Ulster protestants identified the Union with economic success and with the numerical
protection provided by being part of the protestant majority of the British Isles. This was in
contrast to being a minority within a catholic home rule or independent Ireland, where there
would be minimal prospects for economic growth and prosperity. There was a blatant
element of sectarian self-interest implicit in this attitude; a wish to keep a degree of
superiority and security. There was also a genuine identification with British values and
aspirations that were not shared by most of the catholic population. Such an attitude had
always been there, but in the late nineteenth century it was accentuated by the
radicalisation of nationalist politics: for instance by Parnell’s party becoming the
spokesbody for the catholic church; the growth of the land agitation and the emergence of
cultural (Gaelic) nationalism that was totally alien to protestants and unionists. To this must
be added a real fear (even if exaggerated) of the catholic church with its increasingly
confident, uncompromising and dogmatic stance on social matters. (This was in total
polarity to an uncompromising adherence to protestant ‘values’ that were by-and-large
shared by both the British electorate and British public opinion makers).

In fact (especially since the shock of the 1886 Home Rule crisis) anglicans in the north
tended to have more in common with presbyterians than they had with their relatively
non-dynamic co-religionists in the south. Ulster protestants were of all classes and could not
be thought of as a colonial class as those in the south were believed to be. (Though even in
the last few years of the twentieth century Ulster Unionists were thought of as a colonial
population by nationalists.) These unionists were firmly rooted in the northern counties,
they knew no other home despite their loyalty to the crown and Britain. On the other hand
the anglican protestants of the south – both of the landed and professional classes – tended
to have the necessary social links with England. (There was also in the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries a significant anglican population of the lower middle and working classes
in Dublin and some areas of Leinster and Munster.) If the political climate moved towards
home rule many of the landed interest might accept the new situation, knowing that they
had the wherewithal to leave, should either nationalism or catholicism become too extreme
or overwhelming; this would leave the remaining elements of southern unionism vulnerable
and isolated.

Few were consciously considering leaving Ireland at the turn of the century and southern
unionists would continue to oppose nationalism for some years to come. Nevertheless the
land purchase schemes had undermined the foundations of the Union outside Ulster. Many
of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy were receiving a worthwhile compensation that would enable
a quitting of Ireland to be palatable and practical should the need arise. In electoral terms
unionism in the south had been reduced to a small handful of seats (South Dublin and
Trinity College) – the scattered demography of southern unionism meaning that there was
no hope of winning further seats (there were occasional temporary victories elsewhere such
as in Galway in 1900).

Opposition to the Second Home Rule Bill
The second home rule bill was defeated in the House of Lords rather than by Ulster
Unionism, nevertheless the speeches and actions made in 1892-3 were important in forging
an Ulster Unionist identity that was to be such a feature of Irish and British politics in the
twentieth century. In mid-June 1892, shortly before the general election, the Ulster
Convention was held in a specially constructed pavilion at Belfast’s Botanic Gardens. It was
presided over by the Duke of Abercorn, the premier landowner and aristocrat of “peripheral
Ulster” (see below). Although the Ulster Unionist initiative was in the process of moving
from the Conservative landed interest to the Conservative and Liberal Unionist business
interest, the southwest and mid-Ulster landed dynasties were to remain significant.
Conservatives and Liberal Unionists came together and a unity and discipline was
established that showed that Ulster Unionism had learned from its unpreparedness of 1885.
An extract from Thomas Sinclair’s speech to the Convention (he was the leading Liberal
Unionist in Ulster) illustrates a determination to resist home rule that would be put into
operation some years later at the time of the third home rule crisis:

“Fellow countrymen, Mr Gladstone’s threat is a serious one, but, nevertheless, we can
never falter in our resolve. We are children of the revolution of 1688, and, cost what it
may, we will have nothing to do with a Dublin parliament. If it be ever set up we shall
simply ignore its existence. Its acts will be but as waste paper; the police will find our
barracks preoccupied with our own constabulary; its judges will sit in empty court-houses.
The early efforts of its executive will be spent in devising means to deal with passive
resistance to its taxation.”

The Ulster Liberals and their concerns had been treated with off-hand disdain by Gladstone
at a meeting in March 1893 and nearly all had become staunch Unionists. The Liberal
Sinclair in his speech of the previous summer had touched on issues at the heart of Ulster
protestant sensibilities. He had referred to the Whig revolution of 1688 to which not only
Orangemen but also all Ulster protestants saw as their ancestors’ time of trial and of their
eventual triumph and deliverance. The Glorious Revolution and the Williamite settlement
marked a political victory whereby protestant concepts of “civil and religious liberty”
triumphed over the forces of catholic absolutism. Given the propensity to develop a siege
mentality and their total alienation from Irish nationalism a very powerful political force was
being formed. Moreover the reference to taxation underlined the fear of Ulster businessmen
and their protestant workers of potential nationalist protectionism. This, together with a
taxation policy that would bleed the thrifty north in order to subsidise the indolent and
industrially underdeveloped south, was a very real perception and fear amongst the Ulster
Unionists. Such rhetoric was not taken seriously outside unionist circles and the failure to do
so was to have important consequences for both the nationalist and Liberal causes in the
twentieth century.

Unity between Conservatives, Liberal Unionists and the most sectarian elements would be
difficult to achieve. Although the Orange Order provided an Ulster-wide network of lodges
that could (and did) organise, coordinate and resist home rule moves, its overtly sectarian
nature made it an unacceptable vehicle for Liberal Unionists and not a few Conservatives.
With this in mind, Unionist Clubs were formed by Lord Templetown, together with an
umbrella Unionist Clubs Council, at the time of the bill’s introduction in February of 1893.
Over 200 clubs were formed; at this time and during the 1911-14 period these were to be
the major means of anti-home rule organisation at a local level. Unionist Clubs were also
formed in Great Britain; in both islands the club acted as a means of propagating and
distributing publicity material. Additionally the Ulster Defence Union was set up to represent
the complete spectrum of Ulster Unionism and to coordinate resistance to home rule. As in
1886 there was some talk (but little action) of arming and drilling. The precedents had been
set once again for the 1912-14 crisis. As well as resisting the bill in parliament Salisbury,
Balfour and the leading British Unionists attended and addressed rallies; the Ulster issue
became their major line of opposition to home rule.

Formation of a separate Ulster Unionist structure (“Devolution is the Latin for Home Rule –
TP O’Connor”)
Given the attitude of the Conservative/Unionist leadership the devolution issue of a few
years later came as a shock to Ulster Unionists. Northern unionists perceived a degree of
equivocation in southern unionism at the time of the ‘Devolution Crisis’ of 1904-5.
Therefore they set up their own Ulster Unionist Council as they considered the
southern-dominated Irish Unionist Alliance to be ineffective, if not ‘wet’. Basically some
southern unionists had explored the possibility of quasi-home rule/devolution and they were
disowned by their political colleagues especially by those in the north. The Unionist
government of the day was embarrassed by the nature of the talks coordinated by Sir
Anthony MacDonnell (Wyndham’s senior civil servant in Dublin who had home rule
sympathies). This event, as well as leading to the resignation of Wyndham raised suspicions
in the Ulster Unionists of not only their co-religionists in the south but also of the British
government (a Unionist one at that). In these circumstances the Ulster Unionists felt
happier taking their fate into their own hands.

The UUC was to provide the machinery to fight home rule in the years 1911-14; it worked
amicably and effectively with the southern-based IUA in the years following 1906. It was
not the conscious intention of the UUC to abandon the unionists of the south to home rule,
merely a realisation that home rule could best be defeated by utilising fully the Ulster
dynamic. Some perceived that if unionists failed to defeat home rule in the other three
provinces, unionists in Ulster would still have the machinery to continue the fight. Once the
Third Home Rule crisis (1911-14) came about southern unionists realised (as did British
unionists) that Ulster Unionism was the one issue that might successfully defeat home rule
in the whole of Ireland. Partition was not a solution of first choice but an indication that
unionists had failed in their primary objective of preserving the Union intact. In due course
Ulster Unionists were to make a virtue out of necessity and were to value their ability to
resist Irish nationalism unencumbered by the increasingly dead weight of southern

A separate university structure
One of the most contentious matters in nineteenth century politics had been the university
issue: there was the sixteenth century University of Dublin (Trinity College, Dublin) open to
all, but anglican and establishment in ethos. To cater for others Peel had set up the Queen’s
Colleges in 1845, located in the major provincial cities: Cork, Galway and Belfast. In effect
these were to cater for the predominantly catholic populations of Munster and Connacht and
for the presbyterians of Ulster, whilst being open to all for a non-denominational education.
The two southern colleges survived but did not really prosper as they met with the strong
disapproval of the catholic church, which demanded the right of catholics to be educated by
catholics in an exclusively catholic institution. Therefore an unofficial university was set up
privately and in defiance of government wishes. Queen’s College Belfast prospered and
expanded however. In 1908 the Liberal government bowed to the inevitable and recognised
the unofficial Catholic University fully and incorporated it with Cork and Galway to form the
National University of Ireland, which was organised on the same lines as the National
University of Wales. (The failure of the old Queen’s Colleges had led to their replacement in
1879 by the Royal University and Examining Body that also catered for the Catholic
University.) The Belfast College was separated from its original sisters and incorporated as
a university in its own right (Queen’s University Belfast). This was an implicit recognition of
fundamental differences between north and south and the first legal and institutional
division to come about. The Liberals were (within a few years) pledged willy-nilly to Home
Rule but were slow to recognise the precedent that they had created by differentiating
between the culturally antagonistic natures found in the north and the south.

