The Catholic Bulletin published this account of the Irish struggle for independence and sovereignty in 1938. It was written by Sean Toibin, writing under the pen name Fear Faire – a regular columnist for the Bulletin. It was put into print as De Valera completed the national struggle (except for the Six County area which Britain had detached from the Irish body politic in 1920 and fashioned into ‘Northern Ireland’) by securing the Treaty ports off Britain and an end to the economic war being waged on the country from London.
It is well worth a read to remind ourselves what a tremendous achievement had been made by the Irish people.
THE HISTORY OF THE STRUGGLE RECALLED
I—EASTER WEEK AND AFTER
The centre of Dublin was a red and smoking ruin when the men who had held out against Imperial forces for one heroic week—the Easter Week which will be remembered forever in Irish history—were marched to their cells and to the Castle yard, some to be tried by Maxwell’s drum-head officers and shot, some to be sentenced to imprisonment, some to be interned. The last of the city Commandants to surrender had been Eamon de Valera. Tall, slender, young, silent, self-possessed, he had held Boland’s Mills, a powerful outpost, displaying remarkable gifts of military generalship, and now, silent still, he marched his men through stricken Dublin. If there were despondent hearts, his was not among them. He had been slow to accept the order to surrender; but, when he was satisfied that all that could be done with the gun was done, and now the hour for sacrifice and trust in the fruit of sacrifice, had come, he turned that firm, cool will of his to this grim sequel of the Rising.
He alone of the leaders escaped death, Commandant Thomas Ashe having succumbed to the forcible feeding inflicted on him in Mountjoy Gaol. We are not detracting from the glory and the splendour of the sacrifice of the valiant men who died when we say that the sparing of Eamon de Valera saved unique qualities for Ireland’s service. Pearse, that prophetic genius, did what no other man could do when he taught the nation with his wondrous words, and emptied his noble life out in order to inspire the effort that followed. De Valera did what Pearse could not have done when, with his astonishing gifts of constructive statesmanship, his persistence and his power over men, he carried on what Pearse and the other patriots before the Rising—Rooney, Bulfin, Griffith—had begun. He escaped because he was almost unknown. Had our enemies guessed what this young man, with a Spanish name had in him to do, he, too, would have been set with his back to a prison wall and shot down at dawn like Padraic Pearse, and his gentle brother, like gallant MacDonagh, the laughing Sean MacDermott, Connolly, the aged Tom Clarke and his youthful brother-in-law, Ned Daly, Michael O’Hanrahan, brave Major MacBride, the gallant Mallin, the resolute Kent, with the heroically glorious Joseph Mary Plunkett, Colbert and Heuston, who can doubt that God’s own providence saved this remarkable man for Ireland? Even people who were in touch with the national movement knew little more of the teacher of mathematics than that his name appeared in the Irish Volunteer in reports of military exercises (in which he was always prompt and silently efficient), and that he was the husband of a gracious lady and ardent Gaelic patriot, Sinéad Ni Fhlannagáin.
It was in prison that Eamon de Valera became leader of the Irish nation. When the soldiers of Ireland had been led through English streets, howled at and reviled, when they suffered all that prison can do to break the spirit of the brave, the alert, indomitable figure gave leadership. Eoin MacNeill appeared in the jail one day. How would the other prisoners receive the man who had broken the unity of the revolt? Eamon de Valera gave the answer. MacNeill was England’s prisoner; Irishmen must honour him. An order was rapped out. MacNeill was saluted. For this breach of prison discipline, De Valera was punished; but in one flashing sentence he had healed the nation’s division and had assumed the leadership. It was not that he sought to be leader. He did as his character, his sense of rightness, commanded him to do; and because he was so conspicuously gifted, he was followed. The prisoners became an ordered body even in their jailer’s grip.
Ireland was stirring. The Rising, the ballads that had broken from the nation’s heart, roused the people to their olden allegiance. In Roscommon, in Longford, by-elections were won by men who represented the Insurgent cause. Manifestly, the people had gone over to the Tri-colour of Easter Week. In an effort, after a year, to check the sweep of opinion over to the Prisoners, England sent the Prisoners home. We always remember that early Summer dawn over Dublin in 1917 when the ship brought our heroes back to us, and the streets were alive in the half-light with exultant folk.
England’s aim was to carry a measure of Home Rule, in which the Republicans would be represented by a small group, if at all, and she set up the famous Convention to get it adopted by everybody except the people who mattered. Griffith did one of the best deeds of his life in his skilful exposure of the rigging of the Convention; while, in the meantime, vital things happened.
One was the election of Eamon de Valera in the by-election in Clare by a swinging majority. Clare that won Emancipation by its election of Dan O’Connell now was the scene of another historic victory. Clare and de Valera were knit together in a union that always will be Clare’s great pride. The second vital thing was the adoption of de Valera, the hero of the fighting men, as the leader of Sinn Fein, the party in which all the patriotic movements and forces now were concentrated. The Convention was dissolved, but Sinn Féin had become the governing factor in Irish affairs.
