The vital declaration of the objects of the Irish Reform Association was contained in the following passage: -

"While firmly maintaining that the Parliamentary Union between Great Britain and Ireland is essential to the political stability of the Empire and to the prosperity of the two islands, we believe that such a Union is compatible with the devolution to Ireland of a larger measure of self-government than she now possesses. We consider that this devolution, while avoiding matters of Imperial concern and subjects of common interest to the kingdom as a whole, would be beneficial to Ireland and would relieve the Imperial Parliament of a mass of business with which it cannot now deal satisfactorily. In particular we consider the present system of financial administration to be wasteful and inappropriate to the needs of the country."

And then the manifesto proceeded to enumerate various questions of national reform "for whose solution we earnestly invite the co-operation of all Irishmen who have the highest interests of their country at heart."

The enemies of Home Rule had no misconceptions either as to the purpose, scope or object of the Reform Association. They saw at once how absolutely it menaced their position - how completely it embodied in substance the main principle of the constitutional movement since the days of Parnell - namely, the control of purely Irish affairs by an Irish assembly subject to the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament. From debates which followed in the House of Lords (17th February 1905) it became clear that the new movement had no sinister origin - that it was honestly conceived and honestly intended for Ireland's national advantage. But the Irish, whether of North or South, are a people to whom suspiciousness in politics is a sort of second nature. It is the inheritance of centuries of betrayals, treacheries and duplicities - broken treaties, crude diplomacies and shattered faiths. And thus we had a Unionist Attorney-General (now Lord Atkinson) asking "whether the Devolution scheme is not the price secretly arranged to be paid for Nationalist acquiescence in the settlement of the Land Question on gracious terms"; and The Times declaring (1st September 1904): "What the Dunraven Devolution policy amounts to is nothing more nor less than the revival in a slightly weakened and thinly disguised form of Mr Gladstone's fatal enterprise of 1886"; whilst on the other hand those Irish Nationalists who followed Mr Dillon's lead attacked the new movement with a ferocity that was as stupid as it was criminal. For at least it did not require any unusual degree of political intelligence to postulate that if The Times, Sir Edward Carson,The Northern Whig and other Unionist and Orange bravoes and journals were denouncing the Devolution proposals as "worse than Home Rule," Irish Nationalists should have long hesitated before they joined them in their campaign of destruction and became the abject tools of their insensate hate. Sir Edward Carson wrote that, much as he detested the former proposals of Home Rule, he preferred them to "the insidious scheme put forward by the so-called Reform Association." So incorrigibly foolish were the attacks of Mr Dillon and his friends on the Reform Association that Lord Rathmore was able to say in the House of Lords: "Not only did the Unionist Party in Ireland denounce the Dunraven scheme as worse than the Home Rule of Mr Gladstone, but their language was mild in comparison to the language of contempt which a great many of the Irish Nationalist patriots showered upon the proposals of the noble earl."

It is the mournful tragedy of all this period that a certain section of Nationalist opinion should have seen in every advance towards a policy of conciliation, good will and understanding between brother Irishmen, some deep and sinister conspiracy against the National Cause, and in this unaccountable belief should have allowed themselves to become the dupes and to play the game of the bitterest enemies of Irish freedom. But so it was, to the bitter sorrow of Ireland; and many a blood-stained chapter has been written because of it. Whether a fatal blindness or an insatiate personal rancour dictated this incomprehensible policy Providence alone knows, but oceans of woe, and misery and malediction have flowed from it as surely as that the sun is in the heavens.

After Mr O'Brien's retirement, as I have already remarked, the country was left without a policy or active national guidance. The leaders of the revolt against the authorised policy of the nation went abroad "for the benefit of their health." (What a lot of humbug this particular phrase covers in political affairs only the initiated are aware of!) No sooner was the Cork election announced than Mr Dillon returned from his holiday, ready "to take the field" against the Irish Reform Association and anyone who dared to show it toleration or regard. He declared in a speech at Sligo that its one object was "to break national unity in Ireland and to block the advance of the Nationalist Cause," and he went on to deliver this definite threat: "Now I say that any attempt such as was made the other day in the city of Cork to force on the branches of the national organisation, or on the National Directory itself, any vote of confidence in Lord Dunraven or any declaration of satisfaction at the foundation of this Association would tear the ranks of the Nationalists of Ireland to pieces."