Mutual incomprehension
Nationalists and catholics tended to discount and dismiss Ulster Unionism as Ulster
protestants made up only half of the population of the province and sometimes failed (by
one seat) to achieve a unionist majority in terms of parliamentary representation within the
province. Similarly Liberals with their close identification with parliamentary majorities
tended to dismiss the Ulster Unionists as a mere sectional and sectarian interest. They
failed to take into account the points explained above of Ulster protestant strength. There
was of course an equal-sized catholic population who should have been aware of the
dynamism of Ulster protestantism; however they were not, as they saw unionism as being
no more than an important but unproven regional force that was a minority within the
island. In 1885 the unionist interest in Ulster had been disunited, furthermore there was
also a vein of Ulster tenant-right presbyterianism that could not be considered as truly
unionist. To the catholics, as nationalists, non-nationalism within Ireland was
incomprehensible and did not need to be taken that seriously. Moreover the degree of
mutual cultural and religious isolation within the province meant that it was very likely that
neither community was aware of or cared for the aspirations of the other. The unionist
population was as yet untested and although self-assured, was also unconscious of its own

The strength of Ulster Unionism, the core and periphery
The core of Ulster Unionism was the middle-class population of Belfast and its associated
industrial and suburban towns; it was generally able to enlist the support of the protestant
working-class with its long tradition of sectarian confrontation, which was often associated
with the Orange Order. Bourgeois confidence and economic clout became particularly
potent when combined with working-class numbers, between them they accounted for much
of the critical mass of Ulster Unionism. Urban and suburban anglicans and presbyterians
were able to cooperate with each other.

In the outlying counties of Ulster the landlord interest remained as the centre of Ulster
Unionism: unlike the landlords of elsewhere in Ireland the landowners of the peripheral
counties were sustained and supported by an appreciable number of protestant tenants,
who were largely anglican, there were few presbyterians in these counties. The landowners
remained as the natural leaders of rural unionism in Fermanagh and Cavan in particular,
they had been the first to utilise orangeism as a mechanism by which to defend protestant
interests against home rule and the land movement. The landed families of south west
Ulster (for instance the Saundersons and Crichtons) were of great importance in the
foundation of Irish and Ulster Unionism; their distrust of British governments dated back to
the disestablishment era, which (ironically) revitalised their “protestant” Church of Ireland.
These landed families not only wanted to preserve their social and material life, they also
believed passionately in their church. Although the landowners of the peripheral counties
were eclipsed by the middle-class population of the Belfast core in the organisation of Ulster
Unionism they remained a significant and vital element. Their unionism was never diluted
like that of their southern counterparts; as frontiersmen they had the will to resist home
rule and they had a protestant element amongst their tenantry on whom they could rely.
The political status of the landed proprietor of the peripheral Ulster counties is note-worthy
as both nationalism and the rest of Ulster Unionism were bourgeois-dominated. Though like
southern unionism the peripheral phenomenon was landlord-dominated, it was not
landlord-oriented it was protestant-oriented. They owed their status not to deference (there
was little deference in Ulster) but to their determination and the religion they shared with
their anglican tenants. In the circumstances the Orange Order was both the practical and
the natural organisation for defending the Union.

The Orange Order
This does not necessarily mean that the utilisation of orangeism took place without some
misgivings, as the Orange Order had a reputation for sectarianism. It was associated with
rural confrontation and urban rioting. Before the 1880s it had tended to divide protestants,
although presbyterians had started being attracted to the order from the time of the 1859
Evangelical Revival. In the last fifteen years of the century it went quite some way towards
uniting protestants. As mentioned in Chapter 2 the Orange Institution had originated in
County Armagh following confrontation with the Defenders. Utilising the century-old
tradition of celebrating the deliverance of protestants from catholic and Jacobite rule by
William of Orange between 1689 and 1691, the weavers of County Armagh started a
movement (organised along masonic lines) to defend and celebrate their religion and keep
their land. Within a short space of time it was being utilised by landlords and magistrates to
defend the status quo against the United Irishmen. At first strongly opposed to the Union,
which they associated with the loss of protestant privilege and the Trojan horse of catholic
emancipation, the Order eventually became reconciled to the Union. By this time the
movement had spread amongst Irish anglicans and some presbyterians not only in Ulster
but elsewhere in the island, it had also found supporters in Great Britain especially in the
army. The dubious Duke of Cumberland was a leading member and by the mid-1830s the
movement was ripe for dissolution.

Some ten years later the Order was revived under the leadership of the Earl of Enniskillen
(a Fermanagh magnate). Generally speaking the landed classes found the movement
insufficiently genteel and too sectarian for their liking, it operated as a secret society and
was associated with riot and disorder, especially in Belfast, where it grew rapidly in the
1850s (a time of catholic influx). William Johnston, a minor County Down landowner, was
another exception to the rule of proprietorial disdain: he broke the Whig Party Processions
Acts of 1850 and 1860, was jailed and subsequently elected to parliament as an
independent. It was only with the Land League and National League incursions into Ulster
that a significant number of landowners from the peripheral counties embraced orangeism.
With some hesitation the middle-class started to adopt orangeism, which continued to repel
many ex-Liberals. Despite its long and undistinguished (if not unsavoury) pedigree the
populist Order was a practical means by which to coordinate opposition to home rule. Just
as it was adopted by the landed proprietors it was also respectablised by the protestant
clergy, who provided local leadership and a substantial degree of internal restraint. To most
Ulster protestants “home rule was Rome rule” and whatever their doubts as to the Orange
Order’s past it was one of the best ways of harnessing mass support for the Union. Though
elements of Liberal presbyterianism and the professions remained aloof from the
movement, providing overt sectarianism was curbed, a substantial number of protestants
were prepared to join the Order. It expressed not only political opposition to home rule, but
also the genuine religious faith of the Ulster protestants.

Though well represented in the UUC (a quarter of the delegates), the Orange Order was not
the only organisation through which home rule was opposed. The Order’s sectarian image
meant that despite its wide populist if not democratic base (that is within the protestant
community) it was never completely acceptable to all unionists. Naturally it was loathed and
feared by the catholic and nationalist population due to its supremacist and sectarian
history; it was also vilified because it was seen as being an effective force against home
rule. Moreover such a “secret society” was not only mysterious to outsiders, but was also
sinister. Therefore “orangeism” tended to be used as a type of pejorative shorthand with
which to cover the whole Ulster Unionist phenomenon. There was much for which the order
could be blamed, at least 6 of Belfast’s 15 riots in the century from 1813 to 1914 can be
attributed to the Orangemen (Buckland, Irish Unionism [pamphlet 1973]). However it is
clear from this that whilst the Order deserved its unsavoury reputation, it was by no means
solely responsible for disorder in a city where rioting was endemic. Its role and intermittent
influence in Ulster Unionism both before and after partition can in some ways be equated
with that of the trades-union movement within the twentieth century Labour party.

Economic self-confidence
Reference has been made in Chapter 4 to Belfast’s economic development; by the time of
the 3rd Home Rule crisis Ulster’s industrial prosperity was at its height. Its business class
was participating in global markets in what is now recognised as an era of globalisation.
Belfast’s reliance on export-oriented industry and the imperial market partly accounts for
the industrial and commercial middleclass being hostile to Home Rule (William James Pirrie
the Chairman of Harland and Wolfe was the exception to the rule; between the 2nd and 3rd
Home Rule bills he became a Liberal Home ruler). At the end of the nineteenth century linen
sales had suffered a reduction in demand and a substantial number of bankruptcies had
occurred. However, in the early twentieth century sales to the empire had been successfully
promoted and markets were won or re-won - exports to South America, which had turned
to continental manufacturers, were routed via Hamburg and made to look like German
linens. New lines in luxury linen were marketed. Harland and Wolfe’s success in the
prestigious and lucrative passenger market had been established in the 1870s. At the end
of the century and in the opening years of the twentieth the White Star giants Oceanic,
Olympic and the ill-starred Titanic were built. Such prosperity engendered a sense of
superiority and a jealous determination that the “backward” and priest-ridden” south should
not dismantle the Union at the expense of profits and protestantism.

The onset of the 3rd home rule crisis
The People’s Budget (1909) triggered off a major constitutional crisis for which Asquith was
unprepared. Not only was the Unionist opposition hostile to the budget proposals but the
United Irish League also objected to the increased taxes on beer and whiskey, the major
industries of the south of Ireland (moreover many of the UIL had direct and personal
interests in these). In December 1909 Asquith in a speech at the Albert Hall had mentioned
‘Self government for Ireland’, this was seen as a bid for Irish support and no further
developments took place until the spring of 1910 when the indecisive Asquith was forced by
the actions of Lloyd George into coming to an understanding with Redmond and the Irish
party: the Irish would not oppose the budget providing it was understood that the Liberal
government would introduce legislation to deal with the question of the Lords’ veto. Implicit
in this was the understanding that the Liberals would honour their twenty five year old
commitment to home rule. The Liberals were determined to curb the power of the House of
Lords but they had been undecided as to what action to take. It took the pragmatism of
Lloyd George and the hard bargaining of Redmond to settle the issue. Home rule was not
publicised very heavily by either of the major British parties in the 1910 elections. The
resistance to Lords’ reform was not just based upon the self-interest of the Lords, taxation
and thwarting liberal fads, it was based upon the fear of home rule legislation. The Unionists
were fearful of raising the issue and the lukewarm attitude of the Liberals to their
Gladstonian legacy is apparent by their reluctance to raise the concept, despite their
understanding with Redmond in April of that year. All knew however that home rule
legislation would follow in the wake of a Parliament Act.

Doc 9i
Redmond wrote to Morley at the end of November 1909 and effectively delivered an
ultimatum to the Liberal government.

“The political conditions in Ireland are such that, unless an official declaration on the
question of Home Rule be made, not only will it be impossible for us to support Liberal
candidates in England, but we will most unquestionably have to ask our friends to vote
against them … as you know very well the opposition of Irish voters in Lancashire,
Yorkshire, and other places including Scotland, would most certainly mean the loss of many
seats … we must therefore press for an official declaration … on the lines of national
self-government, subject to Imperial control, in the next Parliament.”

Doc 9ii
Asquith’s speech at the Albert Hall in December 1909 can be seen as a direct response to
Redmond’s ultimatum.
“…a week before my accession to the office of Prime Minister, I described Ireland as the
one undeniable failure of British statesmanship. I repeat here tonight what I said then,
speaking on behalf of my colleagues, and, I believe, of my party. The solution of the
problem can be found only in one way …. by a policy which, while explicitly safeguarding
the supreme and indefeasible authority of the Imperial Parliament, will set up in Ireland a
system of full self-government in regard to purely Irish affairs. There is not, and there
cannot be, any question of separation. There is not, and there cannot be, any question of
rival or competing supremacies. But, subject to those conditions, that is the Liberal policy.
For reasons which I believe to be adequate, the present Parliament was disabled in
advance from proposing any such solution. But in the new House of Commons the hands of
the Liberal Government and the Liberal majority will be in this matter entirely free.”

