Irish Backgrounds


IT is the business of a contemporary historian to describe events as he sees them. He may also, if he wishes, analyze the contributing causes that gave rise to those events; but it is a dangerous business. Subsequent historians will discard his analysis, — for it is the proper business of an historian to disagree with every other historian, — and will end by discarding his data in favor of supposititious facts that support their own theories. Generally, the contemporary historian is dead by the time this occurs, so it does not matter one way or the other.

To marshal in their proper perspective the events which go to form an historic episode — a war, a political crisis, an industrial upheaval — is not a difficult task for the trained observer. To explain how and why it all happened is another matter. There are one thousand and one contributory causes for each event. Some will be apparent to the philosopher, others to the politician, others to the soldier. The biologist, the moralist, the financier, and the sentimentalist will take, each, a different view of the matter. The historian who combined all these and a good many other rôles would make an ideal chronicler — but his chronicle would never get written.

In the Annals of the Four Masters it is stated that, in the year of the world 3330 — that is, about 2000 B.C. — the Danaans arrived in Ireland and subj ugated the Firbolg. Queen Taltiu, in whose honor the Tailteann games were founded by her foster-son, was the wife of Mac Erk, the last Firbolg king. The Danaans were the Kelts. They had the knowledge of working in metals and of the arts, and came to Ireland in search of gold. The Firbolg were a neolithic race — wielders of flint-axe and bone-needle — which found its way into Ireland from t he Iberian Peninsula, and dispossessed the Formorians, or palæolithic aborigines.

At a much later date came a second invasion of Kelts, the Milesians, who arrived in Ireland via southwest Europe. The Kelt was an aristocrat and an adventurer. He became the ‘upper crust’ of the Irish people, much as the Normans became the ‘upper crust’ in Saxon England. The Normans, however, were absorbed by the native population, which was as civilized as themselves. The Kelts hi Ireland were never absorbed by the Firbolg. The two races are as distinct to-day as they were in the time of Lugh of the Long Hand. The Kelt is still the aristocrat. The Firbolg is still the bagman, the slave. The Kelt was always an emigrant. If he could not be a boss at home, he went in search of a freeand-easy time elsewhere. The Irish Kelt provided useful mercenaries (the ‘kerns and gallowglasses’ of Macbeth) for both British and Scottish armies in the pre-Reformation days. In later days, he appeared as a brilliant soldier at all the courts of Europe (the ‘wild swans’ of contemporary sentimentalists). Finally, he emigrated in vast numbers to the United States, where he is to be found to-day following his accustomed rôle of boss in many walks of life. The educated Kelt had no need to emigrate to America. In the British army and the British administrative service, in India, China, Africa, British Guiana, wherever, in a word, there has been room for a determined administrator, the Irish Kelt, the world’s most successful autocrat, has been, and is still to be, found.

But the Kelt was an individualist. Organized coöperation was beyond him. So the Anglo-Saxon, his inferior individually, but a dominant race, came to Ireland and conquered it. The Kelt either remained an aristocrat by siding with the conquerors, or continued to fight them as occasion offered. Sometimes he did first one and then the other. Occasionally he contrived to do both at the same time. But his numbers dwindled. Incoming settlers — Normans, Huguenots, Cromwellians, French Catholic refugees from the Revolution, Scotch planters — were absorbed, and eked out the Keltic population; but foreign service and emigration continued to deplete the stock.

While the Keltic aristocrat was dwindling, the Firbolg increased. It did not fight, and it did not emigrate to any extent. But it remained the ‘masses’ par excellence of the Irish population. It had no mass consciousness of being the under dog, and it retained that position simply because it was incapable of doing better for itself. Dreamy, idle, superstitious, kindly, but capable of appalling savagery, devoid alike of ambition and of civic morality, the Firbolg remained, and is to-day, a mixture of child and savage.

Immediately prior to the War, the predominantly Keltic strain in Ireland was in the minority. But those who were left possessed everything worth possessing — the farms, the shops, the public houses, the Government jobs. Ireland outside Belfast was an Iberian pie, with an Anglo-Keltic crust. The latter rode to hounds, hunted, and fished, played politics and drank port wine. The former held the horses’ heads, poached, voted as they were told, drank porter, and hoped for the best. When the Keltic bosses told them to rebel, they rebelled. When they were told to keep quiet, they kept quiet. Porter, the Catholic Church, and the R. I. C. kept them in order; but poor as was their state they never really rose and struck a blow for themselves. There were agrarian revolts and Home Rule agitations, but nothing in the nature of a proletarian movement, until James Connolly and James Larkin came upon the scene.

