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

Chapter Nine



Summary of chapter. The political situation in Ireland was transformed in 1910 when the Liberals and Conservatives got an equal number of seats. The Liberals took office with the support of the Irish nationalists. A leading Liberal, David Lloyd George was engaged in a class struggle with the House of Lords and came to an agreement with the nationalists that they should have Home Rule if they supported him against the Lords. This deal was never put before the people in a General Election for it would certainly have been rejected.The Parliament Act restricting the powers of the House of Lords was passed. This meant that a Home Rule Bill could be passed if the House of Commons voted for it in three successive sessions. This they did in 1912, 1913, and 1914. The Irish Protestants who owned most of the great wealth-producing businesses realised that the only role for them under a Home Rule Government was to be fleeced began preparing for armed resistance. The violent labour activities came to a head with an attempted general strike. This however collapsed when the big British unions withdrew their support. Political fanaticism first made its appearance in Ireland in the unlikely connection of the movement to get the franchise for women. A fanatical splinter group called the Suffragettes commenced hunger strikes, a tactic which was speedily adopted by the IRA. In 1914 it became doubtful if the Army could be relied on to impose Home Rule on Ulster.    






The Ministry December 1910 to August 1914 (Liberal)            

Prime Minister             Herbert Asquith

Home Secretary           Herbert Gladstone; Feb 1910 Winston Churchill; Oct 1911 Reginald McKenna

Lord Lieutenant          Earl of Aberdeen

Chief Secretary            Augustine Birrell

Under Secretary           Sir Anthony MacDonnell; July 1908 Sir James Dougherty 

          [December 1910] Though it could not be foreseen at the time, the electoral pact between the Irish Nationalist Party under John Redmond and the Liberals at the beginning of 1911 over the issue of the House of Lords marked the great turning point in modern Irish history. Almost everything in Irish history afterwards flowed from this agreement.

            Following the breakdown of talks between the Liberals and Conservatives a second General Election was held in December 1910. The prolongation of the talks, and the calling of a second election, would seem to indicate that both sides were anxious to get a clear decision on the question of the House of Lords without either of them having to depend on the Irish Nationalists.

            The elections in Ireland were stormy. There were riots and wild scenes in Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Mr Dillon was stoned, and there were stone-throwing and revolver shots in Cork. There was mob violence in Louth town between the followers of Healy and Hazleton, and a motor car was wrecked. A drunken mob besieged Healy in the school polling station, but he finally escaped across the fields. There was revolver firing in other constituencies as well; indeed it was very frequent. Hazleton defeated Healy by 488 votes, but Healy resolved to petition against the poll. He accused Hazleton of heavy registration of illiterates, and mass intimidation. The North Infirmary in Cork city treated 1490 casualty cases during the election month. The use of revolvers in Irish elections preceded the rise of the IRA. The North Louth election petition continued with alleged abuses of election funds paid for entirely by the United Irish League or Hazleton’s supporters. The court agreed and deplored the resort to long-discredited tactics by the League. Hazleton was unseated and another election was called. A newspaper, reporting, said that Mr Hazleton was not personally responsible for the disgraceful scenes in North Louth, but noted however that the practices condemned are common in Ireland, especially the hiring of mobs and supplying them with free drink. This was common with the United Irish League. Stories of men being stoned and kicked at the polling booth bring shame on Ireland. It would have been better to let Healy sit, but those who direct the United Irish League are not scrupulous. They began by using batons to suppress debate in the National Convention (Enniscorthy Echo 4 March 1911). Cardinal Logue forbade his priests to take part in the new election. In the event Healy was returned unopposed. The Echo said that United Irish League wasted much of their subscriptions in trying to get rid of him, and his defeat in Louth was hailed as a nationalist victory. Tim could not be as bad as Mr Dillon painted him or he would not be supported by Cardinal Logue and Archbishop Walsh (Echo 22 July 1911).

            Hazleton was bankrupted by the election. Although electoral reforms had banished certain abuses, such as ‘treating’ voters, i.e. buying them drink, a candidate was still expected to supply copious amounts of alcohol to his helpers who became very numerous at election time. The charges which led to his disqualification were concerned with registration of those without the legal qualification.

          Mention was not made of the most notorious electoral malpractice in Ireland, namely personation of voters. Electoral registers were always out of date, and the officers responsible for the electoral register, the Clerks of the Crown and Peace, never had the staff to make checks. In theory, when a person died, or went to America, their name was supposed to be removed from the register. (The Clerk was the senior paid official in a county.) But the county and borough staff had to rely on information supplied by the public. One only informed the authorities if a known adherent of an opposing party was no longer eligible. [In an extraordinary case in the 1980s, I personally objected to the presence of 60 names in a single residence in South Belfast, on the grounds of non-residence. The names were those who had registered to vote while at Queen’s University, and whose names were still on the register twenty years after they had graduated!] It was a point of honour that everyone on the register, dead or alive, should vote, and better still that deceased Unionists or Nationalists should vote for their opponents. To succeed in this, the vote had to be cast early, hence the famous slogan ‘Vote early, Vote often’. A workman who failed to vote on his way to work could find his vote had been cast for him when he tried to vote on his way home. Each party provided ‘personation agents’ who carefully ticked off voters as they voted, but they could not be expected to recognise many people, except in small country areas.

          Captain Donelan was unseated in Cork for the same reasons as Captain Hazleton in Louth. The editor said that William O’Brien should be allowed to sit "After all, this is Ireland, Catholic Ireland, and we should not be in a hurry to introduce here the worst features of corruption, violence, and intimidation from abroad".  “No decent nationalist will feel happy when he hears that his subscription has been used either to baton a Healyite or bribe an O’Brienite. We see now that the bishops who in their pastorals condemned these disgraceful practices did not speak a moment too soon".

              William O’Brien gave his own account of the election. His opponents set no limit on expenditure, alcohol was freely supplied as a most effective weapon of intimidation, the Molly Maguires [a secret agrarian terrorist organisation also found in the United States; the term was used generically] were in their element. Special trains, free tickets, free luncheons, unlimited    refreshments, and ample remuneration, all to exercise a form of terrorism against  their opponents, who were to be intimidated into abstaining. Force and fraud were at any cost to prevail; and what was done in East Cork was done in every Irish constituency in which there was a contest. The United Irish league was thrown into a panic when they heard that there was to be judicial investigation, and they burned every scrap of evidence. Mr Devlin was subpoenaed to produce the League books to enable the funds in East Cork to be traced back to source. Not only did he refuse to produce them on the grounds that they had been burned, but he shocked and  disgusted the public by swearing  that he did not know the name of the bank in which the funds of the  organisation of which he had been Secretary for seven years were kept, and on which the cheques for his own salary were drawn (Enniscorthy Echo 27 May 1911). The United Irish League was obviously well-financed; otherwise there was noting novel about the tactics either in Ireland or America. Nor should one draw the conclusion that similar tactics were not used by Unionist candidates in marginal seats. The IRA was particularly strong in this area a decade later.

          The election in December 1910 resulted in a dead heat between the Liberals and Conservatives, each getting 273 seats. Labour got 42, Redmond’s Party 73, and O’Brien 10. Sinn Fein did not contest any seats, but Arthur Griffith said they would wait to see what kind of Home Rule the Nationalists were granted before deciding what to do. There was however a clear majority against the House of Lords, which meant that the king had to support the Liberals with a promise to create enough Liberal peers, if necessary to flood the House of Lords. As Redmond’s Party was larger than the Labour Party, it was necessary to get his support, and his price was a Home Rule Bill forced through the reformed House of Lords.

          This deal, agreed in secret, was the turning point in modern Irish history. It explains, as was pointed out some years later, why the terrorist campaign of the IRA, which was much less formidable than that of the Land League, succeeded where the latter had failed. The point was that the pass had been sold, and there was no point in offending terrorists who might soon form the Government.

            Neither Redmond nor Lloyd George could see the future, any more than those who launched the Titanic. It was not so much the unexpectedly strong reaction of the Ulster Protestants, as the fact that the Army would refuse to coerce Ulster. Lloyd George, who had not a single scruple in his body, however regarded Ulster as a problem for Redmond not for himself. (Nor could they foresee that the years ahead would spawn one of the most ruthless terrorist groups in the world.) Despite IRA propaganda that the Irish Volunteers wrested Ireland from England’s grasp, after 1911 Lloyd George made no attempt to hold Ireland. It was not his problem any longer. The only difficulty was in handing over power to a terrorist organisation, and when some of the terrorist leaders signed a ‘Treaty’ that problem was solved. [TOP]


          [1911] The Parliament Act (1911) was introduced, and a majority of the Lords backed down rather than see their House flooded with newly-created peers, and on 10 August 1911 voted by a majority of 17 to accept the Act (DNB George V; Fanning, “‘Rats’ versus ‘Ditchers’ “, in Cosgrove and Maguire.).

          Meanwhile the new king had to be crowned. The Countess of Fingall knew him well, but was not as close to him as to his father. She attended the coronation, and remembered it as the last great pageant before the Great War, though nobody knew that at the time. It should be noted that if leading Irish nationalists were excluded it was because they excluded themselves. A fortnight after the coronation, the king and queen paid a five-day visit to Dublin where they were enthusiastically received. (There was always a certain ‘republican’ element in Sinn Fein, and later they were to coalesce into the Fianna Fail Party and various breakaway Sinn Fein groups, but republicanism was not a major issue at the time. Most Irish Nationalists were devoted to the crown.) The king then visited Wales and Scotland in turn. On 11 November 1911 he set out for India where he held a State Durbar of matchless magnificence. India, like Ireland, was in those days intensely loyal to the Crown, though it became a fashion afterwards to deny it.


