CHAPTER XIX. A GENERAL ELECTION THAT LEADS TO A "HOME RULE" BILL!
It boots not to dwell at any great length on the contests that followed. Suffice it to say that Irish manhood and Irish honesty magnificently asserted itself against the audacious and unscrupulous tactics of the Party plotters. Mr O'Brien, by a destiny there was no resisting, was forced into the fight in Cork City and emerged victoriously from the ordeal, as well as winning also in North-East Cork. In my own case, except for the splendid and most generous assistance given me by Mr Jeremiah O'Leary, the leading citizen of Macroom, who shared all the labours and all the anxieties of my campaign, I was left to fight my battle almost single-handed, having arrayed against me two canons of my Church and every Catholic clergyman in the constituency, with two or three notable exceptions. The odds seemed hopeless, but the result provides the all-sufficient answer to those who say that the Irish Catholic vote can be controlled under all circumstances by the priests, for I scored a surprising majority of 825 in a total poll of about 4500, and I have good reason for stating that 95 per cent. of the illiterate votes were cast in my favour, although a most powerful personal canvass was made of every vote in the constituency by the clergy.
I consider this incident worthy of special emphasis in view of the ignorant and malicious statements of English and Unionist publicists, who make it a stock argument against the grant of independence to Ireland that the Catholics will vote as they are bidden by their priests. I have sufficient experience and knowledge of my countrymen to say that whilst in troublous times the Irish soggarths were the natural leaders and protectors of their flocks, even to the peril of their lives, yet in these times, when other conditions prevail, whilst in religion remaining staunchly loyal to their faith and its teachers, when it comes to a question of political principle there is no man in all the world who can be so independently self-assertive as the Irish Catholic. There is nothing to fear for Ireland, either now or in the future, from what I may term clericalism in politics, whilst on the other hand it is earnestly to be hoped that nothing will ever happen to intrude unnecessarily the question or authority of religion in the domain of more mundane affairs.
Mr O'Brien sums up the result of the General Election briefly thus:
"When the smoke of battle cleared away, nevertheless, every friend of mine, against whom this pitiless cannonade of vengeance had been directed, stood victorious on the field, and it was the conspirators who a few weeks before deemed themselves unshakable in the mastery of Ireland who, to their almost comic bewilderment and dismay, found themselves and their boasts rolled in the dust. Not only did every man for whose destruction they had thrown all prudence to the winds find his way back to Parliament in their despite, but in at least eighteen other constituencies their plots to replace members under any suspicion of independence with reliables absolutely amenable to the signs and passwords of the Order resulted in their being blown sky-high with their own petards.... Messrs Dillon and Devlin led their demoralised forces back, seventy in place of eighty-three, and for the first time since 1885 they went back a minority of the Nationalist votes actually cast as between the policy of Conciliation and the policy of Vae Victis."
Mr O'Brien had established a campaign sheet during the election called The Cork Accent (as a sort of reminder of the "Baton" Convention, at which the order was given that no one with a "Cork accent" should be allowed near the platform), and surely never did paper render more brilliant service in an exceptional emergency. It was his intention that his attitude in the new Parliament should be one of "patient observation" and of steady but unaggressive allegiance to the principles of national reconciliation. But such a role was rendered impossible by the active hostility of Mr Dillon and his followers. The doors of the Party were shut and banged against every man who was independently elected by the voters. It was proclaimed that we would be helpless in the country without organisation or newspaper to support us and that we would be left even without the means of travelling to London to represent our constituents.
We could not sit inactively under this decree of annihilation. It was decided to continue The Cork Accent in a permanent form as a daily journal under the title of The Cork Free Press, which was founded at a public meeting presided over by the Lord Mayor. The All-for-Ireland League was also established to advocate and expound the principles for which we stood in Irish life. Its purposes are clearly stated in the resolution which gave it birth - viz.: