SINCE Ireland has become a Free State it has abandoned none of the paradoxical privileges which has made of it the land where the inevitable never happens and the improbable always occurs. Indeed, only an Irishman familiar with the intimate and subtle details of Irish social and political life can fully realize to what degree the new Ireland born of the Treaty has exercised her right to do the unexpected. The mere outsider of hostile or sceptical intent may malevolently or innocently imagine that the theory has now been amply proved, that the Irish are incapable of self-government, and they cannot agree amongst themselves. Those who are not deceived by the appearance of things, however pessimistic they may feel as to the outcome of the present situation in Ireland, are at least deprived of the illusion that the prevailing Irish anarchy is a proof of any preconceived doctrine of original sin in the Irish people. Free State Ireland is at once so strange and so familiar a spectacle to the eye of the initiated onlooker that it presents none of the phenomena which naturally arouse the interest and the apprehension of foreigners.

The fundamental reason for this difference of impression lies, of course, in the fact that nobody but an Irishman could be expected to understand how slightly the Irish problem has been changed by the particular solution at which the Peace Treaty arrived. The outside world, which has heard so much and so long about the "Irish Question," but has never grasped more than the rudiments of the issue between England and Ireland, very naturally supposed that, with the ratification of the terms of settlement, the problem had ceased to exist. By the terms of the Treaty Ireland had been granted a degree of autonomy so wide that the substance of real independence was hers, and only the shadow of a separate republic was denied. The settlement was accepted after negotiation by both parties, and nothing seemed left but to await the dawn of a new day. The British authorities evacuated their strongholds, withdrew their troops, and handed over the country to the Irish people who had demanded nothing better for seven hundred years. It was an historic moment, and everybody with a sigh of relief sat back to await results. At last the "Irish Question" had been solved, and M. Lloyd George became once more the target of that peculiar admiration which invariably seems to attach to his statesmanship, that combination of bewildered incredulty and uneasy respect.

One of the great charms of the Irish situation has always been its capacity for supplying facts apparently calculated to fit into any theory concerning it. It was axiomatic in certain circles that, once an Irish government came to power, the lives and liberties of the minority would be jeopardized. And so, in due course, it happened, but not in southern Ireland (where the rebels came from), but in northeast Ulster where loyal Protestantism is the supreme virtue. Under the auspices of the northern government a wholesale movement against the Catholic minority took place, homes were burned, families murdered, and refugees driven across the frontiers to find shelter in the south. In southern Ireland, on the other hand, it was not the rights of the minority that were threatened, but those of the majority. And in a short space of time the whole area of the 26 southern counties of Ireland was plunged into a civil war, not between Protestant loyalists and Catholic Nationalists, as had been so confidently predicted, but between the great majority of the population and small bands of armed "idealists." These gladiators, moreover, who looted and burned and robbed in accordance with all the worst precedents of the darkest period of the Black and Tan period, carried on their campaign on behalf of a myth, for they could not even claim to be fighting for an Irish Republic. Their leader, Mr. de Valera, in fact, had specifically abandoned that claim in a metaphysical document--known as Document Number Two--which purported to be a formula for accepting the Free State without admitting the interesting fact in so many words.

Meanwhile Sinn Fein Ireland was trying under exceptional difficulties to prove her good-will by taking over the administration of the country with as little friction as possible. Government departments associated from time immemorial with an alien bureaucracy continued to function at the hands of an imperturbable staff of permanent officials who, with surprising docility, acquired for official use a copy of the standard Irish-English dictionary, altered their letter heads to a strange modernization of the ancient tongue of the Gael, and substituted Irish phrases for the time-honored formulae of British official correspondence. Two learned bodies were called into existence to translate the decrees of the new government into Irish, khaki was displaced by olive green worn by the national troops on sentry duty and in other services of the Free State, the red mail boxes, once the symbol and sign of the Sassenach, turned a soft refreshing green, and bore the superscription "An Post." Those who remembered the time, but a few months ago, when such heresies were the price of martyrdom duly marvelled at the signs and wonders which were vouchsafed to the citizens of the Irish Free State. Here, at least, was a bloodless revolution, and life promised to move on with its old simplicity. Even the vocabulary of the newspapers, by a happy dispensation of providence, required no serious revision. The conservatives, who in the old days called upon London for "strong government" continued to demand that panacea, but their appeals were now addressed to the Irish Provisional Government, while the nationalist papers turned upon the insurgent minority the weapons which had served for generations to harry the servants of an alien dominion. Atavistic loyalists who had broken with all family traditions to throw themselves into the national movement could now revert, with an easy conscience, to the attitude of their forbears, for in denouncing the "irregulars" with the bitterness reserved by their fathers for all Irish patriots, they were but proving their zeal for the newly-found liberties of the Irish Free State. In brief, the Irish have changed not their political souls, but merely the political sky, by crossing the sea of troubles through which they have passed on their way to the Promised Land. It is still the prerogative of the synthetic Gael to be more Irish than the Irish themselves.

