Chapter 19. – THE REBELLION ITS CAUSE AND COST
THE REBELLION : ITS CAUSE AND COST
” WHILE critics at home and abroad were accusing the Provisional Government of being too lenient with the radical Republicans, at first led by Rory O’Connor and his lieutenants, we were, in fact, awaiting the moment when we could safely adopt sterner methods. Unity was still our goal, as it must always be our goal. By inopportune action against the rebels in the Four Courts we might easily have split the country wide open. Irishmen were not to be called upon to shed the blood of Irishmen until the provocation had become intolerable.”
Even while Collins was making this statement to me one night in July, in my bedroom in the Hotel Shelbourne the reports of rifle and revolver shots reached us through the open window, emphatic proof of that intolerable provocation.
” To explain our long endeavour to save the country from the misery of fratricidal strife,” Collins continued, ” it is necessary to go back to the early part of May when individual members of the I.R.A. signed the following statement, and had it published :
” ‘ We feel that on this basis alone can the situation best be faced, viz.:
” ‘ 1. The acceptance of the fact admitted by all sides that the majority of the people of Ireland are willing to accept the Treaty.
” ‘ 2. An agreed election with a view to
” ‘ 3. Forming a Government which will have the confidence of the whole country.
” ‘ 4. Army unification on above basis.’
” Following the publication of this document, there came from the Director of Publicity, Republican Forces, Four Courts, a reply that stated that ‘ Any agreement upon which the army can be united must be based upon the maintenance of the Republic.’
” Then came the adoption by the Dail, May 3, of a motion to appoint a committee ‘ to consider and discuss the statement issued by the army officers on May 2.’ The members of this committee were Sean Hales,(1) P. O’Maille, James Dwyer, Joseph McGuiness, Sean McKeon representing the Free State party Mrs. Clarke, P. Ruttledge, Liam Mellowes, Sean Boylan, Harry Boland representing the Republicans. At the first meeting of this committee it was recommended that hostilities should immediately cease, and steps were taken to effect this. After a conference at the Mansion House the following day between leading officers of both sections of the I.R.A., it was announced that a truce had been declared as from four o’clock that afternoon with a view to giving both sections of the army an immediate opportunity of discovering a basis for army unification. Then, May 10, it was announced that the conference had concluded without reaching an agreement
(1) ref. Brother of the man who commanded the detachment of 200 Irregulars who ambushed the Collins’ cavalcade at Bandon, where Collins met his death. ‘Tom Hales’) .
” The Dail adjourned after receiving a promise from the committee that a fresh effort would be made to find a solution of the difficulties. At the resumed sitting of the Dail, May 16, further reports of the peace conversations were presented indicating that a basis of settlement satisfactory to all parties had not yet been reached. It was then that I approached De Valera with a suggestion that he and I find a way out of the impasse. Out of our conference came what has been called the Collins-De Valera pact. The terms of that agreement were as follows :
” ‘ We are agreed :
” ‘ 1. That a National Coalition panel for this third Dail, representing both parties in the Dail and in the Sinn Fein organisation, be sent forward on the ground that the national position requires the entrusting of the Government of the country into the joint hands of those who have been the strength of the national situation during the last few years, without prejudice to their present respective positions.
‘ ‘ 2. That this Coalition panel be sent forward as from the Sinn Fein organisation, the number for each party being their present strength in the Dail.
‘ ‘ 3. That the candidates be nominated through each of the existing party Executives.
” ‘ 4. That every and any interest is free to go up and contest the election equally with the National- Sinn Fein panel.
” ‘ 5. That constituencies where an election is not held shall continue to be represented by their present Deputies.
” ‘ 6. That after the election the Executive shall consist of the President, elected as formerly ; the Minister of Defence, representing the army ; and nine other Ministers five from the majority party and four from the minority, each party to choose its own nominees. The allocation will be in the hands of the President.
‘”7. That in the event of the Coalition Government finding it necessary to dissolve, a general election will be held as soon as possible on adult suffrage.’ This agreement was submitted to Dail Eireann, May 20, and was agreed to unanimously.
” World opinion as voiced in newspaper editorials and in expressions of private individuals which reached me condemned me for entering into this pact with De Valera. In the light of what has happened since, the condemnation may appear to be justified. Yet I cannot bring myself to believe that it was not my duty to have done what I did.
In my official capacity as Chairman of the Provisional Government, I had no right to evade the duty I owed the Irish people and the paramount responsibility resting upon me was to make any sacrifice that might spare the Irish nation from civil war .
“As to my own personal views whatever I may have anticipated is beside the point.”
Collins would not say more than this. But I had already learned from another source and had amply corroborated it just how much faith Collins had in the efficacy of his pact with De Valera. I tell it here because it is very well worth the telling.
