The Irish Tangle for English Readers

by Shane Leslie

Published in 1946 by MacDonald and Co, London

                                                                 Chapters on contemporary events.


Protestant and Catholic
Ireland During the War
A Note on Strategy
Difficulties and Solutions


Return to main page
Return to Documents page
Ireland in the 1940s Link Page
Ireland during the Emergency: History Timeline

The Free State priesthood.                Protestant and Catholic

All is not clean-cut between North and South. There is a moderately soft lining to both coats of steel. Many well-to-do Protestants prefer to live in the South and some prosperous Catholics prefer the North. The intellectual and artistic, who do not care for politics, tend Southward. People who are interested less in their bank accounts than in sporting or intellectual surroundings forget the “love and loyalty” on which the North prides itself.

Life is easy enough in Ireland, North or South, for those who are not searching for jobs or politics. It must be remembered that the jobs are awarded by hard-pressed Councils and Governments as spoils on a hard-won field. The race is not always to the swift nor is the job always awarded to the fittest.

Hence exasperation enough and the natural hope expressed by a Northern Catholic once that his opponents would go to Hell: as they would be sure to find no Orange majority there!

In the South, Protestants stick to commerce because civil appointments involve learning Irish. In the North, Catholics may learn all the Irish and practise all the Novenas they like but these practices do not lead to places in civil life. The cloying climate, the hard, simple life on the farms and the sleepy existence in the towns have blunted the razor-edges of Southern politics except on special occasions. Even in Ulster the Orange and Green are neighbourly during the year except for the Octave of St Patrick and the first ten days of July culminating in the anniversary of the Boyne. During those close seasons they are not on speaking terms: and Holy Water or Boyne Water has a scalding effect on one or the other.

The rival Societies and Orders are water-tight and probably whisky-tight to each other. Social or political friendliness cannot exist between them really because the object of all such secret combines is to hold, grasp and circumvent jobs for their own members. There is as much “Freemasonry” on one side as on another. English Freemasonry is an admirable conspiracy on behalf of Christian charity. Continental Freemasonry is the devilish undermining of religion which also undermined the French State. Fascism, on the principle that Beelzebub should turn out Beelzebub, suppressed it. But in Ireland, Freemasonry is reduced to holding jobs for friends and there would be Catholic Lodges, if the pope had not forbidden secret oaths to laymen. However, Catholics have their own ways of combining and if the Jesuit Order is not a secret society with an oath, there is no meaning to words.

There has recently appeared the most interesting and impartial of all Irish pamphlets called Irish Protestantism: to-day and to-morrow – a demographic study by R.P. McDermott and D.A. Webb. Printed by the Association for Promoting Christian Knowledge, it may be recommended to all Christians. The Protestant decline is traced, but it corresponds to the Catholic decline. Unfortunately, Protestants are decreasing rurally and in the South. A thirty-mile radius of Belfast contains nearly one-half of the whole Church of Ireland and seventy per cent of the Presbyterian. Yet the “Roman Catholic Church is the largest denomination in the North” (33-4 per cent). It appears that the Catholic fertility in the North is nearly .75 to .50 when compared with Church of Ireland, while the Presbyterian figure runs lower. Here we have a parallel to Bismarck’s complaint that Poles bred like rabbits and Prussians like hares!

There cannot be the least doubt which way the shadow is pointing on the wall. The Protestant population is becoming elderly compared to the Catholic. In Derry City, for instance, Catholics comprise 58 per cent of adults, 64 per cent of adolescents and 68 per cent of children. It is calculated that by 1956, Church of Ireland mothers will increase by 8 ½ per cent in the North, while declining by 10 ½ per cent in the South.

How shall Catholic and Protestant conquer each other? When Protestant Councils go out of their way to put efficient Catholics into positions and when the Catholics pick out and promote Protestants (whether they say “To Hell with the Pope” in good Gaelic or not): when Protestant mayors alternate in Dublin and Cork: when Belfast receives the cheers of Christendom and the thanks of the Empire for electing her first Catholic mayor – then will they have won the truest victories over each other and the land shall have peace.

At present they are a little nervous of each other. A good Ulsterman once attended a conference in London, but refused to cross the threshold of the Athenaeum Club after reading a reference to the Ancient Order of Hibernians in the symbol of the Club as represented by the Greek capitals Α Θ Η.

The plain, economical truth is that Ireland is one big sea-girt, congested district. The drain of emigration shows that there are never too few left in the country. Until cottage industries, home-trades and the by-products of forestry and big-scale sea-fishing can be built up, the country cannot provide for its population increase, low as it remains. Moving families out of the “congested districts” elsewhere is like moving coals to Newcastle. The Dublin Government brought families out of the West into Meath to relieve the West and possibly to Gaelicise the East at the same time, which was on a par with transferring Killarney ferns to Dublin window-boxes.

At one time it was suggested transferring Protestants into Ulster and Catholics into the Free State. But the Catholics would not budge as they believed they were holding the fort and preparing the future. Some Protestants were willing enough to be moved out of the South which they have no hope of swamping by population or vote.

Congestion is the core of the Irish tangle at home. Hence the outburst of all who wish to work, marry and breed to America, Scotland, anywhere out of Ireland. Protestants and Catholics are thrown on each other: but it would be the same even if Ireland had an identical religious complexion instead of the post-Reformation complex. The mixed religions are clamped and cramped, economically. Religiously they don’t care in the least by which choice of roads their neighbours go to hell! They do realise that on the roads to market and work and position they are over-crowded. Hence the continual mistrust of each other and the endless clash of people trying to frustrate each other for minute ambitions or rewards.

If, during the past century, the youth had not poured themselves out and money had not poured in from exiles, Ireland would be horribly congested to-day instead of being merely economically uncomfortable. Ireland – the South chiefly – is like an Old Age Pensioner, living on trade with John Bull (ninety per cent of Irish exports go to England) on the American-remitted tribute (there used to be three American stamps to two English in the mail) and on the Dublin sweepstakes. The economics sound doubtful.

Political change requires to be deeply considered in effecting the distribution of wealth in the country. Ulster believes intensely in the quality of her business. The wealth of the South depends on the flocks and herds of Old Testament wealth. The North despises such a happy social system. What are congested farmers and small shop-keepers to compare with the greatest factories on earth: whether of ships, tobacco, linen, ropes? It is true that beer and biscuits are magnificently made in the South. Over whisky, North and South have tied with the potent names of Dunville and Jameson. These are bright constellations in the distilling world: but the “starry” name of Hennessy, though more Irish, belongs to France.

A time there was when Temperance Reformers were shocked to find it necessary for the two Protestant cathedrals of Dublin to be restored from dilapidation: one by a brewer and one by a distiller. It is a puzzle to travellers why there should be no Catholic but two Protestant cathedrals in the most Catholic city of the most Catholic country left in Europe. The historic truth is simple. Catholics built both but they passed, like all Catholic sites, to the conquering Church. The Catholics have never demanded or suggested that one should be given back. They prefer to dream of a future cathedral overhanging Kilmainham or sinking Merrion Square.

It has been suggested that the Church of Ireland should return one of the Dublin cathedrals to Rome. The difficulty would be the vast sums spent by the owners during the last three centuries. It would only be possible if the Catholics were allowed to repurchase their own as they have their old clan-lands.

