James Stephens, The Insurrection in Dublin (Dublin: Maunsel & Co. 1916) - II

Foreword
Chapter I: Monday
Chapter II: Tuesday
Chapter III: Wednesday
Chapter IV: Thursday
Chapter V: Friday
Chapter VI: Saturday
  Chapter VII: Sunday
Chapter VIII: The Insurrection Is Over
Chapter IX: The Volunteers
Chapter X: Some of the Leaders
Chapter XI: Labour and the Insurrection
Chapter XII: The Irish Questions
Note: As in the original, page-breaks & corresponding numbers appear at the start of each page.

Chapter VI: Saturday
This morning also there has been no bread, no milk, no meat, no newspapers, but the sun is shining. It is astonishing that, thus early in the Spring, the weather should be so beautiful.

It is stated freely that the Post Office has been taken, and just as freely it is averred that it has not been taken. The approaches to Merrion Square are held by the military, and I was not permitted to go to my office. As I came to this point shots were fired at a motor car which had not stopped on being challenged. Bystanders said it was Sir Horace Plunkett’s car, and that he had been shot. Later we found that Sir Horace was not hurt, but that his nephew who drove the car had been severely wounded.

At this hour the rumour of the fall of Verdun was persistent. Later on it was denied, as was denied the companion rumour [p.64] of the relief of Kut. Saw R. who had spent three days and the whole of his money in getting home from County Clare. He had heard that Mrs. Sheehy Skeffington’s house was raided, and that two dead bodies had been taken out of it. Saw Miss P. who seemed sad. I do not know what her politics are, but I think that the word ‘kindness’ might be used to cover all her activities. She has a heart of gold, and the courage of many lions. I then met Mr. Commissioner Bailey who said the Volunteers had sent a deputation, and that terms of surrender were being discussed. I hope this is true, and I hope mercy will be shown to the men. Nobody believes there will be any mercy shown, and it is freely reported that they are shot in the street, or are taken to the nearest barracks and shot there. The belief grows that no person who is now in the Insurrection will be alive when the Insurrection is ended.

That is as it will be. But these days the thought of death does not strike on the mind with any severity, and, should the European war continue much longer, the fear of death will entirely depart from man, as it has departed [p.65] many times in history. With that great deterrent gone our rulers will be gravely at a loss in dealing with strikers and other such discontented people. Possibly they will have to resurrect the long-buried idea of torture.

The people in the streets are laughing and chatting. Indeed, there is gaiety in the air as well as sunshine, and no person seems to care that men are being shot every other minute, or bayoneted, or blown into scraps or burned into cinders. These things are happening, nevertheless, but much of their importance has vanished.

I met a man at the Green who was drawing a plan on the back of an envelope. The problem was how his questioner was to get from where he was standing to a street lying at the other side of the river, and the plan as drawn insisted that to cover this quarter of an hour’s distance he must set out on a pilgrimage of more than twenty miles. Another young boy was standing near embracing a large ham. He had been trying for three days to convey his ham to a house near the Gresham Hotel where his sister lived. He [p.66] had almost given up hope, and he hearkened intelligently to the idea that he should himself eat the ham and so get rid of it.

The rifle fire was persistent all day, but, saving in certain localities, it was not heavy. Occasionally the machine guns rapped in. There was no sound of heavy artillery.

The rumour grows that the Post Office has been evacuated, and that the Volunteers are at large and spreading everywhere across the roofs. The rumour grows also that terms of surrender are being discussed, and that Sackville Street has been levelled to the ground.

At half-past seven in the evening calm is almost complete. The sound of a rifle shot being only heard at long intervals.

I got to bed this night earlier than usual. At two o’clock I left the window from which a red flare is yet visible in the direction of Sackville Street. The morning will tell if the Insurrection is finished or not, but at this hour all is not over. Shots are ringing all around and down my street, and the vicious crackling of these rifles grow at times into regular volleys.

Chapter VII: Sunday
The Insurrection has not ceased.

There is much rifle fire, but no sound from the machine guns or the eighteen pounders and trench mortars.

From the window of my kitchen the flag of the Republic can be seen flying afar. This is the flag that flies over Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, and I will know that the Insurrection has ended as soon as I see this flag pulled down.

When I went out there were few people in the streets. I met D. H., and, together, we passed up the Green. The Republican flag was still flying over the College of Surgeons. We tried to get down Grafton Street (where broken windows and two gaping interiors told of the recent visit of looters), but a little down this street we were waved back by armed sentries We then cut away by the Gaiety Theatre into Mercer’s Street, where immense [p.68] lines of poor people were drawn up waiting for the opening of the local bakery. We got into George’s Street, thinking to turn down Dame Street and get from thence near enough to Sackville Street to see if the rumours about its destruction were true, but here also we were halted by the military, and had to retrace our steps.

There was no news of any kind to be gathered from the people we talked to, nor had they even any rumours.