It was merely an accident of history that in Ireland there was a racial as well as a class division between the ‘Have’s’ and the ‘Have not’s.’ Very few, indeed, knew that there was such a division, much less reckoned on its effects. The aspirations and the passions, the ignorances and the grievances, of the Irish masses were exactly the same as those of the masses elsewhere.

Connolly, who was the Communist pur sang, wished to arouse the Irish masses against their masters, the Capitalists. The Irish masses unconsciously preferred to rise against their masters, the Anglo-Kelts. Connolly wanted an industrial revolution. But the very factor — the war — which, owing chiefly to the stupidity of the British, enabled the Iberian revolutionaries, with the help of the Catholic Church,1 to snatch political power from the Anglo-Kelts (the Unionists and Nationalists), made a successful proletarian rising impossible by introducing high wages and universal employment.

In 1916, Connolly launched his rebellion, but, though Sinn Fein as an organization funked it, leaving the Citizens’ Army and the bold spirits gathered together by Patrick Pearse and the Anglophobe McBride and such theatrical self-advertisers as De Valera and Madame Markiewicz to peter out miserably in the Dublin Post Office, the thing was no sooner over than Liberty Hall discovered, to its disgust, that Sinn Fein had seized all the credit for the performance. It is estimated that, since Easter, 1916, something like thirtyone thousand Sinn Feiners have claimed to have participated in the Rebellion, mostly as occupants of the Post Office.


But time brings its revenges. In 1919, a more successful rebellion began to be waged. Liberty Hall sided with the Republican movement, but made it clear that, although it was prepared to take advantage of any rebellion, it had no intention of being identified with what it regarded as a Capitalist rebellion. But Liberty Hall largely misjudged the condition of affairs. The Sinn Fein rebellion was a Firbolg, and, therefore, however unconscious all parties concerned might be of the fact, a Bolshevist, rebellion. (One uses the word ‘Bolshevist,’ of course, in its wider significance, that is, of the man who is prepared to overturn society in order to get something for himself out of the wreckage.) The leaders, outside of the foreign adventurers, belonged either to the petty bourgeoisie, or to the proletariat. And, as the thing progressed, more and more of the lowest elements of the community began to seep up toward the surface. These men were doubtless the pick of the stratum of society from which they came.

But it was the lowest stratum. The educated classes did not figure in the movement at all. Michael Collins was a postal sorter, Arthur Griffith a compositor. Daniel Breen was a trackwalker, Harry Boland a bicycle repairer; Boland’s brother Jerry was serving a sentence for robbery at the time of the truce. De Valera’s father was a Maltese horse-boy and his mother in domestic service. Mulcahy was a medical student in the National University, Pierce Beasley a country reporter, Darrell Figgis a remittance man, Charles Burgess a drummer, McKeon a blacksmith. These provided the brains of the organization. The lesser leaders were farm laborers, grocers, curates, shop-boys, and the like.

A few half-educated national schoolteachers were active in the republican movement, and more would have been if the still less educated priests had been less energetic in the same direction. For in Ireland the national schoolteachers have been long struggling to throw off the domination of the parish priests, under whom they precariously and rather miserably held their jobs. Badly paid schoolteachers are a prime nursery of revolution the world over, and the Irish national schoolteachers were no exception. Those of them who joined the Sinn Fein movement joined as revolutionaries rather than as rebels; and now that the former rebels and the former revolutionaries have taken sides against each other, the schoolteachers will be found in the ranks of the latter.

There were always a few well-educated men, like Count Plunkett, Gavan Duffy, the MacNeills and others, in the republican movement, whose ability was respected by what one might call the moderate section, but who were always looked upon with some suspicion by the extremists. They, and not a few others of the lesser lights of Sinn Fein, — which, it must be remembered, was a literary and intellectual movement long before it became a political movement, — were the relicts of an attempt to revive Gaelic culture. But these men were for the most part pamphleteers rather than pistoleers, with the result that they bulked only moderately in the eyes of the real leaders of the rebellion, and not at all in the eyes of the rank and file.

In a different category from all other Sinn Fein leaders must be reckoned Erskine Childers. He has no Irish blood in his veins. He served with distinction and gallantry in South Africa and in the World War; indeed, he led the flying squadron that bombed Cuxhaven in the early days of the war. Childers was a clerk in the House of Commons. He wrote a first-rate yarn called The Riddle of the Sands, and also an excellent book on Home Rule. Starting as a doctrinaire Home Ruler, he ended a flaming Irish Republican.