            One of the first acts of the new Government was to provide for the payment of MPs. This had been Liberal policy since 1880, but it became more urgent with the election of Labour members. However the great Act of 1911 was the National Insurance Act (1911). Unlike the old age pension these were to be self-financing contributory schemes. There were two main benefits provided, a ‘sickness benefit’ for insured workers and which covered most of the wage-earning population. The other was ‘unemployment benefit’ for workers in the building, shipbuilding and engineering industries which were subject to brief but violent fluctuations in employment. The sickness benefit comprised a weekly payment during absence from work through sickness, and free treatment and medicines from a general practitioner, for the employee. Hospital treatment was excluded, nor did the scheme cover the worker’s family. The scheme would not be administered by the Government but by approved societies, who in practice were the insurance companies and the friendly societies. The scheme was compulsory. These contributions purchased stamps which were stuck on a card, a system which was to endure (for the self-employed at least) until the advent of computerisation, for it was immediately obvious at the end of the year that all the weekly payments had been made. This obligation to pay the stamp for the sickness benefit was very general, and applied for example to domestic servants. Lloyd George explained that each servant would have her own card to which she would attach a stamp each week and her employers also a stamp, and she would take her card from job to job.

            The Conservatives objected to it, as did at first the medical profession until they found it was a steady source of income, and they agreed to join the approved ‘panels’ of doctors (Richards and Hunt, Modern Britain, 230-1). It should be noted that quite a large proportion of the workforce of the United Kingdom already had some insurance cover through the voluntary Friendly Societies.

          With regard to Ireland Lloyd George's Insurance Schemes did not include the armed services, the civil service, or municipal employees, nor teachers who come under separate schemes. In principle the employee contributed 4d a week, the employer 3d a week, and the state 2d a week; women contributed 3d a week. Special provisions for the lower paid meant that most Irish labourers paid 2d or 3d a week. Payment was on the German plan with stamps fixed to cards, dealt with by the post office. A voluntary branch was established for self-employed persons like blacksmiths or small traders who were liable to the whole contribution of 7d or 6d a week personally. Benefits were to include free medical attention when sick by the Friendly Society doctor, and the cost of the drugs at the dispenser. There was a maternity allowance of 10/-. Though the  scheme would be  worked as far as possible through approved Friendly  Societies,  those who could not get membership of such a society would be  able to draw cash from the Post Office on the deposit system until his  personal credit was exhausted.  It was expected in Ireland that the only Friendly Societies which would come under the scheme, as membership had to be at least 1,000, would be the National Foresters and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. In fact the Orange Order designated itself as a Friendly Society, while Joseph Devlin boosted his own political position by exploiting the Hibernians as a Friendly Society. A meeting was held under the Countess of Aberdeen to ensure that the Women's National Health Association for Ireland would be a competent body under the National Insurance Act. Ireland was always going to be difficult to fit into the scheme for a lot of the labour was casual. Feeling in Ireland hardened against certain details of the Insurance Scheme in particular, for the charges were too high for the proposed benefits. A farmer would have to pay 7 pence a week (£1.10/4 a year) for each son and daughter employed on the farm and no cash benefit was allowed during sickness to those receiving board and lodging (Echo 13, 27 May 1911) while the medical benefits required Irish doctors to agree terms. When the National Insurance Act (1911) was debated in the Commons William O’Brien wanted Ireland excluded. He was opposed by Mr J.J. Clancy, while Healy supported O’Brien. The newspaper noted that the Irish bishops, the Irish Trades Councils, and the Irish County Councils were opposed to the Bill in its present form (Echo 18 Nov 1911).The Act was to come into force on 15 July 1912. Ireland was at first excluded from the medical benefits under the Act, and so the dispute in England with the doctors had no relevance to Ireland (Weekly Irish Times 8 Jan 1913).


          The greatest of the many moral blots on the Home Rule campaign was the insistence of the Nationalists on denying the same rights to Unionists that they claimed for themselves. The Ulster Unionists were becoming worried, and the local Unionist clubs were revived in 1911. It was these clubs, not the Orange lodges, around which Ulster resistance was built (Buckland, Irish Unionism, 207-8). By December 1911 171 clubs were formed or revived. A meeting was held in Londonderry House in London on 6 April 1911 to co-ordinate the activities of the various Unionist bodies, the Unionist Parliamentary Party, The Unionist Associations of Ireland Joint Committee, and Walter Long’s Union Defence League. A letter was sent out signed by the Duke of Abercorn, the Marquis of Londonderry, Lord Ardilaun, Sir Edward Carson, Walter Long, and John B. Lonsdale MP to those who were regarded as dependable asking for at least 60 volunteers to speak on platforms in the rest of the United Kingdom. The Ulster Unionist Council appointed a commission to work along with Sir Edward Carson ‘to frame and submit a constitution for a provisional government in Ulster. A great demonstration at Craigavon, the home of Captain James Craig near Belfast, on 23 September 1911 welcomed Carson as their leader and he told his hearers to prepare themselves for the government of the Protestant Province of Ulster (DNB, Carson). The Leader of the Conservatives, Balfour, who had opposed the diehards or ‘last ditchers’, resigned in November 1911, and was succeeded by the Canadian of Ulster stock, Andrew Bonar Law, now an English MP, a much brasher character. ‘The waters of Marah were not more bitter than his speeches’ wrote a contemporary, and this tartness found its expression in the debates on Home Rule (DNB, Law).


          The year 1911 was also notable for its labour troubles. The firms belonging to the Coal Merchants Association announced on July 14th that if the terms of the 1908 agreement were not complied with the men would have to be replaced; a few days later saw 800 men idle. Then came the strike of the seamen and firemen and practically every railway line in Dublin was affected. After much injury was done to trade the strike was settled through the mediation of the Lord Lieutenant. Then came a strike of the employees of the Port and Docks Board. The worst came on August 19th with the great railway strike. In the face of huge difficulties the passenger carrying was continued, but goods traffic virtually ceased. Fierce rioting took place in Dublin, and the railway stations were guarded by troops. Windows were smashed and there was wholesale looting. The railway strike was soon settled but it was not until October that the timber strike the real cause of the trouble was settled. A bakery strike caused much hardship among the poor in Dublin. The refusal of the masters in Wexford to recognise the Transport Union led to a lock-out in that town.  The results of the strikes were in almost every case disastrous for the men, and it was clear that the spread of syndicalism in Ireland had not resulted in the prosperity of the workers (Weekly Irish Times 6 January 1912). Larkin called the strike in Wexford because, with the port of Dublin closed, coal was being imported through there. Larkin was a great believer in the power of the ‘sympathy’ strike, a strike at a non-related industry whose owners would bring pressure on the owners of the first industry to settle on union terms. The employers formed employers’ federations to counter the tactic. In Dublin, the employers were led by William Martin Murphy whose company controlled the trams. The railway strike was a national one all-over the United Kingdom. [TOP]


          [1912] The year 1912 was a quiet one in Ireland though there were several major strikes in England, in the coalmining industry, a dock strike in London, and a national transport strike was threatened. Trade Unionists in Britain adopted Larkin’s tactic of the sympathetic strike, and refusing to handle ‘tainted’ good like coal diverted from a different port. It was a period in England of great amalgamations among unions so that a strike in Liverpool could result in workers in London being also called out on strike.

            The big Act of 1912 was the Shops Act (1912) which unexpectedly passed Parliament a few months earlier and came into force in May; all shop assistants were guaranteed a half-day. It was due to the agitation for a long time of the shop assistants’ associations that Mr Churchill’s bill was introduced. Half-holidays or early closing days had to be fixed in all towns (Weekly Irish Times 11 May 1912). Though it was Churchill’s Bill, he had by this time become First Lord of the Admiralty, Asquith getting him to switch places with McKenna on 25 October 1911. It was to be a long time however before shopowners observed the Act. The half-day in provincial towns was taken in midweek, often the day before market day. Market days in a given area were on different days of the week to allow stall-holders to attend the different markets. Consequently the half-day also changed, but it was never on a Saturday.

          Most employers in Dublin were willing to give the insurance scheme a fair trial despite the initial cost in matters such as providing new books. Stamping machines were needed and fireproof rooms to hold the records, as nothing was so easily stolen as stamps. Large firms employed extra staff to calculate the amounts; this was a great problem as the calculations brought in odd figures if an employee was under special rates. Another problem was that the wages week ran from Friday to Thursday, while the insurance week ran from Monday to Sunday. Some had health cards, and some unemployment cards, and there were 13 different stamps altogether; the correct stamp had to be applied in its proper place and then date-stamped (Weekly Irish Times 10 August 1912).

            Shortly before midnight on 14 April 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg 400 miles south of Newfoundland with the loss of about 1500 lives. She was equipped with the latest radio equipment. She was supposed to be unsinkable, but in fact, because of a design fault, she and her two sister ships, the Olympic and Britannic all went rapidly to the bottom. Though divided into watertight compartments these were not capped at the top. Nor were there sufficient lifeboats for all on the ship, though she met current Board of Trade requirements. It was assumed that her radio could summon help in case of a crisis like a fire on board. The Board of Trade changed the requirements so that there in future there would be sufficient lifeboats for all. The sinking sent a shockwave around Ireland which was reflected in the newspapers in the days following the disaster.

