Wicklow Rejects Home Rule for a Republic PART IV

Photo:to the right, Sir Edward Carson

to the right, Sir Edward Carson

Courtesy of 'The Irish Times'

Wicklow Historical Society Journal 1994

By John Finlay

No Solution in Sight

Following the signing of the Peace Treaty at Versailles on Saturday June 28th 1919 bringing about an end officially to World War I, Irish eyes turned towards home and the hope of a peaceful solution to the "Irish Problem".

Throughout July many references were made in the 'Wicklow People’ to the solution of the 'Irish Problem' with a editorial published on the 19th of July holding nothing back:

"Nationalist Irishmen fought and died in huge numbers during the Great War under the impression that they were fighting for Ireland as well as for other small nations. This and this alone was their object in going to the front in such huge numbers. They believed that they were fighting for Ireland's freedom but when they returned they found their country in the possession of an army of occupation, that the Home Rule Bill had been hung up and treated as a scrap of paper and that their country had been betrayed in a shameful way. Now peace has been signed and today Saturday July 19th has been set aside to celebrate the event. Ireland is glad that four and a half years of hostilities are over but there is no peace for Ireland".

Even 'The Times’ in London reporting on Sir Edward Carson and his threats to call out the Ulster Volunteers to ensure the repeal of the Home Rule Act says "Ireland is a pitiful failure of British Statesmanship - Impartial Law - Incitement and then. . . ?" 'The Times’ also proposes the partition of Ireland, the setting up of two legislations, one for the three southern provinces and the other for the province of Ulster. "The retention of the nine counties of Ulster as a unit we are convinced would give greater stability than if Ulster were reduced to six or four counties with an overwhelming Unionist majority. The arrangement of constituencies under the new Act would ensure that there would be a Unionist majority in the province while the existence of a very powerful Nationalist minority would give protection against disregard for minority rights and interests". Regrettably when partition did come, the sound advice of ‘The Times’ was disregarded.

"Peace Day"

A Nation Divided

Saturday July 19th had been designated "Peace Day" but the day passed almost unnoticed in Wicklow. It was felt there was little to celebrate. The Newsletter attacked the apathy of the 'Wicklow People' in its editorial of July 26th saying that with the exception of a few establishments, which closed at one o'clock, business was carried on as usual and it would have been difficult for the casual observer to distinguish any particular feeling of jubilation. The Newsletter put the 'celebrations' in scathing terms:

"Beyond the meagre display of flags from the R.I.C Barracks, the military barracks, the Coastguard Station and a solitary steamer in the harbour, other signs or indications of the importance of the occasion were scarcely discernible. No demonstrations, parade or march had been organised and the general feeling seemed to be that of ‘business as usual‘. A few sported Union Jacks but this was the exception rather than the rule and the wearers were in the minority. It was indeed a drab and lifeless celebration".

From about 8.00 p.m., soldiers were confined to the barracks in fear of a possible conflict with opponents.

A Regatta once again

After a three year hiatus brought about by the Great War, the Regatta returned under the presidency of Earl Fitzwilliam. Arrangements were in full swing with many events organised for early August. The Picture House or Kinema, which had been operating on St. Patrick's Rd. (old school house), was transferred to the Marine Building for the period and a huge fund raising bazaar for De La Salle funds was organised and successfully run. A concert by Percy French and May Laffan entitled "Song! Story! and Sketch!" which took place in the Assembly Hall on Tuesday August 5th. The regatta itself, under the presidency of Earl Fitzwilliam, was a huge success. The previous regattas of 1916, '17 & '18 had been abandoned due to the war situation. The Intense political situation abated temporarily throughout the long overdue celebrations.

A Continuing Conflict

The ‘People’ editorial of August 16th brought the simmering Irish situation to the forefront again:

"The previous latest pronouncement on the Irish Question or anything that has occurred of late has not altered our opinion that we are not within measurable distance of self government for this country. As has been frequently stated of late the government is still bankrupt of statesmanship regarding Ireland. It has no policy, Carson and his friends wont have Home Rule and the Irish people will not have Partition; what do we have? Stalemate!"

