Humanly, if not politically, speaking, the Irish Convention was a representative body of the nation. All types of Irishmen, if not all the opinions of Irishmen, were to be found at the meetings at Regent House, Trinity College, and in Belfast and Cork. “How many orators there are,” wrote an Englishman the other day as he contemplated the historical portraits in the Dublin National Gallery—”how many duellists, patriots, rebels of whom nothing but their personal attractiveness is remembered.” The normal Irishman, this English observer added, does not seem to be creative; but he is dramatic and expressive, highly endowed with wit and social gifts. It was a generalisation of which the Irish Convention reminded one. That this assembly had any general quality of greatness no one could pretend. But it was rich in personality, in men of versatile natures whose names would reach posterity not in books, but in the oral traditions of their country.
Perhaps a score of the ninety odd members had a topical reputation—were persons, that is to say, with whom the newspapers had established a certain familiarity; and of this score, three, let us say, were assured already of a place in history. These were Mr. Redmond, Sir Horace Plunkett, Mr. George Russell—the one a leading Parliamentarian of his time, the other an initiator in the field of social reform,, the third the poet “AE,” comrade of George Moore and Yeats in Irish literary enterprise, who in recent years had appeared as a pamphleteer and a political idealist. To most Englishmen Mr. Redmond for his Parliamentary tact and eloquence, Sir Horace Plunkett for his public spirit and leadership in the agricultural co-operative movement, represented what was most distinguished in contemporary Ireland. Mr. Redmond, now in his 67th year, had entered the House of Commons in 1881 as member for New Ross. He had stood by Parnell during the “Split” of 1891, and he subsequently led a minority of the National Party with tact and eloquence. When the parliamentary movement reunited it was under his Chairmanship. Always regarded at heart as a Moderate—certain of his speeches in America notwithstanding—Mr. Redmond, owing to his attitude on the war, enjoyed at the time of the summons to the Convention a very considerable popularity among his Unionist fellow countrymen. “He had fought for Home Rule for thirty years,” says a German admirer, the translator of Synge, “and had directed his life to turning a dream into a reality. . . . The name Redmond sounds hard and weighty; and hard, stubborn and weighty is the man.”
Sir Horace Plunkett, a younger man by three years, had led a varied life. The son of an Anglo-Irish peer, he was educated at Eton and Oxford, and had engaged during his youth in cattle ranching in America; he returned to Ireland to promote agricultural co-operation, was for a short time a Unionist M.P., when he displeased the extremists of his party, but won the confidence of Mr. Balfour and the leaders of English Conservatism. He was Vice-President of the Irish Department of Agriculture from 1899-1907. During the Ulster crisis he threw out many suggestions for compromise in letters and addresses, which won a great measure of attention from the Press. In 1914 he made a striking proposal that Ulster Unionists should consent to give the Home Rule Parliament a temporary trial, exclusion, if they wished for it, to take place after a fixed number of years. The proposal was, however, rejected by the party concerned.
“AE” too had his fervent admirers outside of Ireland as well as within it—and not only among readers of poetry and students of mysticism, but also among statesmen and economists. An Ulster-man and a Protestant by birth, by poetic temperament a sympathiser with the hero legends of Gaelic Ireland, long editorship of an agricultural journal, the Irish Homestead, had brought him into contact with the practical realities of the social and political situation in his country. In his National Being, published in 1916, he had sought to describe an order of society in which democracy would prevail in the economic life of Ireland, and aristocratic ideals in her political and intellectual life. The book was an ” imaginative meditation on the state of Ireland”; but it contained many very “actual” suggestions with regard to systems of representative government, the proposals set out in Chapter XIV. for representation of particular interests in the Irish government reminding one of P. J. Proudhon’s application of his famous ” federative principle.” In his pamphlet of 1917, Thoughts for an Irish Convention, Mr. Russell addressed himself more directly to the actual crisis in Irish affairs. After explaining with a notable impartiality the point of view of the Sinn Feiners, the Nationalist Parliamentarians and the Unionists, he reached the conclusion that the natural compromise for Irishmen to adopt would be the solution of Dominion Self-Grovernment with fiscal liberty. The pamphlet, if it did not carry conviction to the Ulster minority, created a remarkable impression among the Unionists in the south of Ireland, and among Nationalists of every variety; and it seemed that the Government had taken a very proper course when subsequently Mr. Russell’s name appeared in the list of the fifteen nominated members of the Irish Convention.
Among the politicians present at the Convention next in importance to Mr. Redmond was Mr. Joseph Devlin, the Nationalist member for West Belfast, whose future as Irish leader had, before the rise of the Sinn Fein movement, seemed to be assured. To no other man, personally, did the success of the Convention mean so much as to Mr. Devlin. Through it he might regain a lost ascendancy in Irish politics; failure here would involve in all probability the final conquest of Ireland by Sinn Fein or some new group of politicians, and the extinction of the political career of a man, unquestionably able and energetic, and not yet past his prime. But except for Mr. Redmond and Mr. Devlin the Convention contained few parliamentarians of note.
The Ulster Unionist Council had decided, wisely enough, to present its case through persons of local standing rather than through the Orange M.Ps., only one of whom, Mr. H. T. Barrie, appeared at the Convention. The abler sort of Northern Protestant does not enter Parliament. That he has little talent or inclination for politics is shown, significantly, by the fact that the trusted leader of the “Ulster” cause is a Dubliner, Sir Edward Carson. Lord Londonderry, Colonel Wallace, a well-known Orangeman, Mr. Knight, and Sir George Clarke, composed with Mr. Barrie, M.P., the important delegation from the Ulster Unionist Council; and it was upon their action that all eyes were turned. This Council had conducted the fight against Home Rule during the years previous to the war, and these men had organised the Covenant and had supported the arming and drilling of the Ulster Volunteers. Would they now abandon that position in deference to the alleged Imperial necessity of an Irish settlement? In the south of Ireland little was known, personally, of the five men. But it was reported that in Sir A. McDowell, a solicitor with a large Northern practice and one of the Government nominees, “Ulster” had found an advocate of unusual power. Sir A. McDowell, as it happened, was prevented by illness from attending many meetings of the Convention, and the burden of presenting the case of the Northern Unionists fell chiefly on Lord Londonderry, a descendant of Castlereagh, the promoter of the Union, and upon Mr. Pollock, the able spokesman of Northern capitalism, a delegate from the Belfast Chamber of Commerce.
There were present, besides the above-named, others who had been associated with the Carsonite movement of 1912-14, and were still in thorough sympathy with the statement of the Covenant. Several Chairmen of County Councils and Corporations in Ulster, including the Duke of Abercorn from Tyrone, were also representative Unionists of the northern type. Dr. Crozier of Armagh, the Primate, had joined in the No-Surrender Campaign before the war, and another stern Covenanter was Dr. Irwin, the Moderator of the General Assembly of Presbyterians. The Ulster Unionists composed a comparatively small minority of the whole Convention; but they had the Government’s assurance that they entered it without prejudice to their previous declaration of non possumus. The Southern Unionists acted separately, and the Labour delegates, with one exception, were not of the Covenanting disposition.