It is probably too much to expect the world in general to be thrilled by the thought that it is now necessary to address one's letters from Dublin Castle in Irish, and that official sanction at last exists for all the thousand and one details of social habit and usage which a short time ago were the proscribed practices of murderous rebels. Even the casual visitor has had to learn that the real name of Queenstown is Cobh (pronounced Cove) and that Dun Laoghaire, not Kingstown, is the port at which the steamers from England arrive. Yet, it is largely in the exercise of such privileges that the Provisional Government has demonstrated its real existence so far as the popular imagination is concerned. Nobody accustomed to the old regime can fail to be impressed by the seriousness and the humors, conscious and unconscious, of the new dispensation. On every hand there is patent and palpable evidence of a new order, and nothing could better demonstrate the support which the Free State has than the acquiescence in this radical change by all concerned. The great virtue of the English Civil Service system, its freedom from politics, has stood Ireland in good stead, for the permanent officials of the British administration are serving their new masters with sublime indifference to mundane considerations. The only friction of which one hears is that occurring in the northern area, where no tradition of administration exists, and there is a certain hostility and jealousy towards the civil servants allotted to the northern government when the Civil Service was divided up proportionately between the Belfast and Dublin governments. Surprising evidence of the almost mechanical and superhuman impartiality of the bureaucracy comes to light. For instance, the manager of a Labor Exchange which happened to be close to one of the fortresses held by the insurgents in Dublin paid over their unemployment doles to several warriors who emerged in the thick of the fighting to collect their weekly payment for the period terminating before the outbreak of hostilities!

There is little danger of a breakdown of the Free State Government on the administrative side, so long as the permanent officials show the same willingness to cooperate as heretofore. In a military sense the Provisional Government is also strong, for it has more recruits than are needed for an army which enjoys a popularity and a confidence that no troops have had in Ireland since the days of Grattan's Parliament. The National Army is a very fine body of men, who are thoroughly equipped for the kind of fighting they have to face. Like their opponents, they have learned the art of guerilla warfare in the same school and against a common foe, whom they defied for the two years and more of Sinn Fein's outlawry with extraordinary skill and endurance. Where the irregulars are at a disadvantage now is that they are no longer fighting with the countryside behind them. In most places popular feeling is against them, and they cannot count upon the support of the civilian population, as they could in their struggle against the English. Hence the looting and destruction which everywhere mark the passage of the insurgents. Everything they need must be procured by force and threats, and they have been driven to conscript men to work for them, digging trenches, erecting barricades and the like. As time goes on their position becomes worse, for wherever they have exerted the power which armed force confers upon them they leave behind them more active enemies. The National troops, on the other hand, gain by this process, as they increasingly appear in the light of saviour and the only defence of unarmed law-abiding citizens against bandits.

If it be asked why, then, with all the circumstances in their favor, the Irish Government seems to make so little headway towards making an end of the present disorder, the answer is simple. Ireland has not been engaged for hundreds of years in a struggle against England without learning many things which would never occur to the mind of a well-regulated and orthodox statesman. One of the most elementary lessons so learnt has been the fatal and certain danger of doing the obvious. If the British Government had more frequently failed to do the obvious, the Irish question might long since have ceased to trouble more than a handful of doctrinaire nationalists. Now, the obvious thing for the Irish Provisional Government to do is to capture and shoot the leaders of these insurgent bands. By all accounts, a good beginning might easily have been made during the fighting in Dublin last June and July, but the authorities were too wary to be caught with the chaff of patriotic martyrdom. Nothing would be easier than to turn the leaders of the irregulars into national heroes by shooting them. It is much more subtle to give one's opponents the rope with which they will hang themselves, and the "Documentarians"--as they are called in an allusion to Mr. de Valera's famous Document No. II--are slowly but surely accomplishing their own doom. The ridicule of that document itself was bad enough, but by degrees the whole ideal of Irish republicanism is being divested of all its glamor, and is becoming associated with violence, crime and senseless destruction. What might have been cherished as a lofty dream is being trailed in the dust of ruined homes and burning cities.