On the other hand, Protestant landlords have often given land for Catholic schools and churches in the past. How often the churchmen have found convivial reunion when their churches were separated by all the Councils and Synods. Under the old dispensation, a parson and a priest were found to have clubbed together to keep a French cook. There is always a social criss-cross between divines. A wit like Father Healy of Bray was welcome in Trinity College or at the tables of statesmen and judges. The ill-educated gentry were always the wiser for acquaintance with a clergy who were once bookish with Continental refinement. It was a great irony that threw a Conservative priesthood at the throat of a Conservative gentry. The Land War, while it destroyed Feudalism in its worse aspect, also destroyed the amenities of Irish life. Priests and gentry could no longer exchange views on claret or Horace. The remains of “Father Prout” show the exquisite height of classic grace attainable by the Maynooth priest.

Catholics and Protestants need each other this day and the South is full of their social and cultural interflow. Domestically there have been faithful services. A parish priest said he valued his Protestant housekeeper because instead of attending his Mass she could prepare his breakfast. A Protestant bishop declined to dismiss his Catholic housekeeper because he trusted her with all his accounts including his money. (Anecdotes personally gleaned).

Priest and gentry have seen their powers (outside their personal value) fail greatly in these years. They have become less stand-offish and often unite in schemes for the benefit of the people, on whom they still both contrive to live. Death, of course, is the great handshake between Catholic and Protestant. A cardinal appears modestly in the throng at a Protestant primate’s burial. It is believed that the mercy of God begins at the grave.

Hitherto, Protestant and Catholic in Ireland have clung too closely to the totems and tokens of the past. They sanctify political colours and endow innocent flowers with sectarian values. Memories are stacked with the memories of the dead. It is centuries since the hoary rival faiths of Ireland were rooted. They never give the brand-new impression which marks all English churches. The Irish Protestant still lives in the seventeenth century: and the Irish Catholic builds his chapels with stones out of the Stone Age.

Catholic and Protestant in Ireland, and the nearer Belfast the more so, say terrible things about each other. English sympathisers are horrified, but I may give one instance to relieve our over-credulous friends in the future.

The scene is a Union debate in one of the great English universities. A Home Rule debate has been staged by the polite undergraduates and two champions invited to speak – Campbell for Ulster and Willie Redmond for Ireland. The tone of academic dispute was soon passed and each upon the other drew the most unpleasant allusions out of the past. Each denounced the other with frank bitterness. The officers of the Union were horrified and felt the debate had been a ghastly failure. In the uncomfortable silences which followed, an effort was made to move the disputants away to different colleges, but there was a renewed horror when it was seen that dear Mrs Willie Redmond had joined the group from the gallery and the following conversation was heard with pious bewilderment:

Mrs Willie Redmond to Mr Campbell – “That was the grandest speech I ever heard made on your side.”

Campbell – “It wasn’t a patch on Willie’s. Surely he was on top of his form.”

Hiberni Omnes – “Congratulations – congratulations all round. Well, at any rate, we frightened the English!”

Return to top

Belfast during the Blitz                Ireland During the War

The second Great War added immeasurably to the Irish Tangle. The outbreak of war engaging England and all her Dominions imposed heart-searching decisions on Dublin. One man shouldered the decision of the century and declared Irish neutrality. My pleasant friend, Sheehy Skeffington, the only Irish pacifist in history, had declared Irish neutrality in the last war and been murdered by an insane British officer. This time the Irish Government came under a pacific premier or taoiseach. In the years which followed the blessed word neutrality became as sacred as the national virtue of chastity in the Irish mind. It did not suppose a lack of cordiality to England or a wish to see the British incur the vengeance of the centuries. It was based partly on the idealism of independence and partly on hard, practical fears. Germany could pound Dublin to smithereens.

For the first time in history Ireland had the opportunity to act as a nation, sole and self-deciding. Idealism was fulfilled to the pinnacles. At the same time the possibilities of immediate invasion were diminished and the Irish cities were certainly secured from bombing. A British victory seemed impossible, but there was no Irish surrender to foreign powers. There can be no doubt that the Irish Army would have fought the Germans to the last bog and even had the army been destroyed, the people who invented guerrilla warfare under the Tudors, would have revived it successfully against the Nazis.

Let us admit once for all the great disappointment of the majority of Irish blood not living in Ireland. There can be no doubt that the Irish in Ireland thoroughly approved the natural safeguarding of themselves and their cities. Southern Unionists and Nationalists were not divided. Many of the Protestants murmured that England had abandoned them at the Treaty. Nor were Protestants in the North over-displeased. The Belfast camarilla, who were losing ground politically, breathed again. It seemed to them as though De Valera had not only passed them the ball but shot it through his own goal.

But a certain majority of Irish blood throughout the world felt that a golden chance had not been seized: the chance to declare war not as England’s minion but as Britain’s ally, even if it enabled the hard-pressed national enemy to secure her sea-traffic during vital and almost mortal months. It would have been a fine revenge and could hardly have failed to make Irish Unity at the close of the war. Westminster could then have accomplished with a good conscience what De Valera had vainly begged of Chamberlain. The six northern counties would have found themselves isolated and told to make terms with a government which had proved a secure bastion to England’s defence.

That chance has passed to the rainbows of yesteryear. Let it be admitted and done with. Let us not weep over the ink once spilt to write the Declaration of Westminster or over the unsurrendered ports.

By that Declaration, Ireland had been given her freewill to make her decision: and the defence of the sea-approaches was left to Belfast. That defence has been handsomely acknowledged by Mr Churchill to enable politicians and later the historians, to take note.

That being so, men of goodwill must endeavour to present the benefits of neutral Ireland as pleasantly as possible to English memory. Fairness is demanded on both sides of the Irish Sea. Fairness from England to Ireland. Fairness from Ireland towards England’s future position and fairness amongst Irishmen themselves. If southern Irishmen wish to be fair to Ireland they have no choice but to see de Valera home (not so much on his home policies) but on his foreign achievement: his play on the international chessboard. Whether southerners like the man or not, resent or appreciate his policy, they must realise that Ireland is represented in the eyes of the world by one man – not a dictator – but as unilateral a leader as Roosevelt or Churchill in their variant Republics. It was not necessary to follow De Valera in war: but he is Ireland’s only chance to peace.

Officially Ireland remained out of the war, but this did not mean that the Irish had not followed the fighting tradition of their race. In proportion they gave more to the fighting services of the Empire than the six counties who declared war and suffered bombing in Belfast for their loyalty. The bombing of Dublin was apparently a mistake or only a mild hint that Germany was aware of Irish volunteers at the front.

If De Valera exasperated the Allies, he puzzled the Germans. They no more knew where they were with him than the English. They found the Irish coasts far more successfully guarded than in the previous war. They realised that they would not be welcomed, but fought to the last man: and that a Nazi-occupied Ireland would mean trouble in America. There is a story, but only a story, that De Valera took the German minister to watch an Irish football match. At the close he remarked: “And remember, Herr Minister, that was only a game!”