            There was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in cattle in Co. Dublin, which was a great blow to Irish trade. Restrictions were brought in under the Diseases of Animals Acts 1894-1911. 200 cattle were slaughtered at Swords, Co. Dublin (Weekly Irish Times 6, 13 July 1912). There were serious riots in Belfast after a procession of Hibernians, apparently drunk, attacked a Protestant Sunday school procession at Castledawson, Co. Londonderry, on 29 June 1912. As a result several hundred Catholic workers were chased out of Workman and Clarke’s shipyard (Weekly Irish Times 13 July 1912; Bew, Ideology and the Irish Question, 56-7)). The Hibernian procession was deliberately provocative. Motor taxicabs were licensed to carry passengers on Dublin streets, and in the first year 40 taxis appeared and proved very popular. They were not allowed to ply for hire, i.e. drive about looking for customers.


          Ireland experienced for the first time that political fanaticism which was to play such a central role in twentieth century history, which fired the Bolsheviks, the Nazis, the Viet Cong, the Taleban and innumerable other groups. The Land League, the United Irish League, and the Home Rule Party may largely have been a bunch of crooks. People could say that all businessmen were crooks so why should politicians be any different. But this was a case of people who were fanatically addicted to their cause, so much that they were prepared to die for it. It was the suffragettes.

            In July 1912 the Prime Minister Mr Asquith came to visit Dublin. He was a special target of the militant women, and two of them, Mrs Mary Leigh and Miss Gladys Evans of Muswell Hill, London attempted to set fire to the Theatre Royal during a hippodrome performance on 18th July, the evening of Mr Asquith’s arrival in Dublin. Asquith was to speak there the following day. The attempt to burn down the theatre was made after the first performance at which attendance was small. Both women were sent to Mountjoy convict prison where they promptly went on hunger strike. A letter denounced the slow torture of forcible feeding practiced on them. There was a reply from Dublin Castle from Dougherty the Under Secretary noting that the Lord Lieutenant had not the power to commute the sentences from penal servitude to ordinary imprisonment. However the prisoners in this case were allowed to wear their own clothes, remain in association apart from the other prisoners, and to obtain food other than ordinary prison fare. The necessity of forcible feeding was regretted by all. The procedure was taken under medical advice, the alternatives being to release them or to let them starve themselves to death. He ended by quoting the judge who sentenced them ‘whatever be the motive of those who perpetrate a crime, crime is crime, and the public are entitled to the protection of the law’ (Weekly Irish Times 7 Sept 1912). The employees of Selfridges in London sent a memorial to the Lord Lieutenant on behalf of their fellow-employee Gladys Evans who was sentenced to five years penal servitude at the Commission Court in Dublin on 7 August 1912. Both were released on licence in October. The following year the Government passed the Temporary Discharge for Ill-Health Act (1913), (commonly called the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’), under which hunger strikers could be temporarily released, and then re-arrested to continue their sentences. The hunger strike was to become an important weapon for IRA terrorist fanatics.


          The Government of Ireland Bill (1912) (Home Rule Bill (1912)) was introduced on 11 April 1912. It gave Ireland jurisdiction over her internal affairs, which included the Department of  Agriculture and Technical Instruction, Local Government Board, Public  Education, universities and colleges, the National Gallery, Endowed Schools  Commissioners, Public Works Office, Registrar General’s Office, Valuation  and Boundary Survey, Public Record Office, Charitable Donations and  Bequests Office, Reformatory and Industrial Schools, Prisons, County Court  Officers, Dublin Metropolitan Police, Lunatic asylums, Board of  Superintendence of Hospitals and Charities, Inland Development  Grants, Labour Exchanges, Admiralty Court of Registry, Deeds Registry, Friendly Societies Registry, Teachers’ Pension Office, Quit Rent  Office (Office of Woods), and the Post Office.

          There were other offices whose fate was to be decided: The Royal Irish Constabulary, The Irish Land Commission, The Supreme Court of Judicature, The Customs and Excise, The Inland Revenue which included income tax and estate duties. The Excise Office was simply, under the Free Trade Agreement, a counterbalance to the customs; the two must go together. If Ireland was left with Excise alone it could cut the excises on Irish products below those of English or Scottish products. The Royal Irish Constabulary was to remain under imperial control for the moment. An English Treasury Board would determine Irish expenditure. Irish membership of the Commons would be reduced to 42. (Weekly Irish Times 20 April 1912; Bew, Ideology and the Irish Question, xiii).

          There were two more or less rational responses to the proposed Bill, and two dogmatic ones.  The latter pair, Sinn Fein /IRB and the Protestants in Ulster rejected the Bill absolutely. The dogma of Sinn Fein/IRB was that Ireland was a separate people and so should be a separate nation, every bit as much separate and sovereign as Norway or Holland, and so had a right to declare a lawful or just war. Along with this belief went one that, as these countries had distinct languages, so Ireland should revive Irish as a symbol of its separate nationality. From 1912 onwards the Sinn Fein speakers were talking openly of rebellion aimed at total separation from England, and money was supplied from America for that purpose; they strongly opposed the Home Rule party on that issue (Weekly Irish Times 8 June 1916, Evidence of Sir Neville Chamberlain, RIC). On the other side for the Ulster Protestants Home Rule was Rome Rule, and that was that.

          John Redmond and leading members of his party were prepared to accept the Bill as a provisional and temporary settlement. The Home Rule Party, even after 1893, never seems to have considered what they would want, and realistically seek to get, in a Home Rule Bill. The struggle for Home Rule was an emotional one not a rational one. On the face of it, it they just wanted an Irish Parliament with control over Irish affairs, this Bill gave it to them. But Nationalists wanted full control over Irish finances, including the right which the old Irish Parliament before 1800 had had, of imposing tariffs against English goods. Redmond was eager to grasp the Bill while the Liberal’s shaky hold on power was maintained, and there is little doubt that he could have extracted more extensive powers and even full Dominion status at a later date had the Ulster Protestants been prepared to co-operate. It was the misfortune of the Nationalists that the issue of conscription was to hand the whole question to political extremists.

           It should be noted that the Irish Parliament, like its English counterpart, was first summoned in the Middle Ages. The House of Commons especially, in those days, had no right to make laws, but could only petition the Lord Lieutenant for particular laws. If he agreed he would put the petition before both Houses. Or he himself could summon a Parliament, as he regularly did, and put various laws concerning Ireland before them for their consent. These laws never concerned matters outside Ireland, and the King of England, who was Ireland’s feudal ruler, could give fishing rights to the Spanish in ‘Irish’ waters. Nor did Irish laws ever deal with matters concerning the Royal Prerogative, matters which were traditionally the responsibility of the king, like defence and foreign policy. The English Privy Council, on behalf of the king was also allowed rights regarding Ireland, such as the right to amend or veto legislation which might infringe the king’s rights. Parliaments had developed over the centuries in different ways, and legislation became the primary function of Parliament, which now required the consent of the monarch. This position was finally accepted in 1714 when the Hanoverian kings accepted the British throne subject to that condition. What the crown retained was a veto and influence such as what was endorsed in the American Constitution. In 1782, full ‘legislative independence’, namely the right to make all laws concerned only with Ireland, was restored to the Irish Parliament. The powers of the Executive, namely the Lord Lieutenant, or Lords Justices, were not affected.

          The Whigs who had made this concession in 1782 had not considered the implications of rights claimed by a modern Parliament. The matter was underlined during the first period of madness of George III when the Irish Parliament differed from the British one over the Regency. This raised questions like if England went to war against France, could the Irish Parliament support the French, or make a separate peace. The immediate solution was the formation of a single kingdom with a single Parliament by the Act of Union (1800). Daniel O’Connell who always claimed he just wanted the Repeal of this Act never seriously gave any thought to the problem. Rhetorically he envisaged an Irish army, under an Irish flag, fighting for the Queen. Any serious Home Rule Bill would have to give consideration to the various questions, but this never seems to have been done by the Catholic Nationalists, though it had been considered by Federalists in O’Connell’s time.

          There was the question of tariffs which along with export bounties were a great feature of the independent Irish Parliament, and formed an essential plank of the Home Rule Party’s policy. Every economic ill, patriots believed, could be cured by slapping a tariff on British goods. This had long been recognised as economic nonsense, which could only end with tariffs being imposed on Irish exports, with a ‘Robinson Crusoe’ economy at home and a ‘Beggar-my-Neighbour’ policy abroad. (This did not prevent the widespread adoption of the policy in the Inter-War period. Large countries like Germany and the United States can sometimes do quite well between behind tariff walls.) Some of the greatest industries in Ireland like shipbuilding and linen depended on the free import of raw materials and the free export of goods. In fact it was over tariffs that during the Irish Convention the Home Rule proposal eventually failed. Why bother to follow Horace Plunkett’s teaching that the Irish must educate themselves technically, get into the habit of working proper industrial hours every day of the year, improve their products, market them effectively, invest in their businesses, when all that was needed was to put tariffs on British goods?