In 1918, when German power was thrusting back the Allied line and English defeat seemed likely, the haters of Ireland tried to vent their wrath upon a nation that was not as formidable as Germany. Conscription was enacted and plans were laid to carry off our manhood. Here was the first great demand on de Valera as the leader of the nation. He it was, more than any other man, who saved our country from a holocaust. There was a union of parties, to which the hierarchy lent its utterly invaluable moral aid, and the whole nation was pledged to resist the English aggression. We do no injustice to John Dillon, the leader of the Parliamentarians, if we affirm that it was de Valera’s will and skill that made the union of powers what it was: an unbreakable obstacle to our enemies’ design. A “German plot” was trumped up, and de Valera and others were carried off into fresh captivity; but the organised nation now was able to defy the threat against it. Conscription was abandoned.
Hence, when the general election was held at the end of the world war, the Sinn Fein movement, the Volunteers, and Eamon de Valera the leader of both, were acclaimed by the nation that they had saved in its darkest hour. The Republic swept the polls; and in January, 1919, Dáil Eireann was established.
II.—THE REPUBLIC IN BEING—1919-1921
The Republic which had been proclaimed in Easter Week, 1916, by a handful of heroes, now was erected by the nation’s vote. The first Declaration of Independence was proclaimed. A Government was set up to which the people yielded loyalty with pride and joy, and the struggle to make foreign rule in Ireland untenable began.
The policy of the Republican Government was that laid down by Sinn Féin in earlier days, which may be defined most briefly as Non-cooperation and the progressive voluntary development of an Irish State. Very soon, armed action was proved unavoidable. Crown forces harried national figures, national activities. Arms were seized, meetings attacked, Volunteers struck back. War rapidly developed between the Constabulary and the patriot forces; and Dáil Eireann, at the insistence of President de Valera (as he was now) took over responsibility for the acts of the Volunteers as the army of the Irish Republic. The Black-and-Tans were brought to Ireland to smash the Republic by terrorism. Cathal Brugha, as Minister for Defence, supported by Michael Collins and Richard Mulcahy, waged war with such courage, tenacity and skill that all the King’s horsemen and the King’s men could not restore administration in our island. In America, Eamon de Valera sought the recognition of the Irish Republic not with complete success, but with such a large measure of support that England’s difficulty in repression was intensified. He returned to Ireland as the hunted President of a State that the people recognised as stubbornly as the English refused its recognition. The Black and Tans burnt down Cork. In Brixton jail MacSwiney died, the hero of all who love liberty throughout the earth. Erskine Childers wielded the weapon of propaganda with such remarkable skill that British consulates everywhere found their work embarrassed, impeded, often frustrated; and the Empire was brought into difficulties such as it never had known.
In the midst, therefore, of the glorious Summer of 1921, the British premier, Lloyd George, ate his words about “taking the last gun from the last gunman,” and sought a truce. President de Valera came out of hiding, and the Dáil met in the open for the first time since the meeting at which it was established.
When the Truce was signed by General Macready, the Republican army retaining its arms, England tacitly recognised our belligerent rights, but a battle of diplomacy followed in which it was Lloyd George’s aim to subvert our people’s faith in themselves and our leaders’ courage and unity.
This battle began with an offer of limited Dominion Home Rule. The offer was made to President de Valera in the normal way of negotiation, but General Smuts published it to the world, rushing into an affair that was not the concern of any African. The Dáil met, and the President announced the Irish Government’s answer. “We reject the terms,” he said, and he went on to explain to the vast audience that packed the Round Room, and to the world beyond it, that Ireland had not fought in order to become a Dominion of the British King. It was then that he uttered his famous phrase—it rings in our ears still— “We are not doctrinaire Republicans.” He meant that Ireland had not declared the Republic for the sake of the Republican form of government, but because allegiance to the Crown of England meant subjection to the English parliament. The Crown is simply the symbol of British power, and that is what Ireland cannot allow within her shores if she is to escape the interference which has been her bane ever since Henry II sought to incorporate this island in the dominions of the English monarchy.
In the tense exchange of messages that followed, Lloyd George tried to force our Government from its claim to sovereignty, while the President insisted that negotiations should be unfettered. At length, an unconditional conference was agreed upon; to consider how Irish national aspirations could be met together with an association with the States that now is called the British Commonwealth. Irish delegates were sent to London with clear instructions to this end. Their credentials instructed them “to negotiate … a Treaty of association and accommodation between Ireland and the Community of Nations known as the British Commonwealth.”