This was the first day I had been able to get even a short distance outside of my own quarter, and it seemed that the people of my quarter were more able in the manufacture of news or more imaginative than were the people who live in other parts of the city. We had no sooner struck into home parts than we found news. We were told that two of the Volunteer leaders had been shot. These were Pearse and Connolly. The latter was reported as lying in the Castle Hospital with a fractured thigh. Pearse was cited as dead with two hundred of his men, following their sally from the Post Office. The machine guns had caught them as they left, and none [p.69] of them remained alive. The news seemed afterwards to be true except that instead of Pearse it was The O’Rahilly who had been killed. Pearse died later and with less excitement.

A man who had seen an English newspaper said that the Kut force had surrendered to the Turk, but that Verdun had not fallen to the Germans. The rumour was current also that a great naval battle had been fought whereat the German fleet had been totally destroyed with loss to the English of eighteen warships. It was said that among the captured Volunteers there had been a large body of Germans, but nobody believed it; and this rumour was inevitably followed by the tale that there were one hundred German submarines lying in the Stephen’s Green pond.

At half-past two I met Mr. Commissioner Bailey, who told me that it was all over, and that the Volunteers were surrendering everywhere in the city. A motor car with two military officers, and two Volunteer leaders had driven to the College of Surgeons and been admitted. After a short interval [p.70]

Madame Marckievicz marched out of the College at the head of about 100 men, and they had given up their arms; the motor car with the Volunteer leaders was driving to other strongholds, and it was expected that before nightfall the capitulations would be complete.

I started home, and on the way I met a man whom I had encountered some days previously, and from whom rumours had sprung as though he wove them from his entrails, as a spider weaves his web. He was no less provided on this occasion, and it was curious to listen to his tale of English defeats on every front. He announced the invasion of England in six different quarters, the total destruction of the English fleet, and the landing of immense German armies on the West coast of Ireland. He made these things up in his head. Then he repeated them to himself in a loud voice, and became somehow persuaded that they had been told to him by a well-informed stranger, and then he believed them and told them to everybody he met. Amongst other things Spain had declared war on our behalf, the Chilian Navy [p.71] was hastening to our relief. For a pin he would have sent France flying westward all forgetful of her own war. A singular man truly, and as I do think the only thoroughly happy person in our city.

It is half-past three o’clock, and from my window the Republican flag can still be seen flying over Jacob’s factory. There is occasional shooting, but the city as a whole is quiet. At a quarter to five o’clock a heavy gun boomed once. Ten minutes later there was heavy machine gun firing and much rifle shooting. In another ten minutes the flag at Jacob’s was hauled down.

During the remainder of the night sniping and military replies were incessant, particularly in my street.

The raids have begun in private houses. Count Plunkett’s house was entered by the military who remained there for a very long time. Passing home about two minutes after Proclamation hour I was pursued for the whole of Fitzwilliam Square by bullets. They buzzed into the roadway beside me, and the sound as they whistled near was curious. The sound is something like that made by a very [p.72] swift saw, and one gets the impression that as well as being very swift they are very heavy.

Snipers are undoubtedly on the roofs opposite my house, and they are not asleep on these roofs. Possibly it is difficult to communicate with these isolated bands the news of their companions’ surrender, but it is likely they will learn, by the diminution of fire in other quarters that their work is over.

In the morning on looking from my window I saw four policemen marching into the street. They were the first I had seen for a week. Soon now the military tale will finish, the police story will commence, the political story will recommence, and, perhaps, the weeks that follow this one will sow the seed of more hatred than so many centuries will be able to uproot again, for although Irish people do not greatly fear the military they fear the police, and they have very good reason to do so.

Chapter VIII: The Insurrection Is Over
The Insurrection is over, and it is worth asking what has happened, how it has happened, and why it happened?

The first question is easily answered. The finest part of our city has been blown to smithereens, and burned into ashes. Soldiers amongst us who have served abroad say that the ruin of this quarter is more complete than any thing they have seen at Ypres, than anything they have seen anywhere in France or Flanders. A great number of our men and women and children, Volunteers and civilians confounded alike, are dead, and some fifty thousand men who have been moved with military equipment to our land are now being removed therefrom. The English nation has been disorganised no more than as they were affected by the transport of these men and material. That is what happened, and it is all that happened.

How it happened is another matter, and [p.74] one which, perhaps, will not be made clear for years. All we know in Dublin is that our city burst into a kind of spontaneous war; that we lived through it during one singular week, and that it faded away and disappeared almost as swiftly as it had come. The men who knew about it are, with two exceptions, dead, and these two exceptions are in gaol, and likely to remain there long enough. (Since writing one of these men has been shot.)

Why it happened is a question that may be answered more particularly. It happened because the leader of the Irish Party misrepresented his people in the English House of Parliament. On the day of the declaration of war between England and Germany he took the Irish case, weighty with eight centuries of history and tradition, and he threw it out of the window. He pledged Ireland to a particular course of action, and he had no authority to give this pledge and he had no guarantee that it would be met. The ramshackle intelligence of his party and his own emotional nature betrayed him and us and England. He swore Ireland to loyalty as if he had Ireland in his pocket, and could answer [p.75] for her. Ireland has never been disloyal to England, not even at this epoch, because she has never been loyal to England, and the profession of her National faith has been unwavering, has been known to every English person alive, and has been clamant to all the world beside.