Of the seven Labour delegates two served on the Grand Committee of the Convention. These were Mr. Robert Waugh and Alderman McCarron. Mr. Waugh, the representative of the Belfast and District Building Trades Federation, was a delegate of wide experience in labour affairs, having earlier been Organising Secretary of the Amalgamated and General Union of Carpenters and Joiners. He was appointed one of the Irish representatives to the Labour Party Conference at Nottingham in January, 1918, and some years before had represented Ireland at a similar Conference in Glasgow. Alderman James McCarron was leader of the Labour representatives in Derry Corporation, and Chairman of the Public Health Committee. He had long been the Irish delegate of the Amalgamated Society of Tailors, and was a well-known speaker at Trade Union Congresses. A man of advanced views on questions of social reform, he was a strong supporter of Mr. Redmond, but a determined opponent of the partition scheme. Of the other five Labour delegates, Mr. H. T. Whitley, a member of the Belfast Branch of the Typographical Union, and one of the leading trade unionists in the city, represented in the Convention the Belfast and District Trades’ Council, and Mr. C. McKay, also of Belfast, the Ship-building and Engineering Trades’ Federation. Mr. J. Murphy, of Dublin, representing the Irish Branch of the National Union of Railwaymen, was one of the most active officials of that Union, which in recent months had very greatly increased its membership and influence all over Ireland, especially in Ulster. Mr. John Hanna, representing the Belfast shipyard workers, was, perhaps, the only Labour delegate of whom it could fairly be said that he was a politician first and a labour man afterwards. A foreman in Harland and Wolff’s yards, Mr. Hanna was President of the Queen’s Island Unionist Club, and presided at the mass meeting of Ulster trade unionists held in the Ulster Hall on April 29th, 1914, to protest against the passing of the Home Rule Bill. Somewhat in the same category, on the opposite side, one might place Mr. Thomas Lundon, M.P. (Land and Labour Association) a member of the Nationalist Parliamentary Party, who was to be regarded as more or less representative of the interests of labour in the rural districts.
Chairmen of County and Urban Councils, Mayors and Lord Mayors were a large block of the assembly. These, except as voters, did not, perhaps, count for much; and owing to recent changes in the opinion of the south, their representative right might have been called in question. Most were at the outset of the proceedings strong “party” men. But from the historically Nationalist point of view how suitable it was that (as actually happened) a Byrne should come from Wicklow, a Reilly from Cavan, a Power from Waterford, a MacMurrough Kavanagh from Carlow! The names had tribal and regionalist associations running down the centuries. If the Unionists of Tyrone produced a British Duke for their representative, the Nationalists of Carlow provided the ‘Convention with a descendant of the ancient kings of Leinster, a landlord and a Protestant, who was also a Home Ruler. Dublin Corporation sent to the Convention a man of eloquence in Councillor O’Neill, Lord Mayor of the city, the only member at Regent House who had suffered arrest in connection with the Rebellion. Councillor O’Neill had been arrested—albeit in error—during the martial regime of Sir John Maxwell. “There was a man,” he told his fellow townsmen on the occasion of his election to the Mayoral Chair, “who was despised and rejected by men. . . . The soldiers spat upon him. . . . He stands before you now.”
The representatives of the Southern Unionist Organisation were well chosen men of tolerant disposition, but among them shone no bright particular star, although they had called upon an exCabinet Minister in the person of Lord Midleton, who played a very important part in the deliberations. More or less of Southern Unionist complexion were such able and distinguished Irishmen as Lord Dunraven, Lord Mayo and Lord Oranmore and Brown (the last two representatives of the Irish Peers), the Provost of Trinity, Dr. Mahaffy, and Dr. Bernard, the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin. Lord Dunraven, politician, traveller, author, sportsman, reforming landowner, was one of the several old but still active figures of the Convention. After presiding with success at the Irish Land Conference of 1902, he had endeavoured to promote a settlement of the political question along the lines of Devolution, and from the Tory Imperialist standpoint. Lord Oranmore, a Conservative and former Unionist, had, previous to the assembling of the Convention, expressed the opinion that if Home Rule were granted it should be in its widest form next to separation, namely, Repeal of the Union. His speeches on Irish affairs in the House of Lords had always been characterised by a remarkable independence and originality. Rev. Dr. Mahaffy, wit, courtier, scholar, appeared at the Convention as the representative of the Elizabethan institution of Trinity College. He it was who had said that in Ireland the “inevitable never happens, the impossible always occurs.” Very hostile to the Young Ireland of the Gaelic League and a bitter commentator on the Rebellion—one who could see nothing in the events of ’16 but an envious assault of the “have-nots” upon the “haves” (he believed that Pearse aimed at seizing the Provostship of Trinity College)—Dr. Mahaffy was frequently ridiculed by Nationalists as supreme type of the Anglo-Irish shoneen. But with his clever tongue he gives back as good as he got; nor can a man so brilliant, a man familiar with the cosmopolitan societies of Europe, be really suspected of sharing the political or religious views of the narrowest sort of Irish Protestant. Indeed it is suspected that the Provost combined with his “superiority” to Irish ideals a very hearty contempt for the modern British effort to govern his country.
A very notable feature of the Convention was the amount of ability which resided in the delegations from the two Churches. Two of the four Roman Catholic Bishops, Dr. Kelly and Dr. O’Donnell, were well-known Redmondites, whereas Dr. Harty and Dr. MacRory represented fairly accurately the feeling of the Independent Nationalists. Dr Kelly, a close personal friend of Mr. Redmond, belonged to that division of the clerical party which had openly denounced the Rebellion of Easter Week, and which desired to reconcile the Home Rule claim with Imperial interests. A man of views, a student of Irish statistics and finance, he had been for many years in close contact with public affairs, having sat on the Royal Commission on Irish Finance (1910). The Archbishop of Cashel, Dr. Harty, another of the Maynooth delegates represented a similar tendency of opinion in the Church. A different type was the Bishop of Raphoe—an O’Donnell from Tyrconnell—an older man, the possessor of many popular qualities, more of a democrat and an enthusiast, a very keen politician. Dr. O’Donnell, although a leading figure of Mr. Redmond’s United Irish League, had won the affection of “Irish” Irelanders by his energetic efforts in the NorthWest for the preservation of the Irish language. He was himself the one native speaker at the Convention. Being also a learned theologian he did good service to Nationalists when during the debates Orangemen raised the question of their religious objections to Home Rule. By common consent the Bishop of Raphoe proved himself at the Convention to be among the two or three ablest men on the Nationalist side. In the representation from the Church of Ireland the genial and conciliatory Primate, Dr. Crozier, a Covenanter, and Dr. Bernard, Archbishop of Dublin, scholarly, suave, critical-minded, with English sympathies, stood out prominently.