There is, moreover, another reason, which perhaps only those well versed in the psychology and history of the Irish people can appreciate, why the Provisional Government cannot declare war upon republicanism, even granting that this is really the ideal for which the insurgents stand. The Irish nation has by a large majority accepted the Free State, but that acceptance by no means implies the discredit of republicanism. Ireland still maintains her claim to complete independence, and there is no disposition to admit that willingness to accept a substitute in the form of Dominion Home Rule in any way invalidates that claim. Indeed, were the Free State to renounce that claim specifically, it would at once lose a great mass of popular support and must certainly antagonize many of its most valued statesmen and leaders at the present time. To put the matter in the form of an Irish bull: the Free Staters, being republicans, are not prepared to destroy republicanism; but they are prepared loyally to work under the terms of the Free State settlement and to enforce the expressed wishes of the great majority of the people, by suppressing anarchy and safeguarding peaceable citizens in the rights which the Treaty confers upon them.

In this task their work is greatly facilitated by the insurgents themselves, who, as readers of the press have observed, are always referred to as "irregulars." This term, which outside commentators have found exceedingly inadequate and mealy-mouthed as a description of the revolting elements, is the only term which the Free State censor will allow the press to use. The word "rebel" is one with glorious associations in Ireland, and the Irish Government will not allow it to be misapplied, for its connotations are very specific in Irish history. Although a term of opprobrium to British ears, "rebel" in Ireland is synonymous with national heroism, and has been the proud distinction of a long line of distinguished patriots. Such an oriflamme must not be dishonored by association with the exploits of a handful of desperate men representing nothing but their own inability to face facts. Similarly the revolters against the Free State cannot be properly called republicans, for their leader, Mr. de Valera, has committed himself to a compromise on republicanism which differs from that of the Free State only in so far as it embodies no discernible practical principle. People naturally prefer a compromise which means something definite and tangible to one which satisfies nothing but Mr. de Valera's taste for political metaphysics. There might have been a minority party, commanding a certain respect, whose aim was to preserve intact the traditional ideal of complete Irish independence. Instead, the very name of idealism is beginning to stink in the nostrils of all sensible and law-abiding people in Ireland, for it is being associated with a campaign of futile and shameful destruction.

The policy of the Free State Government is, therefore, one of a certain Machiavellianism which is possibly liable to misinterpretation at the hands of casual or ill-disposed observers. Its methods must often seem incomprehensible and somewhat unorthodox to those accustomed to the decorum of older administrations. For example, as might be expected in a country where dialectical skill has always been highly appreciated, there is a diverting wealth of controversy and argument carried on beneath the public gaze between the authorities and their opponents. The printers of pamphlets and handbills and posters in Dublin are apparently doing a roaring trade, for it is the amiable practice of the contestants to placard the walls and lamp posts with striking statements of their case. When the irregular garrisons in Dublin surrendered and were safely housed in prisons, the government printed a menu of the day's fare of these prisoners, described the comfort of their cells and the privileges they enjoyed as political offenders. These advantages were pointedly contrasted with the misery and starvation of the thousands of innocent people thrown out of employment and driven from their homes by the fires and destruction of property caused by the insurgents. The gentle art of war propaganda has not been wasted upon the alert minds in charge of the government's publicity department, and the daily interchanges of argument and invective adorning the blank spaces of the city are read by appreciative crowds. It may be all very unconventional, but it is most effective, for the irregulars are entirely without arguments that will bear examination, and they lack the wit and skill necessary even to make the best of a bad case. Their chief weapon is falsehood, and every lie is duly exposed by the indefatigable agents of the Provisional Government.

Thus it comes about that, in the midst of all the disorders which loom so large in the daily press, Ireland maintains a surprising degree of normal activity. One hears people who meet in the street in the morning enquiring: "Was there much shooting up your way last night?" as one might ask what the weather was, or if business were good. Everywhere there is an immense desire for peace and the fullest confidence in the capabilities of the new regime. Michael Collins, in particular, was the man of destiny, for in his unbounded courage and energy and his transparent honesty the most diverse people had come to rely. Great as was the loss of Arthur Griffith, the power behind the throne of Sinn Fein, his personality was not like that of Collins who was the dynamic element, the great driving power in the Free State Cabinet. At the same time it must be remembered that the Sinn Fein movement has found its strength not merely in the resolute leadership of certain outstanding individuals, but also in the intelligence and self-sacrifice of the great anonymous mass of its adherents, who in times of crisis have come forward and revealed their capacity. There are two stages in the popularity of the Sinn Fein leaders, the first, in which they are known only to their immediate associates, and the second, when they step into the arena of national affairs and become public men. With the exception of Arthur Griffith almost every one of the names which have been prominent in Irish politics since the Easter Rising of 1916 are those of men scarcely known outside the particular political circle in which they quietly worked for the cause of Irish freedom. It is, therefore, a mistake to assume that those who happen to have come to the attention of the outside world through the peace negotiations represent the complete resources of Sinn Fein statesmanship.

