The Anglo-Irish Question, Part 3: 1900 - 1921 Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Anglo-Irish Question, Part 3: 1900 - 1921

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The Anglo-Irish Question:
Part 1: 1798 - 1845 | Part 2: 1845 - 1900 | Part 3: 1900 - 1921

As the 20th Century loomed, politics in Ireland seemed disastrous. The Irish Parliamentary Party had split over Parnell's involvement with Kitty O'Shea1 and in the closing years of the 19th Century, nationalism was either pacified by the generous land acts or had been taken a more cultural direction through the formation of the Gaelic League. In 1900 the IPP reformed under the leadership of John Redmond, yet still the party were weak. Due to their history, divisions in ideology were still apparent so, save another land war from 1898 - 1903 which pushed for further land reform, the idea of nationalism was still flailing for quite some time.

1903 - The Wyndham Land Act

After the 1891 Balfour Land Act, many tenants had purchased from their landlords; however, some were still reluctant to sell to the government as the payment was in land bonds, which fluctuated in value. Another Conservative government scheme, trying to 'kill Home Rule with kindness', sponsored a full purchase price loan at the rate of 3.25% over 68 years, with a 12% bonus to landlords who sold their entire estate. Also, if 75% of a landlord's tenants were willing to buy, and the landlord was willing to sell, the other 25% could pay their rent to the Land Commission, removing the landlord. Payment came in cash instead of bonds and led 200,000 tenants to take advantage of the act.

1907 - Sinn Féin

Dates vary regarding the actual foundation of this group; however, they publicly announced their presence in 1907 under the leadership of Arthur Griffith. Sinn Féin2 were a generally non-violent Irish nationalist group who were not adverse to militant action, if it was needed. They began as a pressure group insisting that Redmond and the IPP stand firm for Irish independence and nothing less. They were a broad front for their own members and could incorporate Inghinidhe na hÉirann, an extreme nationalist movement in Ulster, which caused many IPP members to consider joining Sinn Féin, as their own party had old-fashioned values. A 1907 Council Bill proved the dying ideology of Parnellism and the rise in demand for nothing but complete independence.

1905 - Liberal Agenda

After previous problems over the issue of Home Rule, the Liberals played down the issue and used the Conservative split over Protectionism to their advantage and gained a landslide victory of 400 MPs in the 1905 election. Without the need for Irish votes, Redmond's party became even less influential, but under influence from Sinn Féin, they rejected an offer of devolution through local councils in the form of a 1907 Council Bill. But the Liberal Party was much more focussed on large-scale domestic reform, marking the beginning of British socialism by providing pensions and sick and unemployment pay, banning life insurance for under-18s and implementing school dinners and nurses to elevate the health of children. Even as Bannerman was replaced by Asquith in 1908, Ireland was considerably left alone in terms of legislation, save one last land reform in a gesture of goodwill, but due to the success of the 1903 Land Act it did little but push land purchase through to its natural evolution.

1909 - The Birrell Land Act

Very little is worth noting about this act. It took its structure from the previous Conservative act but implemented compulsory purchase, obliging landlords to sell; 61,000 tenants did. Nothing was done for the landless labourers — its impact only affected those who worked on large or medium farms and could buy these holdings to support themselves. By this time, 390,000 tenants purchased their holdings. There would be little change until Ireland took charge of itself and forced the few remaining landlords to sell their land.

1910 - General Election

In an act of folly, the Lords rejected the budget of Chancellor and future Prime Minister David Lloyd George, due to its super tax and land value tax. This unprecedented move was against constitutional traditions and caused the dissolution of Parliament, as the Lords had infuriated the Liberals for several years as they blocked more and more social legislation. Though a Liberal victory was almost a fait accompli, Asquith felt the need to unify all anti-Conservative powers in order to reform the Lords. As the results came through, it appeared that the Liberal and Conservative seats were equal and that the Liberals could only hold power with the combined power of the Irish Party and the newly formed Labour Party. Another election was held in 1910 to try and remove the problem of the Lords, but ultimately it was King George V's promise to saturate the Lords with radical peers that made the Lords acquiesce to the 1911 Parliament Act3. Now the Second Chamber could no longer veto a bill from the First Chamber — it could merely prevent it for two years after its third rejection. On a side note, the act began the modern notion of salaries in Parliament, giving £400 to each MP.

