CHAPTER XXIV. FORMATION OF IRISH VOLUNTEERS AND OUTBREAK OF WAR
Meanwhile Nationalist Ireland was deep in its heart revolted by the way the Parliamentary Party was managing its affairs. They sought still to delude it with the cry that "the Act" was on the Statute Book and that all would be well. My experience of my own people is that once confidence is yielded to a person or party they are trustful to an amazing degree; let that confidence once be disturbed, then distrust and suspicion are quickly bred - and to anyone who knows the Celtic psychology a suspicious Irishman is not a very pleasant person to deal with. This the Party were to find out in suitable time. Meanwhile the young men of the South saw no reason why, Ulster being armed and insolent, they might not become armed and self-reliant. And accordingly, without any petty distinctions of party, or class, or creed, they decided to band themselves into a body of volunteers and they adopted a title sanctioned in Irish history - namely, the Irish Volunteers.
The movement was publicly inaugurated at a meeting held in the Rotunda, Dublin, on 25th November 1913, the leading spirits in the organisation being Captain White, D.S.O., and Sir Roger Casement, a Northern Protestant who, knighted by England for his consular and diplomatic services, was later to meet the death penalty at her hands for his loyalty to his own country. The new body drew its supporters from Parliamentarians, Sinn Feiners, Republicans and every other class of Irish Nationalist. The manifesto it issued stated: "The object proposed for the Irish Volunteers is to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to all the people of Ireland. Their duties will be defensive and protective and they will not attempt either aggression or domination. Their ranks are open to all able-bodied Irishmen without distinction of creed, politics, or social grade." And then it appealed "in the name of national unity, of national dignity, of national and individual liberty, of manly citizenship to our countrymen to recognise and accept without hesitation the opportunity that has been granted to them to join the ranks of the Irish Volunteers and to make the movement now begun not unworthy of the historic title which it has adopted." The president of the Volunteers was Professor John MacNeill, who had borne an honourable and distinguished part in the Gaelic League Revival. They declared they had nothing to fear from the Ulster Volunteers nor the Ulster Volunteers from them. They acknowledged that the Northern body had opened the way for a National Volunteer movement, but whilst at first they were willing to cheer Sir Edward Carson because he had shown them the way to arm, it was not long before they recognised that whilst extending courtesy to Ulster, their supreme duty was the defence of Irish liberty. For this they drilled and armed in quiet but firm determination. When Partition became part of the policy of the Irish Party, Mr Redmond and his friends had many warnings that the Irish Volunteers were not in existence to support the mutilation of Ireland. They proclaimed their intention originally of placing themselves at the disposal of an Irish Parliament, but not of the kind contemplated by the Home Rule Bill. The Irish Party saw in the Volunteers a formidable menace to their power, if not to their continued existence. They must either control them or suppress them. Mr Redmond demanded the right to nominate a committee of twenty-five "true-blue" supporters of his own policy. The Volunteer Committee had either to declare war on Mr Redmond or submit to his demand. They submitted. The Government, who were supposed to have instigated and inspired Mr Redmond's demand, were satisfied. The reconstituted Committee called the new body the National Volunteers.
But though the Redmondites got control of the Committee they did not succeed in curbing the spirit of the Volunteers. And besides there was in Dublin an independent body of Volunteers entitled the Citizen Army, under the control of Messrs Connolly and Larkin. This was purely drawn from the workers of the metropolis and was fiercely antagonistic to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which The Irish Workerdeclared to be "the foulest growth that ever cursed this land," and again as "a gang of place-hunters and political thugs."
It appears Mr Redmond's nominees gave little assistance in arming the Volunteers, but the original members of the Committee got arms on their own responsibility and, imitating the exploit of the Fanny, they ran a cargo of rifles into Howth. The forces of the Crown, which winked at the Larne gun-running, made themselves active at Howth. The Volunteers were intercepted on their way back by a military force, but succeeded in getting away with their rifles. The soldiers, on returning to Dublin, irritated at their failure to get the arms and provoked by a jeering crowd, fired on them, killing three (including one woman) and wounding thirty-two. "It was," writes Mr Robert Lynd, "Sir Edward Carson and Mr Bonar Law who introduced the bloody rule of the revolver into modern Ireland and the first victims were the Dublin citizens shot down in Bachelor's Walk on the eve of the war."
Hardly had the echoes of the Dublin street firing died down before the thunders of war were heard on the Continent. Germany had temporarily cut through the entanglements of the Irish situation, and from the island drama across the Irish Sea the thoughts of all flew to the world tragedy that was commencing with an entire continent for a battlefield.