CHAPTER XVIII. A CAMPAIGN OF EXTERMINATION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

Mr O'Brien went abroad in March 1909, leaving his friends in membership of the Irish Party. His last injunction to us was that we should do nothing unnecessarily to draw down the wrath of "the bosses" upon us and to work as well as we might in the circumstances conscientiously for the Irish cause. I had some reputation, whether deserved or otherwise, as a successful organiser, and I wrote to Mr Redmond offering my services to re-establish the United Irish League in my own constituency or in any other place where it was practically moribund. I received a formal note of acknowledgment and heard not a word more, nor was my offer ever availed of. On the contrary, the fiat went forth that the constituencies of those who had for five years remained staunch and steadfast to the policy of Conciliation should be organised against them and that not a friend of Mr O'Brien should be allowed to remain in public life. We were not yet actually cut off from the Party or its financial perquisites, but in all other ways we were treated as political pariahs and outcasts and made to feel that there was a rod in pickle for us.

In the autumn of 1909 I was attending my law lectures in Dublin when it was conveyed to me that a raid on my constituency was contemplated, that the officials at the League headquarters in Dublin were, without rhyme or reason, returning the affiliation fees of branches which were known to be friendly to me, and that a Divisional Conference of my enemies was summoned for the purpose of "organising" me out of Mid-Cork. I immediately resolved that if the issue were to be knit at all the sooner the better, and I took my own steps to circumvent the machinations of those who were out, so to speak, for my blood. Hence when the bogus delegates were brought together in Macroom one Saturday afternoon a little surprise awaited them, for as they proceeded to the Town Hall to deliberate their plans for my overthrow, another and a more determined militant body, with myself at their head, also marched on the same venue. There was a short and sharp encounter for possession of the hall: the plotters put up a sorry fight; they were soon routed, and my friends and myself held our meeting on the chosen ground of our opponents. Moreover, Mr Denis Johnston, the Chief Organiser of the League, who had come down from Dublin with all his plans for my extermination cut and dried, dared not take the train that evening in the ordinary course from the Macroom station, but, like a thief in the night, stole out of the town in a covered car and drove to a station farther on.

Thus began the foul attempt to exterminate Mr O'Brien's friends, who, be it noted, were still members of the Irish Party, against whom no crime was alleged or any charge of Party disloyalty preferred. The funds of the League, its organisers and its executive machinery, instead of being used for the advancement of the Irish movement along constitutional lines, were brutally directed to the political execution of Mr O'Brien's friends, who, now that he had gone for good, and was reported to be in that state of physical breakdown which would prevent him from ever again taking an active part in Irish affairs, were supposed to be at the mercy of the big "pots" and their big battalions.

Mr Maurice Healy, who had been elected for Cork City by an overwhelming majority over the nominee of "the leaders" after Mr O'Brien's retirement, was unconstitutionally and improperly refused admission to the Party, although he was quite prepared to sign the pledge to sit, act, and vote with it. There was scarcely a thing wrong they could do which these blind leaders of the blind did not clumsily attempt at this juncture. They might have shown us, whose only crime was loyalty to principle and to a policy which had been signally ratified by the repeated mandates of the people, a reasonable measure of generosity and a frank fellowship and all would be well.

But no; we had committed the cardinal offence of preferring a policy to a personality and, in famous phrase, we were marked down to "suffer for it." Hordes of organisers were dispatched to our constituencies to "pull the strings" against us. I can aver, with a certain malicious satisfaction, that wherever they made their appearance in Cork, we met them and we routed them. This may appear an ill way to conduct a political campaign, but be it remembered that we were fighting for our lives, almost resourceless, and that the aggressors had practically limitless powers, financially and otherwise. I will mention one incident to explain many. It was announced that Mr Redmond was to speak at Banteer, on the borders of my constituency. I could not allow that challenge to pass unnoticed without surrendering ground which it would be impossible to recover; and so I took the earliest opportunity of proclaiming that if Mr Redmond came to Banteer my friends and I would be there to meet him. He never came! Meanwhile through a private source - for none of his colleagues were in communication with him - Mr O'Brien heard of the nefarious attempts that were being made to exterminate his friends and he broke silence for the first time since his retirement by despatching the following message to the Press Association: -

"If these people are wise they will drop their campaign of vengeance against my friends."