The Party manipulators had now got their stranglehold on the country. The people, where they were not chloroformed into insensibility, were doped into a state of corrupt acquiescence. All power was in the hands of the Party. The orthodox daily Press was wholly on their side. The British public and the English newspaper writers were impressed only, as always, by the big battalions. The Irish Party had numbers, and numbers count in Parliament as nothing else does. Whatever information went through to the American Press passed through tainted sources. An influential Irish-American priest, Father Eamon Duffy, writing some time since in the great American Catholic magazine, The Monitor, said:

"We really never understood the situation in America. Ireland was in the grip of the Party machine and of one great daily paper, and these were our sources of information. It was only the great upheaval that awakened us from our dream and showed us that something had been wrong, and that the Party no longer represented the country."

This is a remarkable admission from an independent and unprejudiced authority. He candidly declares they never understood the situation in America. Neither was it understood in England, and the House of Commons is the last place which tries to understand anything except party or personal interests. There is just about as much freedom of opinion and individual independence in Parliament as there could be in a slave state. In Ireland, as I have said, outside Munster the truth was never allowed to reach the people. Even the great national movement which Mr William O'Brien re-created in the United Irish League had almost ceased to function. It was gradually superseded by a secret sectarian organisation which was the absolute antithesis of all free development of democratic opinion and the complete negation of liberty and fair play.

Up in the north of Ireland there existed an organisation of a secret and sworn character which was an evil inheritance of an evil generation. From the fact that the Ribbonmen used to meet in a shebeen owned by one Molly Maguire, with the Irish adaptability for attaching nicknames to anything short of what is sacred, they became known as "Molly Maguires," or, for short, "the Mollies." In some ill-omened day branches of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which had seceded from the American order of that name, began to interest themselves in Ulster in political affairs. They called themselves the Board of Erin, but they were, as I have said, more generally known as "the Mollies." They were a narrowly sectarian institution and they had the almost blasphemous rule that nobody but a Catholic frequenting the Sacraments could remain a member. They had their own ritual and initiation ceremony, founded on the Orange and Masonic precedents, and had their secret signs and passwords. It is possible that they were at first intended to be a Catholic protection society in Ulster at the end of the eighteenth century to combat the aggressiveness and the fanatical intolerance of the Orange Order, who sought nothing less than the complete extermination of the Catholic tenantry. A Catholic Defence organisation was a necessity in those circumstances, but when the occasion that gave it justification and sanction had passed it would have been better if it were likewise allowed to pass. Any organisation which fans the flames of sectarianism and feeds the fires of religious bigotry should have no place in a community which claims the sacred right of freedom. It was the endeavour of Mr O'Brien and his friends finally to close this bitter chapter of Irish history by reconciling the ancient differences of the sects and inducing all Irishmen of good intent to meet upon a common platform in which there should be no rivalries except the noble emulations of men seeking the weal of the whole by the combined effort of all.

Whatever unfortunate circumstance or combination of circumstances gave impulse to "the Board of Erin," I know not-whether it arose out of a vainglorious purpose to meet the Orangemen with a weapon of import similar to their own, or whether it was merely the love of young people to have association with the occult, I can merely conjecture - but it was only when Mr Joseph Devlin assumed the leadership of it that it began to acquire an influence in politics which could have no other ending than a disastrous one.

Never before was the cause of Irish liberty associated with sectarianism. Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet and Thomas Davis are regarded as the most inspired apostles and confessors of Irish nationality. It was a profanation of their memory and an insult to their creed that in the first decade of the twentieth century any man or band of men should have been audacious enough to superimpose upon the structure of the national movement an organisation which in addition to being secret and sectarian was grossly sordid and selfish in its aims.

Stealthily and insidiously "the Board of Erin" got its grip in the United Irish League. It "bossed," by establishing a superiority of numbers, the Standing Committee. Then by "getting hold" of the officers of Divisional Executives and branches it acquired control over the entire machinery of the movement, and thus, in an amazingly short space of time, it secured an ascendancy of a most deadly and menacing character. Its first overt act of authority was to strangle freedom of speech and to kill land purchase. What Mr John Dillon had been unable to do through his control of the Party and his collusion with The Freeman's Journal the Board of Erin most effectively accomplished by an energetic use of boxwood batons and, at a later time, weapons of a more lethal character.

