Whilst the slow corruption of the Party had been going on in Ireland, the cause of Home Rule had been going down to inevitable ruin. The warnings on which Parnell founded his refusal to be expelled from the leadership by dictation from England were more than justified in the event. And later circumstances only too bitterly confirmed it, that any blind dependence upon the Liberal Party was to be paid for in disappointment, if not in positive betrayal of Irish interests. A Tory Party had now come into power with a large majority, and the people were treated alternately or concurrently to doses of coercion and proposals initiated with the avowed object of killing Home Rule with kindness. This had been the declared policy of Mr Arthur Balfour when his attempt to inaugurate his uncle Lord Salisbury's policy of twenty years of resolute government had failed, and when, with considerable constructive foresight, he established the Congested Districts Board in 1891 as a sort of opposition show - and not too unsuccessful at that - to the Plan of Campaign and the Home Rule agitation.

With the developments that followed the Irish Party had practically no connection. They were neither their authors nor instruments, though they had the sublime audacity in a later generation to claim to be the legitimate inheritors of all these accomplishments. Mr Dillon had now arrived at the summit of his Parliamentary ambition - he was the leader of "the majority" Party, but his success seemed to bring him no comfort, and certainly discovered no golden vein of statesmanship in his composition. The quarrels and recriminations of the three sectional organisations - the National Federation of the Dillonites, the National League of the Parnellites, and the People's Rights Association of the Healyites - continued unabated. But beyond the capacity for vulgar abuse they possessed none other. Parliamentarianism was dying on its legs and constitutionalism appeared to have received its death-blow. The country had lost all respect for its "Members," and young and old were sick unto death of a movement which offered no immediate prospects of action and no hope for the future. A generation of sceptics and scoffers was being created, and even if the idealists, who are always to be found in large number in Ireland, still remained unconquerable in their faith that a resurgent and regenerated Ireland must arise some time, and somehow, they were remarkably silent in the expression of their convictions. Mr William O'Brien thus describes the unspeakable depths to which the Party had fallen in those days:

"The invariable last word to all our consultations was the pathetic one, 'Give me a fund and I see my way to doing anything.' And so we had travelled drearily for years in the vicious circle that there could be no creative energy in the Party without funds, and that there could be no possibility for funds for a party thus ingloriously inactive. Although myself removed from Parliament my aid had been constantly invoked by Mr Dillon on the eve of any important meeting of the Party in London, or of the Council of the National Federation in Dublin, for there was not one of them that was not haunted by the anticipation of some surprise from Mr Healy's fertile ingenuity. There is an unutterable discomfort in the recollections of the invariable course of procedure on these occasions - first, the dozens of beseeching letters to be written to our friends, imploring their attendance at meetings at which, if Mr Healy found us in full strength, all was uneventful and they had an expensive journey for their pains; next, the consultations far into the night preceding every trial of strength; the painful ticking off, man by man, of the friends, foes, and doubtfuls on the Party list, the careful collection of information as to the latest frame of mind of this or that man of the four or five waverers who might turn the scale; the resolution, after endless debates, to take strong action to force the Party to a manful choice at long last between Mr Dillon and his tormentors, and to give somebody or anybody authority enough to effect something; and then almost invariably the next day the discovery that all the labour had been wasted and the strong action resolved upon had been dropped in deference to some drivelling hesitation of some of the four or five doubtfuls who had become de facto the real leaders of the Party."

I venture to say that a confession of more amazing impotency, indecision and inefficiency it would be impossible to make. It brings before the mind as nothing else could the utter degradation of a Party which only a few brief years before was the terror of the British Parliament and the pride of the Irish race.

One occasion there was between the Parnell Split and the subsequent reunion in 1900 when the warring factions might have been induced to compose their differences and to reform their ranks. A Convention of the Irish Race was summoned in 1906 which was carefully organised and which in its character and representative authority was in every way a very unique and remarkable gathering. I attended it myself in my journalistic capacity, and I was deeply impressed by the fact that here was an assembly which might very well mark the opening of a fresh epoch in Irish history, for there had come together for counsel and deliberation men from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland, the Argentine, as well as from all parts of Great Britain and Ireland - men who, by reason of their eminence, public worth, sympathies and patriotism, were calculated to give a new direction and an inspiring stimulus to the Irish Movement. They were men lifted high above the passions and rivalries which had wrought distraction and division amongst the people at home, and it needs no great argument to show what a powerful and impartial tribunal they might have been made into for the restoration of peace and the re-establishment of a new order in Irish political affairs. But this great opportunity was lost. The factions had not yet fought themselves to a standstill. Mr Redmond and Mr Healy resisted the most pressing entreaties of the American and Australian delegates to join the Convention, and, beyond a series of laudable speeches and resolutions, a Convention which might have been constituted the happy harbinger of unity left no enduring mark on the life of the people or the fate of parties.