Note Mr Dillon's extreme zeal for national unity - the man who, less than twelve months before, had set himself at the head of "a determined campaign to defy the decisions of the Irish Party, the National Directory and the United Irish League," and who did not in the least scruple whether or not he "would tear the ranks of the Nationalists of Ireland to pieces" in the gratification of his purpose! The "attempt made in the city of Cork" which called forth Mr Dillon's thunders was a resolution of the Cork branch of the United Irish League which hailed with sympathy the establishment of the Irish Reform Association as proof of the continuance of the spirit of conciliation "among those classes of our countrymen who have hitherto held aloof from us" - a spirit which had already led to such happy results in the abolition of landlordism "by common consent," and which was capable of "still wider and more blessed results in the direction of a National Parliament of our own." The resolution also expressed gratification "at the statesmanlike spirit in which Mr Redmond has greeted the establishment of the new Association." It will be observed that there was here a clear line of demarcation. Mr O'Brien and his friends wanted, in moderate and guarded language, without in any way binding themselves "to the particular views set forth in the programme of the Irish Reform Association," to give a message of encouragement to a body of Irish Unionists, who, as Sir Edward Carson, The Times and every other enemy of Home Rule declared, had become converts to the National demand for self-government and who looked likely to bring the bulk of the Protestant minority in Ireland with them. Mr Dillon and those who thought with him savagely repelled this movement towards a national unity which would embrace all classes and creeds to the forgetfulness of past wrongs, animosities and deep divisions. It seemed to have got into their minds that the appearance of the Irish Reform Association covered some occult plot between Lord Dunraven, Mr Wyndham, Sir Antony MacDonnell and Mr O'Brien. Mr Davitt declared that "No party or leader can consent to accept the Dunraven substitute without betraying a national trust." Others of lesser note denounced the new movement and its authors with every circumstance of insult and used language of a coarseness that deserves the severest condemnation.

Mr Joseph Devlin, who had succeeded Mr John O'Donnell as Secretary of the United Irish League, now began to be a rather considerable figure in Irish politics on the Dillonite side. He told his constituents in North Kilkenny that they were not going to seek "the co-operation of a few aristocratic nobodies," and he, quite unjustly, as I conceive, attributed to Lord Dunraven and his friends a desire to weaken the national demand.

During this time the Government had given no sign that the Devolution movement might not find favour in their sight. Had its main objects met with a more cordial reception from the arbiters of the national policy it is more than probable that the Unionist Government would have stood sponsor for a large and generous instalment of self-government which would have received the joyous assent of the Liberal Party and passed through both Houses of Parliament with the acclamations of everybody. In his first speech at Cork after his election Mr O'Brien sought to rouse the country to a real perception of the momentous issues that were at stake. He pointed out that the proposals of the Reform Association were only "mere preliminary materials for discussion and negotiation and that they are rather addressed towards the removal of the prejudices of Unionists than put forward as a final and unalterable answer to our national demand." And then he went on to say: "Lord Dunraven and his friends may be all that is diabolical, but at least they are not such born idiots as to expect us to surrender our own organisation, or, as it has been absurdly put, to coalesce with the new Association on such a programme." As a matter of fact, Lord Dunraven had, in the most outspoken manner, stated that he expected nothing from the Nationalists except friendly toleration and fair play, whilst he and those associated with him were engaged in the hard task of conquering the mass of racial prejudice and sectarian bigotry that had been for so long arrayed against the National claim.

