion, temperance, and social regeneration of all kinds, are presided over by women of rank; every great lady toils as well as the poorest.

           There have been losses as well as gains; manners have suffered; politeness and elegance of manners has disappeared; the modern girl is brusque, angular, rude in speech, and self-assertive. There is less respect for parents; less regard for duties in the concrete while subscribing to a vague humanitarianism. The lives of factory women are ruined by the conditions in the factories, and they have sickly children, the health of the children in the manufacturing towns being very poor (Weekly Irish Times 27 January 1900).

          As far as women were concerned the previous fifty years had brought about remarkable advances. Lady Violet could also have mentioned married women getting a large control over their own property, and properly qualified women getting the vote in local elections. Journalism was regarded as a suitable career for daughters of impoverished gentlemen who had to earn their own living. It was far better than that of governess or paid companion. With regard to journalism for women Mrs Belloc-Loundes, sister of Hilaire Belloc, thought that a young women considering a career in journalism should know a little of everything rather than one subject thoroughly; she must make up her mind to keep herself au courant with what is happening. She will commence with local papers before trying the larger cities. The Society of Women Journalists, in the Strand, subscription a guinea a year, offers much help (Weekly Irish Times 19 April 1902).


          Belfast in the second half of the nineteenth century it grew to be a great world-class industrial and manufacturing city, becoming the world centre of the linen industry. Machinery powered by coal and steam enabled the British Isles to temporarily wreck the traditional hand-spinning and weaving industries around the world, aided by the fact that ever-larger steam-powered iron ships could transport raw materials and finished products around the world. Alongside the spinning and weaving grew the chemical industry to produce ever-better bleaches and dyes. Ulster manufacturers imported flax from Northern Europe, manufactured linen, and exported around the world, maintaining their own sales force in the different countries. The Jacquard loom enabled the weavers to weave complicated patterns into the cloth. Technical advances in the manufacture of machinery meant that machine-woven cloth was as good as the best hand-woven cloth and much cheaper. Bleaching and finishing the cloth were brought to perfection. Sir James Craig in 1924 claimed that seven of the largest industries in the world were in Ulster: the largest linen manufacturing concern, the largest firm of linen thread, twine and netting; the largest rope and cable works, the largest shipbuilding firm, the largest single tobacco works, the largest single flax spinning mill, and the largest single linen export trade of any comparable area (Weekly Northern Whig 1 March 1924).

          With regard to ship-building, Belfast like its great rival Glasgow, was build on a relatively small river, the estuary of which could be dredged to accommodate ships of almost any size. It was also within easy reach of supplies of coal and iron which were found just across the Irish Sea. Harland and Wolff and Workman and Clark were twoof the largest shipbuilding firms in the world. Sir Edward Harland realised that iron ships could be designed on totally different lines from wooden ships. He used a design like a box girder to make a longer ship giving increased speed; he flattened the bottom to make the ‘Belfast bottom' increasing capacity; he increased manoeuvrability by making their stems almost vertical. Though it was predicted that they would break their backs in a storm they proved robust, and the yard got extra work by lengthening other ships. Longer thinner ships were more economical to run (Jeremy, Dictionary of Business Biography "Harland, Sir Edward James Harland", 1831-95, pp36-41).

           When the first White Star liner Oceanic was launched in 1870 he broke with tradition by placing the first class accommodation amidships instead of in the stern because movement was less, and he extended the saloon area across the width of the vessel; these features were soon copied by the other lines. The firm furnished the cabins and common rooms with the most extraordinary luxury with a view to capturing the richest market in the world, those who wished to travel between New York and London. The Irish Government secured that these would halt at Queenstown in Cork harbour. The firm not only built the ships but the engines as well, triple and quadruple expansion steam engines. (A marine engine on a ship lent itself to the economical use of steam, the high-pressure steam from the boiler being expanded progressively into larger cylinders, and finally condensed into a vacuum by means of sea-water. The cylinders were set in line along the length of the ship. The pistons in each cylinder drove directly down on to cranks on the driveshaft which ran above the keel. The same principle was used by Parsons as the steam was expanded into progressively wider sections of the turbine.)

          Brunel’s Great Western weighed 1,320 tons in 1838. By the end of the nineteenth century 10,000 ton ships were being built. In 1899 under James Pirrie Harland and Wolff began to build ever-larger ships beginning with the 17,040 ton Oceanic and at 705 feet the first to exceed Brunel's Great Eastern. In 1900, the 20,000 ton Celtic was launched, 3,000 tons more than its predecessor the Oceanic. The series culminated with the Olympic and Titanic 46,400 tons (1912) and the Britannic  50,000 tons (DNB Pirrie). The spectacle of these monsters towering over the little rows of two-storey houses was impressive, and was a source of enormous pride to the shipyard workers. Places in the shipyards were highly prized and often handed on from father to son. Workman and Clarke built rather smaller vessels but more of them. In 1902 Workman and Clark built the largest tonnage of any yard in the United Kingdom with 12 vessels with a total displacement of 86,711 tons. In 1903 Harland and Wolff’s total tonnage was 110,463 tons. In 1909 Workman and Clarke held the world record for any shipyard, and in 1910 it was held by Harland and Wolff. The latter firm then had 12,000 workmen (Weekly Irish Times 30 July; 24 Dec 1910). During the First World War a riveter in Harland and Wolff’s won the world record by driving 7,841 rivets in 9 hours; he was however soon beaten by a man in Workman and Clark’s. J.W. Moir MBE, the world's champion riveter on June 5th 1918 drove 11,209 rivets in 9 hours using 2½ tons of metal; his best speed was 26 rivets in a minute Weekly Northern Whig 9 Feb 1924).

          The Sirocco works was established to make tea-drying machinery, and it specialised in making industrial fans, some of which were used in German battleships. Another firm was Mackie’s which specialised in making machinery for the linen industry.

          This was Ulster’s heyday. In 1913 a writer in the London Express noted that Belfast paid one half of all Irish taxation. Ulster had 35% of Ireland’s population, and 35% of its property value. 70% of all Irish exports went from Belfast, and half of all Irish trade passed through it. Of the customs duty paid in Ireland in 1911-12 Ulster paid £2,273,000 while the rest of Ireland paid £914,000 (Weekly Irish Times 20 Sept 1913). It was a point Home Rulers and anti-Home Rulers were not likely to overlook. (Whether these particular statistics were accurate is immaterial; the people at the time considered they were.)

          Dublin was also a fast-growing city, being the administrative, intellectual, artistic and financial capital of Ireland. It was the centre of the rail system, and had a great port which handled a great deal of the imports and exports of Ireland. It was a great export centre for the live cattle trade. It had many traditional industries which were always under threat from British factories. Two of its greatest firms were Arthur Guinness the brewers, and Jacob’s the biscuit manufacturer. Jacob's factory belonged to an old Quaker family settled in Ireland for two centuries. In 1851 William B. Jacob decided to add biscuit-making to the output of his bakery in Waterford, and a few years later opened a factory in Dublin concentrating on making 'cream  crackers' which became  a great commercial success. The firm maintained a welfare department; teeth extractions were free; a doctor called every day, and gave advice free. The welfare secretary was a certificated nurse, and she had two assistants. There was a food hall where meals were served at cost price. All the tableware was sterilized after every meal. The girls could spend the rest of their lunch break at the piano, in the library, or playing games in the gardens on the roof. There was also a large hall, a gymnasium, a works choir, spray baths (showers), and sewing classes. For the men there was a forty foot long plunge bath; the men had to wash thoroughly in the spray baths before using it; it was much appreciated in hot weather, and some have learned to swim in it (Weekly Irish Times 29 Nov 1913). One of the most important was Grubb’s, originally a maker of instruments. They specialised in making astronomical instruments, and helped the Parsons family in Birr to make their giant telescopes. The firm developed an optical gunsight (Warder 31 March 1900). Sir Charles Parsons was also interested in optical instruments and purchased Grubb’s in 1925 and built a new works in England. It should be noted that most of the firms in Dublin, large and small were owned by Protestants.

          There was one strange difference between Belfast and Dublin. Belfast was not short of land on which to build working-class houses. Many of the houses were small, with a small backyard which held the privy, and, in houses built after 1878, there was an alleyway between the backyards for the removal of rubbish and night soil (Collins in Beckett, Belfast, the Making of the City 171). In Dublin, on the contrary landlords tended to buy up mansions in the city centre and let them out room by room with minimal provision for sanitation. It was estimated that 100,000 persons, or a third of the population, was living in single rooms (Weekly Irish Times 20 Dec 1902).

          Some of the owners of slum property in Dublin were members of Dublin Corporation who had no intention of seeing their rental diminished by the building of new housing. In the Dublin tenements tenants paid one week in advance, or maybe two; then they paid no more until  they were evicted, a process  which took three weeks. All water and everything else had to be carried up flights of stairs, and all rubbish and waste carried down again; more often it was thrown out the window. Sanitary facilities of the poorest condition were in the yards, and it was not uncommon for homeless people to sleep on the stairs; such were often drunk and fighting. There were only open fires so there was little cooking; the poor lived on bread and tea, and the women did not know how to make soup or porridge. They slept 4 or 5 to a bed, and a lodger might pay 1/6 a week for a quarter share of a bed. Because of drying washing and crying children the men spent their time in the public house.  The people lived from hand to mouth, and pawned their goods and clothes on a Monday and got them out on a Saturday.

          ‘It matters nothing to what particular brand of Nationalism the Corporation owes its allegiance if its municipal policy is to remain rotten and unchanged’. The editor suggested that Municipal Reform candidates should be put up, chosen from people with no municipal interest. All the other candidates should be asked their views on municipal reform. Ownership of slum housing should be regarded as a disqualification, as also for any publican for the problems of the slums are closely connected with the problems of drunkenness; slum publicans cannot be slum reformers (Weekly Irish Times 3 Jan 1914).

