From The New Ireland Review, October 1905.
‘The question,’ says Sir Horace Plunkett, in his book, ‘which the Nationalists had to answer in 1886 and 1893, and which they have to answer to-day, is this:—In the Ireland of their conception, is the Unionist part of Ulster to be coerced or persuaded to come under the new regime?’ The question is not an unfair one, and perhaps Sir Horace is right in saying that it has not been very satisfactorily dealt with. In any scheme of Home Rule hitherto considered, the answer would have to be that the eastern part of Ulster was, as the lesser of two evils, to be compelled to submit to an arrangement that it disliked, the hope being none the less entertained that it might soon change its opinion and become as satisfied with Home Rule as the Protestant Church in Ireland has become with Disestablishment. It must be confessed, however, that neither the prospect of coercion nor the hopes of persuasion can be looked on with entire complacency. And the present article is directed to enquiring whether there might not be some third alternative, which would afford a simpler and more satisfactory solution of the difficulty.
The principle in accordance with which all former Home Rule Bills have been drafted is what may be called the Geographical conception of Ireland. According to this view, ‘Ireland’ is the island, and all persons who first see the light within its boundaries are Irishmen, the ‘Irish-born men’ of Davis. As a consequence of this doctrine, a great deal of trouble has been expended in endeavouring to persuade a large number of persons that they should be treated as belonging to a nation, with which it is their fixed purpose to have nothing to do. Hence, likewise, the setting forth of Wellington, Wolseley, and Kitchener, as a parallel in high life for Kelly, Bourke, and Shea, the true sons of that fortunate race which gives warriors to the British army and comic characters to the British stage; whilst all the time these noble heroes, drenched in the perfume of British patriotism, have striven to convince their fellow-countrymen that there no longer clings to them the scent of that Augean stable in which they had the misfortune to be born.
Now, while I strongly question this Geographical conception of Ireland or of the Irish nation, and do not consider either Wellington or Laurence Sterne an Irishman, I do not desire to substitute a purely genealogical or race conception in its place. There is no need that a true Irishman should be a Gael, or that his family should extend back to one of the three invasions. The racial test is one that no European nation would stand at the present day, and if it be true, as is now asserted, that the Gaels are sprung from the same ancestors as the Germans, and the English in large part of the same stock as the French, such genealogical classification might lead to very unsuspected results. Consequently, nationality is looked upon throughout the world, not as a matter of pedigree, but as a matter of fact. And there is no reason why a man should not be an Irishman to-day, whether his family be sprung from the Firvolce or the Danes, the Angevins or the Saxons. But while a man named Wesley, or Wellesley, might well be an Irishman, it is equally true that Arthur Wellesley was not; and though thousands of men of English and Scotch descent are to-day Irishmen, we are forced to recognise that there are many more thousands to whom Irish residence and Irish birth have failed to impart that character.
There are, in truth, two means by which a man may become a member of a nation—by birth and by absorption. This latter process, which is the natural equivalent for the artificial and political practice of naturalisation, I recognise quite as freely as the advocates of the geographical idea, but I refuse to admit that the mere fact of birth or residence necessarily implies absorption. I hold that on the facts, as we know them, there is a large and important body of immigrants into our country, who, having never been absorbed, have never become, and possibly never will become, portion of the Irish nation. This geographical notion, which is set over against this view, and according to which to be Irish-born is to be Irish, is, as is well known, a result of the now antiquated theories of feudal lawyers. England was, indeed, one of the last states to abandon the various absurd consequences which sprang from the artificial doctrine of making a man’s national character depend upon that of the over-lord under whom he was born. But a truer conception of the idea of a nation has now happily supplanted these ancient nations, injurious alike to patriotism and to religious freedom, which at one time prevailed among the states of Europe.