Is it that he wanted to be cheered? He could very easily have stated Ireland’s case truthfully, and have proclaimed a benevolent neutrality (if he cared to use the grandiloquent words) on the part of this country. He would have gotten his cheers, he would in a few months have gotten Home Rule in return for Irish soldiers. He would have received politically whatever England could have safely given him. But, alas, these carefulnesses did not chime with his emotional moment. They were not magnificent enough for one who felt that he was talking not to Ireland or to England, but to the whole gaping and eager earth, and so he pledged his country’s credit so deeply that he did not leave her even one National rag to cover herself with.

After a lie truth bursts out, and it is no [p.76] longer the radiant and serene goddess we knew or hoped for - it is a disease, it is a moral syphilis and will ravage until the body in which it can dwell has been purged. Mr. Redmond told the lie and he is answerable to England for the violence she had to be guilty of, and to Ireland for the desolation to which we have had to submit. Without his lie there had been no Insurrection; without it there had been at this moment, and for a year past, an end to the ‘Irish question.’ Ireland must in ages gone have been guilty of abominable crimes or she could not at this juncture have been afflicted with a John Redmond.

He is the immediate cause of this our latest Insurrection - the word is big, much too big for the deed, and we should call it row, or riot, or squabble, in order to draw the fact down to its dimensions, but the ultimate blame for the trouble between the two countries does not fall against Ireland.

The fault lies with England, and in these days while an effort is being made (interrupted, it is true, by cannon) to found a better understanding between the two nations it is well that England should recognize what she [p.77] has done to Ireland, and should try at least to atone for it. The situation can be explained almost in a phrase. We are a little country and you, a huge country, have persistently beaten us. We are a poor country and you, the richest country in the world, have persistently robbed us. That is the historical fact, and whatever national or political necessities are opposed in reply, it is true that you have never given Ireland any reason to love you, and you cannot claim her affection without hypocrisy or stupidity.

You think our people can only be tenacious in hate - it is a lie. Our historical memory is truly tenacious, but during the long and miserable tale of our relations you have never given us one generosity to remember you by, and you must not claim our affection or our devotion until you are worthy of them. We are a good people; almost we are the only Christian people left in the world, nor has any nation shown such forbearance towards their persecutor as we have always shown to you. No nation has forgiven its enemies as we have forgiven you, time after time down the miserable generations, the continuity of our forgiveness only equalled by the continuity [p.78] of your ill-treatment. Between our two countries you have kept and protected a screen of traders and politicians who are just as truly your enemies as they are ours. In the end they will do most harm to you for we are by this vaccinated against misery but you are not, and the ‘loyalists’ who sell their own country for a shilling will sell another country for a penny when the opportunity comes and safety with it.

Meanwhile do not always hasten your presents to us out of a gun. You have done it so often that your guns begin to bore us, and you have now an opportunity which may never occur again to make us your friends. There is no bitterness in Ireland against you on account of this war, and the lack of ill-feeling amongst us is entirely due to the more than admirable behaviour of the soldiers whom you sent over here. A peace that will last for ever can be made with Ireland if you wish to make it, but you must take her hand at once, for in a few months’ time she will not open it to you; the old, bad relations will re-commence, the rancor will be born and grow, and another memory will be stored away in Ireland’s capacious and retentive brain.

Chapter IX: The Volunteers
There is much talk of the extraordinary organising powers displayed in the insurrection, but in truth there was nothing extraordinary in it. The real essence and singularity of the rising exists in its simplicity, and, saving for the courage which carried it out, the word extraordinary is misplaced in this context.

The tactics of the Volunteers as they began to emerge were reduced to the very skeleton of ‘strategy’. It was only that they seized certain central and strategical districts, garrisoned those and held them until they were put out of them. Once in their forts there was no further egress by the doors, and for purpose of entry and sortie they used the skylights and the roofs. On the roofs they had plenty of cover, and this cover conferred on them a mobility which was their chief asset, and which alone enabled them to protract the rebellion beyond the first day. [p.80]

This was the entire of their home plan, and there is no doubt that they had studied Dublin roofs and means of inter- communication by roofs with the closest care. Further than that I do not think they had organised anything. But this was only the primary plan, and, unless they were entirely mad, there must have been a sequel to it which did not materialise, and which would have materialised but that the English Fleet blocked the way.

There is no doubt that they expected the country to rise with them, and they must have known what their own numbers were, and what chance they had of making a protracted resistance. The word ‘resistance’ is the keyword of the rising, and the plan of holding out must have been rounded off with a date. At that date something else was to have happened which would relieve them.