1912 - Home Rule Bill

Very little changed from the format of the 1893 bill, where Irish MPs sat in their own Parliament but attended Westminster as well. There was to be a nominated Senate in the vein of the Lords and an elected Commons, but due to financial control of welfare from the new Liberal agenda their power would be more restricted. The bill passed in the Commons but failed in the Lords. Still, with the new Parliament Act, this meant that Home Rule was a certainty in 1914 despite the uproar of many Ulstermen and some negativity from Sinn Féin who thought independence was the only option.

1912 - Ulster Unionism

I can imagine no length of resistance to which Ulster can go in which I should not be prepared to support them
— Andrew Bonar Law, Opposition Leader 1911 - 1921, British Prime Minister 1922 - 1923

Being the only Protestant-dominated province of Ireland — roughly 57% Church of England — and having a large industrial force, Ulster was tied much more with Britain than it was Ireland. In response to the rising Home Rule movement, the feelings of Ulster unionism began rising and the Orange Order4, which had been made illegal many years previous, revived itself. The shock of the 1886 Home Rule Bill joined the various Protestant groups in the Loyalist Anti-Repeal Union, uniting the fears of economic, political and religious5 differences. Still, only 17 of 33 Ulster MPs were unionist and polarisation of beliefs caused sectarian riots, but soon, as the bill was defeated, the tensions settled on the surface. Reacting to the 1892 Home Rule Bill, the Ulster Unionist Council pledged to fight to the death against Home Rule, but the defeat in the unchanging Lords gave them solace.

1912 - Solemn League And Covenant

The amendment to Parliament practice was portentous of Home Rule to the Ulster unionists, who revived their movement even before the bill was drafted. A Protestant lawyer from the South, Sir Edward Carson MP, headed a meeting of 100,000 Ulstermen marching past Opposition leader Andrew Bonar-Law and 70 other Conservative MPs. They did nothing to stop this clearly illegal move. This was followed by the signing of the Solemn League And Covenant by 250,000 men — some even signed in their own blood — pledging allegiance to God, Britain's empire and 'his Glorious Majesty, King George V.'

1913 - Ulster Volunteer Force

The Ulster Unionist Council organised the Solemn League into the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) for sporadic drilling and training, headed by a retired British officer, Lieutenant-General Sir George Richardson. County divisions and regiments were set up, with support from organisations such as nurse corps and despatch riders. This also had the support of Conservative MPs such as Carson, Bonar-Law and James Craig, despite being clearly illegal. In 1914, Liberal Prime Minister Asquith denounced their speeches as 'grammar of anarchy', as the UVF's intentions moved from peaceful pressure to plans for a civil war due to the fact that the delayed Home Rule Bill might soon be implemented. The government reinforced local army depots, facing 1,000 UVF men with 23,000 British troops, but with worries about the officers' loyalty a message was sent indicating that if hostilities occurred, officers could disappear. However, if they stayed and refused to fight, they would be dismissed. At Curragh in County Kildare, General Gough and 57 officers openly stated they preferred dismissal. The press labelled it the Curragh Mutiny and met with an appalled reaction from the British public, leading to the resignation of War Minister Colonel Seely.

1913 - Irish Volunteer Force

During the first two decades of 1900, the emergence of a Labour Party saw the call for a socialist movement, and many strikes took place. A connection developed between left-wing trade unionism and Irish nationalism. A leading Glaswegian socialist living in Ireland, James Connolly, had founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party in 1896, but the party had little influence and now its militant wing, the Irish Citizens' Army, began to become its chief component, showing signs of support for Home Rule. Equally, the IPP had gained their own army which fought alongside Connolly's, though the Irish Volunteer Force (IVF)6 was very much a symbolic force, trying to oppose the UVF by buying weapons and arms of very poor quality. When purchasing weapons at Bachelor's Walk, Dublin gunfire opened and the British army killed three members of the unloading group, led by Roger Casement.

1914 - Partition

The growing feeling of sectarianism in Ireland was reaching a head as the delay of the 1912 Home Rule Bill was almost over. By the spring of 1914, Prime Minister Asquith began to consider the idea of partition, with the main concerns being how many Ulster counties would be partitioned. Only four of the nine had a Protestant majority; Fermanagh and Tyrone had an essentially even divide. Also, there was uncertainty as to the length of partition — whether it would be a temporary or permanent exclusion. In March, an Amending Bill was drawn up, giving each county a referendum on the subject of Home Rule inclusion, to last for six years. Carson attacked it as a 'stay of execution' but the Lords rejected the bill anyway, opting for Ulster to be permanently part of the Union; once again there was a deadlock. As Civil War loomed, George V attempted a compromise by inviting all the significant key figures to the Buckingham Palace Conference. It was generally accepted that the four Protestant counties should be excluded, but the problem of Fermanagh and Tyrone still caused problems, and after three days the conference broke as a failure and it seemed nothing would stop Home Rule or civil war.