The efforts to induce in the intransigeant section of the Party a spirit of sweet reasonableness were, however, foredoomed to failure. Mr Dillon declined to address a meeting at Limerick, specially summoned to establish a concordat between the Irish leaders. Mr Redmond and Mr O'Brien accepted the invitation, and the former made it clear that he still regarded the Land Conference policy as the policy of the nation. He said: "It has been stated in some newspapers of our enemies that the Land Conference agreement, which was endorsed by the Irish Party, endorsed by the Directory of the League and endorsed by the National Convention and accepted by the people, has been in some way repudiated recently by us. I deny that altogether.... I speak to-day only for the people and, so far as the people are concerned, I say that the agreement, from the day it was entered upon down to this moment, has never been repudiated by anybody entitled to speak in their name."

Had the spirit of the Limerick meeting and the unity which it symbolised been allowed to prevail, all might yet have been well and the national platform might have been broadened out so that all men of good will who wished to labour for an independent and self-governed Ireland could stand upon it. But such a consummation was not to be. There was no arguing away the hostility of Mr Dillon, The Freeman's Journal and those others upon whom they imposed their will. Mr Dillon could give no better proof of statesmanship or generous sentiment than to refer to "Dunraven and his crowd" and to declare that "Conciliation, so far as the landlords are concerned, was another name for swindling."

From the moment Mr Wyndham had placed his Purchase Act on the Statute Book, with the assent of all parties in England and Ireland, his hopes were undoubtedly set on the larger and nobler ambition of linking his name with the grant of a generous measure of self-government. The blood of a great Irish patriot, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, coursed through his veins, and it is not impossible that it influenced his Irish outlook and stimulated his purpose to write his name largely on Irish affairs. And at this time nothing was beyond his capacity or power. He was easily the most notable figure in the Cabinet, by reason of the towering success that had attended his effort to remove from the arena of perennial contention a problem that had daunted and defeated so many previous attempts at solution. In all quarters the most glorious future was prophesied for him. His star shone most brightly in the political firmament - and there were many in high places who were quite willing to hitch their wagon to it. He was immensely popular in the House and he had captured the public imagination by his many gifts and graces of intellect and character. He had an exquisite personality, a wonderful charm of manner, a most handsome and distinguished presence and was a perfect courtier in an age which knew his kind not at all. His like was not in Parliament, nor, indeed, can I conceive his like to be elsewhere in these rougher days, when the ancient courtesies seem to have vanished from our public life. There can be no doubt about it that in his first tentative approaches towards Home Rule Mr Wyndham received encouragement from leading members of the Cabinet, including Lord Lansdowne and Mr Balfour. Sir Antony MacDonnell had been the welcome guest of Lord Lansdowne at his summer seat in Ireland, and the latter made no secret of the fact that their conversation turned upon the larger question of Irish self-government. When Lord Dunraven was attacked in the House of Lords for his Devolution plans Lord Lansdowne "declined to follow Lord Rathmore in the trenchant vituperation Lord Dunraven's scheme had encountered," and he admitted that Sir Antony MacDonnell had been in the habit of conferring with Lord Dunraven on many occasions, with the full knowledge and approval of the Chief Secretary, and had collaborated with him "in working out proposals for an improved scheme of local government for Ireland."

The Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, the Earl of Dudley, made open avowal of his sympathies and stated repeatedly that it was his earnest wish to see Ireland governed in accordance with Irish ideas.

It was in this friendly atmosphere that the Irish Reform Association propounded its scheme of Devolution which Mr T.P. O'Connor (before he came under the influence of Mr Dillon) happily described as "the Latin for Home Rule," and which Mr Redmond welcomed in the glowing terms already quoted. The Convention of the United Irish League of America, representing the best Irish elements in the United States, also proclaimed the landlord concession as embodied in the Irish Reform Association to be "a victory unparalleled in the whole history of moral warfare." Here was an opportunity such as Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet, Thomas Davis and the other honoured patriots of Ireland's love sighed for in vain, when, with the display of a generous and forgiving spirit on all sides, the best men of every creed and class could have been gathered together in support of an invincible demand for the restoration of Irish liberty. I do not know how any intelligent and impartial student of the events of that historical cycle can fail to visit the blame for the miscarriage of a great occasion, and the defeat of the definite movement towards the widest national union upon Mr Dillon and those who joined him in his "determined" and tragically foolish campaign. As a humble participator in the activities of the period, I dare say it is not quite possible for me to divest myself of a certain bias, but I cannot help saying that I am confirmed in the opinion that in addition to being the most melancholy figure in his generation Mr John Dillon was also the most malignant in that at every stage of his career, when decisive action had to be taken his judgment invariably led him to take the course which brought most misfortune upon his country and upon the hopes of its people.

