Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bantry Riots, August 14th 1910

During the spring and summer of 1910 the UIL and the AFIL clashed frequently in Cork city and county, as the latter tried to reorganised under the direction of Joseph Devlin, and with not a little help from his organisation, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (Board of Erin) (AOH-BOE). Meetings at Midleton, Clonakilty, Bandon and Youghal were beset by fighting. At the end of July William O'Brien and James Gilhooly addressed a major AFIL rally in Gilhooly's home town of Bantry, which was derided by their Nationalist opponents as little more than a gathering of Orange supporters in the west Cork town. This opinion was supported by the subsequent prosecution of a number of publicans in the town by the local RIC inspector for hanging out orange flags outside their premises as a greeting to O'Brien and his AFIL supporters. The court cases which followed saw insults and slanders traded between Daniel O'Leary BL (supporting the prosecution) and Skibbereen solicitor Jasper T Wolfe (defending the publicans). That Wolfe also acted as Gilhooly's election agent and was also employed as the returning officer for the parliamentary constituency of West Cork (which Gilhooly represented as an MP) was seized upon by O'Leary as evidence of further collusion between the British state and the AFIL against the more nationally-minded UIL. Wolfe retorted in court that O'Leary had committed the mortal sin of informing on his fellow nationalists to the organs of the state, a charged which the Bantry solicitor angrily and vehemently denied, going so far as to publish an open letter in the Southern Star. This conflict, although minor, was an example of the latent tensions in the region, and a harbinger of the conflicts to follow.

A few weeks later, the UIL held a major rally in the town on Sunday August 14th. From early morning, large crowds had begun to gather in the town, of both Nationalist persuasion, and tensions and ill-feelings were running high. From the moment the Cork train drew into the station and the UIL party on board began to disembark, insults and blows were exchanged on the periphery. Once the procession from the station to the square began, the UIL congregation were pelted with mud and stones. A ceremonial arch , erected at the junction of New Street and Main St leading onto the square, was felled from a second-floor window by a man wielding what the police later described as a machete. A force of eighty RIC officers and men, under the command of County Inspector Fawcett, attempted to keep both groups apart, but were pelted with stones and rotten eggs for much of the duration of the meeting. The Party contingent was also continuously showered with stones and rotten eggs, even while speaking during the rally. Once the speeches had concluded, a large group attempted to storm the stage. The police were struck repeatedly by members of the group “with ‘batons’ longer [and] heavier than their own.” Other smaller squads of constables were attacked in Main St, Mill St, and High St. After holding their ground, all squads of police attempted to baton-charge the aggressors from the main square. This took repeated attempts, during which DI Wallace was struck on the head with a stone, and sustained a deep wound to the head; he was carried to nearby Vickery’s Hotel to receive treatment. One member of the police struck a man in the vicinity of the Hotel with such force that his baton “broke in half.” The violence did not stop after the Party contingent left the town. Approximately 30 police were retained in the town for the rest of the weekend, when “great excitement prevailed, but no serious collisions took place.” Unconfirmed reports suggested that a man from the Borlin Valley area had died from injuries sustained in the riots. A party of “Redmondites” from Glengarriff were set upon on their return home, and were badly beaten. Similar scenes were reported in Castletownbere, where street fighting occurred.

Fallout from the riot lingered for a number of months. Gilhooly blasted the “partisan” report of the scenes in the Irish Independent, claiming that “a prominent local ‘Mollie’ [had] attacked and seriously wounded with a baton a fellow-townsman supposed to be in sympathy with the All-for-Ireland League” the night before the UIL meeting. He gave other instances of batons being confiscated from friends “of the defeated candidate at the last election”, and charged Patrick O’Leary, brother of Daniel, with intimidation, alleging he “openly displayed a baton during the progress of the meeting.” Strong language used by Roche and Sheehy towards O'Brien “was directly calculated to make a riot inevitable.” He also questioned the report’s conclusion by stating that a “number of the imported rowdies broke loose from their protectors (the police) and smashed some windows in the houses in Wolfe Tone square and the Marine terrace, including [those] ... in the house of Constable Twomey.” In response the editor challenged Gilhooly on a number of points, openly supporting his reporter, “who was sent specially to Bantry to report the proceedings”. It was Daniel, not Patrick, he argued, who had displayed the baton “as an interesting specimen of one which had been just captured from one of the All-for-Irelanders [sic].”Arrests by the local RIC force were made during and in the immediate aftermath of the riots, and these men were brought before sittings of the local Petty Sessions court in the town at regular intervals in the weeks after. Gilhooly, as the local MP, also served as one of the Justices of the Peace assisting the Resident Magistrate, RM Purden. However, political allegiances took precedence, and he questioned a number of fines imposed by Purden – many of them on his own supporters, when it was obvious to him that the “other ... parties ... were to be let off scot free”. The local sergeant argued that the “disturbers were ... no credit to either party.”