It is important to grasp exactly what the Government of the Republic, by the Dáil and the nation, contemplated. Some form of association with Britain was to be accepted. The reason for this, as the President told Lloyd George and several times stated to the world, was that a minority in Ireland is attached by reasons of sentiment and interest to the British Commonwealth, and the nation as a whole would concede association in order to reconcile these persons. To put the thing more bluntly, the Unionist element, with its fortress of a Six-County Parliament in the North-East, would be conciliated by an arrangement which would permit them, in a free Ireland, to retain relations with Britain for which the older stock, for historical reasons, feels no enthusiasm. As Mr. de Valera wrote to Lloyd George, the Irish Government would be ready to recommend:
“A certain treaty of free Association with the British Commonwealth… had we an assurance that the entry of the nation as a whole into such Association would secure for it the allegiance of the present dissenting minority, to meet whose sentiment alone this step could be contemplated.”
Association with Britain would imply reciprocal citizenship and mutual privileges, together with a military entente for purely defensive purposes; if this arrangement should prove as beneficial to all Ireland as the Unionist element promises, it would justify its continuance. While the Dáil unanimously assented to such an arrangement with England being negotiated, there was this principle to be maintained: that Irish Sovereignty must be preserved. This meant that the English Crown must not intrude into the Irish constitution.
In fine, the essence of the Republic, its sovereignty, was not to be compromised, but its isolation was to be modified by an association such as any sovereign State could enter into with another.
The working out of the plan would be a difficult task, seeing that England would fight us on every word and phrase. External Association was the formula in which the President and that brilliant adviser of the delegation, Erskine Childers, defined the proposal. What was the difference between this and Dominion status? “ Ireland,” the Hon. Pakenham writes, “would not have been a Dominion nor ‘within the Empire.’ There would have been no allegiance to the Crown. Irishmen would not have been British subjects. There would have been ‘reciprocal’ but no ‘common citizenship.” Such was the red line below which the delegation was not to yield anything.
Seeing that 200 pages in Mr. Pakenham’s book, “ Peace by Ordeal” are necessary for the detailed account of how the negotiations went on, point by point, it is obviously impossible to give even an adequate summary here of all the twists and turns with which Lloyd George sought to break down the Irish proposals. England would not cede the Irish waters, she would not cede full fiscal liberty; or again, by a dazzling turn, in the effort to tempt the weaker delegates, she would yield on one of these points and give Ireland such privileges as the grandest Home Rule proposals had not envisaged. All the time, however, the Welshman was sticking to one point: there must be allegiance to the English Crown, no sovereignty. The exclusion of the Six Counties, of course, remained all the time as a fait accompli which the Irish wanted above all else to overcome, and the lost territory was held out as the final bait. If the delegates would sign Lloyd George’s treaty, with its British allegiance the Six Counties would be engineered into the new Dominion. To the bait was added a threat—immediate and terrible war.
The position on the last day, the shameful day when an imperial statesman coerced five exhausted men by threatening to loose upon their people a hideous dragooning that would spare neither age nor sex—that infamous day when Lloyd George copied his fellow-countryman Cromwell in savagery towards a civilised Christian nation—must be studied closely in order to understand the full treachery of the Welshman. On Friday December 2nd, 1921, the Irish delegation brought home a draft treaty which the English had handed to them as the maximum British offer. On Saturday, the Irish Cabinet met for an all-day discussion of the treaty. Beside the President, the Cabinet comprised Griffith, Brugha, Stack, Collins, Barton and Cosgrave. There was sharp division; for Griffith was prepared to take the Dominion, oath and King. However, the Cabinet came to agreement. The delegation, due in London next morning, was to refuse the oath of allegiance and to renew its demand for external association only; Griffith was to inform Lloyd George that the document could not be signed, but must go before the Dail if not vitally modified.
By a former unanimous decision of the Cabinet of the Republic, the British Crown could be recognised as the symbolic head of the association; but not otherwise. On Sunday, December 4th, the delegates drew up a reply to the British proposals, in accordance with the instructions received in Dublin. Collins did not go with the others when this reply was given to the British Ministers and was championed by Griffith ably and earnestly in the last effort that the founder of Sinn Fein ever made for external association. The British seized on a remark of Gavan Duffy’s to break up the meeting and demand a formal rejection of their offer—which the Irish promised to give.
A break had come, but it was not quite complete. Lloyd George secured a meeting with Collins next morning, accepted the alternative oath which ultimately reached the Free State Constitution, and promised to secure the essential unity of Ireland by reducing the Six Counties to their Unionist core, which is uneconomic. In the afternoon, the last conference began. On finance, defence and trade, concessions were made. Fiscal autonomy went so far beyond all Home Rule proposals of the past that it gilded the prospect in the eyes of persons who thought first and last of economics. The revised oath was accepted by the English. In fine, a Dominion settlement was offered, stripped of the reservations which had attached to the offer rejected in the Summer. However, it meant that Ireland must surrender sovereign status and enter the empire.
Lloyd George refused Griffith’s request for a week’s adjournment, in order to lay this plan before the Dáil.
“You must sign the agreement for a Treaty or else quit,” Lloyd George said: “and then both sides will be free to resume whatever warfare they can wage against each other.”
Griffith said: “I will give the answer of the Irish Delegation at nine to-night; but, Mr. Prime Minister, I personally will sign this agreement and recommend it to my countrymen.”