          Finally, there was the second rational response, that of the Southern Irish Unionists who perceived themselves as targets for unlimited exploitation wanted the Bill blocked if at all possible by constitutional means, but who were prepared ultimately to accept it. We must remember that the agrarian terrorist campaign aimed at the larger landowners was continuing unabated. The editor of the Irish Times gave the Southern Unionist case against Home Rule. It was expected that Irish taxes would increase by 10%, the upper limit allowed by the Bill; the safeguards of religious and civil liberties were illusory; it would never solve the Anglo-Irish question, rather it would make it worse. As Archbishop Alexander said many years ago there was no halfway house between full membership of the Union and full self-government. The latter indeed would be preferable, and might give the country incentives to generous action, fine enterprise, and courageous economies. The editor claimed that Asquith had driven a hard bargain with Redmond and got the better of him every time. The nominated senate was an outrage on a democratic constitution. The safeguards, while numerous and cumbersome, safeguarded nothing; their results must be permanently mischievous.  They set up a barrier of distrust between Protestant and Roman Catholic.


          During the Committee Stage of the Home Rule Bill (1912) an amendment was put to exclude the four north-eastern counties. Churchill, Sir Edward Grey, and Lloyd George suggested that Ulster could contract out; the Ulster Unionists accepted the suggestion and Redmond and the Nationalists said that they would reject the whole Bill if it were included. Everyone in fact knew this, and the amendment was merely a wrecking one. The Nationalists were always belittling the Ulster Unionists, regarding them as having little political finesse. The Southern Unionists were opposed to any partition of Ireland, and if Home Rule must come Ulster should stay in and assert its influence. Mr MacMordie and Captain James Craig were apparently of a different opinion (Weekly Irish Times 8 June 1912). [Mr R.J. MacMordie. Lord Mayor of Belfast].

          Neither side was prepared for the reaction of the Ulster Unionists. None of the parties to the conflict, whether in Ireland, England, or America, except the Conservatives, regarded it necessary to include the Ulster Protestants in their considerations. The fears of the Ulster Protestants were not groundless. Later, Eamon de Valera sought to break the great Protestant firms in Southern Ireland financially, though he had given up the attempt to subdue Northern Protestants militarily. The Catholic Church was made a de facto Established Church, and every candidate in an election had to do the ‘Reverend Mother’ circuit, i.e. visit every convent in his constituency and assure them of his support in whatever project they had in mind. No attempt was made to support Britain in the Second World War though that idea was close to Protestant hearts. No provision was to be made for the cultural expression of Protestantism which had flowered up to 1920, so talented Protestants retired to England. Catholic dogma not free Protestant discussion formed the basis of the Irish Constitution, and for more than half a century Irish legislation. Despite an initial welcome, there was nothing for Protestants in a Catholic Free State.

          The dogma of the Ulster Protestants. hearkened back to the seventeenth century, notably to the National Covenant (1638) and to the Solemn League and Covenant (1643), in which they pledged to maintain their chosen forms of church government and worship. After the signing of the National Covenant, the Scottish Assembly abolished episcopacy and in the ‘Bishops' Wars’ of 1639 and 1640 fought to maintain their religious liberty (Encyclopaedia Britannica ‘Covenanter’). In particular, they would not allow themselves to be subjected to the rule of Rome, for ‘Home Rule is Rome Rule’. On this point the Ulster Presbyterians and the Church of Ireland were in full agreement. Sociologists note the difference between active beliefs and decayed beliefs. Decayed beliefs are beliefs that were once active, dynamic and inspirational, but now exist as a kind of background to thought. Such by and large were the Catholic and Protestant religions in most of Europe in the early twentieth century. Few people would go to war over them. Yet in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland Protestant belief was still very active.

          Traditional Catholic theology had dwelt on the ‘mysteries’ of religion, the mystery of redemption and the mystery of the sacraments, the mystery of purgatory and so on, with an official priesthood and hierarchy to explain the mysteries. The Protestant reformers asserted that there were no mysteries in Christianity, that all was revealed clearly in the Bible, and that every man, woman and child could read the Bible, believe in it and be saved. This religious message acquired embellishments over time, about Protestant martyrs, gunpowder plots to blow up the Protestant parliament, the massacre of the Ulster Protestants in 1641, the Spanish Inquisition, the Jesuit Order, the moral corruption of monks, the ambitions of Louis XIV of France and James II of England, the siege of the Protestant city of Londonderry in 1688, and the Whiteboys, the Ribbonmen, the Fenians, the Land League, and the United Irish League. The Protestants had a long list of historic grievances against the Catholics had against them. They also accepted the more rational arguments of the southern Unionists given above.

          They began in January 1912 to recruit local volunteer units, which could legally drill themselves in a military fashion if authorised by a magistrate. The local magistrates gave this permission. On Easter Tuesday 9 April 1912, an enormous meeting greeted Bonar Law at the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society’s showground at Balmoral. 100,000 men marched past, and the meeting was opened with prayers led by the Church of Ireland primate, and the Presbyterian Moderator (Buckland, Irish Unionism, 217). No intoxicating drink was sold in the grounds. During the summer their efforts were focussed on Westminster where they tried to wreck the Bill by using the Nationalists’ old tactic of obstruction. On the 28 September 1912, sober ceremonies marked Protestant Ulster’s adoption and signing to the Solemn League and Covenant. Edward Carson led the signing in Belfast where it received 200,000 signatures. This was not a pledge to partition Ireland but to prevent the passage of the Home Rule Bill. [TOP]


          [1913] In January 1913 Carson proposed the exclusion of the nine counties of Ulster, though Redmond claimed the Catholics were in the majority in those counties. On 16 January 1913 the  Home Rule Bill (1912) passed its Third Reading, and a fortnight later it was rejected by the House of Lords.


           There were four main developments in 1913. In Parliament the Home Rule Bill (1912) was re-introduced, was fought over at length, and was again rejected by the Lords. The second was the Ulster Unionists proceeded with their organisation and military plans to build up the Ulster Volunteer Force UVF. The third was that James Larkin and James Connolly led the Great Strike. The fourth was the IRB beginning to make plans for a military-style coup or putsch.

          The strike in 1913 began because the employers in Dublin were sick of Larkin’s tactic of using the sympathetic strike to involve workers in businesses which had no connection with the original strike. They had no objection to trade unions as such, but only to Larkin’s Union. Larkin failed to get his union, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union into the businesses of two major Dublin employers. One was Guinness’s Brewery, where the workers were well paid, and did not want a union. The other was William Martin Murphy’s Dublin United Tramways Company. Larkin targeted the Tramway Company, and the offices of the Irish Independent which also belonged to Murphy, in a recruitment drive. Murphy retaliated by ordering the staff of the newspaper who had joined Larkin’s union to leave it, and those who failed to obey were dismissed on 19 August 1913. Tim Healy acted for the employer. Redmond’s Nationalist Party also opposed Larkin’s tactics. Archbishop William Walsh on 20 October 1913 gave a guarded approval of the action of the employers in dismissing the workers of a particular union until effective guarantees have been obtained from that union.

          Mr William Murphy later gave his account of the origin of the strike. He accused Larkin of recruiting union members partly by his magnetic personality, party by extravagant promises, but chiefly by intimidation. He himself spoke to the employees in the traffic department of the tramway company, and warned them about supporting Larkin.  Shortly after this meeting some members of the Transport Union were dismissed for intimidation and assaults on men refusing to join them. Larkin warned him that any goods he attempted to carry after a strike was declared would be looted. He found that all members of the city section of the parcels department belonged to Larkin's union, and were already refusing to handle parcels for firms with whom Larkin was in dispute; 103 men and boys were thereupon dismissed and informed they would get their jobs back when they left Larkin’s union. Larkin gave the 'word of command’ but it was largely ignored by the tram drivers; Larkin’s men then commenced wrecking the tramcars and assaulting the loyal workers. Larkin totally failed to bring the company to a halt; coal had been stockpiled at the generating station at Ringsend, and other preparations made to house and feed the men there; the power supply was never in danger. Larkin called out the road repairing gangs, but they were replaced by free labour; it was some time however before trams could run safely after dark (Weekly Irish Times 7 Feb 1914).

            Larkin organised sympathetic strikes against the newspaper. This was a strike by those who had no complaint against their own employer to refuse to handle goods in some way connected with firms involved in a strike or lock-out; this could have far reaching effect. For example, a number of porters at Kingstown refused to handle publications sent from England to a certain firm of newsagents in Dublin who had declined the request that it should not handle the publications of a third firm of printers who were on strike (Weekly Irish Times 11 Oct 1913).

          Larkin’s tram drivers, about one fifth of the total, went on strike and they were replaced by non-union labour, who were given police protection. Open fighting broke out between the strikers and the police. Larkin called a meeting for Sunday 31 August 1913 in Dublin’s principal street, Sackville Street, and it was banned by a magistrate as likely to lead to violence. Larkin went ahead with the meeting and was promptly arrested, and the crowd was dispersed by the police. Sackville Street, (now O’Connell Street) was a focal point for the trams. By the end of September 20,000 hands were idle in Dublin as a result of strikes and lockouts. It was not the very poor who were on strike. The originators of the strike were the tramway workers who received good wages, were in secure employment, and were comfortably housed. Larkin denounced Jacob’s factory, whose employees had some of the best working conditions in Ireland as “the worst sweating den in Europe", a description echoed on many platforms in Britain. At Dublin petty sessions three strikers were convicted of riotous behaviour and assault on a tramcar; another was charged with intimidating a man who had criticised the worker's union, following him about and preventing any sales of vegetables from his handcart. The striker was found guilty by the jury of intimidation. It is fair to assume that many of these strikers came from families who in the not very distant past had been involved in the intimidatory tactics of the Land League and United Irish League.