In an address to the Glenealy Sinn Féin Club Mr. John Etchingham T.D. thanked them for its. continuous support for him and informed them "that England would never win the U.S. as an ally till the Irish demands were satisfied and the Irish people would never be satisfied with less than the complete evacuation of their country. That was much nearer than many people thought", he said.

In late August the headlines of both newspapers concerned a daring robbery which took place at Station Road, Wicklow when the chief clerk of the Chemical works Mr. T. A. Rooke was attacked and robbed of the firm's wages - over £200. No one was apprehended for the crime despite a very detailed description of the assailant and robber. During that period too the Dublin and Wicklow Chemical Works was taken over by Messrs. Gouldings.

The 'Irish Problem' ignored

In a comment on August 23rd on the Prime Minister's speech during which he addressed many topics such as, mines, imports, electric power, imperial trade, agriculture, hours and pay, the paper asks "What did the Premier not say?" and answers the question itself thus:- "Nothing about Ireland". It seems obvious that the powers that be in Britain at the time were hoping that the Irish problem would just "go away!" But it would not!

Rathew's Claim to Fame

During this period too, Rathnew's claim to fame as "The Bravest Village" not just in Ireland but throughout the whole of Britain, came to the forefront. Many towns and villages were boasting of the huge contribution its men had made during the Great War. None however could approach the claim to fame of Rathnew. Out of a total population of just over 600, almost 50% of which were children, 180 men joined the ranks of Army or Navy and went to fight for freedom of small countries. Practically every able-bodied man in the village was involved and only Newtownmountkennedy could approach Rathnew's involvement. Some fine records exist and it is hoped to follow up Rathnew's involvement in World War I in a later article.

The end of August brought some "good news". The Newsletter reported that the following communique had been issued for publication: "The Government have decided that the time has now arrived when the press censorship in Ireland may be abolished. It will therefore cease to exist from midnight August 31st 1919". Yet the ‘People’ on Sept; 6th reported that "Sir Edward Carson continues his War against Home Rule. He states that his party wants a solution to the problem but not a surrender!" In an editorial comment the same paper attacks Carson's speech, that it was "undoubtedly treasonable yet it is scarcely probable that the authorities will take any notice of it though even if the humblest Sinn Féiner in the country gave utterance to half the threats that Sir Edward Carson did, he would be promptly sent to prison".

Police Suppression

House searches and confiscation of documents continued to add to the tension. Mr. C. M. Byrne's residence at Ballykillavane, Glenealy was regularly searched over the next few months in an attempt to find incriminating documents. Generally the searches yielded little evidence. On Sept. 13th the ‘Newsletter’ reported a search of the headquarters of the Wicklow Labour Organisation and local Sinn Féin Club at Main Street, thus:-

"Yesterday (Friday) morning a small force of police consisting of District Inspector F. A. Britten, Head Constable Plower, Sergeant Jones and six constables visited the headquarters of the Wicklow Labour Organisation and the local Sinn Féin Club and carried out a minute search of the building. The police were accompanied by about 15 or 20 of the military, fully armed and the soldiers were drawn up in front of the hall while the police proceeded with the search inside. It has not transpired what the police were in search of, but it is understood that a small parcel of papers and documents was carried away as a result of the visit. The presence of the military on the street created a good deal of public notice but everything passed off quietly". Such displays of force and searches obviously increased the tension to near breaking point, aided by such comments as the ‘People's’ editorial of Sept. 13th stating that "Mr. Lloyd George has no intention whatsoever of carrying out any of the promises he makes concerning Home Rule". Even Mr. T. Ruddy of Newry Council said “the government should give a generous measure of Home Rule. It is nearly time", he observed, "that Lord French, Sir Edward Carson and Mr. De Valera stopped their tomfoolery. It will be the destruction of the country yet",as reported in the Bray and South Dublin Herald of Sept. 20th.