Every Delegate,” Lloyd George said, “must sign the document and undertake to recommend, or there can be no agreement.”
He then delivered his infamous speech, which threatened instant war if the delegates did not sign by ten o’clock. He had two letters for Craig, one proclaiming peace, the other war; and would send one of them by the special train leaving at ten. “You can have until then to decide, but no longer, whether you will give peace or war to your country,” declared the intriguer who, as subsequently transpired, had written to Carson as early as May 29, 1916: “My Dear Carson. I enclose Greer’s draft proposition. We must make it clear that, at the end of the provisional period Ulster does not, whether she like it or not, merge in the rest of Ireland. Will you show this to Craig.”
The document was not accepted until after 11 o’clock ; for two of the delegates took two hours to persuade in a scene of dreadful anguish at Hans Place. The English were laughing in Downing Street while they waited the tortured Irishmen’s return. “The room rang with laughter,” Sir Austen Chamberlain afterwards wrote. At 11.15, the Irish delegation returned. Griffith announced that the document would be signed, but some details were to be adjusted. In the talk which followed, Collins secured that the Irish defence forces should not be termed “ local “—a point of some consequence which the English yielded as one more bait. At one o’clock, on the morning of December 6th, the corrections were finished. At 2.20 a.m., final drafts had been typed, and the signatures were appended.
The treaty had been signed which was to split Ireland from top to bottom.
President de Valera was surprised when the evening newspaper of December 6th gave news that an agreement had been signed in London; for he had known that the English still were resisting external association twenty-four hours earlier, and he did not entertain the suspicion that the delegation would go behind its strict instructions. One of the delegates, Mr. Eamonn Duggan, reached Dublin and brought a despatch to the President, which he handed to him a few moments before 8 o’clock, when the terms signed in London were released to the world.
“Is there recognition of the Crown in it? “—Austin Stack asked Duggan. “Then why did you sign? How could you? “ “It was war in five minutes,” Duggan answered, “ unless we signed.”
By the release of the terms before the President had seen them, the English secured an advantage in propaganda; for the Treaty was in every newspaper on the morning of the 7th, accompanied by a chorus of enthusiasm. The whole English world, of course, acclaimed “England’s generosity,” and many people in Ireland who had lived through three years of mounting terror were so much relieved by the news of peace that their feeling overwhelmed their judgment. The President had had no opportunity to consider or pronounce upon the agreement, and it was assumed pretty generally that it had the approval of the whole Government, since no one guessed that Lloyd George had split that band of brave Irishmen and secured the signatures of some in defiance of their orders. Many of us can remember as vividly and painfully as if it happened yesterday our mental comment as we read the treaty:
“The Crown, the Empire, the Oath are accepted; the Six Counties can vote out; here is mere Dominion Home Rule without even a united Ireland. So this was the best that our Republican Government could do for us! Well, if those men say so, what can common folk do but make the best of it?
Little we guessed the terrible truth. Over some houses, by impudent people, flags were put out on the morning that the posters announced a treaty reached; but, by a wave of doubt that ran through the land like a chill, they were taken in the same day. In the country parish where the present writer lived, a collection was taken in the morning for a tar barrel, but the barrel never was burnt. In twelve hours, the nation was stricken by the suspicion that something was wrong.
Meanwhile, available members of the Cabinet met in Dublin. On appeal of Mr. Cosgrave that the delegates should be heard before they were repudiated, the President summoned them back for a conference next day; and all were present at a fateful meeting on December 8th that lasted far into the night.
Even then, at that tragic last hour, the nation’s worst calamity might have been averted if Griffith had declared that he acted under duress. He who had favoured the dual monarchy in other days, was well enough satisfied by the Dominion to be unwilling to take the gloss off the settlement. Republicans knew that the gloss was fallacious. Collins and Duggan stood with Griffith, while Gavan Duffy and Barton considered that their pledge, given to avert war, bound them to stand by their signatures. It is only fair to observe that, if Gavan Duffy and Barton had denounced Lloyd George’s constraint, the treaty would have been defeated and the purpose for which they signed it would have been frustrated. Only if all five delegates solemnly declared that they had signed under duress could it be accepted, under protest, as a thing forced on us. On December 9th, Ireland learnt, therefore, that the Cabinet had split. The President announced that he could not recommend the Treaty for acceptance, and that the Ministers of Home Affairs and Defence (Stack and Brugha) supported him. “The great test of our people has come,” he wrote, and he pleaded for a decision by constitutional means.
For three days, the Treaty had been gathering a volume of applause, and the world was astonished to learn that the Irish leader was against it. Instantly, the agents of propaganda circulated the legend of a dour, irreconcilable fanatic, who was jealous of the success of the chief delegates – Griffith and Collins, who were being made white-headed boys by powers and persons whom, in truth, both of them despised.
