SOLDIERS OF IRELAND
“A National Militia is the constitutional right of Ireland, the proper
trustee of peace, and the warden of legal liberty.”—Thomas Davis
THE immediate occasion for the establishment of the Irish Volunteers, the army of the revolution, was an article written by Professor Eoin MacNeill in the journal of the Gaelic League, An Claidheamh Soluis.1 Thereafter began a struggle for control that reflected the class struggle within the national movement. It is necessary to examine with some care the circumstances surrounding its appearance.
The notorious “Ulster Covenant” by which the Unionists declared their policy of resisting Home Rule with force had been offered for public signature from September 1912 onwards. The counterrevolutionary private army, the “Ulster Volunteers”, had emerged before the end of that year, and had been arming and drilling ever since. The Home Rule Bill received its second reading in January 1913. It was immediately rejected by the Lords. To over-rule their Lordships’ veto it must be introduced twice more in separate sessions of Parliament. It was next read a second time on 9th June 1913, the intervening period being used by the Unionists to increase hysteria and strengthen their military force. The Lords’ second rejection coincided with the height of Orange marches. It fell on 15th July. Next time the Bill was introduced in the Commons, the Upper House would be powerless to block it. Hence, the crescendo of illegal activity in the summer and autumn of 1913. This was encouraged by the participation, not to say active fomentation, of some of the highest personages in English public life. There was a corresponding permissiveness on the part of the government, to whom Home Rule was no more than a regrettable necessity.
It was natural enough in these conditions that the military activities of the Fianna should attract the younger members of the I.R.B. If armed struggle was coming, whether of a patriot opposition, a force to defend Home Rule, or of a nation determined to wrest independ-
1 The Sword of Light.