Police raids continued on such premises as the Glenealy Sinn Féin Club, the residence of Mr. James Turner, R.D.C., President of the Agricultural and General Works Union at Killiskey, Ashford, and then on the shaving salon of Mr. W. O'Grady at Main Street, Wicklow where a prospectus for the "Irish Republican Loan" was forcibly removed from display. Such raids added to the increasing tension and speeches by such as C. M. Byrne at an aeridheacht at Ballyknocken near Ashford made him a marked man. Byrne, Etchingham and R. M. Sweetman T.D.s addressed the gathering on Sunday Sept. 14th in support of "Dail Eireann Loan" and the speeches were very anti-establishment. C. M. Byrne, President of Comhairle Ceanntar said that "by one more proclamation (suppression) An Dail Eireann had been added to the Irish Roll of Honour. Proscription had not prevented the Land League in what it had set out to do and it would not prevent Dail Eireann achieving its aims". Mr. De Valera stated "The war front has now been transferred to Ireland. All that is wanted in Ireland can be had within 24 hours. The alien government of Britain has only to withdraw its army of occupation. The British cannot suppress the whole Irish people and Ireland will never acknowledge alien authority". Even the Daily News "Under the Clock" correspondent in an article entitled "£1,000,000 a month for what?", asks "It is now five days since Lord French banned the Sinn Féin Parliament and kindred organisations throughout Ireland. It is costing us one million pounds per month, for military alone, to control? the Irish. I notice that a couple of revolvers have been seized and a Sinn Féin band prevented from performing in Co. Cork. Not much of a return for a million a month. Is it all worthwhile?"

Powerscourt's tone deaf offer

Attempts to dampen down the situation met with little success. Lord Powerscourt's offer, by letter, to Wicklow Urban District Council, of a German field gun to the town as a memento of Wicklow's support in the Great War was graciously declined. Town Councillor Matthew Murtagh is reported to have said "We have plenty of mementoes in the shape of cripples, widows and orphans".

A Disturbed Country

As 1919 drew to a close, the ‘Wicklow People's‘ editorial again threw down the gauntlet of Britain's inactivity on the Irish Question thus:- "Going from worse to worse every week . . . that is the condition of Ireland with broken promises daily from those who had announced their‘ intention of solving the Irish problem. The attempted suppression by force of the people of Ireland will not only not be successful but will cause more unrest and disturbances in the country. This has been the experience in the past". Such incidents as the removal on Oct. 1 1th of a notice referring to the R.I.C. which had appeared in the window of a vacant house in Main Street and the search of Mr. C. M. Byrne's home in Glenealy with the accompanying displays of force did little to solve the problem. The proclamation of such as Sinn Féin, the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan along with Dail Eirerann left almost no middle ground. Murders of policemen throughout the country and-the escape of six Sinn Féin prisoners from Strangeways Prison, Manchester increased the tensions. Raids on houses such as that of Mr". Robert Wingfield's at Dunran, Newtownmountkennedy, with guns and ammunition being stolen, gave the impression (probably true) that the Republican side was arming itself for the unavoidable con?ict to come. Fingers began to point at those blocking the way to peace. The ‘People's’ editorial of Nov. 8th begins "Ulster blocks the way! We are as far away as ever from a Natural Self Government. Ulster still blocks the way. As the present solution includes partition it is damned to failure".

Despite the continuing unrest there was unity in the celebration of Armistice Day on Nov. 11th. The ‘Newsletter’ reported: "In keeping with other parts of the British Isles the anniversary of the signing of the armistice was observed in many establishments and industries in Wicklow. In the Dublin and Wicklow Manure Works, the suspension of all operatives for the allotted time was signalled by the blowing of the siren at 11.00 a.m. At the Coastguard Station all activities were suspended and a solemn silence maintained, while in many business houses in town customers were not served for the space of two minutes. A similar cessation of operations was observed at the railway station. Brief services were held in the Parish Church (Church of Ireland) and Methodist Church". On the following Sunday at the request of the Archbishop of Dublin a special requiem Mass was held, for all who lost their lives in the war, at St. Patrick's Church. Prior to the commencement of the Mass, the "Dead March in Saul" was rendered in the grounds by the Irish Foresters‘ brass and reed band. A special Mass also took place in Ashford.

Yet trouble was in the air with a solution as far away as ever. The ‘Wicklow People’ reported on Nov. 29th that during the week the R.I.C. barracks, at Church St. was undergoing extensive preparations in the way of sandbagging etc. in addition to the strong iron railings erected recently on the lower storey windows for the purposes of securing adequate protection for the force. Both sides seemed intent on shows of patriotism and force. On the afternoon of Sunday Nov. 23rd, the anniversary of the Manchester Martyrs was celebrated when the I.N.F. brass and reed band paraded through Wicklow's streets playing national airs followed by a numerous crowd. There was no interference with the procession by the constabulary. As if to balance that, a detachment of military with three armoured cars visited Wicklow on Friday Dec. 5th and remained stationary just opposite the Labour Exchange for almost two and a half hours. The officer in charge took a snapshot of the writing regarding the "Sinn Féin Loan", which was painted on one of the walls on Main Street. A large crowd gathered in the vicinity of the cars and speculation was rife as to the purpose of the visit. Is it any wonder that the editorial in the ‘Wicklow People’ protested that "the political situation in Ireland is becoming really alarming. The country is being goaded into desperation in the first place by the silly but criminal conduct of the Government and in the next by the brutal and cowardly murders that are committed from time to time by person or persons unknown. We enter our most earnest protests against both". To add to the confusion, in early December, the Government ordered that all drivers had to apply for special motor driver permits. Dissatisfaction at the order was widespread and members of the Irish Automobile Drivers’ Association refused to apply for the necessary permits. Very few motor vehicles were seen on Wicklow streets during the week with many lying idle in garages throughout the town. A fund was opened to aid those being victimised by the new motor permits order and trustees appointed were Arthur Fitzpatrick and Thomas Murphy of Wicklow.

"Baffling Problem"

At the Manchester Reform Club on Dec. 6th, Prime Minister Lloyd George made the following statement on the "baffling problem" of Ireland. "National unity in the war was vital to securing victory and the establishment of a sound peace. I hope to make a real contribution towards settling this most baffling problem of Home Rule for Ireland". It is little wonder then when the 'Newsletter' in its review of 1919 begins thus:- "One more week and we shall witness the dawning of another year. 1919 with its period of remarkable occurrences, startling and uncertain happenings for the Irish people, shall have passed away and its events will only remain for the historian to record. The ruf?ed and disturbed state of our country has been visibly re?ected in the fast moving events though the town of Wicklow has been comparatively immune".

I leave the final word on 1919 to the editorial writer of the ‘Wicklow People’.

"The state of affairs in Ireland is rapidly becoming intolerable, confusion and chaos increase every day. The Home Rule Bill presently proposed could not possibly satisfy all sections of Irishmen. . . Orange and Green. The Christmas of 1919 in Ireland will be a black one. The Government muddle and its recourse to repressive measures instead of redeeming its promises, have made for a very unenviable state of affairs. The country from end to end is seething with unrest and discontent. Mr. Lloyd George's contribution to restore harmony turns out just as people expected. . . nil".

It was hopefully thought that things would improve in 1920 but regrettably there was to be little or no change.

John Finlay

WANTED

20,000 PAIR CHICKENS;

20,000 DOZEN EGGS;

1,000 BARRELS OF OATS,

100 SLINK CALVES,

AND

ANY QUANTITY OF BUTTER,

AT

WICKLOW MARKET,

NEXT WEDNESDAY.

Wicklow News-Letter Sat. July 30, 1887

 

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