The General Election of 1900 witnessed a wonderful revival of national interest in Ireland. Doubtless if the constituencies had been left to their own devices they would have returned members responsive to the magnificent resolves of the people. But the Parliamentarians were astute manipulators of the political machine: they had for the most part wormed themselves into the good graces of the local leaders, and arranged for their own re-election when the time came. But there was nevertheless a considerable leavening of new members - young, enthusiastic and uncontaminated by the feuds and paltry personalities of an older generation. They brought, as it were, a whiff of the free, democratic air of the country to Parliament with them, and gave an example of fine unselfishness and devotion to duty which did not fail to have their influence on their elder and more cynical brethren. The feud between the Dillonites and Healyites had not, however, been ended with the general treaty of peace. Mr Redmond did not want Mr Healy fought, but in the interests of internal peace Mr Dillon, Mr Davitt and Mr O'Brien appear to have come to the conclusion that they could not have Mr Healy in the new Party. Accordingly, Mr Healy and his friends were fought wherever they allowed themselves to be nominated, and Mr Healy himself was the only one to survive after a desperate contest full of exciting incidents in North Louth.

I made my first bid for Parliamentary honours in the 1900 election, when I had my name put forward as Labour candidate at the South Cork convention. I was not very strongly supported then, but the following May, on the death of Dr Tanner, I was nominated again as Labour candidate for Mid-Cork, and after a memorable tussle at the Divisional Convention I headed the poll by a substantial majority. Hence I write from now onward with what I may claim to be an intimate inside knowledge of affairs.

The first few years after the 1900 election saw us a solidly united opposition in Parliament for the first time for ten years. Question time was a positive joy to us younger members, who developed almost diabolical capacity for heckling Ministers on every conceivable topic under the sun. Our hostility to the Boer War also brought us into perennial conflict with the Government. The Irish members in a very literal sense once more occupied "the floor of the House," and there were some fierce passages-at-arms, resulting on one occasion in the forcible ejection of a large body of Nationalists by the police - an incident which had no relish for those who were jealous of the prestige and fair fame of the Mother of Parliaments. In Ireland the fight for constitutional reform went on with unabated energy. All the old engines of oppression and repression were at work, and the people proved that they had lost none of their wit or resource in the struggle with the forces of the Crown. Mr George Wyndham, whom I like to look back upon as one of the most courtly and graceful figures in the public life of the past generation, was installed in Dublin Castle as Chief Secretary. I can imagine that nothing could have been more distasteful to his generous spirit than to be obliged to use the hackneyed weapons of brute force in the pursuance of British policy. As an answer to the agitation for compulsory land purchase and a settlement of the western problem Mr Wyndham introduced in 1902 a Land Purchase Bill which fell deplorably short of the necessities of the situation. It would have deprived the tenants of all free will in the matter of the price they would be obliged to sell at, and left them wholly at the mercy of two landlord nominees on the Estates Commissioners, whilst it did not even pretend to find any remedy for the two most crying national scandals of the western "congests" and the homeless evicted tenants. No doubt there were many good and well-meaning men in the Party, and out of it, who thought this Bill should have been accepted as "an instalment of justice." But there are times when to be moderate is to be criminally weak, and this was one of them. It is as certain as anything in life or politics can be that if the Bill of 1902 had been accepted, the Irish tenants would be still going gaily on under the old rent-paying conditions. The United Irish League was still in the first blush of its pristine vigour, and when the delegates of the National Directory came up from the country to Dublin they soon showed the mettle they were made of. They wanted no paltry compromises, and it was then and there decided to enter upon a virile campaign against rack-renters, grazing monopolists and land-grabbers such as would convince the Government in a single winter how grossly they had under-estimated the requirements of the country.

