|The Irish Tangle for English Readers
by Shane Leslie
Published in 1946 by MacDonald and Co, London
|Protestant and Catholic|
All is not clean-cut between North and South. There is a moderately soft lining to both coats of steel. Many well-to-do Protestants prefer to live in the South and some prosperous Catholics prefer the North. The intellectual and artistic, who do not care for politics, tend Southward. People who are interested less in their bank accounts than in sporting or intellectual surroundings forget the “love and loyalty” on which the North prides itself.
Life is easy enough in
Hence exasperation enough and the
natural hope expressed by a Northern Catholic once that his opponents would go
to Hell: as they would be sure to find no
In the South, Protestants stick
to commerce because civil appointments involve learning Irish. In the North,
Catholics may learn all the Irish and practise all the Novenas they like but
these practices do not lead to places in civil life. The cloying climate, the
hard, simple life on the farms and the sleepy existence in the towns have
blunted the razor-edges of Southern politics except on special occasions. Even
The rival Societies and Orders
are water-tight and probably whisky-tight to each other. Social or political
friendliness cannot exist between them really because the object of all such
secret combines is to hold, grasp and circumvent jobs for their own members.
There is as much “Freemasonry” on one side as on another. English Freemasonry
is an admirable conspiracy on behalf of Christian charity. Continental
Freemasonry is the devilish undermining of religion which also undermined the
There has recently appeared the
most interesting and impartial of all Irish pamphlets called Irish Protestantism: to-day and to-morrow – a
demographic study by R.P. McDermott and D.A. Webb. Printed by the Association
for Promoting Christian Knowledge, it may be recommended to all Christians. The
Protestant decline is traced, but it corresponds to the Catholic decline.
Unfortunately, Protestants are decreasing rurally and in the South. A
thirty-mile radius of
There cannot be the least doubt
which way the shadow is pointing on the wall. The Protestant population is
becoming elderly compared to the Catholic. In
How shall Catholic and Protestant conquer each other? When Protestant Councils go out of their way to put efficient Catholics into positions and when the Catholics pick out and promote Protestants (whether they say “To Hell with the Pope” in good Gaelic or not): when Protestant mayors alternate in Dublin and Cork: when Belfast receives the cheers of Christendom and the thanks of the Empire for electing her first Catholic mayor – then will they have won the truest victories over each other and the land shall have peace.
At present they are a little
nervous of each other. A good Ulsterman once attended a conference in
The plain, economical truth is
At one time it was suggested
transferring Protestants into
Congestion is the core of the
Irish tangle at home. Hence the outburst of all who wish to work, marry and
If, during the past century, the
youth had not poured themselves out and money had not poured in from exiles,
Political change requires to be
deeply considered in effecting the distribution of wealth in the country.
A time there was when Temperance
Reformers were shocked to find it necessary for the two Protestant cathedrals
It has been suggested that the
On the other hand, Protestant
landlords have often given land for Catholic schools and churches in the past.
How often the churchmen have found convivial reunion when their churches were
separated by all the Councils and Synods. Under the old dispensation, a parson
and a priest were found to have clubbed together to keep a French cook. There
is always a social criss-cross between divines. A wit like Father Healy of Bray
was welcome in
Catholics and Protestants need each other this day and the South is full of their social and cultural interflow. Domestically there have been faithful services. A parish priest said he valued his Protestant housekeeper because instead of attending his Mass she could prepare his breakfast. A Protestant bishop declined to dismiss his Catholic housekeeper because he trusted her with all his accounts including his money. (Anecdotes personally gleaned).
Priest and gentry have seen their powers (outside their personal value) fail greatly in these years. They have become less stand-offish and often unite in schemes for the benefit of the people, on whom they still both contrive to live. Death, of course, is the great handshake between Catholic and Protestant. A cardinal appears modestly in the throng at a Protestant primate’s burial. It is believed that the mercy of God begins at the grave.
Hitherto, Protestant and Catholic
Catholic and Protestant in
The scene is a Union debate in
one of the great English universities. A Home Rule debate has been staged by
the polite undergraduates and two champions invited to speak –
Mrs Willie Redmond to Mr Campbell – “That was the grandest speech I ever heard made on your side.”