Map 2 Distribution of catholics and protestants in Ulster 1911

From Smith Howard, Ireland Some Episodes From Her Past (London 1974)
This map is based on the distribution of protestants and catholics in the nine counties of
Ulster, the data is taken from the 1911 census. The population of Ulster was not distributed
equally, the highest densities were to be found in the eastern counties with protestant

During 1910 and 1911 various changes took place in Unionist circles. Balfour resigned the
Conservative leadership and was replaced by Bonar Law. Law, although of Canadian birth,
was of Ulster parentage and had spent some time in the province. Ulster Unionists could
now feel confident as to the support they would receive from Conservatives in Great
Britain. Walter Long the leader of the Irish Unionists had been returned for an English
constituency and was replaced by Sir Edward Carson. Carson was a southern Irish lawyer
who, at both the Irish and London bars, had established a reputation as one of the foremost
KCs of the age. Carson became leader of the Ulster Unionists – there were very few
southern Irish Unionist seats still in existence (Carson had sat for Dublin University). From
then on the southern Unionist contribution to the Home Rule fight would be via the House of
Lords and through the many social contacts that the ascendancy had with the great and
influential in Great Britain. Carson, unlike some of the Ulster Unionists was not a sectarian
politician. Admittedly he cared passionately for the fate of his protestant co-religionists in a
catholic-dominated Ireland and he threw himself enthusiastically into the defence of Ulster
at a time when the sectarian weapon was used. His origins were Liberal Unionist and he had
combined with Irish nationalist MPs to fight instances of inappropriate legislation and
maladministration that were to be inflicted on Ireland. Of course he wished to defend the
interests of his class and creed but he genuinely believed that the whole of Ireland would
suffer if home rule ever came about. James Craig, a County Down MP, became his deputy.
It is sometimes claimed that Craig lacked the imagination of Carson; he was to remain
primarily interested in saving Ulster from home rule; it was not that he intended to ditch the
southern provinces but merely that his commitment to Ulster was greater than his
commitment to Ireland. He would not risk defending Ireland if this meant putting Ulster at
risk. Ultimately however he achieved his essentially negative goal of preserving Ulster,
whilst Carson failed and the other participants (British, the nationalists and the republicans)
were obliged to accept something radically different from what they had originally wanted.

Apart from the special reasons why Ulster protestants feared home rule, unionists in
general were prepared to countenance rebellion against the constitutionally elected
government for two reasons:

They believed that the Liberal government had only adopted home rule to stay in office
(broadly speaking true if one considers the budget/veto understanding of April 1910 and
the fact that Asquith had not Gladstone’s commitment and did not adopt home rule until he
was threatened with losing his overall majority).

To the above insincerity must be added the more serious charge of irresponsibility, as
unionists genuinely believed that home rule legislation was ultra vires, unconstitutional and
therefore treasonable.

Despite the moderate nature of the proposed powers of a home rule parliament, British
unionists saw this as a concession to equivocal – if not disloyal – elements, a betrayal of
loyal Ulster protestants in particular and a signal to Britain’s enemies that the government
was quite willing to concede part of her state to nationalist elements. Furthermore those
within the empire who had similar or more radical ideals would note such action.

Doc 9iii
Lord Willoughby de Broke one of the leading opponents of the Parliament Bill made clear in
a speech made in September 1912 at Dromore, Co Down, the belief that Home Rule would
threaten the Empire. (Repoted in the Belfast Newsletter, September 1912

“The Unionists of England were going to help Unionists over here, not only by making
speeches. Peaceable methods would be tried first, but if the last resort was forced on them
by the Radical government, the latter would find that they had not only Orangemen against
them, but that every white man in the British Empire would be giving support, either moral
or active, to one of the most loyal populations that ever fought under the Union Jack.”

Terms of the 3rd Home Rule bill
Asquith’s bill provided for an Irish parliament of two chambers (a Senate of 40 members
and a House of Commons of 164 MPs). Initially the Senate was to be appointed by the
British cabinet and subsequently by the Irish cabinet through the Lord-Lieutenant who could
exercise a veto on legislation in consultation with the cabinet in London. The Judicial
Committee of the Privy Council would deal with appeals concerning the validity of Irish
legislation. Senate appointments would be for eight years with a quarter being replaced
every two years. The maximum period between Commons elections would be five years as
in the Imperial parliament. Disputes between the two houses would be resolved by a joint
sitting and vote of the Senate and Commons (i.e. rather similar to the arrangements in the
1886 bill). 42 MPs would continue to sit at Westminster, this provision being similar to 1893.
As in the previous bills no religion could be established or endowed. The Crown, defence,
foreign affairs, coinage, weights and measures, overseas trade and navigation remained
under the control of Westminster. Certain matters were reserved for Westminster, in
particular the new welfare legislation concerning old age pensions and National Insurance;
the police would remain a reserved function for six years. Virtually all other powers were
transferred and the new executive had the power to levy new taxes and increase the rates
of existing ones. Interestingly customs duties could be raised within limits, quite a
concession from a government and party firmly wedded to free trade.

The 3rd Home Rule Bill was introduced to the Commons in April 1912 and from an early
stage the possibility of county exclusion was considered in Liberal circles. Asquith set his
face against any such amendment (i.e. the Agar Robartes Amendment of June 1912 the
success of which would have been a severe embarrassment to the unionists, who would
have only preserved the most easterly part of Ulster). In January 1913 following its third
reading in the Commons the bill was rejected as expected. Over the next few months the
bill began its progress all over again in line with the terms of the Parliament Act; the
constitutional countdown towards the Home Rule bill eventually becoming law was

However a number of significant developments were apparent though Asquith appeared to
ignore them or at least procrastinate. The Unionists had organised a number of massive
demonstrations in Ulster and Great Britain. Even before the Home Rule bill was introduced
the anti-home rule campaign came alive at the massive meeting at Craigavon, Craig’s
house overlooking Belfast Lough, in September 1911. A day or so later the Ulster Unionist
Council started to coordinate its contingency plans including those for establishing a
provisional government should home rule be enacted. To coincide with the introduction of
the bill in April 1912 the Ulster Unionist leadership together with Bonar Law and seventy
Conservative MPs attended a massive demonstration at the Balmoral show grounds on the
outskirts of Belfast. This rally effectively committed the Conservatives to the Ulster Unionist
agenda, as a means of killing off home rule. In July Law addressed another monster
meeting at Blenheim Palace at which he warned the government that there were no lengths
to which the Ulster Unionists would not go to resist home rule. Significantly as the leader of
the opposition he also pledged himself to the same potentially rebellious course. Two
months later the Ulster Unionist leadership obtained the signatures of three-quarters of
Ulster’s protestant population to resist home rule by any means at their disposal in the
Ulster Covenant of September 1912.

Doc 9iv
An extract from Bonar Law’s Blenheim speech (29 July, 1912) made clear the extent of his
commitment to the Ulster Unionists.

“Before I occupied the position which I now fill in the Party, I said that, in my belief,
speaking of the Ulster Protestants: if an attempt were made to deprive these men of their
birthright – as part of a corrupt Parliamentary bargain – they would be justified in resisting
such an attempt by all means in their power, including force. I said it then, and I repeat it
now with a full sense of the responsibility which attaches to my position, that, in my opinion
if such an attempt is made I can imagine no length of resistance to which Ulster can go in
which I should not be prepared to support them, and in which, in my belief, they would not
be supported by the overwhelming majority of the British people.”

The Solemn League and Covenant
The Ulster Covenant and its counterpart for women were not only signed in Ulster but by
Unionist sympathisers in Great Britain and the rest of Ireland. The concept was at the heart
of the Ulster Unionist mentality, a solemn promise made before God. The tradition went
back to that of the Scottish Covenants of the seventeenth century (in particular the League
and Covenant of 1643); the concept of the covenanters was etched deeply in the culture of
Ulster presbyterianism. In the seventeenth century their ancestors had “banded” together
to defend their religion that was at the heart of their way of life. Those who signed the 1912
Covenant were aware of the historic consequences of such a pledge, it could well mean war
and persecution as in the “killing times” of the seventeenth century. This was no mere
histrionic gesture (though it was an inspired piece of political theatre); it was a pledge of
resistance that indicated that the government had broken its contract with its people. The
Unionists were reverting to an earlier concept of government; if the authorities broke faith
with the people, the people were absolved from their loyalty; moreover the covenanters
had a God-given duty to resist the faithless Liberal government. The seriousness of the
Covenanting concept was lost on catholic and nationalist Ireland as it was on most outside
Scotland, but the propaganda impact was appreciated by many others in Great Britain,
influenced by the generally effective Ulster Unionist publicity machine in Great Britain and
the reporting of those such as JL Garvin, editor of the Observer.

Doc 9v
Garvin’s description of the scene in Belfast and of his emotions at the time of the signing of
the Covenant are as follows:

“Through the mass, with drums and fifes, sashes and banners, the clubs marched all day.
The street surged with cheering, but still no disorder, still no policemen, still no shouts of
rage or insult. Yet no-one for a moment could have mistaken the concentrated will and
courage of these people. They do not know what fear and flinching mean in this business,
and they are not going to know. They do not, indeed, believe it possible that they can be
beaten, but no extremity, the worst, will ever see them ashamed.”

Doc 9vi
Solemn League and Covenant.

Being convinced in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous to the material
well-being of Ulster as well of the whole of Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious
freedom, destructive of our citizenship, and perilous to the unity of the Empire, we, whose
names are underwritten, men of Ulster, loyal subjects of His Gracious Majesty King George
V, humbly relying on the God Whom our fathers in the days of stress and trial confidently
trusted, do hereby pledge ourselves in solemn Covenant throughout this our time of
threatened calamity to stand by one another in defending for ourselves and our children
our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom and in using all means
which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a home rule
parliament in Ireland. And in the event of such a Parliament being forced upon us we
further and mutually pledge ourselves to refuse to recognise its authority. In sure
confidence that God will defend the right, we hereto subscribe our names. And further we
individually declare that we have not already signed this Covenant.