To the everlasting shame of some of our newspapers, there were leading articles again and again, during the ensuing fortnight, which protested against the Dáil’s scrutiny of the Treaty clause by clause and the exhaustive debate on status. The corrupt old Irish Parliament of the landlords took six months to debate the Union, but the Irish Republic was not to spend a few days in discussing its own disestablishment and the adoption of a complex trade and finance agreement. The impatience of some papers showed what inane persons can write and control organs of opinion in an unfree land. Small wonder, then, that de Valera’s difficult case got a poor hearing. He was striving to pull together a legislature and a nation which Lloyd George, the sudden ultimatum and the swift propaganda had flung into confusion. Aided by Childers, he drew up the famous Document No. 2, which he put forward as a final concession on which unity by compromise be reached. This document agreed with the Treaty on material issues, ceding more than ever Mr. de Valera had contemplated before the fatal sixth of December; but it removed the Crown from Ireland’s internal affairs, it denied that we were British citizens, it reaffirmed Sovereignty. If thus were accepted, the honour of the Republic would be saved and a united people could work to make the most of it. Unhappily, dissension had gone too far. Once Griffith broke with a man, he was unreconcilable, and now he had set aside the President’s authority and was set on his own policy and purpose.
So the Treaty was approved on January 7th, 1922, by 64 votes to 57—a very, very narrow majority when we consider that two of the affirmative votes were those of the two delegates who felt themselves conscience-bound to stand by the Treaty that they detested, and that some others who voted for the Treaty did so as those delegates had signed, namely in constraint. “I cannot vote to bring war on my country,” cried Deputy Liam de Roiste of Cork, as he cast his voice for acceptance—a broken-hearted man.
For the only time in his life to his friends’ knowledge, Eamon de Valera broke down. He rose to speak on the defeat of the Republic, the end of “the four glorious years,” but tears overcame him.
Contrast the position in January, 1922, with that of the Summer of 1938. When the Treaty had been approved, the principles of Sovereignty and independence were gone; English power was in our ports; a Governor-General was about to be sent over to symbolise our loss of free status. The spirit of the nation was low, and brothers were on the eve of civil war.
The Republican army refused to accept the disestablishment of the Republic as lawful, and repudiated the Dáil which had committed itself to establish a Dominion. There was threat of war between that army and the forces which the Provisional Government called into being—and in one calamitous episode, a soldier was shot dead. In the desperate effort to prevent the outbreak, the Collins-de Valera pact was signed. By this understanding, the Treaty supporters agreed to devise a constitution which would contain no oath, and Republicans would enter that constitution to work through its machinery for the recovery of the lost status. Collins had praised the Treaty as giving “freedom to attain freedom,” and he was asked to make this good by dropping the oath as lawyers declared to be possible without violation of the Treaty. A “pact election “was held, which was not to be contested. The pact was broken. A Dominion constitution was clapped before the people on the very morning of the poll.
Once again it was Lloyd George who drove the sword of his malice through the hope of Irish peace. He declared that Britain could not accept the draft Irish constitution as a faithful interpretation of the Treaty. He obliged Collins to restore the oath and to break the pact. Republicans were returned to the Second Dáil in reduced, though surprisingly large, numbers. On June 28th, civil war began.
Deputy Patrick Hogan, Free State Minister for Agriculture, used to say, “We started the civil war.” Not all supporters of the Free State were equally ready to accept the responsibility, and efforts still are made to blame the Republican side. It was not when the cannon opened fire on the Republican army’s headquarters at Four Courts that the civil war became inevitable, but earlier, when the pact was broken and the political arm of Republican action paralysed. Yet, when the guns began and the centre of Dublin was set aflame again as in Easter Week, it is certain that the heads of the provisional Government, and all responsible leaders of the Free State, were dismayed at what bad been done—appalled by the horror of the fratricide. Though he had had no part in the circumstances which issued in the war (for his influence had been destroyed for the time by the breaking of the pact), Mr. de Valera cast in his lot with the men who were defending the Republic from violent subversion. He went through the fires of O’Connell Street with Cathal Brugha, who died in a last gallant protest, shot down by an Irish soldier after escaping the English in 1916, 1919, 1920 and 1921. As the news of Brugha’s death went forth well might all loyal Irishmen grieve, and others tremble. It was not Republicans alone who hoped, even while the Four Courts were smoking, for a battle-field armistice. With passionate zeal certain holy clergy and earnest laymen tried to bring the rival chiefs together and to avert the conflict. If only the Free State party had consented then and there to proclaim that the Republic was surrendered and the Dominion established under Lloyd George’s coercion—if only it had made known that the Treaty was carried into force under duress and under protest—that other protest in arms could, we are assured, be brought to an end. Even now the time has not come to reveal what evil influence prevented such a compromise. The Republican army was summoned to surrender to a Dominion Government; and it would not do so, and the war went on.