Hiberni Omnes – “Congratulations – congratulations all round. Well, at any rate, we frightened the English!”
|Ireland During the War|
The second Great War added
immeasurably to the Irish Tangle. The outbreak of war engaging
For the first time in history
Let us admit once for all the
great disappointment of the majority of Irish blood not living in
But a certain majority of Irish
blood throughout the world felt that a golden chance had not been seized: the
chance to declare war not as
That chance has passed to the rainbows of yesteryear. Let it be admitted and done with. Let us not weep over the ink once spilt to write the Declaration of Westminster or over the unsurrendered ports.
By that Declaration,
That being so, men of goodwill
must endeavour to present the benefits of neutral
If De Valera exasperated the
Allies, he puzzled the Germans. They no more knew where they were with him than
the English. They found the Irish coasts far more successfully guarded than in
the previous war. They realised that they would not be welcomed, but fought to the
last man: and that a Nazi-occupied
A true story that I can vouch for
occurred on the remote
“This war is terror, sir.”
“It is indeed – total terror.”
(Whispered). “Can ye tell me: has
“She has indeed.”
“Thank God” – (after a pause) – “for our boys will not be alone!”
At no time did
The Germans’ maps were
subsequently captured, but they have to be seen to be believed. The series
covered the country’s bogs, the deposits of minerals, the roads and cities with
the utmost candour. A plan of invasion can be traced through the western ports,
While Allies and their enemies were making up their minds what reaction to expect from Ireland, Ireland slept like a sleeping beauty, as though Europe were not Ireland’s continent at all, nor even the earth her particular planet.
Neutrality was given the fullest
theory but the vaguest practice. The Irish papers were crippled and confined by
Every English craft and industry
received the subsidy of Irish brain and brawn. Carpenters and artificers,
dockers and husbandmen, women by the thousand, all poured from an unconscripted
Some small nations, overwhelmed
and forced by the Nazis into war, did not prove wholly assets to the Allies.
How great the amount of work put
into British industry is shown by the immense figure of sterling left to Irish
The Army, the Navy and the Air Force can better inform the world of the quantity and the quality of the Irish who have fought steadily at their side right through this war, which indirectly De Valera has done so much to assist the Allies to win, oddly enough more than either care to acknowledge!
Certainly he has kept his pledge
made far back in 1935 that
There are people in
Twice during the war he has made
the great refusal: il gran Rifuto. He
refused to accompany
Perhaps a parallel can be drawn
with the Battle of Jutland, where Jellicoe played for safety and turned away
twice from the German fleet. By breaking with their severe personal doctrines
the English admiral and the Irish leader might have achieved the dreams of
centuries: the one a Trafalgar in the
If Beatty had been in command at
It was hoped that
The Irish pride themselves on
never having made a conquest or a colony themselves; except in remote history.
The Irish are a fighting, but not a conquering people. Manx is discovered to be
an Irish dialect and Argyle betrays its name as “the Land of the Irish Gael”:
but no Irish dictator has clamoured for their return. The Six Counties are the
only unredeemed territory in the dreams of
It will be wearisome for
generations to come explaining why
Simpatisset mit Irland,
bleibt aber seinem Eid treu (sympathises with
Before we pass into the Serbonian
Bog which so many have enthusiastically dragged for solutions to
What can be the fascination which has drawn so many brave souls, so many spirits of adventure, so many well-meaning and hopeful folk not without many of the ill-starred race of politicians into the Irish morass?
Is it belief that the Irish would
be happier or the
Idealists as well as statesmen have been interested: thinkers, moralists, men-of-letters, the philanthropists as well as the patriots. These have all given advice, tried their hand and passed on. New questers and fresh querists will take up the Irish problem with the years. Similar enthusiasms will lead to the same hopes and the same collapse, leaving the problem a little more complicated than it was before.
In retrospect it has seemed so simple to settle, especially during Parnell’s tenure of power. After his extinction as a man, disarray and disunion triumphed. He was broken as though Destiny herself had been envious of a mortal coming so near to solving an immortal question.
Many have essayed their hand since Parnell, but finding their luck and the Luck of Ireland against them, have stolen away to the shadows.
They seem to sit down to an
invisible table which may be compared to one of the great boards of play by
anyone who has watched the casting and losing of stakes at
There is a certain grandeur in the time-length of Irish history. As Macaulay wondered at the august chronology of the popes stretching back into the dimmest dark ages, so Irish politicians may well hold their breath when they realise the long succession in which they stand. There have been seven hundred years of Anglo-Irish conflict – alone!
