Hard Times

In the chapter on The Neale, we saw where the success of the Land League movement meant that the landlords were losing their power and grip on the land. Periodically though evictions continued to be carried out despite the protests and whole families, orphans and widows were forced into Workhouses like the one in Ballinrobe. These charnel-houses of the Great famine survived still to inflict utter pain and mental torture, separating families on entry and thereafter subjecting them to hard labour and often premature death.

Spurred on by the Land League movement, tenants were more than anxious to own their own land and in the spirit of Brehan Law, that for so long was part of their deeper memory, they insisted on that right. Land acts were passed providing for a degree of tenant land purchase. The Irish were at last emerging from centuries of coercion and oppression. Co-ops were set up that became the focal point of the community. Those changes as well as the founding of the GAA or Gaelic Athletic Association and the Gaelic League breathed new life into rural Ireland as up until the late 1890's the Irish were also barred on social grounds from competing in sports and games. The Gaelic League was founded to halt the decline of the Irish language and promote a revival of Irish culture. The literary revival that followed, based on a fast growing awareness of Irish nationality and inspired by Ireland's past, led to a Celtic renaissance that revitalised the Irish psyche.

The centuries of coercion, oppression and famine which had caused so much misery and pain had made poverty endemic and the cure proved ever so elusive. By 1903 when my father was born, life was improving, albeit ever so slowly, for the people of Mayo and elsewhere. By today's standards it was indeed a very exacting and meagre existence with few comforts. Homes were cold and draughty with no indoor plumbing and little furniture. Meals were cooked in pots and pans over open fires. Most farm work was done by hand with the aid of the spade and the fork, the sickle, the scythe and the rake. The donkey and the horse were the beasts of burden. When it came to farm work, the horse was the farmer's most prized possession as it was used to pull the plough, the harrow and the cart.

When my father’s family relocated to Cahermaculick from Turloughmore, the English had not done with Ireland yet. For a detailed account of more broken promises and the most shameful betrayal of the people of Ireland who must have felt that they were encountering the reincarnation of Cromwell in the atrocities of the infamous Black and Tans, refer to the pages of any history book on this period.  Briefly, though, this is what occurred.  In December 1918, at the General Election, all Nationalist Ireland declared its allegiance to the republican ideal, and the Sinn Fein policy of abstention from Westminister was adopted.  In January 1919, the republican representatives assembled in Dublin and founded Dáil Eireann, the Irish Constituent Assembly, proclaiming the republic of Ireland once again as in 1916.  A message was sent to the nations of the world requesting the recognition of the free Irish State, and a national government was erected.        
No sooner had the new Government begun to function, established its Courts, appointed Consuls, started a stock-taking of the country's undeveloped natural resources, and put a hundred constructive schemes to work, than Britain stepped in, with her army of Soldiers and Constabulary, to counter the work, harassing and imprisoning the workers. This move of England's called forth a secretly built-up Irish Republican Army (developed from the Irish Volunteers), which, early in 1920, began a guerilla warfare, and quickly suc­ceeded in clearing vast districts of the Constabulary who were ever England's right arm in Ireland.

Lloyd George met this not only by pouring into Ireland regi­ments of soldiers with tanks, armored cars, aeroplanes, and all the other terrorising paraphernalia that had been found useful in the European War, but also by organising and turning loose upon Ire­land an irregular force of Britons, among the most vicious and bloodthirsty known to history - the force which quickly became notorious to the world under the title of the Black and Tans. And then, with carefully planned purpose to quickly break the Irish spirit and subdue the nation, was waged upon the Irish people - ­alike combatants and non-combatants, Irish women as well as men, toddling child and tottering aged - a war of vengeance, un­paralleled for blind fury and fearful cruelty by any war in any civilised country of the world since the seventeenth century. The wholesale burning of a hundred villages, towns, cities, the looting, the spoliation of the inhabitants, though in themselves appalling, were as nothing compared with the cold-blooded murders per­petrated by the British, and the elaborate refinement of torture, worse far than death, which they visited on non-combatants as well as combatants.

It was intended that the job of "settling Ireland" should, like Cromwell's campaign on which it was modelled, be sharp, short, and decisive. It should be over and done with ere the outside world awoke to the fearful reality of what was happening. And the English press generally, the English correspondents of foreign newspapers, and the English cable service did their part to back the British army in the field. They saw to it that not only was the hideousness of their campaign in Ireland concealed from the world, but that instead the Irish fighting for freedom in a fearfully unequal fight were lied about and painted to the world as ruffians. And, loyally doing their bit in the disgraceful campaign of hood­winking the world, the highest, most "Honourable" Government officials, from Prime Minister Lloyd George down to Irish Secretary, Sir Hamar Greenwood, from their places in the British House of Com­mons deliberately and persistently falsified the accounts of occur­rences in Ireland, denied, without wincing, the barbarous crimes of the British which they knew and approved of.