          In 1905 the Irish Times commented on the vast extent of pawnbroking among the weekly wage earners in Dublin, and most workers in Dublin were now paid weekly. Pawnbroking was made legal in Ireland in 1786, and at least 5 million tickets were being issued by pawnshops in Ireland. The interest was fixed at one halfpenny on every two shillings or part of two shillings for each month or part of a month, i.e. 25% p.a. at simple interest. However as most pledges among the weekly earners are for weeks or less than a week the actual interest is 108%. Also as the pawnbrokers were not mentioned in the Currency Act 1826, for interest purposes 2/- is counted as 2/2 Irish; the effect of this is to invoke the clause 'part of 2/-' which allows the pawnbroker to charge for 4/- instead of 2/- ; in Britain the legal interest on pawns was 108% (Weekly Irish Times 19 Aug 1905). Pawnbroking and money lending was by no means confined to Dublin. Indeed indebtedness of the very poor to moneylenders is an almost universal phenomenon.


          In England a great improvement was wrought in primary education by the Education Act (1902), ‘Balfour’s Act’. School Boards were abolished, and the county or borough Council was made the Local Education Authority. Secondary (Intermediate) Education was also placed under the local councils, and financed from local taxation. In England, Catholic schools benefited, but some extreme Nonconformists raised a cry about ‘Rome on the Rates’, which was to pre-occupy Cardinal Bourne of Westminster. It was to be a burning topic for the next twelve years. More public money was poured into education and England rapidly overtook Ireland. The schools run by religious bodies were taken under public control and raised to the same standard as the others. The religious societies met all costs for buildings, and appointed teachers, and the Councils met all other expenses from the rates. The Councils were also enabled to build their own secondary or intermediate schools, as well as assisting existing voluntary schools. The primary and secondary schools were still not integrated into a system, but in 1907 secondary schools receiving public money were obliged to reserve 25% of their places free to pupils from the primary schools. In 1908 free school meals were prepared for the poorest children and a compulsory free medical examination. The incidence of ill-health especially with regard to eyes and ears proved horrifying. In 1899 Margaret McMillan organised the first medical inspection of schools in Bradford, and this was later taken up by the London County Council.

          There was not the slightest chance that the Irish Catholic bishops would consent to a similar Act in Ireland. In 1920 at the Congress of the INTO (Irish National Teachers Organisation) the out-going president, Mr T.J. Nunan commented that the Catholic schools in England came  under the county councils in 1902 and there were no ill-effects, but there was great improvement in pay and conditions; in Scotland too it was found possible to get every advantage for Catholic schools and Catholic teachers with no interference with the authority of the Catholic priest, and only Catholic teachers could be appointed in Catholic schools. These things took place in England and Scotland where the Departments and local councils were composed almost exclusively of non-Catholics (Irish School Weekly 10 April 1920). The trenches for the trench warfare which Archbishop MacHale had marked out in 1837 with his appeal to Rome were to remain forever inviolate. And it did not matter that Rome had in fact rejected MacHale’s appeal.

          The Public Libraries Act (1902) extended the Act of 1855 (the principal Act) to rural districts, subject to the conditions of the Public Libraries Act (1894). Oddly enough, the counties themselves were not then made Library Authorities (New Irish Jurist 26 June 1903; Weekly Northern Whig 29 March 1924).

          The terrorists connected with the United Irish League stepped up their nocturnal activities in 1902. The Lord Lieutenant made various proclamations under the Crimes Act in 1902, a total of 26 urban or rural districts of which 8 were in Clare, 2 in Limerick, 10 in Tipperary, 1 in Roscommon and 5 in Sligo. They were revoked in July 1903 (Weekly Irish Times 18 July 1903).

          The Postmaster General found it too expensive for the moment to extend the telephone system to the leading towns in the south of Ireland. However if the chambers of commerce, or other bodies, would guarantee specified returns between the various towns and Cork for seven years he would extend the system (Weekly Irish Times 18 Jan 1902). However by 1903 there was telephonic communication from Dublin with the Earl of Dunraven at Adare, Co. Limerick. Originally there were several telephone companies in Britain, the National, the Mutual, and the New Telephone Company as well as many local city companies. After 1901 the Post Office was integrating the various local services which had operated under the general oversight of the National Telephone Company; by 1912 the lines for a full national telephone system were in place. The Government got complete control of it when National Telephone Company was purchased under the Telegraph Arbitration Act (1909). [TOP]


          [1903] Wyndham Thomas Wyndham-Quin, 4th Earl of Dunraven, from Adare Co. Limerick, had been an officer in the army and a war correspondent. He reported on the ending of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and the ending of the Great War in 1918, being the only person present at both. He was a noted sportsman and big-game hunter, chiefly in North America. He bred horses and had a famous stud farm at Adare. But he was chiefly famous for his yachts. In 1893 and 1895 he had yachts specially built to contest for the America’s Cup. The challenge was later taken up by another Irishman, Sir Thomas Lipton, about whom the Kaiser is once supposed to have said, ‘The King of England goes sailing with his grocer’.

          In 1902, during the outbreak of agrarian terrorism, a gentleman from Galway named Captain John Shaw Taylor, a nephew of Lady Gregory, in a public letter suggested a conference between representatives of the landlord and the tenant interest. The Nationalist leaders he invited, and who accepted, were John Redmond, William O’Brien, Timothy Harrington, and Thomas Wallace Russell, a Unionist MP who turned Liberal. They welcomed the suggestion but the Irish Landowners' Convention did not. Lord Dudley and Wyndham however pursued the scheme, and they were joined by Lord Dunraven. After more efforts, Dunraven, the Earl of Mayo, Col. Sir Hutchinson Poe, and Co. Nugent Everard were chosen as the landlords’ representatives. Dunraven was asked to act as Chairman. O’Brien later observed that he, Redmond and Harrington had taken their lives in their hands by taking part in unauthorised discussion with the landlords, but with the success of the Conference not one branch of the United Irish League objected (Weekly Irish Times 3 Jan 1903). Their Report was unanimous and formed the basis of the Land Act (1903) (DNB Quin; Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 218). Russell, who came from the Tenant Right Movement in Ulster, had long been agitating for compulsory purchase. (Sir Thomas Wallace Russell was originally from Cupar in Fife in Scotland and was much involved in the temperance movement. In 1886 he stood as a Unionist in South Tyrone against Parnell’s nominee, William O’Brien and defeated him. He split with the Conservatives in 1899 over Land Reform. From 1895 to 1900 he was Secretary of the Local Government Board, and he was appointed by the Liberals Vice President of the Department of Agriculture in 1907 after the dismissal of Sir Horace Plunkett. (Obit Weekly Irish Times 8 May 1920)

          Resolutions agreed to the sale of the land to the tenants, with tenant ownership replacing the present dual-ownership. That as far as possible, the sale should be made directly by the landlord to the tenant. That it was not desirable that landlords, through this measure, should be driven out of Ireland, and that they should be enabled, as far as possible, to continue in Ireland. That an equitable price based on income should be paid to the landlords. That the purchase be made by a capital sum being paid to the landlords to produce a revenue of 3%, or 3¼ if guaranteed by the state (Weekly Irish Times 10 Jan 1903).

          It is obvious why many landlords agreed to sell when they succeeded in getting good terms for the sale. The way the previous Land Act (1881) was being interpreted by the courts meant that already low rents were being forced down every fifteen years. Nor had the previous Act produced a benefit for the landlord in the form of better farming, improved fencing, drainage and buildings, but it encouraged the tenants to neglect them. The drains could be neglected for nineteen years out of a twenty year lease. Then in the twentieth year they could be partially cleared out and claimed as a ‘tenant improvement’. The opportunities for cheating by the tenant were built in, so the Nationalists would strongly oppose any attempts to amend the Act. Though the incidence of agrarian attacks was not great no Irish landowner felt free from the threat.

          But it is not clear why the Nationalists accepted the Resolutions. As the whole point of the Land League and the United Irish League was to smash the landlords and to drive them out of all places of influence in Ireland, the Resolutions made the landlords better off. The return from land was falling steadily, and the landowners were being handed capital sums which could be invested in mining or industrial shares much more profitably. The social position of the landowners was still secure, even if the Local Government (Ireland) Act (1898) made it easier for people of lower social standing to be elected as local councillors. It should be remembered that in 1902 many of the Nationalist leaders who had followed Parnell and Davitt when they were young were now middle-aged. Nor was it easy to keep up narrow intense feelings of revanchism all one’s life. Nor did they know that within ten years there would be a Liberal Party with a totally unscrupulous young leader prepared to barter Home Rule for assistance against the House of Lords. Nor did they know that the original Fenianism, determined to settle all Ireland’s problems with guns would revive. In any case the Nationalists who felt the time was ripe for a rapprochement with the Unionist and landlords were a minority. And O’Brien clearly felt that he might be assassinated merely for talking to landlords. But when the deed was done, and the tenants were enabled to buy their farms at the cost of a small annuity stretched over sixty years or more the hard-liners in the United Irish League found it difficult to oppose even if it meant weakening the case for Home Rule.

          The basic principle of the Land Act (1903) or Wyndham Act was that Government offered a bonus to landlords who would sell, and tenants would make repayments over 68 years. Landlords were paid in guaranteed Land Stock, saleable on the Stock Exchange. Landlords were to be encouraged to sell all their land leased to tenants at the same time, and the sale could proceed if three quarters of the tenants on an estate agreed. The price of each farm was to be within a band of from 18½ years purchase to 24½ years purchase on farms with first term rents under the Land Act (1881) and from 21½ to 27²/³ years purchase for second term rents fixed after 1896. The money was to be advanced by the Government to the purchasers and the repayments over 68½ years meant a return of 3½% to the owners of the Land Stock (Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 219). (The price of commercial property is normally valued by multiplying the annual return, for example the rent, by a number of years).