Before the coming of statesmen
there were the Kings – Henry II and John. Sovereigns of
Follows the long succession of
Viceroys and commanders – soldiers and diplomats – Prime Ministers who have
played and lost their stake in Irish affairs: a democratic tyrant like
Cromwell, a Royalist martyr like Strafford.
My personal retrospect extends only half a century. I was born before the first Home Rule Bill and nursed during the collisions of Gladstone and Parnell, of whom it was said that they alone were worthy of each other’s steel in all those years.
By the fall of the century they had both become myths: and their parties had collapsed after them.
All who took their places: all who toyed or struggled with the Irish problem in the nineteen hundreds: all who sat down to the Irish gamble, I can recall personally and now all of them ghosts.
George Wyndham, the brilliant
cavalier who achieved the fortunate Purchase Bill, but lost sorrowfully when he
gambled on a Unionist Government “dishing the Whigs” with a Home Rule of their
own. As a boy I met him at Irish shooting parties full of sanguine proposals,
bubbling with quotations from the Elizabethans. “Go in and lead
The good Lord Bryce I recall at
an Irish dinner at
With the double General Elections
of 1910 the Irish gamble became a plank, almost the whole platform, of the
Liberal Party. Joining the Nationalist Party I was thrown into contact with
John Redmond, John Dillon, Joe Devlin – with their public speeches and private
converse. Their most brilliant recruit was Tom Kettle, poet, professor,
politician, my companion alas only for days. Once more the board was set. Home
Rulers and Liberals faced the Tories and their Praetorian Guard from
This time the dice went against
At the last moment before the
outbreak of war, King George V called a
The war-fortunes of the Irish
players have been told. Before the Armistice arrived, both
In despair at American urgencies
the Government called a Convention and summoned all the available players to
the table. Horace Plunkett took the chair, and Provost Mahaffy lent the noble
The whole of [the] last
They had the hopes of every section save the Sinn Fein and they had the good wishes of the world. But with these hopes and wishes they played ducks and drakes. They had not the courage of a Parnell to take the impossible by the throat. They all threw down their cards and quit the table, though Cardinal Logue had solemnly foretold that chaos would follow failure.
They arose and went unjustified to their homes, leaving Sinn Fein and Republican to fight the last blood-stained struggle with the British Government.
The gambling table was not spread
again till Sir John and Lady Lavery opened communications between the Cabinet
The Laverys call for honoured
memory, for single-handed they brought about the meetings: and made a treaty
possible. They seemed to have been brought together for the salving of
There were furtive meetings and
secret discussions while
Sir John painted the gamblers on either side in the intervals, recording the Celtic features of all the Irish leaders, who stole shyly amongst the canvasses and commented on each other’s profiles with an occasional Plutarchian repartee. When Collins reproached Churchill for putting only £1,000 on his head, Churchill showed him a copy of the Hue and Cry, in which the Boers had once valued him at no more than £25.
Carson and Redmond were
represented only by portraits which they had once visited together when
The story of the Treaty has been repeatedly told. They were desperate men, gambling in a hurry, but they were determined to make a result. It was a curious gamble, for they all stood to lose and they all lost – their political reputation or their lives. Griffiths and Collins had thrown death and seemed to know it.
I chanced to be in that famous
In the retrospect of Irish
history, gratitude to leaders seems impossible: any more than players feel
gratitude to the umpires or gamblers to their croupiers. Those, who have done
In the background of the
treaty-making stood incalculable figures – De Valera and Lloyd George. It is
presumed that then, as now, De Valera was willing to accept voluntary
association with the Empire in order to bring
Lloyd George tempted
Collins and Griffiths had
deserved well of their people, for home they had dragged a Treaty from the
lion’s mouth. It gave them freedom and peace enough, though not all that they
dreamed of. What are the memories of Collin and Griffiths today? A fine Celtic
Cross with medallions of their features stood outside the Dail in lieu of
statues. But even that has now disappeared. The Irish leaders are judged too
hastily in their own time by their people: but the last word remains with the
historians and the last historians of
Judgment on De Valera must wait until historians can calculate the losses and benefits entailed by his stewardship.
He has proved an adept in the art of Irish politics, which has always been the ability to ride two horses at the same time in the same arena. Hitherto a fall has always been fatal, because one horse is liable to trample the temporary rider of the other.