          Larkin initially got wide support from English people including George Bernard Shaw who was singularly uninformed about conditions in Dublin, believing that the employers were slum landlords and blaming them for the conditions in the slums. The English unions to begin with backed Larkin, but they found that the Dublin employers had no objection to negotiating in a proper manner with lawful peaceful unions, and were put off by the wholesale violence and intimidation employed by Larkin. A proposal was one put forward by some English socialists that English trade unionists should temporarily adopt the children of strikers. Archbishop Walsh denounced the proposal that children should be adopted by Protestant families. He organised the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a well-known Catholic charity, to prevent the removal of the children. Ideas regarding proselytism died hard among the Catholic clergy. It is interesting to note that the Countess Plunkett threw open Sandymount Castle to feed and house the children during the strike. Her son Joseph Mary Plunkett was in the IRB, and her husband, Count Plunkett (a papal title like that of Count John McCormack the singer) became a Sinn Fein extremist politician, who accepted the settlement of neither William Cosgrave nor Eamon de Valera. James Connolly was not initially involved in the dispute. He was the most committed Socialist in the whole movement, and in 1912 founded the Independent Labour Party of Ireland. Towards the end of the year he became involved. He said that the mass picket would be used in Ireland for the first time; these would congregate at the entrance to the firm's premises so that no scab labour could enter unseen.

          Larkin was charged at the end of October on charges of seditious language, incitement to riot, and incitement to steal, and sentenced to seven months in gaol. The case was brought by the Attorney General J.F. Moriarty, who said Larkin was not being tried as a strike leader but because he had broken the law. He considered it unfair that hundreds of men should be in prison for acts to which they were incited by Larkin while Larkin himself went free. However he was released after seventeen day by the Lord Lieutenant. During the strike, Larkin’s demands for workers were not unreasonable and were conceded in later years. What was unacceptable were the tactics he used, of massive intimidation, and of victimising employers who had no connection with the strike. Why exactly Aberdeen released him is not clear. This confusion among Government officers is perhaps typical of the whole of Aberdeen’s and Birrell’s administration. The Irish Times remarked that Birrell’s reasons were unconvincing and considered that a political reason, namely that the Liberals were losing by-elections was the real cause. As Birrell was by this time almost completely dependent on Redmond for advice, the reasons were probably connected with the Home Rule Bill. If a General Election had to be held before the summer of 1914 the Conservatives would probably have won, and Home Rule would have been postponed for another generation. In theory, there need be no general election before 1915, but the Liberals were a minority government continuing in office only because of the support of the Irish Nationalists. It was anyone’s guess how long they could hold out if they were losing every by-election.

          There was however another side to Larkin. Speaking at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester he said ‘When people say we want Home Rule because we want to be members of the Empire, I say damn the empire...We want no armaments and no conscription; we want to live as brother to brother and sister to sister’. (Later he denied using the words attributed to him, but the sentiments were commonplace in socialist circles.) At the same time at a meeting in Dublin James Connolly espoused the idea of a republic, and a Citizen Army under the Transport Workers Union. He referred to Captain White, the son of the defender of Ladysmith [Sir George White who was born in Co. Antrim] who was prepared to train the citizen army. He sketched its ranks, and said there was a need to procure rifles. They would not leave volunteers only to the Orangemen (Weekly Irish Times 22 Nov 1913). In 1914 Larkin went to America and more or less lost contact with events in Ireland.


          In June 1913 1,000 guns and bayonets were seized at York dock, Belfast; the Nationalists still considered it a part of Protestant 'bluff'. 500 rifles were discovered at the North Wall, Dublin. More rifles were discovered at Londonderry and Drogheda. It was believed that in spite of the seizures of arms in Belfast, Dublin, Derry, Drogheda, Newry, and Greenore, many rifles had been brought in; revolvers were freely obtainable in Belfast. The Countess of Fingall observed that many of the guns were obsolete. (The technology of rifle-making had developed very rapidly.) Ulster leaders set up a million pound indemnity fund against injury or death of any volunteer. The Ulster Executive Committee or provisional government was named. There was a parade of the 14 regiments of the Belfast Volunteers, each consisting of 800 men totalling about 12,000 men. The million pounds was raised in a few days; the insurance would be no less than that under the various Workmen’s Compensation Acts. The wealth, strength and cohesiveness of the Irish Protestant community were once again demonstrated. As in the days of O’Connell and Catholic Emancipation, the Protestant community, though only a third of the size of the Catholic population, more than matched the Catholics in wealth and organisation. Businessmen, like Lord Dunleath the linen manufacturer, suddenly found themselves called on to help the organisation.

           The Ulster Volunteer Force was said to number 90,000 men, though not all of them had rifles. Indeed most of them drilled and paraded with wooden rifles. [However, the actual number who would be accepted for fighting in a foreign war or in the militia for home defence was probably between fifty and sixty thousand, still an impressive number.] They were organised into divisions by counties, each division being broken down into regiments and battalions. The regiment was considered to act as a brigade. [The difference between a regiment and a brigade was largely operational. Both consisted of two or more battalions. In the case of regiments these were linked permanently, but in the case of brigades only ad hoc for particular operations.] There were supporting corps: the medical corps, the motor car corps, nursing corps, signalling and dispatch rider corps, and the Ballymena and Enniskillen horse. The whole force was commanded by Lt. Col. Sir George Richardson. The officers were drawn from the ‘upper classes’ (Buckland, Ulster Unionism, 225-6).

          The Irish Unionists took an active part in most of the by-elections in all parts of the United Kingdom between 1911 and 1914 in support of the local Conservative candidates. They gave their assistance 33 times. Women were prominent among the volunteers who went to canvass in Scotland and England. The numerous Conservative victories in the by-elections worried the Liberals and Redmond in case they would have to go to the country before the Home Rule Bill could be passed in a third session (Buckland 308-326). There was also the possibility that the king would demand a General Election, if a solution to the problem of Ulster was not found (Pearce, Lines of Most Resistance, 446). It would probably have been constitutional for him to stipulate that such a major and unprecedented piece of legislation should be tested in a General Election.

          Redmond did not take the preparations seriously. In a speech he ridiculed Carson’s preparations for resistance to Home Rule as the 'best and most amusing silly season copy [for newspapers] that I have ever known’. William O’Brien's candidate was returned unopposed in North Cork; he denounced Redmond’s rejection of Loreburn’s proposal for a conference, attributing the rejection to the influence of Dillon and Devlin. Redmond, he said, gave the order for ‘Full steam ahead upon the rocks’. The national movement, he said, had degenerated into a secret society of Catholic bigots and Dublin Castle placemen. Earl Loreburn, Lord Chancellor of England 1905-12 had called for a conference on the question of Home Rule. There were protests from the military against being used against Ulstermen; Lt. Col. Sir Arthur Griffiths Boscawen MP said he would resign unless a General Election were held first.


          In November 1913 a call was made by John (Eoin) MacNeill and Lawrence Kettle for the establishment of a rival Irish Volunteer Corps. Provisional secretaries were chosen by a voluntary meeting, and they sent out a circular to interested nationalist organisations. The formation of the Irish Volunteers was decided at a meeting in Wynn’s Hotel Dublin 11 November 1913 by a group of 10 men, 4 of them members of the IRB, specially invited by Michael Joseph Rahilly (self-styled The O’Rahilly)  and Bulmer Hobson. O’Rahilly was on the central executive of Sinn Fein but not in the IRB. The IRB was determined to control it, and of the thirty original members, all of them living in Dublin, up to twenty were members of the IRB (Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, p321-2).

          The original plan for Irish Volunteers, that is Catholic Volunteers, came from the IRB and in particular from Bulmer Hobson, who was a prominent leader at the time. MacNeill, a Gaelic scholar who was rather prone to find his own ideas about ancient Ireland in the evidence, but who was highly esteemed as a gentleman and scholar at the time, was merely used as a front by the IRB and this was to be explained to him brutally just before the attempted coup in 1916. This also resulted in a divided command structure, between those officers who were in the IRB and those who were not, and later still between those who were Sinn Fein MPs in the Dail and those who were not. This was only settled in 1921-2, when the Minister of Defence in the Dail, succeeded in getting the Free State army indisputably under his own control. (Some member of the Army Council of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) - as the Irish Volunteers later chose to call themselves - disputed this, and terrorist activities for the rest of the twentieth century were under the Army Council and Chief-of-Staff of the IRA. The IRB was disbanded about 1924). When considering events between 1913 and 1922 we must remember the separate structures, but interlocking membership of Sinn Fein, the secret society the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and the Irish Volunteers. Also we should remember that local commanders of the IRA, like those of the agrarian terrorists before them, allowed themselves great freedom of action and political thought and were a law unto themselves. Sir Shane Leslie recounted that one night, when he was sneaking out of Glaslough Castle to drill with the Irish Volunteers he bumped into his father who was sneaking out to drill with the Ulster Volunteers.

          Ireland was proclaimed, and the importation of Arms prohibited under the Customs Consolidation Act (1876), and the Customs and Inland Revenue Act (1879). Professor MacNeill, who was associated with the Irish Volunteer Movement, did not think it would affect the procuring of arms.            