To return to the Sinn Fein leaders as a whole, the striking thing about them is that those of them who have ever earned, or could now earn, two thousand dollars a year in any civil occupation can be counted on the fingers of the two hands. And perhaps the most striking feature of the whole republican movement is that the Sinn Feiner with the best-paid civilian job was the half-mad Rory O’Connor, who was, and still is, an engineer in the employment of the Dublin Corporation. O’Connor is just entering on his third six-months’ leave of absence with full pay, and the Dublin Corporation have just reinstated, with full arrears of pay covering the period of absence, all their employees who joined O’Connor in the Four Courts, and are now — unless they have been secretly released — prisoners in Mountjoy Jail. Is it surprising that revolution in Ireland is a popular pastime?

Sinn Fein, then, — that is to say, both the pro-Treatyite and the Republic factions, as they now are, — was recruited from a class entirely different from that which governed Ireland under the Union. To-day, the landowners, the professional men, the manufacturers, bankers, importers, the retired soldiers and administrators, the Church of Ireland and Trinity College, all, in fact, who have anything to lose except political jobs, are entirely unrepresented in the government of the country. And official Labor is equally unrepresented. Both are, however, represented in the Provisional Parliament, which has not yet been summoned to meet, for, standing as Independent and Labor candidates, they captured nearly a third of the seats from the Sinn Fein panel.

The panel was a desperate attempt, and, as is now apparent, a weak if not actually a discreditable attempt, on the part of the Provisional Government to keep the reins of power in the hands of the political adventurers and out of the hands of those better entitled — since they have everything to lose — and better able to use it. The attempt destroyed the Sinn Fein party, and severely shook public faith in the Provisional Government. But it did worse than that: it left the Provisional Government, that is, the pro-Treaty faction of Sinn Fein, to fight the Republicans single-handed, having, indeed, the moral support of the class that they tried to jockey out of political representation, but afraid or ashamed to call upon them for material or personal assistance in putting down the rebellion. They, who have nothing to lose and know nothing about either fighting or governing, get on with the job. The class whose property is being destroyed, and whose business is being ruined, that has had military and administrative experience and has political intelligence, looks on, unable — because uninvited — to lift a finger to protect itself, its business, or the country.

That this class, the loyal AngloKeltic aristocracy, should be looked upon with suspicion and dislike by the invincible republicans and their Firbolg following is natural. But the moment the Treaty was published, it became obvious that they would be, and must be, wholeheartedly on the side of the pro-Treatyites — in other words, of the Provisional Government. It was equally obvious that the pro-Treatyites, whatever their breed or class, having accepted a less than Republican status, were bound to draw further and further away from the extreme Sinn Fein left, — the Firbolg-Bolshevist-fanatic group, — and toward the nonRepublican Anglo-Keltic possessing class. On the other hand, the last, thing that the pro-Treatyites wanted to do was to appear to be falling on the necks of the belatedly converted Unionists, the Anti-Partitionists, and the Dominion Leaguers, and by so doing to give the anti-Treatyites the opportunity of declaring that the Provisional Government was simply the old Ascendancy gang with a new hat and a different kind of dog. And, in reality, the hostility to the Treaty of the semi-intellectual leaders of the Republican faction lies not so much in the fact that it keeps Ireland in the British Empire as in the fact that it retains Ireland irrevocably within the orbit of British civilization, which is simply the Mediterranean or GræcoRoman civilization, with Anglo-Saxon modifications.

Again we must plunge into the past for an explanation of the present. In a grave at Bray, in County Dublin, there were found in the year 1835 the bodies of several Roman soldiers, the survivors of some shipwrecked galley. So far as is known, no other Roman ever set foot on Irish soil. Of all Western and Central Europe Ireland alone remained beyond the reach of Rome and of the great traditions of law and discipline and order and industry that the Roman left stamped for all time on the characters of the peoples that he conquered and on the fabric of the societies that succeeded his. To the scholar and the historian what Ireland has been in the past, what it is to-day, and what it may be for many days to come, are sufficiently explained by the fact that it was never Romanized. Even the Catholic Church in Ireland is Roman only in name. It remained under the Vatican in the days of Columba and his successors — instead of breaking away and becoming officially the Irish Catholic Church — largely by accident; and it has in fact remained the Irish Catholic Church ever since.