Collins met Harry Boland on the street one day shortly after the public announcement of the pact. Everywhere in the ranks of the uncompromising Republicans there was bitter disappointment over the ” surrender ” of their leader. It was being openly charged that De Valera had shaken hands with a traitor. In all fairness to Boland, it should be added that he was not of those who openly charged Collins with treason, although his affiliation with the extremists had prevented his actively repudiating their charges. As they came face to face, Collins opened the conversation.
” Boland,” he began, ” if De Valera and the rest of you uncompromising Republicans believe what you say that because I support the Treaty I am guilty of treason and you have the courage of your convictions, there is only one decent thing you can do. You know what a traitor deserves. Why don’t you have me killed ? ”
” Now, Mick, be reasonable,” replied Boland. ” You know we can’t afford to have you killed. Look at the disastrous reaction among the people who believe in you. We wouldn’t dare take the responsibility of such a thing.”
” Nonsense,” said Collins. ” You know better than that. The best thing the Irish people do is forget and forget quickly. Within a week they would have forgotten me. Besides, you and those with you have openly charged that I am guilty of treason. There is only one punishment fitting that crime and no considerations of any kind should sway you from executing that punishment no consideration, that is, unless, maybe, there is nobody among you that dares try it.
” I am altogether serious, Boland. You know what has to be done if a diseased body is to be made well. You must get at the central nerve tissue and destroy it. Also you know well that I am the pulse of this movement which you call treasonable. Destroy me and your idealistic colleagues can go ahead with the Republic without domestic opposition worthy of the name.”
When I related this story to Collins as I did do when he refused to talk about his personal views of the value of the pact with De Valera he chuckled. It was a characteristic of his, very much like a peculiarity of Theodore Roosevelt’s, which bespoke his vast amusement. But the tale did not draw his fire ; and I was determined to make sure that in eight months I had not completely misunderstood my man.
But surely,” I expostulated, ” you don’t mean to tell me you have decided to become one of those anaemic, maligned, martyrs-for-martyrdom’s-sake persons ! You don’t mean you are prepared to put up your hands and be shot down in cold blood ! ”
” Ah, sure,” came the quick reply, the smile widening and the chuckle more pronounced, ” if they try it, there’ll be several of them that will have headaches ! ”
Then, resuming his narrative, Collins dissected the motives actuating the leaders of the rebellion.
” It is not a pleasant thing to have to say,” he began, ” but there is no doubting that from the moment De Valera found himself beaten in the Dail and had to resign the Presidency, his wounded vanity led him straight into the arms of the bitterest of his followers. At any time before the outbreak of actual hostilities he could have stopped the rebels’ preparations with a word. But he had forgotten Ireland in his own hurt and to smash the machinery of the Government in which he did not have the controlling voice became an obsession with him. I have never seen anywhere in print a reference to a remarkable statement that De Valera made the third day of the private sessions of the Dail Friday, December 16, 1921. On that occasion he said :
” ‘ I have been President of the Irish Republic ; I will never accept any lesser office in any Irish Cabinet.’
” De Valera cannot escape the responsibility of this revolt. In that one sentence lies the reason for his, first, fomenting civil war and, now, taking part in it. Of the remaining fifty-six members of the Dail who voted against the Treaty more than two-thirds have told me that they are delighted with the prospects of a peaceful Ireland. Not ten of the minority Deputies could approve of the senseless campaign of murder and destruction that is being waged by De Valera and his followers.
” Study of the mentality of the Irregular leaders with whom De Valera has chosen to associate himself, robs of any surprise their ambushing of the funeral cortege of a dead Volunteer. Such acts of desecration are but the natural development of the war policy worked out by leaders warped by vanity and egotism, and carried out by pliant followers who, from the very nature of their organisation, must necessarily include the ragtag and bobtail of society professional irresponsibles who, when war seemed unlikely, used the camouflage of an irregular armed force either to live without working or to get rich quick at the expense of the community.
” When De Valera spoke glibly about wading through blood, he paved the way knowingly for what was to come. He paved the way for the recognition in his organisation of an underworld section of his countrymen to whom could be left the work of promoting disorder and decay. He so twisted the minds of many Irish youths that they now regard as a ‘ stunt ‘ the wholesale destruction which marks their track through the country. De Valera paved the way.
” Our intelligence staff was meantime not inactive. We knew what was going forward as a result of secret conferences in the Four Courts. When we made our attack on the rebel headquarters it was because we had in our possession proof that Rory O’Connor had perfected his plans for the opening of a general offensive in all parts of Ireland and with the promise of De Valera to take an active part in the hostilities. Stack and Brugha and Childers were active participants in these conferences and, like De Valera, had important posts to fill the moment the fighting began.
” During the far- too-long-protracted period of discussion of the Treaty it was frequently pointed out that the time for talk was ended, and that the next phase must be one of hard work and constructive statesmanship. It was plain that if the development of our natural assets was to be delayed by unscrupulous, incompetent, or merely silly men and women, the assets of the nation, her cities, her soil, her many natural resources and capabilities, would be seriously injured. Few of us then foresaw the waste and destruction of mad war. It is the wickedest sin of those now in arms against the Irish nation that for the most part they are without any realisation of their sin. From injuries that were merely malicious and spiteful in the beginning, their destructive operations are now conducted on a basis of sheer lunacy.