The sorrowful story need not be told at greater length. With most of the Republican deputies in captivity or on the run, the Free State Parliament came into being and the Second Dáil was not summoned to complete the transfer of authority which it alone could make if the Free State was to be legitimised. Thus, the Free State and its legislature were set up without continuity from the Republic, and in the clouds of an armed coup d’etat. This invalidated the new order in the eyes of all those who were loyal to the Declaration of Independence. Since a Government now was now erected without transition from the old, those who abode by the Second Dáil affirmed once more that it was the legitimate authority, and Mr. de Valera was regarded as head of the Republic once again. In the early months of 1923, it was evident that the Volunteers could not prevail, in a heart broken country, against their powerful opponents, so the Cease Fire order was given, over the signatures of Mr. de Valera and Mr. Frank Aiken, Chief of Staff.
VII.—ENTER FIANNA FAIL
At this stage, the cause of the nation was at its lowest. If ever Irishmen to had come to despair it was now; for Ireland had been forced to accept a Dominion, the land was partitioned, blood had flowed and bitterness and disillusionment were everywhere. Brugha had fallen, and after him Harry Boland. The Free State had executed Childers, and Liam Lynch had been slain. The two principals of the Free State were dead, too.
There were many who refused to despair, and one who saw his way still. In 1925, Sinn Féin considered Eamon de Valera’s proposal that the party should enter the Free State legislature, if only the test oath were removed and should recognise the Free State as fait accompli. This did not commend itself to those who were unwilling to recognise the fact that the fabric of the Republic was gone, and that Republicans must begin again from the bottom to rebuild it. Accordingly, Mr. de Valera formed a new Republican Party, Fianna Fail, which gained further seats at the first election in 1927. Observe that the party was Abstentionist at this stage. It refused the test oath and its agitation was so vigorous as to embarrass those who maintained the oath. The nation wanted all its patriots in the legislature, and was coming to resent the barring of them out. Suddenly Kevin O’Higgins was assassinated. Nobody knows what criminal or insane group did the deed. The country was convulsed by something like panic, and the most violent passions of the civil war boiled up; God knows what might have come in the dark suspicions of that hour. Now came one more test of Eamon de Valera’s prudence. That he had joined, or rather led, the national repudiation of the crime was merely what was to be expected of this Christian statesman, but if the sudden plunge of the nation towards violence was to be checked he must make his great influence felt as he could not do from outside the legislature. Accordingly, with his colleagues of the party, he abandoned the Abstentionist tactics, proclaimed that the oath would be treated as a formality, and so entered the new Dáil, at which, on the second election of that fateful year, Fianna Fail made a formidable showing.
For five years, the new party laboured patiently, gaining mastery of the parliamentary technique and the business of government, though taunted often ungenerously by those who had legislated to force them into the Dáil. The economic policy of the governing party afforded Fianna Fail a double ground of criticism. In the first place, it was marked by a general abandonment of the traditional Irish policy of protection and tillage; the policy of which Griffith himself had been the chief modern expounder. Griffith’s followers had run away from Griffith’s principles. Ireland was being made a mere grass-land for England, while manufacturers still dominated our market and defied industrial revival. In the second place, the Government policy was palpably bad in immediate results. The people were suffering bitterly. Mr. Cosgrave made a half-hearted attempt to ease the position by asking relief from the annuities impost, that drain of millions a year from a struggling country; but the English abruptly refused all concessions. Fianna Fail promised to challenge the enforced tribute, and to set up tariff walls that would enable Irish industry to recover.
At the end of 1931, the Dáil was dissolved, and the test came. To Mr. Cosgrave’s astonishment, the country condemned him. Aided by Labour, Fianna Fail came into power in 1932, the glorious Eucharistic Year. How deeply thankful patriots were that Eamon de Valera, who had suffered arid endured so much, and whose Christian charity had healed wounds that seemed unhealable, was privileged to be this historic nation’s lay head to welcome the Holy Father’s legate to that majestic gathering of the Catholic world upon the Irish shore!
VIII..—SIX YEARS’ LEGISLATION—1932-1937
Our story may be unfolded more rapidly as it deals with events fresh in the public memory. The year 1932 saw little progress beyond preliminaries. The annuities payments were discontinued and England responded by her penal tariffs on Irish produce. That egregious statesman, Mr. J. H. Thomas (the Right Honourable) accused Ireland of perfidy and did his utmost to make a difficult situation more difficult for his own country as well as ours. He fully believed, and so probably did most of England’s ill-informed statesmen, that the nation would renege its leader in order to escape the penal tariffs. De Valera called the bluff. A general election was held in January, 1933, in the depth of the sufferings of our farmers, and to the astonishment of all who don’t know Ireland, Fianna Fail came back triumphant—it was endorsed in its resolve to fight the issue out.
It was De Valera’s declared purpose, having abolished the oath, so that all groups could enter the legislature, to concentrate on economic measures, in order that the nation should be strong enough to stand whenever the constitutional issue should he taken up afresh. In both economic and constitutional matters, he was forced to move more rapidly than he had planned. As we noted in our introduction, the industrial revival was carried in five years so far towards self—sufficiency that its champions were themselves surprised. England’s tariff war, as we remarked, obliged Ireland to carry out fifty years’ programme in five.
