Redmond and home rule

Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 01:10

Sir, – John Bruton (“Home rule and an Ireland without the bloodshed”, Opinion & Analysis, August 25th) restates his view that John Redmond and his party were a constitutional and non-violent movement that managed to achieve home rule by parliamentary means.

This ignores the extent to which violence, or the threat of violence, formed part of Irish political life before 1916. Redmond’s party was quite prepared to use force against its rivals and did so regularly, using the sectarian Ancient Order of Hibernians to intimidate opponents.

But crucially Mr Bruton also fails to grasp how Redmond hugely oversold his “achievement” to the party’s supporters in Ireland. In March 1912 Redmond’s deputy, John Dillon, told 100,000 people in Dublin’s O’Connell Street that  “we have undone, and are undoing the work of three centuries of confiscation and persecution . . . the holy soil of Ireland is passing back rapidly into the possession of the children of our race . . . and the work of Oliver Cromwell is nearly undone”.

Do these words conjure up a vision of an Irish parliament with limited powers remaining firmly within the British imperial framework? For many nationalists home rule meant not devolution but the “virtual undoing of the conquest”.

They were often encouraged in this belief by the rhetoric used by the Irish Party’s MPs. The Limerick MP William Lundon explained in 1907 that home rule would not mean “a little parliament in Dublin that would pay homage to the big one, but a sovereign and independent one and if he had his own way he would break the remaining links that bound the two countries . . . he was trained in another school [and] he was not a parliamentarian when he walked with his rifle on his shoulder on the night of the 5th of March [the Fenian rising of 1867].”

Such rhetoric was not unusual given that up to 25 per cent of the party’s MPs in the early 1900s were former Fenians. Indeed Redmond himself had spent much of the 1890s campaigning for republican prisoners, arguing that “they are our kith and kin. They are men who sacrificed everything that was most dear to them in an effort to benefit Ireland. What do we care whether their effort was a wise one or not, whether a mistaken one or not?”

Indeed when Tom Clarke was released in 1897 he personally thanked Redmond for his efforts on his behalf. The home rulers were a “slightly constitutional” party and they oversold the promise of home rule to such an extent that rather than satisfying nationalist aspirations it was likely to prove a huge disappointment. Any discussion of the party’s record needs to take these facts into account. – Yours, etc,

Dr BRIAN HANLEY,

Dunmanus Road,

Cabra,

Dublin 7.