A true story that I can vouch for occurred on the remote Ulster borders after the first month of the war. I found myself in an old man’s lonely cottage without wireless or newspaper. He had seen the young men slipping over the border to join the British Army. Even the girls were going to work or nurse. In his loneliness he turned to me and this dialogue followed:

“This war is terror, sir.”

“It is indeed – total terror.”

(Whispered). “Can ye tell me: has England declared war yet?”

“She has indeed.”

“Thank God” – (after a pause) – “for our boys will not be alone!”

At no time did England really think of seizing the ports. It would have taken six months to have put any of them into working order. Their seizure would have been resisted. The only possible invader looked carefully into the situation, completed some wonderful invasion maps, but decided to abstain. Like the Roman Empire the Third Reich fell short of Hibernia. 

The Germans’ maps were subsequently captured, but they have to be seen to be believed. The series covered the country’s bogs, the deposits of minerals, the roads and cities with the utmost candour. A plan of invasion can be traced through the western ports, Galway and Kenmare and Sligo (all illustrated with magnificent photographs from sea and air). By Enniskillen and the Clogher Valley Railway the invader proposed to arrive on the Ulster borders and cut off Belfast. But even a General Staff can make mistakes and it was hidden from the German military Intelligence that the Clogher Valley Railway had been rooted up early in the war and that the picturesque little train reproduced in the German photographs was obsolete. The terminus of this celebrated light railway (it would be an insult to call it a tram) is at Tynan, Field-Marshal Alexander’s railway station. It stands to strategical reason that the Irish bogs would have engulfed their tanks. It must be recorded to the credit of the German army that no public-houses, but all mineral-water factories were carefully marked. Although the interpretation of the Gaelic place names was deplorable, there were few mistakes. Two curiosities will enable collectors to know their maps for genuine. Keady in County Armagh was marked “Ready” which no small Irish town would accept as its description. Healy’s Pass between the counties of Clare and Cork was photographed but translated Heilige Pass – a Holy Pass: a mistake which will not be disliked by the Healy clan, whatever the Gaelic derivation of their name.

While Allies and their enemies were making up their minds what reaction to expect from Ireland, Ireland slept like a sleeping beauty, as though Europe were not Ireland’s continent at all, nor even the earth her particular planet.

Neutrality was given the fullest theory but the vaguest practice. The Irish papers were crippled and confined by the censors. Moore’s Almanac was clipped for prophesying an Italian defeat and by a famous euphemism the death of an Irish sea-dog in the Mediterranean was attributed to a “boating accident”. There was no serious effort made to prevent thousands and tens of thousands of fighting men slipping over to join the war. No English regiment was complete without an Irish chaplain. Maynooth was everywhere.

Every English craft and industry received the subsidy of Irish brain and brawn. Carpenters and artificers, dockers and husbandmen, women by the thousand, all poured from an unconscripted Ireland into England’s war-effort.

Some small nations, overwhelmed and forced by the Nazis into war, did not prove wholly assets to the Allies. Southern Ireland remained a constant asset. She supplied England with a vast amount of food and a superb contribution of fighting men. And she never needed to be liberated. She has always done her liberation for herself.

How great the amount of work put into British industry is shown by the immense figure of sterling left to Irish credit in England – four hundred millions! At one time the Irish Commissioner in England stated that upwards of 170,000 Irishmen and Irishwomen had come over to work for England. General Gough gave 165,000 as the figure of Irish next-of-kin to be notified in case of casualty in the Southern Government. These are the least figures, but they are certain.

The Army, the Navy and the Air Force can better inform the world of the quantity and the quality of the Irish who have fought steadily at their side right through this war, which indirectly De Valera has done so much to assist the Allies to win, oddly enough more than either care to acknowledge!

Certainly he has kept his pledge made far back in 1935 that Eire would never be permitted to be used as a base for attack upon Britain. Let it be remembered that long before the war, de Valera supported Abyssinia and China against aggression. It was not through any influence he was able to bring to bear that the League of Nations failed: and he must have the credit of being the first to defy Japan.

There are people in Ireland who think that De Valera has injured Ireland more than any individual since Cromwell! Others are perfectly satisfied that he has enabled Ireland to float away like the Ark in a deluge, though strangely enough the Ulster end of the vessel insisted on acting as though it was part of a man-of-war.

Twice during the war he has made the great refusal: il gran Rifuto. He refused to accompany England into the war as later he refused an opportunity to follow America. It seemed due to a mixture of caution and foresight as well a stubborn determination to stick to his doctrine.

Perhaps a parallel can be drawn with the Battle of Jutland, where Jellicoe played for safety and turned away twice from the German fleet. By breaking with their severe personal doctrines the English admiral and the Irish leader might have achieved the dreams of centuries: the one a Trafalgar in the North Sea and the other an independent and unified Ireland.

If Beatty had been in command at Jutland, the risk would have taken in one or other of the proffered chances. It was John Redmond who made the risky gesture in politics when he broke with tradition and offered Ireland’s instant support. De Valera was seen to be anxious not to repeat Redmond’s mistake and to give up his position for nothing.

For Ireland his policy proved safe and sufficient. To England it was not fatal but often exasperating. To Ireland he gave peace if not prosperity. The Irish have had really little choice save to follow him to the rainbow’s end, although history has taught them that the Irish rainbow is always heavy with the coming deluge. On a low scale of computation it is better for the Irish to unite on a bad policy than to fight civil wars for a better one.

It was hoped that Ireland would settle down as a Dominion: but no – Ireland is not a conquered Province nor a Crown Colony. She is an ancient nation (which it is true has absorbed deeply from others equally ancient). She has nationalised strangers and defied conquerors. The ancient Irish people is difficult to trace even by clan-names or dialect or colour of hair or skull-measurements: but a religious entity is easier to distinguish. Partition becomes a crying grievance, inasmuch as it cuts off a great bulk of ancient stock, who are numbered not by skulls or consonants, but by religious attendance, which, of course, is not a racial division or even a national one. This Partition would have faded away overnight if it did not include a stubborn and hostile majority who believe themselves different and slightly superior in race and religion. Partition has had to be ensured in spite of impractical results and exasperating inconveniences. When Belfast desires their diminution, then Partition will go.

The Irish pride themselves on never having made a conquest or a colony themselves; except in remote history. The Irish are a fighting, but not a conquering people. Manx is discovered to be an Irish dialect and Argyle betrays its name as “the Land of the Irish Gael”: but no Irish dictator has clamoured for their return. The Six Counties are the only unredeemed territory in the dreams of Dublin: and the “why” is easier faced than the “how”.

It will be wearisome for generations to come explaining why Ireland was not in the war officially. Presumably she will be constrained to occupy the neutrals’ bench with Spain and Sweden and Switzerland. No doubt each will be considered and rewarded by the Allies according as they have seemingly done to them during the war. But there can be no doubt to which neutral the Allies owe most. The flower of the Free State youth enlisted in the perilous services: in the navy, the merchant navy, the overseas armies and above all in the flying arm. The buried skeletons of Irish bombers mark the road to Berlin. Again and again the German Gestapo made no way in understanding or influencing Irish prisoners. Some were able to raid and secure their dossiers before they left Germany – to find the Germans had inscribed them as follows:

Simpatisset mit Irland, bleibt aber seinem Eid treu (sympathises with Ireland but stays true to his oath).