          Wyndham, introducing his Bill in March 1903, mentioned that the tenancy system militated against land improvement for the tenant runs down his land in the last years of his lease. Irish agriculture was starved of capital while the tax-payer was paying £140,000 a year for the Land Commission and £1,400,000 for the police who are largely occupied in dealing with agrarian crime. He referred to the success of the earlier Acts; nearly 80,000 tenants had purchased and the state had not lost a penny. The Griffith Valuations were brought up to date annually in the Department of Valuation, and since the Local Government Act 1898 placed the rates on the holders they are anxious for a correct valuation; there were 490,301 holdings valued in these returns, of which 56% were valued at £10 and under; 69% being £15 and under. With regard to the total cost there must be subtracted items like the 80,000 tenants who have already bought, the grassland farms which will never be sold, urban plots, etc, and farms over £2,000 in value  which is the limit in this Act as in preceding Acts. He dealt with the question of landlords who were themselves tenants of superior landlords to whom they had to make regular payments, and of tenants in bankrupt estates. As he said, the complications of landholding had been building up for 800 years.

          An estate was not to mean all the property of the landowner; it meant the tenanted land and such other amounts which must be added to make the holding a sound security for the advancement of money. The value should be based on the value of fixed second rents, of which only about 80,000 have been fixed a second time. So he outlined the complicated procedures about how he proposed to deal with all the others. There were two dangers in creating a peasant proprietary, the subdivision of property and mortgaging it. The policy would be frustrated if a local money lender could buy up 10, 15, or 20 holdings, group them together, and repay the money outstanding to the Treasury. The only safeguard was to make a portion of the annuity permanent, and if he buys a holding he too is subject to the provisions against sub-division. [As in most peasant societies the poorer people were in perpetual debt to the moneylender. Much of the land in Southern Italy distributed after the Second World War ended up in the hands of the moneylenders] Untenanted land must be added to uneconomical holdings; these holdings may be sold to tenants on the estate, their sons, or the tenants on neighbouring estates, or to any person who in the previous 2 years had been a tenant (Loud Irish cheers). For these newly manufactured holdings the limit will be £500 advance; this provision had created expectations among holders of untenanted land in the West; so a limit of £500 is placed on any holding which has been created since 1 March this year. The cheers were due to the fact that the Land League and the United Irish League had promised that those evicted for withholding their rents would get their land back. (Untenanted land was composed of individual farms from which the tenants had been evicted but which had not, for whatever reason, chiefly intimidation, been re-let. The tenants who had been evicted for withholding rent on the instructions of the United Irish League, hoped to be re-instated, hence the cheers.) Obviously, untenanted land could more easily be added to small holdings to make them viable.

          For the landlord, advances would be made in cash; this money would be raised by the Treasury by a new capital stock to be called 2 ¾ % guaranteed Stock, redeemable after 30 years. He did not expect to have to raise more the £5 millions in the City in any one year; indeed it would be impossible to do so (Weekly Irish times 28 March 1903).

          Lady Fingall noted that there were two kinds of landlords who would be unwilling to sell, the wealthy landlords who did not need the money, and the poor whose estates were mortgaged to the hilt so they would get nothing for them. The solution was to give a bonus to the landlords and to persuade Ritchies, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to pay it. (How Lady Dudley achieved has been described above.) Shortly after she describes how Wyndham met a formerly penniless Irish marquis in the casino at Monte Carlo enjoying himself with his bonus. He pointed at his chips and called out ‘George, George, The Bonus’ (Fingall, Seventy Years Young, 282). The Act proved very successful, and at least achieved its aim of allowing tenant farmers to purchase their farms.

          Writing in 1904 Mr T.W. Russell noted that many important people all over Ireland were attacking the Land Act (1903) but tenants were getting on and taking advantage of it.  A lot of criticisms were regarding the prices, and he had no doubt that the landlords were making a good deal out of the transactions. Those tenants, numerous in Ulster, who were paying second term rents had got a 20% reduction in the eighties, a further 22% reduction in the nineties, and further discount on purchase. Those with first term rents obviously did not get such a good bargain. With regard to those paying non-judicial rents he hoped that the Estates Commissioners would take the competitive nature of rents into consideration. (Obviously he meant by comparison with the judicial rents, not with market rents which would be far higher.)

          There were also the problems of the Congested Districts, and the evicted tenants. But he was convinced Parliament would not have passed the Act if they did not think it contained a solution to these problems. With regard to the Congested Districts, the only solution was more land, and this could only come from the sale of the grasslands which were being let out at fancy [i.e. commercial] rents. With regard to the evicted tenants surely some arrangement could be arrived at on the Lansdowne and Massareene estates similar to that arrived at on the Coolgreaney estate, but so far little has been done on this matter. Some landlords in Ulster refused to sell under any terms. In 1901 the Liberal party had voted for compulsory purchase, and would do so as soon as it came into power, as it shortly would (Weekly Irish Times 15 October 1904). In 1907 a Bill for Compulsory Purchase was introduced and Mr T. W. Russell stated that the landlords  had breached the agreement of the Landlord’s Conference, where it  was agreed that whatever agreement was arrived at, it should be secured on the second term rents; but the landlords were advancing that to 27½ purchase and a three year bonus, making the purchase price 31½ years; in his own constituency there was an estate with 900 tenants,  who wished to buy, but not at the price the landlord was asking; there must be  compulsion( Weekly Irish Times 27 April 1907). The Marquis of Clanrickarde famously refused to sell any land to his tenants despite pressure from Liberals, Conservatives, and Nationalists, and it was to force him to sell that the Land Act (1909) allowing compulsory purchase by the Congested Districts Board was passed, but even then it was not until 1915 that the Land Court managed to acquire his lands (except the demesne). His rents were in fact low, but he just objected to being forced to sell his land (DNB Burgh Canning).

          The tenants on many, but not all, estates purchased their lands. Between 1903 and 1920 nine million acres had changed hands, and negotiations were continuing with regard to a further 2 million acres. But it is interesting that so many tenants did not purchase the farms they were renting. In 1923 the Free State Government passed a further Act Land Purchase Act (1923) to deal with 70,000 unpurchased tenants still under the Land Act (1881) and a rent-roll between£0.8 and £1 million and to cost £25 million. The lands were to pass immediately to the Land Commission which would oversee the sale (Weekly Irish Times 2 June 1923; Lyons, op.cit., 606). The Northern Ireland Government got an Act passed at Westminster in 1924 amending the 1903 Act. In both these later Acts the dual system under the 1881 Act was ended compulsorily and the Land Courts were regarded as an expensive anachronism (Weekly Northern Whig 12 July 1924; Lyons, op.cit. 708).

          As to whether the purchase of the land by the tenants did any good to the country or to anybody most people are sceptical. Lyons, though he did not intend so, was rather damning. It had been the contention of Charles Kickham, eloquently expressed in his famous novel Knocknagow, that a long secure lease was essential if an Irish tenant was to exert himself. After 1903 agriculture stagnated, and slightly declined despite the great efforts of Horace Plunkett. Consolidation of the uneconomic holdings proceeded, but slowly, and with little change in output. The Danes did not drive the Irish out of the British market; instead they developed the market. Farmers were not investing in their farms. Any extra cash was spent on improving houses and life-style. More and more money was hoarded to pay ever-increasing dowries. A dowry, as soon as it was obtained, was used to marry off a daughter, so the sum was taken out of circulation for all practical purposes. There was no stimulus of a higher rent to force farmers to improve their production or their marketing. The farming population steadily grew older. By 1946 a third of all farmers were over sixty five, and many of these were widows (Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 602-610, writing about the 1930’s). The drive to improve agriculture when the landowners were trying to improve their estates, and also when co-operatives were try to improve agricultural methods seems to have vanished.

          An alternative policy of raising rents, encouraging consolidation of properties, with assisted emigration, aimed at driving down the population to around 3 million for the whole of Ireland (about the same as New Zealand) would have raised production and the taxable capacity of Ireland, increased standards of technical education, and might have brought about economic development similar to those in the Nordic countries. Given the long history of nationalist propaganda where everything was blamed on ‘The British Government’ this was unlikely ever to be accepted. So when the Irish Republic joined the European Community it was one of the most backward economies in Western Europe and attracted an enormous influx of development funds. Even such an economically literate person as Dr Garrett Fitzgerald had no difficulty in attributing the backwardness to centuries of ‘British misrule’. There can be little doubt that the long struggle over land, like the similar struggle over education, was just an expensive mistake.


          The King, Edward VII, who much liked the Irish people, came to Ireland especially to see the people in the Congested Districts. The flag on the royal yacht was flown at half-mast because of the death of Pope Leo XIII. He was made very welcome, though extreme nationalists like Maud Gonne succeeded in preventing an address of welcome from the Dublin Corporation presented. The streets of Dublin were decorated and lined with cheering crowds. The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Walsh attended a levee. The Irish nationalist bishops were no longer boycotting the Castle. The king then went to the Royal College of Maynooth in Co. Kildare where he was welcomed by the Catholic hierarchy, and received a loyal address from the staff. He then went north to visit Belfast, and to stay with the Marquis of Londonderry at Mount Stewart in Co. Down.

          The royal yacht took him then to the West Coast where the king was to visit the Congested Districts by motor car. As Horace Plunkett was regarded as the expert on matters concerning the motor car he was asked to organise the expedition for the king and queen. His Majesty wished to see the conditions of his poorest subjects for himself.  It was very likely that the king frequently exceeded the speed limit in his 22 h.p. Daimler. Nine motor cars met at Leenaun at the head of Killery Harbour on the Galway-Mayo border to greet the king. The Lord Lieutenant and the Countess of Dudley were also there. The king and queen drove round the head of Killery Harbour and entered several small cottages; a high stone damaged part of the radiator, but this was soon mended; this was the only accident His Majesty sustained; bonfires lit on the neighbouring mountains and fireworks set off.