Some of the older men of the Party were pessimistic about the new campaign. Messrs Dillon, Davitt and T.P. O'Connor wrote a letter to Mr O'Brien remonstrating with him, in a tone of gentle courtesy, on the extreme character of his speeches and actions. But Mr O'Brien was not to be deflected from his purpose by any friendly pipings of this kind. The country was with him. The country was roused to a pitch of passionate resistance to the Wyndham Bill, and the Government, seeing which way the wind blew, and realising that the time for half-measures was past, withdrew their precious Purchase Bill. Then followed a fierce conflict along the old lines. The Government sought to suppress the popular agitation by the usual antiquated methods. Proclamation followed proclamation, until two-thirds of the Irish counties, and the cities of Dublin, Cork and Limerick, were proclaimed under the Coercion Act and the ordinary tribunals of justice abolished. Public meetings were suppressed. The leaders of the people were thrown into prison: at one time no less than ten members of Parliament were in jail. The country was seething with turmoil and discontent and there was no knowing where the matter would end. The landlords, feeling the necessity for counter-action of some kind, organised a Land Trust of L100,000 to prosecute Messrs Redmond, Davitt, Dillon and O'Brien for conspiracy. The United Irish League replied by starting a Defence Fund and arranging that Messrs Redmond, Davitt and Dillon should go to the United States to make an appeal in its support. All the elements of social convulsion were gathering their strength, when an unknown country gentleman wrote a letter to the Irish newspapers dated 2nd September 1902, in the following terms: -

"For the last two hundred years the land war in this country has raged fiercely and continuously, bearing in its train stagnation of trade, paralysis of commercial business and enterprise and producing hatred and bitterness between the various sections and classes of the community. To-day the United Irish League is confronted by the Irish Land Trust, and we see both combinations eager and ready to renew the unending conflict. I do not believe there is an Irishman, whatever his political feeling, creed or position, who does not yearn to see a true settlement of the present chaotic, disastrous and ruinous struggle. In the best interests, therefore, of Ireland and my countrymen I beg most earnestly to invite the Duke of Abercorn, Mr John Redmond, M.P., Lord Barrymore, Colonel Saunderson, M.P., the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the O'Conor Don, Mr William O'Brien, M.P., and Mr T.W. Russell, M.P., to a Conference to be held in Dublin within one month from this date. An honest, simple and practical suggestion will be submitted and I am confident that a settlement will be arrived at."

The country rubbed its eyes to see who it was that had put forward this audacious but not entirely original proposal. (It had been suggested by Archbishop Walsh fifteen years before.) Captain John Shawe-Taylor's name suggested nothing to the Nationalist leaders. They had never heard of him before. In the landlord camp he stood for nothing and had no authority - he was simply the young son of a Galway squire, with entire unselfishness and boundless patience, who conceived that he had a mission to settle this tremendous problem that had been rendered only the more keen by forty-two Acts of the Imperial Parliament that had been vainly passed for its settlement. It is surely one of the strangest chances of history that where generations of statesmen and parliaments had failed the via media for a final arrangement should have been made by an unknown officer who prosecuted his purpose to such effect that he forced his way into the counsels of the American Clan-na-Gael, and even, as we are told, "beyond the ante-chambers of royalty itself." It is probable that Captain Shawe-Taylor's invitation would have been regarded as the usual Press squib had it not been followed two days later by a public communication from Mr Wyndham in the following terms: -

"No Government can settle the Irish Land Question. It must be settled by the parties interested. The extent of useful action on the part of any Government is limited to providing facilities, in so far as that may be possible, for giving effect to any settlement arrived at by the parties. It is not for the Government to express an opinion on the opportuneness of the moment chosen for holding a conference or on the selection of the persons invited to attend. Those who come together will do so on their own initiative and responsibility. Any conference is a step in the right direction if it brings the prospect of a settlement between the parties near, and as far as it enlarges the probable scope of operations under such a settlement."