When Mr Gerald Balfour became Chief Secretary for Ireland after the Home Rule debacle of 1895 he determined to continue the policy, inaugurated by his more famous brother, of appeasement by considerable internal reforms, which have made his administration for ever memorable. There have ever been in Irish life certain narrow coteries of thought which believed that with every advance of prosperity secured by the people, and every step taken by them in individual independence, there would be a corresponding weakness in their desire and demand for a full measure of national freedom. A more fatal or foolish conviction there could not be. The whole history of nations and peoples battling for the right is against it. The more a people get upon their feet, the more they secure a grip upon themselves and their inheritance, the more they are established in security and well-being, the more earnestly, indefatigably and unalterably are they determined to get all that is due to them. They will make every height they attain a fortress from which to fight for the ultimate pinnacle of their rights. The more prosperous they become, the better are they able to demand that the complete parchments and title-deeds of their liberty and independence shall be engrossed. Hence the broader-minded type of Irish Nationalist saw nothing to fear from Mr Balfour's attempts to improve the material condition of the people. Unfortunately for his reputation, Mr Dillon always uniformly opposed any proposals which were calculated to take the yoke of landlordism from off the necks of the farmers. He seemed to think that a settlement of the Land and National questions should go hand in hand, for the reason that if the Land Question were once disposed of the farmers would then settle down to a quiescent existence and have no further interest in the national struggle.

Accordingly Mr Balfour's good intentions were fought and frustrated from two opposing sources. His Land Act of 1906 and his Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, were furiously opposed by the Irish Unionists and the Dillonites alike. The Land Bill was by no means a heroic measure, and made no serious effort to deal with the land problem in a big or comprehensive fashion. The Local Government Bill, on the other hand, was a most far-reaching measure, one of national scope and importance, full of the most tremendous opportunities and possibilities, and how any Irish leader in his senses could have been so short-sighted as to oppose it will for ever remain one of the mysteries of political life. This Bill broke for ever the back of landlord power in Irish administration. It gave into the hands of the people for the first time the absolute control of their own local affairs. It enfranchised the workers in town and country, enabling them to vote for the man of their choice at all local elections. It put an end to the pernicious power of the landed gentry, who hitherto raised the rates for all local services, dispersed patronage and were guilty of many misdeeds and malversations, as well of being prolific in every conceivable form of abuse which a rotten and corrupt system could lend itself to. To this the Local Government Act of 1898 put a violent and abrupt end. The Grand Juries and the Presentment Sessions were abolished. Elected Councils took their place. The franchise was extended to embrace every householder and even a considerable body of women. It was the exit of "the garrison" and the entrance of the people - the triumph of the democratic principle and the end of aristocratic power in local life.

Next to the grant of Home Rule there could not be a more remarkable concession to popular right and feeling. Yet Mr Dillon had to find fault with it because its provisions, to use his own words, included "blackmail to the landlords" and arranged for "a flagitious waste of public funds" - the foundation on which these charges rested being that, following an unvarying tradition, the Unionist Government bribed the landlords into acceptance of the Bill by relieving them of half their payment for Poor Rate, whilst it gave a corresponding relief of half the County Dues to the tenants. He also ventured the prediction, easily falsified in the results, that the tenants' portion of the rate relief would be transferred to the landlords in the shape of increased rents. As a matter of fact, the second term judicial rents, subsequently fixed, were down by an average of 22 per cent.

Mr Redmond, wiser than Mr Dillon, saw that the Bill had magnificent possibilities; he welcomed it, and he promised that the influence of his friends and himself would be directed to obtain for the principles it contained a fair and successful working. But, with a surprising lack of political acumen, he likewise expressed his determination to preserve in the new councils the presence and power of the landlord and ex-officio element. This was, in the circumstances, with the Land Question unsettled and landlordism still an insidious power, a rather gratuitous surrender to the privileged classes.