          The royal party then went to Galway and on to Kenmare on the south coast where they were the guests of Lord Lansdowne. The king made Horace Plunkett a Knight Commander of the Victorian Order (KCVO) which conferred the title of ‘Sir’. Sir Horace piloted the royal party in his seven horsepower Panhard (Motor News 1, 20 August 1903).

          Another motoring event in 1903 was the Gordon Bennett motor race. The reason it was held in Ireland was that it had to run at least 100 miles on public roads, and this would require that the speed limit would have to be raised. Dudley, a motoring enthusiast, could issue the necessary Orders.

          The Motor Car Act (1903)) raised the speed limit to 20 mph for vehicles under 3 tons and regulated motoring. Vehicles over 3 tons were still restricted to 4 mph. The Local Government Board made the necessary regulations to apply the Act to Ireland. Every car must be registered in a county and carry a number plate, and the rear number plate must be illuminated. Ireland was assigned a letter for each county in alphabetical order preceded or followed by the letter I. So Antrim was IA, Armagh IB, Carlow IC, Cavan ID. Mayo was IZ followed by Meath as AI. Belfast city was given OI, Dublin city RI, Londonderry city UI. Road signs were to be erected. The total number of motor vehicles registered in Ireland up to 1 April 1904 was 1,445 of which 897 were motor cycles and 548 were for other cars. The total number of drivers licences  registered was 1594 of which 342 were for motor cycles only. Of the vehicles registered 654 were in the county boroughs and Dublin county, and 791 in the counties which was an average of almost 25 per county. Taxation was imposed in the shape of an annual fee of 5 shillings p.a. for a driving licence, and a registration fee for the vehicle of £1. The Act was passed for three years, and a royal commission was appointed to investigate; since 1906 the Act was renewed annually (New Irish Jurist 7 Oct 1904; Weekly Irish Times 29 February 1908).


          In North Carolina, at the Kill Devil hills, the Wright brothers succeeded in making brief powered flights with a heavier-than-air machine in December 1903.

          In 1903 the first of the colleges in the Gaeltacht (the surviving Gaelic-speaking areas) which were to become a part of the youthful experience of young Catholics for many years to come was started. The idea was to promote total immersion in traditional Gaelic culture, to learn to speak the language, learn the songs, music and dances, and participate in the native sports. Gaelic-speaking areas were shrinking fast. In 1851 Irish was spoken over large parts of Munster and Connaught, and in Donegal in Ulster. By 1900 the Gaelic-speaking areas had shrunk to areas along the West Coast with isolated patches elsewhere like at Ring, Co. Waterford and Omeath in the Cooley peninsula in Co. Louth.

          Trinity College Dublin voted 74 to 11 admit women to degrees. The cost of a degree at TCD was £83 compared with £6 at the Royal University. At the Royal in the past 8 years only 541 have taken degrees, though far more than that matriculated; only a quarter of those who matriculated took degrees. The reason for the 75% drop-out rate for women students was not obvious, but it would seem that girls’ secondary schools were not of the same standard as those of boys (Warder 13 June 1903). [TOP]


          [1904] In 1904, Belfast finally got its electric trams. The old contract for the horse-drawn trams expired and was not renewed. The Corporation itself took over the running, and installed electric traction. The installation was carried out by William Martin Murphy who also installed the system in Cork city. The Great Western Railway of England opened up the fastest route between Dublin and London when it began running packet boats between Fishguard in Wales and Rosslare in Co. Wexford. It was certainly useful for those wishing to travel to southern parts of Ireland

          The king returned for another visit to Ireland in 1904. The royal party went to the races at Punchestown, the centre for steeplechasing, and the principal meet was a very important one in the social calendar. The king’s visit was a private one.

          Wyndham introduced the Irish Labourers' Act (1904) again aiming at providing suitable cottages for Irish labourers. He had been asked to increase the size of the allotments but those in England were limited to 3/5ths of an acre, and he had no wish to add to congestion (Weekly Irish Times 19 May 1904).

          In January 1904 there occurred the only pogrom against Jews. It followed sermons by a local priest Father John Creagh against the Jews. Arthur Griffith, who was to found or revive the Sinn Fein party the following year, supported the priest, who went on to organise a boycott of Jewish businesses (Encyclopaedia of Ireland 631). The Irish had the same contempt for the Jews that other countries in Western Europe had. Irish Truth in 1900 commented on the Russian Jewish peddlers in Dublin: they travel widely despite the prejudice of men against their race, and they sell their chromo-lithographs and packets of needles to housewives when the menfolk are gone to work. Presumably the men would have set the dogs on them. Not all Jews are rich; this is a popular fancy. The humble packman who never replies to the jeers he receives on the road, earns only a few shillings a week. The Russian Jew will eventually govern Dublin and perhaps the whole of Ireland, because of his industry and his thrift (Irish Truth 14 July 1900). (Pogroms against the Russian Jews commenced in 1881 following the assassination of the Tsar Alexander II. The spurious work, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion about a Jewish Conspiracy to take over the world was published in Russia in 1903, and described an alleged plot by Jews and Freemasons to take over the world. It was recommended to me as a schoolboy to read though it had long been exposed as a hoax).


          After his success with the Land Conference, Lord Dunraven tried to revive it as the Irish Reform Committee. In this aim he was supported by William O’Brien who thought a settlement to the Home Rule question could also be negotiated. Sir Anthony MacDonnell was consulted, and a Devolution Scheme was devised by which decisions on purely Irish affairs would be devolved to a semi-elected Council which would be given a budget of £6 million a year. There would also be a substantial measure of legislative control over Irish affairs. The proposals were published on 26 September 1904. This was not what the old Fenians had envisaged; they had wanted a full Catholic Parliament with themselves in charge. They wanted to return, not to the independent Irish Parliament of 1782 but to the independent Catholic Parliament of James II. They wanted full control of taxation which was paid mostly by Protestants. Above all, they wanted complete control of the political rackets.

          Michael Davitt was scathing in his attacks on the landlords, the workings of the Land Act (1903), and the Reform Association.  He said that 9/10ths of the Nationalist Party supported him, and no pressure was put on dissenters (Hear hear). He noted the little support the Reform Association was getting from the Unionists. It was hinted that Sir Anthony MacDonnell was behind the Reform Association as he and Wyndham were behind the Landlord's Conference. He looked on the present Under Secretary as the most dangerous man ever to hold that post so far as the aspirations of the nationalists were concerned. A Catholic who took service in the Castle was a more formidable enemy than any open Orangeman. It was an attempt to solve the national claim by halving the spoils of alien and unjust government between Catholics and Protestants; they were continuing the government in the interest of class and not of the people of Ireland (Weekly Irish Times 24 Sept 1904). (That was precisely what the Catholic and Protestant leaders should have been attempting to negotiate. If the Protestants were greater in wealth, and the Catholics greater in numbers, an equal division of the wealth would have been an honourable draw. But the Fenians had always wanted to have exclusive control of the wealth and power.) The Ulster Unionists saw devolution as a stalking horse, or the first breach of the dyke, and claimed that within a week it would be totally under control of the Catholics.

          Wyndham replied in the London Times saying that he had no connection with the Reform Association, and that the Government was opposed to devolution in any form. It was clear that MacDonnell, in allowing a copy of the proposals to appear in public without properly clearing the matter with Wyndham and Dudley, had over-stepped the mark. Nor did it do any good for O’Brien to point out that the proposals were merely for discussion, and not hard and fast points for a Bill. Wyndham’s two successors as Chief Secretary, Long and James Bryce, considered he was not acting ultra vires, (beyond the powers of his office) but failure to explain the matter to Wyndham was a grave mistake (DNB MacDonnell). Lyons claims that MacDonnell sent a letter to Wyndham on the subject, which Wyndham mislaid. Wyndham’s biographer claims that Wyndham was so utterly opposed to the proposals that he would have stopped MacDonnell if he had known what he was attempting (Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 221; DNB Wyndham).

          The Ulster Unionists met on 2 December 1904 and formed a central Unionist Association which in March1905 called itself the Ulster Unionist Council UUC. It was composed of the Ulster Unionist MPs, Unionist peers, and representatives of all local Unionist Associations, Unionist Clubs, and Orange lodges. Its delegates were appointed by every polling district and drawn from all classes, and so was truly representative of the Protestant people in Ulster. Its democratic method of election provided a permanent electoral machinery in the constituencies (Buckland, Irish Unionism, 202). [TOP]


          [1905] In March 1905 Wyndham resigned. His health was failing, and MacDonnell had pointedly failed to resign. His successor Walter Long’s chief duty was to restore the confidence in the Conservative government of the Irish Unionists led by the Earl of Westmeath. In his task he was very successful, and the following year he was elected as a Unionist MP for South County Dublin, and leader of the Irish Unionists in the House of Commons. Nobody at this stage noted the significance of the Ulster Unionist Council which in 1912 was prepared to act for the Ulster Unionists alone.

          Boycotting and intimidation continued; near Athenry shots were fired at a man who had offended the United Irish League. There was another outrage on a grazing farm which the members of the League wanted divided among themselves, for the League was a most important factor in the allocation of lands that have been sold to the Estates Commissioners and it generally takes care that its supporters get good farms. The United Irish League was now focussing its attention of the big grassland farms devoted to beef cattle. They wanted them confiscated and divided among small farmers. These small farmers were to become a potent force in Ireland and formed the core of Eamon de Valera’s supporters. Numerically, they were numerous, even if economically they contributed little to Ireland’s Gross Domestic Product whose calculation excluded produce consumed on the farm. de Valera could pursue any political objective so long as he kept the small farmers contented. (Ireland was not the only country in Europe where small farmers exercised a disproportionate influence over economic policy.) The reason for the continuing lawlessness in the West, around Athenry, was the existence of grass farms which the peasants consider they had a right to. They were supported in this view by the United Irish League which told the graziers that they were standing in the way of a settlement between the landlords and tenants. Some of the graziers have announced that they will give up their leases when they expire in the near future, but most have made no such declaration; these are subjected to threatening letters (Weekly Irish Times 11 March; 15 April 1905).  The United Irish League set up courts of summary jurisdiction in the West; people dare not refuse to attend them because boycotting and intimidation were widespread (Warder 4 March 1905).