The above was signed by me at …………..
“Ulster Day,” Saturday, 28 September, 1912


God Save the King

There were a number of other unionist initiatives involving publicity and propaganda in
Great Britain of varying quality. One of the most innovative was the use of publicity vans
with a “magic lantern” and also workers who could be switched from one constituency to
another. Belfast trades-unionists were brought over to canvas in working-class areas;
literature was distributed in Britain. 102 tours to Ireland were arranged so as to contrast
favourably the unionist and nationalist environments in Ireland. By-and-large these were
joint ventures organised by Irish, Ulster and British unionist organisations.

Both Lloyd George and Churchill broke cabinet ranks suggesting various compromises that
embarrassed their colleagues. The two most significant developments took place in January
1913. Carson introduced an unsuccessful amendment excluding all nine counties of Ulster
from home rule. Carson’s amendment was a wrecking device but in the autumn of 1913 he
accepted partition as the most realistic policy, maintaining that Ulster’s nine counties should
be and six counties must be excluded. Moreover he had come to maintain that Ulster should
not be jeopardised to maintain the principle of all-Irish unionism. Thus a southern Unionist
had conceded defeat and had failed in his attempt to use Ulster as a tactical device to
defeat home rule in its entirety. Though extra-parliamentary tactics were to be used to try
to wreck home rule completely the Unionists had all but written off the southern three
provinces and had accepted the concept of partition.

Perhaps the most startling development in Ulster was the formation of the Ulster Volunteer
Force in the same month. A limit on recruitment of 100,000 was imposed and military
training largely within the law was undertaken. The UVF was formed for three reasons:

To act as a deterrent so that home rule would not be imposed.

To resist the imposition of home rule through force should all else fail (as implied by the
terms of the Covenant, the setting up of an indemnity fund together with the evacuation
scheme for non-combatants).

To control and discipline the sectarian elements who might riot or start a pogrom. (It is
possible that Asquith’s procrastination may have been due to a belief that in time the Ulster
Unionist cause would be discredited and dissipated by sectarian excess.)

There is no doubt that the UVF would have resisted home rule by force of arms even if
divisions within the Ulster Unionist leadership had become manifest. However their prime
purpose, that of deterrence, was not completely effective as both the government and the
UIL believed the UUC was bluffing. Nationalist and Liberal newspapers were contemptuous
of the actions of the Ulster Unionist and Conservative movements - they did not appreciate
the degree of commitment involved, there was a tendency to dismiss the flurry of activity
between 1911 and 1914 as mere histrionic antics, or at worst, as thoroughly irresponsible
rhetoric from the leader of the opposition.

Doc 9vii
Redmond wrote to Asquith in November 1913 discounting the Ulster Unionist threat.

“Writing with a full knowledge of my country and its conditions … I do not think that
anything like a widespread rebellious movement can ever take place; and all our friends in
Ulster, who would be the first victims of any rebellious movement, have never ceased to
inform me that all such apprehensions are without any real foundation.”

The UVF was mocked or else condemned for its criminal irresponsibility, but in fact its level
of training was as high as the British Territorials. Many ex-officers, NCOs and soldiers
trained the force and there were many with Boer War experience. Eventually a retired
Indian Army general was appointed to command the force (on the recommendation of Field
Marshall Lord Roberts). A headquarters staff operated under the direction of Wilfred
Spender, who (like others) had resigned from the army to work for the UVF. Moreover
channels of communication were kept open with Major General Henry Wilson, Director of
Operations on the Imperial General Staff. (Wilson, a southern Irishman, was an intriguer
who was also endeavouring to commit the British army and therefore the government to
what amounted to an alliance with France. His action was beyond the bounds of his brief as
chief liaison officer to the French army.) The UVF achieved a degree of motorisation greater
than that of the Regular Army of the day and had signal and medical personnel. It did not
become fully operational until the spring of 1914 when it received its bulk cargo of 35,000
rifles and 3 million rounds of ammunition (this was the UUC’s greatest propaganda and
political coup). At that stage 23,000 men were mobilised against a garrison of 1,000 regular
troops – sufficient if needs be to seize regular arms depots and any artillery within the
province. It must be said that even with the bulk shipment of arms and ammunition there
were three types of weapon and severe logistical problems would have arisen. Even if
armouries and depots had been seized the acquisition of further stocks would have
increased the scope of the logistical nightmare. Whatever might have been the military
limitations of the UVF, it and the UUC had outflanked the government and hardened
attitudes that made any hope of a political settlement even more remote. The partial
arming of the UVF created a heroic myth (that was reinforced by the 36th (Ulster) Division’s
losses on the first day of the Somme) that glorified intransigence as a virtue both during
the Great War and more significantly at the time of partition and in the decades that

By 1914 the UVF’s evacuation plans for women and children had been completed and an
indemnity fund of over £1m had been set up. The Standing Committee of the UUC was
ready to take over as a provisional government should the Liberal government impose the
Home Rule Act on Ulster. None of this would have been possible without massive internal
support (as instanced by the Covenant and the funds and organisation of the Belfast
business community) together with the donations and active help of Unionists in Great
Britain, the collusion of authorities within Ulster and the lack of a coherent strategy by the
Asquith government. The evacuation plans were dependant on the support of British
Unionists. As well as receiving large donations from the public, sizeable sums were received
from the Astors, Rothschilds and Bedfords. In fact the British establishment was openly or
privately supporting the Ulster Unionists against the government.

In February and March 1914 the government floated the concept of county exclusion for six
years, but Carson and the Unionists wanted to exclude six if not nine counties permanently.
Asquith would not agree to this and in May the government introduced its Temporary
Exclusion bill (i.e. six years only), in July the Lords amended this to total exclusion for ever.
The Provisional Government then met in Belfast and in order to avoid total breakdown the
Buckingham Palace Conference took place. This however broke up in disagreement on the
day after the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia. Within ten days Europe was at war and
Irishmen from both north and south joined up. In September home rule became law but its
implementation was suspended for the duration of hostilities with the Ulster issue still

The government had run out of options by the summer of 1914 following the Curragh
Incident of March 1914. In order to secure strategically important locations in Ulster troops
were ordered north to reinforce the weak garrison that was vulnerable to UVF attack. Such
a measure was purely precautionary but was interpreted by the officers of the 3rd Cavalry
Brigade as a move against ‘loyal’ Ulster. 57 of the 70 officers including their GOC resigned;
the War Office who had mishandled the whole operation, backed down and said that the
military option would not be used. Thus, Asquith was shown to have no credible deterrent.
In April the UVF landed and distributed their major consignment of rifles at Larne without a
shot being fired, thus humiliating the government, indicating that the initiative lay with the
Ulstermen. Though the UVF would have suffered from severe military deficiencies, once the
government had conceded that the army would not be used the UVF had achieved one of
the Ulster Unionist goals of destroying the political and practical options for the
implementation of home rule.

The outbreak of war saved Asquith from an impossible situation that could have led to civil
war in both islands. It also saved Carson (who had failed to prevent Home Rule in three of
the provinces) from precipitating civil war over “the stay of execution” (i.e. the six year
delay) and the fate of Tyrone and Fermanagh – the Unionists had virtually realised they
could no longer include the three Ulster Counties with absolute nationalist majorities
(Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal). They could only hope to include the two marginal
countries, Tyrone and Fermanagh, and add them to the Unionist majority counties of Down,
Antrim, Armagh and Londonderry. In all probability a six-year delay would have become
permanent so it would seem that civil war was being risked over the fifth and sixth
counties. Moreover nationalists had been noting the apparent success of armed defiance
against a purposeless government. Thus the Ulster Unionists brought the gun back into Irish
politics and created a myth as powerful as that of Easter 1916.

Doc 9viiia
UVF Intelligence Preparations by the Chairman of the Larne Harbour Board

“Dear Reade - I have been away for a few days and have not got all the information I
would like. I send you all I have got and will send more later.

There is an A[ncient] O[rder] of H[ibernian] lodge here and in Carnlough the President here
is J Cunningham a railway clerk and the Secretary is a painter whose name I forget at the
moment, will get this again.

I cannot find out yet about Carnlough. I wish I had never seen that district.”

Yours truly
W Chaine

Doc 9viiib

I report as follows –

Larne post office
Postmistress (Prot[estant]. Politics doubtful).
4 assistants (2 Pres[byterian]. 2 R[oman].C[atholic]).
7 Postmen (2 Methodists 3 Presbyterian 2 R.C.).

Larne Burn-hill
Subpostmistress (Prot)

Postmistress (Pres) 2 Postmen (1 Pres 1 R.C.)

Postmistress (Pres) 1 Postman (Pres)

Postmistress (Pres. Politics?) 1 Postman (ditto)

Postmistress (Pres)

Postmistress (Pres) 1 Postman (Pres)

Postmaster (Unitarian Politics?)

no information


It may be taken that Protestants are all Unionist except where so marked. W Chaine.

Larne Harbour Port Office
(all Unionists)

Glenarm and Carnlough
(no information yet)


Doc 9viiic

I report as follows -
Larne R[ai]l[wa]y Station
Station Master (Pres – Politics very doubtful)
Clerks (all U[nionist] some in U.V.F.) Porters (mixed)

Larne Harbour station
Station Master (Pres) Chief Clerk (President A.O.H.)
Signalmen (Epis. & U.V.F.) Clerks (Prot) Porters (Mixed)

Glynn station
Station master (R.C. bad)

Magheramorne station
Station master (Pres.) Porter (?)

Station mistress (?)

Station mistress (?)

It is not worth reporting porters in detail as they are always changing. W Chaine

I report as follows -
Larne Police
Consists of 1 District Inspector. 1 Head Constable (R.C.)
3 Sergeants (2 R.C. and one vacant) about 18 Constables (5 U 13 R.C.)

Glenarm Police
1 Sergeant (U) and 3 Constables (1 U & 2 R.C.)

Carnlough Police
1 Sergeant (U) and 2 Constables (?)

Glenarm Coastguards
1 Chief Officer (U) and 4 men (2 U and 2 R.C.)