In the constitutional field, De Valera was obliged to accept two challenges. The Governor-General of 1932 had done things which gave his office a place which the Republican Government could not grant; so he was removed, and a successor was appointed who performed the functions required in legislation, but no more. It was made plain that the office itself would be abolished in due course. The Senate, in turn, frustrated Government policy and had to be removed, to make way ultimately for a chamber that could not interfere with the decisions of the democratic House. When the Abdication crisis came in December, 1936, the Government was required to deal with a situation unparalleled in our history. The abdication of Edward VIII was accepted some twenty-four hours after he had ceased to be King of England; a point which in itself marked the constitutional independence claimed by the Irish State. Instead of accepting George VI as successor, it was enacted that henceforward the Speaker of the Dáil should sign Bills and perform other functions hitherto the duty of the King’s representative, the Governor-General— with herewith disappeared from the system. A second Act provided for recognition of the British Monarch as head of the British Commonwealth through whom the State might act in its external relations. The first Act established the Republican principle; the second was an act of Association. Both were carried without opposition. The odium which the Simpson affair had brought the British Monarchy at that hour bade obstruction. Even Unionists were glad to see the crisis passed with dignity and without conflict.
If the Abdication crisis had not come from without, the new situation would have been sought in the enactment of the new Constitution. Before that important measure was introduced, therefore, this had been achieved: The Irish State was substantially a Republic, and it was associated with the British Commonwealth, not by common citizens/tip, but by an Act of its own legislature which could be repealed at any time. The Constitution made a clean sweep of circumstances which conflicted with this position. This noble charter, dedicated to the glory of God and the honour of Ireland framed on Christian and democratic principles which have won universal approval from decent persons, Irish and foreign, was threshed out in detail and then submitted to a plebiscite of as much of the nation as was free to vote. The people themselves enacted it, and thus crowned it with the Sovereign authority of the nation. By virtue of the plebiscite, the continuity with the Sovereign State of 1922 was established, and the flaw in the Free State’s title was avoided. No trace of foreign authority remains in the State thus constituted. By an enabling clause, the Act of Association was taken over as the principle by which we are freely associated with the British Commonwealth.
Thus, in six years of power, Eamon de Valera so conducted national affairs as to accomplish without effective resistance, and peacefully that which the Second Dáil strove for, and what Lloyd George threatened “immediate and terrible war” to prevent. Step by step he recovered all the ground lost since the Government of the Republic opened the negotiations of 1921. He brought the nation back to its Sovereignty.
IX.—WHERE WE STAND
Not yet, however, was the nation’s task completed. Two things remained to be achieved. The first was to secure from Britain a formal recognition of the fait accompli. Her forces still occupied the ports of the Twenty-Six Counties, and she had not signified in any way that she regarded the Treaty clause, giving her control of Irish waters in war time, as lapsed. We have seen that this recognition of the new State’s sovereignty was won from England in the late agreement. She formally declared that the clauses were now no longer of effect, and she undertook to evacuate the ports by the end of this year. So far as the Twenty-Six Counties stand, therefore, we have arrived without qualification at the full Republican objective.
The second task is still to be achieved. It is the bringing of the Six Counties into the Sovereign State in fact as well as in right. When this is done, a completely free Ireland will stand erect, in proud dignity. It will be associated with the British Commonwealth by a free act and it will be able to cooperate fruitfully with Britain in matters of true common concern. A first-fruit of co-operation is exemplified as we have seen in the trade agreement. How unification will be achieved we not know, but we hope and pray that it will be the privilege of Eamon de Valera, Liberator and Peacemaker, to accomplish it; for this a reward that will fill that generous heart with such joy and thankfulness as no other Irish leader ever has enjoyed—and Eamon de Valera deserves it.
We are soberly hopeful that this consummation will come in the relatively near future; and we believe that the Taoiseach was justified when he declared himself confident that “it is only a matter of time.”
Here we must insert a brief note on how partition came about, and how it was fastened on our land. Passing over the Ulster revolt which a Dublin lawyer headed and English politicians provoked and financed, we come to 1920, when a Home Rule Bill was carried which proposed to erect two legislatures in Ireland. No Irish Member voted for this measure. The English Government of the day was solely responsible and it was this alien authority which decreed the segregation of the Six Counties, an area more than half of which is Nationalist, to be held by the Unionist bloc in Belfast. In the Treaty negotiations, the Irish delegates were asked by Lloyd George’s men what safeguards they would give the Unionists if a united Ireland was recognised. They answered that they would assent to the continuance of the local Northern Parliament, under the supreme Irish Government, but the autonomous area must be delimited in accord with the wishes of the people. At one stage, Lloyd George pledged himself to resign if Sir James Craig (as the Northern Premier was then) blocked this reasonable plan. It has been shown that Lloyd George was playing a double-hand and giving contrary encouragement to Craig. Years previously Craig was prompted to stand firm for exclusion from the Irish State, and did so. The draft Treaty provided that the Northern Government could “opt” out, but that a Boundary Commission would revise the boundary.