          An identical Home Rule Bill (1913) was re-submitted in the 1913 session of Parliament, and it was rejected a second time by the Lords on 15 July 1913. The Parliamentary timetable meant that it would have to be presented a third time in the 1914 session. The intervening period was spent in endless negotiations where no side would back down, but the possibility was raised that some of the more Protestant parts of Ulster might be allowed an exemption for six years. Birrell even thought that the excluded area could be as small as the city of Belfast and the area immediately around it. 


          Sickness payments under the Insurance Act 1911 came into force. The Irish Insurance Commission issued a handbook to the friendly societies.  Sickness benefit was payable for 26 weeks only. Investigation by the Irish Times shows that in most places in Ireland the Act had been conformed with, and the errant places were marked by the prevalence of prosecutions. The Ancient Order of Hibernians had probably the largest number of insured contributors. The sickness had to be certified by a panel doctor before the sickness payment could be made.

          Ireland however was excluded from the medical treatment by approved doctors under the Act, and so the dispute with the British doctors had no immediate relevance to Ireland. Workers also paid 1d less because of this. However negotiations were being carried on locally between the pensions committees and Irish doctors. Belfast doctors following the  instructions of the British Medical Association wanted their own conditions, which were resisted by the friendly societies as one of the conditions was the payment of a minimum of 8/6 per capita p.a. and 2/6 per visit (Weekly Irish Times 18 Jan 1913). The Irish Homestead warned of the treatments expressly excluded from the Act, which included many surgical operations and amputations. Operations for tumours, strangulated hernias, and appendicitis are among the excluded; in general operations requiring the presence of more than the doctor and the anaesthetist. There was a large take up of unemployment benefit in the insured trades in Dublin. These trades came under six groups- building, ship-building, engineering, iron-founding, saw-milling, and the construction of vehicles.

          By April 1913 it was reported that the National Insurance scheme was working well except in Cork, and in large parts of [North West] Ulster. The Act was however widely unpopular, and seen as an unwanted and not very useful tax; there are in fact very few practical benefits for an agricultural workforce, especially when medical treatment for the illness was excluded. Many of the friendly societies were verging on insolvency and people did not make claims as they knew they would not be paid; as long as the doctors continue to refuse certification of an incapacitating illness the benefits were a mirage; it was now stated that medical panels were working after a fashion in several Counties (Weekly Irish Times 19 April 1913). Problems arose in Belfast for the friendly societies because of the large number of claims of malingerers, and the refusal of the doctors to work the scheme. Irish doctors a year later were still in dispute over the Insurance Act 1911 regarding certification. Certificates were being issued by 'medical advisers' that is by officials appointed by the commissioners; in other cases where the 'advisers' were salaried employees of insurance societies, their duty was towards economy for their employers; the editor considered the offer of the Irish Medical Committee very generous and that it should be accepted by the Government (Weekly Irish Times 30 May 1914).


          The problems for the cattle trade continued. In addition, new regulations of the English Board of Agriculture regarding the importation of cattle from Ireland now insisted on a twelve-hour rest period at the port of debarkation to allow for feeding, watering, and inspection. Cattle were still going through the smaller ports in the hope of getting through faster. It was less a matter of costs, being only about 2/6 a head, but the disruption of long-standing arrangements which inter-connected the Irish, Scottish, and English fairs. These regulations, though inconvenient, were long overdue. It had however suited Irish cattle dealers who bought cattle in for example Mullingar in County Westmeath to load them on a train, then on to the cattleboat, and then on to the train on the other side  to Manchester or Leeds for example, without a break. Foot-and-mouth restrictions were removed in several counties, but the double inspection of animals from Ireland for foot-and-mouth and sheep scab continued (Weekly Irish Times 4 January 1913).

          The great shipping line companies announced that their largest liners would no longer call at Queenstown because of insufficient depth of water. The smaller liners still called, and Queenstown (Cobh, pronounced Cove) remained the great port for emigration to America until displaced by Shannon airport after the Second World War.

          Agrarian crime continued unabated in Co. Clare. Dr Fogarty RC bishop of Killaloe threatened perpetrators of outrages in Clare with excommunication, saying it was distasteful to have to refer so frequently from the altar to outrages in Clare. The attack on an inoffensive and innocent man was marked by the meanness and cowardice which were characteristic of the moonlighter of the county. ‘It had all the features of those crimes for which Clare had become remarkable - its meanness, trickery, and cowardice.’ ‘But as sure as those listening to him were in that church that day, those horrid and disgusting crimes that were now going on in this way would bring upon those who committed them the malediction and curse of God- if people were to go on in this way, committing these horrid outrages, or allowing them to be committed around them without protest. There was no use in talking about these acts being the work of a few men, or that there was no sympathy in the community with it. There was no knowing where  this would  stop, if any  man, if it would serve his purpose, was prepared to take his gun and go out in  the dark and shoot a man he thought had done something to him’ (Weekly Irish Times 26 April 1913). Before the decade was over, the bishop would see exactly what those men could do.

          Trinity College Dublin appointed a lady professor, Miss Olive Constance Purser, as temporary lecturer in English literature; she was the first lady student to obtain a scholarship (classical) after the admission of women into the University. There were protests against the scantiness of dress on the streets of Dublin; Irish women had no need to follow foreign fashions.

          The charges of partisanship against the Royal Irish Constabulary now came from Protestants; recruitment of Ulster Protestants had fallen off recently. Catholics now made up 79% of the force compared with 74% 10 years earlier. The decline in recruitment in Ulster was largely caused by the wages in the RIC not matching the rise in incomes from other occupations; also emigration from Ulster was greater than from the other provinces. The Inspector General, Sir Neville Chamberlain declined to attribute the change to political influences, but he noted    that nationalist elements refused to allow policemen or soldiers to take part in athletic contests, and refused to appoint ex-policemen or soldiers to any positions in local government.

          There were charges and counter-charges against discrimination in local government. It seems that invariably appointments were made to Catholics only or Protestants only, depending on whether the Nationalists or Unionists were in control. In Catholic areas discrimination was sometimes disguised by insisting that a knowledge of the Irish language was required, or that an applicant had not served in the police or army. Nobody on either side had any doubt that the Protestants would get nothing in an independent Ireland. (In 1931, Eamon de Valera, formerly President of Sinn Fein, denounced the appointment of a Protestant librarian in a Catholic county.) Allocations of council housing were regularly made by elected councillors on both sides of the Border until at least 1970 when criteria based on need were introduced.

          Teachers continued to criticise the programme of education in the national schools, and the Government in 1913 established a committee of enquiry under Professor Sir Samuel Dill of The Queen’s University, Belfast. By the school curriculum of 1900 boys of 14 years old were obliged to devote four and a half hours a week to paper folding, wire-bending with pliers, and making tiny garden chairs from cardboard. The Dill commission met and condemned it. Neither Birrell nor Asquith had much interest and let the National Board decide what parts to accept and what reject (Irish School Weekly 11 February 1922). Obviously both considered it a matter for a future Irish Parliament.

          A Report on the general health of schoolchildren in Armagh in 1932 after medical inspections had been in place in Ulster schools makes interesting reading. We may assume that conditions in schools would have been worse during the preceding century. The Report of the Armagh School Medical Officer noted that the children from the urban areas were on the whole better cared for than those in rural areas. Clothing and nutrition were better than 20 years earlier. Skin diseases were rarer than hospital experience would lead one to expect, but a high proportion of children had sight defects. Slight deafness was common, as was middle ear disease. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids, carious teeth and defective vision were the commonest defects found. The great majority of the children [between 7 and 14] had one or more carious teeth which must be attributed to faulty diet. It recommended the provision of school meals (Irish School Weekly 6 August 1932). Clearly many children had defective hearing, eyesight, poor teeth, tonsils and adenoids. Skin diseases probably included ringworm, common among farm workers, eczema, impetigo, warts, and rashes caused by nits, mites and lice. The Tuberculosis Prevention (Ireland) Act (1913) was passed.

            A new telephone service was decided on, London and Dublin being then connected through exchanges at Leeds, Holyhead, and Belfast. There was not always a direct connection, and messages had to be retransmitted. The existing telegraph lines had insufficient capacity so a new submarine cable had to be laid to provide a direct connection. By January 1914 the new telephone cable from the Welsh coast to Howth was tested; at 64 nautical miles it was the longest submarine telephone cable yet laid.  On the British side it was controlled from Manchester. The land part of the scheme linking London and Galway had been erected as far as Mullingar in the Irish midlands. The difficulties in using long submarine cables because of the high resistance had now been overcome. Even on land telephone conversations had to be boosted with amplifiers placed along the cable at regular intervals. Totally automatic exchanges covering the whole country did not come in until the 1960s. Telephone girls manned exchanges and plugged in the connections as they were requested.


            Before considering the political situation at the beginning of 1914 it is essential to consider the new rising ideologies in Europe and the consequent ‘definitions of the situation’ which these involved. The two great rival ideologies were nationalism (often combined with a measure of socialism) and international socialism. One concentrated on Race Struggle (Rassenkampf) and the other on Class Struggle (Klassenkampf). The first became known generically as fascists, or racist fascists; the second Bolsheviks, Marxists, or communists. The boundaries between them were fluid, and each depended to a greater or lesser degree on armed revolution or the electoral process. In Ireland, the ideologies of the Gaelic League, Sinn Fein, and the IRB produced a particularly ruthless programme of racist fascism, and the success of the group meant that their views became the established dogma of the Irish Free State. Not until the success of the Bolsheviks in 1917 was Bolshevism seriously entertained in Ireland, and chiefly by those who wanted to see the large farms broken up. However, in 1914 neither the racist-fascist viewpoint nor the Communist one was considered seriously by the bulk of the Irish people.

