John Dillon (1851-1927)


b. 4 Sept. 1851, Blackrock, Co. Dublin; son of John Blake Dillon; ed. Catholic University and Royal College of Surgeons; at Home Rule Conference proposed that the Party should withdraw from Westminster before division on Balkan crisis; supported Parnell against Butt, whom he accused of acting like a traitor, 1879; Land League agitator; prosecuted with others; elected Tipperary MP, 1880-83; travelled to America on fund-raising with Parnell; attacked Land Bill of 1881;
arrested under Coercion Acts, May 1881; released Sept.; signed No Rent Manifesto; travelled to America for health reasons, returning to stand for Mayo as Parnell’s nominee, 1885 (to 1918); joined with William O’Brien and Timothy Harrington in Plan of Campaign, offering what the tenants considered fair rents and using rents withheld to support evictees; imprisoned April 1887; engaged in defence of Munster farmers;
with Archbishop Croke devised formulate circumventing papal decree of 1888 condemning Campaign and Boycott methods; jailed again; raised money in America, from where he declared for Parnell in divorce split; sided against Parnell and supported McCarthy on his return to avoid Party split; speech of Jan. 1898 in Sligo praising men of 1798; opposed Horace Plunkett’s co-op. movement;
supported William O’Brien’s United Irish League; accepted John Redmond as leader; opposed Wyndham Land Act; opposed compulsory Irish in National University, though a member of the Committee that established it; opposed IRB and rise of the Irish Volunteers; mediated with Ulster Unionists at Buckingham Palace, 1914; sought lenience for men of 1916; conference leader of Irish Party on death of Redmond, 1918;
led withdrawal of Irish members at passage of Military Service Bill, 16 April 1918; helped organise campaign against conscription with Mansion House Committee; defeated in East Mayo by de Valera, then in prison, Dec. 1918; withdrew from politics; d. 4 Aug.; his paper are held in TCD Library; there is a pencil portrait by Sydney Prior Hall. ODNB DIB DIW DIH FDA

[ top ]

O[wen] Dudley Edwards & Fergus Pyle, eds., 1916, The Easter Rising (1968), give “John Dillon’s Speech of 11 May 1916”:

[Dillon makes mention of the shooting of Mr Sheehy-Skeffington.] ‘Horrible rumours which are current in Dublin, and which are doing untold and indescribable mischief, maddening the population of Dublin, who were your friends and loyal allies against this insurrection last week and who are rapidly becoming embittered by the sotires afloat and these executions ... ‘ (p.64.)

‘It is the first rebellion that ever took place in Ireland where you had a majority on your side. It is the fruit of our life work. We have risked our lives a hundred times to bring about this result. We are held up to odium as traitors by those men who made this rebellion, and our lives have been in danger a hundred times during the last thirty years because we have endeavoured to reconcile the two things, and now you are washing out our whole life work in a sea of blood.’ (67.)

If it had not been for the action of John MacNeill you would be fighting still ... he broke the back of the rebellion on the very eve of it, and he kept back a very large body of men from joining in’ (p.70.)

‘I say I am proud of their courage, and, if you were not so dense and so stupid, as some of you English people are, you would have had these men fighting for you, and they are men worth having. ... ours is a fighting race ... The fact of the matter is that what is poisoning the mind of Ireland, and rapidly poisoning it, is the secrecy of these trials and the continuance of these executions (p.72.) ... I do not think Abraham Lincoln executed one single man, and by that one act of clemency, he did an enormous work of good for the whole country (p.72.) ... why cannot you treat Ireland as Botha treated South Africa (p.73.) ... victims of misdirected enthusiasm and leadership (p.74.)

‘[Rebels showed] conduct beyond reproach as fighting men. I admit they were wrong; I know they were wrong; but they fought a clean fight, and they fought with superb bravery and skill, and no act of savagery or act against the usual customs of war that I know of has been brought home to any leader or any organised body of insurgents.’ (p.75.)

‘[...] the great bulk of the population were not favourable to the insurrection, and the insurgents themselves, who had confidently calculated on a rising of the people in their support, were absolutely disappointed. They got no support whatever. What is happening is that thousands of people in Dublin, who ten days ago were bitterly opposed to the whole of the Sinn Fein movement and to the rebellion, are now becoming infuriated against the Government on account of these executions, and as I am informed by letters received this morning, the feeling is spreading throughout the country in a most dangerous degree.’ [Reads statement for Mr. Skeffington’s widow] Mrs Skeffington begs me, in conclusion, to ask the Government and the House of Commons for a public investigation.’ (p.77.)