Before the Local Government Act was sent on its heaven-born mission of national amelioration another considerable happening had taken place: the Financial Relations Commission appointed to inquire into the financial relations between Ireland and Great Britain having tendered its report in 1896. Financial experts had long contended that Ireland was grievously overtaxed, and that there could be no just dealing between the two countries until the amount of this overtaxation was accurately and scientifically ascertained and a proper balance drawn. It was provided in the Act of Union that the two countries should retain their separate budgets and should each remain charged with their respective past debts, and a relative proportion of contribution to Imperial expenses was fixed. But the British Parliament did not long respect this provision. In 1817 it decreed a financial union between the two countries, amalgamated their budgets and exchequers, and ordered that henceforth all the receipts and expenditure of the United Kingdom should be consolidated into one single fund, which was henceforward to be known as the Consolidated Fund. It was not long before we had cumulative examples of the truth of Dr Johnson's dictum that England would unite with us only that she may rob us. Successive English chancellors imposed additional burdens upon our poor and impoverished country, until it was in truth almost taxed out of existence. The weakest points in the Gladstonian Home Rule Bills were admittedly those dealing with finance.

The publication of the report of the Financial Relations Commission, which had been taking evidence for two years, created a formidable outcry in Ireland. We had long protested against our taxes being levied by an external power; now we knew also that we were being robbed of very large amounts annually. The Joint Report of the Commission, signed by eleven out of thirteen members, decided that the Act of Union placed on the shoulders of Ireland a burden impossible for her to bear; that the increase of taxation laid on her in the middle of the nineteenth century could not be justified, and, finally, that the existing taxable capacity of Ireland did not exceed one-twentieth part of that of Great Britain (and was perhaps far less), whereas Ireland paid in taxes one-eleventh of the amount paid by Great Britain. Furthermore, the actual amount taken each year in the shape of overtaxation was variously estimated to be between two and three quarters and three millions. Instantly Ireland was up in arms against this monstrous exaction. For a time the country was roused from its torpor and anything seemed possible. All classes and creeds were united in denouncing the flagrant theft of the nation's substance by the predominant partner. By force and fraud the Act of Union was passed: by force and fraud we were kept in a state of beggary for well-nigh one hundred years and our poverty flaunted abroad as proof of our idleness and incapacity. What wonder that we felt ourselves outraged and wronged and bullied? Huge demonstrations of protest were held in all parts of the country. These were attended by men of all sects and of every political hue. Nationalist and Unionist, landlord and tenant, Protestant and Catholic stood on the same platform and vied with each other in denunciation of the common robber. At Cork Lord Castletown recalled the Boston Tea riots. At Limerick Lord Dunraven presided at a meeting which was addressed by the Most Rev. Dr O'Dwyer, the Catholic bishop of the diocese, and by Mr John Daly, a Fenian who had spent almost a lifetime in prison to expiate his nationality.

There was a general forgetfulness of quarrels and differences whilst this ferment of truly national indignation lasted. But the cohesive materials were not sound enough to make it a lasting union of the whole people. There were still class fights to be fought to their appointed end, and so the agitation gradually filtered out, and Ireland remains to-day still groaning under the intolerable burden of overtaxation, not lessened, but enormously increased, by a war which Ireland claims was none of her business.

The subsidence of the political fever from 1891 to 1898 was not without its compensations in other directions. Ireland had time to think of other things, to enter into a sort of spiritual retreat - to wonder whether if, after all, politics were everything, whether the exclusive pursuit of them did not mean that other vital factors in the national life were forgotten, and whether the attainment of material ambitions might not be purchased at too great a sacrifice - at the loss of those spiritual and moral forces without which no nation can be either great or good in the best sense. There was much to be done in this direction. The iron of slavery had very nearly entered our souls. Centuries of landlord oppression, of starvation, duplicity and Anglicisation had very nearly destroyed whatever there was of moral virtue and moral worth in our nature. The Irish language - our distinctive badge of nationhood - had almost died upon the lips of the people. The old Gaelic traditions and pastimes were fast fading away. Had these gone we might, indeed, win Home Rule, but we would have lost things immeasurably greater, for "not by bread alone doth man live" - we would have lost that independence of the soul, that moral grandeur, that intellectual distinction, that spiritual strength without which all the charters of liberty which any foreign Parliament could confer would be only so many "scraps of paper," assuring us it may be of fine clothes and well-filled stomachs and self-satisfied minds, but conferring none of those glories whose shining illumines the dark ways of life and leads us towards that light which surpasseth all understanding.

Thanks to the workings of an inscrutable Providence it was, however, whilst the worst form of political stagnation had settled on the land that other deeper depths were stirring and that the people were of themselves moving towards a truer light and a higher leading.