          The aim of the Nationalists who followed Redmond was basically to establish Tammany Hall in Ireland by seizing political power from the Protestant landowning class, commonly denounced as the ‘Landlords’ or the ‘Ascendancy’. To provide a moral justification for their cause they had to systematically denigrate the ‘Ascendancy’ and the ‘British’.  But they also, to some extent, adopted the racist belief that the Celts were a separate race who needed their own state to develop culturally and economically. Professor Bew pointed out a belief shared by the Nationalists and Sinn Fein alike that the development of Ireland was being hindered by its connection with England, and that if Ireland was independent it would rapidly grow into a rich prosperous state of at least twenty million people without large industrial cities but with small factories in rural areas. This particular vision seems to have originated with Arthur Griffith of Sinn Fein and to have been derived from the Arts and Crafts Movement in England. The great means of national improvement was to be protective barriers against British goods.

          The Irish Unionists, who were the subjects of this denigration, did not believe a word of the black propaganda against them. They also realised that their only role in an independent Ireland was to be fleeced. The failure of the efforts of Lord Middleton and William O’Brien, as well as the unceasing agrarian outrages, had proved that. The Ulster Unionists in particular were a strict religious people, viewing things in sharply religious terms.

          The British Unionists (including the former Liberal Unionists) did not believe in ‘British misrule’ in Ireland, and indeed, with much justification, considered that they had done much good in Ireland. For Ireland in 1914 was a leading industrial country. Like Abraham Lincoln, in similar circumstances, they were totally opposed to a break-up of the Union which they considered beneficial not only to the whole but also to its individual parts. They concurred with Horace Plunkett who stressed that Ireland needed to be able to compete with the world at large and not retire behind protective barriers and also needed to raise the rest of Ireland to the standard of productivity of the north-eastern counties. One great difficulty the Unionists faced was that there was no common adjective to describe all the inhabitants of the United Kingdom. An attempt was made to extend the used of the word ‘British’ to cover all the inhabitants of the British Isles, but this was fiercely resisted in Ireland. So one could only say the ‘Army of the United Kingdom’ or the ‘United Kingdom Parliament’. (This linguistic anomaly was to be thoroughly exploited by the IRA.)   

          The British Liberals were caught in a trap which they themselves had set. When they came to power in 1906 they were unwilling to bring in Home Rule when scarcely a decade earlier it had been put before the electorate and decisively rejected. If they fought another election on the same issue they would almost certainly have lost it. However, in 1910 they bargained with Redmond for his support against the House of Lords in return for a Home Rule Bill which they intended making as modest and unthreatening to the Irish Unionists as possible. They were placed in a quandary when the Ulster Unionists reacted like scalded cats and made preparations for armed resistance. Asquith, especially, felt that Redmond and the Irish nationalists could not with consistency claim self-determination for themselves and deny the same right to the Ulster Unionists. So they made every effort to find some compromise acceptable to both parties, but found them equally intransigent. (Their blunder was compounded when four years later an openly racist-fascist organisation pledged to conquer Ulster by force drove out Redmond’s Nationalists.)

          Though just developing in 1914 and with little effect on the parliamentary struggles of that year, the ideology of Gaelic League/Sinn Fein/ IRB closely resembled that of Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf. Neither of these was drawing on the other; they were both drawing on ideas common in Europe at the time. There was the same emphasis on race and soil, on foreign oppression and the destructiveness of foreign culture, the same cultivation of the native language, native dances, native games, native songs and folklore, the same belief that these were the highest possible productions of the human race, the same appeal to their version of history and to the ancient myths of the race, the same effort by archaeologists to find relics of ancient splendours, the same primary reliance on the putsch to achieve power and only secondarily on political means, the same sweeping away of any former Acts or Treaties which were inconvenient, the same intolerance of those who disagreed with them, the same emphasis on youth, the same use of military spectacle and glorification of war, the same drilling of youth for war, the same reliance on unremitting propaganda, the same ruthless reliance on terror to overcome opponents, the same bands of women helpers, the same belief in the righteousness of their cause, the same belief that the cause justified every action. Both had a boy hero, Horst Wessel and Kevin Barry who were killed by their opponents, and about whom a song was written for the inspiration of Irish youth

          Finally, there was the king who was very closely involved in all these negotiations. The king was no mere figurehead or rubber stamp. He was revered as the source of all political authority, though in political matter he was severely constrained by the Constitution. In the United States and France authority was derived from the supposed political will of the people who composed the state. In England, as in Germany, Russia, and other monarchies people believed ‘There’s such divinity doth hedge a king’ expressing a traditional reverence for kingship.  (A curious case arose during the debate on the Parliament Bill when the Marquis of Crewe for the Liberals expressed in Parliament a stronger version than what the king had actually said, about the creation of extra peers. The king had allowed the possibility in answer to a hypothetical question, and had reason to be annoyed (DNB George V)). He was the nominal head of the armed forces, and throughout both World Wars was closely involved in all discussions. All commissions and warrants were issued in his name, and to him loyalty was sworn. A large proportion of the officers in both the British Army and the Indian Army were Irish, many of them from Ulster. The office of Commander-in-Chief was gradually being subordinated to the War Office, and brought under control of Parliament. The Royal Navy was in theory subject to the Admiralty Board of which the First Lord of the Admiralty was a member of the Government. But both army and navy were still semi-feudal, semi-independent bodies. (The United Kingdom was far from unique in this. Matters were worse in Germany, and in the Second World War in the United States admirals and generals negotiated directly with Congress with regard to appropriations, by-passing the President, their nominal Commander-in-Chief.)  Lord Stamfordham, the king’s Private Secretary estimated that two thirds of the officers and men would leave the army if told to fire on the Ulstermen (Hannah, Bob’s, Kipling’s General, 237-241). Field Marshal Lord Roberts fully backed the Ulstermen. The king used Stamfordham to contact various parties on his behalf. The king had two concerns; one that arms might be used against any section of his subjects, and the other that any section of his armed forces should be ordered to fire on them. [TOP]


          [1914] By the time Parliament re-assembled on 2 February 1914, Asquith had worked out a vague solution conceding the exclusion of Ulster. There were various possibilities and ambiguities in his plan, whether Ulster would be included initially and allowed to opt-out later, or whether Ulster should be initially excluded but for a limited period (Bew, Ideology and the Irish Question, 99-104 deals with the negotiations in detail.) The Home Rule Bill (1912) had to be passed substantially unchanged in three sessions of Parliament and so was introduced as the Home Rule Bill (1914). On 9 March 1914, during the Second reading, Asquith offered a county option with a time limit of six years. This Carson claimed was only a ‘sentence of death with a stay of execution’. Bonar Law demanded either a General Election or a referendum. When it passed its Third Reading on 25 May 1914 and received the royal signature, it became law and was known as the Government of Ireland Act (1914). Therefore, a different Act had to be introduced. This, the Government of Ireland (Amendment) Bill (1914), was introduced on 23 June 1914 allowing a temporary exclusion of Ulster for six years on a county by county basis. The counties which had voted out were to be placed, not directly under the Crown, but under the Lord Lieutenant in Dublin (Bew, 114). The Lords amended the Bill, and the Liberals rejected the Lords’ amendments. The king called the Buckingham Palace Conference in his palace on 21 July, but no agreement was reached. What did become clear, and later became a fixed point, was that the six North-Eastern counties would be excluded as a block, not county by county, still less parish by parish. The Bill was dropped for the duration of the crisis (Bew points out that if Redmond had earlier accepted the idea of partition, and offered at least temporary exclusion to four counties his offer might have been accepted p. 105).


          In 1912 John Seely, who had distinguished himself as a soldier in South Africa in the Hampshire Yeomanry and was elected to Parliament as a Liberal MP was promoted to the War Office as Secretary of State for War. In December 1913 he held a consultation with the General Officers Commanding (GOCs) in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and a promise was made that any officer whose home was in Ulster would not be ordered to fight there. Sir Arthur Paget was the GOC in Ireland. Written Instructions based on this meeting were given to Paget in December 1913 providing that officers whose homes were in Ulster might ‘disappear’ temporarily, but any other officers who refused to obey were to be dismissed at once. Winston Churchill at the Admiralty moved warships to the Western Isles of Scotland and said in a speech on 14 March 1914 ‘Let us go forward together and put these grave matters to the proof’. This immediately led to the Curragh Incident. It is clear that elaborate military preparations were made by Winston Churchill at the Admiralty and Seely at the War Office.

          On 14 March 1914 a Cabinet Committee of which Seely was a member decided to inform Paget that attempts to obtain arms were expected in Ulster, and that some arms depots there were insufficiently guarded. Paget had been reluctant to move troops there for fear of precipitating a crisis. Churchill and Seely decided that trouble was imminent as Carson had left London to return to Belfast. Certain movements of troops were agreed, and Paget was instructed to explain to his officers the conditions agreed the previous December (DNB Seely).