This official declaration gave an importance and a significance to Captain Shawe-Taylor's letter which otherwise would never have attached to it. The confession that "no Government can settle the Irish Land Question" was in itself a most momentous admission. It was the most ample justification of nationalism, which held that a foreign Parliament was incompetent to legislate for Irish affairs, and now the accredited mouthpiece of the Government in Ireland had formally subscribed to this doctrine. This admission was in itself and in its outflowing an event comparable only to Gladstone's conversion to Home Rule. It amounted to a challenge to Irishmen to prove their competence to settle the most sorely-beset difficulty that afflicted their country. Not only were Irishmen invited to settle this particularly Irish question, but they were given what was practically an official assurance that the Unionist Party would sponsor their agreement, within the limits of reason.

Immediately Captain Shawe-Taylor's proposal became canvassed of the newspapers and the politicians. Mr Dillon seemed to be sceptical of it, as a transparent landlord dodge. It was, however, enthusiastically welcomed by the Freeman, whilst The Daily Express, the organ of the more unbending of the territorialists, denounced it mercilessly, and no sooner did the Duke of Abercorn, Lord Barrymore, the O'Conor Don and Colonel Saunderson learn that Mr Redmond, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Mr T.W. Russell and Mr O'Brien were willing to join the Conference than they wrote to Captain Shawe-Taylor declining his invitation. The Landowners Convention, the official landlord organisation, also by an overwhelming majority decided against any peace parley with the tenants' representatives. But the forces in favour of a conference were daily gaining force even amongst the landlord class; whilst on the tenants' side a meeting of the Irish Catholic Hierarchy, attended by three archbishops and twenty-four bishops, with Cardinal Logue in the chair, cordially approved the Land Conference project and put on record their earnest hope "that all those on whose co-operation the success of this most important movement depends may approach the consideration of it in the spirit of conciliation in which it has been initiated." The Irish Party, on the motion of Mr Dillon, also unanimously adopted a resolution approving of the action taken by Messrs Redmond, O'Brien and Harrington in expressing their willingness to meet the landlord representatives. The mass of the landlords were so far from submitting to the veto of the Landowners' Convention that, headed by men of such commanding position and ability as the Earl of Dunraven, Lord Castletown, the Earl of Meath, Lord Powerscourt, the Earl of Mayo, Colonel Hutcheson-Poe and Mr Lindsay Talbot Crosbie, they formed a Conciliation Committee of their own to test the opinion of the landlords over the heads of the Landowners Convention. The plebiscite taken by this Committee more than justified them. By a vote of 1128 to 578 the landlords of Ireland declared themselves in favour of a Conference, and empowered the Conciliation Committee to nominate representatives on their behalf.

Thus the first stage of the struggle for a settlement by consent was victoriously carried.

The next stage was the discussion of the terms upon which the landlords would allow themselves to be expropriated throughout the length and breadth of the land. Here there were, unfortunately, violent divergences of opinion on the tenants' side. Mr O'Brien postulated, as an essential ingredient of any settlement that could hope for success, that the State should step in with a liberal bonus to bridge over the difference between what the tenants could afford to give and the landlords afford to take. When this proposal was first mooted it was regarded as a counsel of perfection, and Mr O'Brien was looked upon as a genial visionary or a well-meaning optimist. But nobody thought it was a demand that the Government or Parliament would agree to. Happily, however, for the foresight of Mr O'Brien, it was his much-derided bonus scheme which became the very pivot of the Land Conference Report.

Meanwhile events were moving rapidly behind the scenes. It was conveyed to Messrs Redmond, Davitt, Dillon and O'Brien that Mr Wyndham had offered the Under-Secretaryship for Ireland to Sir Antony MacDonnell, who had lately retired from the position of Governor of Bengal. They were told by his brother, Dr Mark Antony MacDonnell, who was one of the Nationalist members, that Sir Antony was hesitating much as to his decision. Sir Antony conveyed that he had made it clear to Mr Wyndham that, as he was an Irish Nationalist and a believer in self-government, he could not think of going to Ireland to administer a Coercion regime, and, further, that he favoured a bold and generous settlement of the University difficulty. Mr Wyndham, it was understood, had given the necessary assurances, and Sir Antony now wished it to be conveyed to the Irish leaders that he would not accept the post against their will or without a certain measure, at least, of benevolent toleration on their part.