W Chaine


The formation of the Irish Volunteers
Events in Ulster between 1912 and 1914 had major repercussions in nationalist circles. Eoin
MacNeill, an Irish scholar and professor of Early and Medieval Irish History at University
College Dublin, wrote an article, The North Began, in which he advocated the formation of a
nationalist volunteer movement. The IRB was similarly impressed by the Unionist defiance
of the British authorities and in November 1913 were influential in setting up the Irish
Volunteers in imitation of the UVF. Patrick Pearse wrote enthusiastically (though naively) of
the armed Orangemen making common cause with advanced nationalists to set up an Irish
provisional government in defiance of England. On the other hand John Redmond the leader
of the UIL opposed the setting up of the Volunteers, but soon “vampirised” (FitzPatrick) the
organisation in the usual UIL way annexing and absorbing any organisation that might be a
threat to the party. Thus the Irish Volunteers seemed to become an adjunct of the UIL but
despite a large nominal membership it remained a fairly feeble body, though its IRB inner
core was potentially dangerous. The activities of the Ulster Unionists and the lack of real
direction by the Liberal government humiliated Redmond making him not only vulnerable to
the ‘angry young men’ but also to his own electorate. This is not to say that parliamentary
nationalism was finished but merely that it had to deliver home rule (in which case
Redmond would have pulled off the greatest coup in Irish history, something that had
eluded both O’Connell and Parnell). If he failed he would possibly be vulnerable and could
be eclipsed by either Sinn Fein or the IRB. His takeover of the Irish Volunteers has to be
seen in this light. Fundamentally however the UIL was to be undermined by the outbreak of
the First World War.

The Irish Volunteers landed two relatively small consignments of arms in the days before
the outbreak of war. The landing at Howth just to the north of Dublin was conducted with
maximum publicity and was thus in marked contrast to the elaborate subterfuge of the UVF
operation at Larne. The purpose of this was to reap the maximum publicity for the
Volunteers and attract some of the limelight that had been concentrating around militant
unionism. Publicity and unintended martyrdom was achieved as troops supporting the
unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police killed 4 and wounded 30.

Doc 10i
O’Hegarty writing as “Landen” in Irish Freedom (an IRB publication) in December 1910 had
welcomed Ulster defiance.

“Good! O nobility and gentry, farmers and shopkeepers and artizans, men of property and
men of no property, in that part of Ulster which is afraid of the rest of Ireland, we drink a
health to your arming; may you get arms, plenty of them, good and cheap, and may you
get men to use them, and may they make as good use of them as did your forefathers who
took up arms a hundred and thirty years ago! …. History has a fashion of repeating itself,
and we welcome with a shout this revival of public arming in Ulster. One hundred and thirty
years ago it began also in Ulster, but it did not end there; it ended where the four seas of
Ireland stopped it. It will spread again, my merry hearts of Ulster…”

Doc 10ii
Patrick Pearse welcomed the home rule bill (a) but had warned that failure to enact the
legislation would lead to rebellion (speech at Dublin home rule rally March 1912); (b) he
then went on in The Coming Revolution (November 1913) to welcome the arming of Ulster
and also to glorify bloodshed.

(a) “But if we are tricked this time, there is a party in Ireland, and I am one of them that
will advise the Gael to have no counsel or dealings with the Gall for ever again, but to
answer them henceforward with the strong hand and the sword’s edge. Let the Gall
understand that if we are cheated once more there will be red war in Ireland.”

(b) “I am glad, then, that the North has ‘begun’. I am glad that the Orangemen have
armed, for it is a goodly thing to see arms in Irish hands. I would like to see the AOH
[Ancient Order of Hibernians, in some ways a catholic equivalent of the Orange Order]
armed. I should like to see the Transport Workers armed. I should like to see any and
every body of Irish citizens armed. We must accustom ourselves to the thought of arms, to
the sight of arms, to the use of arms. We may make mistakes in the beginning and shoot
the wrong people; but bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing, and the nation which
regards it as the final horror has lost its manhood. There are many things more horrible
than bloodshed; and slavery is one of them.”

Advanced nationalists of whatever type saw the British government as untrustworthy (but
so did many home rulers and Irish Unionists). They saw the government capitulating to a
minority group within the Irish nation. They believed the government was conniving with
the Ulster rebels and that it was insincere in its efforts to bring in home rule. In fact many
in the cabinet were lukewarm in their attitude and Asquith failed to offer firm leadership,
substituting stubbornness for decisiveness. In reality the government were thwarted by
much of the establishment and by many of the forces of law and order in Ulster, who
claimed they were acting in defence of the constitution – i.e. the Act of Union, which was
still law and therefore could be upheld in view of the ultra vires nature of the home rule

Redmond pledges the Volunteers
The outbreak of war had a radicalising impact in Ireland. Redmond pledged the Irish
Volunteers to Ireland’s defence and many nationalists joined the British Army. Though
Redmond was frustrated by the Liberal inability to implement home rule, in a speech at
Woodenbridge (20 September) he pledged the Volunteers to fight “not only in Ireland itself,
but wherever the firing line extends, in defence of right, of freedom, and religion in this
war”. This was an extraordinary pledge despite the fact that the suspended Home Rule Act
was on the statute book. He was showing nationalist Ireland’s good faith together with its
worthiness to receive home rule. Although obviously struck by the rape of catholic Belgium,
he was encouraging Irish participation in what was beginning to look like a long and costly
war. Such a commitment (and political gamble) was quite out of keeping with nationalist
hostility towards participation in Britain’s wars (for instance the Boer War). Other Irishmen
were not prepared to become involved in Britain’s war and some saw this as the
opportunity to rise in rebellion. MacNeill repudiated Redmond’s leadership of the Volunteers.
If the Great War had been swift and glorious and home rule had been put into operation
Redmond and the UIL would have sustained little damage. However the grudging treatment
in which the military and political authorities accepted nationalist volunteers merely
humiliated Redmond and in the longer term undermined his position. The length of the war
and the events after Easter 1916 led to the eclipse of the party. The IRB retained control of
key elements of the Irish Volunteers and prepared for a rising with German arms. This
element of the Volunteers was relatively small but more dedicated than the numbers who
followed Redmond. They kept the title “Irish Volunteers” whilst the Redmondite wing was
renamed, becoming the “National Volunteers”.

The polarising effect of the war
Pearse, the poet and schoolmaster, wrote and spoke with enthusiasm of the beauty of
young men dying before their time on the battlefield. At the funeral of the old Fenian
O’Donovan Rossa in 1915 Pearse spoke of life springing from death and of living nations
springing from the graves of dead heroes. In the words of Declan Kiberd Pearse “saw that
in a traditionalist society it is vitally necessary to gift-wrap the gospel of the future in the
packaging of the past.” (Inventing Ireland) Thus the Fenian belief in revolution springing
phoenix-like from the ashes of previous risings was taken one step further with the
development of the blood sacrifice that Yeats and Lady Gregory had unwittingly encouraged
when they wrote Cathleen ni Houlihan in 1902. Amongst the leaders of the Easter Rising of
1916 were a number of men who were relatively moderate until the outbreak of war, at
which time they became more extreme (i.e. Pearse and DeValera). Many of the cultural
nationalists of the years before 1916 had not rejected home rule, they had merely become
disillusioned with aspects of the party. The home rule cause in the early twentieth century
spanned the nationalist spectrum just as the party of Butt and Parnell had encompassed
many nationalistic elements. As it was home rule was not delivered and “England’s peril
became Ireland’s opportunity”. Obsession with the glory of the blood sacrifice became
linked to frustration at the government’s failure to implement home rule. Thus the war
acted as a polarising agent, to a greater extent even than the Boer War, though many of
the National Volunteers were absorbed into the war effort. (Some of the most active
volunteers of the post 1918 fighting served in the British army during the Great War.)

The Citizen Army
This was also a period of labour unrest and the Irish Citizen Army had been formed to
protect the Irish Transport and General Workers Union following the major lockout in 1913.
James Connolly, leader of the republican Irish Labour Party, planned to use this small force
to mount a republican and socialist rebellion. As this would have pre-empted and ruined the
(effectively right-wing) IRB rising Connolly was abducted by the IRB and was convinced of
the need for a joint operation. Connolly did not subscribe to the notion of the blood sacrifice
until a later date (which ironically did create martyrs and did help form a new and
successful post-1916 revolutionary climate). He did however believe to a greater degree
than the mystical poets (such as Pearse and Plunkett) in the likelihood of success,
moreover his ideological stance convinced him that a capitalist regime would not shell and
destroy property! Perversely therefore Connolly the down-to-earth working class
revolutionary was proved to be less correct than the impractical Pearse whose blood
sacrifice did eventually bear fruit.

Doc 10iii
Pearse in his last pamphlet (March 1916) showed some indication of possible socialist
influences beyond conventional republicanism, in this document the Irish people had a role
as a source of sovereignty as well as being a source of suffering. Perhaps Connolly’s
influence had had an effect on his thinking. The concept of martyrdom at Easter was very
clear in Pearse’s mind.

“The gentry …. have uniformly been corrupted by England and the merchants and
middle-class capitalists have when not corrupted, been uniformly intimidated, whereas the
common people have for the most part remained unbought and unterrified. It is, in fact,
true that the repositories of the Irish tradition, as well as the spiritual tradition of nationality
as the kindred tradition of stubborn physical resistance to England, have been the great,
splendid, faithful, common people – that dumb multitudinous throng which sorrowed during
the penal night, which bled in ’98, which starved in the Famine; and which is still here –
what is left of it – unbought and unterrified. Let no man be mistaken as to who will be lord
in Ireland when Ireland is free. The people will be lord and master. The people who wept in
Gethsemane, who trod the sorrowful way, who died naked on a cross, who went down into
hell, will rise again glorious and immortal, will sit on the right hand of God, and will come in
the end to give judgement, a judgement just and terrible…”

Easter Week 1916
The IRB intended to start the rising on Easter Sunday under the guise of a large exercise.
The plans for the rising were kept secret from MacNeill, the Chief of Staff of the Volunteers,
who was unaware that the IRB Military Council was operating within his movement. MacNeill
cancelled the exercise (on the Saturday) when he learned of the IRB plans. On the
following day the Military Council unanimously decided to start the rising on Easter Monday
despite the fact that the vital German arms ship had been intercepted and scuttled by its
crew. In the resulting chaos of orders and countermanded orders no more than 1,500 men
rose in rebellion, nearly all of them in Dublin. In Cork the Volunteers, who were to play a
significant part in the Anglo-Irish War of 1919-21, mobilised but did not fight in 1916.
Thomas MacCurtain, their commander, received ten sets of confusing and contradictory
orders over the Easter weekend; in the end, acting on his most recent set of instructions he
decided not to deploy his men in what was obviously a lost cause. The rising was badly
executed with little attempt being made to capture and defend strong points, only one
commander (DeValera) bothering to give serious thought to the tactics of street fighting,
significantly he was responsible for a high proportion of the British military casualties. The
sites, which the IRB/Irish Volunteers/Citizen Army occupied, were public ones vulnerable to
military counter attack. The state of amateur farce was at first matched by that of the
crown forces within Dublin who permitted the rising to take place. After five days of fighting
the rising was crushed by massive troop reinforcements and the use of artillery. Despite
the unsuitability of many of the locations chosen by the insurgents the choice of prominent
buildings (i.e. the GPO) and a city centre park (St Stephen’s Green) did hamper cross-city
communication by the authorities and did maximise publicity. As the prisoners were
marched away, they were vilified by the Dublin crowd – they had caused massive
destruction to the city and much of the population had sons, husbands and brothers serving
in the British Army.