Who, then, are the non-absorbed, the Outlanders in Ireland? I fear there will be a ready answer on most people’s lips; they will not stop to draw nice distinctions; they will think of the Irish Times and answer right off, ‘the Protestants.’ But though this rough-and-ready distinction is sufficient, I am afraid, for many practical purposes, it is not a fair one. There are very many Protestants true Irishmen; would that there were more. Who would deny the title to Parnell, to Butt, or to the Young Irelanders? Nay, do not even Castletown, Dunraven, Shawe-Taylor, and the rest, who feel that Ireland is their country and strive to serve it with such strength of character as they possess, deserve the title likewise? To my mind a fair minority of South of Ireland Protestants seem to be Irishmen, and the rest are, I think, in the long run, convertible and absorbable. Living scattered among a large Irish population, they have long been in process of mental assimilation; but two considerations have hitherto operated on their wills to keep them apart—their interest in land and their interest in jobbery. The Land Act must, within a very few years, extinguish the former, and it will be the more patriotic of the ex-landlords who will then remain on in Ireland. As to the latter, the Protestant interest in jobbery has been greatly impaired by local government, and anything in the nature of Home Rule would, of course, make it an asset of no value whatsoever. There would then remain no barrier save that religious hatred which is the back-wash of devotion, and, after all, the unpaid and isolated hater is inevitably at a disadvantage.
If we desire to find the true Outlanders, the unabsorbed and unabsorbable, we must turn northward. When you have crossed the canal at Newry, you enter their territory. Here it is no case of isolated half-converts, kept apart through interest, or even through snobbery, from those with whom they have much in common. To pass Goraghwood is like crossing the highest ridge of the Alps. You leave behind you the kindly people of the South, and come upon the cold and harsh-tongued members of another nation, for there is scarce more in common between Austrian and Italian, than between the denizen of Ireland and of East Ulster. Indeed it is a fact we must recognise, and we shall be the stronger for doing so, that we are not the only nation who inhabit Ireland. Just as a portion of the French nation dwells in Lorraine, as a portion of the Danish nation dwells in Schleswig-Holstein, as a portion of the Italian nation dwells in the South Tyrol, so a portion of the British nation dwells upon our borders in Ulster. They are not mere isolated units, who must in time surrender to their surroundings; they are a strong compact mass, inhabiting a definite portion of territory, with only enough Irishmen among them to serve as horrible examples—wealthy, bigoted, and fixed to the soil. Pressure from without can only knit them closer together; they are capable of living in unity and common hatred for centuries.
No doubt the patriotic Irishman will think hopefully of absorption, just as the patriotic Briton hopes to absorb the Irish. As the Briton thinks of the Scotch, now happily within the fold, so the Irishman will remember those Danes and Angevins, foreigners upon a time, but now become portion of our national stock. He will hope that if Sigersons are Irish to-day, so may Saundersons be to-morrow. He will reflect, too, that but a century ago, when Catholics had no share in the government of Ireland, when the Gael did not obtrude himself, the Presbyterian and the Orangeman was far more ready to think and talk of an Irish nation than he is to-day. But again, we must face facts. Such an absorption may take place; but there are great difficulties in its way, and the mere possibility of its not taking place is an immense difficulty in our way. The importance of nationality, and the general recognition of its cohesive force, have greatly increased within recent years, as we have seen among ourselves. Were a new colony of Normans or Angevins to be placed in Leinster, even though there were no religious differences, they would be harder to absorb than their predecessors; how much more so the Britons of Ulster. The process of absorption may indeed proceed on either side, but it will be dismally slow, and its consummation far off. If Germany and Austria maintain their present territories, and grant no fresh concessions, it may well happen that in some centuries there will be no French, no Danes, and no Italians within their empires; so, too, there may be but one race in Ireland; but they will have been sad centuries.
At this point another argument of a more passing character, may come to be used. Reference may be made to the recent remarkable declarations; remarkable alike in their seeming adhesion to Irish nationality and to liberal views of the Sloanite Orangemen. I venture to think, however, that too much emphasis has been laid on these resolutions; that they portend, at most, common action on a few points of common interest, and even as regards that section of the Orangemen who approve of them, are no more an indication of a permanent change of attitude than the combination between Catholics and Orangemen in the elections of 1885. If they mean anything more, they cannot really represent the opinion of East Ulster. For it is an insult to the intelligence of the Protestants and Presbyterians of the North, to assume that they would suddenly abandon in a day, and almost without any cause, principles for which they have striven, per fas et nefas, for twenty years.