Return to top

Lloyd George and De Valera                                       Retrospect

Before we pass into the Serbonian Bog which so many have enthusiastically dragged for solutions to Ireland’s problems – let there be retrospect.

What can be the fascination which has drawn so many brave souls, so many spirits of adventure, so many well-meaning and hopeful folk not without many of the ill-starred race of politicians into the Irish morass?

Is it belief that the Irish would be happier or the British Empire safer or America satisfied? To relieve England’s conscience or Ireland’s trade? Would a solution of the Irish problem make Ireland herself peaceful, plentiful, prosperous – even of the world worldly? The Archangels themselves could not promise that!

Ireland has always remained out of the world even when the descendants of her exiles became worldlings. At home the Irish remain oblivious materially and spiritually haunted.

Idealists as well as statesmen have been interested: thinkers, moralists, men-of-letters, the philanthropists as well as the patriots. These have all given advice, tried their hand and passed on. New questers and fresh querists will take up the Irish problem with the years. Similar enthusiasms will lead to the same hopes and the same collapse, leaving the problem a little more complicated than it was before.

In retrospect it has seemed so simple to settle, especially during Parnell’s tenure of power. After his extinction as a man, disarray and disunion triumphed. He was broken as though Destiny herself had been envious of a mortal coming so near to solving an immortal question.

Many have essayed their hand since Parnell, but finding their luck and the Luck of Ireland against them, have stolen away to the shadows.

They seem to sit down to an invisible table which may be compared to one of the great boards of play by anyone who has watched the casting and losing of stakes at Monte Carlo. Gains are sudden and temporary. Promise is not fulfilled. One by one the players lose and leave. Some gather themselves into syndicates and some play a lonely venture. Only the dead-faced croupiers sit immovably.

Ireland has her table for her aspirants. Her croupiers are Destiny and Death and they also are immovable. They sit adjusting and adjourning the game that is played for the luck of Ireland. Ireland’s luck and Ireland’s chances are alas! proverbial.

There is a certain grandeur in the time-length of Irish history. As Macaulay wondered at the august chronology of the popes stretching back into the dimmest dark ages, so Irish politicians may well hold their breath when they realise the long succession in which they stand. There have been seven hundred years of Anglo-Irish conflict – alone!

Before the coming of statesmen there were the Kings – Henry II and John. Sovereigns of England sent their minions into Ireland to do or die. Edward II sent Piers Gaveston and Elizabeth sent Essex, but the Luck of Ireland set unfavourably to them both. Neither catamite nor cavalier succeeded.

Follows the long succession of Viceroys and commanders – soldiers and diplomats – Prime Ministers who have played and lost their stake in Irish affairs: a democratic tyrant like Cromwell, a Royalist martyr like Strafford. England at least always honoured Ireland with her sharpest minds and sharpest steel!

My personal retrospect extends only half a century. I was born before the first Home Rule Bill and nursed during the collisions of Gladstone and Parnell, of whom it was said that they alone were worthy of each other’s steel in all those years.

By the fall of the century they had both become myths: and their parties had collapsed after them.

All who took their places: all who toyed or struggled with the Irish problem in the nineteen hundreds: all who sat down to the Irish gamble, I can recall personally and now all of them ghosts.

George Wyndham, the brilliant cavalier who achieved the fortunate Purchase Bill, but lost sorrowfully when he gambled on a Unionist Government “dishing the Whigs” with a Home Rule of their own. As a boy I met him at Irish shooting parties full of sanguine proposals, bubbling with quotations from the Elizabethans. “Go in and lead Ireland,” he told the ex-landlords.

The good Lord Bryce I recall at an Irish dinner at Oxford delivering pleasant pictures of Irish scenery which he was soon to change for a quieter view from a Washington Embassy. Wisely he threw no dice in Ireland and enjoyed a success of esteem in America instead. Now forgotten utterly.

With the double General Elections of 1910 the Irish gamble became a plank, almost the whole platform, of the Liberal Party. Joining the Nationalist Party I was thrown into contact with John Redmond, John Dillon, Joe Devlin – with their public speeches and private converse. Their most brilliant recruit was Tom Kettle, poet, professor, politician, my companion alas only for days. Once more the board was set. Home Rulers and Liberals faced the Tories and their Praetorian Guard from Ulster. The elections went to Redmond. There was a grim period following and the dice were thrown personally between Carson and Redmond. All Ireland watched feverishly. The Empire watched and America watched and Germany began to take notice. Of this the most interesting record was Ambassador Lichnowski’s confession that he had advised the Kaiser that owing to Ulster, England would not make war. Lord Redesdale  found the great topic in Berlin in 1913 was whether Ulster would fight and could the British army be relied on?

This time the dice went against Redmond and he failed to secure his Home Rule except as an undated cheque, for this time the dice had been loaded dice. Carson had invoked the use of lead and the Ulstermen were in arms. Thenceforth rebellion was justified.

Redmond had hoped Asquith would take courage and rush Ulster, but immense events rushed them both into the political abyss. Both were speedily broken reeds.

At the last moment before the outbreak of war, King George V called  a conference at Buckingham Palace. It was the old gamble with the stakes redoubled by anxiety and necessity. Before the chances of settlement could be given fair play – the first Great War had come. The final Irish debate promised for July 30th never took place, or was left to ghosts and shadows. With noiseless tread and with silent eloquence did Parnell and Gladstone meet again? Did Lord Randolph Churchill arise from the dead? Imaginations will always fill up that undebated debate – the last opportunity given to the House to settle the Irish Question over the famous floor.

The war-fortunes of the Irish players have been told. Before the Armistice arrived, both Redmonds were dead. The Irish Party was scattered and Carson was left in the perilous position of having succeeded by force. The Empire looked on him to make the move he dared not. It was for him as it had once been for Redmond – to discard from strength.

In despair at American urgencies the Government called a Convention and summoned all the available players to the table. Horace Plunkett took the chair, and Provost Mahaffy lent the noble premises of Trinity College. It was the last great gamble of the war.

The whole of [the] last generation of Ireland were there. John Redmond in his last agonising phase, Joe Devlin the delight of the Northern Nationalists: Craigavon and his dour Ulstermen: Cardinal O’Donnell and Archbishop Barnard for the churches: Lord Middleton for the Southern Unionists.

They had the hopes of every section save the Sinn Fein and they had the good wishes of the world. But with these hopes and wishes they played ducks and drakes. They had not the courage of a Parnell to take the impossible by the throat. They all threw down their cards and quit the table, though Cardinal Logue had solemnly foretold that chaos would follow failure.

They arose and went unjustified to their homes, leaving Sinn Fein and Republican to fight the last blood-stained struggle with the British Government.

The gambling table was not spread again till Sir John and Lady Lavery opened communications between the Cabinet in Downing Street and the Irregulars on the hills.

The Laverys call for honoured memory, for single-handed they brought about the meetings: and made a treaty possible. They seemed to have been brought together for the salving of Ireland. With untiring persuasion she brought Michael Collins and Arthur Griffiths to meet Birkenhead and Churchill at the table. There were other representatives on both sides, but it can only be said of them that they “also ran”. None of the two companies was afraid to sign the Treaty though some with secret regret.