All these happenings foreshadowed a joyous transformation of the political scene, to the incalculable advantage of those who had made such a magnificent stand for Irish rights; but the Irish Party was determined that until rumours had crystallised into realities they were going to relax none of their extra-constitutional pressure upon the Government. It was, for instance, resolved to begin the Autumn Session with a resounding protest against Coercion and to carry on the conflict in the country more determinedly than ever.

The just and reasonable demand for a day to debate the administration was unaccountably avoided by the Government, whose reply was that a day would be granted if the demand came from the official Liberal Opposition. The Nationalists could not submit to this degradation of their independent position in Parliament, and when they attempted to secure their end by a motion for the adjournment of the House they found that two Irish Unionists had "blocked" them by placing on the Order Paper certain omnibus resolutions on the state of Ireland. Since the days of Parnellite obstruction such scenes were not witnessed as those that followed. The Party defied all rules of law and order, worried the Government by all sort of lawless interruptions and irrelevant questions, flagrantly flouted the authority of the chair and, finally, after a week of Parliamentary anarchy, it was determined that even more extreme courses would be adopted unless the constitutional right of Ireland to be heard in the Chamber was conceded. Hint of this was conveyed to Mr Speaker Gully, who, regardful of the honour of the House, used his good offices with the Government to such effect that the blocking motions were incontinently withdrawn and the discussion in due course took place.

Whilst these developments were taking place Mr O'Brien had taken every possible precaution to guard himself against any charge of autocracy in the direction of the movement, whether in Parliament or in the country. At the request of his colleagues on the Land Conference he had drafted a Memorandum containing the basis of settlement which would be acceptable to Nationalist opinion. This was submitted to Messrs Redmond, Davitt and Sexton, with an urgent entreaty for their freest criticism or any supplementary suggestions of their own. None of these could, therefore, complain that Mr O'Brien was attempting to do anything over their heads. And impartial judgment will declare that if either Mr Sexton, Mr Dillon or Mr Davitt had views of their own, or had any vital disagreements with Mr O'Brien's suggestions, now was the time to declare them. Far from committing himself to any dissent, when Mr O'Brien, after a fortnight, wrote to Mr Sexton for the return of his Memorandum, Mr Sexton wrote:

"I have read the Memo. carefully two or three times and now return it to you as you want to use it and have no other copy. It will take some time to look into your proposals with anything like sufficient care. You will hear from me as soon as I think I can say anything that may possibly be of use."

Be it here noted that Mr Sexton never did communicate, even when he had looked into Mr O'Brien's proposals "with sufficient care." Later he waged implacable war on the Land Conference Report and the Land Act from his commanding position as Managing Director of The Freeman's Journal (the official National organ). He did so in violation of the promise on which the Party had entrusted him with that position, that he would never interfere in its political direction.

Other informal meetings between Sir Antony MacDonnell and the Irish leaders followed, the purpose of Sir Antony being, before he accepted office in the Irish Government, to gather the views of leading Irishmen, especially as to the possibility of a genuine land settlement, which he regarded as the foundation of all else. Subsequently it transpired that Mr Sexton had engaged in some negotiations on his own account with Sir Antony MacDonnell, and it is not improbable that part at least of his quarrel with the Land Conference was that the settlement propounded by it superseded and supplanted his own scheme. Neither Mr O'Brien nor his friends were made aware of these private pourparlers, entered into without any vestige of authority from the Party or its leader, and they only learnt of them casually afterwards. The incident is instructive of how the path of the peacemaker is ever beset with difficulties, even from among his own household.