          There was a legal dispute between the Board of Erin Order of Hibernians, an ancient friendly society spread into many countries, and an off-shoot started in Glasgow in 1897 and registered in Ireland in 1904 on the use of the name Ancient Order of Hibernians and the letters AOH. Joseph Devlin re-founded the AOH in Ireland and was its president from 1905 until his death. He was a Belfast man, and he built up the Irish Ancient Order of Hibernians as an openly sectarian body to give Catholics a counterweight to the Orange Order. Over much of Ulster the Hibernian Hall became the focus of Catholic social and political life. To the Irish party's opponents, both nationalist and unionist, the order was symptomatic of the party's corruption, jobbery, and Catholic exclusivism (Devlin DNB 2004). Devlin was also the organiser of the United Irish League which now controlled constituency affairs for the Irish Nationalists. As in the days of the Land League the connection between Members of Parliament and terrorism was kept suitably vague. Redmond disapproved of their activities but was never in a position to do anything about them. William O’Brien, who had founded the League, had withdrawn from politics in 1904 after he failed to get backing for his policy of conciliation, thus allowing Devlin a free hand. For most Protestants the United Irish League and the Ancient Order of Hibernians were the same thing. (O’Brien’s connection with terrorism was much the same as Parnell’s)

          For once the Catholic bishops came out strongly, clearly, and explicitly against intimidation and cattle-driving. The bishop of Clonfert (Most Rev Dr. O’Dea) for example denounced intimidation: ‘There have been instances, I am ashamed to state, in which men and even women have been fired at by cowards from behind a hedge. Houses have been fired into at night. Occasionally there have been threats of murder, or incitements to it, with allusions of approval, more or less veiled, to deeds of blood now happily past....and though your sole object in firing be to frighten, nevertheless by firing you are guilty beyond doubt, of a mortal sin, and of a mortal sin too of exceptional malice. And why? If you fire at another, or into his house, your action implies a clear threat of murder, or of grave personal violence, which God has forbidden under pain of mortal sin; and because also to fire at a man, or into his house, is a grievous violation of the right to security, peace and freedom possessed by everyman, and is utterly destructive of the peace and liberty of the community’.

          In the same pastoral letter with regard to bribery the bishop dealt with members of public boards taking bribes to appoint unworthy candidates, or inferior contracts, and insisted he must make restitution. ‘If a member of a public Board votes for a bad or dishonest candidate, or for a candidate clearly less worthy than another, he does a wrong not only to the best candidate but also to the community which has a right to the service of the best candidate, and he will be answerable before God for the neglect, the injustice, want of skill, or inferior service of the candidate he supports. And if, because of money or its equivalent, a representative of the people in the taking of a contract supports a wrong tender- a tender higher than others or for worse goods- he not only acts dishonourably and sinfully by taking a bribe, but he robs the ratepayers exactly as if he had put his hand into their pockets; nor can he ever obtain pardon without restitution of what it is possible for him to restore. And this obligation or restitution is also incurred by the person binding’ (Weekly Irish Times 7 March 1908). Bishops usually preferred to confine themselves to safer topics like temperance or Catholic education.

          With regard to cattle-driving in Clare the trouble began in 1907 when the League passed a resolution requiring 2 eleven-month tenants and 4 yearly tenants to give up their holdings, and the request was not complied with. A warning was then issued to them that if they did not give up the farms their cattle would be driven off; the cattle drivers drove the cattle on to the public road. Then the driving spread to other farms, the animals were often brutally treated. Local landlords attributed the lawlessness to paid agitators. Many of the tenants whose cattle have been driven possess only 25 or 30 acres. The targeted families in this case were tenants who had taken land on eleven-month or twelve-month leases. This was called conacre especially when the land was taken for less than twelve months. Conacre was and remained an important part of the economy even after the tenants had bought their own land. Elderly farmers or their widows would let out their land, a field at a time to younger farmers. In the case mentioned those with the short leases may have taken the land of evicted tenants (Weekly Irish Times 17 Oct 1908).

          In September 1906 the Irish Landowners' Convention gave their side of the story. With regard to the cattle trade and the grazier system, the graziers conducted the only successful business in the whole of the West and formed the backbone of its economy. The small tenants depended on them to purchase their young animals. Furthermore if the supply of animals to England were restricted there would soon be a demand for the removal of import restrictions on Canadian and foreign cattle. It should be remembered, too, that much of the land actually being grazed was eminently suitable for cattle-rearing and totally unsuitable for tillage. These lands were being used at present to the best advantage and if handed over to the Congested Districts Board for division among small holders they could not possibly pay the present rents. There was also the point that dividing the land only put off the problem for a single generation; in 39 years' time the divided holdings would have to be divided again (Warder 8 Sept 1906). They were making the points that if stock rearing was giving the best return from land, tillage would necessarily give a lower return, and that if sub-division were allowed the plots would have to be sub-divided again after a generation.


          In 1903 Mrs Emmiline Pankhurst along with her daughter Christabel and some friends founded the Women’s Social and Political Union seeking women’s suffrage. As the Government did not take them seriously, they began in 1905 to take more militant action. As in England there had long been a women’s suffrage movement in Ireland which had already won considerable success. Pankhurst’s Suffragette Movement had little following in Ireland, but one tactic she pioneered, the hunger-strike, was eagerly adopted by fanatical republicans.

          In 1905 too Arthur Griffith the journalist started his political party which he called Sinn Fein (We Ourselves). (There is some disagreement regarding the precise year in which it could be said that Sinn Fein as a distinct political party, with a distinct political programme, rather than a society was formed. What is commonly called Sinn Fein is a fusion of Griffith’s ideas and those of the revived IRB.) He was not a man of any great knowledge or ability, but his party was important because it could be used as a stalking-horse by those intent on using violence to achieve political ends. Though Sinn Fein was not a republican party little attempt was made to start such a party as the ostensibly peaceful Sinn Fein party sufficed. Griffith’s theory was that parliamentary tactics such as those of Redmond to achieve Home Rule would not succeed, while on the other hand open revolutionary tactics would probably fail. But all that was necessary was what he called the ‘Hungarian option’ namely, to elect Sinn Fein councillors in Local Authorities and Sinn Fein MPs. The Sinn Fein MPs would not go to Westminster, but would establish their own parliament in Dublin. The Sinn Fein councillors would collect the taxes and send them to the parliament in Dublin, which would then take over the administration of the country. Griffith was a journalist who had been educated at a Christian Brothers’ school in Dublin, and apprenticed to a printer. He had no deep knowledge of Hungarian history or anything else, but he believed he was following in the footsteps of Kossuth in 1848. When, in 1919, an attempt to put the plan into practice was attempted it utterly failed for the Government just seized the money from the counties and other bodies. However, Sinn Fein was useful to other more capable plotters. It was also useful in that those who felt scrupulous about shedding blood could say they were voting for non-violent methods. (Many years later the Irish Times published a famous cartoon of a voter explaining to his parish priest ‘Meself, Father, I joined Sinn Fein for the flower-arranging’.) Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and other dictators also had ostensibly non-violent political parties to support them and give them political legitimacy. Griffith was not opposed to revolutionary violence in principle, and had joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood, but he always remained on the fringe of the secret society.

          The Irish Republican Brotherhood, those old Fenians who did not believe in the ‘New Departure’ and looked only to raising and drilling an army with the help of money raised in America, had never totally faded away. Arthur Griffith joined them as a young man, and W.B. Yeats was introduced to the Brotherhood by John O’Leary and Maud Gonne. The revival of the secret society, usually called the IRB may be dated to 1904 when a sworn member in Belfast named Denis McCullough admitted another young man called Bulmer Hobson. In 1905 they started Dungannon Clubs which later merged with Sinn Fein. In 1906 they admitted John (Sean) MacDermott. Hobson and MacDermott became active organisers of Sinn Fein, while MacCullough remained in Belfast building up the IRB and in 1908 he was elected to the Supreme Council of the Brotherhood. The immediate object of the young revolutionaries was to purge the old leadership and they received a great boost when they got the support in 1907 of an old Fenian named Tom Clarke (Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 315-8). It was not for several years that either Sinn Fein or the IRB were able to make much impact. In this year too 1907 the young barrister and language enthusiast, Patrick Pearse, lost his case in court while trying to defend a farmer who had written his name in Irish on his cart (Weekly Irish Times 27 May 1907). It was several years before he joined the IRB.

          It should be noted that there were very few differences either in policy or in tactics between the Nationalist Party and Sinn Fein. Both recruited from the whole spectrum of Catholic nationalist opinion. At the more respectable end, leaders like John Redmond and William Cosgrave could have swapped parties. At the terrorist end, the actual terrorists probably switched parties according to their perception of which was likely to succeed. In neither party had the Parliamentary leaders much control over what was being done at local level. It was to be one of the major successes of William Cosgrave’s Free State Government that it was, after a long and violent struggle, able to impose the authority of the Minister of Defence and the Cabinet over dissident local units.

          In both the leadership depended on political dogma not on argument or precedent. The dogma was based on anachronistic interpretations of Irish history. Ireland was a separate kingdom based on a separate race. There once had been a high king of Ireland who ruled over the whole island, therefore Home Rulers should rule over the whole island. Ancient laws, treaties, or submissions had no force and could be abrogated. Ireland had been conquered by England, so the only right the English had in Ireland was the right of might. The English had robbed the Irish of their property, so all the wealth of Ireland really belonged to the descendants of the ancient Celts. By judicious selection and interpretation it was always possible to find bits of ancient texts to support these alleged ‘facts’. Sinn Fein added that it was lawful to start a war and to kill people to attain the objectives of the separatists. Any group of people could declare that they represented ‘Ireland’ and declare war in its name. Such a war would be a ‘just war’; killing would not be murder; robbery or destruction of property would not be theft; no restitution would have to be paid to those injured in any way.