To those who believed in a Gaelic civilization, which, to their minds, surpassed — and would, if restored, again surpass — the British civilization forced upon Ireland by the Saxon oppressor, the Treaty read like a death warrant. With a stroke of the pen, it swept into the discard the bards and the prophets, the high priests and sibyls, the bearded vaticinators and the hirsute cymbalists of the great Gaelic cult, and left only a colluvies of fifthrate litterateurs, dabblers in enamel work and stained glass, and sentimental historians, to warm their derelict limbs at the cold hearthstone of the United Arts Club and in the ox-bedeviled committee rooms of the Royal Dublin Society.

The opposition of these people to the Treaty was expected, but was regarded as of small importance, just as their adherence to the republican movement had been regarded as largely academic.

It is to be noted, however, that this group produced Rory O’Connor, — a young man of education and some æsthetic culture, but coming of a family with much insanity in it, — who had sat as a disciple at the feet of Count Plunkett. How much Count Plunkett has had to do with the revolt against the Provisional Government is not known. He has always hovered more or less on the fringe of the republican movement, debarred by his education and refined tastes from intimacy with its bourgeois and rustic leaders, but having a strong pull with them by reason of his son having been shot for treason, — he went to Germany to get help for the Easter rising, — in 1916. Plunkett, senior, however, never managed quite to get himself taken seriously, and he is known in Provisional Government circles as ‘the man who thinks he was shot in Easter Week.’


So vociferously had Sinn Fein proclaimed that it would never, never even look at anything less than a republic for the whole of Ireland, that only those who knew the Irish intimately, and also knew something of what had been going on behind the scenes during the months preceding the Truce, ever expected the Treaty to be signed. To everyone else it came as a vast surprise. Some had prophesied that the negotiations could not possibly come to anything; others that the British Government would ultimately concede the republican status, and leave Ulster to look out for herself. The two things at which the Catholic Irish were supposed to baulk were Partition and the King. By the Treaty they accepted both. Had they accepted them in 1914, they could then have had all the selfdetermination that they are now getting. In the narrow sense, therefore, the anti-Treaty leaders were right when they declared that the Treaty represented, not victory, not compromise even, but complete defeat.

The ink was not dry on the paper before it became evident that there was trouble ahead. The Treaty dispersed the new Gaelic civilization into the thin air from which it came. It finally disposed of the republic of which the real Britain-hating Irishman, the heir of the Fenian tradition and the Invincible tradition and all the other traditions, dreamed — a republic envisaging nothing more practical than an endless and heavenly twisting of the British lion’s cringing tail. Worse still, it definitely disposed of the Ireland of pistols and commandantships, of commandeered motor cars and hero-worship, of the easy workless life of the flying column, and the promise of advancement and after-shop-hours adventure of the city ambusher. It disposed of the Ireland of the Irish Workingman’s Republic, of the rural Bolshevik and the landless man, the Ireland in which everybody had twenty acres of his own (selected from his employer’s holding), a couple of nice milk cows (stolen from the local dairy-farm), a cottage provided by the National Land Bank, and a testimonial presented by Colonel Morris Moore: an Ireland in which the potatoes apparently planted themselves. Finally, it disposed of the Ireland of the young Firbolg-Maynooth priests: in which the cassock controlled Trinity College and the crozier conducted the Royal Dublin Society; in which cardinals unmade ministries, and bishops presided at Boards, and the parish priests controlled everything else; an Ireland strewed as thickly with convents and monasteries as a pumpernickel loaf with caraway seeds.

It was obvious from the start that there would be Treaty-breakers as well as Treaty-makers. Nevertheless, everybody in Ireland who had anything to lose, and eighty per cent of those who had votes, wanted the Treaty and wanted it badly. And there need never have been any serious trouble if Griffith and Collins had played their cards boldly. With the exception of Arthur Griffith, who never, in his enthusiasm for the organization, forgot his duty to the Irish people, the ‘plenipotentiaries’ left Ireland as the representatives of the Sinn Fein organization. As the result of some powerful but mysterious political alchemy, — whether Griffith’s, or Winston Churchill’s as some say, or someone else’s, is not known, — they signed the Treaty as representatives of the Irish people. But, instead of coming back and inviting the Irish people to confirm their action at a general election, they crept back and invited Dàil Eireann, which represented Sinn Fein, and by no stretch of the imagination represented the Irish electorate, to confirm it. And Dàil Eireann reared up and screamed, while a bored but impatient universe begged them to desist.

