Tuesday, October 5, 1920
REPORT BY THE SOCIETY OF FRIENDS
(from a correspondent)
At its September meeting the Executive Committee of the Society of Friends had before it the disturbed condition of Ireland. After serious consideration it was decided to send a deputation to visit the country to gather facts and impressions and report to a subsequent meeting as to the possibility of relief, reconstruction, and reconciliation. The deputation numbered three, of whom the writer was one. It may fairly be claimed that they went with open minds anxious to receive light from whatever quarter it might shine. It is thought that some account of what was seen and what impressions were received may be of general interest.
The chief centres visited were Dublin, Belfast, Limerick, Cork, visits being also made from these to places in the neighbourhood. Our interviews were with men of every shade of opinion – Unionists, Nationalists, Sinn Feiners, Protestants, Orangemen, Catholics, Labour leaders. They included members of Parliament, Bishops, business men, university professors, members of the Sinn Fein Cabinet, Sinn Fein judges, journalists, working men. Altogether we had about sixty interviews besides attending groups and conferences. Everywhere we were received with unfailing courtesy and kindness, and every facility was given for carrying out our commission.
First of all as to what we saw. On the surface Dublin was quiet, but while we were in the north Mr. Lynch was shot in a Dublin hotel and one or two encounters took place between the Irish Volunteers and the military. It was in Dublin that we had our first experience of the curfew, and received particulars of the burning of the seventeen co-operative creameries. There, too, we found that there are two Governments in Ireland – that of the Crown and that of the Irish Republic. Each has its Cabinet, its Executive, its armed force, its Courts of justice.
It is no exaggeration to say that 80 per cent, of Ireland renders allegiance to the Irish Republic, whether willingly or unwillingly, and that in that area the authority of the British Government rests upon force and not upon consent.
In Belfast we saw something of the ruin caused by the recent outbreaks, but it was not until we visited Lisburn, a short distance from the city, that we began to understand how fierce the violence had been. House after house, shop after shop, burnt out completely, in some cases not even the outer walls left standing. The marvel was how the flames had been kept from spreading and the whole town saved from destruction. In the outskirts were all that was left of one or two good houses standing in their own grounds – bare walls and heaps of débris. Going to Limerick we found several ruined houses, where the work of destruction had been carried out with extraordinary completeness. Painted in large letters on the walls left standing were such sentences as “The work of the Black and Tans”, “The work of the R.I.C.”. In Kerry Street, which had been raided but not burned, we found that practically every window, both glass and woodwork, had been smashed, doors burst open, and furniture, ornaments, earthenware, in fact everything breakable, included in one common destruction. The accounts given were most graphic. Here it was a woman showing the remains of cherished ornaments and looking glass, there another lamenting over the shattered remnants of a wardrobe, and again another pointing to a plaster cast of the Virgin and rejoicing that it had been spared.
Leaving this Via Doloroso it was not surprising to read on the walls of some neighbouring buildings such inscriptions as “Sorrow to England!”, “Damn England!”.
From Limerick we made a long round by motorcar to visit three villages which had just been “shot up”. These were Ennistymon, Lahinch, and Miltown Malbay. The first sign of trouble was cut telegraph wires. This had been done in two places. On entering Ennistymon the acrid smell of burning met us everywhere. Some of the ruins were still smoking, and here and there flame was flickering over the ashes. A man who had been present during the raid told us of the frenzy of the attack, the wild shouting, the blazing houses, the bullets whizzing past his head as he tried to bring two women from the street into a place of safety, the shooting of a man and the hurling of the body into the flames.
As we left the village a lorry passed us manned by armed police, and carrying on the floor two coffins. Presumably these were for two of a party of police ambushed and shot a day or two before. Lahinch had suffered more than Ennistymon. “Come this way, sir”, said a man. We followed. There at the back of the houses in a low poor shed was a comparatively small chest covered with a white cloth, and on the top a few flowers. “He was burnt, sir, in one of the houses. He was a stranger; we don’t know who he was.” This was all that was left. Now we are talking to a woman – “When they came to my house I begged and prayed them not to burn it. The man at the door was tall and fair. I could see him plainly, for it was bright moonlight, and there was the light from the burning houses. I pleaded hard, ‘Don’t burn this house; there’s no one but women and children in it!’ And he went away and did not burn it.”