There is not much else that could happen except the landing of German troops in Ireland or in England. It would have been, I think, immaterial to them where these were landed, but the reasoning seems to point to the fact that they expected and had arranged [p.81] for such a landing, although on this point there is as yet no evidence.

The logic of this is so simple, so plausible, that it might be accepted without further examination, and yet further examination is necessary, for in a country like Ireland logic and plausibility are more often wrong than right. It may just as easily be that except for furnishing some arms and ammunition Germany was not in the rising at all, and this I prefer to believe. It had been current long before the rising that the Volunteers knew they could not seriously embarrass England, and that their sole aim was to make such a row in Ireland that the Irish question would take the status of an international one, and on the discussion of terms of peace in the European war the claims of Ireland would have to be considered by the whole Council of Europe and the world.

That is, in my opinion, the metaphysic behind the rising. It is quite likely that they hoped for German aid, possibly some thousands of men, who would enable them to prolong the row, but I do not believe they expected German armies, nor do I think they [p.82] would have welcomed these with any cordiality.

In this insurrection there are two things which are singular in the history of Irish risings. One is that there were no informers, or there were no informers among the chiefs. I did hear people say in the streets that two days before the rising they knew it was to come; they invariably added that they had not believed the news, and had laughed at it. A priest said the same thing in my hearing, and it may be that the rumour was widely spread, and that everybody, including the authorities, looked upon it as a joke.

The other singularity of the rising is the amazing silence in which it was fought. Nothing spoke but the guns; and the Volunteers on the one side and the soldiers on the other potted each other and died in whispers; it might have been said that both sides feared the Germans would hear them and take advantage of their preoccupation.

There is a third reason given for the rebellion, and it also is divorced from foreign plots. It is said, and the belief in Dublin was widespread, that the Government intended to [p.83] raid the Volunteers and seize their arms. One remembers to- day the paper which Alderman Kelly read to the Dublin Corporation, and which purported to be State Instructions that the Military and Police should raid the Volunteers, and seize their arms and leaders. The Volunteers had sworn they would not permit their arms to be taken from them. A list of the places to be raided was given, and the news created something of a sensation in Ireland when it was published that evening. The Press, by instruction apparently, repudiated this document, but the Volunteers, with most of the public, believed it to be true, and it is more than likely that the rebellion took place in order to forestall the Government.

This is also an explanation of the rebellion, and is just as good a one as any other. It is the explanation which I believe to be the true one.

All the talk of German invasion and the landing of German troops in Ireland is so much nonsense in view of the fact that England is master of the seas, and that from a week before the war down to this date she [p.84] has been the undisputed monarch of those ridges. During this war there will be no landing of troops in either England or Ireland unless Germany in the meantime can solve the problem of submarine transport. It is a problem which will be solved some day, for every problem can be solved, but it will hardly be during the progress of this war. The men at the head of the Volunteers were not geniuses, neither were they fools, and the difficulty of acquiring military aid from Germany must have seemed as insurmountable to them as it does to the Germans themselves. They rose because they felt that they had to do so, or be driven like sheep into the nearest police barracks, and be laughed at by the whole of Ireland as cowards and braggarts.

It would be interesting to know why, on the eve of the insurrection, Professor MacNeill resigned the presidency of the Volunteers. The story of treachery which was heard in the streets is not the true one, for men of his type are not traitors, and this statement may be dismissed without further comment or notice. One is left to imagine what can have [p.85] happened during the conference which is said to have preceded the rising, and which ended with the resignation of Professor MacNeill.

This is my view, or my imagining, of what occurred. The conference was called because the various leaders felt that a hostile movement was projected by the Government, and that the times were exceedingly black for them. Neither Mr. Birrell nor Sir Mathew Nathan had any desire that there should be a conflict in Ireland during the war. This cannot be doubted. From such a conflict there might follow all kinds of political repercussions; but although the Government favoured the policy of laissez faire, there was a powerful military and political party in Ireland whose whole effort was towards the disarming and punishment of the Volunteers - particularly I should say the punishment of the Volunteers. I believe, or rather I imagine, that Professor MacNeill was approached at the instance of Mr. Birrell or Sir Matthew Nathan and assured that the Government did not meditate any move against his men, and that so long as his Volunteers remained quiet they would not be molested by [p.86] the authorities. I would say that Professor MacNeill gave and accepted the necessary assurances, and that when he informed his conference of what had occurred, and found that they did not believe faith would be kept with them, he resigned in the despairing hope that his action might turn them from a purpose which he considered lunatic, or, at least, by restraining a number of his followers from rising, he might limit the tale of men who would be uselessly killed.

He was not alone in his vote against a rising. The O’Rahilly and some others are reputed to have voted with him, but when insurrection was decided on, the O’Rahilly marched with his men, and surely a gallant man could not have done otherwise.

When the story of what occurred is authoritatively written (it may be written) I think that this will be found to be the truth of the matter, and that German intrigue and German money counted for so little in the insurrection as to be negligible.