Many people thought that, with cases being heard in the Petty Sessions court – albeit on an infrequent manner – that that would be the end of the matter. Others, however, had a different view. In the early hours of Monday September 12th, RIC constables arrested thirty-five people in and around the immediate area of Bantry town, and charged them with assaulting, wounding, beating and ill-treating DI Wallace, Head Constable Looney, Sergeants Dennehy and Driscoll, and Constables Nolan, Coffey, Reilly, Townley, Chapman, Barry, Bolger, Wixted and Hoare and with “unlawfully and riotously [gathering] together to the great terror and disturbance of the liege subjects of the King.” The arrests aroused considerable surprise in the area, “as the people ... thought there would be no prosecutions owing to the length of time that had elapsed”. The trials of those arrested descended in farce, being adjourned on a regular basis due to accusations of partiality from both the Party and AFIL representatives present. The Crown Solicitor for the prosecution, Dr Wynne, protested vigorously on a number of occasions, arguing that the magistrates were showing contempt for the rule of law in the region. Daniel O’Leary was fined 2s 6d for assaulting William McSweeney at one of the initial sittings. In his appeal to the King’s Bench Division in Dublin on Tuesday October 4th his barrister “said the main ground of objection was that the Bench of ten magistrates was presided over by Mr Gilhooly”, and that another magistrate, B O’Connor, was “biased against Mr O'Leary.” Another magistrate, JJ O’Mahony, was alleged to have held a position of office in the Kealkil AFIL branch. The fine was rescinded, but the allegations against Gilhooly led to a further investigation. In November, he was stripped of his position of Justice of the Peace; Fawcett noted in his report for that month that the decision would “make the duty of the police in enforcing the law less difficult as the rowdies and ill disposed relied on him to either get them out of any trouble or let them off with a trifling punishment.” The hearings led to eleven of those arrested being returned for trial at the Cork Winter Assizes.

Just as the murder of Judge William Byrd in the town in February 1900 had acted as a stunt on the growth of the UIL in the region, the Bantry riot checked the growth of the AFIL inside and outside of Cork. There is also further evidence of the supposed social composition of the AFIL in Bantry, and I shall return to this topic in my next post.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Political Violence in Cork, 1910: The Context

The re-emergence of politically-induced and politically-motivated violence in Cork city and county was partially due to the foundation of a new political movement out of the remnants of a defunct one. The All-for-Ireland League (AFIL) was, for all intents and purposes, founded at Kanturk in March 1909. Growing out of the heretofore moribund strucutres of the United Irish League (UIL) in the majority of the county, the AFIL quickly became established in the constituencies of Cork City, Cork North, Mid Cork, Cork West and Cork South East. Only strong opposition from the Bishops of Ross and Cloyne prevented it from gaining a firm foothold in the county as a whole.
The AFIL set itself up as a real challenger to the hegemony previously enjoyed by the Irish Parliamentary Party-UIL (herefater known as the Party). Its membership, insofar as can be determined from as yet scanty evidence, was composed mainly of lower-class members of the nationalist community, and members of the Irish Land and Labour Association (ILLA) who followed its ex-joint chairman, Mid-Cork MP DD Sheehan. There was therefore still a significant gap between the leadership of the AFIL and its grassroots members. O'Brien, in particular, was painted by party newspapers such as the Freeman's Journal as the wealthy madman behind a splinter group of dangerous malcontents.
These malcontents served a clear warning to the greater Party hegemony by taking 6 of the 8 Parliamentary seats available in the city and county in the general election of January 1910 (for an extended treatment of the election see earlier posts below). What is most notable about the campaigns is the amount of open violence associated with them. Almost every Party rally in a location considered a stronghold of the AFIL was beset with fighting, hurling of missiles, and, in some cases, use of small arms such as revolvers.
While in many other cases of electoral violence the fighting was confined to before and during polling, the violent waves unleashed during the January general election did not dissipate as quickly as some (mainly within the upper echelons of the Royal Irish Constabulary Inspectorate in the county) had hoped. For the four months after the general election incidents of violent behaviour motivated by political rivalries were noted in the police reports. Among these were:
  1. The shooting of James Sweeney, Newmarket, in the hand and leg by Ben Quinlan at Newmarket on January 25th. Sweeney, allegedly inebriated, had been cheering for O'Brien in front of Quinlan's house at the time of the shooting.
  2. Florence Sullivan of Kanturk was assaulted in Newmarket on Februrary 12th. Although Sullivan was a caretaker of an evicted farm in the Kanturk district, the motive for this assault may be thought of as semi-political, as the new AFIL MP for North Cork Patrick Guiney held a rally condemning his actions outside his house the following day.
  3. Patrick Emperor of Newmarket had his house broken into on April 10th by a party of 8 to 10 men who stole his gun and rode away cheering for Guiney.
  4. On May 1st the Lowermore Fire and Drum Band were fired upon as they passed near the house of Denis Callaghan in the Newmarket District. Callaghan and Philip Walsh, who was chairman of the Newmarket ILLA branch, were "on very bad terms". Four members of the band, which numbered about 25, were hit with grains of shot but were not seriously injured. This may be seen as a case of reaction to intesne provocation, as some members of the band had fired revolver shots in the direction of Callaghan's house earlier in the day.