There were furtive meetings and secret discussions while Ireland lay under the spell of truce. Sir James Barrie, fascinated by Michael Collins, appeared and disappeared elusively. He was one of the well-wishers who believed they had assisted in the agreements.

Sir John painted the gamblers on either side in the intervals, recording the Celtic features of all the Irish leaders, who stole shyly amongst the canvasses and commented on each other’s profiles with an occasional Plutarchian repartee. When Collins reproached Churchill for putting only £1,000 on his head, Churchill showed him a copy of the Hue and Cry, in which the Boers had once valued him at no more than £25.

Carson and Redmond were represented only by portraits which they had once visited together when Redmond had suggested in the great manner: “I thought we should one day hang together!” But that could no longer be the obvious Irish solution. Another leader was represented by portrait only, De Valera, who must have made one visit at least, for his unfinished portrait remained on the easel. The hands had not been painted and those of the present writer were unworthily substituted.

The story of the Treaty has been repeatedly told. They were desperate men, gambling in a hurry, but they were determined to make a result. It was a curious gamble, for they all stood to lose and they all lost – their political reputation or their lives. Griffiths and Collins had thrown death and seemed to know it.

I chanced to be in that famous studio in Cromwell Place on the following morning. Collins entered looking as haggard as his own portrait and murmuring: “I’ve signed some kind of an oath.” Griffiths was very grave and silent. However triumphant, everyone carried an underlying foreboding at heart. Word came that Carson had ridiculously cut Birkenhead and Marlborough in the Lords!

In the retrospect of Irish history, gratitude to leaders seems impossible: any more than players feel gratitude to the umpires or gamblers to their croupiers. Those, who have done least for Ireland, have lived to congratulate themselves most. Those, who have achieved daringly most, have fallen furthest. Sorrowful was O’Connell’s end. Parnell was slain in the house of his friends. Redmond turned his face to the wall and died of disappointment. Death came as an Angel of Mercy to O’Connell and Parnell. There have been fine memories and statues for both in Dublin. For the Redmonds, neither statues nor memories.

In the background of the treaty-making stood incalculable figures – De Valera and Lloyd George. It is presumed that then, as now, De Valera was willing to accept voluntary association with the Empire in order to bring Belfast into the sphere rather than control of National Unity.

Lloyd George tempted Griffiths to put Ulster in the wrong and then extracted a written advance which Republicans at least could never honour. The association was to be made under the Crown. A phantom Boundary Commission was promised, but Craigavon had already been promised that the boundaries including the Nationalist majorities of Fermanagh and Tyrone in Ulster would remain fixed. To the other side Lloyd George promised an all-Ireland Parliament if Ulster refused the Commission. De Valera’s document “number two” was a last hour attempt to save the Treaty and avert Civil War. It was regrettably not accepted. The Irish at home then attacked the Treaty more bitterly than Ulstermen ever attacked Home Rule. A secret brotherhood removed the three strongest men left in Ireland: Collins, Field-Marshal Wilson and Kevin O’Higgins. How grimly they must have met in the other world – those three!

Collins and Griffiths had deserved well of their people, for home they had dragged a Treaty from the lion’s mouth. It gave them freedom and peace enough, though not all that they dreamed of. What are the memories of Collin and Griffiths today? A fine Celtic Cross with medallions of their features stood outside the Dail in lieu of statues. But even that has now disappeared. The Irish leaders are judged too hastily in their own time by their people: but the last word remains with the historians and the last historians of Ireland have not been born. One pen at least will justify John Redmond – rest in peace, my old leader!

Judgment on De Valera must wait until historians can calculate the losses and benefits entailed by his stewardship.

He has proved an adept in the art of Irish politics, which has always been the ability to ride two horses at the same time in the same arena. Hitherto a fall has always been fatal, because one horse is liable to trample the temporary rider of the other.

Magnificently O’Connell rode on “Catholic Loyalist” and “Young Ireland” as his horses might well have been termed, until the latter reared and threw the gallant old man.

The early Home Rulers rode a mixed stable out of “Irish Nationalist” by “British Whig”.

Parnell proved the real riding-master, riding “Fenian” and “Irish Party” with  a remorseless bit. It was not the “Fenian” which unhorsed him and left him as Homer chanted:

“greatly stretched and all forgetful of his horsemanship.”

Redmond was accused of riding one horse in America and another, differing in direction and mettle, at Westminster. In the end one threw and the other kicked him to death.

De Valera has proved himself very capable at this dual horsemanship, riding “Irish Republic” and “Christian Constitution” together with consummate ease.

When the abdication of Edward VIII vacated the Kingship of Ireland, a unique chance was offered to a gambler. De Valera could have proclaimed an Irish Republic completely independent, or an Irish King taken from the old royal bloods of O’Neill, O’Donnell or O’Brien, or from some foreign branch of the Stuarts. He was cautious, not believing the time was ripe. Behind a verbal assurance of Irish Independence the Irish Government reinsured their position in the Empire.

When the day of clean-cut solutions arrives, it will be found there are three possible

1)      an independent Irish Republic,

2)      an independent Kingdom of Ireland,

3)   a Commonwealth associated with the Commonwealths of the Empire. This has the advantage of making the peaceful entry of Ulster possible.

Return to top

American troops in Belfast              A Note on Strategy

If Ireland has the right to self-expression, England surely has a right to self-protection. Strategy may prove a useful common-ground for the Anglo-Irish approach. If strategical dangers can be settled, all other differences play second fiddle.

The only human excuse England has ever had for her historical suppression of Ireland has been strategy – fear of an enemy overseas using Ireland as a base by sea and then by land. Sea-queens cannot admit sisters near their throne.

Self-preservation is the final law of all nations, great and small. England has naturally made Ireland subject to England’s safety. Once there was a Spanish peril by way of Galway and Kinsale. Once the French threatened invasion by Irish bays. Recently something was heard about Germans.

England has always arrowed her enemy for the time being with unerring aim down the centuries: Spain under King Philip, France under Louis XIV or Napoleon, Germany under William II and Hitler. When England was in danger, Ireland was visioned subordinately: as a base by Continentals, as a bastion by England.

England has played doubly with other countries but Ireland always clung to France and Spain. At times English policy favoured Royal Spanish marriages. At another time England wrestled with Spain as with [the] Antichrist. Once France was the national enemy. A century later the Entente Cordiale with France was proclaimed. Ireland was always expected to follow suit on these occasions.

As for Germany, England long held the ropes enabling Frederick the Great to breathe and fight. English neutrality enabled the Prussian to bully and menace Europe for a half century after France fell at Sedan. It is remembered that the Japanese Navy grew up under British tutelage. In time all England’s allies turned and stung her like vipers: even the Italian kingdom she had created out of the Pope’s demesnes.

In her first flush of freedom Ireland included to separate herself from British foreign policy on all points. Hence the continued entente with Italy after Italy and England were at loggerheads. Hence the presence during the War of German and Japanese representatives in Dublin. They were not retained for any love of Japan or Germany. They were really relics of ancient and obsolete English foreign policies. In a paradoxical world  they symbolised by their presence that Ireland was a free agent.