Lastly come the members nominated by the Government. To several of these—including Lord Dunraven, Mr. George Russell, and Sir Horace Plunkett—allusion has already been made. Among the others there were Sir Crawford MacCullagh, a prominent member of the Belfast City Council; Sir Bertram Windle, President of the University College, Cork, a scientist of repute; Sir William Whitla, a Belfast physician, and Sir William Goulding of Dublin, a southern captain of industry. In the list there stood out two notabilities, Mr. W. M. Murphy and Lord MacDonnell, men past the age of seventy who had already exercised an important influence on Irish affairs. This was the Mr. Murphy, tramway owner and railway builder, who had upheld the Dublin employers against the assault of James Larkin during the famous strike in the winter of 1913-14. The son of a contractor in West Cork, Mr. Murphy came from the same part of Ireland as the Sullivans, T. D. and A. M., and the celebrated brothers, T. M. and Maurice Healy, and he joined this group in Parnell’s Parliamentary Party of the “eighties.” All turned bitterly anti-Parnellite during the “Split,” but objecting to the policy of Mr. Dillon formed a third party of their own which continually harassed the recognised leaders, Mr. Dillon, Mr. T. P. O’Connor, and subsequently, Mr. John Redmond, who, it was alleged, continually subordinated Irish to Liberal interests. In time Mr Murphy left Parliament, but he retained, in spite of the diversity of his business interests, sufficient leisure to keep an eye on the “Party.” He owned in recent years the Independent, a half-penny newspaper with a wider circulation than any of the other Dublin journals.
During 1915 the Independent combined support of recruiting and the war with vigorous attacks on the Administration and Mr. Redmond. It laid stress on the dangers of the increased taxation of Ireland in connection with the financial clauses of the Home Rule Act, and, after the appointment of Sir Mathew Nathan as Under-Secretary, hinted that deep schemes were afoot to render Irish self-government unworkable and worthless. These imputations of sinister British intentions undoubtedly worked upon Irish nerves during the winter of 1915-16, and Mr. Birrell in his evidence before the Commission on the Rebellion hinted that the influence of the Independent was one of the chief difficulties which the Administration had had to encounter. It is needless to say that Mr. Murphy disapproved of the Rising. But he recovered from the shock of that outburst more quickly than did the Redmondite politicians; and soon again he was hard at work undermining the position of the latter and upsetting their plans. His newspaper it was which, by playing on the susceptibilities of the Northern Bishops, did most to upset Mr. Lloyd George’s plan of “settlement” in the summer of 1916. Subsequently—though he may not have been without suspicions—Mr. Murphy acquiesced in the next move of the Government, namely, the Convention proposal, and he accepted a place among the nominated members at Regent House, although Mr. T. M. Healy and Mr. William O’Brien, the politicians whose ideas most nearly corresponded with his, had refused to participate in the “farce.” An admirer, who wrote of Mr. Murphy at the time of the Dublin strike, found him “a tall, spare figure, slightly stooped at the shoulders, with a mass of silvery hair framing a benevolent face in which two kindly but piercing grey eyes are firmly set.” He has been called the Irish Lord Northcliffe, but the description is not really apt except in the sense that both Lord Northcliffe and Mr. Murphy derive their political influence from the ownership and direction of newspapers. But the Irishman, unlike Lord Northcliffe, has been a man of a few fixed ideas; and if within recent years he gave the public much of what it wanted, this was due to coincidence rather than to design. Indeed, Mr. Murphy’s closest political associate has been Mr. T. M. Healy, a man whose boast it has been to be usually in a minority of one.
Lord McDonnell, formerly Sir A. P. McDonnell, is a man of about the same age as Mr. W. M. Murphy; both had a slight advantage in years over the two other notable septuagenarians of the Convention, Lord Dunraven and the Rev. Dr. Mahaffy. Successful in a very different walk of life he had, like Mr Murphy, started life in a Nationalist environment, being the brother of Dr. Mark MacDonnell, once an Irish M.P. Mr. T. P. O’Connor had been his school-fellow in Gal way fifty years ago. Then came a long career in India, ending with the Governorship of Bengal. His appointment as Under-Secretary for Ireland in 1902 created extraordinary interest. It was at the time when a Conservative Government of Great Britain was making an effort to deal with Irish nationalism on conciliatory lines, particularly in regard to the land question; and the appointment of a Catholic with Nationalist associations to the most important post in Dublin Castle seemed to betoken revolutionary changes. Lord MacDonnell may not then have been the strong Home Ruler he afterwards became; but certainly he had little in common with that section of the Irish Unionists which regarded every Conservative Government as the servant of its desires. Mr. William O’Brien, in his Olive Branch in Irish History, gives a pen portrait of the Indian Administrator as he appeared at that time. “He . . . somehow suggested a resemblance to an Indian curry such as they serve in all the pride of its four courses at the Goljaas Hotel in Columbo to wayfarers from the mail-boats—a dish of startling richness and variety, but of a distinctly peppery flavour. The only part of the stooped and meagre figure to attract the attention was the head—the head with, perhaps, the provoking note of interrogation of the eyeglass. It was in every sense of the term a tete carree, such as it would seem nothing less penetrating than a bullet could move from its base; the head of a Bismarck, but of a Bismarck whose heart was softer than his head.”
When the Land Conference had achieved, or largely achieved, its purpose, a movement was started among the reforming Irish landowners with the object of introducing certain changes in the Irish Government in the sense of self-government. This was what was called Devolution. To this movement the Conservative Cabinet adopted, at first, a benevolent attitude; but, presently, the extremer Unionists in Ireland actively revolted against the Wyndham-MacDonnell regime. When the Irish Parliamentary Party, too, refused to continue the Land Conference truce, the end was near at hand. The position of Under-Secretary in itself meant nothing to Lord MacDonnell, except in so far as it would enable him to be the initiator of experiments in reform. Things fell back upon the old party lines, and Lord MacDonnell, therefore, left Ireland and took a seat upon the Indian Council. He remained, however, a close student of Irish affairs, and he dealt authoritatively with the Home Rule Bill of 1912 both in his speeches and writings. He had clearly become a convert to Home Rule in its fullest sense of fiscal autonomy, and Nationalists were satisfied at his recall to Ireland to act upon the Convention.
The stated purpose for which the Convention had been summoned was the making of an Irish Constitution. There were, however, not many members of it who either had a knowledge of constitutional history or constitutional forms or were men of practical experience in administration. Lord MacDonnell combined both qualifications. So did Sir Francis Hopwood, the English Secretary (who became Lord Southborough in 1917); he had held many important British appointments, among others that of Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, when he promoted the South African settlement. Two Anglo-Irish Peers, the Earl of Desart, who had been a member of the British Court of Arbitration at the Hague, and the Earl of Granard, Postmaster-General in a former Liberal Government, were men with experience in affairs. Lord Dunraven, the Bishop of Ross and Sir Horace Plunkett had a close acquaintance with the technical side of the Home Rule question.