          Yet there were some differences, especially in image. Like its Continental counterparts, the Nazis, the Fascists, and the Bolsheviks Sinn Fein presented a more modern, progressive, brasher and aggressive image more likely to appeal to the young. Dialogue with people like Yeats or Synge was not on the agenda; disrupting their meetings was. Reviving the use of the ‘native’ language and ‘native’ games was not to depend on persuasion but on compulsion. Opting out of an independent Ireland was not an option; the Ulster Unionists would be crushed by force if necessary.

          An article appeared in a newspaper suggesting that the Gaelic Leaguers, instead of agitating for Irish to be taught in the schools might more profitably agitate for the following desirable improvements in schools:

1) a sanitary water-closet in every school,
2) a playground for every school,
3) a warm fire, not paid for by the teacher, in every school,
4) a proper system of lighting in every school,
5) a proper system of ventilation for every school,
6) adequate apparatus, not supplied by the teacher, for each school,
7) a system of prizes, not paid for by teacher, in each school,
8) pay and conditions equals to the minimum in Britain (Weekly Irish Times 7 Oct 1905).  

          In Parliament, Balfour’s ministry was getting into increasing difficulties over the question of Tariff Reform, an issue and division that kept the Conservatives out of office from 1906 to 1922. The final phase of the Home Rule movement was therefore entirely under the Liberals. The idea of Joseph Chamberlain was that to unite the British Empire it should be formed into a large custom’s union or Zollverein on the German model, the members of which would trade among each other without any tariff barriers. There would be a common external tariff against all others. This meant the abandoning the principle of Free Trade. The Party divided into Free Traders and Tariff Reformers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ritchie, was a fanatical Free Trader. Chamberlain was defeated in cabinet so he resigned from the ministry, and in 1903 formed the Tariff Reform League. Many Conservatives supported the idea, because with more of the taxation coming from tariffs paid by foreigners, the lower would be the taxation on land. The industrialists were totally opposed for they were doing very well from free trade. The divisions in the Tory ranks benefited the Liberals who could cover over the divisions in their own ranks by supporting free trade. As England was now importing much of its food, the prices of some foods would have to be raised, an idea many voters were likely to reject.


          Among the projects which occupied  Arthur Balfour at this time was the procuring of a new eighteen-pounder gun for the army, and establishing a consultative body with full secretarial staff called the Committee of Imperial Defence. Both of these were to prove their usefulness ten years later. In 1904 he reached an agreement with the French called the Entente Cordial which meant consulting the French without binding Britain to anything. It was not a treaty; it was ‘an understanding’. However, it led to increasing co-operation with the French against the Germans. As there was no agreement within his own party, he resigned on 4 December 1905. The Leader of the Liberals, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman accepted office as Prime Minister and immediately asked the king for a General Election. [TOP]         

The Ministry December 1905 to April 1908 (Liberal) 

Prime Minister             Henry Campbell-Bannerman

Home Secretary           Herbert Gladstone

Lord Lieutenant          Earl of Aberdeen

Chief Secretary            James Bryce; Jan 1907 Augustine Birrell

Under Secretary           Sir Anthony MacDonnell 

          [December 1905] Campbell-Bannerman brought into his ministry two youngish men who were to have great futures, Winston Churchill who became Under Secretary for the Colonies and David Lloyd George who became President of the Board of Trade. Both would have much to do with Irish affairs over the next fifteen or sixteen years. Herbert Gladstone, William’s youngest son, was made Home Secretary, and was given charge of making arrangements for the General Election. He proved an active Home Secretary in matters of domestic policy during his three years in the office. Henry Asquith became Chancellor of the Exchequer. Campbell-Bannerman was in favour of Home Rule, but many of the leading figures in the party were unwilling to face the country on an issue on which they had been so signally defeated in 1895. He was opposed by Lord Rosebery, Sir Edward Grey, Herbert Asquith, and James Bryce. It was agreed to postpone the issue, and not to make it part of the programme for the forthcoming General Election. (In fact, after William Gladstone’s disastrous attempt in 1895, it never again featured in a General Election, though the Conservatives later wanted to fight a General Election precisely on that issue. Almost certainly they would have won, which was why the Liberals never allowed it.)

          The Earl of Aberdeen had been briefly Lord Lieutenant in 1886, and after1893 he was appointed Governor General of Canada. He was Lord Lieutenant again from 1906 to 1915 the longest term of any Lord Lieutenant in modern times. The earl seems to have been a self-effacing man, and nearly all newspaper reports are about the activities of his energetic wife, Lady Aberdeen. He does not appear in the Countess of Fingall’s book, but she notes with regard to James Bryce that one did not associate with a Liberal Chief Secretary. Nor did she associate with Birrell, who rarely came to Ireland, though she was to become very friendly with Sir Matthew Nathan, the Under Secretary. This is strange because she was veering towards an acceptance of Home Rule when it became inevitable. James Bryce was a Scotsman but spent the first eight years of his life in Belfast, his mother being from Co. Antrim. After leaving Glasgow University and Oxford he worked in England.

          Augustine Birrell came to Ireland in January 1907 and was removed after the debacle in 1916. He was born near Liverpool, the son of a Nonconformist minister, and was educated at Cambridge and the Inner Temple in London, after which he practised in the Chancery courts. He was very interested in literature. Campbell-Bannerman appointed him President of the Board of Education where he had to deal with the attempts of the Nonconformists to alter the clauses in the Education Act (1902) which they deemed to favour the Established Church and Popery. Looking back, it is clear that Birrell, a retiring literary man, was a hopeless choice for the position of Chief Secretary. The Countess of Fingall said ‘He was usually in England making epigrams about Ireland’, though she admitted he was a wonderful speaker. When three years later, Ireland became a pawn in Lloyd George’s battle with the House of Lords it was obviously useful to keep the Lord Lieutenant and Chief Secretary in place in position as pliant doormats.


          [1906] The General Election in January 1906 resulted in a Liberal ‘landslide’. The result was that the Liberals got 377 MPs, the Conservatives 157, the Irish Nationalists 83, while Labour and similar groups got 53. Balfour lost his seat in Parliament by 2,000 votes, but a safe seat in the City of London was found for him and he returned to Parliament on 12 March 1906. The total Conservative loss was 214. It was the greatest Liberal majority since 1832. Campbell-Bannerman promised changes to the Education Act, and some measure for involving the Irish Members in the conduct of their own affairs. The parliamentary session of 1906 was taken up with the Education Bill (1906), a Trades’ Disputes Act (1906), and a Plural Voting Bill which aimed at ending the custom by which a person could vote more than once, for example where his residence was situated and where his business was situated, or as a graduate of a university for university seats in the three ancient universities. Only the Trades Disputes Act, which was designed to reverse the Taff Vale judgement, got past the House of Lords. All the demands of the trade unions were conceded, and the unions were made immune from civil actions for damages as they had been made immune from criminal actions by the 1871 Act. In future, no company involved in a strike, nor any company or individual not involved in the dispute, but which suffered financial loss because of the strike could sue the union for damages. It made the sympathy strike possible.

          There was a delegation of Labour and Liberal members to the Prime Minister and Mr Asquith regarding state, non-contributory, universal old age pensions; both promised Government support.

          Birrell, as President of the Board of Education, introduced his Bill to try to remedy the grievances of the Nonconformists. The Catholics had benefited from the 1902 Act and so opposed the Bill. The Irish Nationalist MPs were against it. The Provision of Meals Act (1906) allowed Local Authorities to provide free school meals to necessitous children, but this Act could not apply to Ireland because of the determined resistance of the Catholic bishops to any role by Local Authorities in education. Similarly, an Act in 1907 which imposed on Local Authorities the obligation of providing free medical care to children in elementary schools could not apply either.

          Bryce knew that the Government was unwilling to introduce a Home Rule Bill and told this to John Redmond. He also let him know that the perpetual Crimes Act (1881) would not be repealed. However the Government would not renew the Arms Act (1881) which prohibited the importation of firearms. Sir Neville Chamberlain, Inspector General of the Royal Irish Constabulary protested to Bryce at the time, but his advice was ignored (Weekly Irish Times 3 June 1916). So too was his advice that the Pistols Act (1903) regulating the use of handguns should be extended to Ireland was ignored. All Bryce was willing to do was to introduce the devolution proposals of Anthony MacDonnell. This idea was acceptable to William O’Brien and it seems to Redmond personally. But most of the Home Rulers were unwilling to accept any watering down of their objectives. Redmond and Dillon set about getting rid of Bryce, and in December he was made ambassador to the United States. Redmond had to go with the flow of the majority of his Party. He was perched uneasily at the top of the Party but was never in control of it. When Michael Davitt died in 1906 Bryce sent a letter of sympathy to his widow.

          A vice-regal commission in 1906 on the working of the Poor Law concluded that the system imposed in 1838 was no longer suitable. In England the system of poor houses had been devised to force lazy persons to seek work; in Ireland the problem was always to find work for the poor to do. At present one third of the inmates were sick, and another third were aged and infirm. Those who were sick were not really destitute but tradesmen and other humble earners who, in the cities, were accommodated in the voluntary hospitals. But because of the tradition of the poor houses  these  sick were housed in unplastered  and unceiled  rooms, with the roughest  beds, and were attended by the other inmates as nurses, and were in general treated much  worse than  lunatics. Similarly, outdoor relief was given to those who were by no means destitute, but was provided as an additional support. ‘The boundary line has in practice been extended from destitution to poverty, with the result that the number of possible recipients is much increased’. The Report added that this was not what had been intended but the system was popular and appeared to have taken root. As was usual in Ireland there was a majority Report and a minority Report, unanimous Reports being rarities. They recommended that poor houses should be phased out, and the different categories housed in them placed in different institutions and that a state medical service should be instituted funded by Parliament, seeing the extent by which poverty was caused by ill-health, and the benefits of getting medical treatment at an early stage (General Advertiser 26 February 1910). The old age pension was brought in very quickly to deal with the aged poor, and most of the other recommendations were gradually adopted.