Chapter X: Some of the Leaders
Meanwhile the insurrection, like all its historical forerunners, has been quelled in blood. It sounds rhetorical to say so, but it was not quelled in peasoup or tisane. While it lasted the fighting was very determined, and it is easily, I think, the most considerable of Irish rebellions.

The country was not with it, for be it remembered that a whole army of Irishmen, possibly three hundred thousand of our race, are fighting with England instead of against her. In Dublin alone there is scarcely a poor home in which a father, a brother, or a son is not serving in one of the many fronts which England is defending. Had the country risen, and fought as stubbornly as the Volunteers did, no troops could have beaten them - well that is a wild statement, the heavy guns could always beat them - but from whatever angle Irish people consider this affair it must [p.88] appear to them tragic and lamentable beyond expression, but not mean and not unheroic.

It was hard enough that our men in the English armies should be slain for causes which no amount of explanation will ever render less foreign to us, or even intelligible; but that our men who were left should be killed in Ireland fighting against the same England that their brothers are fighting for ties the question into such knots of contradiction as we may give up trying to unravel. We can only think - this has happened - and let it unhappen itself as best it may.

We say that the time always finds the man, and by it we mean: that when a responsibility is toward there will be found some shoulder to bend for the yoke which all others shrink from. It is not always nor often the great ones of the earth who undertake these burdens - it is usually the good folk, that gentle hierarchy who swear allegiance to mournfulness and the under dog, as others dedicate themselves to mutton chops and the easy nymph. It is not my intention to idealise any of the men who were concerned [p.89] in this rebellion. Their country will, some few years hence, do that as adequately as she has done it for those who went before them.

Those of the leaders whom I knew were not great men, nor brilliant - that is they were more scholars than thinkers, and more thinkers than men of action; and I believe that in no capacity could they have attained to what is called eminence, nor do I consider they coveted any such public distinction as is noted in that word.

But in my definition they were good men - men, that is, who willed no evil, and whose movements of body or brain were unselfish and healthy. No person living is the worse off for having known Thomas MacDonagh, and I, at least, have never heard MacDonagh speak unkindly or even harshly of anything that lived. It has been said of him that his lyrics were epical; in a measure it is true, and it is true in the same measure that his death was epical. He was the first of the leaders who was tried and shot. It was not easy for him to die leaving behind two young children and a young wife, and the thought that his last moment must have been tormented [p.90] by their memory is very painful. We are all fatalists when we strike against power, and I hope he put care from him as the soldiers marched him out.

The O’Rahilly also I knew, but not intimately, and I can only speak of a good humour, a courtesy, and an energy that never failed. He was a man of unceasing ideas and unceasing speech, and laughter accompanied every sound made by his lips.

Plunkett and Pearse I knew also, but not intimately. Young Plunkett, as he was always called, would never strike one as a militant person. He, like Pearse and MacDonagh, wrote verse, and it was no better nor worse than their’s were. He had an appetite for quaint and difficult knowledge. He studied Egyptian and Sanscrit, and distant curious matter of that sort, and was interested in inventions and the theatre. He was tried and sentenced and shot.

As to Pearse, I do not know how to place him, nor what to say of him. If there was an idealist among the men concerned in this insurrection it was he, and if there was any person in the world less fitted to head an insurrection [p.91] it was he also. I never could ‘touch’ or sense in him the qualities which other men spoke of, and which made him military commandant of the rising. None of these men were magnetic in the sense that Mr. Larkin is magnetic, and I would have said that Pearse was less magnetic than any of the others. Yet it was to him and around him they clung.

Men must find some centre either of power or action or intellect about which they may group themselves, and I think that Pearse became the leader because his temperament was more profoundly emotional than any of the others. He was emotional not in a flighty, but in a serious way, and one felt more that he suffered than that he enjoyed.

He had a power; men who came into intimate contact with him began to act differently to their own desires and interests. His schoolmasters did not always receive their salaries with regularity. The reason that he did not pay them was the simple one that he had no money. Given by another man this explanation would be uneconomic, but from him it was so logical that even a child could [p.92] comprehend it. These masters did not always leave him. They remained, marvelling perhaps, and accepting, even with stupefaction, the theory that children must be taught, but that no such urgency is due towards the payment of wages. One of his boys said there was no fun in telling lies to Mr. Pearse, for, however outrageous the lie, he always believed it. He built and renovated and improved his school because the results were good for his scholars, and somehow he found builders to undertake these forlorn hopes.

It was not, I think, that he ‘put his trust in God’, but that when something had to be done he did it, and entirely disregarded logic or economics or force. He said - such a thing has to be done and so far as one man can do it I will do it, and he bowed straightaway to the task.

It is mournful to think of men like these having to take charge of bloody and desolate work, and one can imagine them say, ‘Oh ! cursed spite’, as they accepted responsibility. [p.93]

Chapter XI: Labour and the Insurrection
No person in Ireland seems to have exact information about the Volunteers, their aims, or their numbers. We know the names of the leaders now. They were recited to us with the tale of their execution; and with the declaration of a Republic we learned something of their aim, but the estimate of their number runs through the figures ten, thirty, and fifty thousand. The first figure is undoubtedly too slender, the last excessive, and something between fifteen and twenty thousand for all Ireland would be a reasonable guess.

