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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Introduction of the Third Home Rule Bill

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Herbert Henry Asquith, a member of the Liberal Party, introduces the Third Home Rule Bill on April 11, 1912, which would provide self-government for Ireland, an apparent triumph for Nationalist leader John Redmond.

As a minority party after 1910 elections, the Liberal Party depends on the Irish vote, controlled by John Redmond. To gain Irish support for the budget and the parliament bill, Asquith promises Redmond that Irish Home Rule will be the highest priority. It proves much more complex and time-consuming than expected. Support for self-government for Ireland had been a tenet of the Liberal Party since 1886, but Asquith has not been as enthusiastic, stating in 1903 (while in opposition) that the party should never take office if that government would be dependent for survival on the support of the Irish Nationalist Party. After 1910, though, Irish Nationalist votes are essential to stay in power. Retaining Ireland in the Union is the declared intent of all parties, and the Nationalists, as part of the majority that keep Asquith in office, are entitled to seek enactment of their plans for Home Rule, and to expect Liberal and Labour support. The Conservatives, with die-hard support from the Protestant Orange Order of Ulster, are strongly opposed to Home Rule. The desire to retain a veto for the House of Lords on such bills has been an unbridgeable gap between the parties in the constitutional talks prior to the December 1910 United Kingdom general election.

The cabinet committee (excluding Asquith) that in 1911 plans the Third Home Rule Bill opposes any special status for Protestant Ulster within majority-Catholic Ireland. In 1913, Asquith writes to Winston Churchill, stating that the Prime Minister has always believed and stated that the price of Home Rule should be a special status for Ulster. In spite of this, the bill as introduced in April 1912 contains no such provision, and is meant to apply to all Ireland. Neither partition nor a special status for Ulster is likely to satisfy either side. The self-government offered by the bill is very limited, but Irish Nationalists, expecting Home Rule to come by gradual parliamentary steps, favours it. The Conservatives and Irish Unionists oppose it. Unionists begin preparing to get their way by force if necessary, prompting nationalist emulation. Though very much a minority, Irish Unionists are generally better financed and more organised.

Since the Parliament Act the Unionists can no longer block Home Rule in the House of Lords, but only delay Royal Assent by two years. Asquith decides to postpone any concessions to the Unionists until the bill’s third passage through the House of Commons, when he believes the Unionists will be desperate for a compromise. Biographer Roy Jenkins concludes that had Asquith tried for an earlier agreement, he would have had no luck, as many of his opponents wanted a fight and the opportunity to smash his government. Sir Edward Carson, MP for the University of Dublin and leader of the Irish Unionists in Parliament, threatens a revolt if Home Rule is enacted. The new Conservative leader, Bonar Law, campaigns in Parliament and in northern Ireland, warning Ulstermen against “Rome Rule,” that is, domination by the island’s Catholic majority. Many who oppose Home Rule feel that the Liberals have violated the Constitution by pushing through major constitutional change without a clear electoral mandate, with the House of Lords, formerly the “watchdog of the constitution,” not reformed as had been promised in the preamble of the 1911 Act and thus justified actions that in other circumstances might be treason.

The passions generated by the Irish question contrast with Asquith’s cool detachment, and he writes about the prospective partition of the county of Tyrone, which has a mixed population, deeming it “an impasse, with unspeakable consequences, upon a matter which to English eyes seems inconceivably small, and to Irish eyes immeasurably big.” As the House of Commons debate the Home Rule bill in late 1912 and early 1913, unionists in the north of Ireland mobilise, with talk of Carson declaring a Provisional Government and Ulster Volunteer Forces (UVF) built around the Orange Lodges, but in the cabinet, only Churchill views this with alarm.