Finally, even Miss MacSwiney ran down, and the Treaty was ratified by a majority of seven votes. It was not a working majority and did not represent the opinion of the people; but, instead of going at once to the country and asking the electors to confirm the Dàil vote, which they would have done by a thumping majority, Arthur Griffith carried on, while the De Valeristas seceded and started to stump the country against the Treaty.

The blame for this failure to act promptly does not lie wholly with the Provisional Government. Even the Irish Times solemnly assured its readers that, of course, the Provisional Government could not go to the country without something definite — that is, the Constitution — in its hands. As if the Treaty was not definite enough for anybody! Instead of going to the people, however, the Provisional Government went to the Sinn Fein National Convention; and, to appease that anti-Treaty and non-representative body, agreed that there should be no general election until after the Constitution had been drafted, and that the draft Constitution and the Treaty should be submitted to the people together. It was also agreed that the I. R. A. should remain subject to Dàil Eireann and not to the Provisional Government; but as the Provisional Government also had a majority in the Dàil, and was, except for the President and Minister of Defense, synonymous with the Dàil Eireann Cabinet, this arrangement was a paper one only.

Moreover, the Republicans had, since the signing of the Treaty, commenced an intensive campaign to turn the I. R. A. against the Treaty and against the Provisional Government. In this they were highly successful, because the Provisional Government could find jobs for only a small percentage of those who thought they had earned them, and all the aggrieved lent a ready ear to the Republican propagandists. And when one remembers that all the gun-youth in the I. R. A., including thousands who had joined that organization only since the Truce, were firmly convinced, and had in many cases been expressly assured, that their future on the government pay roll was secured, it can be imagined that disappointment was widespread, and that disaffection was easy to propagate. Even those who got jobs were, in many cases, dissatisfied. Pay in the new I. R. A. was good, — a private got about fourteen dollars pay and separation allowance, his uniform and full board, — but some discipline had to be attempted, and the minute it was attempted the gun-youth began to get restive and took to turning Republican at a moment’s notice. The entire Bray garrison, except five, turned Republican one day, because their pay did not arrive on the morning it should have come. The ‘Irregulars,’ as the Free State people insist on calling them, came to the barracks and jeered at the ‘Regulars,’ pointing out that they themselves did no drill, obeyed no orders, and commandeered all the food and motor cars they wanted.

By the time the Limerick crisis arrived, this sort of thing was going on all over the country, to a greater or lesser extent. Meanwhile, the Provisional Government, or, rather, the Dàil Eireann Cabinet, had to continue recruiting for the I. R. A., or, as it was called in communications to the British Government, the National Army; and it is no wonder that they went out of their way to avoid the politician gunman as far as possible, and to recruit the sort of lad who could be made into a real soldier, and who would obey his superior officers without political question. So far as the rank and file were concerned, this was not a difficult thing to do; but in the case of the officers, while a certain number of men who had served in the British and American armies were available, the bulk of the commissions had to be bestowed as the reward of services rendered during the fighting against the British. Many of these commissions fell to out-and-out Republicans, violent politicians with no military aptitude whatever. In some cases, such men were deliberately given commissions because the Provisional Government thought that they were less mischievous holding commissions in Dublin than holding political meetings in the country. In other cases, the young officers took no definite political stand, but subscribed to the doctrine now assiduously propagated by the republican politicians, that the I. R. A. alone had the right to say what sort of government Ireland should have, and that the sooner it exercised its paramount authority and brought the Provisional Government to heel, the better.

Matters approached a climax. Both sides were holding political meetings at this time, and the anti-Treatyites not only adopted violent methods of breaking up and interfering with the pro-Treatyites’ meetings, but announced that they would not allow the elections to be held. At the same time, the Republicans repeatedly charged the Provisional Government with trying to turn the I. R. A. into an army loyal to the Free State, while the Provisional Government replied that it was doing nothing of the kind, that it was keeping the I. R. A. faithful to the Irish people, and that the Republicans were trying to set up a military dictatorship.


Matters came to a head at Limerick. A military barracks there was vacated by the British. Richard Mulcahy, the Minister of Defense, sent down troops from Dublin to take it over. The MidLimerick Brigade of the I. R. A. should have taken it over — or so the Republicans claimed; but they refused to take it over on behalf of the Provisional Government, and insisted that they should occupy it simply on behalf of the Irish Republican Army. Bands of ‘Irregulars’ — that is, revolting members of the I. R. A. — appeared suddenly in Limerick City, seized and fortified hotels and school-buildings, and sent a peremptory order to the ‘Regular’ I. R. A., who had occupied the vacated barracks, to clear out. The Irregulars were led by a man called Barry, and comprised units from various counties in the South and West of Ireland. They were a scrubby-looking lot of corner boys, utterly devoid of discipline or military behavior; but a good many had rifles, and the rest were festooned with revolvers of various patterns.2 No fighting occurred, though a Regular officer was seized by the Irregulars, and subsequently released.