They have been an unfortunate blot on the Irish record for succouring Freedom: but it cannot be helped. They have enjoyed little satisfaction on behalf of their Axis. They must have been aware that Irish citizens were never impeded when they crossed seas to fight against Germany: while Irish sympathy followed the immense number of the American-Irish engaged in their obliterating warfare with Japan. Irish neutrality to the Axis ministers must only have seemed a bitter farce.

One delicious echo of the war in the Pacific drifted down the news. The famous Irish Regiment of New York, the Sixty-Ninth – once composed of Fenians – was generously thanked by King George for assisting to recapture and restore the Gilbert Islands to the British Empire! A situation pardonably to be termed Gilbertian.

English opinion was severely exercised by the presence of these Envoys in Dublin but there seems to have been no cause for alarm. The Germans were informed that for their own safety they must submit to close detective supervision. There cannot have been the mildest activity on their part which was not known to the Governments. The Italian Minister long ceased to figure in English complaints. He left Dublin after confessing to the writer his earnest wish to fight a duel with his German colleague for acting the spy on him. In Dublin there had long ceased to be any Axis to grind. Irish neutrality was quietly hostile to them.

Strategy varies according to neutrality. The empire was puzzled and fluttered by Ireland’s official attitude. Strategically the ports of Cobh (Queenstown), Berehaven and Swilly were as little use to one belligerent as to the other – unless they could be firmly controlled and brought into working order. The dangers and disadvantages caused by Irish neutrality have been trumpeted from Belfast, whom they supplied with something better than political arguments.

On the other hand Dublin gave England every possible assistance. Aeroplanes were allowed to fly from Lough Erne over Irish territory. Airmen were interned but released. No volunteer with the Allies was penalised in his absence. Foreign agents found themselves living under conditions which could be described as a mobile concentration camp.

De Valera moves slowly. In the World War he took arms against the Allies. In this War he has been neutral. In the next he may -- ?

We are told that the Irish Republican Army rendered any assistance possible to the Germans – but when and where? The writer was asked once by an Air Commander the meaning of certain initials which Irish airmen sometimes painted on their bombers. He thought it wiser to reply that I.R.A. could stand for “Irish Religious Association”.

During the first World War the English Government, by sheer stupidity, often punctuated by brutality, drove a large class into sympathy with Germany. During the second World War did Germany get as much as a cheer or an egg out of Ireland? I only once saw a swastika painted on an Irish house but it was one which had contributed soldiers to both World Wars!

No British Government could have dealt with the I.R.A. as De Valera has dealt during the war. Presuming that they alone represent forces willing to assist Germany against England, De Valera seemed to have divided and diminished them. Those who were intractable and unneutral were sent to a comfortable concentration camp. The rest passed into De Valera’s political forces. Thanks entirely to him the I.R.A. have not figured in the World War.

Fanatical and faithful idealists, the I.R.A. represent the “sea-green incorruptibles”. They never forgive an injury but they will never forget a good turn, even a good word.

To have entered this war with undefended cities would have needed a Crusader’s constitution. Ireland was only prepared to defend herself, not to invite upon herself the fate of the Cities of the Plain. There can be no doubt how Ireland would have faced a German invasion. But Hitler, in his blinded madness, followed the perilous Star of Napoleon and passed into Russia instead of Ireland. For both it was the turning-point into the abyss.

The Irish Army and the War Office were perfectly in accordance, once that England decided not to seize the ports. There was splendid military situation which Destiny did not exploit. While the Irish Army was concentrated in guarding the South, the Allied troops were waiting many-tank-and-gun-deep on the borders. If the Germans had landed, De Valera would have struck them at the head of his forces. The Germans would have been caught between the outer ranges of mountains and cliff and the central bogs and plains. Ireland has always trapped her invaders. In eight hours the Allies would have joined the Irish Home Guards.

Hitler’s invasions generally divided the countries invaded into irreconcilable camps of patriots and Quislings. A German invasion would have welded all Ireland together in that unity which now only Time can give.

Return to top

The Irish flag                Difficulties and Solutions

If any solution is to be – both Dublin and Belfast must learn to face each other, consult and cease to intrigue against each other. It leads to nothing but further deadlock for Dublin or Belfast to intrigue alternately with Westminster. 

There are immense difficulties but none that are so insurmountable as the Partitions in Poland, or the feudal and social gulfs in France, or class-hatreds in Spain or the vendettas sizzling in Italy. These will all outlast our time.

Ulster sinks her toes into her granite on such questions as the Irish language, the Pope, Partition, Conscription, Neutrality and the one final and deciding dispute of the “Republic or King”: as though England had not combined both. 

Where there is a single will, there are many ways and all these tests of division could be met, provided Westminster remained neutral and impartial between Ulster and Eire.

The Irish language need never become compulsory in Ulster, sufficiently occupying a place of honour in Universities such as is accorded to Anglo-Saxon in English higher studies. 

The Pope has never claimed the mildest jurisdiction in Belfast. Historically we have shown how little the Papacy has swayed to the Nationalist side. The real attitude of the Pope at the Battle of the Boyne will be found perplexing and even distressing to both sides.

The questions of flags and kingship in a united Ireland are prickly enough but we have already touched on both in notes. Unison is not impossible in both. 

The troubles of conscription and neutrality are bound to resolve themselves during any prolonged period of peace.

The Irish conscription issue was surely settled during the last War and in this has been set aside as not worth the trouble it would entail. It amounted to the plain truth that no country can be allowed to conscript another. Ireland, North or South, can only bring herself to fight voluntarily. 

Redmond was strongly hostile to Conscription, which he knew would lead to wrecking the Irish Cause in England, to say nothing of the English Cause in Ireland. One of the difficulties in Ulster was found to be the prevailing idea that Catholics become recruits and Protestants officers. It was so in the old Irish Militias.

In the old days of Victorian peace the writer met equal opposition in starting the Boys’ Brigades on military lines. Catholic patriots protested against boys receiving education for the British Army: while Protestant parents for social and mercantile reasons were determined not to allow their sons to acquire a taste for soldiering. Two World Wars may have altered this: but there can be no doubt how detested Conscription has been found in the two Ulster communities. When the Belfast Government called for Conscription, they were well aware how little chance the measure had of practical success. Had the Ulster Nationalists possessed any political finesse, they would have called the bluff and agreed to Conscription! 

As a result, in English eyes Belfast was placed decidedly in the right. So considerably has Belfast continued to improve her position that she is strong enough now to discard from strength. The deadlock is such that both Belfast and Dublin must withdraw, if they are ever to approach each other with the slightest prospect of reconciliation in the future.

The present strong position of the North calls for thought on their part. There was a subtle wisdom in Coleridge’s Table Talk when he wrote: 

“I am deliberately of opinion that England, in all its institutions, has received injury from its Union with Ireland. My only difficulty is as to the Protestants to whom we owe protection. But I cannot forget that the Protestants themselves have greatly aided in accelerating the present horrible state of things by using that as a reward which should have been to them an opportunity.”

After a century the position is exactly the same and the North must be reminded that they are not yet using their immense opportunity, however much they believe they merit reward for their part in the war. 

