<< Catholics Without Revolvers Arc Murdered . . . .
Possessing Revolvers They Are Sentenced To Death"
(Continued from page 5) The repercussions which followed the Easter Rising of 1916 disturbed but little the smug complacency of political Ulster. Business was booming, the agents of war were subsidisirig the already big fortunes of the linen lords, the ship-builders, and the luxury traders. The loyalty test was temporarily shelved, as workers were indeed " worth their weight in gold "—even Popish workers. Belfast for once was merely a pattern of any similar town in England. In the stress of "pursuing the war to a successful conclusion," big fortunes were being rapidly amassed, and all was well on the home front if only the blue-clad battalions of crippled men from the battle zones could be carefully hidden away and war treated as the other fellow's unfortunate complaint. It can be said in truth that the most peaceful years enjoyed by Catholics of Northern Ireland during the past hall-century were the war years, when the Orange leaders were so preoccupied with money-making that they had to give political agitation a rest.
Orange and Conscription
The Conscription scare of 1918 found the civil survivors of war-madness united in a common purpose : to resist at all costs any attempt to make soldiers of them. Once more in Ulster the question of loyalty was not invoked, except to the home market, whatever the fate of Empire. Anti:conscription demonstrations, the largest in Ireland at the time, were held in the main streets of Belfast. For once the mob was Allowed to practise " free-thought," and the hammon theme was : "If die we must, we'll die at home." The new tune suited the Orange bosses, and for the time being " The Pope" and "Derry's Walls" were given a rest.
What of the political leaders during this time of Empire stress and danger? In support of Redmond's promise to England of every assistance, a large number of Nationalist Members of Parliament led the youth of Ireland into the recruiting stations. Discarding their civilian attire for that of Khaki they trained with these lads, fought with them, and, in a number of cases, died with them on the war fronts. Willie Redmond, brother of the Irish leader, embodying all that was brave and generous in Irish manhood, at the age of 54, was killed at the head of his men in France. Tom Kettle, one of the brightest lights in the Nationalist movement, a poet-idealist, but a realist withal, was also a victim of sacrifice on this altar of blasted idealism.
The Orange leaders, those loyal guardians of the rock of Empire, how did they rare? Practically all of the principal figures ware, apparently, too old for other than vocal effort; but they 'gallantly. cleafed the way to the recruiting offices for redblooded youth. In an advisory capacity, properly uniformed and spurred, these hoary advisers were always prepared to " sell their lives dearly " against phantom invaders of hearth and home. At no period during the war did their private political machination cease. Carson was for a time in the War Cabinet and his principal henchman (now Lord Craigavon) held a minor job in the House. When Carson, faced with opposition, resigned his post—the valorous crusader from Ulster followed suit; but no appreciable shock was experienced outside of Downing Street.
Loyalty Begins Again!
No opportunity was neglected to make political capital out of Ulster's share in the war effort. Joyfully these stay-at-home patriots sang the glories of the 36th Ulster Division (that gallant force of eager young men, Catholic and Protestant, fighting side by side, free of political influences and in the face of death they remembered only their common Irish birth), and claimed as their own the splendid service of that Division in France and Flanders. But with the return of " Peace " to a war-exhausted and revolutionised Europe, the fireside patriots of Ulster became active again in the sacred cause of Empire. At all events they became more vocal in their protestations of undying fealty to the Crown and Constitution; a warning note that the Orange leaders were preparing a fresh campaign against the threat of Home Rule.
The fictitious trade boom of the war was at an end. Money everywhere was being conserved, as the purse-strings of the monied class and the profiteers tightened, and trade languished for want of trade enterprise. With the return of the demobilised troops to civil life, their ears ringing with empty promises of a new heaven on earth as a result of this " war to end war," and their hearts filled with the ashes of long-dead idealism, the need was urgent. In England there was no escape for the politicians; as in the war, they " blundered through " the first peace years.
In Ulster, the same surplus labour problem presented itself, but the loyal guardians of Imperial interests had profited by their four years of rest and contemplation. Belfast soon devised a way of occupying the minds of at least their unemployed. The old parrot-cry of loyalty was again bandied about on Orange platforms, usually by men who had no war record, and a fresh cognomen was adopted for the Catholic natives: Rebels! Unemployed exservicemen were told that work was scarce because the rebels had stolen all the jobs while they were at the front. The steady infiltration of rebels from the South into their Northern Arcadia for the avnwed purpose of forcing them under a Dublin parliament, was another specimen of the scare stories freely circulated by Orange agitators to inflame anew party passions.
