Friday, 26 August 2011

A History of Ireland - 6. Orange Orders & Opposition

Part 5 of A History of Ireland

The Orange Orders and Protestant Opposition.
Flag of the Orange Order
The Orange Society had been founded along masonic lines in 1795 from a secret society called the Peep O’Day Boys.  This society has used terror tactics to drive Catholics from their homes.  The usual method involved pasting notices to their doors with the simple message ‘To Hell – or Connaught’, and knee-capping any who failed to obey the instruction.  The authority’s attitude towards them had been ambivalent, to say the least.  Alarmed at the Presbyterian-led United Irishmen movement, with its objective of rebellion and de-secularisation of Irish people, the British authorities had quickly seen the advantages of an Ireland divided along sectarian lines, especially with a Protestant population far more broadly sympathetic to, and even dependent on, British rule of Ireland.

This ambivalent attitude continued for most of the nineteenth century.  The Orange Society had officially been banned inn1830 when it was implicated in a plot to replace William IV with the Duke of Cambridge.  It was re-established under the respectable leadership of the Earl of Enniskillen in the 1840s, in response to O’Connell’s campaign for repeal of the Act of Union.  A Royal Commission, investigating sectarian riots in Belfast, in which the Orange Orders has played a leading role, commented:
“... the uneducated and unrefined, who act from feeling and impulse, and not from reflection, cannot be expected to restrain the passions excited by the lessons of their own dominancy and superiority over their fellow subjects whom they look upon as conquered foes”.
Any threat to the Protestant Supremacy in Ulster was greeted with belligerent defiance.  In response to the disestablishment of the Protestant Church in 1868, one Presbyterian minster said:
“We will fight as men alone can fight with the Bible in one had and the sword in the other ... and this will be our dying cry, echoed and re-echoed from Earth to Heaven and from one end of Ulster to the other; ‘No Popery, no Surrender!’”.
Clearly, the spirit of the Seige of Londonderry in 1688 still lived on in Ulster’s Protestant community, 180 years later.

Lord Randolph Churchill
Before the Home Rule Bill of 1886 there has been threats of civil war from Ulster Protestants with the formation of a ‘Loyal and Patriotic Union’ and newspaper advertisements asking for rifles and men. “Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right”, declared Lord Randolph Churchill in  an extraordinary abandonment of the principle of Law and Order within a supposedly democratic parliamentary party.  Support for treason and rebellion became  Tory Party policy; the will of the government would be resisted, with force of arms if necessary.  When the Home Rule Bill was defeated in the Commons, there were celebratory riots in Belfast in which people were killed.

With the return of a Liberal Government in 1892 with a large enough majority to carry a Home Rule Bill, preparations for the fight became more intense and thorough.  A convention in the Botanic Gardens in Belfast attracted 12,000 delegates and here, to an audience of tenant farmers and businessmen, the Chairman, the Duke of Abercorn, declared “We Will Not Have Home Rule!”  In parliament, the Duke of Londonderry said Ulster Protestants would be justified in shedding blood to resist the Catholic yoke.

Meanwhile, politics of Irish nationalism was in the doldrums.  The Irish National Party of Parnell had degenerated into squabbling factions while waiting for the time when it would again hold the balance of power – it would never be strong enough to command a majority in the Commons.  Nationalists, disillusioned with progress on the political front, looked for other outlets of nationalist sentiment.  They found this in the fast-dying Irish language and with it, Gaelic folklore and legends.  A ‘Gaelic League was formed in 1893.

Gaelic League Advertisement
Gaelic Journal 1894
The Gaelic League specifically dissociated itself from politics.  Everything uniquely Irish was encourages to distinguish Irishness from Englishness to resist ‘this awful idea of complete Anglicisation’.  A Gaelic Athletic Association was meanwhile promoting Irish games.  In a move that pre-empted the Black Consciousness movement of America in thw 1960s, Irish Consciousness was deliberately promoted.  Its middle and lower middle-class supporters found a new identity in being Irish and proud of it.  It was, however, despite its official stance of being non-political, heavily influenced by a small group of political radicals who well understood the political potential of such a movement.