1914 - The Great War

Both the Irish Parliamentary Party and Ulster Unionist Council supported the declaration of war. Redmond even offered the IVF to help defend Irish shores, both hoping that patriotic fervour would secure political positivity in Westminster once the Great War was over — presumably by Christmas. The 1914 Irish Home Rule Act was placed on a statute book and became law, to the pleasure of John Redmond and the uproar of Unionists, but the War meant it was a suspended measure anyway. Despite the war being for the British Empire, both nationalists and unionists leapt into service (150,000 by 1916), as it was an ideal job for the unemployed. Everything was provided for and there was little to spend wages on, so it mostly went back to the family at home. However, as the war dragged on, the suspension of Home Rule irritated the more extreme nationalists who started to feel the war was a British war and that it had nothing to do with Ireland.

1916 - The Easter Rising

Some revolutionary nationalists, such as the Fenians, had always opposed Irish involvement in the war, and after Redmond encouraged the Irish Volunteer Force to fight overseas, a small group left and became the Irish Volunteers under Eoin MacNeill. The rest went to fight overseas as the National Volunteer Force. Though MacNeill saw little point in a futile uprising, his colleagues prepared for rebellion and made links with James Connolly's Irish Citizens' Army, who began to buy arms from Germany. On the Easter bank holiday, they seized the Dublin Post Office7, proclaiming Éire's independence. By nightfall, most of the key Dublin buildings were occupied, but the Irish people were not onside, seeing it as treason, and the British army soon set in, torching the Post Office in order to force the rebels to flee.

After an intense week of fighting, the key figures began to surrender and Asquith gave the rebels to the army, as martial law had been declared. Almost half of the 3,000 arrested were soon released. 1,800 were imprisoned, while 90 were sentenced to death. The first 15 deaths led to extremely bad public relations8, and so the remaining 75 were imprisoned — but still the rebel traitors soon became martyrs. Eamon De Valera, a rising nationalist, was spared due to his American passport and British hopes to coax America into the Great War. Asquith, leading a Coalition government now, commissioned Lloyd George to draw up a Home Rule Settlement, excluding a six-county Ulster. Redmond thought the exclusion was temporary while Carson thought it permanent, but key Unionists were against it anyway and it did not pass. Still, Redmond's willingness to concede partition lost the IPP all its influence and Sinn Féin became the powerful Irish party, even if Griffith was imprisoned wrongly for the Rising that his party was publicly tied to.

1918 - After The War

With army subscriptions lowering, the government was forced to pass the 1916 Conscription Act. It was received badly in Ireland; the entire nation held a one-day strike and the Catholic Church denounced the Act. The government acquiesced its defeat in Ireland, until it was forced to pass the Act in 1918, but the damage had been done and Sinn Féin gained support for its increasingly pro-Irish stance as the IPP, under John Dillon, waned away. Peace came with the November Armistice and Britain held an election instantly in December, as there had not been one since the two in 1910. As it turned out, Lloyd George led another coalition. Sinn Féin fought the election, demanding complete independence and denouncing Ulster Unionism as 'non-existent in...reality.' The 1918 Reform Act greatly enlarged the electorate and Sinn Féin picked up 73 seats to the IPP's 6. Since there were only 26 Unionist seats, they could claim to represent the majority of Ireland.

1919 - The Anglo-Irish War

In January 1919, 27 Sinn Féiners — the rest were either busy or imprisoned — constituted their own Parliament in Dublin. Refusing to take seats in Westminster, they formed the Dail Éireann. It was a provisional government under Eamon De Valera, who demanded withdrawal of English signs of power, such as the army and police forces. Bewildered by the events, the British government tried to compromise by releasing all political prisoners. This only strengthened the cause, as the Dail established courts and tax collection as well as their own armed forces, the Irish Republican Army (IRA). They were the new formation of the Irish Volunteers, led by Michael Collins. To combat it, the police recruited ill-disciplined army soldiers9 who now had no war to fight. They were given black police caps and belts to wear in addition to their khaki army uniform, giving them the name 'Black and Tans'. Later in the month, there was a struggle over explosives in County Tipperary and two policemen were killed by the IRA. For Sinn Féin, these were the opening shots of the war.

