Chapter 16. – THE MISGUIDED ONES
THE MISGUIDED ONES
” OUR arrival with the signed Treaty in Dublin, on a grey, cold December morning, was in a sense prophetic of what was to follow through all the bitter weeks of the Dail sessions. Here were no signs of jubilation. There was no one at the station to greet us. And yet the newspapers had acclaimed the Treaty as a triumph. Even the few people abroad at that early hour seemed strangely apathetic. Had our four months of hard work meant just nothing at all to the people whom we had tried to serve ? It appeared so.”
Collins spoke with an unaccustomed note of sadness in his voice. Although at this time he did not make reference to it, I recalled an earlier confidence of his the real ambition he hoped one day to realise. When I tell it, there should be no longer any doubt as to the kind of man this young, inspired Irishman was. He hated politics. He hated intrigue. He hated everything that was not constructive. What he wanted above anything else and I can say this because I have his word for it was to see his country awaken to the meaning of good citizenship and so permit him to lay down the heavy burden of being the leader of a people asleep and ignorant. And when that day came Collins hoped he might be able to set himself up in business a little business in which he could never have to be afraid of becoming rich !
That was a very real fear in Collins’ mind perhaps the only fear he ever knew. On two different occasions it became my duty to acquaint him with opportunities offered him by American interests through me. One of them involved his receiving a sum of money greater than the total of his life’s earnings to be paid to him for writing a series of articles for American publication. He agreed to write the articles BUT FLATLY REFUSED TO ACCEPT PAYMENT FOR THEM !
” Would you think of offering your President Harding payment for such a thing ? ” he asked soberly. Collins had no ” side,” but he was Chairman of the Provisional Government, and he held that any act unworthy of that office must reflect on the dignity of the Irish nation.
The other offer I presented to him called for his leaving the responsibilities of government to others and making a journey to the United States where a lecture tour had been tentatively arranged for him. He shook his big head emphatically. It was out of the question, he insisted. And when I explained to him that in six months of lecturing he could do more for Ireland’s cause in America than he could ever accomplish in any other way, he was still adamant in his refusal even to consider it. I asked him if he had any idea how much money he himself could earn by such a tour. The question seemed to strike him as very humorous. He grinned, and shook his head. I told him he would be the richer by at least a million dollars. ” That settles it,” he said with a chuckle. ” I’ll keep away from America. A million dollars would ruin a better man than I am ! ” And he meant it ! But returning to Collins’ story of the homecoming of the envoys.
” The lack of jubilation among the people, “he continued, ” was dispiriting enough, but it was nothing compared with the open hostility we faced in the Cabinet drawing room of the Mansion House. Awaiting us there were deValera, depressed, gaunt, solemn ; Stack, his eyes blazing, his fists tight clenched ; Brugha, the personification of venom ; Mme. Markievicz, more nearly hysterical and more vituperative than ever she was in any session of the Dail. These and others faced us, and one of the first words of greeting told us that we had made ourselves ‘ Partners of the Empire ‘ referring to the phrase used by the Lord Chancellor of England in felicitating Ireland.
” Before that first conference ended Griffith and I realised what we must expect from these men and women with whom all through the years we had fought the fight for Irish freedom. From colleagues they had suddenly changed into savage, relentless enemies. And yet, then as always ever since Griffith and I hoped against hope that we could persuade them of their error. IT IS ALL VERY WELL FOR CRITICS OF THE POLICY WHICH GRIFFITH AND I ADOPTED TO DECLARE THAT THE MENACE THIS MISGUIDED MINORITY CONSTITUTED SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN MET BY KID-GLOVE METHODS BUT THE IRISH PEOPLE NEEDED. AND STILL NEED ABOVE ANY OTHER, ONE THING UNITY AND UNITY IS NOT TO BE ACHIEVED BY KILLING ALL THOSE WHOSE OPINIONS MAKE UNITY IMPOSSIBLE. HARMONY does not spring FROM MURDER. THERE ARE FEW MEN IN THE WORLD WHOM YOU CAN BRING TO YOUR POINT OF VIEW BY KNOCKING THEM DOWN.
” Griffith and I held that the Treaty healed an age-old tragedy, the first act of which was played in Dublin in 1172, when Henry II. of England compelled Ireland’s tribal kings to swear fealty to him. But the little group of men and women facing us in the Mansion House held a different opinion. They told us and for the most part they were sincere that the Treaty we had signed was the most infamous document any Irishman ever signed ; that every martyr’s widow, and most of the army leaders, considered we were guilty of treason. It was they at first who held the floor, and had their say. But finally I had my chance.
” ‘ In signing this Treaty/ I told them, ‘ we have laid the foundation of peace and friendship with the people at our side. What I have signed I shall stand over in the belief that, if it brings Ireland no other blessing, the ending of the conflict of centuries is the finest thing that ever happened for the Irish people.’