Among the declared Nationalists at the Convention, Mr. George Russell, Mr. Edward E. Lysaght and Captain Stephen Gwynn contributed the largest share of constructive proposals. Mr. Lysaght, the youngest member of the Convention, and one of the most versatile—a large farmer in County Clare and an author—represented what might be described as the extreme left of the Nationalist movement. Of English education, he had become an ardent Gaelic Leaguer, and knew more about the feelings and aspirations of the young and serious-minded Irish democracy than any other member of the Convention, with the possible exception of Mr. George Russell. In accepting the Government’s invitation, however, Mr. Lysaght made it clear that he did not in any sense pretend to represent either the Gaelic League or Sinn Fein movements. Mr. Stephen Gwynn, another Oxford man, the son of a Fellow of Trinity College and the grandson of the rebel Smith O’Brien, combined in himself many of the conflicting tendencies of Irish sentiment. He had been brought up as an Irish Unionist; his early career was that of a successful journalist and literary critic in London. Subsequently the Irish literary movement attracted his attention, and the ideas of the Gaelic League found in him one of their most cultivated adherents. He had even leanings towards Sinn Fein, though deprecating the anti-English side of Mr. Arthur Griffith’s programme. In 1906 he joined Mr. Redmond’s party as member for Galway after an exciting contest. He wrote many books on Irish topics, To-day and To-Morrow in Ireland, The Fair Hills of Ireland, and the Famous Cities of Ireland, and an Irish Novel, John Maxwell’s Marriage. When the war broke out, he appeared as one of the most determined supporters of Mr. Redmond’s point of view, and, though already past fifty, he volunteered for the British Army and served in France.
The Convention, as finally constituted, consisted of the following ninety-five members (in alphabetical order):—Government Nominees (15) —Councillor Patrick Dempsey (Belfast), the Earl of Desart, the Earl of Dunraven, Sir William Goulding, the Earl of Granard, E. E. Lysaght, Sir Crawford McCullagh, Lord MacDonnell, Sir A. McDowell, Dr. Mahafty, William M. Murphy, Sir Horace Plunkett, George Russell, Sir William Whitla, Sir Bertram Windle. Other delegates (80). —The Duke of Abercorn, Tyrone Co. Council; R. N. Anderson, Mayor of Deny; E. H. Andrews, Dublin Chamber of Commerce; H. B. Armstrong, Armagh Co. Council; H. T. Barrie, M.P., Ulster Party; M. K. Barry, Cork Co. Council; Dr. Bernard, Archbishop of Dublin; Sir Henry Blake, Southern Unionist; J. Bolger, Wexford Co. Council; W. Brodrick (Jun.), Youghal U.D.C.; J. Butler, Kilkenny Co. Council; T. C. Butterfield, Lord Mayor of Cork; J Byrne, Queen’s County Co. Council; J. J. Clancy, M.P, Irish Party; Sir G. S. Clark, Ulster Party; Colonel J. J. Clarke, Kerry Co. Council; J. J. Coen, Westmeath Co. Council; D. Condren, Wicklow Co. Council; Colonel R. G. S. Crawford, M.P., Down Co. Council; Dr. Crozier, Primate of All Ireland; J. Devlin, M.P., Irish Party; J. Dooly, King’s County Co. Council; Captain W. A. Doran, Louth Co. Council; T. Duggan, Tipperary (North Riding) Co. Council; J. Dunleavy, Donegal Co. Council; T. Fallon, Leitrim Co. Council; John FitzGibbon, M.P., Roscommon Co. Council; J. Flanagan, Ballina U.D.C.; H. Garahan, Longford Co. Council; M. Governey, Carlow U.D.C.; W. Gubbins, Limerick Co. Council; Captain Stephen Gwynn, M.P., Irish Party; T. Halligan, Meath Co. Council; J. Hanna, Labour (Shipyards); T. J. Harbison, Irish Party; Dr. Harty, Archbishop of Cashel; Dr. John Irwin, Moderator; J. Johnston, Lord Mayor of Belfast; Andrew Jameson, Southern Unionist; W. Kavanagh, Carlow Co. Council; Dr. Kelly, Bishop of Ross; J. K. Kett, Clare Co. Council; M. E. Knight, Ulster Party; the Marquis of Londonderry, Ulster Party; T. Lundon, M.P., Labour (Land and Labour Association); J. S. F. McCance, Antrim Co. Council; Alderman J. McCarron, Labour (Derry); M. McDonagh, Galway U.D.C; J. McDonnell, Galway Co. Council; J. McGarry, Mayo Co. Council; H. G. McGeagh, Lurgan U.D.C; J. McHugb, Fermanagh Co. Council; C McKay, Labour (Shipbuilding and Engineering Trades’ Federation); J. McMeekan, Bangor U.D.C.; A. R. McMullen, Chamber of Commerce and Shipping, Cork; Dr. McEory, Bishop of Down; the Earl of Mayo, Irish Peer; Viscount Midleton, Southern Unionist; M. J. Minch, Kildare Co. Council; J. Murphy, Labour (National Union of Railwaymen); Dr.O’Donnell, Bishop of Raphoe; J. O’Dowd, M.P., Sligo Co. Council; C. P. O’Neill, Pembroke U.D.C.; L. O’Neill, Lord Mayor of Dublin; P. J. O’Neill, Dublin Co. Council; Lord Oranmore and Browne, Irish Peer; Dr. O’Sullivan, Mayor of Waterford; P. Peters, Mayor of Clonmel; H. M. Pollock, Belfast Chamber of Commerce; J. B. Powell, Southern Unionist; T. Power, Waterford ‘Co. Council; Stephen Quinn, Mayor of Limerick; John Redmond, M.P., Irish Party; D. Reilly, Cavan Co. Council; M. Slattery, Tipperary (S. Riding) Co. Council; C. Stewart, Southern Unionist; T. Toal, Monaghan Co. Council; Colonel R. H. Wallace (Ulster Party); R. Waugh, Labour (Belfast and District Building Trades’ Federation); H. T. Whiteley, Labour (Belfast and District Trades’ Council).
Immediately before the assembly of the Convention an addition was made to the Defence of the Realm Regulations declaring it to be unlawful for anyone to violate the secrecy of its proceedings. *The prohibition covered both printed publication and public speaking, and forbade any report or statement which described or purported to describe its proceedings, or referred to them, except reports or statements officially authorised by the Chairman. It was generally recognised by the friends of the Convention that this prohibition was necessary if its work was not to be hampered, perhaps fatally, by public debate on its proceedings, though on the other hand the secrecy involved a certain atrophy of political thought in Ireland which gave larger scope to the Sinn Fein propaganda. The situation was in some respects anomalous. The members of the Convention were not themselves bound to secrecy. A relatively large number of people in Ireland were kept informed of its progress from day to day, and a still larger number gathered a general idea of the course of events within the Convention. In these circumstances it was inevitable that rumours sometimes misleading, or even altogether erroneous, should get abroad. The Irish Press in general, however, loyally observed the regulations during the earlier stages of the Convention, though later’ it was more honoured in the breach than in the observance, at least in spirit if not in actual fact, in such a manner as to involve a legal offence.