Of these, the Citizen Army or Labour side of the Volunteers, would not number more than one thousand men, and it is with difficulty such a figure could be arrived at. Yet it is freely argued, and the theory will grow, that the causes of this latest insurrection should be sought among the labour problems of Dublin rather than in any national or [p.94] patriotic sentiment, and this theory is buttressed by all the agile facts which such a theory would be furnished with.

It is an interesting view, but in my opinion it is an erroneous one.

That Dublin labour was in the Volunteer movement to the strength of, perhaps, two hundred men, may be true - it is possible there were more, but it is unlikely that a greater number, or, as many, of the Citizen Army marched when the order came. The overwhelming bulk of Volunteers were actuated by the patriotic ideal which is the heritage and the burden of almost every Irishman born out of the Unionist circle, and their connection with labour was much more manual than mental.

This view of the importance of labour to the Volunteers is held by two distinct and opposed classes.

Just as there are some who find the explanation of life in a sexual formula, so there is a class to whom the economic idea is very dear, and beneath every human activity they will discover the shock of wages and profit. It is truly there, but it pulls no more than its [p.95] weight, and in Irish life the part played by labour has not yet been a weighty one, although on every view it is an important one. The labour idea in Ireland has not arrived. It is in process of ‘becoming’, and when labour problems are mentioned in this country a party does not come to the mind, but two men only - they are Mr. Larkin and James Connolly, and they are each in their way exceptional and curious men.

There is another class who implicate labour, and they do so because it enables them to urge that as well as being grasping and nihilistic, Irish labour is disloyal and treacherous.

The truth is that labour in Ireland has not yet succeeded in organising anything - not even discontent. It is not self- conscious to any extent, and, outside of Dublin, it scarcely appears to exist. The national imagination is not free to deal with any other subject than that of freedom, and part of the policy of our ‘masters’ is to see that we be kept busy with politics instead of social ideas. From their standpoint the policy is admirable, and up to the present it has thoroughly succeeded. [p.96] One does not hear from the lips of the Irish workingman, even in Dublin, any of the affirmations and rejections which have long since become the commonplaces of his comrades in other lands. But on the subject of Irish freedom his views are instantly forthcoming, and his desires are explicit, and, to a degree, informed. This latter subject they understand and have fabricated an entire language to express it, but the other they do not understand nor cherish, and they are not prepared to die for it.

It is possibly true that before any movement can attain to really national proportions there must be, as well as the intellectual ideal which gives it utterance and a frame, a sense of economic misfortune to give it weight, and when these fuse the combination may well be irresistible. The organised labour discontent in Ireland, in Dublin, was not considerable enough to impose its aims or its colours on the Volunteers, and it is the labour ideal which merges and disappears in the national one. The reputation of all the leaders of the insurrection, not excepting Connolly, is that they were intensely patriotic [p.97] Irishmen, and also, but this time with the exception of Connolly, that they were not particularly interested in the problems of labour.

The great strike of two years ago remained undoubtedly as a bitter and lasting memory with Dublin labour - perhaps, even, it was not so much a memory as a hatred. Still, it was not hatred of England which was evoked at that time, nor can the stress of their conflict be traced to an English source. It was hatred of local traders, and, particularly, hatred of the local police, and the local powers and tribunals, which were arrayed against them.

One can without trouble discover reasons why they should go on strike again, but by no reasoning can I understand why they should go into rebellion against England, unless it was that they were patriots first and trade unionists a very long way afterwards.

I do not believe that this combination of the ideal and the practical was consummated in the Dublin insurrection, but I do believe that the first step towards the formation of [p.98] such a party has now been taken, and that if, years hence, there should be further trouble in Ireland such trouble will not be so easily dealt with as this one has been.

It may be that further trouble will not arise, for the co-operative movement, which growing slowly but steadily in Ireland, may arrange our economic question, and, incidentally, our national question also - that is if the English people do not decide that the latter ought to be settled at once.

James Connolly had his heart in both the national and the economic camp, but he was great-hearted man, and could afford to extend his affections where others could only dissipate them.

There can be no doubt that his powers of orderly thinking were of great service to the Volunteers, for while Mr. Larkin was the magnetic centre of the Irish labour movement, Connolly was its brains. He has been sentenced to death for his part in the insurrection, and for two days now he has been dead.

He had been severely wounded in the fighting, and was tended, one does not doubt with [p.99] great care, until he regained enough strength to stand up and be shot down again.

Others are dead also. I was not acquainted with them, and with Connolly I was not more than acquainted. I had met him twice many months ago, but other people were present each time, and he scarcely uttered a word on either of these occasions. I was told that he was by nature silent. He was a man who can be ill-spared in Ireland, but labour, throughout the world, may mourn for him also.