Noteworthy were the words of the Irish poet, C.H. Rolleston, who wrote in 1931:

“Now the South must retrace its steps to the pre-war position (the signpost on the road to a real Irish settlement is still where it was when Parnell died) and make a new start as an integral part of the United Kingdom.” 

We should say rather – of the United Association of Commonwealths.

Rolleston continued: “The South will be putting herself in the right and the more South Ireland is in the right, the more will Ulster be in the wrong till she decides to co-operate. If Ulster would only contribute to make this possible even by saying merely that she will maintain an attitude of benevolent neutrality, it would be a long step forward.” 

Benevolent neutrality would be the beginning of the real solutions. It is clear that Irish settlement depends on the mood more than on the mode in which it is approached. There is a good deal to be said for returning to the state of affairs as they were when Parnell died. Ireland was then a unity in politics and constitution. At least they came under the same system and all Irish members, North or South, met and saw each other, for better or worse, in the same House.

For the present it must be allowed that the Belfast Government have failed in the great test of Democracy which is to make a minority feel at home. The actual persecution in Ulster must be described as political, not directly religious: for their jerrymandering [sic] policy falls heavily and entirely on the Catholics, who amount to over a third of the Northern population. The English people can never understand that their own cause and the Protestant cause have been made one in Ulster politics: and so entirely unified that “God Save the King” is identical with cursing the Vatican and that on Armistice Day, Catholics do not wear poppies as they would certainly be mistaken for Protestants! 

Ulster will fight: and Ulster will be right” had the cadence and finality of a hymn-tune in the old days. It only pointed to Civil War: but it now wears a novel aspect. Ulster fought in the last Great War and finds herself right. Nobody would judge Ulstermen by the Belfast Corporation but even that unlovely guild has become justified in English eyes. The political jerrymanders seem to stand in shining armour. The sound of the Belfast workshops has become as the sound of Titans working and riveting the armour of Crusaders!

As the gulf between Protestant and Catholic grows appreciably larger, it is forgotten that the War brought them together at moments. In times of real stress a nobler feeling prevails. In two wars Irishmen of the North and South have hailed each other on the field of battle, even exchanging battle-cries and listening with homesickness to the music which would have seemed hostile party-tunes at home. 

There came memorable moments when the Blitz struck Belfast. Catholic and Protestants, who had lived as unspeaking neighbours, served and saved each other during the confusions. The Fire Brigade of the Free State could not speed fast enough to the blazing scenes. “They are our people,” De Valera said memorably, when releasing the orders for rescue.

Scenes that have occurred in the war may well make the old religious riots obsolete. It should no longer be possible for Protestant and Catholic to maul each other in Belfast while the Jewish community stands offering counsels of peace. The compliment has perhaps been repaid where Irish policemen keep the peace in Palestine between the children of Zion and their Semitic cousins, the Arabs. 

Business capacity, the gift which distinguished the Scotch and Jewish people, is made one of Ulster’s strongest dissidences from the South.

It is true that business in Dublin and Cork is not organised on the scale that has given the Anglo-American world their primacies in banking and commerce. To a considerable extent both Jews and Scots pervade those primacies and as yet neither have largely entered Irish business and finance. But there can be no doubt of the quality which endows those shrewd and invincible peoples: and if Southern Ireland is ever to succeed in commerce and industry, she will need, as other nations have done, to summon either Jews or Scotchmen. Jews have begun to filter into Belfast and Dublin: but if the Irish prefer the Scotch as alternatives, the Scotch are ready to oblige from near at hand. The entry of the Ulster Scotch into Dublin business would be the first sign of Irish unity. 

Ulster, meantime, has been left in a strong and almost overwhelming position. The war has secured her strength and importance. Every absurd claim, every maddening obstacle, every stupid slogan she raised in the past now seems justified less through the illogical arguments of her champions as by the logical acts of her rivals in Dublin.

England now feels that she is justified in subsidising Belfast, although Belfast claims to be the principal subscriber to the Empire herself. It is not easy to decipher the financial position. There is a Joint Exchequer Board with unpublished proceedings and no reports. It is impossible to say on which side the balance lies. Ulster is in so strong a position that perhaps it does not matter. The morale and safeguarding which Ulster gave are beyond money. Ulster can boast that she more or less saved the Empire be keeping the northern approaches open. She could do even more for the future safety of the Empire if she were willing. She could unite the English-speaking world. But she don’t and she won’t! 

It becomes clear that Ulster can only be conquered from the South by the sword or by kind words. The third course of employing words bitter as the sword would be wasted time. A frontal attack on Ulster would always be useless. She can only be outflanked. The old headings of conflict would only lead to the old deadlock. Catholicism from being a source of strife may become an indirect reason for peace. Catholicism works down to a Conservative basis as surely and quietly as water finds its level. The Ulster middle class may come to prefer the Catholic farmers of the South to the Socialist alliances implied by English Labour. Sovietism, Communism, Socialism, which all terrify Ulster men-of-means in varying grades of alarm, all receive their philosophical quietus from the clerical mind of Dublin. It has been pointed out that of the universities in Dublin the National must tend to be Conservative because Catholic, while it remains for Trinity College, less censored from within, to adopt the more revolutionary lines in the future. 

Ireland a Nation once again”, is the dream derived from Emmet’s famous words. Whatever it means, it will be necessary for Irish pride and English comfort to patch up some cloak of nationhood. Within the spacious agreements of a perfect League of Nations this should not be impossible.

No one could describe Ireland as a nation in A.D. 500 or in A.D. 1500, but she always contained the nucleus of a nation. She was what a nebula is to its later component, a fixed star, if the European nations can be taken for stellar permanence. What Ireland may become by A.D. 2000 let none dare to prophesy. Meanwhile “Irish Unity” as far as an undiscovered country, must be considered a geographical rather than an historical expression. 

As a Corkman said to an English officer: “If England was to be giving Ireland what she wants, she wouldn’t be wanting it.” A profound truth for no man hungers for what he has once received and digested.

The other Celtic kingdoms surrounding the English, Wales and Scotland, are no less racially divided than Ireland. Scotland, for instance, like ancient Gaul, consists of three parts. There are the Highlanders with their Celtic dress and tongue, the Lowlanders with their Kirk and industrial pre-eminence and thirdly the three-quarter million of Glasgow Catholic Irish. Wales is divided as Ireland was, into a Celtic-speaking community and an Anglo-Anglican gentry. 

It used to amuse after-dinner speakers to compare the four kingdoms by the typical wants or habitudes of their inhabitants. The French later devised a scale of comparison by imagining their effects according as one or two or three were gathered together.

One Englishman constituted a club, two a golf match, and three a crown colony! 

One Welshman was a Jones, two a Bethel and three a trades union!

One Scotchman meant a descendant of the kings of Scotland, two made a bank and three a clan! 

I have never been able to improve these verbal caricatures.

Both Scotland and Wales have suffered religious conflicts internally, but politically they have turned the Westminster connection to their advantage. There seems no need to sloganise: “Wales for the Welsh” or “Scotland a nation”. It would be difficult to state that things are otherwise: and Wales achieves what Eire is failing to achieve with all the schools and civil services in her hand – a Celtic-speaking community. Cockney children evacuated to Wales have returned speaking Welsh. This the Gaelic League has failed to accomplish with Irish children taken from the Pale to the Gaeltacht. 