It is not the intention of this book to invade the secrecy of the processes by which the Convention reached its conclusion. The inner history of the Convention will doubtless be written in suitable time by more competent hands. All that will be attempted here is a record of its proceedings so far as these were officially made public, and in so far as they were revealed at the time by other published indications. The Convention, as was mentioned at the close of our first chapter, held its first meeting in Dublin on July 25th. Mr. Duke presided at this session, and after his opening address and the appointment of Sir Francis Hopwood as Secretary, a, committee was appointed to advise the Convention on the selection of a suitable Chairman. It unanimously recommended the appointment of Sir Horace Plunkett, and this recommendation was unanimously adopted. Sir Horace Plunkett then formally took the Chair, and the first day’s proceedings terminated with votes of thanks to the Provost and Fellows of Trinity College, and to the Chief Secretary. Large crowds assembled in College Green to witness the first gathering of the Convention. A small group made a hostile demonstration’against Mr. Redmond on his departure. Afterwards little public interest in the meetings was displayed. On the following day, July 26th, considerable discussion took place as to the arrangements for the transaction of business. A Preliminary Procedure Committee was appointed to submit proposals to the Convention. It was agreed that the Convention should adjourn until August 8th to enable the Chairman, in conjunction with the Secretariat, to prepare and circulate to members the material necessary to enable the Convention to proceed with its task. The Preliminary Procedure Committee then held its first meeting, and Sir Francis Hopwood was asked to submit to it information with regard to the procedure adopted by the South African Convention. The Committee met again on July 31st, under the Chairmanship of Dr. Crozier, and drafted Standing Orders to regulate the proceedings of the Convention, modelled on the general lines of those of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland. After final revision these Standing Orders were circulated to the members of the Convention.
At the next meeting of the Convention, on August 8th, after their adoption, the Chairman, having described the steps taken by the Secretariat to establish an information bureau, referred to the various schemes for the government of Ireland already in existence, and suggested a procedure by which they might at once be sifted, thoroughly examined, and subsequently brought before the Convention for discussion. Finally it was proposed by the Chairman, seconded by the Bishop of Raphoe, and unanimously resolved “that a Standing Committee of not more than twenty members (five to form a quorum) be appointed to consult with the Chairman as to the procedure to be adopted by the Convention, and to exercise such powers as may from time to time be delegated to it by the Convention.” On the motion of the Archbishop of Armagh, seconded by the Archbishop of Cashel, the same committee which had previously advised on the choice of a Chairman was appointed to advise on the choice of this Standing or Grand Committee—the second name was subsequently adopted. At the third meeting of the Convention, on August 9th, the appointment was recommended and ratified of the following membership of the Grand Committee, upon which the main work of the Convention should subsequently devolve:—R. N. Anderson (Mayor of Derry); H. T. Barrie, M.P.; T. C. Butterfield (Lord Mayor of Cork); the Archbishop of Cashel, J. Devlin, M.P.; the Archbishop of Dublin; Captain Stephen Gwynn, M.P.; T. J. Harbison, J. Johnston (Lord Mayor of Belfast); E. E. Lysaght, Alderman J. McCarron, A. McDowell, Lord MacDonnell, Viscount Midleton, W. M. Murphy, L. O’Neill (Lord Mayor of Dublin); P. J. O’Neill (Chairman, Dublin Co. Council); H. M. Pollock, G. F. Stewart, A. R. Waugh. This Grand Committee was empowered from time to time to report what further committees it was necessary to appoint.
The Convention then decided, in order to enter upon its principal task through a preliminary examination of “such proposals for the government of Ireland as have clear merit and some measure of support in Irish public opinion,” that the Secretariat should present such schemes to the Grand Committee in a form suitable for discussion. These were then to be circulated among the members together with all documents, historical, statistical, and constitutional, needed to assist them in the debate in full Convention. As this procedure involved ipiuch detailed work it was necessary to adjourn the Convention until August 21st. Before the adjournment it was decided to accept an invitation from the Lord Mayor of Belfast that the Convention should visit Belfast, and it was agreed that the first series of meetings in September should be held in that city. A similar invitation from Cork was also cordially accepted. The Grand Committee then proceeded forthwith to make arrangements for the preparation and examination of draft schemes which might be made applicable to the future government of Ireland, and decided upon the discussion of “schemes of the Dominion type” at the next meeting of the Convention. At this meeting, on August 21st, and those on August 22nd and 23rd, the Convention entered upon and continued “the consideration of certain draft schemes based upon the Dominion principle of self-government.”
These meetings were felt to mark a fresh and important phase of the deliberations. Nothing further occurred, however, to stimulate public interest. It had now become the regular procedure for the Convention to meet on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of every week. It met accordingly on August 28th, 29th, and 30th in Dublin, and on September 4th, 5th and 6th in the City Hall, Belfast, and every meeting was followed by the publication of the same formula. The members of the Convention were hospitably received in Belfast, where, in the course of a public speech, Sir Horace Plunkett said that already it was abundantly clear that every member had come to the Convention with the earnest desire of developing not Irish differences, but Irish agreements, and he thought that already some of them felt very hopeful of their task. The only jarring note during their visit to Belfast was struck by the Northern Whig, which descanted on the futility of discussing schemes of self-government which were destined to be committed to the waste-paper basket. Some significance was attached to this demonstration, in view of the fact that the Northern Whig was understood to be closely in touch with a certain section of the Ulster Unionist Council. The Convention then returned to Dublin, and at its next two meetings, on September llth and 12th, issued the same formula.
At the meeting on September 13th, however, the formula was varied. It was announced that “further schemes, in addition to those previously under discussion, were introduced and considered”—an announcement which gave rise to the impression that no basis of settlement could be reached ” upon the Dominion principle of self-government.” The sittings of September 18th, 19th and 20th produced no more than the formula that “the discussion on proposals for the future government of Ireland was continued.” The first sitting in Cork, at the Crawford Technical Institute, on September 25th, was marked by a notable speech at a public luncheon by the Chairman, who sounded a note, in his own phrase, of “justifiable optimism,” and announced that an important stage of the deliberations had been passed and the Convention was moving on to the next. At this sitting a motion was adopted that on the conclusion of the debate at the present sitting of the Convention—on September 26th and 27th—the various schemes which have been submitted to, and discussed in, the Convention, be referred to the Grand Committee, in order, if profitable, to prepare a scheme for submission to the Convention, which would meet the views and difficulties expressed by the different speakers during the debate.” On September 27th, therefore, the Convention stood adjourned until the Grand Committee should be in a position to report.
During a period of nearly three months the Grand Committee met from time to time, issuing no reports beyond the fact of its meetings, and the appointment of some sub-committees, of which the most important was that established to consider the completion of Land Purchase. It was not until December 18th that the full Convention was summoned to receive a statement of the work done by the Grand Committee. The Convention continued the debate on the statement during the two following days, and then adjourned over Christmas until January 2nd. It was by now apparent that it had reached a crisis in its affairs.
During the Christmas adjournment Sir Horace Plunkett made a brief reference to the Convention in his speech on December 21st at the annual meeting of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society.