” This I told them, but it served to lessen their hostility not at all. Stack, I remember especially, was incensed because Griffith had ‘ forgotten ‘ the meaning of Sinn Fein which he mistranslated as ‘ Ourselves Alone.’ Neither Griffith nor I made answer to this charge nor, indeed, to any of the charges. Unexpected as was this vitriolic condemnation of us, and as little prepared for it as we were, we both grasped the essential point that recriminations were useless and worse than useless.
” De Valera showed us a telegraphed appeal to the Irish people sent from London that morning by Art O’Brien, head of the Irish Self-Determination League. ‘ Be not misled into thanksgiving without cause,’ the telegram read. ‘ Complete sovereignty is a claim which no nation can forgo. And until it is met in our case we of the Irish race cannot and will not rejoice.’ This was, at any rate, less vicious in tone than the rest, and we quickly made it plain that we expected no acclamation of joy that might properly follow a national triumph. We asked and wanted no throwing up of hats, no fervid demonstrations of any kind. We did ask and did want calm, deliberate, FAIR consideration of the results of our labours in London.
” Of the 121 members of Dail Eireann, 112 were veterans of the war and men who had served at least one term in an English jail. Many of them have been arrested and imprisoned three and even five times. A few have served prison terms as many as nine times. And to these Teachtai of the Dail we submitted the Treaty with its oath of allegiance, ‘ That I will be faithful to His Majesty King George, his heirs and successors by law.’ We knew how hard it was going to be for these men, who had suffered so much at the hands of England, to take that oath. BUT WHO IS GOING TO SAY THAT THEIR DIFFICULTY IS ANY MORE PAINFUL THAN OURS ?
” I talked with these men, and tried my best to reason with them. The world knows the result. A majority of seven in Dail Eireann brought the Treaty into being. But the minority left me in no doubt as to where I stood in their estimation. Few of them chose to say it openly, but all of them held that I was not the same man who told the young Volunteers at Rathfarnham that ‘ Irish freedom is coming because of the men who have died and because of the men who are still prepared to die.’ I was the same man. I am the same man. And I say now what I said at Rathfarnham, with the difference that now I say Irish freedom HAS come
” Of course, the Dail discovered that there was a serious split in the Cabinet at the first of the secret sessions in December. de Valera had just motored back from the West. Brugha was on hand fresh from an inspection of the army that had taken him all over Ireland. Both were convinced that the vast majority of the people would support them in any move they made. And, for a few days, this was a fact undoubtedly. The people still hailed de Valera as their leader. They applauded him when he told them, ‘ We have counted the cost, and we shall not quail even though the full price of our freedom has to be paid.’ Brave words, truly ! Applauded certainly ! But sanity was yet to prevail.
” Brugha told us in one of the secret sessions that we had fallen to the magic of Lloyd George. Mme. Markievicz held us in scorn because we had proved ourselves incapable of matching swords with ‘ the Welsh wizard.’ de Valera referred to his own fears fears that led him to abstain from taking part in the negotiations. He admitted his fear that he might succumb to the British Prime Minister’s cunning, and then, apparently on the verge of tears, declared that this is what had happened to us. The man who had taken the measure of Woodrow Wilson and Georges Clemenceau had outwitted us. This is what De Valera told the Teachtai. IT WAS NOT THUS.
” The truth, as I have tried to make it plain, is that Lloyd George was well informed. The militarists in Whitehall were pressing for an immediate onslaught by sea and land. They believed and many of them still believe that the late Lord Salisbury spoke accurately when he said that ‘ the Irish are no more fitted for self-government than the Hottentots.’ What Ireland needed declared these advocates of ruthlessness was twenty years of resolute government ! Lloyd George did not believe this. I repeat : he was well informed. He knew we had organised on a national scale and could count on 3,000,000 men, women and children to do their part of the task of fighting the British armed forces in guerilla warfare. He knew the British garrison in Ireland, all told, numbered 150,000 men. He knew what it would mean to conquer the Irish people. He did not want to have to do it.
” Lloyd George knew that the Terror had failed ; that it had been not only been a non deterrent but had actually swelled the patriotic fervour of the youth of Ireland. He knew that the morning they hanged young Kevin Barry 550 young men of Dublin enrolled themselves in the army ! He knew that we were smuggling arms and ammunition into Ireland throughout the truce. He knew we were recruiting and drilling. He knew our ramifications were world wide. There were evidences of this close at hand. The raids for machine guns on Chelsea and Windsor Barracks were such evidences. The Irish Office in Whitehall had proof that as much as five pounds had been paid for a high-explosive detonator and five times as much for a service revolver ! The British Prime Minister had accurate information as to the intended recipients of the 600 ’45 calibre Colt automatics discovered on the docks in Hoboken ! He knew the planned destination of the 355 Ibs. of T.N.T. seized in the home of a coal-miner in Newcastle.