The Belfast people say they will never learn Irish or allow it in their schools. Good Orangemen would not even learn Irish if they were allowed the curse the pope in Irish in the Litany every Sunday.

Old Irish is entrancing enough for scholars, but modernised Irish has proved difficult even to those most anxious to learn. 

Since the new century, men of sentiment have struggled against the men of sense. There has been a great national effort to save the language, which lingers in Ulster strongholds such as Donegal and the Glens of Antrim. But only a linguistic miracle can save the native Irish speaker from extinction by A.D. 2000. Official Irish survives in the Dublin departments and in the entire school-system of the South. It is being passed like old wine through new bottles. Neither Old nor Modern Irish is being concocted therein but what might be called “Future” Irish – a flexible, stereotyped speech which will continue to give pride and interest to the Irish people, enabling them to boast they were separated from the English soon after the Tower of Babel was built!

An out-and-out solution does not seem feasible. Neither North nor South can bomb each other out. Neither can buy nor bribe the other. In the old days, the Established Church and the landlords could be bought out because they were a vested interest. But you cannot deflect an Ulster Crusader with a loan or buy up a Cause. There is no royal road (as the expression runs) to an Irish solution. But there is no republican road either. 

The In-and-Out solution was the one reached by the Buckingham Palace Conference and remains to be tried.

During the war, Ireland has certainly travelled backwards and taken refuge from the main rapids of European affairs. She has passed outside the ken of British statesmen. They can gladly profess that Ireland is their headache no longer. Headache she was to England and even a heartache to America. She is doomed henceforth to keep her headache to herself: and to be her own heartache. 

Pacification is not more possible to reach than settlement at present. Nothing can prevent peoples dwelling at political peace with each other: but an Irish settlement rouses antagonisms amounting to Civil war. No English statesman can be expected to grant or abet such an unsettling settlement. In our generation Liberals like Gladstone, Asquith, Lloyd George – with George Wyndham, Birkenhead and the Chamberlain brothers for the Tories, have failed. The only Liberal Premier not to be bogged was Rosebery: but he was a cynic: and presumably suffering from sleeplessness, did not indulge in dreaming. He quietly chucked Home Rule.

Temporary solutions alone offer any promise and solutions without that finality which is dreaded politically by the Calvinist in the North and philosophically by the Catholic idealist in the South. Finality spells stagnation – damnation and death. 

A final Irish settlement would be an experiment in absolute values. Perpetual peace would be as impossible in politics as perpetual motion in physics. The Greek philosophy of Panta rei (everything flows) is applicable to the river of Irish event. You can turbine but you cannot dam the waters.

Incidentally no proposals or projects, no professions or promises are offered as yet from Dublin or Belfast or from Westminster acting as an honest broker between them.

The barriers between Ireland and England or between Ulster and Eire are far from identical. The approaches in common action or feelings are also different. 

Commerce and trade make the greatest and perhaps the only outstanding link between England and Ireland. Before the War more than half of Ireland’s imports came from England. After the War it is difficult to see where the rest of Ireland’s imports can come from, except from England. Spain and France can only send wines and odd luxuries.

Belfast is really in an uneconomical position unless she has access to the Irish hinterland. Six Counties are insufficient catchment for so giant a city. Neither Ireland nor Belfast can really prosper without each other. Ireland needs capitalisation and commercial leadership from Belfast. As things are, England props Belfast financially and economically, while America sustains Ireland as a whole, not officially, but by the myriad remittances of an exiled people. 

Belfast’s black area is fed from collieries across the seas. This makes Belfast the industrial exception in a country of small towns, small farms and small returns. Economically Ireland must rely on basic industries such as farming – and if they are ever developed, forestry and fishing. The divinely purposed lack of coal forbids a human black country. The essentials to Vulcan’s forge are lacking.

The moral support of the United States has switched during the War from Dublin to Belfast. So good is Belfast’s position that she could suggest or dictate the terms of Irish unity. For Ulster the going is good and there is no great hurry. She is riding at anchor in her own secure harbourage. While the going is good, she may wisely exercise foresight into the future: and suggest terms. 

The Irish problem must be studied with infinite patience, infinite jest and infinite charity, if any results are expected.

Idealists may spend a lifetime studying, dreaming and compromising over the Irish Question, building with the prose of facts or sinking into the poetry of the past. But in the long run Ireland will always be steered out of her course by a handful of men who know their own minds and have kept their powder dry. In other words forceful men have always made their mark even if they have not wholly succeeded. It was the Fenians who disestablished the Irish Church. It was the threat of the Invincibles which made the Government bow to Parnell. It was the arming of Ulster which destroyed Redmond’s Home Rule. It was the Dublin Rising which brought about the Irish Free State. Force in Ireland can do anything – except bring the necessary solution and the last settlement.

The immediate grievances to be moved are the political disadvantages that minorities protest on each side of the border. If the Catholic minority in the North find they are deprived of patronage because of religion, the Southern minority complain that patronage depends on a knowledge of Irish which they cannot be bothered to learn.

Ten years of friendly armistice between the two Governments would be the best gift the War could leave behind. This may be a disappointment to those whose heart is set on immediate unity, but the early Christians learnt by slow stages that Christ’s second coming would not be in their time. Nor will Irish unity come in ours: but there are better things for Ireland than even unity.

There is a deadlock as between two trains locked in collision at present. For either to forge ahead would be disastrous. They must remain deadlocked on the border-line until they can approach each other with confidence and consideration. During a ten years’ armistice, Belfast might agree to making patronage more proportioned to the Churches, and Dublin might open her customs to goods and produce made in the Six Counties. Catholic votes are slowly outvoting the North and one day there will be a majority, except in two counties: Antrim and Down. Perhaps the best links will be found outside of politics: links between sportsmen, fishermen, foresters – between men of letters and drama. Archaeology demands that Ireland should be studied as a whole. The pre-historic field will afford the safest and most helpful study for all. There must have been a remote time when the Irish Question did not exist: and possibly it will be agreeable to Irishmen to find it non-existent beyond the grave. The problems of timber, fisheries at sea or in inland lakes demand alternate sessions in Dublin and Belfast. The tourist traffic is an asset both must cherish and share with carefully-planned conjunction.

Once such services are initiated, the boundary would become a cultural channel rather than a political ditch. Eventually political bodies would be bound to see the reasons for a token interchange of relations. Groups from North or South could assist as visitors at each other’s deliberations. Senators without voting could attend each other’s Senates. It is possible that the Commons of both might merge in one capital while the Senate occupied the other. The only other solution would be for the Dublin Parliament to acknowledge the same independence to Belfast and Stormont that it has received itself from Westminster. Perhaps in the Almighty’s good time there may be a final House of Union inscribed with the scripture (Ephesians ii. V. 14),  “He is our bond of peace. He has made the two nations one, breaking down the wall of partition between us.” Nicely said indeed.

Return to top

Return to main page
Return to Documents page
Ireland in the 1940s Link Page
Ireland during the Emergency: History Timeline