These forces, insisting on their loyalty to the British Crown but increasingly well-armed with smuggled German weapons, prepare to do battle with the British Army, but Unionist leaders are confident that the army will not aid in forcing Home Rule on Ulster. As the Home Rule bill awaits its third passage through the House of Commons, the so-called Curragh incident occurs in March 1914. With deployment of troops into Ulster imminent and threatening language by Churchill and the Secretary of State for War, John Seely, around sixty army officers, led by Brigadier General Hubert Gough, announce that they would rather be dismissed from the service than obey. With unrest spreading to army officers in England, the Cabinet acts to placate the officers with a statement written by Asquith reiterating the duty of officers to obey lawful orders but claiming that the incident had been a misunderstanding. Seely then adds an unauthorised assurance, countersigned by Sir John French, the professional head of the army, that the government has no intention of using force against Ulster. Asquith repudiates the addition, and requires Seely and French to resign, taking on the War Office himself, retaining the additional responsibility until hostilities against Germany begin.

Within a month of the start of Asquith’s tenure at the War Office, the UVF lands a large cargo of guns and ammunition at Larne, but the Cabinet does not deem it prudent to arrest their leaders. On May 12, Asquith announces that he will secure Home Rule’s third passage through the House of Commons (accomplished on May 25), but that there will be an amending bill with it, making special provision for Ulster. But the House of Lords make changes to the amending bill unacceptable to Asquith, and with no way to invoke the Parliament Act on the amending bill, Asquith agrees to meet other leaders at an all-party conference on July 21 at Buckingham Palace, chaired by King George V. When no solution can be found, Asquith and his cabinet plans further concessions to the Unionists, but this does not occur as the crisis in Europe erupts into war.

In September 1914, after the outbreak of the conflict, Asquith announces that the Home Rule bill will go on the statute book as the Government of Ireland Act 1914 but will not go into force until after the war. He adds that in the interim a bill granting special status to Ulster will be considered. This solution satisfies neither side.

(Pictured: H.H. Asquith, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom)


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Birth of Henry Harrison, Politician & Writer

henry-harrisonCaptain Henry Harrison, nationalist politician and writer, is born in Holywood, County Down on December 17, 1867.

A Protestant nationalist, Harrison is the son of Henry Harrison and Letitia Tennent, the daughter of Robert James Tennent, who had been Liberal Party MP for Belfast from 1847 to 1852. Later, when widowed, she marries the author Hartley Withers.

Harrison goes to Westminster School and then to Balliol College, Oxford. While there he develops an admiration for Charles Stewart Parnell and becomes secretary of the Oxford University Home Rule League. At this time, the Land War is in progress and in 1889 he goes to Ireland to visit the scene of the evictions in Gweedore, County Donegal. He becomes involved in physical confrontations with the Royal Irish Constabulary and as a result becomes a Nationalist celebrity overnight. The following May, Parnell offers the vacant parliamentary seat of Mid Tipperary to Harrison, who leaves Oxford at age 22, to take it up, unopposed.

Only six months later, following the divorce case involving Katharine O’Shea, the Irish Parliamentary Party splits over Parnell’s leadership. Harrison strongly supports Parnell, acts as his bodyguard and aide-de-camp, and after Parnell’s death devotes himself to the service of his widow Katharine. From her he hears a completely different version of the events surrounding the divorce case from that which had appeared in the press, and this is to form the seed of his later books.

At the 1892 United Kingdom general election, Harrison does not defend Mid-Tipperary. He stands at West Limerick as a Parnellite instead, but comes nowhere near winning the seat. In the 1895 United Kingdom general election, he stands at North Sligo, polling better but again far short of winning. In 1895 he marries Maie Byrne, an American, with whom he has a son. He comes to prominence briefly again in 1903 when, in spite of his lack of legal training, he successfully conducts his own case in a court action all the way to the House of Lords.

Otherwise, however, Harrison disappears from public view until his war service with the Royal Irish Regiment when he serves on the Western Front with distinction in the New British Army formed for World War I, reaching the rank of Captain and being awarded the Military Cross (MC). He organises patrols in “No Man’s Land” so successfully that he is appointed special patrol officer to the 16th (Irish) Division. He is invalided out and becomes a recruiting officer in Ireland. He is appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 1919 New Year Honours.