          The general in charge of the cavalry brigade at the Curragh camp was Sir Hubert de la Poer Gough was from Co. Waterford who had been commissioned into the 16th Lancers in 1889. He had served in India and South Africa where he led the Imperial Light Horse to relieve Ladysmith, and later commanded a regiment of mounted infantry. The Irish companies in his regiment gave him trouble by getting drunk (Pakenham, The Boer War, 366, 529-30; DNB Hubert Gough). Later he became the commanding officer of the 16th Lancers, and in 1911 he returned to Ireland as the brigadier general commanding the 3rd cavalry brigade at the Curragh, which was the Headquarters of the army in Ireland. The Director of Military intelligence was Sir Henry Wilson from Longford. He had joined the Longford militia, then transferred into the 18th foot, the Royal Irish Regiment, and then into the Rifle Brigade and fought in Burma. He became brigade major to the third infantry brigade and was sent to South Africa. After the reverses at Colenso and Spion Kop he was placed on the Headquarters Staff of Lord Roberts the Commander-in-Chief. After the formation of the General Staff he was appointed commandant of the Staff College in 1907 with the rank of brigadier general. In 1910 he was made director of military operations at the War Office where he was involved in preparing plans for co-operation with the French. He entirely sympathised with the Irish officers. Lord Roberts also was from Waterford. He had retired from the army in 1905, but he threw the weight of his immense prestige behind the Ulster Volunteer Force. Sir John French, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, had close connections with Ireland.

          It is not clear what exactly Paget said to the officers when he got back to Ireland, but there is the account of Gough and the others. Paget addressed the officers of the cavalry brigade at the Curragh on the morning of Saturday 21 March 1914 (DNB Gough). Brigadier General Hubert de la Poer Gough called the officers, asked the opinion of the officers of the 3rd cavalry brigade and they nearly all offered to resign. In a discussion with the GOC Sir Arthur Paget they made it clear that they would in no case fire on Ulstermen. The same Saturday, Paget signalled the War Office in London saying that the brigadier and 57 officers preferred to resign. Gough was relieved of his command and ordered to London with his two colonels; it was understood that 57 out of the 76 officers resigned. The orders to move north were withdrawn. Sir Philip Chetwode replaced Gough, but the appointment was cancelled. 200 troops were rushed to Newry barracks which was virtually derelict having been last occupied in 1905 in which year troops were withdrawn from Newry. Before they arrived on Sunday morning Asquith realised the muddle Seely and Paget had got into. He authorised a statement in the London Times to the effect that the movements of troops were merely precautionary, to protect military property, etc. (Weekly Irish Times 28 March 1914). He also made it clear to Seeley that Gough and the other officers were not to be punished for taking the choice forced on them by Paget.

          In London, a meeting was held with Gough with Seely, Sir Spencer Ewart the Adjutant General, and Sir John French the Chief of the Imperial General Staff present. A document was prepared by Seely, Ewart, and French but was emended at a cabinet meeting at which Seely was not present. Seely felt that the guarantee against using Ulster troops in Ulster given verbally to Gough was not clear enough, so he added two paragraphs, one of which stated that the Government had no intention of using the troops to crush Ulster, and this was initialled by Ewart and French. When the cabinet repudiated this addition Seely, Ewart and French resigned, the army accepting the blame. Asquith considered, probably correctly, that Paget was the one who bore most of the blame. As the First World War broke out shortly afterwards, the military careers of the soldiers suffered no set-back, and the 3rd cavalry brigade led by Gough , was one of the first to be sent to France. Sir John French commanded the British Expeditionary Force (The best succinct account of the incident is given in DNB Hubert Gough). Seely was given command of the Canadian cavalry brigade.

          Since its formation in the late seventeenth century, the Irish Army was kept separate from the English (later British) for purely fiscal reasons. The king was restricted with regard to the number of troops he could keep in England, but not in Ireland, and troops while stationed in Ireland were a charge on the Irish Exchequer. When moved overseas, they again became a charge on the British Exchequer. As the Catholic troops who had served under the Catholic James II went to France, the army at first composed entirely of Protestants. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Duke of Wellington remarked that nobody asked a gentleman his religion. By the Act of Union (1800) the two armies were merged. But it would be a mistake to consider that the British Army was composed only of British people. The Irish component reached its highest proportion about the middle of the nineteenth century. (The English and Scottish armies were similarly merged after the Act of Union (1707), but fortunately there was a common adjective to cover it.)

          There never was any intention on anybody’s part of actually using the troops. Only fanatics like those in the IRA would cheerfully turn their guns on those who disagreed with them. The leaders of the Ulster Volunteer Force had drilled and armed, but all the time hoping that the Government would back down or a general election would intervene. Churchill and Seeley just wished to demonstrate force. In the event, the Government did compromise (Buckland, Irish Unionism, 258-9).


          Shortly after this the Ulster Volunteers, now called the Ulster Volunteer Force UVF staged a remarkable coup. The Government had prohibited the importation of arms but steps were taken to procure them illegally. On the night of 24/25th April 1914 35,000 rifles and 3½ million cartridges were landed at Larne, Bangor, Donaghadee, and Ballywalter in Ulster. There was a vast organization by the Ulster Volunteer Force, who virtually took over the province, interrupted telegraphic and telephonic communication, and controlled the roads. A  German ship was re-painted and re-named out in the Atlantic. A consignment of guns for the Irish Volunteers was also landed in Donegal (Weekly Irish Times 2 May 1914; Buckland, Irish Unionism, 239-258). It seems that the Royal Irish Constabulary, who were usually well-informed had no inkling of what was planned, and consequently neither had Birrell or Redmond. With what they already had this was probably sufficient to equip all their able-bodied fighters.

          The success of the Ulstermen galvanised the Irish Volunteers in the South who had hitherto been much less successful at recruiting. Up to March 1914 only about 7000 men had joined, and most of them were from the lower classes. After that recruitment soared, and membership doubled or trebled. It very soon became obvious to Redmond, when he was not offered the leadership of the Irish Volunteers, that they were being organised against himself. (We can assume that the police had a reasonable knowledge regarding the membership and activities of the IRB, and that the Government kept Redmond informed.) However, it was not until June 1914 that he brought to a head the question of the subordination of the Volunteers to the future elected Government of Ireland led by the Nationalist Parliamentary Party

          Redmond sent a letter, intended to be made public, to the Secretaries of the Irish Volunteers on 9 June 1914, and referred to the controversy in the press regarding the supposed opposition between the Volunteers and the Parliamentary Party. Up to two months ago he had felt that the volunteer movement was premature, but events like the gun-running had changed his mind. Six weeks earlier the Irish Party had formally endorsed the Volunteers, and volunteering was proceeding apace. He had made enquiries into its organisation and it was represented to him that the governing body should be reconstructed and made more representative. So far as his information went the provisional committee was self-elected, and consisted of 25 members, all from Dublin, with no country interest; but it claimed to be only a provisional body until a permanent body could be formed. He suggested therefore that the Irish Party should nominate a further 25 members from the country areas; failing that it would be necessary to fall back on county control until a truly representative executive was elected by the Volunteers themselves (Weekly Irish Times 13 June 1914).

            Eoin MacNeill and L.J. Kettle, Hon. Secs. welcomed Redmond’s letter. They said they considered the Volunteers the basis of a free Irish army, ready and fit to defend Ireland against all enemies, and called on the Government to withdraw the proclamation against the free import of arms. It was seven months, they said, since the Volunteers were called into being by the manifesto of the provisional body on 29 Nov 1913.  A General Order stated that it was not possible to hold a general convention, but authorised each local company in the country districts to elect a delegate from among their own members. Redmond rejected this solution pointing out that the Volunteers should be subject to the elected representatives of the National Party. He was, he said, informed that though at least 95% of the volunteers support the Nationalist party, yet a majority of the provisional committee did not; their names were not disclosed, and they mostly got their positions by co-option (Weekly Irish Times 13, 20 June 1914). Bulmer Hobson of the IRB advised MacNeill to assent, much to the annoyance of other leading members of the IRB, and he lost his position on the Supreme Council of the IRB and played no leading role in the years that followed. His argument for accepting was that the IRB members of the provisional committee of the Irish volunteers acting together could always out-manoeuvre Redmond’s nominees acting independently of each other. The secret IRB members would meet in secret to co-ordinate their actions unknown to the others (Lyons, Ireland Since the Famine, 328). Shortly after this on 26 July 1914 a shipment of arms amounting to 1500 rifles, which had been organised by Hobson, was landed at Howth. Darrell Figgis and Erskine Childers had been sent to Germany to purchase arms and ammunition. This importation of arms by the IRB in broad daylight past the unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police was a deliberate challenge to the Government, unlike the secretive Larne gun-running. Predictably, when some people were shot the British Government was blamed. Recruitment rose rapidly and by September 1914 the Irish Volunteers claimed to have 180,000 men in their ranks. At this point, the armed strength, the financial position, and the organisation of the Ulster Volunteer Force far outstripped anything the southern Volunteers/IRA had achieved or ever would achieve.


          As noted above the king called a conference at Buckingham Palace in July without result. It was the last month of peace. The Earl and Countess of Fingall took a house in London for the 1914 ‘Season’ as parents did who had daughters of marriageable age. The time was spent, as usual in visiting and being visited. Among the visitors occasionally was John Redmond. But they also had a large number of German visitors which puzzled her a bit. One day she found the German ambassador in private conversation with John Redmond. It was only after War was declared that she realised what the interest of the Germans in Ireland had been. There is no doubt that the ambassador had been informed about the purchase of arms in Germany.



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