Inaction by the authorities
The authorities wishing to provoke as little trouble as possible turned a blind eye to much of
the drilling and training that took place between 1914 and 1916. An extraordinary laxness
and complacency filled many in the Irish administration. Apart from poor evaluation of
intelligence by the authorities, Dublin Castle was left virtually unguarded at the outset of
the rising. Furthermore a significant number of officers from the Dublin garrison were at
Fairyhouse Races (as was traditional on Easter Monday).

Action by the authorities
Within weeks of the rising the public mood was beginning to change as the leaders (15 plus
Roger Casement who had attempted to recruit rebels from amongst Irish POWs in
Germany) were executed. Initially 90 death sentences were passed of which 75 were
commuted including that of Eamonn DeValera partly on account of his American birth. The
bulk of the insurgents were interned, and some received heavy prison sentences. It is
difficult to see how a government in the middle of a major war could have avoided
executions. When one considers how many British soldiers were shot following trials by
courts martial during the war, 16 executions does not seem an over large figure. However,
the timing and manner of the executions led to the leaders becoming martyrs. In particular
the execution of the wounded James Connolly appalled the Irish public. Moreover the
executions brought to the fore men with a greater degree of ruthlessness and tactical sense
who would be most effective once they were released from prison.

Throughout the period of the Union the British authorities seldom used coercion by itself; it
was normally matched with conciliation. In 1916 this can be seen as early as late May when
Lloyd George was appointed by Asquith to conduct negotiations in order to defuse the
situation. His proposals failed: immediate Home Rule with the 6 Ulster counties excluded for
the duration of the war. Ironically the Unionists of the 6 north-eastern counties accepted the
exclusion (the Unionists of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan conceded their claims under the
Covenant, amid tears) as did northern nationalists – Lloyd George who may have acted in
his typical way seems may have given the impression to the Ulster Unionists that their
exclusion would be permanent and to the nationalists that exclusion would be temporary. It
may well be that Carson and Redmond conducted their negotiations well aware of the risks
and ambiguities entailed; they appear to have had their eyes wide open (Jackson, Home
Rule). The case can be made that the six county Unionists (supported by Bonar Law) and
the home rulers might have come to an agreement , but a Unionist front orchestrated by
Walter Long (the English ex-leader of the Irish Unionists) meant that Redmond could

Doc 10iv 1916 Proclamation

not accept the deal. During July, it had become clear that the Lloyd George Proposals were
unworkable and lasting agreement including the unrepresentative but influential southern
Unionists could not be reached.

Doc 10v
John Dillon, the home ruler of the Parnell era warned the government of the consequences
of its tough policy in a speech to the House of Commons in May 1916.

“… As a matter of fact the great bulk of the population were not favourable to the
insurrection, and the insurgents themselves, who had confidently counted on a rising of the
people in their support, were absolutely disappointed. They got no popular support
whatever. What is happening is that thousands of people in Dublin, who ten days ago were
bitterly opposed to the whole 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, that feeling is spreading throughout the country in a most
dangerous degree.”

Whenever the terminal decline of parliamentary nationalism set in, the failure of the Lloyd
George talks caused immense damage to Redmond and his party. The IPP continued,
occupying a political vacuum that was shortly to be filled by a reincarnated Sinn Fein. In
late 1916 the untried rebels (and those caught up in the post-rising sweep) were released.
Six months later the remaining convicted prisoners (including DeValera) were also
released. By then however any chance of the British retaining or even regaining the
political initiative had been lost: internment had acted as a form of political and military
finishing school.

The myths of 1916
Two myths were created in 1916 both based on the concept of blood sacrifice. Although the
Dublin insurgents had originally hoped for a national rising with a substantial supply of
German arms, the rising as it developed was likely to be a glorious failure that would
galvanise the Irish nation and reawaken the phoenix-flame of the Fenians. The martyrdom
of the leaders (and some of them courted martyrdom) became an even more potent
version of political theatre than the rising itself. The new generation of Sinn Fein leaders
were able to create a new Irish political nation based on Easter 1916.

A completely different identity was created on the opening day of the battle of the Somme
when the 36th (Ulster) Division lost a third of its strength as dead, missing or wounded. The
36th Division were the men of the 1914 UVF who had (like Redmond’s Irish Volunteers)
been offered to the government on the outbreak of war. They kept their espirit de corps
and their “Ulster” identity, their deaths whilst no heavier than many other units and
formations were more significant as they were men who had signed the Covenant and been
bound together by a political and religious cause. This was in addition to that of “King and
Empire” that was common to all of the volunteers of Kitchener’s New Armies. In some ways
the Somme forged an Ulster identity that compares with that of the Australians at Gallipoli.

Sinn Fein front formed with the Irish Volunteers
Sinn Fein had been blamed for the rebellion by the government; Griffith and others had
been rounded up after the rising. The effect of this was to radicalise Sinn Fein, which
formed a common front with the IRB and the active Irish volunteers, who were by then
being released from prison. Thus Sinn Fein became the political wing of a front that had the
Irish Volunteers as their military wing. DeValera was elected President of the movement
and Griffith as the Vice President in October 1917. In reality the Irish Volunteers (shortly to
be renamed the IRA (Irish Republican Army)) acted independently of Sinn Fein; and
Michael Collins - its most able leader - acted independently of his nominal military superior.
Pending a post-independence decision by the Irish people as to the form of their new
government, Sinn Fein and the Irish Volunteers pledged their loyalty to the Republic as
proclaimed at Easter 1916 (this was to reduce their room for manoeuvre in later

For the duration of the war the front’s efforts were concentrated on resisting further arrests
and the imposition of conscription. The conscription issue, together with widespread public
sympathy for the martyrs of 1916, strengthened the political position of Sinn Fein at the
expense of the IPP. Although the UIL had condemned the executions and had successfully
resisted conscription in 1916, they were however blamed for its eventual enactment; the
tide of political and public opinion was turning against Redmond’s party. Redmond was too
closely identified with the war effort and home rule, though on the statute book, remained

The 1st Dail
Before the 1918 Military Service Act (enacted at the time of the German spring offensive,
but never implemented) had helped polarise nationalist opinion Lloyd George had called
together an Irish Convention in 1917 to include all interest groups. The failure of Sinn Fein
to participate together with Ulster Unionist intransigence meant that these round table talks
failed. In the meantime Sinn Fein was not only winning by-elections (i.e. North Roscommon,
where Count Plunkett, the father of one of those executed in 1916 was elected) but also
refusing to take seats at Westminster. In the 1918 general election they won 73 seats to 6
for the old UIL (by this time Redmond had died). Sinn Fein invited the representatives of
other Irish parties to join them in an Irish parliament or Dail, where they declared
independence. Thus Griffith’s idea of refusing to sit in a foreign capital and of operating an
Irish assembly in Dublin was put into practice. Though many Sinn Fein TDs (MPs) were in
prison at the time of the inauguration of the 1st Dail and the assembly members were
sworn to uphold the Republic at any rate for the time being the Dail adopted procedures
similar to that of Westminster. Despite republican rhetoric, the politicians in Dublin were
sometimes embarrassed by and at odds with the IRA in the field. The Dail was participating
in a revolution but it did not always act as a revolutionary assembly.

The Anglo-Irish war
Coincidentally the first deaths of the shooting war took place at the same time as the
opening of the Dail (January 1919). For the next two and a half years a guerrilla/reprisal
war was fought between the Crown Forces and the IRA. The Volunteers (or IRA) were not
necessarily wedded to the Sinn Fein political programme or even the formal command
structure of its Dail ministry or its headquarters in Dublin. Local initiatives and local loyalties
played a substantial role in the IRA’s activities. Moreover Collins, both a Dail minister and
the IRA’s Director of Intelligence, tended to keep to his own operational agenda and to use
the IRB network to short circuit some of his superiors. The main IRA target was the RIC
composed of Irishmen who were by-and-large catholic. They were vulnerable to local
pressure and as much of the Irish population came to identify with Sinn Fein or remained
silent their morale fell. Casualties and early retirements together with the burning of
barracks meant that the RIC was withdrawn to the towns and much of the rural south and
west became unpoliced. In addition the authorities became starved of intelligence as they
had relied on the RIC – local men with local knowledge – for information. In response to
the lack of manpower the government topped-up the RIC with ex-servicemen untrained in
the subtleties of police work and hardened by the life and death of the trenches. These
ex-service RIC were nicknamed ‘Black and Tans’ (the name of an Irish hunt) due to their
motley uniform of RIC dark green (in short supply) and khaki. Of similar vein was the ‘gung
ho’ and arrogant Auxiliary Division of the RIC composed entirely of ex-officers. These
bodies acquired a reputation for ruthlessness and insubordination and thus fell prey to the
highly competent propaganda machine of Sinn Fein. Erskine Childers, a brilliant and
quixotic Anglo-Irishman, who had been a staunch British imperialist and eventually an
intransigent republican, expertly handled propaganda. Childers’s Irish Bulletin was adroit at
the use of hyperbole expanding skirmishes into battles; this was however balanced by
Childers’s honesty that caused him to repudiate statements he found to be incorrect. The
army tended to play a static role guarding locations of strategic importance and acting as