After surmounting a whole host of obstacles the Land Conference at long last assembled in the Mansion House, Dublin, on 20th December 1902. Mr Redmond submitted the final selection of the tenants' representatives to a vote of the Irish Party and, with the exception of one member who declined to vote, the choice fell unanimously upon those named in Captain Shawe-Taylor's letter. Although their findings were subsequently subjected to much embittered attack, no one had any right to impugn their authority, capacity, judgment or intimate knowledge of the tenants' case.

The landlords' representatives were also fortunately chosen. The Earl of Dunraven was a man of the most statesmanlike comprehension, whose high patriotic purpose in all the intervening years has won for him an enduring and an honourable place in the history of his country. He strove to imbue his own landlord class with a new vision of their duty and their destiny, and if only a few of the later converts to the national claim of Ireland had supported him when he came forward first, in favour of the policy of national reconciliation, many chapters of tragedy in our national life would never have been written. With a close knowledge of his labours and his personality I can write this of him - that a man more passionately devoted to his country, more sincerely anxious to serve her highest interests, or more intrepid in pursuing the courses and supporting the causes he deems right, does not live. He has been a light in his generation and to his class, and he deserves well of all men who admire a moral courage superior to all the shafts of shallow criticism and a patriotism which undoubtedly seeks the best, as he sees it, for the benefit of his country. And more than this cannot be said of the greatest patriot who ever lived. The Earl of Mayo also brought a fine idealism and high patriotism to the Conference Council Board. He had a genuine enthusiasm for the development of Irish industries and was the moving spirit in the Irish Arts and Crafts Exhibitions. Colonel Hutcheson-Poe, a gallant soldier, who had lost a leg in Kitchener's Soudan Campaign, a gentleman of sound judgment and excellent sense, was one of the moderating elements in the Conference. Finally, Colonel Nugent Everard represented one of the oldest Anglo-Irish families of the Pale and the author of several projects tending to the betterment of the people. The tenants' representatives presented a concise list of their own essential requirements as drafted by Mr O'Brien. It was as follows: -


1. For landlords, net second-term income, less all outgoings.

2. For occupiers, reduction of not less than 20 per cent. in 
   second-term rents or first-term correspondingly reduced. Decennial 
   reductions to be retained.

3. Difference between landlords' terms and occupiers' terms to be made 
   up by State bonus and reduced interest with, in addition, purchase 
   money in cash and increased value for resale of mansion and demesne.

4. Complete settlement of evicted tenants' question an indispensable 

5. Special and drastic treatment for all congested districts in the 
   country (as defined by the Bill of 1902).

6. Sales to be between parties or through official commissioners as 
   parties would prefer.

7. Non-judicial and future tenants to be admitted.

8. (Query.) Sporting rights to be a matter of agreement.

I do not propose to go into any detailed account of what transpired at the sittings (six in number) of the Land Conference. All this information is available in Mr O'Brien's An Olive Branch in Ireland. Suffice it to say that seven out of eight of the tenants' requirements were conceded outright and the eighth was covered by a compromise which would have enabled any tenant in the country, whether non-judicial or future tenants, to become the proprietor of his own holding on reasonable terms. On 4th January 1903 a unanimous report was published. The country scarcely expected this, and its joy at this ever-memorable achievement was correspondingly greater. It was inconceivable that the landlords should have, in solemn treaty, signed their own death warrant as territorialists, yet this was the amazing deed to which they affixed their sign manual when their four representatives signed the Land Conference Report.