Yet the well-planned campaign for the quick wasting of Ireland, and breaking of Ireland's spirit did not come off on schedule. The atrocities which were meant to frighten and subdue, only stimulated the outraged nation to more vigour: and by the time the fight was expected to end it was found to be only well begun. And, carefully as the army of falsifiers guarded every gate by which the truth might escape to the world, tricklings of truth had begun to find their way out, and the world was beginning to whisper of strange British doings in Ireland. More than by anything else, probably, the world was awakened to the truth of the situation in Ireland through the extraordinary heroism of Terence MacSwiney (Mayor of Cork in succession to the martyred MacCurtain), who in protest against the foreign tyranny which seized and jailed him, refused to eat in the British dungeon where he died with the wondering world watching on.

The general aspect of the British Campaign in Ireland is best summarised, perhaps, in the findings of the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland - a Commission whose members were se­lected by the American Committee of One Hundred - this latter being composed of many of the most representative men and women in America, Protestant, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Jew - including Governors of States, Senators, Congressmen, Protestant, Catholic and Methodist Bishops, College Presidents, Editors, Business men, and lay men.

 Here are the most re­markable of their findings:

 "1. The Imperial British Government has created and introduced into Ireland a force of at
      least 78,000 men, many of them youthful and inexperienced, nd some of them convicts;
      and has incited that force to unbridled violence.
 "2. The Imperial British forces in Ireland have indiscriminately killed innocent
men, women,
      and children ; have discriminately assas­sinated persons suspected of being republicans;
      have tortured and shot prisoners while in custody, adopting the subterfuges of `refusal
      to halt' and `attempting to escape'; and have attributed to alleged `Sinn Fein extremists'

      the British assassination of prominent Irish Repub­licans.
 "3. House burning and wanton destruction of villages and cities by Imperial British forces

      under Imperial British officers have been countenanced  and ordered by officials of the

      British Government, and elaborate provision by gasoline sprays and bombs has been made

      in a number of instances for systematic incendiarism as part of a plan of terrorism. 
 "4. A campaign for the destruction of the means of existence of the Irish people has been

      conducted by the burning of factories, cream­eries, crops, and farm implements, and the

      shooting of farm animals. This campaign is carried on regardless of the political views of
      their owners, and results in widespread and acute suffering among women and children.

 "5. Acting under a series of proclamations issued by the competent military authorities of the

      Imperial British forces hostages are carried by forces exposed to the fire of the Republican

      Army; fines are levied upon towns and villages as punishment for alleged offenses of

      dividuals; private property is destroyed in reprisal for acts with which the owners have  no

      connection; and the civilian population is subjected to an inquisition upon the theory that

      individuals are in possession of information valuable to the military forces of Great Britain.  

      These acts of the Imperial British forces are contrary to the laws of peace or war among

      more civilised nations." 


All of this in the aftermath of the Great War, World War 1, 'the war to end all wars'. All of this in the fashion of a nation's conspiracy perpetrated in the most pernicious and criminal manner. Surely one of the lowest and most barbaric chapters in England's history. Surely one of the darkest hours in Ireland's history. .... And despite the number of Irish and of Irish descent in the dominion (commonwealth later) countries, these countries supported - and not often blindly - England's brutal and inhuman treatment of the Irish during my parents and grandparents' years of the first quarter and more of the twentieth century. The dominion countries' serious discrimination against the Irish is well documented. In fact when I settled in Australia in 1958, Prime Minister Menzies and his Foreign Affairs Department were still having some difficulty recognising the ambassadorial status of the Irish Diplomat appointed Ambassador to Australia, and chose instead to ignore his presence, despite the great contribution of the Irish in this country to its development and its role in the two world wars where to those soldiers Irish and of Irish descent went more than 60% of all Victoria Crosses awarded to our Australian soldiers.

The old adage and theme of many publications that 'good ultimately triumphs over evil' was more than put to its test in Ireland's case if you can conceivably see 'ultimately' as stretching over some three hundred and more years. Or was it the very nature of the evil itself that made it for so long so implacable?

In the spring of 1921 there was galloped through the English Parliament a "Home Rule Bill" for Ireland whose object was, by giving the eastern part of Ulster, the Orange corner, a Parlia­ment of its own, to detach it from the rest of Ireland, thus dividing the nation on sectarian lines and thereby endowing the Irish nation with one of the meanest cuts of all, that has so festered her to this day.

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