All this may be seen as providing a context for what was to come.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The AFIL and Political Violence in Cork during 1910

During 1910 the animosities exposed during the January general election between the newly-emergent AFIL and the recovering IPP-UIL led to open pitch battles between supporters in a number of locations throughout Cork city and county. Of these battles, the most serious took place in Cork city (twice, in May and November) and in the county at Newmarket (May) and Bantry (August). In the coming days I shall post on these latter two riots, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


The General Election of January 1910 represented the most serious challenge to the dominance of the Irish Parliamentary Party since its re-unification in January 1900. Dissent within wider nationalist circles presented serious problems to the hegemony of the organisation at a local level. Nowhere was this more clearly illustrated than in Cork. This paper aims to briefly outline the narrative of the build-up to, and the conduct of, the election in Cork city and county, through the prism of the most significant personality of the period: William O’Brien.

Cork politics at the turn of the twentieth century were very much the realm of O’Brien. He and his supporters effectively controlled the machinery of the Irish Party within the city and the county. His personal magnetism was such that ‘William O’ was a revered figure within both the poorer areas of the city and throughout large parts of the county. This presented challenges to him and his cohort when he split from the Party in November 1903 over the political ramifications of the Wyndham Land Act. Although he nominally re-joined the Party in 1908, the violence directed towards him and his supporters at the Mansion House Convention in February 1909 convinced him and his followers it was necessary to begin a process of re-growth from within the Irish nationalist political structure. O’Brien also desired to reach out to those within the unionist community, particularly in the south of the island, who desired to align themselves with a new centrist-orientated party, which would sweep away the sectarian intensities of the old confrontational party system. In addition, many agricultural labourers had become disenchanted with the provisions of the new land bill introduced by Augustine Birrell in 1909. There was therefore plenty of raw material with which O’Brien could work with.

There is a tendency within the historiography of the period 1900 to 1914 to place the foundation of O’Brien’s new political vehicle, the All-for-Ireland League, after the January 1910 general election. In fact, the inaugural meeting of this embryonic organization, which had deep roots within the Land and Labour Association, took place in Kanturk, Co. Cork, on March 21st, 1909. O’Brien had been toying with the idea for some weeks previously. In a letter to Pierce O’Mahony, a former organiser of O’Brien’s, by then domiciled in semi-retirement in Wicklow, in early March, he laid out his stance:
“The necessity is evidently … to give to the country, in place of an organisation that has practically withered to death and only survives as Molly Maguire Catholic Orangeism, [one] of the broadest possible kind which will eventually sweep all the fragmentary coteries into its camp and give the country real unity … now we will have reached a new plan [and] as in the United Irish League days, I intend to ignore all Parliamentary quarrels – stick to our own work of a wider united Ireland, without of course attempting to curtail the people’s own right to replace many of the present contemptible and withered representatives by better men.”
The Kanturk meeting had been called for the purpose “of explaining to the people the programme of the All-for-Ireland League.” O’Brien opened the meeting by reading a circular from Irish Party leader John Redmond warning of the dangers of aligning with this new organisation, which he claimed would “break up the Party and destroy the United Irish League”. O’Brien denounced this letter as “insolent and threatening … to the people of Cork … let him come down to Cork and take the verdict of the people in the secret ballot”. He also criticised Redmond’s attitude towards the Wyndham Land Act, but the majority of the speech was devoted to attacking the Ancient Order of Hibernians (Board of Erin), or “Molly Maguires”. Reaction to the meeting was swift, with the Party passing a resolution a few days later to effectively ban Party members from attending any gatherings that had been organised by anyone readily identified as being an AFIL member. O’Brien, racked by poor health, resigned as MP and left for Italy in April 1909. The by-election called by this resignation was the first test of the AFIL, and one they passed; Maurice Healy (brother of Tim) was elected, a result John Horgan called a ‘just judgement on the [Cork] Examiner and the Irish Party’.