‘[...] I do most earnestly appeal to the Prime Minister to stop these executions ... it is not murderers who are being executed; it is insurgents who have fought a clean fight, a brave fight, however misguided, and it would be a damned good thing for you if your soldiers were able to put up as good a fight as did these men in Dublin - three thousand men against twenty thousand with machine-guns and artillery [Heckled and responds] ... we have attempted to bring the masses of the Irish people into harmony with you, in this great effort at reconciliation - I say, we are entitled to every assistance from the Members of tthis House and this Government.’ [End]

—Edwards & Pyle, Op. cit., p.62-78.

[ top ]

Religious dissension: ‘The day is gone by and I thank God for it, when anyone can sow dissension between the religion of the Irish people and the nationality of the Irish people, which it has always been our proudest boast have been kept in harmony, bound together by links which no Government and no coercion can tear asunder. The religion and nationality of the Irish people are bound to-day by stronger bonds than ever, which no power, whether it be a Catholic bishop or a Coercion Government, will ever sunder.’ (Quoted in Emmet Larkin, The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland and the Fall of Parnell 1888-1891, Liverpool 1979, pp.173-74; cited in D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland, London: Routledge 1982; 1991, pp.219-20.) Further, ‘The man who is a good Catholic is a good Nationalist.’ (Boyce, op. cit., idem.)

[ top ]

F. S. L. Lyons, John Dillon, A Biography (1968): ‘Dillon ended his angry speech on 18 Oct. 1916 with a quotation from Kettle, “This mate and mother of valiant rebels dead / Must come with all her history on her head.”’ (Hansard, House of Commons Debates, 5th ser. vol. 86, cols. 675-86; see notes for a speech in the House of Commons, 18 Oct 1916, only half-delivered, in Dillon papers. (Lyons, p.406.)

[ top ]

R. F. Foster, Modern Ireland (1988), p. 409: ‘“Killing Home Rule with kindness”’, [used] apropos Balfour’s policy, was his coinage.’ See also reference to Lyons, John Dillon (1968) in bibl. (516pp.): ‘all facets of his life [here] evaluated with skill.’

[ top ]

Joseph Lee, Ireland 1912-1985, Politics and Society (Cambridge UP 1989): ‘The first executions of the Easter Rising leaders took place on May 3 1916. A defiant speech by John Dillon [substance not reported here] of 11 May 1916 told the British that the executions would wash out in a stream of blood his life’s work for Ireland.’ (Lyons, Dillon, pp.380fff; here p.36.)

[ top ]

Barry O’Sullivan, ‘The Death of Thomas Ashe’, in Everyman (5 Oct. 1917), echoes Dillon: ‘Personally, I am of opinion that generosity to all the Sinn Féiners would have paid ...’ (A short notice tipped into Thomas Kettle, Ways of War, 1917; copy in library of Albert le Brocquy.)

[ top ]

Wyndam Act [on his resistance to the Land Act of 1903]: ‘Attempts have been made to throw the blame on Michael Davitt, The Freeman’s Journal and myself, and it has been said that we have delayed the reinstatement of the evicted tenants and obstructed the smooth working of the Act more than we have done. It has worked too smoothly - far too smoothly, to my mind. Some men have complained within the past year that the Land Act was not working smooth enough. For my part I look upon it as working a great deal too fast. Its pace has been ruinous to the people.’ (Quoted in D. D. Sheehan, Ireland Since Parnell (London: Denis O’Connor 1921), [Chapter XV] “Some Further Salvage from the Wreckage”; access full-text via Sheehan, q.v.)

[ top ]

On the Royal Irish Constabulary
The following is quoted in The Home Rule Bill: Memoranda on Amendments [Union Defence League], London 1912 - No. 4: Reserved Services - The Royal Irish Constabulary [Union Defence League], London (12 Oct. 1912) - available at Internet Archive [online]:

Not long after the Trevor Hall Convention of the Land League of America on May 18th, 1880, Mr. John Dillon addressed a meeting, at which he said:

‘It will be our duty, and we will set about it without delay, to disorganise and break up the Irish Constabulary [19] that for the past 30 years have stood at the back of the Irish landlords - bayonet in hand. The pay of these men, which is taken out of the pockets of the Irish tenants, is voted yearly in the Enghsh Parliament, and not an Irish member could be found to protest against it. Let us now see that, instead of the twelve hundred thousand pounds a year which is devoted to pay the Irish Constabulary, that not one hundred thousand will go for that purpose: then I would like to see the landlord who would face the Irish tenant! (Applause.) I tell you that the hour we take away the bayonet of the Irish policeman that hour the landlords will come to ask us for a settlement of the land question.’ (Special Commission Report, p.30).

Cross-examined at Cork on March 26, 1891, Mr. John Dillon was questioned on this matter as follows.

Mr. Ronan: ‘Did you say in a speech, “It will be our duty to disorganise and break up the Royal Irish Constabulary“’?
Mr. Dillon: ‘Yes, and I trust to do it yet.’
Mr. Ronan: ‘You would break and disorganise the Royal Irish Constabulary?’
Mr. Dillion: ‘No ; I have not the power yet, but when I have the power I trust to do it.’ (National Press, March 27, 1891.