“We are making progress,” he said. “We have agreed on many things. There are some things on which we have not agreed. I cannot tell you yet that we will be able to present a unanimous report; but I can tell you that, at the end of our deliberations, we shall leave the Irish question better than we found it, because we shall have agreed on many things, and those who have to complete the task which we may have left unfinished will find that they have a much simpler work to do than we had.” After mentioning that the work done by the sub-committee on Land Purchase was very likely to produce a solution that the country would approve, Sir Horace Plunkett added:—”It is perfectly true that we have been often on the rocks, and probably shall be on the rocks again; but there are always tugs lying by ready to pull us off. We will get off somehow, and I myself am very hopeful of the ultimate result.”
The meetings of the Convention in January, after tne Christmas adjournment, however, provided no immediate justification of the Chairman’s optimism. The meeting on January 2nd was preceded by meetings of the Irish Peers and of the Irish Unionist Alliance. It was now known that Viscount Midleton, on behalf of the Southern Unionists, had proposed the adoption of a compromise which fell far short of Dominion self-government. While securing large concessions to the Unionist minority, it contemplated the reservation of control over Customs, as well as complete naval and military control, to the Imperial Parliament, in which a reduced Irish membership was to be retained. During the first group of meetings after the Christmas recess—January 2nd, 3rd and 4th—the Irish Independent—Mr. W. M. Murphy’s newspaper—published a strongly worded protest against any settlement which did not give the Irish Parliament complete control over Customs and Excise. “We assert,” it said, “that any scheme of Home Rule which does not concede full fiscal powers will not for one moment be entertained by the country. It will be rejected and scouted with derision.” The meetings of the Convention on January 8th, 9th and 10th, it was common knowledge, had resulted in absolute deadlock, and those on the 15th, 16th and 17th provided no solution of it. The position, it was understood, was that the Nationalists were not prepared to reduce the claim to Dominion powers and agree to the Midleton compromise while the Ulster Unionists had not defined their attitude, and while there was no assurance that in the event of their finally refusing to agree to that compromise, the Government would enforce it if it were embodied in a majority report.
This public impression of the situation which had developed was confirmed when, immediately before the next meeting of the Convention on January 22nd, it was announced that Mr. Lysaght, one of the nominated members, had addressed a letter to the Prime Minister resigning his position. Mr Lysaght, as has been mentioned, represented the extreme left wing of the Nationalists on the Convention. In a letter to the Press explaining his resignation he wrote that the Irish people as a whole could be expected to agree to no settlement) “which does not provide for an Irish Parliament with complete powers over all Irish affairs, and free from outside interference of any kind. Such a Parliament must be democratically elected, and minority safeguards must not prevent it from expressing the will of the Irish people as a whole. The provisions of the Constitution should include :—(1) Fiscal autonomy—i.e., complete control of all taxation, including Customs and Excise. (2) Control of trade policy, with powers similar to those enjoyed by the Dominions of Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in respect of making commercial treaties. (3) Power to raise and control forces for home defence, and powers similar to those enjoyed by the above Dominions as regards naval forces. (4) No representation at Westminster.” Mr. Lysaght went on to say that he believed it so desirable to avoid the coercion of any body of Irishmen that he had been, and remained, ready to agree to concessions on the following lines in order to induce Irish Unionists to co-operate in self-government:—(1) Special arrangements for a limited period, say ten years, by which minority interests would be represented out of proportion to their numbers. (2) By Constitutional safeguards to ensure religious equality. (3) The reservation, for a period, of the control of naval and military forces to the Imperial Parliament, provided that the Irish Parliament had power to raise and control Volunteer forces for service in Ireland only, and that conscription could not be imposed on Ireland without the consent of the Irish Parliament. (4) The recognition of the principle of an Imperial contribution by the assumption of the responsibility for the full cost of home defence, and the completion of Land Purchase by the Irish Parliament. (The general principle which Mr. Lysaght denned in this connection was that of ” no doles from England and no tribute from Ireland.”) (5) A Free Trade Treaty between Ireland and Great Britain, attached to the Constitution, and binding both countries for a term of years, always provided that Irish control of trade in all other matters was not impaired.
“The object of the Convention,” Mr. Lysaght proceeded, “was to find some such means to induce Irish Unionists, and especially Ulster Unionists, to agree voluntarily to a Constitution which would be acceptable to the majority of the Irish people. Without the prospect of such agreement and without an immediate assurance from the Government, that a majority report, however constituted, will be acted on without delay, continued discussions in the Convention seem to me to be useless. If Mr. Lloyd George’s speech of January 5th, in which he outlined British war-aims, means anything, it certainly commits the British Government to the principle of self-determination, and the right of Ireland to determine her form of government can no longer be disputed. There is, I believe, grave danger of Ireland’s case being grossly misrepresented in the eyes of the world, who may be led to believe that the setting up of an unrepresentative Convention of Irishmen (hampered by the pledge which Ulster Unionists have from the Government) is a fair and proper application of the principle of self-determination to Ireland. Every country to which the principle of self-determination is to be applied has within its borders a minority opposed to its national freedom. Is Ireland alone to be dominated by that minority, which, it must be remembered, has been offered in Ireland concessions and safeguards unprecedented in any democratic country in the world? There is even greater danger, in my judgment, of its continued existence in protracted silence, being utilised to postpone the question of Ireland’s future status, which is now a question of international importance. The time has surely come for the Government to prove to the Irish people that the fullest self-government is not only possible, but certain, for nationalities within the bounds of the British Empire; otherwise they need not be surprised if an increasing number of Irishmen refuse to accept anything short of complete separation.”
Mr. Lysaght’s resignation from the Irish Convention was immediately followed by that of Sir Edward Carson from the War Cabinet. His letter of resignation to the Prime Minister explained his reasons for this step. After recalling that he had used his influence to induce his friends in Ulster to take part in the Convention, but had himself been debarred from taking part in its proceedings by his dual position as a member of the Government and as leader of the Ulster Party, Sir Edward Carson said that ” it is apparent that, whatever the result of the Convention may be, its proceedings may lead to a situation demanding a decision by the Government on grave matters of policy in Ireland.”
He felt certain that it would be of advantage to the War Cabinet to discuss this policy without his presence, “having regard to the very prominent part which I have taken in the past in relation to the Home Rule controversy and the pledges by which I am bound to my friends in Ulster.” He added that he desired to be entirely unfetterd himself in forming a judgment as to the new situation which might arise, “taking account both of the supreme duty which rests on all of us of assisting in the prosecution of the war, and of my personal obligations as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.”
Mr. Lloyd George, in accepting his resignation with regret, expressed his assurance that Sir Edward Carson was resigning “in no partisan spirit, for ever since the war began you have placed victory for your country above all sectional prejudice or advantage.” Public speculation in Ireland as to the use which Sir Edward Carson would make of his liberty of action was not immediately gratified. In his series of speeches during his visit to Ulster after his resignation he baffled curiosity by laying carefully equal stress on the importance of an Irish settlement and on the security of the Government’s pledge that there should be no coercion of Unionist Ulster. He was clearly adopting a waiting attitude until the Government had defined its policy.