At this period, in the South, the political situation was tense and dangerous. The old Irish Parliamentary Party were for the most part in retirement, their places having been taken by a younger body of men who had adopted a policy of abstention from the affairs of Westminster, most of whom were in gaol or " on the run." The whole
sale shooting of leaders, taken after the Easter Rising. and the extreme measures of
coercion subsequently adopted, had steadily hardened Irish opinion, of all political shades, against the British Government. Had more tact and patience been shown instead of a " blood and iron " policy, the disastrous years that followed might have heen spared both countries. The opinion of all Ireland was that the Irish Party had been " sold," and the Home Rule Bill merely another addition to the list of England's broken pledges.
But in Nationalist Ulster the new political party in 1919 had not made much progress. Joe Devlin was still a very powerful force, and now regarded as the leader of constitutional Nationalism. A man too big to be tied by the limitations of political parties, his work as Member for West Belfast, in the Imperial Pariiament, had no religious or political boundary. To Orangeman or Catholic alike he was known as " the Member for Ulster! " and this at a time when Ulster returned 18 Unionist representatives to the Imperial House, He was a stout champion of the ex-serviceman, and even to-day, three years after his passing, his irreparable loss is mourned.
One of 'Mr. Devlin's own after-dinner stories best illustrates the man and the " undying spirit of the Belfast he loved.
One evening, when leaving after a hard day in the House of Commons, he was met in the lobby by a deputation of Belfast business men, who had crossed over specially to get his interest and support for a Bill--which he afterwards piloted safely through the Commons.
The Chairman of that Deputation and Mr. Devlin had met but once before; an occasion indelibly imprinted on the Catholic Nationalist's heart. But the positions were now reversed. The earlier meeting had taken place 25 years before, when, as a boy of 15, Master Devlin had made personal application to that same man for a junior clerkship in his office, only to be summarily turned down when questioning elicited the fact that the keen applicant was a Catholic.
It was soon evident that peaceful conditions in Ulster did not suit the policy of Orangeism.
July 20, 1920, witnessed the onset of the most terrible pogrom directed against Catholics in this present century.
It followed the return of workers after the " break " for the 12th celebrations, when the demonstrators had been urged to great lengths of fanaticism by a thorough inoculation of the " hate and horror " speeches directed against " papist rebels in their midst." That the outbreak was carefully planned and timed to the minute can be gleaned from the fact that attacks on Catholic life and property were made at the same hour, in widely separated districts of the city. The most serious exhibition of barbarism occurred in the Belfast shipyards. Here, 5,000 men and boys, peacefully working at their trades throughout the vast yards, were brutally set upon by armed gangs of hooligans and subjected to every form of maltreatment. Although rumour bad been busy in advance, no protection had been provided these workers. That evening, the hospitals were taxed to capacity with the first unfortunate victims of Orange tolerance. Decent Protestant workmen who dared to voice a protest or raise a hand of protection shared the fate of their Catholic friends; by such methods of terrorism the true voice of fair-minded citizens was stilled.
At least half of these shipyard victims of loyalty were ex-servicemen, many of them already disabled in the cause of " this freedom." In every part of the city where Catholics, male or female, were known to be employed, and where it was safe for the gangster element to penetrate, Catholics were sought out and murdered, beaten-up, or at best, driven forth from their work and, with every form of execration against their faith, told not to return. Day and night, for the first few weeks of that summer of madness, the Orange mobs pillaged and burned at will, until not a single Catholic business house remained standing in a Protestant working-class district of Belfast. isolated Catholic homes. except in the more exclusive districts, were given up to the flames; terror stricken women and children, many in their night attire, sought refuge wherever it could be found. Many of these poor people had witnessed the savage murder of their fathers or brothers. Hundreds of Catholic families left Belfast with what little they could save from destruction to go to Southern Ireland or across the Irish Sea.
