The Great War had ended but War of In­de­pen­dence had be­gun

Bri­tain fal­tered in the early years of the war and this opened the way for the 1916 Easter Ris­ing, writes Dermot McMona­gle

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Comment - Dermot McMona­gle is an his­to­rian and au­thor

AF­TER the sec­ond gen­eral elec­tions of 1910, Her­bert Asquith and the Lib­eral Party formed a govern­ment with the sup­port of John Red­mond’s Ir­ish Par­lia­men­tary Party.

The Ir­ish Par­lia­men­tary Party was to hold the bal­ance of power at West­min­ster where Home Rule for Ire­land and the abo­li­tion of the Par­lia­ment Act were part of the bar­gain. The Con­ser­va­tives and Union­ists showed their dis­like for Ir­ish Home Rule as a means of gain­ing po­lit­i­cal power. Protes­tant fears in Ire­land were founded in the Ne Te­mere de­cree from the Vat­i­can in 1908 with the slo­gan “Home Rule would be Rome Rule”.

As the SS Ti­tanic started its maiden voy­age from Southamp­ton, Her­bert Asquith in­tro­duced the Third Home Rule Bill for Ire­land on April 11, 1912. The terms of the Bill for a self-rul­ing Ire­land, with Do­min­ion sta­tus within the Empire, were lim­ited. Ul­ster could not be ex­cluded from the Govern­ment of Ire­land Act, when Asquith said: “They could not ad­mit the right of a rel­a­tively small mi­nor­ity in Ul­ster to veto the verdict of the vast body of peo­ple in Ire­land.”

Mil­i­tant Union­ism against Home Rule had grown in Ul­ster from 1886 with Glad­stone’s first Home Rule Bill. Edward Car­son led the Ul­ster Covenant cam- paign against Home Rule in 1912, fol­lowed by the for­ma­tion of the UVF with Orange in­flu­ence. The militancy within Ul­ster and the growth of the UVF was of con­cern in Dublin which led to the for­ma­tion of the Ir­ish Vol­un­teers — to coun­ter­act the UVF and to pro­tect the third Home Rule Bill.

As Europe was on the cusp of war, Edward Car­son would con­tinue the fight for the ex­clu­sion of six coun­ties from the Home Rule Bill. Car­son as a mem­ber of the Privy Coun­cil had ac­cess to high places. At a meet­ing on July 2, 1914, he tar­geted King Ge­orge V through Lord Stan­ford­ham, the King’s per­sonal sec­re­tary, to spread the fear of civil war in Ire­land.

Lord Stan­ford­ham recorded: “This morn­ing had a one hour con­ver­sa­tion with Sir E Car­son whom I found de­pressed by the out­look in Ul­ster, in­deed he re­gards the sit­u­a­tion as very grave. He said he would speak to me per­fectly openly and with­out (?) and begged what he told me might be treated as con­fi­den­tial ex­cept, of course, as far as the King was con­cerned. He was solely of the opin­ion that within six weeks there would be civil war un­less the Amend­ing Bill ex­cluded at least six coun­ties with no time limit — He was by no means cer­tain the Ul­ster­men would ac­cept this — as to of­fer­ing less, he told the Prime Min­is­ter yes­ter­day… mean­while there is con­sid­er­able dan­ger of a spon­ta­neous out­break...”

He con­tin­ued: “A few nights ago, in Lon­don­derry, 5,000 Na­tion­al­ists Vol­un­teers armed with re­volvers marched out to seize arms re­ported to be stored in the neigh­bour­hood. The alarm was given and 2,000 Ul­ster Vol­un­teers armed with ri­fles pa­raded to re­sist them. Con­flict was avoided by ‘Jack White’, one of the few of­fi­cers of the Na­tion­al­ists force, hear­ing what was threat­en­ing, got into his mo­tor and headed off his men.”

When Car­son’s state­ment was cross-checked against po­lice records, it showed that this in­ci­dent sim­ply never hap­pened. In spite of this, the King and Asquith be­lieved Car­son’s story — and so it was now official that there was go­ing to be a civil war in Ire­land.

King Ge­orge V had a gen­uine in­ter­est in Ire­land from his time spent here as a young navy of­fi­cer. He agreed to fa­cil­i­tate his govern­ment’s spon­sored con­fer­ence in Buck­ing­ham Palace to ne­go­ti­ate amend­ments to the Third Home Rule Bill in July 1914. The King wished to sign the Bill into law to be en­acted af­ter a gen­eral elec­tion. The King and Par­lia­ment did not want Bri­tain go­ing to war with a civil war within its con­fines.

The Buck­ing­ham Palace Con­fer­ence was a non-event and so the Third Home Rule Bill was left on the statute book to be en­acted af­ter the war. John Red­mond ad­vised the Vol­un­teers to en­list to fight in the war to pro­tect Home Rule.

As Bri­tain’s mil­i­tary forces were fal­ter­ing in the early years of the war, the men of the IRB planned and car­ried out the 1916 Easter Ris- ing and de­clared Ire­land a Re­pub­lic. On re­flec­tion, the Ris­ing was a greater fi­asco for Bri­tain than for na­tion­al­ist Ire­land. Vol­un­teers were rounded up in Ire­land and sent to Bri­tish gaols, in par­tic­u­lar Fran­goch POW Camp, called the “Sinn Fein univer­sity” by the chief con­sta­ble of Caernar­fon.

In December 1916, Her­bert Asquith re­signed and a new na­tional govern­ment was formed in the UK with David Lloyd Ge­orge as premier. He ap­pointed Edward Car­son min­is­ter with­out port­fo­lio to the War Cabi­net and made James Craig a min­is­ter in the Trea­sury. John Red­mond was of­fered a post but re­fused.

As a ges­ture to the peo­ple, Lloyd Ge­orge re­leased the Ir­ish pris­on­ers from Fran­goch and Read­ing Gaol at Christ­mas. There was no voice to pro­tect Ir­ish in­ter­ests as Lloyd Ge­orge an­nounced in March 1917 that six coun­ties would be ex­empt from the Home Rule Bill.

From early 1917, Sinn Fein, led by Arthur Grif­fith, fought and won its first by-elec­tion in north Roscom­mon. This was fol­lowed with suc­cesses in north Long­ford, east Clare and Kilkenny. Sinn Fein needed to win in Ul­ster where east Cavan was the next pro­jected seat. The or­gan­i­sa­tion grew na­tion­ally through its dis­ci­pline and pop­u­lar­ity to win 73 seats in the gen­eral elec­tion in December 1918 — 10 of which were won in Ul­ster.

Sinn Fein now had a man­date and so the First Dail met in Jan­uary 1919 with 29 mem­bers present. The rest were ei­ther con­fined in HM pris­ons or “on the run”.

The very essence of the po­lit­i­cal man­date won by Sinn Fein as the First Dail sat was turned on its head when rebels shot two RIC of­fi­cers es­cort­ing ex­plo­sives to a quarry in Co Tip­per­ary.

The Great War was over. The War of In­de­pen­dence had be­gun. John Red­mond and his Home Rule dreams were dead.

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