Sir Edward Carson’s resignation was at once interpreted as meaning that the Government had decided upon some sort of intervention in the affairs of the Convention. This expectation was quickly realised. The Convention had resumed its sittings on January 22nd, the date when Sir Edward Carson’s resignation was announced. On the morrow The Times published a remarkable dispatch from its Washington correspondent. The correspondent asserted that disquieting reports reaching America of the prospects of the Irish Convention had created a profound uneasiness, which was causing great anxiety in official circles. “America,” he said, “regards the question as one in which the whole civilised world is most deeply interested. Although there is no desire on the part either of President Wilson or the American people to interfere in the slightest degree with the manner of solution, the principles at stake a;re so vital that the most disastrous consequences would inevitably follow the collapse of the Irish Convention and the failure of the British Government to apply to Ireland principles which both Mr. Lloyd George and President Wilson have declared essential to the future happiness of mankind. Among the mass of the American people, it is true, there has been a widespread feeling that the Irish Convention was hand-picked, but the general belief is that whatever the majority decides will be ratified by the Irish people. Should these hopes be dashed, no power on earth can prevent an immediate outburst of feeling here, which will not only very greatly hamper President Wilson, but will have a direct effect upon America’s participation in the war. The splendid result of Mr. Balfour’s visit to the United States would be wiped out overnight, and distrust of Great Britain would take the place of the confidence now happily existing. There are at present several resolutions bearing upon the Irish question dormant in Congress, and political conditions in the United States make it certain that action will be taken by Congress should the Convention collapse and the British Government fail to meet the resulting situation. . . . Even in official circles a strong feeling exists that, in the event of a collapse of the Irish Convention, the British Government must be prepared to accept the decisions of the majority, and to enforce them upon the minority. This is based on the belief that the majority of the Irish people have been obliged in the past to live under a system of government not desired by the majority, and acceptable only to the minority of the inhabitants, and that now the least the British Government can do is to give Ireland, as a whole, the kind of government desired by the majority, even though it may be repugnant to the minority, as they realise that absolute political unanimity is impossible. Americans can no more conceive of Ulster being allowed to separate herself from the rest of Ireland than they could conceive of allowing South Carolina to secede from the Union. To admit it is to admit the right of Ireland to secede as a whole from the British Empire.”
The validity of this interpretation of the American attitude was fiercely disputed by Ulster Unionists. President Wilson’s undoubted anxiety for an Irish settlement, however, must be presumed to have been not the least of the influences which decided the Government to intervene in the Convention deadlock. On January 24th, the day after the publication of The Times’s Washington dispatch, Sir Horace Plunkett read to the Convention a letter from the Prime Minister stating that “before a decision was come to by the Convention on certain issues under discussion,” he and his colleagues in the Cabinet would be happy to confer with leading members representing different sections of the Convention, should they desire to follow such a course. It was therefore decided to adjourn the Convention, and certain members were selected to meet the Prime Minister and his colleagues. The Chairman was authorised to arrange the conference for the earliest possible date, and immediately thereafter to summon the Convention. Owing to the Prime Minister’s engagements he did not meet the Convention representatives until the second week in February, when he began to confer with the delegates of the various parties separately. Sir Edward Carson, who had returned to London, was at the same time in touch with Mr. Lloyd George.
In the period between the adjournment of the Convention and the meetings in London three suggestive things occurred. In the first place, Mr. Devlin interpreted the Parliamentary Party’s victory in South Armagh in these terms:—”I take the verdict of South Armagh to represent the feelings of Nationalist Ulster in relation to the present political situation in Ireland. If that verdict means anything, it means that there must be conceded to this country a measure of the widest form of self-government. South Armagh demands such a measure of liberty for Ireland as is enjoyed by Canada, Australia and South Africa. If the Government is not prepared to hearken to the voice of the rational-minded people of Ireland as reflected in the decisive result of this election, then it must be prepared to see this country handed over to the forces of extremism and disruption. I go so far as to say that the message of the electors of South Armagh embodies a dual lesson. It conveys a message of good-will to the Convention, on the one hand, and a warning, on the other hand, that the question of Irish self-government must be settled at once on the broadest and most generous lines.” Following this speech of Mr. Devlin’s the Nationalist Press, official as well as independent, urged the demand for Dominion self-government. In the next place, Mr. George Russell (“AE”), known to be one of the foremost advocates of that solution, who had been selected as one of the delegates to the London Conference, followed Mr. Lysaght’s example and resigned from the Convention on the eve of the delegates’ departure. Finally, there was to be observed a certain tentative canvassing in a section of the London Press of the possibility of reviving the completely discredited scheme of partition.
During the suspension of the Convention’s sittings, while the delegation from it was absent in London, the situation in Ireland was not wanting in elements of interest and even of excitement. On February 14th, in a letter to the Freeman’s Journal, Mr. Dillon made a tentative overture to Sinn Fein, hinting at a possibility of common action in the event of an abortive issue to the Convention. In the course of his letter he asserted his belief that an Irish Republic would not be practical politics within the life-time of himself or Mr. de Valera. At the same time he declared that “I am and always have been of opinion that, if the Irish question is not satisfactorily settled before the conclusion of the war, an effort ought to be made, and must be made, to get a hearing for the Irish question at the Peace Conference.” Apart from the demand for an independent Republic, which he said was becoming more and more a purely academic question, Mr. Dillon suggested that the only difference between the Nationalist Party and Sinn Fein was that the former “consider it far preferable, if possible, that a settlement by agreement with the British people should be made now or before the conclusion of the war, rather than that we should be forced to appeal to the Peace Conference.” Without developing the hint of a possible scheme of co-operation, Mr. Dillon went on to propose a truce. He asked was it necessary for the purposes of the Sinn Fein movement that each by-election should be made a battlefield, “to the manifest weakening of every movement having for its object the winning of Irish freedom.” He proposed that Sinn Fein should carry on without fighting by-elections, and that when the General Election came, if the Irish question was still unsettled, and it was still of the same mind, it should then challenge once for all the verdict of the new electors and let Ireland decide who was to speak in her name. In the anticipated event of this proposal being rejected by Sinn Fein, he suggested at least an agreement whereby neither party should bring into a contested constituency more than a limited number of outsiders, confined to speakers and election agents, so as to leave the people of the constituency free from outside pressure to record their verdict, and “mitigate the scandals which have marked recent elections.” Finally, Mr. Dillon addressed this further question to Mr. de Valera: “Does he, or does he not, approve of the Mansion House meeting held last week in Dublin? Does he agree with the speaker at that meeting who declared that, in his judgment, the liberty won by the Bolsheviks in Russia is the only complete liberty ever enjoyed by any people in history, and that it is the kind of liberty that the Irish people are determined to have and are prepared to fight for?”