The IRA led a murder campaign against the Royal Irish Constabulary police, killing 176 in 1920, but soon turned to civilian 'comforters'. The Black and Tans led unofficial reprisals, which were condemned by the British press and public alike. On the morning of 21 November, 1920, 11 English civilians were shot dead by the IRA in their homes and hotels for suspected involvement with the British government. The Black and Tans invaded a Gaelic Football game in Croke Park and fired from their armoured car, wounding 60 and killing 12, including one player from Tipperary. The day became part of Nationalist mythology and was dubbed 'Bloody Sunday'10.

1920 - Government of Ireland Act

The new 400 Conservative-strong government proposed a fourth Home Rule Act, with separate Parliaments in Ulster and Dublin both represented at Westminster. To safeguard minorities, the two Parliaments would have proportional representation with similar restrictions as in the 1914 Act, with no jurisdiction over defence or customs. Also, a Council of Ireland was to be established to deal with problems mutual to the north and south. Ulster Unionists began to see the advantages of this plan and organised their Parliament in May 1921, and with 40 of the 52 seats, Sir James Craig became Prime Minister of Ulster. The South showed contempt for the act by voting in 124 Sinn Féiners from the 128 seats in the new Parliament but, like Westminster, it was boycotted. The war in Britain became increasingly unpopular, particularly the Black and Tans' methods. The Times and Manchester Guardian both opposed the war and roused the public against it. Lloyd George was informed that an army of 100,000 more men was needed and, knowing that the public would not stand for it, attempted negotiations of peace. Initially these failed, but soon Michael Collins, leader of the IRA, realised his side could not face more than three weeks of fighting. As both sides were desperate, they signed a truce on 11 July, 1921, as King George V toured Ireland to help settle affairs.

1921 - The Irish Free State Agreement

A five-man Irish delegation assembled in London, including Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins but not Eamon De Valera11. The issues of Ireland's power, partition in Ulster and the defence of Britain were the three main questions. It was soon decided that Ireland would be given Dominion status, with a watered-down oath to the Crown; Ulster's Parliament under the fourth Home Rule Act would stay as it was, though neither London nor Dublin wanted partition, and Britain would have three naval bases in Ireland. Despite this generous agreement, Michael Collins was attacked by De Valera upon his return. Though the treaty won a majority in the Dail by only five votes, and a subsequent referendum, the country soon plunged into civil war due to De Valera's renegade faction, and the 'troubles' arose.

In 1937, Ireland stopped pledging allegiance to the crown and Parliament, under PM Neville Chamberlain, were too concerned with the rise of fascists Hitler and Mussolini to take any action. When World War II beckoned, Ireland furthered its independence by remaining neutral. Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill offered President De Valera the North if Ireland would join the Allies, but confident of an Axis victory and nervous of the Parliamentary effect of Ulster Protestants, he declined. Northern Ireland continued to be divided and the IRA resurged as a terrorist group, striking mainly in the 1970s but also afterwards with regular bombings in England. As of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, there is a ceasefire between the Provisional IRA and Britain, but sadly the issue remains inconcluded.

1Her real name was Catherine, but Kitty had certain implications of female genitalia, hinting at a derogatory nickname.2Irish Gaelic for 'our way'.3The majority of peers who disagreed with the act chose not attend Parliament that day rather than vote for the act.4A social group of extremist Protestants.5Many believed that an Irish Parliament would be dominated by Roman Catholics, meaning 'Home Rule is Rome Rule'.6No, they didn't invent test-tube babies.7Which was the centre of all communications.8Especially that of James Connolly, whose injuries were so bad that he had to be strapped to a chair as he could not stand. He was surmised to have been hallucinating and not aware of his execution.9Similar to Germany's Frei-Corps of the same era.10The name was reused in 1972, when the local MP for Londonderry/Derry organised a civil rights march which ended in the deaths of many Irish marchers. The Irish claim that the British army started firing indiscriminately, whereas the British army claim that the Irish marchers were being more militant than they should be but the issue has never been truly resolved.11De Valera would not go to London to negotiate, as he knew complete independence would never be achieved and did not want to be the man to deliver this news to Ireland.

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