Wee Joe Devlin
From Workers’ Republic, 28 August 1915.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
That great, that heroic figure, Wee Joe Devlin, at the recent Convention of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (Board of Erin), told how his society had rallied to the Empire in its day of difficulty – that difficulty for which all good Irish Nationalists were wont to pray:
“All the funds of the society were invested in Irish securities so that the money was retained in Ireland for the benefit of the Irish people, with the exception of £12,000 which had been invested in the new War Loan at 4½ per cent, a fact which, taken with the numbers of those who had joined the colours, ought to demonstrate beyond question or doubt that in regard to the war the society, as a whole, recognised, in sympathy with the overwhelming majority of the Irish people, the obligation of supporting the cause of justice and freedom as represented by the Allies, as against the brute force, materialism and tyranny for which Germany stands in the present world conflict (applause).”
When you read a speech like that you at once realise that if Germany has discovered poisonous gas, we in Ireland have suffered from it for years. As I think of the hundreds of good men I have known, fathers of families, husbands, sons with aged parents, etc., who have been enticed to leave their homes and dear ones and march out to battle for an Empire that never kept faith with the Irish race, and think that it was Wee Joe’s influence that led them to their folly, I think things that the Defence of the Realm Acts will not permit me to print.
Belfast opponents of Joe Devlin usually refer to him sarcastically as the ‘Wee Bottlewasher,’ alluding to his position before he climbed into power. The sarcasm is pointless. A bottlewasher was an honest occupation, but a recruiting sergeant luring to their death the men who trusted him and voted him into power is – ah well, let us remember the Defence of the Realm Act.
The present writer cannot ride up the Falls Road in his own motor car, the penny tram has to do him. But thank God, there are no fresh made graves in Flanders or the Dardanelles filled by the mangled corpses of men whom he coaxed or bullied into leaving their homes and families.
And that consolation counts more to the peace of his soul than would the possession of a motor car, or the companionship of grossly overfed boon companions of the bottlewasher – or of the bottle.
There are widows in Belfast today whose husbands would still be with them if they had taken my advice; there are orphans in Belfast today whose fathers would still be able to work for them and love them if they had taken my advice; there are stricken mothers and fathers in Belfast today whose sons would still be smiling and happy at the family hearth today if my advice had been listened to. And I am confidant that it will not be long before these widows, orphans and bereaved parents with every sob and sigh will breathe a curse upon the conscienceless politician to whose advice they did listen.
You can fool all the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.
What is true of my attitude in Belfast is true of our attitude in Dublin and all over Ireland wherever our voice and influence could reach.
We saved the lives of thousands, held together thousands of homes, and amid all the welter and turmoil of a gigantic and unparalleled national betrayal we presented to the world the spectacle of the organised Irish working class standing steadfastly by the highest ideals of freedom, so that the flag of Labour became one with the standard of national liberty.
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Last updated on 14.8.2003