At Castlerea on December 5, 1886, Mr. John Dillon, M.P., stated:

‘I want to say a word of warning to the Bailiffs, and all that class of people who will side with the landlord in the struggle this winter in Ireland, and that warning is this, that there is no man in Ireland, England, or Scotland who does not know who will have the Government in Ireland within the next few years. (Cheers.) The little potentates are in their own estimation the Lynches or Macdougalls, who have the police to help them to-day, and who think they can ride over the bodies of our people. I tell these people that the time is at hand, and very close at hand too, when the police will be our servants, when the police will be taking their pay from Mr. Parnell, when he will be Prime Minister of Ireland. And I warn the men to-day who take their stand by the side of landlordism and signalise them as the enemies of the people, that in the time of our power we will remember them.’ (Daily News, December 6, 1886).

Further ...
On March 13, 1887, Mr. John Dillon spoke as follows at Tipperary:

‘Believe me, they will not be able to do much with their Coercion Act, and I would tell you what is more, that there is not a magistrate or a policeman (loud groans) don’t be so excited against the police, because they will be all working under my orders within a year (great cheering) there is no magistrate or policeman in Ireland who does not know in his heart that Mr. Parnell will be ruler in this country in a year or two, and do you suppose that they are going to work a Coercion Act bitterly against us? Not a bit of it. They like their bread and butter as much as anj^body. They know right well that it is not to the landlords they will have to look in the future. They know perfectly well now what they did not believe during the last Coercion Act, that since Mr. Gladstone has come round, the cause is going to Avin, and they know perfectly well, every man of them, that Mr. Parnell will be their master, as he will be the master of this country - (cheers) - within a very short time. Believe me, the Coercion Act will not amount to much. Nobody will be afraid of it.’ [21] and the only consequence will be we will ask a larger reduction when it comes. I think it would be only fair play that suppose we asked twenty-five per cent, without a Coercion Act, we should ask forty-five per cent, if we got a Coercion Act. (Cheers.) It would be only justice to inflict a fine on a man who behaves badly, and if a landlord of the country behaves badly, I don’t see why he should not be fined as well as a poor fellow who would behave himself badly in the street.’ (Freeman’s Journal, March 14, 1887.

Speaking at Portumna, October 15th, 1911, he said:

‘I say the best plan to promote and expedite that settlement [of evicted tenants, freedom from landlord tyranny and land purchase] is by organising the countiy, and by an overwhelming organisation to push forward the National cause of Home Rule. Because if you once get it into the heads of Irish landlords that a Home Rule Parliament will be sitting within two years in Dublin they will be tumbling over each other to sell. Once you convince them that Home Rule is really coming you will find you have a totally different class of men to deal with. They have been very stiff in the past, but if there was a National Parliament they would not be so stiff at all, and the land- lords know that they would not get the prices by any means that they got in the past. [...] Some landlords never will sell until compelled, and the first necessity for Ireland to-day is an effective, warning, compulsoiy Bill. We have compulsion here under the Boaixl, but it is not the kind we had in the Bill originally, for it gives tliat landlord the bonus and cash, and puts him in a better position than the man who is not compelled. Ii you had a proper compidsory Bill, which would take the land from the landlord without bonus, it would be like the case of the “Possum up the tree. Don’t shoot, I’ll come down.’ (Freeman’s Journal, 16 Oct. 1911.)


All the foregoing quoted in The Home Rule Bill: Memoranda on Amendments [Union Defence League], London 1912 - No. 4: Reserved Services - The Royal Irish Constabulary [Union Defence League], London (12 Oct. 1912): online; accessed 16.08.2014.)

[See further under John Redmond, infra.]

[ top ]