To this extent the Orange solution of the labour problem was succeeding, but at a price that only homicidal maniacs would approve. It was about this time that responsibility was first fitted on the " irresponsible youths " who had " taken the law into their own hands." It was Sir James Craig (Lord Craigavon), then Ulster leader in the absence of Carson, who gently chided this unknown unit with overstepping the bounds of good-fellowship, when questions regarding Belfast were asked in the House of Commons. Some months later that same gallant warrior gave his benediction to that same " irresponsible " legion when he unfurled a Union Jack in the now Rome-free shipyards. They were re-assured of his faith in them : Sir James " was proud of them! "
Before The Germans Thought of it
And all this took place years before Hitler had " shocked the English conscience" by his treatment of the Jews; and at a•tinte when the British Govern ment was arranging a transfer of greater powers and the lives of a terrorised minority into such hands. But the idea of a one-party parliament and one-party justice was not a Fascist inspiration; under the guise of constitutional and democratic government it has been m practice in the Six Counties for the past sixteen years.
The Sinn Fein party, and especially the Irish Republican Army, made rapid pro gress in Ulster following this murder cam
paign directed against Belfast Catholics. Almost powerless before the first bloody
onslaught, their position considerably undermined in England by lying propaganda, with nothing but the Cromwellian dictum " To Hell or to Connaught " alternative before them, many of the young Catholic men of the North threw in their lot with the new physical force party : they had tired of the hopelessness of consiautioaal action as a remedy for the unhappy plight of their people.
Once again, still running true to form, Ulster 'loyalty had achieved its selfish desire in creating turmoil by supporting lawlessness with utter disregard to Imperial interests, With their faith in England's sense „it justice gone, as daily, and unchecked, the bloody toll of assassination was taken of their people, at their work, in the streets, or in their humble homes, only in Christian fortitude preserved a sense of discipline in the Catholic population which prevented retaliatory excesses. Day and night—more especially at night—through two age-long years of harrowing nightmare, Catholic men were called to the perilous task of defending their homes against a multiplicity of enemies.
To be caught in possession of arms by the forces of law and order meant trial by a Military Tribunal and at least five years penal servitude; to be taken without arms by the night assassins, who, under cover of darkness and the protection of curfew, visited the homes of suspected persons, in many instances meant their forcible removal, followed by a later discovery of their tortured bodies foully slain on the roadside.
Ulster "Specials " The forces of the Crown operating in Belfast and other disturbed areas in the North, at this time were a heterogeneous body of men. The Military forces were for the most part English lads without religious or political opinions. Their appearance in the streets brought a certain sense of security to Catholics. The Royal Irish Constabulary (since disbanded or merged into the ie.U.C.) were a sveil-disciplined .semi-military force. Their passing was " unhonoured and unsung," But " A " Special Constabulary, recruited to assist the regular Police and Military, were the Ulster counterpart of the " Black and Tans ": this was a rare case of poacher turned game
keeper. These " Specials " contained a large proportion of the " irresponsible youths " of the Orange leader's earlier laudation. They were religiously and politically biassed against the Catholic minority, and many horrible crimes have been charged to their account. In the company of the Military, who had little topographical knowledge of the city, they made a brave show. The entry of this force into a Catholic district for raiding purposes after nightfall, unless accompanied by the Military, was the signal for hell let loose. No one trusted them sufficiently to open their doors without first warning their neighbours, and this warning was taken up until the whole neighbourhood was alive to the danger; the din of screaming, blowing of whistles, hammering of tin lids and the blowing of bugles by the terrorised inhabitants could be heard all over the city. Not even the cockpit of present-day Spain has caused more terrifying experiences for the innocent victims—especially the women and children—than Belfast of 1920-'22.
As in the days of the Famine and later times of trouble and oppression in the homeland, the Irish in America came to
the assistance of Belfast Catholics. The munificence of that service has permanence in the hearts of the people and on the physical face of the city. Thousands of Catholic families driven forth to face homelessness and starvation subsisted solely on that White Cross Fund whose principal source was in America.
All was quiet during the King's brief visit in June, 1921; proof in itself, if there was need for it, that the minority were not the aggressors. The Belfast loyalist mobs gave over the gunning and bombing of their rebel neighbours for that day, and went forth, armed with Union Jacks, to impress their love of liberty and freedom on their Sovereign Protector as head of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The Catholic population remained quietly in their own districts, taking no part in the demonstration; but they were patiently optimistic that the great British Government had fully secured their rights as citizens of a new state under their protection by definite guarantees of fair dealing before delivering them up. (Vain hope! No minority in Europe today was more surely sold, duly fettered, without even the questionable comfort of British " democratic tears).