Ever since the first Anglo-Norman set foot in Ireland and began to despoil the ancient clans of their land there has been trouble in connection with the Irish Land Question. The new race of landlords regarded their Irish land purely as a speculation, not as a home; they were in great part absentees, having no aim in Ireland beyond drawing their rents. They had no duties to their tenants in the sense that English landlords have. They had no natural ties with the country and they regarded themselves as free from all the duties or obligations of ownership. They never advanced capital for the improvement of the land or the erection of buildings, and never put a farthing into the cultivation of the soil. The tenant had to do everything out of his own sweat and blood - build his home and out-offices, clean and drain the land, make the fences, lay down the roads and, when he had done all this and made the property more valuable, his rent was raised on him, even beyond the value of the improvements he had effected. Woe to the industrious man, for he was taxed upon his industry! And yet who is not familiar with the foolish and the ignorant tribe of scribblers who, with no knowledge of the facts, prate about "the lazy Irish"? And if they were lazy - which I entirely deny - who made them so? Had they no justification for their "laziness"? Why should they wear their lives out so that a rapacious landlord whom they never saw should live in riotousness and debauchery in the hells of London or the Continent?

"One could count on one's fingers," said the Cowper Commission in 1887, "the number of Irish estates on which the improvements have been made by the landlord." The Irish landlord class never did a thing for Ireland except to drain her of her life-blood - to rob and depopulate and destroy, to make exaction after exaction upon the industry of her peasants, until their wrongs cried aloud for redress, if not for vengeance. In England it was estimated in 1897 that the landlord class had spent in investments in landlord property a sum estimated at L700,000,000. These can justly claim some right in the land. In Ireland the landlord was simply the owner of "the raw earth" - the bare proprietor of the soil, a dead weight upon the industry and honest toil of the tenant, receiving a rent upon the values that the labour and the energy of generations of members of a particular family had created. The Irish landlord and his horde of hangers-on - his agents, his bailiffs, his process-servers, his bog-rangers, his rent-warners - created a system built upon corruption, maintained in tyranny, and enforced with all the ruthless severities of foreign laws enacted solely for the benefit of England's garrison. "I can imagine no fault," said Mr Arthur Balfour, speaking as Prime Minister in the House of Commons, 4th May 1903, "attaching to any land system which does not attach to the Irish system." Evictions in Ireland came to be known as "sentences of death," so cruel and numerous were they until the popular agitation was strong enough to check them.

Even the Gladstonian legislation of 1881, though it admittedly did something substantial towards redressing the balance between landlord and tenant by securing to the tenants what were known as "the three F.'s " - viz. Fixity of Tenure, Fair Rent, and Free Sale - yet left the question in a wholly unsettled state. The fixing of fair rents, no doubt, acted as a curb on landlord rapacity, but from the tenants' point of view it was a wholly vicious, indeterminate and unsatisfactory system. It was incentive to indifferent farming, since the commissioners who had the fixing of rents, and the inspectors who examined the farms, made their valuations upon the farms as they saw them. True, the tenant could claim for his improvements, but in practice this was no real safeguard. The more industrious the tenant the higher the rent - the less industrious and the less capable the lower the figure to be paid.

Hence, after the failure of countless Acts of Parliament, it was borne in upon all earnest land-reformers that there could be only one final and satisfactory solution: that was the abolition of dual ownership - in other words, the buying out of the landlord and the establishment of the tenant in the single and undisputed ownership of the soil on fair and equitable terms. A tentative start had been made in land purchase by the Land Purchase Act of 1885 - called, after its author, the Ashbourne Act. This experiment had proved an immense success, for in six years the ten millions sterling assigned for its operations were exhausted and 25,867 tenants had been turned into owners of their farms.

It became clear that a scheme of purchase which would, within a definite period, root out the last vestige of landlordism was the one only real and true solution for the land problem. And now, blessed day, and glory to the eyes that had lived to see it, and undying honour to the men whose genius and sacrifices had made it possible, the decree had gone forth that end there must be to landlordism. And, wonder of wonders, the landlords themselves had agreed to the fiat decreeing their own extinction as a ruling caste. It was with heartfelt hope and relief, and with the sense of a great victory achieved, that the country received the wondrous news of the success of the Land Conference. The dawn of a glorious promise had broken through the long night of Ireland's suffering, but the mischief-makers were already at work to see that the noonday sun of happiness did not shine too strongly or too steadily.