” At whatever cost, there must be a return to sanity. The realisation must be brought home : that the looted shops, the burned town and city areas, the broken roads and railways all the items of the wild orgy of destruction must be paid for by the Irish taxpayer. The cost of this campaign of appalling carnival of crime is more than a million pounds a day and this is a dead loss, never to be recovered. Ireland must be saved at no matter what cost. This is the people’s war, and the people must win.
” It is the people’s war because it is their homes and lives and fortunes that are being ruined. And so they are with their Government in the effort to suppress this revolt with the utmost speed. The people know that resources spent now in pursuit of victory will be economy if they ensure that wild destruction of all resources must cease. The victory of the people must be as sudden and as complete as possible. When the fighting ceases it must have ceased for once and all, and the will of the people be proved supreme beyond further question. There must not be any qualification of this, no shadow of doubt about it at all.
” THERE CAN BE NO TALK OF COMPROMISE, BECAUSE NO COMPROMISE IS POSSIBLE IN THE PRESENT CASE. WHEN WE HAVE PEACE IT MUST BE A REAL PEACE UPON WHICH WE CAN BUILD UP CLEAN AGAIN FROM THE SOUND AND SOLID FOUNDATIONS OF THE PEOPLE’S WILL.
” I promised in an earlier talk to dwell at greater length on that idea of the preference one should have for a wise coward as contrasted with a stupid brave man. I regret to say that, in the interim, facts have been brought to my attention that make me question the honest courage of the stupid man I had in mind.
“He is Austin Stack. I do not even now impute his bravery. But until recently I had faith in his honesty. His stupidity was amply evidenced at the time of the capture of Sir Roger Casement. In that crisis Stack lost his head completely, and was guilty of blunders a clever coward would never have committed. Let it be borne in mind that Stack is one of the leaders of the Irregulars. He is actively engaged in leading bands of men against their fellow Irishmen killing, burning, looting. Yet, as recently as last May the sixth day of that month, to be exact Stack made a speech in Bridgeport, Conn., in which he made the following statement :
” ‘ I would rather that the proposed Free State was beaten by what is called constitutional means than any other. We propose to fight this election and defeat the Treaty at the polls. That is the only way the Treaty can be beaten without bloodshed. It was all fours with other speeches of other Republicans during this period. For the greater part these men proclaimed that a war against brother Irishmen was unthinkable. In view of their subsequent actions it is clear that the speeches were uttered with the object of lulling the people into a sense of false security until such time as the rebels were ready to strike. Meantime arms, explosives, and means of transport were being piled up in various areas, notably in the Four Courts and in Cork.
” Austin Stack has personal bravery in no small degree. I regret to have evidence of his dishonesty. Yet no man who knows him will ever believe that Stack could ever prefer a contest to be won in any fashion other than by fighting. Constitutional means never had any appeal for Stack. But in America, perhaps, he was influenced by the same considerations as caused J. J. O’ Kelly, at Philadelphia, at about the same time, to make this statement :
” ‘ Nobody in the U.S. need have any fear that the opposing sides in this matter of the Free State will not conduct themselves properly. Any discussion they may have will be in keeping with the dignity of our race.’
It may be mentioned in passing that Stack and O’Kelly were members of a Republican delegation hastily despatched to America to try to bolster up the waning cause of the Republic.
” The cost of the revolt has already reached staggering totals. No man can tell how many more millions of treasure, how many more lives, the campaign of destruction may yet cost. But of one thing the Irish people may be sure. The fire that is testing our souls will make us the purer for it when once again peace has come. And this is especially true of the young manhood represented by the national army.
” Our army, so long as it exists for honourable purposes only, will continue to draw to it honourable men. It will call to it the best men of our race, as the Athenian army did men of skill and culture. And it will not be recruited as so many modern armies are, from those who are industrially useless. It has not been so recruited, and it will not be. For our army will continue to exist only for the defence of our liberties, and of our people in the exercise of their liberties.
” An Irish army can never be used for the ignoble purposes of invasion, subjugation, and exploitation. But it is not only upon our army that eventual victory of a self-governing Ireland depends. It depends more upon the extent to which we make ourselves invulnerable by having a civilisation which is indestructible. That civilisation will be indestructible only by its being enthroned in the lives of the people, and having its foundations resting on right, honesty, and justice.
” Our army in the field will deal with the ne’er-do-wells upon whom De Valera now depends. But in the final analysis our army is secondary in maintaining the peace that must be won. Its strength is but the strength of our real resistance the extent to which we build up within ourselves what can never be overthrown nor destroyed the extent to which we make strong the spirit of the Irish nation.”