During the summer and early autumn of 1909, the AFIL encountered organisational difficulties in Cork. The Land and Labour Association was beset by infighting between the joint chairmen JJ O’Shee and DD Sheehan, which caused Mid-Cork MP Sheehan to resign from the joint chairmanship at a meeting at Castletown-Kenneigh in August. Sheehan noted that MPs who supported O’Brien, though not formally cut adrift from the Party, were subject to much intimidation within Party circles, and were treated as “political pariahs”. Several skirmishes occurred between Party organisers and local groups of O’Brien supporters throughout the autumn of 1909. Prominent O’Brien supporter and member of Cork Corporation John Forde wrote to O’Brien in October:
“We are giving them enough of it by a negative policy as without you we cannot declare ourselves openly. All the friends here are very anxious about your health [;] I am bombarded every moment I am out by people stopping me asking how you are … and … when you are to come back.”
Tim Healy wrote to John Herlihy (editor of the Irish People) that an election was “inevitable”, possibly in early January 1910. Another Cork contact wrote to O’Brien in November lamenting firstly his absence, secondly “some of the misdeeds done in the name of the dear old country ye both love so well”, and finally the culture of non-action that pervaded politics in his absence. Forde made it clear to O’Brien in a letter in late November that he would be considered a prime candidate in the upcoming election. O’Brien replied that he had no wish to return to politics, and even suggested as to how this bombshell should be disclosed to the people. However, in his memoirs, he points to a letter “from a private citizen of Cork … [that] implored me to interfere” to help his followers in their fight against the UIL. O’Brien despatched a telegram via the Press Association which warned his enemies to “drop the campaign of vengeance against my friends.” That they did not heed his warning was, in his view, due to “their heads [being] … completely intoxicated with their undisputed power in the country, and with their confidence that I was no longer to be counted with in the clash of living forces to dispute their will … it is difficult to comprehend the state of mental infatuation in which the representatives of Ireland made those tremendous and unrequited sacrifices to the Liberal Party.” Sheehan commented that
“the people were told … that Home Rule was already as good as carried … Mr Dillon … had not a scrap of authority or a line of sanction for his pronouncements. It seemed as if every friend of Mr O’Brien was to go under in the campaign of opposition that was elaborately carried out against them. Our constituencies were swarming with paid organisers and men and money galore were pouring in from outside, so that our downfall and defeat should be made an absolute certainty.”
The Lloyd George Budget was defeated in the House of Lords on November 30th, 1909, and Parliament was dissolved in late December, fulfilling Healy’s prophecy of a January election. The Party moved to strike at the heart of O’Brienite dissension in both Cork city and county. The remainder of this paper will sketch out the contests in six of the eight Cork constituencies, and examine some of the themes arising from these.
Contrary to his flat denial to Forde in late November, O’Brien did indeed stand as a candidate in Cork city. Some confusion, however, surrounded his running mate. A nominating convention on St Stephens’ Day 1909 had apparently selected Sir Edward Fitzgerald – or ‘Fitzie’ – as the AFIL’s second candidate; claims were made by Fitzgerald later that “fifteen-sixteenths” of those present at the meeting had supported him. It was, however, Maurice Healy that accompanied O’Brien, Eugene Crean, James Gilhooly, and Fr James O’Flynn in a carriage from the railway station on Lower Glanmire Road to the Committee Rooms on Grand Parade, upon O’Brien’s return to the city on January 4th, 1910. