The War in Ulster
Forward, 28 March 1914.
From the collection: Ireland Upon the Dissecting Table, Cork Workers’ Club 1975.
Transcription & HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.
Now that all the world and its wife has its eyes fixed upon Ulster, and now that I am back at my Post in Belfast, it is, I suppose, strictly in order that I shall this week say something about the Ulster crisis.
At the time of writing (Sunday afternoon) all the posters of the Sunday Press are announcing in great letters that “Ulster is on the brink of war”; that “The outlook is black”; that “100 officers have resigned”; that “Regiments throw down their rifles”; that “Warships are in Belfast Lough”; and that, briefly speaking, hell has been let loose. All of which seems to convince us that we are living in stirring times.
Strangely enough, Belfast itself seems bent upon its use lines of strict attention to the business of profitmaking, and when I look around for the “grim, determined faces”, so celebrated in the song and story of the Tory Press, I fail to see them, and see instead in all the shop windows the usual alluring advertisements of next week’s sales; in the columns of the Tory Press the usual invitation to buy and sell and leave all sorts of property; and in the faces of the people in the streets the same unimaginative smugness, tempered by the effects of a Calvinistic theology in some cases, and by drink in many more.
Are these, then, the signs of times that try men’s souls? Belfast may or may not go to war, but if she does she still wears the outward appearances of respectable mediocrity and slave-driven wagedom. There is none of the enthusiasm of rebellion for a holy cause, nor the excitement of men who do and dare all things for a great principle; here are only the signs and symbols of a people who have pawned their souls for a usurer’s promise of prosperity – a people who would breathe the spirit of the Past into all the institutions of the Present, and continually shrinking from a contemplation of the Future, recite as their Litany and Article of Faith a thanksgiving that they are not as other men.
Have the governing forces of these countries shrunk from their people in fear of their powers on the field of battle? Has the Liberal Government really a dread that the motley hosts of Orangemen led by landlord rack-renters, capitalist sweaters, and lawyers on the make, will take the field against the forces of the Crown? If they have, it is at least certain that the Home Rule population of Belfast, indeed of Ulster generally, have no fears whatever upon the score. Nationalists, Socialists, Liberals, to put them in the order of their numerical importance, feel quite confident that were the forces of the Crown withdrawn entirely, the Unionists could or would put no force into the field that the Home Rulers of all sections combined could not protect themselves against with a moderate amount of ease. Why, then, this sudden flurry in Government circles?
The present writer is quite satisfied that the “war” scare is all part of a great piece of theatricals, carefully arranged between the Liberal Ministry, the official Home Rule party, and the Unionist leaders.
He is quite assured that the exclusion of a part of Ulster from the Home Rule Bill is already agreed upon between those tricky gentry, and that the so-called scene in Parliament between Devlin and Carson, the latter’s flight from the House to Ulster, and the rush of troops to this province, are all parts of a carefully arranged programme having for its end the blinding of Nationalist Ireland to the infamous character of the Partition scheme to which Redmond and Devlin had given their consent.
Without some such theatricality the democracy of Nationalist Ireland would have had time to think – to think how any of their leaders in the past would have received such a proposal, and had they so thought those who accepted it now would have been hounded out of Irish public life.
Think, for instance of the position of the Nationalists of Belfast! If they are included in the Home Rule Bill now it will be Sir Edward Carson they will have to thank, as Joe Devlin was willing to leave them out if Sir Edward would agree.
To prevent the people understanding this infamy we are treated to columns of balderdash about civil war. You may think my accusation over-strained. Wait and see. And while you are waiting ponder over the circumstance that Sir Edward Carson has not given a definite refusal, that Bonar Law has given a qualified acceptance, and that all the threats of the Government are accompanied by a renewal of the offer – a renewal made with the tacit consent of the Home Rule leaders.
I wish to state it to be my most solemn conviction that the only real obstacle in the way of the Exclusion policy being accepted by both sides in Parliament is the fear of the business men of Ulster that it would ruin their trade with the other provinces.
That the orders to certain regiments to march upon Ulster has been the cause of a large number of officers resigning is, I am sure, an unwelcome fact to all the official parties. The Carsonite officials are not at all pleased, I suspect, at the readiness with which the poor fools of officers acted. Lawyers and politicians use language inciting to mutiny under certain contingencies, but they always reserve to themselves the right to say whether those contingencies have or have not arrived, and always save their precious skins by deciding that the contingency which justifies mutiny has not arrived, not quite. Thus they save their skins, even although they lose their honour. But they sometimes by their language lead into real mutiny other men who are not quite such discriminating judges, and who are more solicitous of their honour than their skins. I rather think that those officers are in this position, and I suspect that the greatest suffering that will befall them will be the shock to their feelings when they discover that neither Bonar Law nor Carson will stand sponsor for their acts.
But suppose mere privates on being ordered to march against strikers had refused, what would befall them. Imagination fails to picture the columns of the Tory, Liberal, and Home Rule Press during the ensuing week. But of one thing we may be assured, viz., that any one of such privates so refusing who was out of prison inside of twelve months would be a lucky man.
It is to be hoped that the growing number of Socialist privates in the Army and Navy are not forgetting to drive this lesson home to their mess-mates, so Carson will not have lived in vain if he thus helps to popularise amongst these men the idea involved in the historic appeal – don’t shoot!
Top of the page
Last updated on 19.8.2007