Attacked on front and flank, assailed by Sir Edward Carson and his gang and denounced by Mr Dillon and his faithful henchmen, deserted by Mr Balfour at the moment when his support was vital, Mr Wyndham weakly allowed himself to be badgered into disowning Home Rule, thus sealing his doom as a statesman and as potential leader of his own party. The secret history of this time when it is made public will disclose a pitiful story of base intrigue and baser desertion and of a great and chivalrous spirit stretched on the rack of Ireland's ill-starred destiny. I do not think it is any exaggeration of the facts to say that Wyndham was done to death, physically as well as politically, in those evil days. Driven from office, with the ruin of all his high hopes in shattered disorder around him, his proud soul was never able to recover itself, and he drifted out of politics and into the greater void without - so fine a gentleman in such utter disarray that the angels must have wept his fall.

That Mr William O'Brien did not meet a similar fate was due only to the fact that he was made of sterner fighting stuff - that he possessed a more intrepid spirit and a more indomitable will. But the base weapons of calumny and of viler innuendo were employed to injure him in the eyes of his fellow-countrymen, to whom he had devoted, in a manner never surely equalled or surpassed before, a life of service and sacrifice. The Freeman's Journal, whilst suppressing Mr O'Brien's speeches and arguments, threw its columns open to ruffianly attacks which no paper knowing his record should have published. In one of these he was charged with "unnatural services to insatiable landlordism." He was charged by Mr Dillon and the Freeman with being actively engaged with Mr Wyndham, Sir Antony MacDonnell and Lord Dunraven in a plot to break up the Irish Party, and to construct a new Moderate Centre Party by selling eighteen Nationalist seats in Parliament to Lord Dunraven and his friends, and he was further charged with being concerned in a conspiracy having for its object the denationalisation of the Freeman. There were six libels in all, of so gross a character that Mr O'Brien, since reports of his speeches were systematically suppressed in every newspaper outside of Munster, was obliged to take his libellers into court and, before a jury of their fellow-countrymen at Limerick, to convict them of uttering six false, malicious and defamatory libels, and thus bring to the public knowledge the guilt of his accusers. Asked what his "unnatural services to insatiable landlordism" were, Mr O'Brien made this memorable reply: "To abolish it! All the Irish tenants had gained by the land agitation of the previous twenty years was a reduction of twenty per cent. My unnatural services under the Land Conference Agreement was to give them a reduction of forty per cent. more right away and the ownership of the soil of Ireland thrown in."

Lord Dunraven on his own part took Mr Dillon publicly to task for his misrepresentations of him. He said that Mr Dillon "mentioned him as being more or less connected with a great variety of conspiracies and plots and with general clandestine arrangements.... He and George Wyndham were said to have been constantly plotting for the purpose of driving a wedge into the midst of the Nationalist Party. Well, as far as he was concerned, all these deals and all these conspiracies existed only in Mr Dillon's fervid imagination." And Lord Dunraven went on to express his sorrow that a man in Mr Dillon's position should have taken up so unworthy a line.

Mr Dillon, when he had the opportunity of appearing before the Limerick jury, to justify himself, if he could, never did so. And he never expressed regret for having defamed his former friend and colleague and for having vilified honourable men, honourably seeking Ireland's welfare. Upon which I must content myself with saying that history will pass its own verdict on Mr Dillon's conduct.