A doctor who attended on him during his last hours says that Connolly received the sentence of his death quietly. He was to be shot on the morning following the sentence. This gentleman said to him:

‘Connolly, when you stand up to be shot, will you say a prayer for me’?

Connolly replied:

‘I will’.

His visitor continued:

‘Will you say a prayer for the men who are shooting you’?

‘I will’, said Connolly, ‘and I will say a prayer for every good man in the world who is doing his duty’. [p.100]

He was a steadfast man in all that he undertook. We may be sure he steadfastly kept that promise. He would pray for others, who had not time to pray for himself, as he had worked for others during the years when he might have worked for himself.

Chapter XII: The Irish Questions
There is truly an Irish question. There are two Irish questions, and the most important of them is not that which appears in our newspapers and in our political propaganda.

The first is international, and can be stated shortly. It is the desire of Ireland to assume control of her national life. With this desire the English people have professed to be in accord, and it is at any rate so thoroughly understood that nothing further need be made of it in these pages.

The other Irish question is different, and less simply described. The difficulty about it is that it cannot be approached until the question of Ireland’s freedom has by some means been settled, for this ideal of freedom has captured the imagination of the race. It rides Ireland like a nightmare, thwarting or preventing all civilising or cultural work in this country, and it is not too much to say [p.102] that Ireland cannot even begin to live until that obsession and fever has come to an end, and her imagination has been set free to do the work which imagination alone can do - Imagination is intelligent kindness - we have sore need of it.

The second question might plausibly be called a religious one. It has been so called, and, for it is less troublesome to accept an idea than to question it, the statement has been accepted as truth - but it is untrue, and it is deeply and villainously untrue. No lie in Irish life has been so persistent and so mischievous as this one, and no political lie has ever been so ingeniously, and malevolently exploited.

There is no religious intolerance in Ireland except that which is political. I am not a member of the Catholic Church, and am not inclined to be the advocate of a religious system which my mentality dislikes, but I have never found real intolerance among my fellow-countrymen of that religion. I have found it among Protestants. I will limit that statement, too. I have found it among some Protestants. But outside of the North of Ireland [p.103] there is no religious question, and in the North it is fundamentally more political than religious.

All thinking is a fining down of one’s ideas, and thus far we have come to the statement of Ireland’s second question. It is not Catholic or Nationalist, nor have I said that it is entirely Protestant and Unionist, but it is on the extreme wing of this latter party that responsibility must be laid. It is difficult, even for an Irishman living in Ireland, to come on the real political fact which underlies Irish Protestant politics, and which fact has consistently opposed and baffled every attempt made by either England or Ireland to come to terms. There is such a fact, and clustered around it is a body of men whose hatred of their country is persistent and deadly and unexplained.

One may make broad generalisations on the apparent situation and endeavour to solve it by those. We may say that loyalty to England is the true centre of their action. I will believe it, but only to a point. Loyalty to England does not inevitably include this active hatred, this blindness, this withering [p.104] of all sympathy for the people among whom one is born, and among whom one has lived in peace, for they have lived in peace amongst us. We may say that it is due to the idea of privilege and the desire for power. Again, I will accept it up to a point - but these are cultural obsessions, and they cease to act when the breaking-point is reached.

I know of only two mental states which are utterly without bowels or conscience. These are cowardice and greed. Is it to a synthesis of these states that this more than mortal enmity may be traced? What do they fear, and what is it they covet? What can they redoubt in a country which is practically crimeless, or covet in a land that is almost as bare as a mutton bone? They have mesmerised themselves, these men, and have imagined into our quiet air brigands and thugs and titans, with all the other notabilities of a tale for children.

I do not think that this either will tell the tale, but I do think there is a story to be told - I imagine an esoteric wing to the Unionist Party. I imagine that Party includes a secret organisation - they may be Orangemen, they [p.105] may be Masons, and, if there be such, I would dearly like to know what the metaphysic of their position is, and how they square it with any idea of humanity or social life. Meantime, all this is surmise, and I, as a novelist, have a notoriously flighty imagination, and am content to leave it at that.

But this secondary Irish question is not so terrible as it appears. It is terrible now, it would not be terrible if Ireland had national independence.

The great protection against a lie is - not to believe it; and Ireland, in this instance, has that protection. The claims made by the Unionist Wing do not rely solely on the religious base. They use all the arguments. It is, according to them, unsafe to live in Ireland. (Let us leave this insurrection of a week out of the question.) Life is not safe in Ireland. Property shivers in terror of daily or nightly appropriation. Other, undefined, but even more woeful glooms and creeps, wriggle stealthily abroad.