The Irregulars arrived at the beginning of the week. On the Friday, they sent a note to Commandant Brennan, in command of the Regular troops, to the effect that they would attack him next morning at eleven o’clock. He replied, ‘Attack away! ’ On Saturday, another note arrived from the Irregulars, saying that, in view of the presence of the ‘common enemy’ in their midst (that is, a detachment of British troops that was on the point of vacating a second barracks), the attack would be deferred until Monday.

In the meantime, the usual clerics and lord mayors had rushed post-haste to Dublin, and the usual peace parleys had begun. Commandant Brennan sent word, urging the Provisional Government to allow him to settle Barry and his sans-culottes once and for all. General MacKeon took the same attitude, which Michael Collins also inclined to. But Mulcahy favored a compromise, on the ground that to down the Irregulars would be to turn Irish public sentiment in their favor. And a compromise was made, which was really a complete victory for the rebels and, as matters have since turned out, a most expensive defeat for the Provisional Government. The barracks, it was agreed, should not be occupied by either side. In other words, they should remain empty until the Irregulars were ready to take them over, and there should be no pro-Treaty troops at the strongest strategic point in the whole Southwest of Ireland.

When he arrived in Limerick, Barry issued a proclamation, of which I have a copy before me — a most illuminating document. It professes to explain ‘What the I. R. A. crux in Limerick means’; and begins by reciting that Richard Mulcahy, Minister of Defense, solemnly guaranteed, at a meeting of Dàil Eireann, to ‘keep the Irish Republican Army intact’ until the elections; that he ‘has not kept his word’; and the reasons alleged are, first, the aforesaid refusal to allow the Mid-Limerick Brigade of the I. R. A. to take over the military barracks at Limerick; secondly, that he ‘drafted troops into Republican areas [italics mine] in the interest of the Free State Party'; and, thirdly, that ‘He has officered these troops by men who will obey his instructions, without questioning whether such instructions are a subversion of the republic or not.’

Mulcahy certainly wanted to have Beggar’s Bush troops on whose obedience he could rely at so important a strategic point as Limerick, instead of Republicans; but he wanted them there in the interests of the Irish people, whose vote on the Treaty (still to be registered) he had no intention of opposing. And he certainly was trying at the time to officer the troops in Dublin and elsewhere with officers who would likewise act as servants of the people, and not of the I. R. A. or any other body. And it is a great pity that he did not persist. But he had greatly weakened his position, very shortly before the Limerick episode, by a foolish and inexplicable move.

Barry’s proclamation goes on to make this final charge against Mulcahy: ‘He has not kept his word because he seeks to ensure that no matter how the coming I. R. A. Convention decides, the Government will hold all areas for the Free State Party.’ Here we get the whole Republican intent and contention — that the I. R. A. must be the arbiters of Ireland’s political destiny. What possessed Richard Mulcahy to agree to call the I. R. A. Convention demanded by the Republicans, the sole purpose of which was to give a concrete form to this assert ion of military dictatorship, nobody knows. But he did so agree, though later, after the Limerick episode, he forbade the convention to be held, and declared that any officer attending it would automatically cease to be an officer of the I. R. A.

Nevertheless the Convention was held in Dublin, openly, a few days later, and the Provisional Government made no attempt to interfere with it. At that convention, which was attended by over two hundred officers (though these represented only about a third of the I. R. A. units), and the proceedings of which were held in private, an I. R. A. Executive Council was chosen, and a subsidiary Military Council. A resolution declaring that the I. R. A. forbade the forthcoming election to be held, and would prevent it by force if necessary, was withdrawn, upon its being pointed out that it might result in British military action.

The Provisional Government circulated a synopsis of the proceedings at this Convention to the Dublin newspapers, but only one of them, the Freeman’s Journal, printed it. The Journal office was burned down a few nights after, by menfrom theFour Courts. Rory O’ Connor issued a statement declaring that the burning had taken place at his direction, but the Provisional Government did nothing. They were presumably waiting for the election.