          The Department of Agriculture published statistics of Ireland’s important and exports, the first to be taken for 80 years. (In 1826 the transition period allowed by the Act of Union (1800) was deemed over. All duties were equalised, and no imports and exports between parts of the United Kingdom were counted.) It was admitted that the classification was not ideal. Total aggregated trade was £101,754,638, but as the quantities of manufactured goods, both imports and exports, are imperfectly registered the total may have exceeded £105 million; imports total £55,148,611 and exports £46,606,420 (Weekly Irish Times 17 Nov 1906).

          In the House of Commons in December 1906 the Chief Secretary commented on the local potato failure in Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway, Clare, Kerry, and the West Riding of Cork.  Between two thirds and three quarters of the crop failed, caused partly by bad weather which was favourable to blight, and neglect of spraying, or bad spraying. The supply of potatoes, except in the Belmullet peninsula, should last until January; the Government would take measures to ensure a supply of seed potatoes for the following year. Relief was a matter for the Unions and the County councils (Weekly Irish Times 15 Dec 1906).

          The borstal system was introduced to Ireland in 1906. The name was derived from a village near Rochester in Kent. After 1903 young people between the ages of 16 and 23 convicted of criminal offences could be sent to a borstal institution for a period of reformative training, usually for three years, after which they were released subject to supervision by the Borstal Association (OED). Borstals were made an official part of the penal system in 1908. Under the Prevention of Crime Act (1908) a judge might sentence juveniles to sentences of not less than one year’s detention and not more than three in these institutions, so producing a great change in the system. They are now called inmates, not prisoners. That part of Clonmel prison which formerly held juvenile prisoners now was changed to a detention centre. The number there detained was now 54 and it became necessary to set aside the whole of Clonmel gaol to hold them (Weekly Irish Times 6 Aug 1910). The first reformatory was established in 1788 by the Philanthropic Society. In 1854 young offenders could be sentenced to reformatories by the courts, but only after a prison sentence of 14 days had been served first. Industrial schools were started in 1857 for children who were homeless, begging, or beyond control, and in 1861 they were allowed to accept delinquent children of under 12. They all came under the Home Office in 1908.

          In August 1906 the Catholic Archbishop Walsh of Dublin protested to the Lord Mayor at the Sunday showing of moving pictures of the Johnson-Jeffries fight; the mayor said he had not licensed the show.

          The great Dublin sewage scheme which had been half a century in planning, design, gaining authorisation, and raising the necessary cash was finally completed in 1906. Two main sewers linked by a siphon ran along the quays on either side of the Liffey. There were four main pumps at the pumping station each of which could lift 15 million gallons in 24 hours; three constantly working and one in reserve. There were 18 precipitation tanks to which lime was added to precipitate nearly all solid matter. The sludge from these tanks was to be dumped at sea at least 6 miles out, a special sludge vessel making a daily trip (Warder 26 Sept 1906).

          The Catholic bishops forbade Catholic students to attend residential training colleges in technical instruction where both Catholics and Protestants attend; the last Synod of Maynooth allowed Catholics to attend classes in technical education where the classes were mixed, but not to reside with non-Catholics in such schools (Warder 13 Oct 1906).


          In 1906 the Admiralty launched the Dreadnought which displaced 18,000 tons (more than 20,000 tons full load), was 526 feet (160 m) long, and carried a crew of about 800. Its four propeller shafts, powered by steam turbines instead of the traditional steam pistons, gave it an unprecedented top speed of 21 knots. Because recent improvements in naval gunnery had made it unnecessary to prepare for short-range battle, Dreadnought carried no guns of secondary calibre. Instead, it mounted a single-calibre main armament of 10 12-inch guns in five twin turrets. In addition, 24 3-inch quick-firing guns, 5 Maxim machine guns, and 4 torpedo tubes were added for fighting off destroyers and torpedo boats. Thus there were no guns of intermediate range between 3-inch and 12-inch. All other navies that could afford it followed suit. [TOP]


          [1907] In 1907, the Army followed suit with the ‘Haldane reforms’. The chief aim again of these was to create an army reserve like those of the Continental powers. The militia, yeomanry and volunteer units were abolished and replaced with what was called the Territorial Army. In Ireland, where the militia battalions formed a kind of reserve to the line battalions with which they were linked, they were left in place, but were no longer officially called the militia. Provision was made for organising them into divisions. The Imperial General Staff produced training manuals which were to be used everywhere in the Empire. So when the Great War came, armies from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India all fitted easily under Imperial command. In Ireland, there was a handful of the new nationalist extremists associated with Sinn Fein who campaigned against recruitment for what they regarded as the ‘British’ Army.

          For some obscure reason, though the navy was called the Royal Navy and the new air force the Royal Air Force, the army, though it was the royal army, was never called the Royal Army. This curious fact allowed nationalist extremists to claim that the army in Ireland was a British ‘army of occupation’ in Ireland. Some of the Irish regiments were among the most ancient in the British Army, but until the Act of Union (1800) for fiscal reasons, those regiments stationed in Ireland were regarded as being the Irish Army. The earliest regiments were those who had supported William III and were Protestant. The Catholic regiments who supported James II went to France in 1693 and returned to England at the time of the French Revolution. By that time, regiments which were largely Catholic, like the Connaught Rangers, were being raised. In the early part of the nineteenth century Irish Catholics composed up to a third of the British Army.

          The United Kingdom patched up ancient differences with Russia and the Triple Entente was formed. Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy had earlier formed the Triple Alliance. The path towards the Great War was forming.

          The Holy See issued the decree Ne temere in 1907 with regard to mixed marriages between a Catholic and a Protestant. By this decree all marriages everywhere in the Latin Church between Catholics and non-Catholics are invalid unless they took place in the presence of an accredited priest and two witnesses, and this even in countries where the Tridentine law was not binding. By the decree Tametsi of the Council of Trent all marriages of Catholics had to be celebrated before a parish priest and two witnesses. Even in countries where the Tametsi decree had been published, serious difficulties arose. As a consequence Pope Benedict XIV, choosing the lesser of two evils, issued a declaration concerning marriages in Holland and Belgium (Nov. 4, 1741), in which he declared mixed unions to be valid, provided they were according to the civil laws, even if the Tridentine prescriptions had not been observed. A similar declaration was made concerning mixed marriages in Ireland by Pope Pius, in 1785, and gradually the "Benedictine dispensation" was extended to various localities (W. Fanning, ‘Mixed Marriages’, Catholic Encyclopaedia). The effect of the Ne Temere decree was to force all Protestants in Ireland, if they wished to marry a Catholic, to have the wedding celebrated in the Catholic church, not the Protestant one. This aroused much indignation among the Protestants especially in Ulster, where it was regarded as another encroachment by the Church of Rome.


          In January 1907 Augustine Birrell became Chief Secretary of Ireland. Redmond rather liked him for he relied, rather unwisely, on him for advice. Birrell knew that there was no chance of a Home Rule Bill being put forward, but he hoped to do something about higher education. The only thing wrong about higher education was that the Catholic bishops felt that they should be in charge of it. If Birrell had any achievement in Ireland it was that he preserved the non-sectarian principle in higher education while persuading the Catholic bishops that they were really in charge of it. (It should be remembered, that neither the Free State Government nor the Northern Ireland Government gave way on this point either, and both in fact placed all education directly under Ministries or Departments of Education.)

          There were disturbances in the Abbey Theatre when Mr Synge's play, The Playboy of the Western World was performed; it was preceded by the writer’s one-act play, the Riders to the Sea which was received with general applause. In view of the disturbances on preceding  nights Mr W. B. Yeats came on the stage at the interval and addressed the crowd, saying he would discuss the play the following Monday but asked them to at least listen to it first. It was clear however that a faction had merely come to disrupt; the police had to be called to restore order. The actors went on with the play while the audience watched what went on in the audience. The national anthem [God Save the King) was drowned out by A Nation Once Again [unofficial anthem of the Home Rulers]. Much of the disturbance seems to have been caused by students. The leader of the attack on Synge was Mr Sheehy-Skeffington followed by Mr Cruise O’Brien. The general idea was that the play was not national. One speaker who handed in his name in Irish which the chairman could not pronounce said that the play was an insult to the people of Ireland and protested at the bringing in of the forces of the British Law to remove those who protested against the insult. Mr Yeats was told to be ashamed of himself when as a Connaughtman he did not know a word of Irish (Warder 9 Feb 1907; Weekly Irish Times 2 Feb 1907).


          There was another outbreak of agrarian crime, and by August five counties, Roscommon, Longford, Leitrim, Galway, and King's County were proclaimed. In December Mr Lawrence Ginnell MP was sentenced to six month's imprisonment for contempt of the Land Court, for inciting to boycotting, cattle-driving, and offering to wrong-doers the best bits of the land secured. Sir Anthony MacDonnell wanted the Government to take firm steps against the renewal of disorder, but Birrell claimed that the country was more peaceful than it had been in 600 years.

          The Nationalists demanded the removal of Sir Horace Plunkett from his post as Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction on the grounds that he was a Unionist and opposed to nationalism. They maintained he should have resigned or been dismissed when the Liberals took office. Sir F. Channing said that the motion was to procure the humiliation and resignation of a man who had been the best friend of Ireland (Nationalist denials); a man who had tried to bring together the best minds in Ireland without reference to political or religious creed. Dillon charged Plunkett with being a unionist politician and an implacable enemy of the nationalist party. Professor Butcher noted that he had been retained because he was the best man for the job; his unpopularity with his own party showed how impartial he had been. Redmond also spoke trying to prove the motion was a matter of lofty principle. Campbell-Bannerman defended Bryce, and said that no political consideration had arisen in connection with Plunkett's appointment; a motion contrary defeated 247 to 108, and the nationalist censure passed without a vote. Plunkett wrote to Birrell tendering his resignation, who refused to accept it until the commission of enquiry had reported (Weekly Irish Times 4 May 1907). In view of the vote by his own party, Birrell had to accept the resignation. T.W Russell was appointed to the post. One of the reasons Plunkett was detested by the Nationalists was that he believed in self-help and co-operation above all. The Nationalists wanted protectionism and public works (Weekly Irish Times 8 January 1908).