Magnificently O’Connell rode on “Catholic Loyalist” and “Young Ireland” as his horses might well have been termed, until the latter reared and threw the gallant old man.
The early Home Rulers rode a mixed stable out of “Irish Nationalist” by “British Whig”.
Parnell proved the real riding-master, riding “Fenian” and “Irish Party” with a remorseless bit. It was not the “Fenian” which unhorsed him and left him as Homer chanted:
and all forgetful of his horsemanship.”
De Valera has proved himself very
capable at this dual horsemanship, riding “
When the abdication of Edward
VIII vacated the Kingship of Ireland, a unique chance was offered to a gambler.
De Valera could have proclaimed an
When the day of clean-cut solutions arrives, it will be found there are three possible
1) an independent
2) an independent
3) a Commonwealth associated with the Commonwealths of the
Empire. This has the advantage of making the peaceful entry of
|A Note on Strategy|
The only human excuse
Self-preservation is the final
law of all nations, great and small.
In her first flush of freedom
They have been an unfortunate
blot on the Irish record for succouring Freedom: but it cannot be helped. They
have enjoyed little satisfaction on behalf of their Axis. They must have been
aware that Irish citizens were never impeded when they crossed seas to fight
One delicious echo of the war in
the Pacific drifted down the news. The famous Irish Regiment of New York, the
Sixty-Ninth – once composed of Fenians – was generously thanked by King George
for assisting to recapture and restore the
English opinion was severely
exercised by the presence of these Envoys in
Strategy varies according to
neutrality. The empire was puzzled and fluttered by
On the other hand
De Valera moves slowly. In the World War he took arms against the Allies. In this War he has been neutral. In the next he may -- ?
We are told that the Irish Republican Army rendered any assistance possible to the Germans – but when and where? The writer was asked once by an Air Commander the meaning of certain initials which Irish airmen sometimes painted on their bombers. He thought it wiser to reply that I.R.A. could stand for “Irish Religious Association”.
During the first World War the
English Government, by sheer stupidity, often punctuated by brutality, drove a
large class into sympathy with
No British Government could have
dealt with the I.R.A. as De Valera has dealt during the war. Presuming that
they alone represent forces willing to assist
Fanatical and faithful idealists, the I.R.A. represent the “sea-green incorruptibles”. They never forgive an injury but they will never forget a good turn, even a good word.
To have entered this war with
undefended cities would have needed a Crusader’s constitution.
The Irish Army and the War Office
were perfectly in accordance, once that
Hitler’s invasions generally
divided the countries invaded into irreconcilable camps of patriots and
Quislings. A German invasion would have welded all
|Difficulties and Solutions|
If any solution is to be – both
There are immense difficulties
but none that are so insurmountable as the Partitions in
Ulster sinks her toes into her
granite on such questions as the Irish language, the Pope, Partition,
Conscription, Neutrality and the one final and deciding dispute of the
“Republic or King”: as though England had not combined both.
Where there is a single will,
there are many ways and all these tests of division could be met, provided
The Irish language need never
become compulsory in
The Pope has never claimed the
mildest jurisdiction in
The questions of flags and
kingship in a united
The troubles of conscription and neutrality are bound to resolve themselves during any prolonged period of peace.
The Irish conscription issue was
surely settled during the last War and in this has been set aside as not worth
the trouble it would entail. It amounted to the plain truth that no country can
be allowed to conscript another.
In the old days of Victorian
peace the writer met equal opposition in starting the Boys’ Brigades on
military lines. Catholic patriots protested against boys receiving education
for the British Army: while Protestant parents for social and mercantile
reasons were determined not to allow their sons to acquire a taste for
soldiering. Two World Wars may have altered this: but there can be no doubt how
detested Conscription has been found in the two
As a result, in English eyes
The present strong position of
the North calls for thought on their part. There was a subtle wisdom in
Coleridge’s Table Talk when he wrote:
“I am deliberately of opinion
After a century the position is
exactly the same and the North must be reminded that they are not yet using
their immense opportunity, however much they believe they merit reward for
their part in the war.
Noteworthy were the words of the Irish poet, C.H. Rolleston, who wrote in 1931:
“Now the South must retrace its
steps to the pre-war position (the signpost on the road to a real Irish
settlement is still where it was when
Parnell died) and make a new start as an integral part of the
We should say rather – of the United Association of Commonwealths.