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2; the intransigence of John Dillon [Deane, ed.], 212; worried that reforms from Westminster might rob self-government of its rationale [do.], 213; Butt’s refusal to admit that ‘we have no common cause with England’ cost him the support of Dillon and others, 224n; Parnell says Gladstone maligns John Dillon, 305 [ftn. 2-line biog.]; ‘[Dillon] willing to do a ridiculous thing, and agree to a ridiculous thing, so long as he saw a chance of keeping me [Parnell] out of public life’ (1891), 311; on Feb 3 1891 Parnell met O’Brien and Dillon at Calais in a stormy meeting that put an end to negotiations; 316n; Dillon unforgiving of Whig-tending Nationalist MP (R. Barry O’Brien, 1898), 317; Parnell, with Dillon, introduces boycott as chief weapon of the Land League, 318n; Dillon organises with Healy and O’Brien the Plan of Campaign (1886), failing in 1891 for want of Parnell’s support and funds, 323[n]; Dillon. T. P. O’Connor, and O’Brien fund-raising in USA when Parnell crisis arose; telegrammed supportm 20 Nov.; cabled 28 Nov. urging Parnell to retire; cabled their conviction that ‘Mr Parnell’s continued leadership is impossible’ after Parnell’s manifesto of 29 Nov.; these three characterised by Frank Hugh O’Donnell as ‘the three who did not keep the bridge’ (History of the IPP, 1910), 333; ‘Mr John Dillon MP has come forward significantly to warn the Gaels that their pretensions to make the Irish language a compulsory subject of matriculation in the new university, which has been called National, cannot be supported’ [idem.], 337; the Boer War, 1899-1902, condemned most vociferously of all in the IPP by Dillon, 339; William O’Brien counts Dillon among ‘three powerful Irishmen who reduced the glorious opportunity of 1903 [Land Conference] to a nullity’, 352; ‘a woeful falling off’ from the ‘early Land League manner’, according to O’Brien, discernible in the latter-day Dillon who cries ‘unconstitutional action’ regarding 1916 (1918), 353. Bibl., F.S L. Lyons, John Dillon: A Biography (Routledge, 1968) [337]

[ top ]

Booksellers: John Dillon, Facts for Mr. Parnell’s Bill, A Speech (1886), 27pp. [listed in Carty, Cat. 980; Hyland, Cat. of Jan. 1996].

[ top ]

Kith & Kin

‘An Address before the Historical Society’, Dublin Institute, at the close of the session 1840-41, by John Dillon, Esq, BA, Barrister at law, President of the Society (Dublin: Webb & Chapman 1842), 37pp.:

‘On such occasions it is usual to hold forth to our imitation the great industry of Demosthenes ... for my part, I have no faith in those stories that are told about the time and labour he devoted to the mere framing of his speeches. It is hardly credible that a man who took such an active part in the politics of his country ... could have consumed whole months ... in the composition of a single speech’ [7-8; ...]

‘You will find that it is not because they were more accomplished rhetoricians, that the men of the [French] revolution were greater orators than those who went before them, but because of the bursting forth of new passions, and the diffusion from breast to breast of high and fierce desires. It is this that roused the sensual fire of Mirabeau ... we may draw too from one of the few bright pages in th history of our own country, a strong confirmation of this truth - that the way to make me eloquent is to inspire them with strong passions, and to place great objects before them.’ [9]

‘No many who has an Irish heart within him, can read without shame and indignation, the history of that century which preceded ’82. ... But observe what a change was effectd in those men, when they were summoned to take a share in the great events that were then passing around them. Their apathy disappeared; a sudden [11] energy too possession of their souls; they stood erect; and the astonished tyrants, to whose insults and rapacity they had a short time bfore submitted without a murmur, now trembled beneath their frown. ... My object in alluding to the period of Irish independence, is not political. It is ... to restore eloquence to what it was in the olden time, to restore those aspirations and those passions ... &c.’ [11; ...]

‘At a time when they had the enemy completely at their mercy, and might have dictated whatever terms they pleased, they should have [12] insisted on something more than permission, to meet and amuse one another with elaborate orations ... They should have known that no matter what forms of liberty it may possess, a nation is not free which has not the means of defending itself from aggression; that a constitution is but a mockery whcih has no security for its existence but the faith and forbearance of strangers; that a parliament is nothing more than a debating club, if it be not sustained by the sympathy, and, if need be, by the arms of the people. [13] ... They tell us that national distinctions are but the relics of an imperfect civilization ... mischievous opinions [to which he attributes] [15] the decay of eloquence’

‘[... T]he spirit of national patriotism should be kept [16] alive.’ [Here refers to Dr Whateley [who] argues from genesis that God has split humanity into separate races [19].

‘He formed our intellect and active capacities on such a scale, that we can neither comprehend the real interests of the human race, nor, if we did comprehend, could we effectually promote them; and he suited our desires to those limited capacities.’ [20]

[Further argues against ‘the spirit of cosmopolitanism’ [21]; ‘The rationality of national patriotism appears, therefore, to rest, upon precisely the same footing as that of any other of our affections; namely, the imperfection of our intellectual capacities, and the necessity of some guide to conduct society along that path, which human reason sheds but faint and glimmering light.’ [22]

‘[...] It is sweet to look back upon those times when our country was great and free. It is sweet to muse amidst moss-grown ruins, the memorials of her pride. ... The very sorrows of the patriot are, like our own soft-breathing music, sweetly sad.’ [21] Of the dead patriot:] ‘Oh! who would give his glory and that chainless grave for a few short years of slavery and shame!’ [32]; develops his theme warmly for several pages:‘Rome could not be conquered while she was dead to Roman hearts.’ [36] peroration: ‘national patriotism and common sense are by no means inconsistent ... &c.’

—The pamphlet is bound with others in the library of Herbert Bell, Adelaide Park, Belfast.