Charles Townshend (Political Violence in Ireland) has outlined IRA strategy as taking place
in three stages. During the first year – there were small-scale assassinations and ambushes
of the RIC. Secondly during the earlier part of 1920 - raids were made to demoralise the
RIC, destroying rural barracks and confining it to the towns, this enabled the Sinn Fein
courts and local government to operate. Finally from the late summer of 1920 there were
larger-scale operations by the “flying columns” such as the Kilmichael ambush when 18
auxiliary police were killed. In May 1921 the attack on the Customs House in Dublin led to
the burning of tax and customs files thus making British administration increasingly difficult
and frustrating. This was however achieved at the cost of many volunteers being captured.
Such headline-hitting operations were part of a political initiative and could not always be
justified on military grounds. In Dublin the IRA won the intelligence war, wiping out British
agents and infiltrating the “G” division of the police. Michael Collins who was effectively the
IRA’s operational commander not only infiltrated the “Castle” apparatus but also had his
agents in the post office and amongst the ostensible establishment. The British and
American press, who glamorised him to the benefit of the Sinn Fein cause, also enhanced
his mystique. The IRA itself also acquired a mystique and a degree of glamorisation. With
the “truce” (below), the later post-Treaty withdrawal of crown forces and the British
administration there arose an understandable myth of the IRA’s ubiquity and invincibility. In
point of fact the IRA was near breaking point by the summer of the truce (1921);
Collinshad remarked to the Chief Secretary: “You had us dead beat. We could not have
lasted another three weeks.” This fact obviously coloured Collin’s attitude in the subsequent
Treaty negotiations.

Public opinion in Britain was unwilling to continue a war in which the government condoned
reprisals and the Black and Tans were perceived to be brutal and undisciplined. (Black and
Tan and Auxiliary excesses included the “sack” of Balbriggan; the shooting of 12 at Croke
Park following Collins’s liquidation of secret service agents and the burning of part of Cork
city centre.) The press in calling for a settlement appealed to a nation war-weary after the
Great War. The Coalition had tried the initiative of two home rule parliaments with the
Government of Ireland Act (1920). This failed to provide a solution to the situation in the
south though the Northern Ireland provisions of the act became operative. Security policy
was by the summer of 1921 beginning to achieve results but at the cost of almost total
alienation of the catholic population (and also of some southern unionists); they had lost the
political battle and were therefore anxious to settle provided Sinn Fein could be weaned
away from the unacceptable concept of the Republic.

Partition and the foundation of Northern Ireland
The Government of Ireland Act had provided for two Irish parliaments and administrations
linked by a Lord Lieutenant and Council of Ireland. The original proposals had been the
work of a cabinet committee chaired by the one-time Irish Unionist leader Walter Long. A
nine county parliament was proposed for Ulster, the other three provinces would be
represented by the Dublin parliament. It was envisaged that the fifty-fifty
unionist-nationalist split within the Ulster together with the Council of Ireland would facilitate
reunion. In the meantime the committee maintained that all-Irish unity could not be
imposed but would eventually come about. In effect this bowed to the reality of Ulster
Unionism, which had entrenched itself as a credible political and material force. Craig,
however, fearing that the catholic/nationalist population of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan
would make a northern parliament untenable, lobbied for the northern unit to be limited to
six counties. He was backed vigorously and successfully by Balfour. This preserved a
Unionist two-thirds majority and can be considered, for better or worse, as one of Craig’s
political successes. It followed the precedent of the Lloyd George proposals of 1916 when
Carson had persuaded the three counties Unionists to abrogate the Covenant. The unionists
of the twenty-six counties felt both bitter and betrayed by the six-county partition.

In May 1921 all the members of the Southern Irish parliament were returned unopposed.
Only the 4 independents were prepared to take their seats, the 124 Sinn Feiners formed the
2nd Dail. In Northern Ireland the Unionists obtained 40 seats, nationalists 6 and Sinn Fein 6.
Craig, who had become leader of the Ulster Unionists some months earlier on Carson’s
resignation, became Prime Minister heading a cabinet of six other ministers. The nucleus of
the civil service was provided by transfers from Dublin Castle headed by Sir Ernest Clark.
Clark had been transferred to Belfast in the previous autumn, thus administrative partition
predated the Government of Ireland Act. With the RIC hard-pressed Clark and Craig set up
the Ulster Special Constabulary as the Northern Ireland security force. Needless to say the
USC was completely protestant and acquired a reputation as a sectarian body. It was
however an effective tool of the Northern Ireland government and defeated the IRA. The
northern counties experienced less IRA activity at this stage than locations within the south
(the north received much more IRA attention in 1921 and 1922). Even in the south some
areas were relatively unaffected by the war; Dublin, mid-Munster and Cavan appear to
have been areas were the IRA was most active. Craig and the Northern Ireland
administration were therefore well established by the time British negotiations with Sinn
Fein got underway later in 1921. Though deeply worried by the talks Craig was able to
withstand the threats and promises of Lloyd George, which at times he saw as of more
danger than the actions of Collins and DeValera. As an MP and junior minister in the
coalition cabinet Craig had had years in which to observe and assess Lloyd George at first
hand; moreover he still had his contacts amongst Unionist politicians including those within
the cabinet. He was able to hold his ground and resist Irish reunification and Northern
Ireland’s absorption into the Irish Free State. This did not alter the fact that Northern
Ireland government was

Map 3 Distribution of catholics and protestants in the six counties of Northern Ireland
(For comparison of population ratios in the nine counties see Map 2 page 104 and the Table

Although the areas with catholic majorities cover a significant area the catholic and largely
nationalist population was located in the more sparse poorer border counties. The six
county arrangement gave Craig his entrenched protestant majority that would have been at
risk with nine county partition. The 1911 census figures shown, upon which Map 3 is based,
produces the following figures.

Table 10i

Northern Ireland (6) 819,000 (65.7%) 427,000 (34.3%)
Excluded counties (3) 70,000 (21.2%) 260,000 (78.8%)
Ulster (all 9 counties) 889,000 (56.4%) 687,000 (43.6%)

in a subordinate position to Westminster. Its status under the Government of Ireland Act
meant that there was no legal obligation, only a moral and practical one, for London to
consult or involve the Northern Ireland government. In the subsequent history of the
northern state the government in London, when dealing with the south, frequently chose not
to involve Craig or his successors.

Collins and DeValera
Michael Collins had fought in the GPO during the Easter Rising and had been interned at
Frongoch in Wales. As a pragmatist he was dismissive of the approach of the romantic
revolutionaries who he accused of acting out a Greek tragedy: “I do not think the Rising
week was an appropriate time for the issue of memoranda couched in poetic phrases, nor
of actions worked out in a similar fashion.” He was to achieve legendary status as one of
the foremost strategists of the Anglo-Irish war, a status further enhanced by his death in an
ambush during the Civil War. Ruthless and intolerant of the sensitivities of colleagues he
made an enemy of Cathal Brugha and became alienated from the subtle DeValera. Though
colleagues, both men were Collins’s superiors: he blatantly ignored Brugha and reluctantly
followed the tortuous policies and recommendations of DeValera. Neither approved of his
networking through the IRB and his bypassing of official channels. DeValera, the most
senior commander to survive the 1916 executions, President of Sinn Fein and of the Irish
Volunteers, spent eighteen months (1919-20) in the USA raising funds. He was not
successful in obtaining the American government’s recognition for the Sinn Fein republic
and he fell out with the leaders of Irish-America. His political agenda was at odds with the
nature of the military campaign that Collins had been waging in his absence. Nevertheless
there was agreement by Collins and DeValera as to the need for a truce. Although
DeValera conducted exploratory talks with Lloyd George he refused to lead or be part of
the main negotiations that began in October 1921. DeValera was acknowledged to be the
most able Irish negotiator (Lloyd George the arch negotiator described dialogue with
DeValera as rather like picking up mercury with a fork) so his refusal to attend the talks
has been the subject of speculation at the time and since. Was he (as he himself claimed)
preserving unity at home whilst being able to sell a possible agreement to his Dail and
cabinet colleagues? Or did he send the delegation, which included Collins knowing they
would have to compromise and would thus be tainted in republican eyes? He, however,
would remain unsullied as the guardian of the republic. DeValera was by no means a
completely doctrinaire republican or one of the die-hards like Brugha. Nevertheless his
subtle scheme to preserve the autonomy of the republic was too obtuse for his colleagues
to grasp and too advanced for the British negotiators. In essence DeValera’s external
association formula became the post-Second World War method by which independent
states could be both republics and members of the British Commonwealth. Capable of great
subtlety and flexibility he could be most doctrinaire on fine points to the bemusement of
both friends and enemies alike. Like Collins he was a pragmatist but the nature of their
pragmatism was very different: Collins’s approach was based on immediate practicalities,
DeValera’s on preserving intellectual principles.

The Treaty Negotiations
King George V opened the Northern Ireland parliament in June 1921; his speech was
reconciliatory and paved the way for the truce between the IRA and the crown forces of the
following month. This was followed by unproductive talks between Lloyd George and
DeValera; subsequently full negotiations took place between a high-powered team that
included Lloyd George, Churchill, Birkenhead and Austen Chamberlain and the
inexperienced Irish negotiators of whom Griffith and Collins were the senior members. The
British were prepared to concede dominion status but not a republic. The Irish
representatives saw themselves as having plenary powers and thus failed to consult at the
final stage with DeValera and their other cabinet colleagues. They therefore signed an
agreement that was at best dubious to Dail members; to many it was also unacceptable.
The “Treaty” as it became known provided for:

Dominion status, defined as being the same as that of Canada.

The right of Northern Ireland to opt out of the new state – if this right was exercised
Northern Ireland’s borders would be reassessed by a Boundary Commission.

The provision of base facilities for the Royal Navy at Queenstown, Berehaven, Lough Swilly
and Belfast (that is assuming the North became part of the Irish Free State). Further
facilities could also be claimed in time of war.

