The question of Home Rule for Ireland reverberated throughout the press in 1917. This week, one hundred years ago, coincided with another fall by a motion in the House of Commons in Westminster calling for its implementation. The motion was proposed by MP T P O’Connor who was a journalist, an Irish nationalist political figure, and MP for almost fifty years.
Mr O’Connor’s colleague John Redmond MP was leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party from 1900 until his death in 1918. Redmond achieved the two main objectives of his political life: party unity and, in September 1914, the passing of the Irish Home Rule Act. The Act granted limited self-government to Ireland, within the United Kingdom. However, the application of Home Rule was deferred by the advent of World War I. Redmond called on the National Volunteers to enlist in Irish regiments in the British Army and support the British and Allied war effort.
To condemn the fall of T P O’Connor’s motion, a special meeting of the Cork City Executive of the United Irish League (UIL) was held on 12 March 1917 at Cork City Hall. Mr William Murphy, Coroner, presided; the Lord Mayor Thomas Butterfield was also in attendance. The United Irish League was co-founded by William O’Brien and Michael Davitt in 1898 as an attempt to inject new synergies into the Home Rule movement. The League was focused on agrarian reform and it was hoped that this policy would provide the foundation for reuniting the national political movement. It became very popular with tenant farmers and branches of the organisation were established all over the country. The UIL peaked in the first decade of the early twentieth century. By 1902 O’Brien’s UIL was by far the largest organisation in the country, comprising 1150 branches and 84,355 members.
As it entered the 1910s, the United Irish League, became largely diluted by members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the rise of a breakaway group the All For Ireland League (by William O’Brien), and the rise of Sinn Féin post 1916. From 1918, the UIL was restricted to Northern Ireland, and was defunct by the mid-1920s. The fact that it survived in Cork in the late 1910s is testament to the local executive who promoted it and kept it going. The Cork President of the UIL, William Murphy had been a personal friend of Charles Stewart Parnell and an active member for over four decades of the Parnellite and later the Redmondite organisations in Cork. His obituary in 1936 reveals that he even stood unsuccessfully for Parliament as a United Irish League candidate in 1909. He was also for many years one of the leading solicitors and coroners in the county and was law adviser to the Harbour Commissioners and Cattle Traders’ and Licensed Vintners Associations.
The 12 March 1917 City Hall event was written up in the Cork Examiner. The meeting was heated and highly political. The Chairman William Murphy noted of his disgust and anger to the conclusion of the Westminster debate; “the result of the debate proved conclusively to the world that Ireland had now, as before, the gravest doubt of honourable treatment being accorded to Ireland as distinct from any part of the world”. Mr Murphy outlined in the narrative of his speech that for the previous ten years, majorities had been returned to pledged to support Home Rule. Before the war, Home Rule went through all the stages of the House of Commons and was placed in the statute book. It was however according to him “not to be enforced until the minority of the people who opposed it agreed to it”. The chairman denoted his frustration at the political system; “the principle that minorities should acquiesce before any enactments were put into force was never before applied, and he believed it would never be applied again”.
The Chairman criticised the elite for not progressing the Home Rule Act; “The Irish struggle was an old one, and they could tell these gentlemen in England that the Irish Nationalists never despaired, even though at times they had reason of despondency. Irishmen had pluck and pride in their race, and believed in the future of it, and will never cease the struggle until the full accomplishment of National Self Government is realised”.
Arising out of William Murphy’s debate, the Lord Mayor proposed a motion for the room to adopt; “that having regard to the treacherous and dishonourable conduct of Mr Lloyd George’s Government in refusing to enforce the Home Rule Act for all Ireland either now or after the war unless Sir Edward Carson and his followers, which is tantamount to a complete repudiation of the treaty arrived at between England and Ireland, and embodied in the Home Rule Act, we endorse the action of the Irish Party in leaving the House of Commons, and deciding immediately to oppose the Government; and we hope they will take vigorous action both in the House of Commons and the country. We further desire to point out that the principle of freedom for small nationalities, which involves the right of the majority in any nation, cannot be applied with justice to Belgium, Poland and Serbia, unless it is also applied to Ireland”. The resolution was unanimously adopted by all those present.
Cork 1916, A Year Examined (2016) by Kieran McCarthy & Suzanne Kirwan is now available in Cork bookshops.
Cork City History Tour (2016) by Kieran McCarthy is also available in Cork bookshops.
886a. City Hall & environs showing a busy district of dock, engineering and City Markets, c.1900 (source: Cork City Through Time by Kieran McCarthy and Daniel Breen)
886b. T P O’Connor, MP, 1917 (source: public domain, Library of Congress, USA)