In the meantime they had made one more effort, and a very discreditable effort to avoid coming to grips with the Republicans. The date of the election was set; but long before it arrived, it became evident that it would be held only in the face of widespread terrorism and intimidation throughout the country. Then a document appeared, signed by ten pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty I. R. A. officers, — an inspired document, obviously, — calling upon Dàil Eireann to arrive at some agreement over the election, on the basis that the people as a whole clearly favored the Treaty. After the usual wrangling, a Dàil Eireann committee was appointed to find a basis of discussion. As it comprised some of the most intransigeant members of Dàil Eireann, notably Liam Mellowes and Dr. Kathleen Lynn, it naturally could not agree on anything.

Finally, it was announced that Collins and De Valera had come to an agreement between themselves. This agreement was propounded to, and accepted by, Dàil Eireann without discussion, much to the surprise of the public, which was expecting Arthur Griffith, who had strongly opposed it, to resign. In effect, the agreement was to divide the seats at the forthcoming elections between the pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty Sinn Feiners in the existing proportions, that is to say, giving the Provisional Government a majority of seven, the existing members to retain their seats (except members who held more than one seat, who should retain only one). In other words, the existing Dàil Eireann was to continue to function, and the people were not to have a chance of passing on the Treaty or Constitution at all.

In actual fact, however, this agreement was a diplomatic victory for Collins. By reducing the pro-Treatyites’ claim to two thirds of the seats in the Provisional Parliament (which was also to be the new Dàil Eireann) to the existing majority of sixty-seven to sixty, he managed to get embodied in the agreement the pro-Treaty proposal that any other interests outside Sinn Fein should be allowed to contest seats, and also to get omitted from it the anti-Treaty clause specifically stating that the election was not to be considered as deciding anything. Collins perhaps guessed that the public, incensed at the attempt of the Sinn Fein organization to prevent a free election with its panel of hand-picked candidates, would arise and set up Independent candidates, and that these would dislodge Republicans and not proTreatyites. And so it turned out. Nevertheless, Collins’s acceptance of the Sinn Fein panel was discreditable, just as every failure of the Provisional Government to assert the sovereignty of the Irish electorate since the signing of the Treaty was discreditable; and it is stated by some who ought to know, that Collins accepted the panel agreement as a life-raft on which to escape from the treaty ship, which he believed to be definitely unseaworthy.

The panel agreement was no sooner signed than it became apparent that almost any candidate who chose to run was sure of election against a Republican, and reasonably sure of election even against a pro-Treaty Sinn Feiner. Sinn Fein’s political stock, indeed, had never been so low. The Republicans, however, did not wait to enjoy their discomfiture at the polls before deciding on other measures. Indeed, the agreement was hardly signed when the I. R. A. Executive Committee formally decided to rely on its revolvers to beat the Treaty and the Constitution. For some time they had been openly maintaining themselves by armed force, seizing buildings and motor cars, raiding banks and shops, forcibly billeting themselves and their relatives (disguised as Belfast refugees) on Protestant Loyalists, and otherwise behaving as masters of all they surveyed.

Occasionally, they came into collision with the Provisional Government troops, but no real fighting ensued.

The sham battle of Kilkenny was the most important event of this kind. The Republicans had seized Ormonde Castle in Kilkenny City — an impregnable stronghold against any force lacking artillery. After three days of terrific battle as described in the Irish papers, in which storming parties advanced through a ‘hail of bullets’ and by means of ‘ terrific hand-to-hand fighting,’ the Republicans were driven from their positions. The ‘Regular’ casualties were seven slightly wounded, five of them in the seat of the emotions. The Irregular wounded lay in heaps — one heap of three and another heap of one. For the most part, however, the Republicans were permitted to hold the buildings they seized, nor were their depredations in and about the Northern border, professedly in pursuance of the Ulster Boycott, — a purely Republican institution, — interfered with by the Provisional Government.

In Dublin, however, the performances of Rory O’Connor and his banditti in the Four Courts were becoming an intolerable nuisance, and included, in addition to the seizure of the Four Courts and the complete disruption of the legal business of Southern Ireland, — for the Four Courts included the Probate and Record offices, — the taking of the Port and Docks Board’s office, which, however, was later vacated, and other buildings at which business, mostly that of Protestant Loyalists, was being carried on. Motor cars were being seized, also, and money from the banks and food from the shops and markets. The best was good enough for Rory O’Connor’s following, whose personal habits were so filthy, that seven of them died of typhus after they had been in the Four Courts a few days. At one time O’Connor was joined by a detachment of Republicans from Tipperary under Daniel Breen; but they left the next morning