Rolleston continued: “The South
will be putting herself in the right and the more
Benevolent neutrality would be
the beginning of the real solutions. It is clear that Irish settlement depends
on the mood more than on the mode in which it is approached. There is a good
deal to be said for returning to the state of affairs as they were when Parnell died.
For the present it must be
allowed that the
As the gulf between Protestant
and Catholic grows appreciably larger, it is forgotten that the War brought
them together at moments. In times of real stress a nobler feeling prevails. In
two wars Irishmen of the North and South have hailed each other on the field of
battle, even exchanging battle-cries and listening with homesickness to the
music which would have seemed hostile party-tunes at home.
There came memorable moments when
the Blitz struck
Scenes that have occurred in the
war may well make the old religious riots obsolete. It should no longer be
possible for Protestant and Catholic to maul each other in
Business capacity, the gift which
distinguished the Scotch and Jewish people, is made one of
It is true that business in
It becomes clear that
No one could describe
As a Corkman said to an English
The other Celtic kingdoms
surrounding the English,
It used to amuse after-dinner speakers to compare the four kingdoms by the typical wants or habitudes of their inhabitants. The French later devised a scale of comparison by imagining their effects according as one or two or three were gathered together.
One Englishman constituted a
club, two a golf match, and three a crown colony!
One Welshman was a Jones, two a
One Scotchman meant a descendant
of the kings of
I have never been able to improve these verbal caricatures.
Old Irish is entrancing enough
for scholars, but modernised Irish has proved difficult even to those most
anxious to learn.
Since the new century, men of
sentiment have struggled against the men of sense. There has been a great
national effort to save the language, which lingers in
An out-and-out solution does not
seem feasible. Neither North nor South can bomb each other out. Neither can buy
nor bribe the other. In the old days, the Established Church and the landlords
could be bought out because they were a vested interest. But you cannot deflect
an Ulster Crusader with a loan or buy up a Cause. There is no royal road (as
the expression runs) to an Irish solution. But there is no republican road
The In-and-Out solution was the one reached by the Buckingham Palace Conference and remains to be tried.
During the war,
Pacification is not more possible
to reach than settlement at present. Nothing can prevent peoples dwelling at
political peace with each other: but an Irish settlement rouses antagonisms
amounting to Civil war. No English statesman can be expected to grant or abet
such an unsettling settlement. In our generation Liberals like Gladstone,
Asquith, Lloyd George – with George Wyndham,
Temporary solutions alone offer
any promise and solutions without that finality which is dreaded politically by
the Calvinist in the North and philosophically by the Catholic idealist in the
South. Finality spells stagnation – damnation and death.
A final Irish settlement would be
an experiment in absolute values. Perpetual peace would be as impossible in
politics as perpetual motion in physics. The Greek philosophy of Panta rei (everything flows) is
applicable to the
Incidentally no proposals or
projects, no professions or promises are offered as yet from
The barriers between
Commerce and trade make the
greatest and perhaps the only outstanding link between
The moral support of the
The Irish problem must be studied with infinite patience, infinite jest and infinite charity, if any results are expected.
Idealists may spend a lifetime
studying, dreaming and compromising over the Irish Question, building with the
prose of facts or sinking into the poetry of the past. But in the long run
The immediate grievances to be moved are the political disadvantages that minorities protest on each side of the border. If the Catholic minority in the North find they are deprived of patronage because of religion, the Southern minority complain that patronage depends on a knowledge of Irish which they cannot be bothered to learn.
Ten years of friendly armistice
between the two Governments would be the best gift the War could leave behind.
This may be a disappointment to those whose heart is set on immediate unity,
but the early Christians learnt by slow stages that Christ’s second coming
would not be in their time. Nor will Irish unity come in ours: but there are
better things for
There is a deadlock as between
two trains locked in collision at present. For either to forge ahead would be
disastrous. They must remain deadlocked on the border-line until they can
approach each other with confidence and consideration. During a ten years’
Once such services are initiated,
the boundary would become a cultural channel rather than a political ditch.
Eventually political bodies would be bound to see the reasons for a token
interchange of relations. Groups from North or South could assist as visitors at
each other’s deliberations. Senators without voting could attend each other’s
Senates. It is possible that the Commons of both might merge in one capital
while the Senate occupied the other. The only other solution would be for the
Dublin Parliament to acknowledge the same independence to