A new breed of politically conscious Irish was developing with a proud tradition of Irish Gaelic culture and a nationalism born of Gaelic history.  The Irish Republican Brotherhood was resurrected, inspired, in part, by old Fenians like Tome Clarke, who, after seventeen years in British prisons, ran a tobacconist shop in Dublin.

Another attempt to capture the political impetus of the new nationalism was made by a journalist, Arthur Griffith through two newspapers, The United Irishman and Sinn Fein (Ourselves Alone).  Inspired by Hungarian nationalist who had withdrawn from the Viennese Parliament, he suggested Irish people should vote for MPs who would refuse to take their seats in Westminster but who would instead sit in an Irish Parliament in Dublin.  Sinn  Fein was unable to garner enough support to seriously challenge the Irish National Party in the only by-election it ever contested.  The National Party still maintained its hold on power because parliament in fact had been enacting further land reforms, following Gladstone’s Land Act.  Land Purchase Acts were enabling Irish Tenants to buy, with low-interest mortgages, the land they farmed.  In 1920, eleven million acres of land had changed hands and the purchase of a further two million acres was being negotiated, this time backed by compulsory purchase orders.  This was by far the greater part of the island of Ireland.

1913 Transport Union Strike, Dublin
Political discontent now moved to the Dublin proletariat who lived in some of the worst slums in Europe.  A major strike, the first of its kind in Ireland, occurred in Dublin in 1913.  It became a test of strength between the employer, Walters J. Murphy, and the Irish Transport Union.  The strike lasted for six months and resulted in a return to work without gain.  However, the Union had not been broken.  The Irish urban proletariat was becoming politicised.  They identified with the new nationalism rather than the Parliamentary Nationalist Party because most of the slum owners were in fact orthodox supporters of that party and Murphy himself was a stalwart of the Home Rule movement.  Clearly, the Parliamentary Nationalist party was not representing the interests of working people.  Larkin and Connolly, the founders of the Irish Transport Union, also formed the armed and uniformed workers’ Irish Citizen Army for self-defence.

The two 1910 elections had almost identical results.  The Irish Nationalists had 82 seats and again held the balance of power between the Liberals and the Conservatives, who had been playing the Orange card for all it was worth, yet they showed willingness to compromise that alienated the new nationalists.  The elections of 1910 had been fought on the issue of the House of Lord’s veto on Commons bills and this had bee promptly abolished by the Parliament Act of 1911, so there was now no real reason why the Commons should not pass a Home Rule Bill.  It was this very strength of the Home Rule movement that meant that Ulster Protestant Opposition to Home Rule would be more determined than ever.

Sir Edward Carson
Ulster’s Protestants had been preparing for this since 1905, when they had formed the Ulster Unionist Council.  It Had a formidable leader in the person of Sir Edward Carson, MP for Dublin University.  At a rally of 50,000 Orangemen at Craigavon, near Belfast, he said that, if the Home Rule Bill were to be passed they must prepare to become the government of the Protestant province of Ulster. 

Two days before the Bill’s introduction in the Commons, 100,000 Orangemen and Unionists marched past a saluting platform on which stood the English Conservative Party leader, Bonar Law, who told them, “There will not be wanting help from across the Channel when the hour of battle comes”.  He said later, in 1912, at a rally at Blenheim in England, “There are things stronger than parliamentary majorities ... I can imagine no strength of resistance to which Ulster will go, in which I shall not support them”.  Conservative Party support for armed insurrection by Ulster Protestants against a democratically elected government was to be total and unconditional. Churchill’s Orange card was to prove to be the trump card in the pack.  The Conservative Party was to use Protestant Supremacy and Catholic repression, wrapped up in jingoistic English nationalism and back if necessary by force of arms as the route to the political power they felt was their birth-right.