A National Convention had been summoned to pronounce on the Birrell Land Bill of 1909 - a measure which, with incomparable meanness, was designed "to save the Treasury" by ridding it of the honourable obligations imposed by the Wyndham Act of 1903. This Bill, on the ground that the finance of the Act of 1903 had broken down, proposed to increase the rate of interest on land loans from 2-3/4 to 3-1/4 per cent., and to transform the bonus from a free Imperial grant to a Treasury debt against Ireland. Apparently it should require no argument to prove that this was a treacherous repeal of an existing treaty, guaranteed by considered legislative enactment, and that it was a proposal which no Irishman with any sense of the duty he owed his country could for one moment entertain. But it was the unthinkable and the unbelievable thing which happened. Mr Dillon was determined, at all costs - and how heavy these costs were, one hundred thousand unpurchased tenants in Ireland to-day have weighty reason to know - to wreak his spite against the Wyndham Act, which he had over and over again declared was working too smoothly, and prayed that he might have the power to stop it. Mr Redmond I regard in all this wretched business as the unwilling victim of the forces which held him, as a vice in their power. Yet from the sin of a weak compliancy in the unwise decrees of others he cannot be justly acquitted. Although the Party had rejected the proposal for a new Land Conference, and thereby broken the articles of reunion under which Mr O'Brien and his friends re-entered it, we continued to remain within its fold. We could not, for one thing, believe that the country was so steeped in ignorance and blindness that if the facts were once allowed to reach it, or the arguments to be temperately addressed to any free assembly of Irishmen, they would not see where national interests lay. Accordingly Mr O'Brien and his friends determined to submit, in constitutional fashion, the overwhelming objections to Mr Birrell's Bill to the judgment of the National Convention which was to consider whether the Bill would expedite or destroy land purchase. It was conveyed to Mr O'Brien beforehand that it was madness on his part to attempt to get a hearing at the Convention, that this was the last thing "the powers that be" would allow, and that as he valued his own safety it would be better for him to remain away.

Just as he had never submitted to intimidation when it was backed by the whole force of the British Government, Mr O'Brien was equally resolved that the arrogance of the new masters of the Irish democracy was not going to compel him to a mood of easy yielding and he properly decided to submit his arguments to a Convention which, though he was well aware it would be "packed" against him, yet he had hopes might be swayed by the invincibility of his arguments. In the ordinary course the stewards for managing and regulating the Convention would be drawn from Dublin Nationalists. On this occasion, however, they came by special train from Belfast and were marched in military order to the Mansion House, where some sackfuls of policemen's brand-new batons were distributed amongst them. They were the "Special Constables" of the Molly Maguires recruited for the first time by an Irish organisation to kill the right of free speech for which Irishmen had been contending with their lives through the generations. It would be quite a comedy of Irish topsy-turvydom were it not, in fact, such a disastrous tragedy.

The favourite cry of the enemies of Conciliation was that the Purchase Act would bankrupt the Irish ratepayers. By means which it is not necessary to develop or inquire into, the British Treasury was induced on the very eve of the Convention to present to a number of the Irish County Councils claims for thousands of pounds on foot of expenses for the flotation of land loans. A base political trick of this kind is too contemptible for words. It, however, gave Mr Redmond one of the main arguments for impressing the Convention that the Birrell Bill could alone save the ratepayers from the imminence of this burden. It would have been easy to demolish the contention had the reply been allowed to be made. But this was just the one thing "the bosses" were determined not to allow - Mr O'Brien had given notice of an amendment, the justification of which is attested by the facts of the succeeding twelve years. It expressed the view that the Birrell Land Bill would lead to the stoppage of land purchase, that it would impose an intolerable penalty upon the tenant purchasers whose purchase money the Treasury had failed to provide, and that it would postpone for fifty years any complete solution of the problem of the West and of the redistribution of the untenanted grass lands of the country. The moment Mr O'Brien stood up to move this, at a concerted signal, pandemonium was let loose. I was never the witness of a more disgraceful incident - that an Irishman whose life had been given in so full and generous a fashion to the people should, by secret and subsidised arrangement, be howled down by an imported gang and prevented from presenting his views in rational fashion to men the majority of whom at least were present for honest consideration of arguments. It is a thing not easily forgotten or forgiven for the Irishmen who engineered it, that such a ferocious and foolish display of truculent cowardice should have taken place. For an hour Mr O'Brien manfully faced the obscene chorus of cat-cries and disorder. He describes one of the incidents that occurred in the following words: -

"While I was endeavouring, by the aid of a fairly powerful voice, to dominate the air-splitting clamour around me, Mr Crean, M.P., on the suggestion of Father Clancy, attempted to reach me, in order to urge me to give up the unequal struggle. He was no sooner on his legs than he was pounced upon by a group of brawny Belfast Mollies and dragged back by main force, while Mr Devlin, with a face blazing with passion, rushed towards his colleague in the Irish Party, shouting to his lodgemen: 'Put the fellow out.' At the same time Father Clancy, Mr Sheehan, M.P., and Mr Gilhooly, M.P., having interposed to remonstrate with Mr Crean's assailants, found themselves in the midst of a disgraceful melee of curses, blows and uplifted sticks, Mr Sheehan being violently struck in the face, and one of the Molly Maguire batonmen swinging his baton over Mr Gilhooly's head to a favourite Belfast battle-cry: 'I'll slaughter you if you say another word.'"

So does this Convention go down to history as the beginning of an infamous period when the sanctity of free speech was a thing to be ruthlessly smashed by the hireling or misguided mobs of an organisation professing democratic principles. The miracle of the Easter Rising was that it put an end to the rule of the thug and the bludgeonman. But many things were to happen in between.