Assuming then that East Ulster has the full power of maintaining its national aloofness for a period of indefinite length, and that there is still a reasonable likelihood of its choosing to exercise that power, how are we to meet the difficulty? How should we treat these Outlanders in any scheme of self-government we fashion, or would see fashioned for ourselves? In a word if we would advance to freedom like Hungary, how shall we deal with our Croatia? Here we must draw very clearly the distinction between East Ulster and the rest; between, if I might so express it, Ulster and Uladh. It is generally agreed that, speaking roughly, a line could be drawn round all the Protestant settlers, the whole non-Irish element, in the North of Ireland, and that if this line were drawn, the number of Catholics inside it, for the most part Catholic residents of Belfast, would not be very large. All within this line is Ulster, a territory inhabited by foreign settlers, and wholly lost to Ireland; without it, and, for the most part, south of a line drawn from Newry to Derry, is Uladh, the ancient national province of Ireland. Whatever happen, Uladh must, of course, remain part of Éire, but is it equally necessary that Ulster, or East Ulster, the home of the alien, should be incorporated? Is there anything to be gained by creating for ourselves, as it were, a new Ireland; an Ireland that shall be a thorn in the side of Éire, as we have been a thorn in the side of Britain? Is there any reason why, when we are asking justice for ourselves, we should seek to compel a body of foreigners, inhabiting a corner of the island, to forego their national heritage, merely that we may improve the outline of our geographical frontier.
O si angulus ille
Proximus accedat, qui nunc denormal agellum.
Have we any greater warrant than the envious Roman?
There will, of course, be a ready answer. To him, who has the geographical conception of nationality, who thinks more of the land than of the people, such a proposition will seem preposterous. Like the French envoy with Bismarck, he will assert that nature has fixed our boundaries and we must not abandon one foot of our sacred soil. The island, Ireland, must, in his view, ever remain a whole. But to the one who thinks rather of the nation than of the land—and this is the view that has been steadily gaining ground of late—it will seem a plain fact that part of our soil is already in alien hands; that nothing but an internecine war, or a still harder task of compulsion and conversion, can restore it to us. And hence it may seem well to recognise our loss, if by so doing we may save the rest and gaining our liberty. For Ireland is, as it were, a prisoner in the keeping of Ulster, and though it hurt our dignity and our pockets, might it not be well, in the long run, to obtain our freedom by buying off our gaoler?
As then, we are now at the parting of the ways, and any further instalment of government, great or small, must be on a national and not a county basis, I propose that in any such arrangement Ireland shall be understood not to include Protestant Ulster, but that the latter shall be separately dealt with. I would have that National line drawn in law which already exists in fact. As, moreover, the line rather bisects counties than runs along their boundaries, some county rearrangement would likewise be necessary, and the town of Newry and, perhaps, the city of Derry, might also have to be divided. The British within the line would be separated from those Irish, with whom they have no link save the common mis-government of Dublin Castle, and would have their affairs administered from London for the future. They would retain existing Irish law, as we did at the Union, but the powers at present vested in the Lord Lieutenant and Chief Secretary would be transferred to the Home Secretary or the appropriate English minister, with, probably, the addition of a special Under Secretary to the Home Department for Ulster. The powers of the various Irish Boards—Education, Agriculture, Local Government, Works—so far as they deal with Ulster, would be administered by the corresponding London departments. Special arrangements would be made for the sitting of permanent Courts of Assize, and, possibly, even a local Court of Appeal in Belfast, which would be a sub-division of the English Judiciary. These broader changes would be accompanied by the necessary modifications in detail. The subsequent history of Ulster, whether the Union with England should continue, whether it would obtain local Home Rule, or whether it would of its own choice again seek union with Ireland, would, of course, depend on the wishes of its inhabitants. The rest of Ireland—a nation no longer divided against itself—would pursue its prosperous course unchecked. Its peaceful inhabitants would now and again ready with pity and horror the accounts of riots and disorders among the uncivilised population of Western Britain.