While it is impossible to deny that the death of Michael Collins in an ambush, on the night of August 22, inflicted upon Ireland a loss more serious than that caused by the regrettable death of Arthur Griffith, the significance of the tragedy must not be exaggerated. It is an achievement typical of the frenzied policy of the irregulars in that it is bound to have the opposite effect to that desired by the insurgents. It will harden the hearts of the Irish people still further against the "idealists," who now have to their credit not only the long toll of destruction and suffering characteristic of their futile operations, but also the death of a leader whose idolization by the crowd was equalled only by the confidence and respect and affection he had inspired in all classes of the community. The parallel between this loss to Ireland and that of the United States when Lincoln was assassinated has already suggested itself. The comparison is more apt than in the case of most parallels of this kind, for it not only emphasizes the peculiar hold which Michael Collins had upon the hearts and imagination of his countrymen, but also reminds us of the hope that emerges from such tragic events. The murder of Lincoln deprived America of her man of destiny, yet the United States fulfilled their destiny without him, and the ideals of the dead leader and of the Civil War did not perish. Names new to the general public will come to the fore in the councils of the Irish Free State; men like Richard Mulcahy, the present Chief-of-staff, whose military record has placed him high in the esteem of the army, will doubtless be compelled by circumstances to step forward and exercise the popular leadership from which only his modesty has heretofore excluded him. George Gavan Duffy, lately Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the son of Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (whose evolution was from Irish "rebel" to Prime Minister of Victoria, Australia), is another typical example of the sort of men upon whom the Free State can call. Nothing could be more mistaken than the notion that Ireland is helpless without the few leaders whom chance has made familiar to the world's press. There are others who will emerge as fate demands.

The weakness of the National Government lies in a direction which is not apparent to superficial examination, but must be sought in the fundamental unsoundness of the whole situation as defined by the Peace Treaty. There is no danger, in spite of what has been alleged by those in whom the wish is father to the thought, that the Irish Government will collapse through any inherent weakness in its composition. It has been relying and still draws upon the advice of the best minds in the country and upon the cooperation of a well-trained staff of permanent officials. Financially, the Irish Free State is more than solvent, it can promise release from burdens of taxation which will probably be the deciding factor in bringing northeast Ulster into a united Ireland. But it is weak in so far as it lacks authority to speak for more than a part of a country which is a geographical and economic unit. Not only can the Free State Government say nothing on behalf of the oppressed minority in the northeast, but Belfast has not yet even been induced to draw any distinction between the national army and the irregulars. Although Collins offered more than one olive branch to the Northern Government, and actually precipitated events in Dublin last June by intervening to call off the unauthorized boycott of Belfast goods by the irregulars, Belfast has never officially come forward with even a verbal assurance of its support and cooperation to those in the south who are striving under such difficulties to maintain order. The Belfast newspapers, which escape the blue pencil of the Free State censor, seem to delight in chronicling the deeds of every gang of desperadoes about the country in terms which imply that the irregulars are everywhere triumphant and irresistible. Ireland, in other words, is still saddled with the "Ulster" problem, so long the crux of the whole question.

Under the terms of the Treaty a revision of the boundaries of the northern area was to be the work of a special commission, but the Belfast Government has lost no opportunity of flaunting this provision and of defying it in advance. This situation provides the irregulars with their one strong card, for they point not only to the shameful record of religious oppression in northeast Ulster during the past twelve months but to the avowed intention of the Orange element to resist any attempt at even an equitable partition of the country along lines having some relation to the political facts. It is no thanks to Belfast, but fortunate for the Free State, that the refugees from Ulster have been quick to repudiate the suspicious enthusiasm of the irregulars for their wrongs, and to blame the latter for a great deal of the panic-stricken intransigeance which possesses the Orange mobs. The irregulars are suspected, and have, indeed, been definitely accused, of deliberately stirring up the fires of hatred and intolerance for two reasons. First, in order, if possible, to reduce northern Ireland to a state of anarchy in which the Belfast Government could not function. And secondly, in order to create such disorders as would cause British intervention, leading to the discredit of the Southern Government, and possibly to a decision on the part of England to reoccupy the whole country.