Again we are questioning a man who had succeeded in putting out the flames in his house, a small inn. “I carried the water up here. I was afraid they would see what I was doing and shoot me. But they were not so bad, after all. There were some visitors upstairs, and they helped them out with their luggage. They said, ‘It’s not women and children we want. It’s men we’re after. We’re out for blood.’ ” And now we leave the houses to go into the main street. A crowd is moving slowly from the farther end. A coffin, carried shoulder-high by the men of the village, is being borne to the cemetery. With bared heads we join the march. It is the funeral of one of those killed in the raid. A short interval, and then a change. A motor-lorry, carrying six or eight soldiers with trench helmets, bayonets, and rifles at “the ready”, passes through the village. I stand looking hard at this symbol of physical power. The soldiers’ eyes range over doors, windows, and doorways, their fingers are on the rifle-triggers.
I think of the charred remnants of the stranger a few yards away in the shed, of the coffin carried shoulder-high, my eyes rest on the ruin left by the fires, and I cannot deny that a feeling of fierce anger flames up within me. And then, like a flash, comes the recollection of the lorry we have seen leaving Ennistymon, with its armed policemen guarding the two coffins, and I think of the murdered policemen, their widows and little children, and then, as in colours of flame, the conflict and the tragedy of Ireland is before me.
Continuing our drive, we saw evidence that the reprisals had not been confined to villages and towns, but that isolated farms and cottages had been included. In other respects the country looked prosperous. The cottages and farm buildings are well thatched and cleanly whitewashed; and, indeed, we were assured from many quarters that Ireland is financially prosperous.
On the last night which we spent in Cork I was awakened at about 2 o’clock by an explosion. Springing to the window I looked out. There was a good deal of firing, the coming and going of lorries and armoured cars, and a searchlight in the distance. Two or three times I got back into bed, only to hurry to the window again as a shot or shots rang out. Gradually matters seemed to settle down. Investigation in the morning showed that a large part of an extensive shop-front had been blown out by an explosion, and practically every pane of glass on the opposite side of the street for a considerable distance shivered by its force.
A Sinn Fein court
In Cork we had the opportunity of attending a Sinn Fein Court. Three young men sat on the Bench, and there were about forty people present. The cases related to the licensing laws, and the proceedings were conducted in a quiet and businesslike manner. From many quarters we received testimony to the efficiency of these Courts and to the impartiality with which they administer justice. They deal with criminal offences, questions of rent, ownership, and occupation of land.
So much for what we saw. Now for a few impressions. The old irreconcilable Unionism except in Ulster is dead as a policy. The old constitutional Nationalist Party has gone also; one former Nationalist M.P. told me he doubted if he could find enough supporters to fill in his nomination papers. Everywhere men talk of a Republic, a liberal measure of Home Rule or Dominion Home Rule. It is not that Unionists think Home Rule the better policy, but that they regard something of the kind as inevitable. A measure of the kind which would have been fought five years ago would now almost certainly be accepted by Unionists with thankfulness.
The Parliamentary Nationalist policy was discredited because it was found to lead only to disappointment, broken Government promises, Bills withdrawn, Acts suspended. No one could trust the Government. In consequence, practically the whole of the Nationalist following has gone over to Sinn Fein. We gathered, however, that while the extreme Sinn Feiners are apparently irreconcilable, and will accept nothing short of an independent Irish Republic, there is a large mass of moderate opinion which would accept a well-conceived, liberal measure of self-government. Several expressed the opinion that the bestowal of this would kill the agitation for independence. However this may be I must repeat that deeds, not words, are needed. Government promises are simply disregarded.
Broadly speaking, the courses before England seem to be limited to three: Repression and yet more repression, and all that this involves. The gift of a liberal measure of self-government, including fiscal and financial control. An independent Irish Republic. I am inclined to think that England will rule out the first and third of these. What of the second? And what of the stopping of police reprisals, the withdrawal of the armed forces of the Crown as a pledge of the good faith of the Government, whose good faith also stands in need of some guarantee of the kind? I believe there is hope in this direction. But action must be prompt and decisive. Tempers are hardening. The door of opportunity is closing. Will the Government have the courage to act before it is again “too late”?
The members of the deputation were: John Henry Barlow, J.P., of Birmingham, Chairman of the Society of Friends in Great Britain from 1913 to 1919; Roger Clark, of Street, Somerset, the present Chairman of the Society; and Edith M. Ellis, daughter of the late Rt. Hon. John Edward Ellis.
Further copies of this leaflet may be obtained from the Central Office of the Society of Friends, 136, Bishopsgate, London, E.C.2.
Published by the Society of Friends, 136, Bishopsgate, London, E.C.2, and printed by THE TIMES PUBLISHING COMPANY, Limited, Printing House Square, London, E.C.4.