Harrison then makes a return to Irish politics, working with Sir Horace Plunkett as Secretary of the Irish Dominion League, an organisation campaigning for dominion status for Ireland within the British Empire. He is a lifelong opponent of Irish partition. He is Irish correspondent of The Economist from 1922 to 1927 and owner-editor of Irish Truth from 1924 to 1927.

Harrison’s two books defending Parnell are published in 1931 and 1938. They have had a major impact on Irish historiography, leading to a more favourable view of Parnell’s role in the O’Shea affair. F. S. L. Lyons comments that he “did more than anyone else to uncover what seems to have been the true facts” about the Parnell-O’Shea liaison. The second book, Parnell, Joseph Chamberlain and Mr Garvin, is written in response to J. L. Garvin‘s biography of Joseph Chamberlain, which had ignored his first book, Parnell Vindicated: The Lifting of the Veil. Later, he successfully repulses an attempt in the official history of The Times to rehabilitate that newspaper’s role in using forged letters to attack Parnell in the late 1880s. In 1952 he forces The Times to publish a four-page correction written by him as an appendix to the fourth volume of the history.

During the difficult years of the Anglo-Irish Trade War over the land purchase annuities, declaration of the Republic, Irish neutrality during World War II, and departure from the Commonwealth, Harrison works to promote good relations between Britain and Ireland. He publishes various books and pamphlets on the issues in dispute and writes numerous letters to The Times. He also founds, with General Sir Hubert Gough, the Commonwealth Irish Association in 1942.

At the time of his death on February 20, 1954, Harrison is the last survivor of the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Parnell, and as a member of the pre-1918 Irish Parliamentary Party, he seems to have been outlived only by John Patrick Hayden, who dies a few months after him in 1954 and by Patrick Whitty and John Lymbrick Esmonde who are only MPs for a very short time during World War I. He is buried in Holywood, County Down.


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The Curragh Incident

curragh-incidentThe Curragh Incident occurs in the Curragh, County Kildare, on March 20, 1914. The Curragh Camp is the main base for the British Army in Ireland, which at the time forms part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Ireland was about to receive a measure of devolved government, which included Ulster.

In early 1912, the Liberal British government of H. H. Asquith introduces the Third Home Rule Bill for Ireland, which proposes the creation of an autonomous Irish Parliament in Dublin. Unionists have objected to being under the jurisdiction of the proposed Dublin Parliament. Ulster Unionists found the Ulster Volunteers (UVF) paramilitary group in 1912, aided by a number of senior retired British officers, to fight against the British government and/or against a future Irish Home Rule government proposed by the Bill.

In September 1913, with Irish Home Rule due to become law in 1914, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) Sir John French expresses his concerns to the government and to the King that the British Army, if ordered to act against the UVF, might split. The British Cabinet contemplates some kind of military action against the Ulster Volunteers who threaten to rebel against Home Rule. Many officers, especially those with Irish Protestant connections, of whom the most prominent is Hubert Gough, threaten to resign rather than obey, privately encouraged from London by senior officers including Major-General Henry Hughes Wilson.

Although the Cabinet issues a document claiming that the issue has been a misunderstanding, the Secretary of State for War J.E.B. Seely and French are forced to resign after amending it to promise that the British Army will not be used against the Ulster loyalists.

The event contributes both to unionist confidence and to the growing Irish separatist movement, convincing Irish nationalists that they can not expect support from the British army in Ireland. In turn, this increases renewed nationalist support for paramilitary forces. The Home Rule Bill is passed but postponed, and the growing fear of civil war in Ireland leads on to the British government considering some form of partition of Ireland instead, which eventually takes place.

The event is also notable in being one of the few incidents since the English Civil Wars in which elements of the British military openly intervene, as it turns out successfully, in politics.