          It may very well be that this was a blessing in disguise for Plunkett who returned to his first love, the Co-operative Movement, to which he devoted the rest of his life. He was an inspired choice for setting up the Department in the first place, being a man of wide vision and prepared to try almost anything to bring diversification and value-added to Irish agricultural output. He was convinced that Ireland could grow first-class tobacco, and perhaps it could in selected areas. But after him the scheme was neglected. He was convinced too that the soil in Co. Meath would produce first-class cider which Fr Finlay hoped to call the ‘The Bottle of the Boyne’. [The Battle of the Boyne between the Catholic King James and the Protestant pretender William of Orange was fought in 1690] The gentlemen in the county planted orchards, but were defeated by pests and frosts. Later Co. Tipperary became the cider-making county. Had Home Rule not been attained, his wide-ranging Department might have been all that Ireland needed. Perhaps it was better that a more conservative administrator was now appointed. After 1921, the Department was split into two, one for Northern Ireland and one for the Irish Free State, and both continued to develop the work of the Recess Committee (DNB Plunkett; Fingall, Seventy Years Young, 254-256). The then dowager countess added a wry observation, when she was told about the remark of an old woman who lived near Killeen Castle. ‘Th’ ould one [countess] was always pestering us to have gardens and hens and ducks…and she had us desthroyed with goats. So our great efforts and thirty years of work are remembered by those who endured them’.


          Birrell in May 1907 proceeded with the introduction of MacDonnell’s devolution scheme with his Irish Council Bill (1907). He proposed a council to administer the statutes, rules, and regulations which direct the control of purely Irish affairs within Ireland herself, but it would not be able to impose any rates or taxes. Over legislation the Irish have had long a considerable measure of control; now they needed also to control the exercise of those laws, to control the administration of the officials, conveniently if inaccurately called Dublin Castle (Weekly Irish Times 7 May 1907). Birrell continued: some of the Irish officials are under the control of the Irish Secretary for the time being; other are  independent of him; some  departments  are  wholly on the votes, some are partly on the votes, and some have independent  endowments; the Board of Intermediate Education is totally independent. The  total number of Irish Boards is a matter of  controversy; excluding the Admiralty and War Office, there were, he was told, 45 Boards, 10 of which were directly under the control of the Irish Government, The Royal Irish Constabulary, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, the General Prisons Board, Reformatories and Industrial Schools, the Inspector of Lunatics, the General Register Office, the Department of the Registrar of Petty Sessions Clerks, the Resident Magistrates, the Crown Solicitors, and the clerks of the Crown and the Peace.

          Under partial control of the Irish government were the Land Commission, the Commissioners of Charitable Bequests, and the Public Records Office; not at all under the control of the Irish Government except as regarding appointments and the framing of rules were five; the Board of National Education; the Board of Intermediate Education, the Commissioners of Endowed Schools, the National Gallery, and the Hibernian Academy.

          Not under the control of the Irish Government but with the Chief Secretary as President ex officio were the Local Government Board, the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, and the Congested Districts Board. There were four boards exercising statutory authority in Ireland and not under Government control: the Public Loan Fund Board, the Commissioners of Irish Lights, the Royal University, and the Queen's Colleges. Also not controlled by the Government were eight more, including the Supreme Court of Judicature and its offices, the Registrar of Deeds, the Local Registration of Titles, and the Railway and Canal Committee being the most important. There were also 12 English Boards  working in Ireland, not under the control of the Irish Government, of  which it is  sufficient to mention the Customs, the Inland Revenue, and the Board of Trade.

          Birrell then outlined the scheme. Outside the control of the Council would be the Customs, the Inland Revenue, the General Post Office, the Supreme Court of Judicature and its offices, the RIC and DMP, the Land Commission and the General Prisons board. The following eight departments would be under the Council: the Local Government Board, the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, the Congested Districts Board, the Commissioners of Public Works, the Commissioners of National Education, the Intermediate Education Board, the Inspector of Reformatory and Industrial Schools, and the Registrar General; it would be possible for the Lord Lieutenant by Order in Council to add others like the Irish Lights and the Lunatic asylums.

          He proposed a council of 82 elected members and 24 appointed members and the Under Secretary ex officio. The franchise would be that of the Local Government elections- that is the same as the parliamentary franchise except that it would include women and peers; he was glad that women would be allowed to participate in working for the good of their country.

          The powers vested in the various Boards or in the Lord Lieutenant or Chief Secretary would be under their control; they would proceed by passing resolutions which would be confirmed by the Lord Lieutenant. Any decisions he made would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny in this House. It would be authorised to establish as many committees as it thought fit, but should at least have a finance committee, a local government committee, and an education committee. It was proposed furthermore to erect a new Education Department to which the powers of the various commissioners would be referred and which would control all primary and secondary education.

          For financial purposes a new fund would be established to be called the Irish Fund; there would be an Irish Treasury, with a Treasurer for Ireland at its head. Every five years sums would be fixed, as a charge on the Consolidated Fund, for the expenses. The total costs of the eight departments came to a little over£2 millions annually, but as nobody expects that  figure to be maintained, he would propose an additional  sum of £650,000 a year; this  figure was based on the calculation of the additional costs needed over the next  five years; £300,000 of it  would however be earmarked to provide a sum for capital development in Ireland. (The Consolidated Fund was maintained by the Treasury of the United Kingdom into which all taxes were paid, and out of which all payments were made; there would therefore be so separate Irish taxation) (Weekly Irish Times 11 May 1907).

          These proposals were eminently sensible, and there was no reason why the Nationalists could not accept them, at least as an interim measure. But the Nationalist leaders were always terrified that if good legislation were introduced people might not vote for Home Rule. Home Rule might be killed by kindness. Therefore every remedial measure had to be opposed. Similarly, Horace Plunkett had to go in case he succeeded. The Catholic bishops were also entirely opposed to a Department of Education, feeling that if the powers of the Government were increased their power would be decreased.

          The Bill did not get far as it was opposed by the Nationalist MPs, Sinn Fein, the Unionists, and the United Irish League, though Redmond and Dillon considered accepting it. The Unionists felt it unduly favoured the Catholics, which it undoubtedly did, for they formed the democratic majority in the whole of Ireland.


          Belfast was disturbed both by labour troubles and serious sectarian rioting. James Larkin, the labour leader was born in Liverpool but spent part of his childhood in Newry at his grandparents’ home. He became an organiser of the National Union of Dock Labourers under James Sexton, and came to Belfast in 1907. Dock Labour was casual labour; any unemployed person could just turn up at the dock gate, and the foreman picked only those he wanted. The foremen had a good idea who was a good worker and who was not. A major point in forming a union was to reduce the numbers of those who applied for work, by restricting work to members of a particular union. It is not the purpose of this book to discuss the pros and cons of trade unionism. But it must be pointed out that many unions had a regime of intimidation and terrorism similar to that of the agrarian terrorists. It was inevitable too that trade unions involved themselves in politics, though the only Irish union to dabble in revolutionary politics was that of James Connolly. It did not help peaceful trade unionism in Belfast that prominent members of the labour movement in England supported Home Rule for Ireland at a time when most of the workers in Belfast were members of Orange lodges (Boyd, Irish Trade Unions, 76-84). Other members of the labour movement considered that Home Rule for Ireland was not the answer, and that workers should unite against capitalists. Larkin tried to organise a common front among Catholic and Protestant workers.

          The dock strike began when union men refused to work alongside non-union labour, and were promptly locked out. Strike-breakers were imported from Liverpool and motor vans were used instead of carters to bring goods to and from the docks. The vans and the strike-breakers were attacked. Inevitably the police were stoned and Larkin was arrested. Troops and more police were drafted to Belfast, and the police complained that they had to escort carts for several miles on foot and got no extra pay. The police were persuaded to continue, but announced that they would pursue their claim for higher pay later.

          While this was going on, serious riots broke out on the Catholic Falls Road, the worst since 1886. Joseph Devlin, the Nationalist MP for West Belfast, went about trying to persuade the rioters to disperse. It was noted that Protestant workmen were not involved. The Riot Act was read, and some soldiers were ordered to fire at the crowd. The Nationalist Irish News blamed the police. (Boyd recounts the episode in full, but asserts gratuitously, that the Protestant businessmen deliberately tried to stoke up sectarianism. This is extremely unlikely as businessmen do not like any disturbances.) It was a period of violence in trade unionism, and the strikes organised by Larkin and Connolly were notorious for their use of violence. Thomas Sexton and others leaders of the National Union of Dock Workers came to Belfast, negotiated some pay increases, and agreed to the use of non-union labour. With strike pay withdrawn the dockers returned to work.


          Marconi sent a wireless message across the Atlantic from Cape Breton Nova Scotia to Ballyconeely, Clifden, Galway, to the Editor of the Irish Times; Marconi's mother was Irish, and his wife was too. Only press messages, arranged by contract, were being sent. A description of the Irish station was given; just a few sheds and eight tall masts facing seaward with interlaced wires. The message was tapped out of an ordinary telegraphic instrument, and amid thunderous noise and flashing of sparks which were repeated on the wire outside, the message jumped the Atlantic. The power was produced by a 300 horsepower steam engine and several batteries; the engine being fired with coal and local peat. The current was first sent to the condenser where metallic plates intensified its transmission and reception power a thousand fold; the receiver had a telephone attached to both as to enable him to hear the dots and dashes (Weekly Irish Times 26 Oct 1907).



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