Collins, the realist, being fully appraised of the weak and vulnerable state of the IRA, was
most aware of the risk of calling Lloyd George’s bluff and was not prepared to risk terrible
and immediate war. He interpreted the Treaty as “the freedom to obtain freedom”. Griffith,
originally a dual monarchy man, was better able to accept dominion status. DeValera had
instructed the Irish delegation to make the break (if they had to) on the Ulster issue,
Griffith felt unable to do so; he had been duped by Lloyd George who played upon Griffith’s
sense of honour. Lloyd George introduced the concept of the Boundary Commission to
sugar the pill for the Irish delegation; he also seems to have tried to convince the Unionists
in his cabinet together with Craig that the Boundary Commission was merely a ploy to
obtain Sinn Fein acceptance of the Treaty.

Dominion status was granted on the same terms as for Canada; the Irish Free State had
complete fiscal control of its own affairs, control of its own army and the ability to conduct
its own foreign policy. The degree of freedom possible in the latter field was not apparent to
either London or Dublin at this stage. Dominion status did however mean that Irishmen
were obliged to recognise George V as Head of State and not just as Head of the
Commonwealth. Thus Dail members and others had to take an oath of allegiance to the
King. It was this, more than any other issue that led to the Sinn Fein front breaking down
and the bitter Civil War of 1922/23.

The certain prospect of Northern Ireland opting out of the Free State roused little serious
opposition at the time as Lloyd George had convinced Collins that the Boundary
Commission would award much of Tyrone, Fermanagh, Derry City, South Down and South
Armagh to the Free State. Thus the emasculated rump of Northern Ireland would be
administratively and economically unviable and would have little option but to enter the
Free State. Most Dail members accepted this view though the Commissioners’ eventual
report (1925) was very different in content and proved to be too politically explosive to be
published or acted upon.

The ports aspect received little attention at the time and it was generally accepted that
Britain’s needs in this respect were reasonable. In fact such a provision would limit the Free
State’s ability to conduct an independent and neutral foreign policy, thus limiting its
sovereignty. The ceding of the ports by Britain in 1938 (an often overlooked aspect of
appeasement) meant that Eire (as the Irish Free State had become called) was able to
pursue a policy of neutrality when the Second World War broke out.

The Treaty debate and the coming of independence
The “Treaty” was signed on the night of 6 December 1921 and was discussed at great
length and with rising bitterness by the Dail. With a break for Christmas the debate
continued until 7 January when the Treaty was accepted by 64 to 57 votes. Despite a very
widespread public welcome of the settlement (including reluctant acceptance by many
northern catholics) the narrowness of the Dail’s acceptance meant that the new pro-treaty
government had limited moral authority. The Sinn Fein front had effectively broken up in
the Dail cabinet’s discussions and the subsequent Dail debates. Broadly speaking the treaty
supporters (of whom Collins and Griffith were the leaders) took a pragmatic line arguing
that they had achieved the best deal possible while the treaty opponents took a line based
on republican principle. They had pledged themselves to a republic in 1917 and on the
formation of the 1st Dail and they would not, or could not, repudiate that oath. DeValera,
who resigned the presidency, could not abandon the republic (though he was tortuously
flexible in other views). Similarly Cathal Brugha, the pre-treaty Minister of Defence could
not repudiate the republic. In his case inflexible principle was tinged (like that of all 6 of the
women TDs) with a vehement anglophobia. Personal abuse helped break-up friendships
and also laid bare the tensions hitherto glossed over within the Sinn Fein front. The oath
and status of George V were the issues of principle over which the Dail divided, but
amongst some there was a refusal to accept the IRA’s subordination to democratic decision.
Thus two principles enunciated in the 1st Dail were to lead to divisions and civil war: the
oath to the republic and the IRA’s oath of allegiance to the Dail.

Within days Collins, as chairman of the provisional government, started to take over
authority from the departing British. Despite attempts by Collins and others to bridge the
gap between pro and anti treatyites the new state found itself in civil war in the summer.

Doc 10vi
The intensity of republican principle was expressed by (a) Mary MacSweeney, (b) Liam
Mellows (c) Austin Stack and (d) DeValera. The first three speech extracts are from the
treaty debate.

(a) “The issue is not between peace and war; it is between right and wrong, and no man
could salve his conscience talking about what is necessary for the peace of the country. I
have said I stand here in the name of the dead…..”

(b) “We do not seek to make this country a materially great country at the expense of its
honour in any way whatsoever. We would rather have this country poor and indignant, we
would rather have the people of Ireland eking out a poor existence on the soil, as long as
they possessed their souls, their minds and their honour. This fight has been for something
more than the fleshpots of Empire….”

(c) “I, for one, cannot accept full Canadian powers, threequarter Canadian powers, or half
Canadian powers. I stand for what is Ireland’s right, full independence and nothing short of

(d) “Whenever I wanted to know what the Irish people wanted I had only to examine my
own heart and it told me straight off what the Irish wanted. I, therefore, am holding to this
policy, first of all, because if I was the only man in Ireland left of those of 1916 – as I was
senior officer left – I will go down in that creed to my grave….”

Doc 10vii
On 16 January 1922 Collins summarised what had been achieved (though at the expense of
republican principle)
“I never expected …. To see the day when ships should sail away to England with the
Auxiliaries and the Black-and-Tans, the RIC and the British soldiery ……How could I ever
have expected to see Dublin Castle itself – that dread Bastille of Ireland – formally
surrendered into my hands by the lord lieutenant in the brocade-hung council chamber on
my producing a copy of the London treaty?….”

Two new states
In due course the pro-treaty party won the Civil War, the Free State settled down as a
rather restless dominion and partition became permanent. As far as the general population
of the Free State was concerned more had been achieved than they could have dreamed of
five or ten years before. The “freedom to achieve freedom” led eventually to an Irish
Republic and full independence outside the Commonwealth (1949). Though the divisions of
the Civil War were to dominate the politics of the Irish state for two generations, the Free
State survived as a parliamentary democracy. Together with Czechoslovakia the Irish Free
State/Eire was alone among the inter-war creations to remain democratic. Given that the
state was born in violence and that the catholic church was both corporatist and
authoritarian (as was DeValera) the survival of democracy owes much to the Irish
Parliamentary Party. The parliamentary legacy of Parnell and Dillon who both flirted with
extremism was as impotant as that of the bourgeois revolutionaries of 1919-23. A respect
for parliamentary institutions was to be found on both sides of the Civil War divide. The
pro-treaty governments of the ’20s went out of their way to bring the anti-treaty Fianna Fail
into conventional political life. The good sense and moral propriety of DeValera ensured
that there was no doctrinaire vendetta when Fianna Fail “the republican party” came to
power in the ’30s.

Partition, inevitable since the early years of the twentieth century, led to the setting up of a
protestant statelet enjoying home rule at the expense of its large catholic minority. Though
partition was inevitable the Northern Irish state was not; the Government of Ireland Act had
envisaged two co-equal home rule administrations and strong provision for reunification.
London, providing its Crown and strategic interests were protected, had little inclination to
become re-involved in day-to-day Irish affairs; thus London was prepared to graft the
northern part of the 1920 Act on to the 1921 Treaty. The two solutions were incompatible if
Lloyd George’s Boundary Commission proposals were a mere blind or else a mechanism
for adjusting minor anomalies of the border. Given the Northern wish to remain outside the
Free State, complete integration with Great Britain with an Ulster Secretary of State in the
cabinet was the only viable solution. This would have permitted a number of devolved
departments to operate – responsible to Westminster rather than to a sectarian Belfast
parliament. The Unionists never wanted home rule, but once it had been granted they came
to appreciate its advantages, many of which were exploited due to London’s default and
failure to involve itself in any consistent way until 1969. Ironically Ulster Unionists found
themselves presiding over a restricted administrative and parliamentary system owing to
previous unionist demands for safeguards in the context of catholic nationalist domination
as envisaged in the first three home rule bills. Furthermore the northern home rule
parliament was meant to function alongside the still-born southern home rule parliament for
a limited period of time until unity could be established: its position was ambiguous, it was
neither sovereign nor federal, nor was it fiscally viable. From Craig’s point of view however
the establishment of a six-county Northern Ireland was a more secure and viable entity
than one based on the complete province of Ulster; nevertheless it was inevitable that an
area with protestant/unionist hegemony would develop willy-nilly as a protestant state for a
protestant people. Sinn Fein and nationalist abstention from the Belfast parliament and a
boycott of the state’s institutions would have made it extremely difficult to avoid sectarian
and political alienation whether the partitioned area was based on six or nine counties. One
cannot envisage Sinn Fein/IRA looking any more kindly on a nine county state than on a six
county one.

1914-1921, an evaluation
But what had been achieved since the third home rule crisis? The British government had
conceded dominion status, but this was not just a result of the guerrilla war and the Treaty.
The concept had been first mooted as “Dominion Home Rule” in the abortive Convention of
1917 when customs and defence were both discussed. Those talks had failed due to the
lack of provision for Ulster and their boycott by Sinn Fein. Though Dominion Home Rule was
rejected by the Irish Committee of the cabinet as late as 1919, it is unlikely that the
government would have ignored a solution if there had been nationalist unanimity. Both the
1914 Buckingham Palace talks and the 1917 Convention showed that the British were only
too willing to let Irishmen arrive at a settlement. Sinn Fein was not ready to consider the
issue before the truce but as represented by Collins and Griffith it did eventually accept
dominion status and (at least tactically) accepted partition.

Partition was not on offer in 1917, though it was in 1914, 1916 and 1920. The 1920 Act
provided the mechanism by which Northern Ireland came into being and it is difficult to see
whether anyone other than Craig and the northern unionists gained anything from the
events of 1917-21. That is not to say that Craig was happy with events either, but he had
preserved the Ulster heartland for the union even though Northern Ireland was threatened
by the proposed Boundary Commission. Ironically that threat was a useful tool in the
building of the Northern Ireland state as the old Calvinist siege mentality acted as an
important dynamic for the Ulster Unionists. For Sinn Fein a split sooner or later was
inevitable but civil war was not; that was a direct consequence of the Treaty. Moreover
though the Ulster Unionist had brought the gun back into mainstream Irish politics and the
blood sacrifice had been institutionalised at Easter 1916 and the Somme, the years 1917-23
merely embellished and romanticised the role of the gunman. Thus little was gained and in
terms of expense, anguish and death; much was lost and still could be lost even after some
years of “peace” in Ireland.