Apart from geographical sentiment, two political arguments are likely to be urged against such a proposal, and it will be seen that they bear a striking resemblance to the current English arguments against Home Rule. It will be said on the one hand that Ireland is an economic whole, that its various parts are interdependent, and that we may not sacrifice the richest and the most industrial portion of our country. It will be urged, on the other hand, that we cannot in justice leave our Catholic fellow-countrymen within the line to the mercy of their ancient enemies. As to the first reason, it is, surely, a mistake to consider East Ulster an economic complement to the rest of Ireland. It is far more closely associated with Great Britain, and, from an economic point of view, Belfast and the surrounding towns should rather be considered as an integral portion of England and Scotland. Though the largest industries in the island are in Belfast, yet the interests of a country trying to develop industries are by no means identical with those of a town which merely desires a policy of laissez-faire for those industries of long standing it already possesses. Indeed, it may be truthfully stated that Belfast takes, and is likely to take, no share in the industrial revival of Ireland, and is, in fact, almost as much apart from the industry as from the agriculture of the rest of Ireland. Again, even as to the riches of the North, income-tax and other statistics show that its comparative superiority to Leinster and Munster in that respect has been greatly exaggerated.
There remains the question of East Ulster, and principally the Belfast Catholics. To them, no doubt, a very real hardship would accrue, especially as they have ever been strenuous in Nationalist politics. But in the circumstances the question may well be merely whether they are to suffer the hardship of un-Irish government alone or in common with the whole of their fellow-countrymen. They will, at any rate, be no worse off than the much larger body of Irishmen, some of them Gaelic-speaking Irishmen, who have migrated to Glasgow as they have to Belfast. Finally, it may be remarked that to many Belfast Catholics separation from Ireland will be the less heavy, as a process of absorption has been going on, and their nationality has been almost fined down to politics alone. Whence it has come to pass that no body of Catholic Irishmen have, as a whole—with some remarkable exceptions—shown themselves less receptive of Gaelic League ideas than those who inhabit Belfast. Whether any reciprocal arrangements for the Catholics of Belfast and the Protestants of Dublin, any setting-off of the Falls Road against Rathmines, could be entered into is a question of too great detail to be considered here, but seems capable of affording matter for the humourist.
It may be interesting to recall that a proposal of separate treatment for Ulster was one of the conditions on which Mr. Joseph Chamberlain offered, whether honestly or dishonestly, to agree to autonomy for Ireland in 1886. Matthew Arnold also favoured such a solution. The coming abolition of the landlord interest, needless to say, immensely simplifies the difficulties which had then to be met with. But when separate treatment is proposed for Ulster it should, of course, be East Ulster and not Uladh. I mention these facts to show that if my proposals are not entirely novel, neither can they be deemed entirely fantastic. The principle that underlies them is merely that of doing unto others as we would have done unto ourselves, of recognizing the national principles and prejudices of our East Ulster enemies as we would have our own nationality recognized by England. No doubt, the difficulties in detail are considerable, and any such solution will have against it the dislike of practical men for complicated schemes and the hatred with which we all view any proposed modification in an ingrained idea. Unionists may think there is too much union, and Nationalists too much nation in the proposal, and yet, again, they may both think there is too little. But it is never worth while crushing men’s spirits for the sake of administrative simplicity. That is the policy of Russia. If we can prove that Irish freedom causes bondage to no man we shall have done much to help forward our cause. The arguments against Home Rule have hitherto been three—the landlord argument, the Ulster argument, and the Empire argument. The first is fast disappearing. If we can remove the second we shall easily be able to show that the third really makes in our favour.
Looking at the matter from our own side, we shall have stooped to conquer; we shall have given up an imaginary part to save the real whole; we shall have abandoned the ideal of Davis and put aside the hopes of many generations of Nationalists for a united population within the island of Ireland; we shall have acknowledged that a part of Irish soil is not our own. To a sentimentalist this is a great deal. But, on the other hand, we shall have made the boundary of our country coincide with that of our people; we shall have preserved and strengthened our national forces by concentrating them; we shall have shown the true unity of Irishmen by separating from those who have no right to that title; we shall have lost some linen mills and ship-building yards, some rope-walks and tobacco factories; we shall have abandoned a good many square miles of indifferent land; but we shall, as against that, have strengthened both our forces and our cause, and shall, at the price of their full freedom, have purged from out our nation a disaffected body of turbulent and bigoted aliens.