The Free Staters believe, and public opinion is with the authorities in this, that the complete crushing of the irregulars is merely a matter of time. For the reasons already indicated, they prefer to allow their enemies enough rope with which to hang themselves rather than to intervene so drastically as to call up a wave of reaction in their favor. There is just one vital danger here, and that is, the irreparable injury and appalling financial loss which this revolt is inflicting upon the country. The question arises whether the irregulars will have reached the end of their tether before the economic life of the country is ruined, or whether they will hold out just long enough to bring the whole industrial order down in the crash which will surely engulf themselves. Apart altogether from sentimental damage incurred by the loss of historical buildings and documents, there has already mounted up a tremendous bill of claims for compensation in every place where the irregulars have entrenched themselves and been driven out, for whatever these people may fail to accomplish, they always succeed in destroying a vast amount of valuable property belonging to their countrymen. The idiotic vandalism of this destruction is worthy of the militarist mind at its worst. Its vital significance will not be fully realized until the statistics of this year set forth in cold figures the full story of arrested economic life, which those already issued indicate with deadly clearness.

The working classes cannot but realize what this campaign of "idealism" is costing the country industrially, and this fact must be remembered when any attempt is made to estimate the part of Labor in Irish politics. There have been sporadic and isolated outbreaks of what is usually termed "Bolshevism," the seizure of factories by the workers and the hoisting of the red flag, but, as happened in Italy where the same experiments were tried on a larger scale, these revolts have never lasted long. The notion that Irish labor is fired with the gospel of Moscow need not be seriously entertained, and the relative impotence of the Labor Party politically was demonstrated last July, when a meeting was summoned in Dublin with a great flourish of trumpets for the purpose of effecting a peace between the Provisional Government and the irregulars under threat of an organized counter-revolt on the part of Labor. The meeting achieved nothing, and the affair fizzled out in a stream of mere words and pious hopes, from which it was evident that the Labor leaders had nothing constructive to propose. As a matter of fact, a patched up peace could be at best a temporary expedient, for the issue has been squarely raised and is absolutely fundamental. The country undoubtedly desires a fight to a finish on this issue of the right of an armed minority to challenge all authority and to impose its theories by sheer terrorism. Powerful as Irish Labor is becoming in trade union organization, its political programme is negligible for it lacks political leadership. In the circumstances it is doubtful if there is any danger of a junction of forces between the irregulars and the more definitely class-conscious proletariat, for the latter are suffering too much from the economic and industrial paralysis which is the one definite achievement of the insurgents. Had the republican ideal been preserved intact, Labor might have rallied to that standard, for want of any other, but the credit of the "idealists" is no higher with the working classes than with the farmers and the bourgeoisie.

The new Ireland is no doubt in the process of sowing its wild bullets, and it would be a mistake to overstress the seriousness of a period of semi-civil war which is as nothing when compared with the ordeals from which other nations have had to emerge to strength and prosperity. The pessimists, at least, are refuted, for the worst that has happened has failed to develop according to the prophecies of those who have thwarted and denied the hope of the Irish people in their own destiny as a self-governing community. Already the sense of responsibility has called forth latent virtues, and perhaps not the least of the merits of the Free State is the way in which it is crystallizing one fundamental doctrine of Sinn Fein, to wit, self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Ireland is becoming increasingly conscious of the unimportance of expatriate Irish patriotism, and more normally insensitive to the opinion of the outside world. The Irish Government realizes more and more clearly that the task of Irish statesmanship is not to conciliate outside opinion, not to keep one ear ever alert for developments overseas, but to work out the salvation of Ireland in Ireland, with the help and cooperation of all classes of Irishmen who place the welfare of their country first. After enjoying the doubtful dignity of becoming a world question the Irish problem is once more domestic. But this time it is not a domestic question of British politics to be trifled with by a distracted and overburdened imperial legislature. It is a question which "we ourselves" must solve, and there can be no reasonable doubt of Ireland's capacity to do so.

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  • ERNEST BOYD, writer on Irish literary and political subjects, for a number of years in the British consular service and afterwards on the staff of the "Freeman's Journal" and editorial writer on the "New York Evening Post"; he has just returned from a visit to Ireland
  • More By Ernest Boyd