Friday 12 March 2010

All for Ireland

Unnoticed, the centenary of the January 1910 Westminster Election passed last month. In those days elections were stretched over a long period, so the January 1910 election was actually held between 15 January and 10 February.

Equally unnoticed, and nowadays largely unremembered, the centenary of the 1910 election was also the centenary of the eruption onto the political scene of the All-for-Ireland League (AFIL).

The AFIL gained 8 seats in 1910 – a reasonable start for a newcomer. It turned out, of course, to have been a flash-in-the-pan, as the tumultuous events of 1914 to 1918 in Ireland swept it out of existence.

Unlike the other nationalist organisations of its day, though, the AFIL set out to create a consensus of 'political brotherhood and reconciliation among all Irishmen', primarily to win Unionist consent to an All-Ireland parliamentary settlement. In this it appeared to have had some success, at least in its home base, Munster:

Many of the leading Protestant gentry of Munster, and representatives of the wealthy Protestant business and professional community joined the League. Lord Dunraven, Lord Barrymore, Lord Mayo and Lord Castletown, Sir John Keane of Cappoquin, Villiers Stuart of Dromana , Moreton Frewen, were a few of the most
notable adherents. Even amongst the Orangemen the spirit of patriotism was stirring – hands were stretched out from Ulster to the Catholics of the South. Lord Rossmore, once Grandmaster of the Orange Institution, joined the League, Sharman Crawford and others. Unionism was declared by them to be a "discredited creed". Nationalist and Unionists were called upon to recognise the unwisdom of perpetuating a suicidal strife which sacrificed them to religious bigotry and the political exigencies of English parties.

(Source: MacDonagh, Michael: William O'Brien, the Irish Nationalist All for Ireland, and Ireland for All p.186, Ernst Benn London (1928))

What might have happened if the First World War and the Rising had not happened, we cannot say. But it is interesting to note that even in 1910 there were different parties working for different versions of Irish autonomy Рnot just the better-known Irish Parliamentary Party of John Redmond, or the then-irrelevant Sinn Féin of Arthur Griffith Рand that at least one of them was able to persuade notable members of the orange section of the people to their cause.

History will not repeat itself, but it is interesting to see that the commonly-held view of unionism as monolithic is not always correct.

7 comments:

Paddy Canuck said...

I nodded when you remarked who know what might have happened without WWI and the Rising. I always thought it was the last chance for Ireland to have followed the trajectory of the other dominions to autonomy and eventual independence. I understand why the Republic ultimately had to come, and why it's not a bad thing... but part of my can't help wish a more moderate (and united) history had been Ireland's these past 95 years or so. Ireland as a separate but closely-allied Commonwealth neighbour to Britain, or even a semi-autonomous constituent country like Scotland... who knows? But that's not how things worked out.

Do wish Ireland would rejoin us in the Commonwealth, though. Aside from taking its rightful place in the club, it would be a wonderful, no-skin-off-my-nose gesture to the unionists in the north and might help in convincing them they DO have a future in a united Ireland.

Anonymous said...

Unionists have never claimed to be monolithic except in support of Ulster's position within The UK. Beyond that they are as diverse in opinion as those in Yorkshire.

Anonymous said...

Horseman :

Excellent piece - never knew about the All for Ireland League (to my shame...) before.
Very, very interesting. Thanks for that.

Paddy Canuck :
"Do wish Ireland would rejoin us in the Commonwealth, though. Aside from taking its rightful place in the club, it would be a wonderful, no-skin-off-my-nose gesture to the unionists in the north and might help in convincing them they DO have a future in a united Ireland."

Not sure I'd agree. I see no chance of Ireland joining the Commonwealth. Even if Ireland did, the unionists would not even notice - nor care.

- Munsterman

Anonymous said...

Look forward not back, the Commonwealth has no relevance in modern Ireland. We will never rejoin, ever.

MPG .....

Anonymous said...

In the same way that British Ulster will never join The ROI.

Look forward, not back...

Anonymous said...

Democracy will win out, my northern Protestant countrymen will not have a choice. Come the day!

MPG .....

Paddy Canuck said...

Munsterman:

"I see no chance of Ireland joining the Commonwealth."

We all used to think that about South Africa, too. Never say never.