When the King had Gone The appeal for peace and good order made by the King provided a further exhibition of Orange loyalty. Before the peaceloving monarch had returned to London, the campaign of terrorism had been redoubled. As usual, there was a cunning scheme behind this Orange rebuttal of the peace plea. Negotiations were being carried on between de Valera and Lloyd George, culminating in a truce which took place on July 9, 1921. Peace in the South spelt at least a rearrangement of the Northern boundary. In Belfast there was no rejoicing over the truce. The day after its announcement is still remembered as " Bloody Sunday " by Belfast Catholics. One hundred and sixty-one houses of Catholics were burnt down; fifteen persons were killed and hundreds treated in hospital. This was the work of an Orange mob backed by " Specials." The American delegation of the White Cross Fund, visiting at the time; found a thousand homeless Catholics sheltering in schools, halls, and old stores.
The Treaty of Peace signed by the Southern representatives in London brought no relief to Northern Catholics.
The Boundary Commission appointed to define the limits of jurisdiction for the new State made no fresh recommendations. Once more the Orange ascendancy of the North had triumphed by the use of threats and a reiterated intention of yielding " not an inch." Instead of making an effort to end once and for all the trail of bloodshed and turmoil, the Northern Government went further in their efforts to subjugate the minority by enlisting more grades of " Specials " (B and C) for the constabulary, until it would appear that every nonCatholic male in the Six Counties who so desired it could carry arms.
Abortive Peace Pacts On two occasions early in the year of 1922 peace pacts were arranged on behalf of the Free State and the Six Counties by Michael Collins and Sir James Craig (Lord Craigavon.) They were mainly designed to protect the lives of the minority in the North as a consideration for raising the boycott on " Ulster " goods and various other points. But the armed hooliganism in power in the North-East could not oe held in check.
On March 23, 1922, during curfew hours, armed and uniformed men burst into the home of a Belfast merchant, living in a quiet, residential part of the city, and murdered the father and three sons and an assistant staying with them nt the time; two younger boys only escaped death by hiding. The poor mother was present at this wholesale butchery of her family. This family had no connection with any political body, their crime was one of faith: their Catholicity. At this period Sir Henry Wilson was the military adviser to the Six County Government; he had always kept a close association with the political programme of the Orange ascendancy party, as did Lord Carson. These men were in constant touch with the British Government.
Commenting on a Special PoWers Bill (still in force) for the Six Counties passed at this period, theManchester Guardian said: " Whilst envenomed politicians in the Ulster Parliament are voting themselves power to use torture and capital punishment against citizens whom they forbid to defend themselves while they scarcely attempt to protect them from massacre, some of their own partisans in Belfast carry wholesale murder to refinements of barbarity hardly surpassed in the Turkish atrocities in Armenia and Constantinople."
The Imperial Government had already expressed its determination to support the policy of the Northern " Garrison."
The horrible chain of murder and reprisal scourged the North-East for a second year. Joe Devlin, the Nationalist leader, was well-night spent in his efforts, unavailing, to make the British Government conscious of their responsibility to the oppressed minority. One phrase from an impassioned speech at Westminster, on behalf of his people, is worth recording: "If Catholics have no revolvers to protect themselves they are murdered," he said. " If they have revolvers they are flogged and sentenced to death." Then the trouble began to spread to the select suburban parts of the city. These districts had hitherto no real experience of the policy of blood and flame suffered in other parts. In their pleasant gardens of a calm summer evening the sounds of shooting might be carried to the sensitive ears of the residents as they read of the day's happenings. But it could be so readily dismissed as a necessary annoyance to be borne in the cause of propagating loyalty.
The war was brought a little nearer to them; shopping in the city was made a dangerous risk, and even the picture houses were not a safe refuge from careless bombers. Prominent figures in Northern political life received warning messages of their personal danger in the event of further Catholic deaths, They were forced to secure bodyguards of armed police. No longer was it merely a case of poor inoffensive workmen slaughtered at their daily task or on the way home. The danger was very real to the people who influenced the affairs of the Six Counties, and the infection had spread. Sir Henry Wilson, one of the most prominent figures in Ulster's past, was shot on the doorstep of his London home. In Belfast, a very prominent SixCounty M.P. was shot by a party of men in the centre of the city.
The whole complexion of things had changed, and something had to be done about it. What exactly that something was can only be left to the imagination. Within a day or two of this last shooting affray the guns were put away or collected. The long pogrom was over for the time being. Catholics were stunned and bewildered at first, it was all so strange to be allowed the freedom of roaming at will without the danger of death hanging over them. The problem of work was still before these expelled workers, and their full right as citizens was yet to be solved.
The story of Northern Ireland up to the present time will be concluded in another article.