To these questions Mr. de Valera returned no immediate reply. The last of the questions addressed to him by Mr. Dillon referred to a crowded meeting in the Dublin Mansion House which was addressed by some Russian Bolsheviks, who were given an enthusiastic reception by the Irish Labour Party and the labour wing of Sinn Fein. The policy of the Bolsheviks had at this time brought them into extreme disfavour with the bourgeois parties of Ireland as of every other country. This meeting was rigidly boycotted by orthodox members of the Sinn Fein party. It was chiefly remarkable as illustrating the hold which the extreme doctrines of the “class-war” had established over the imagination of the working classes of the Irish towns. The theory of James Connolly and the Bolshevik theory had, of course, much in common. The bourgeois Press, Nationalist as well as Unionist, however, lost no opportunity of seeking to implicate Sinn Fein in “Bolshevism”—a term which it applied to the development in the month of February of manifestations of “anarchy,” though these were confined to rural districts, while “Bolshevism,” in any serious meaning of the word, was wholly applicable to the towns.
The unrest which rapidly developed in this month centred in Clare, a county always peculiarly subject to agrarian disturbance, and spread thence to the adjacent counties. Extensive and frequent raiding for arms was followed by the organisation of cattle-drives, and the seizure of land for tillage on a large scale. These drives and seizures were carried out under the auspices of the local Sinn Fein clubs “in the name of the Irish Republic,” and in defiance of the police, who were compelled to adopt the role of impotent spectators in the majority of cases. In some, however, collisions occurred between the people and the police. The successful challenge of the political and agrarian movement to authority began inevitably to encourage ordinary crime in the form of the satisfaction of private vendettas, and, in one or two cases, of serious highway robberies. The Standing Committee of Sinn Fein addressed a circular to the local executives in which it said that, while most of the cattle-drives were no doubt justifiable, some of them appeared to be unjust and, undertaken without due regard to the circumstances, and appealed for discretion in these and other matters lest the cause of the Irish Republic should be brought into disrepute. A correspondent of the New York World, after spending ten days in the West of Ireland, thus described the situation: “The meaning of the news is not that the rural districts of the West are seething with violent crime. Comparatively little of what is happening could fairly be brought within that term. What has happened is that the population of County Clare and of wide areas of the adjacent counties have simply ceased to recognise the law. There is no longer even a pretence of general respect for authority. All Government regulations are openly flouted. The police are mocked at and the magistrates ridiculed with impunity. … In all this there seems to be little bitterness or hatred, but much contempt—the contempt of an acute, witty and vain people for what they choose to regard as the dull blundering of a set of stupid outsiders. … In this scornful fashion Western Ireland is drifting to the rapids of anarchy. While the Government thus finds itself in a state of dissolution, the background of all Irish minds that are able to view events clearly is shadowed by the spectre of an ultimate ‘settlement’ under Martial Law in the West.” Manifestations of this movement were not confined to the West.
In County Dublin, for example, an aerodrome was raided at night by a masked band of cyclist, who carried away plans and instruments. A number of young men were arrested in Dublin on charges of conspiring to blow up railway bridges. On February 22nd the Dublin Press announced that ” Bolshevism has invaded Dublin.” On the previous afternoon a drove of pigs on their way through the streets to the port for export had been stopped, seized and slaughtered to the number of thirty-four. The Sinn Fein Food Committee, which by this time had extended its organisation into almost every parish in Ireland, announced that it took full responsibility for this action, and that no more Irish swine must cross the Channel until the Irish bacon factories had enough supplies to meet the needs of the Irish people. This affair of the pigs—” thirty-four good friends of England butchered in the streets of Dublin,” as the Morning Post put it with mordant humour— apparently moved the Chief Secretary to action.
Mr. Duke hurriedly cancelled his engagements in London and crossed to Dublin on February 23rd. It was at once evident that the Executive had decided upon a new policy. Its first step was to attempt to defeat the “hunger-strike.” In recent weeks persons convicted for political offences had resorted in ever-increasing numbers to this device—an example which Ordinary prisoners tended to follow—and the Executive, doubtless with a vivid memory of the storm which followed the death of Ashe, had permitted the device to become an almost infallible means of jail delivery. Mr. Duke, in a letter to the Lord Mayor of Cork, now announced that “under the circumstances now existing, physical disability, due to wilful and systematic refusal of food, ought not to be regarded as ground for discharge.” At the same time the aid of Catholic doctrine on the subject of self-extinction was invoked in support of the civil law. In a public letter dealing with cattle-driving, the Chief Secretary wrote that he was “not surprised that at this period, when, as I believe, there is sound reason to anticipate fruitful results from the labours of the Irish Convention, there should be renewed and systematic endeavours to disturb and alarm the people of Ireland. The object of such transactions is too obvious for any disguise.”
Mr. Dillon, however, in his speeches saw in the recent attitude of the Executive once more the working of the “hidden hand.” As the last of a series of sinister symptoms he instanced the appointment as Chief of the Imperial General Staff of Sir Henry Wilson, “one of the chief military advisers of Sir Edward Carson in getting up the Ulster rebellion.” Mr. Dillon suggested that the country was being deliberately allowed, or even invited, to drift into anarchy in order to justify a policy of coming forward and saying, “the country is not fit for Home Rule, and the first thing to do is to restore order.” On February 27th a Communique was issued by the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief in Ireland announcing that “the outbreak of lawlessness which has occurred in County Clare rendered it necessary on Sunday (February 24th) to send additional troops into the county to assist the police.” The county was declared a special military area under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, and powers were thereby conferred on a military commandant to be “enforced so long as is necessary for the restoration of order.” The County of Clare was thence forward administered by Brigadier-General Burnett under a severe regime of Martial Law.
These were the circumstances in which the Convention reassembled in Dublin on February 26th. The visit of its delegation to London appeared to have produced no very solid results. It was unfortunate in its occasion, for Mr. Lloyd George had been immersed in the Versailles Council and in the “crisis” which followed over the dismissal of Sir William Robertson, and had little opportunity to give the tangled affairs of the Convention the study which they required. The delegates brought back to DuDlm little beyond an impression of the capital importance which the Cabinet attached to an Irish settlement. At the first of the resumed meetings of the Convention the Chairman, who had stayed in London after the rest of the delegates, presented to the Convention a report on the results of the delegation to the Cabinet. The report indicated the Government’s intention, in the event of the Convention’s failure to agree, to resume responsibility for affecting a settlement; the Government’s ideas corresponding closely with those of Lord Midleton. The Government, however, had not committed itself to any abrogation of the standing pledge to Unionist Ulster against coercion. An attempt was made, but defeated, to adjourn the sittings of the Convention as a protest against the state of Ireland. On February 27th the official communique contained only the statement that discussion on the report on the delegation to London was continued. On the following day it was announced that, on receiving a report from the Grand Committee, the Convention had appointed a sub-committee to consider the question of housing in urban areas, and that the Convention was adjourned until the following week to enable the sub-committee to hold its first meeting. The appointment of such a committee at this late stage of the Convention’s business was regarded with some suspicion by a large part of the Irish public. A saying attributed to Sir F. E. Smith in an American interview was recalled in this connection—that the best thing for Ireland was that the Convention should “keep on talking.”