The third Home Rule Bill was intended to set up an all-Ireland parliament responsible for Irish domestic matters but excluded from anything to do with the Crown, war, the armed forces, international relations, most taxation and even, for six years, the Royal Irish Constabulary.  Never the less, on the bill passing its final stage in January 1913, there was a great deal of rejoicing in Ireland and it was hailed as a great national victory.

Signing the 'Solemn League and Covenant'.
In Ulster, it was greeted differently.  On 28 September 1913, a quarter of a million Ulstermen signed a ‘Solemn League and Covenant’, and a quarter of a million women signed a similar document, pledging to resist Home Rule.  Carson demanded in the Commons that the six counties of Derry, Antrim, Tyrone, Fermanagh and Armargh be excluded from the Home Rule Bill’s provisions.  In the face of increased Unionist militancy, including the setting up of the Ulster Volunteer Force, which was organised through the Orange Lodges, Asquith’s nerve began to go.  He began to discuss the exclusion of at least some of the six counties from the Bill in secret talks with Bonar Law.  Meanwhile the UVF had appointed a retired Indian Army officer with close links to the Conservative Party, to command it.  The Irish Nationalist Party started to become alarmed.  Suddenly their hold on power as holders of the balance between the Liberals and the Conservatives was disappearing as these two parties prepared to compromise over the exclusion of the six  counties.

Nationalists in the south began to organise in response to the UVF in the north.  On the initiative of the former Irish Republican Brotherhood members, they formed the Irish Volunteers.  Never the less, the UVF had stolen a march on the Irish Volunteers, and they were heavily armed.  They had successfully smuggled in 24,000 rifles and 3,000,000 rounds of ammunition and had distributed it across Ulster, so that they now had 40,000 men at arms.  They also had formed the ‘Ulster Provisional Government’ ready to take over at a moment’s notice.  The government also knew it could not rely on the loyalty of the army if called on to enforce the Home Rule Bill in Ulster.  In one instance, when asked outright if they would be prepared to move against the UVF, 60 officers, including their commander, at the Curragh Camp replied that they would rather be dismissed.  The Chief of the Imperial Staff even provided a written assurance that troops under his command could be relied on not to move against the UVF.  A mutiny in the army, going right to the top, would be the most likely outcome of such an attempt.

Sir Roger Casement
Meanwhile the Irish Volunteers had also been arming themselves.  Aide by Sir Roger Casement and Erskine Childers who organised the purchase of rifles from Germany, which was then preparing for WWI, and had them landed at Howth near Dublin.  The reaction of the authorities to this landing was in stark contrast  to their reaction to the Ulster landing.  An unsuccessful attempt to intercept them was made by a detachment of the King’s Own Scottish Borderer’s Regiment.  Later the same day the same regiment fired on a crowd at Batchelor’s Walk on the Liffey, killing three and wounding a further thirty-eight.

Redmont, then leader of the Irish Nationalist Party, has been ready, with the reluctant support of his followers, to compromise over Ulster, allowing counties to be excluded indefinitely from the Home Rule Bill’s provisions.  The killings ay Batchelor’s Walk made that compromise untenable, but another event in Europe was to intervene.  Germany attacked France and the Great War has begun.  Carson and Bonar Law agreed not to press for an amendment to the Bill and confined their opposition to the gesture of walking out of the House.  Asquith and Redmont agreed to a suspension of the Home Rule Bill for twelve months or until the conflict in Europe was over.  An Amending Bill, dealing with Ulster, would then be introduced.  Since the war was universally expected to be over with quickly, Redmont was, in effect, agreeing to a twelve-month postponement of the Home Rule Bill.  Two weeks after the start if the war, he King signed the Home Rule Bill, to be introduced at the end of hostilities.  It lay on the statute books, but was never enacted.

Redmont calculating that by so doing he would earn the right to have the Home Rule Bill passed without amendment, offered the Irish Volunteers to the British Army.  This split the movement and led to the secession of 13,000 volunteers who continued to call themselves the Irish Volunteers, while the remaining 167,000 became the National Volunteers.  This gesture did nothing to change the determination of the Ulster Unionists however, and in May 1915, Carson joined Asquith’s Cabinet.

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