Now here is Lloyd George’s ultimate act of treachery. He secured the signatures of Griffith and Collins on the assurance that the revision of boundaries would reduce the exempt area to the Unionist core; and it was believed that such a small area soon would throw in its lot with Ireland.
The Hon. Frank Pakenham in his “Peace by Ordeal “quotes English statesmen as declaring (what every Irishman knows) that Griffith and Collins would not and could not sign the Treaty unless assured of “essential unity.” (On the strength of Lloyd George’s promise, the Treaty was signed—and its disastrous consequences brought upon us.)
The time came for the Boundary Commission to operate. Craig had “opted” out of the State on the very date that its Constitution came into force, December 6th, 1922, and now in 1925 the Commission was under Mr. Justice Feetham to revise the Border.
Feetham declared that the wording of the Treaty permitted only rectifications of the Border—the straightening out of corners in that tortuous frontier. He said that it did not allow transfer of substantial territory, such as the two Nationalist counties of Tyrone and Fermanagh and the great Nationalist areas of South Armagh, South and East Down, North Antrim, Derry City. In other words, the two great Irishmen who had accepted the Treaty on the score of ‘‘essential unity” and had given their lives, one to a broken heart and the other to death in battle, had been hoaxed. As long as men remember the name of Lloyd George, it will be to execrate the betrayer of Griffith and Collins and Ireland.
The Boundary Commission’s report was scrapped. The existing Border was confirmed. We are saddled with it still. Until it is wiped out by the unification of Ireland under the national Constitution—with local autonomy, perhaps, but that is another and a minor question— Ireland will be bitterly resentful against England that perpetuated the wrong and still finances its continuance.
We are hopeful, however, that Partition will be ended soon, and we base our hopes on the following factors:
(1) The Constitution of Sovereign Ireland claims the whole of Ireland in what may be termed the Second Declaration of Independence. Though the fact is recognised that Irish Sovereignty cannot operate in the Six Counties at present, the incorporation can be effected, once assent is secured, by a mere resolution of the legislature. Our claim is made, it is known to the world, and this fact has roused the Irish race as it has not been roused since the days of the armed struggle; while, day by day, fresh tokens come from foreign sources that Ireland has recovered the sympathy of the world. In a little while, all the forces that carried the Irish cause forward between 1916 and 1921 will be mobilised in all their strength once more; and now the obstacle on which they must be bent is comparatively small beside the tremendous forces which opposed them seventeen years ago.
(2) England has abandoned ground that seemed nigh impregnable in 1921. She has faced and accepted the Republican principle which she then declared to be intolerable. We no longer have to struggle against a mountainous assumption of the necessity of Irish subjection. English statesmen with their characteristic flexibility have accepted what they formerly declared to be out of the question; and behold you, they are inviting the friendship of a State which they tried to prevent from coming into existence. They know—they have been told by our leaders and the spokesmen of nationality in the Six Counties, the Northern Council for Unity, that friendship hangs on one condition—the rectification our supreme wrong, partition. Now, they have nothing to gain by upholding partition with their arms, money and Press. The Six Counties, now that the Twenty-Six are independent, are no use to them, but rather a financial drain and an obstacle to their desire for Irish friendship. Hence we are certain that the rising tide of national indignation against the wanton holding of our sacred counties—the Primatial See and the United Irishmen’s own Down and Antrim—will constrain the wiser England of to-day.
(3) We see the greatest hope of all in the awakening of patriotism among those who have been opposed to us hitherto. Every day brings fresh declarations of goodwill from Protestant prelates and Unionist writers, to say nothing of agitation among the discontented Protestant victims of Partition rule. These people realise that the days of Partition are numbered—-that England does not want them and that the world scorns them while they stand in the way of Irish well-being and peace between nations. They see that there is no future for them in a fragment of a province, deserted by their former friends, and they are discerning that splendid opportunity is before them as citizens of renascent Ireland. The election of Dr. Douglas Hyde, who is of their religion, to the highest office in the State, has shown them that a welcome awaits men of every “race and creed and clan” who choose to give their talents to Ireland’s grand common store.
Unification will not be easy; but if we consider what immense gains have been won since Eamon de Valera was a boy in County Limerick, when the Land War still was incomplete and the winning of a little measure of Home Rule seemed almost too much to hope for, we may feel confident that our strength is ample, if only we press forward with courage and loyalty, prudence and good-will. What grandeur the prospect offers, in a free Irish nation, uniting in the common service all those powers and all that genius which was occupied in the past in conflict—when Irishmen at last are as free to live for Ireland as hitherto they were nobly ready to die for her! Indeed, as the vision grows, the determination to achieve it mounts; and so, with humble hearts, we pray that we may be with Eamon de Valera when he proclaims Ireland
SOVEREIGN, FREE AND UNITED!
By Fear Faire