” But he knew more than this. He knew that Ireland’s freedom was absolutely dependent on the goodwill of Britain. He made us know it ! He made us see the common sense of entering into friendly relations a course dictated, if by nothing else, by the instinct of self-preservation. He put clearly before us the indisputable fact that our economic interests are identical. It was our task to convince our people that these were the facts.
” To many Irishmen the Treaty had come as a crushing disappointment. There is no gainsaying it. They had believed that in some magical way we of the delegation would be able to make possible the rebirth and regeneration of the Gaelic State on a stupendous scale. Anything less than this seemed impossible to accept. Yet we could not for ever live in dreamland. The reality of the situation had to be made plain from Cashel down to Kerry. Griffith voiced the urgent need of unity on the part of ‘ all sections of the Irish nation in raising the structure and shaping the destiny of our new Free State.’ And already the people began to understand.
” De Valera at first insisted that the Treaty would never be accepted by the people. He declared that ‘ the terms of this Agreement are in violent conflict with the wishes of the majority of this nation.’ But little by little he began to realise that this was not the case. Whereupon he sponsored the remarkable policy of saving the people from themselves by preventing their expressing their will ! To me it would have been a criminal act to refuse to allow the Irish nation to give its opinion as to whether it would accept this settlement or resume hostilities. But in the initial stages of the fight within the Cabinet De Valera and his followers seemed capable of making a plebiscite impossible.
” Our difficulty then as it is still was to make plain to the people that the task of making a noble Irish Ireland lies in the people themselves. It cannot be stated too often that our people for hundreds of years have been subjected to the denationalising influence of Anglicisation. The task before us, having got rid of the British, is to get rid of the remaining influences to de-Anglicise ourselves. There are many among us who still hanker after English ways, and any thoughtlessness, any carelessness, will tend to keep things on the old lines the inevitable danger of the proximity of the two nations.
“It is no restriction nor limitation in the Treaty that will prevent our nation from becoming great and potent. The presence of a representative of the British Crown depending upon us for his resources cannot prevent us from doing that. The words of a document as to what our status is cannot prevent us from doing that. . . . One thing only can prevent us and that is disunion among ourselves. Can we not concentrate and unite not on the negative but on the positive task of making a real Ireland, distinctive from Britain a nation of our own ? The only way to get rid of the British contamination and the evils of corrupt materialism is to secure a united Ireland intent on democratic ways, to make our free Ireland a fact, and not to keep it for ever in dreamland as something that will never come true, and which has no practical effect or reality except as giving rise to everlasting fighting and destruction. Destructive conflict seems almost to have become the end itself in the minds of some some who appear almost to be unheeding and unmindful of what the real end is.
” In those early days of the year we clung hopefully to the belief that our political opponents must sooner or later cease their opposition and accept the will of the people, which was daily becoming more and more overwhelmingly in favour of the Treaty. At that time Ireland was perhaps the only country in Europe which had living hopes of a better civilisation. We had an unparalleled opportunity of making good. Much was within our grasp. Who could lay a finger on our liberties ? If any power menaced us we were in a stronger position than ever before to repel the aggressor. We had reached the starting-point from which to advance and use our liberties to make Ireland a shining light in a dark world, to reconstruct our ancient civilisation on modern lines, to avoid the errors, the miseries, the dangers into which other nations with their false civilisations have fallen.
” The only way to build the nation solid and Irish is to affect the dissenting elements in a friendly national way by attraction, not by compulsion, making themselves feel welcomed into the Irish nation in which they can join and become absorbed as, long ago, the Geraldines and the de Burgos became absorbed. The old Unionists, Home Rulers, Devolutionists and now the uncompromising Republicans we had to have them all, and we tried to winthem all. We are still at it. If with each passing week our efforts seem to be more and more futile if the soul-destroying pessimism which is gradually settling down over our people cannot be dissipated at least it will not be because those of us enlisted in the cause of an Irish Ireland have not used every means in our power to put an end to internecine conflict.
” The English Die-Hards said to Mr. Lloyd George and his Cabinet, ‘ You have surrendered.’ Our own Die-Hards say to us, ‘ You have surrendered.’ There is a simple test. Those who are left in possession of the battlefield have won.
” Yes we had won. We had won our freedom, next we had to consolidate our gains to prove ourselves worthy of the victory. And as the weeks lengthened into months and our opponents became ever more bitter and more extreme, we began ourselves to wonder if in the end the Irish people in order to be able to live in peace would consent to remain in dreamland, to be led by dreamers ! We wondered, but we did not cease doing our best to prevent this national tragedy. We have not ceased and we shall not cease. The fight must go on until it is won. It will go on until law and order have been established in every square mile of the 26 counties. To that we have dedicated ourselves.”