These things are not regarded in Ireland, and, in truth, they are not meat for Irish consumption. Irish judges are presented with [p.106] white gloves with a regularity which may even be annoying to them, and were it not for political trouble they would be unable to look their salaries in the face. The Irish Bar almost weep in chorus at the words Land Act, and stare, not dumbly, on destitution. These tales are meant for England and are sent there. They will cease to be exported when there is no market for them, and these men will perhaps end by becoming patriotic and social when they learn that they do not really command the Big Battalions. But Ireland has no protection against them while England can be thrilled by their nonsense, and while she is willing to pound Ireland to a jelly on their appeal. Her only assistance against them is freedom.

There are certain simplicities upon which all life is based. A man finds that he is hungry and the knowledge enables him to go to work for the rest of his life. A man makes the discovery (it has been a discovery to many) that he is an Irishman, and the knowledge simplifies all his subsequent political action. There is this comfort about being an Irishman, you can be entirely Irish, and [p.107] claim thus to be as complete as a pebble or a star. But no Irish person can hope to be more than a mulatto Englishman, and if that be an ambition and an end it is not an heroic one.

But there is an Ulster difficulty, and no amount of burking it will solve it. It is too generally conceived among Nationalists that the attitude of Ulster towards Ireland is rooted in ignorance and bigotry. Allow that both of these bad parts are included in the Northern outlook, they do not explain the Ulster standpoint; and nothing can explain the attitude of official Ireland vis-a-vis with Ulster.

What has the Irish Party ever done to allay Northern prejudice, or bring the discontented section into line with the rest of Ireland? The answer is pathetically complete. They have done nothing. Or, if they have done anything, it was only that which would set every Northerner grinding his teeth in anger. At a time when Orangeism was dying they raised and marshalled the Hibernians, and we have the Ulsterman’s answer to the Hibernians in the situation by [p.108] which we are confronted to-day. If the Party had even a little statesmanship among them they would for the past ten years have marched up and down the North explaining and mollifying and courting the Black Northerner. But, like good Irishmen, they could not tear themselves away from England, and they paraded that country where a parade was not so urgent, and they made orations there until the merry accent of an Irishman must make an Englishmen wail for very boredom.

Some of that parade might have gladdened the eyes of the Belfast citizens; a few of those orations might have assisted the men of Derry to comprehend that, for the good of our common land, Home Rule and the unity of a nation was necessary if only to rid the country of these blatherers.

Let the Party explain why, among their political duties, they neglected the duty of placating Ulster in their proper persons. Why, in short, they boycotted Ulster and permitted political and religious and racial antagonism to grow inside of Ireland unchecked by any word from them upon that [p.109] ground. Were they afraid ‘nuts’ would be thrown at them? Whatever they dreaded, they gave Ulster the widest of wide berths, and wherever else they were visible and audible, they were silent and unseen in that part of Ireland.

The Ulster grievance is ostensibly religious; but safeguards on this count are so easily created and applied that this issue might almost be left out of account. The real difficulty is economic, and it is a tangled one. But unless profit and loss are immediately discernible the soul of man is not easily stirred by an accountant’s tale, and therefore the religious banner has been waved for our kinsfolk of Ulster, and under the sacred emblem they are fighting for what some people call mammon, but which may be in truth just plain bread and butter.

Before we can talk of Ireland a nation we must make her one. A nation, politically speaking, is an aggregation of people whose interests are identical; and the interests of Ulster with the rest of Ireland rather than being identical are antagonistic. It is England orders and pays for the Belfast ships, [p.110] and it is to Britain or under the goodwill of the British power that Ulster conducts her huge woollen trade. Economically the rest of Ireland scarcely exists for Ulster, and whoever insists on regarding the Northern question from an ideal plane is wasting his own time and the time of everyone who listens to him The safeguards which Ulster will demand, should events absolutely force her to it, may sound political or religious, they will be found essentially economic, and the root of them all will be a watertight friendship with England, and anything that smells, however distantly, of hatred for England will be a true menace to Ulster. We must swallow England if Ulster is to swallow us, and until that fact becomes apparent to Ireland the Ulster problem cannot be even confronted, let alone solved.

The words Sinn Fein mean ‘Ourselves’, and it is of ourselves I write in this chapter. More urgent than any political emancipation is the drawing together of men of good will in the endeavour to assist their necessitous land. Our eyes must be withdrawn from the ends of the earth and fixed on that which [p.111]

is around us and which we can touch. No politician will talk to us of Ireland if by any trick he can avoid the subject. His tale is still of Westminster and Chimborazo and the Mountains of the Moon. Irishmen must begin to think for themselves and of themselves, instead of expending energy on causes too distant to be assisted or hindered by them. I believe that our human material is as good as will be found in the world. No better, perhaps, but not worse. And I believe that all but local politics are unfruitful and soul-destroying. We have an island that is called little. It is more than twenty times too spacious for our needs, and we will not have explored the last of it in our children’s lifetime. We have more problems to resolve in our towns and cities than many generations of minds will get tired of striving with. Here is the world, and all that perplexes or delights the world is here also. Nothing is lost. Not even brave men. They have been used. From this day the great adventure opens for Ireland. The Volunteers are dead, and the call is now for volunteers.

[ previous ]
[ top ]
[ next ]