While this sort of thing was in progress, the election took place. Either because they had determined to ignore it in any event, or because they never dreamed that any but a Sinn Fein panel candidate could possibly be elected there was no organized intimidation or terrorism. One or two independent candidates in the country were frightened into retiring, but only one or two. There was personation — there is in every Irish election. Miss Mary MacSwiney polled fifteen hundred personated votes in Cork. One lot of ballot boxes, also in Cork, was opened by the Provisional Government’s I. R. A. guards, the ballots removed, and all Michael Collins’s first-preference votes bestowed upon Republican candidates. In the Dublin County election, a detachment of the Cuman na Mban, the Republican women’s organization, marched up to one of the polling booths in fours, each Amazon clasping to her bosom a paper containing the names of seven absent Unionists, whose votes she had been instructed to cast. When told by a doubting election officer that they would all have to be sworn, they marched away again, saying that they had not come there to be insulted. At the National University polling which is done by mail, each voter signing his ballot, it was found that, in a large number of cases where the voters were members of religious orders, the Father Superior had taken the precaution to sign the members’ names himself. As the result of all these ballots being thrown out, the count was over about two hours sc oner than Rory O’Connor and his secona in command at the Four Courts, Liam Mellowes, had been advised that it would be; and when these worthies arrived with their gunmen, and carried off the ballot boxes, the count had already been announced.

The election was a crushing defeat for the anti-Treatyites and a severe blow to Sinn Fein. It may, indeed, be considered to have rung the curtain down on that organization, which had performed its task. The election displaced nearly one third of the Sinn Fein members, all but one of the displaced being anti-Treatyites, the Labor and Independent candidates capturing nearly four fifths of the contested seats. And it made clear the fact that, at the next election, the rest of the Sinn Fein candidates, pro-Treaty or otherwise, would, with one or two exceptions, pass into the discard. It was a notification to the Provisional Government that they must banish from their minds all ideas about the unity of the I. R. A. and the preservation of Sinn Fein’s political domination, and act as representatives of the electorate, or they would quickly follow their intransigeant brethren into innocuous desuetude.

Both parties took the hint. The Republicans proceeded feverishly to organize their gun-youth for the fray. The Provisional Government prepared to deal drastically with Rory O’Connor. Doubtless they would have preferred to combine firmness with caution, and so save, if possible, a vast amount of material destruction; but three incidents forced their hand. The first was the murder in London, by two Irishmen — of whom nothing was ascertained except that they were or had been members of the I. R. A. — of Sir Henry Wilson. The second was the meeting in the Dublin Mansion House of the Republican I. R. A. officers, summoned by the Executive Council. At this meeting a resolution was passed by a vote of something like one hundred and twelve to one hundred and six, declaring ‘immediate war on England,’ and the next day Rory O’Connor’s men in the Four Courts commenced sniping at British troops passing down the quays. The third incident was the arrest by the Provisional Government troops of a number of Irregulars while in the act of seizing a motor-garage in Baggot Street, Dublin, and the kidnapping and imprisonment in the Four Courts of Major-General ‘Ginger’ O’Connell, formerly of the United States Army, the most energetic and experienced of the Provisional Government’s military leaders. When the news of this kidnapping reached the Provisional Government, it gave Rory O’Connor twenty-four hours to leave the Four Courts.

Such was the history, such were the dramatis personæ? and the setting of the stage of the drama, whose opening lines were spoken by eighteen-pounder guns shelling the Four Courts in the small hours of a July morning, and whose last lines have still to be spoken. This semi-military rebellion represents many things, but it does not represent either patriotism or the pursuit of an ideal. The Republicans may claim to wear the jewel of consistency in their heads, but it is consistent egotism and consistent self-assertion which they exhibit.

But the significance of the rebellion is wider than the personalities of the rebel leaders. It represents, primarily, the revolt of the Firbolg, of the under dog, of a generation filled with divine discontent and a divine dislike for work, thrown up to a life of adventure, adulation, and comparative importance, by an eruption of society, and determined not to seek the depths from which it sprung unwept, unhonored, and unsung, without a struggle. If too many of the numerous contributory causes have been dealt with, or too few; if more potent causes have been ignored and insignificant events stressed, the writer can only plead that Ireland still is, as it always has been, a very difficult subject.

  1. When the Nationalist Party decided to secularize Irish Education the Catholic Church definitely decided to smash the Nationalist Party by throwing its weight behind Sinn Fein. — The Author.
  2. One youth paraded with seven revolvers — five disposed about his person, and one in each hand. — The Author.