Certain police court proceedings followed, in which Mr Crean, M.P., was the plaintiff. The only comment on these that need now be made is that Mr Crean's summons for assault was dismissed, and he was ordered to pay L150 costs or to go to gaol for two months, whilst the police magistrate who tried the case was shortly afterwards rewarded with the Chief Magistracy of Dublin!

The Board of Erin now began to march south of the Boyne and to usurp the functions of the United Irish League wherever it got a footing. It was frankly out for jobs, preferments and patronage of all kinds, so that even the dirty crew of place-hunting lawyers which Dublin Castle had plentifully spoon-fed for over a century became its leaders and gospellers, seeing that through it alone could they carve their way to those goodly plums that maketh easy the path of the unctuous crawlers in life - the creed of the Mollies, and it gained them followers galore, being that nobody who was not a member of "the Ancient Order" was eligible for even the meanest public office in the gift of the Government or the elected of the people. Even a Crown Prosecutor, one of the Castle "Cawtholic" tribe whose record of life-long antipathy to the vital creed of Irish Nationality was notorious, now became a pious follower of the new Order and was in due course "saved" by receiving an exalted position in the judicial establishment of the country, which owed nothing to his honour or his honesty. Under the auspices of the Board of Erin "the shoneen" - the most contemptible of all our Irish types - began to flourish amain. It was a great thing to be a "Jay Pay" in the Irish country-side. It added inches to one's girth and one's stature, and to the importance of one's "lady." It was greatly coveted by the thousands who always pine to swagger in a little brief authority, and thus the Board of Erin drew its adherents from every low fellow who had an interest to serve, a dirty ambition to satisfy, an office to gain or probably even a petty score to pay off. No doubt there were many sincere and honest and enthusiastic young men attracted to it by the charm of the secret sign and password, and others who believed that its Catholic pomp and parade made for the religious uplift of the people. But taken all in all, it was unquestionably an evil influence in the lives of the people and it degraded the fine inspiration of Nationality to a base sectarian scramble for place and power.

Gone were the glorious ideals of a nobler day wherever it pushed out its pernicious grip. Surrendered were the sterner principles which instructed and enacted that the man who sought office or preferment from a British Minister unfitted himself as a standard-bearer or even a raw recruit in the ranks of Irish Nationality. The Irish birth-right was bartered for a mess of pottage and, worst of all, the fine instincts of Ireland's glorious youth were being corrupted and perverted. The cry of "Up the Mollies!" became the watchword of the new movement and the creed of selfishness and sectarianism supplanted the evangel of self-denial and self-sacrifice. It was a time when clear-sighted and earnest men almost lost hope, if they did not lose faith. To be held in subjection by the tyranny of a stronger power was a calamity of destiny to be resisted, but that the people should themselves bind the chains of a more sordid tyranny of selfishness around their spirits was wholly damnable and heart-breaking.

It was to fight this thing that Mr William O'Brien proposed yet another crusade of light and liberty. As he founded the United Irish League when the country was sunk in the uttermost depths of despair and indifference, he now made a first gallant effort to establish a new national organisation to preach a nobler creed of brotherhood and reconciliation among all Irishmen, and to this he gave the appropriate title of the All-for-Ireland League. The city and county of Cork rallied to his side, with all the old-time fervour of Rebel Cork. The inaugural meeting of the League was held in my native town, Kanturk, and was splendidly attended by as gallant a body of Irishmen as could be found in all Ireland - men who knew, as none others better, how to fight, when fighting was the right policy, but who knew also, in its proper season, when it was good to make peace. The Press, however, shut its pages to the new movement and a complaisant Irish Party, now utterly at the mercy of the Board of Erin, at a meeting specially summoned for the purpose, passed a resolution of excommunication against the new League and against every Member of Parliament who should venture upon its platform, on the ground that it was usurping the functions and authority of the United Irish League, which was now nothing more than a cloak for the operations of the Board of Erin.

No human being could struggle under the mountain weight of responsibility that now rested on the shoulders of Mr O'Brien. Wearied by the monstrous labours and fights of many years, deserted by his own colleague in the representation of Cork City, with the Nationalist Press engaged in a policy of suppression and a system of secret intimidation springing up all over the country, it would have been madness for him to attempt to continue.

Accordingly he decided to quit the field again and to leave the clever political manipulators in possession. After he had sent in his application for the Chiltern Hundreds I came across specially from Ireland to meet him at the Westminster Palace Hotel. It were meet not to dwell upon our interview, for there are some things too sacred for words. I know that he had then no intention of ever returning to public life, and though he was obviously a man very, very ill, in the physical sense, yet I could see it was the deeper wounds of the soul that really mattered.

I have had sorrows in my life and deep afflictions, the scars of which nothing on this earth can cure, yet I can say I never felt parting so poignantly as with this friend, whom I loved most and venerated most on earth. I returned to Ireland that night, not knowing whether I should ever see the well-beloved face again. He went to Italy on the morrow to seek peace and healing, away from the land to which he had given more than a life's labour and devotion. He enjoined his friends not to communicate with him, but he promised to watch from a distance, and that if the occasion ever arose he would not see them cast to destruction without effort of his duty made.

How well and generously he kept that promise these pages will show.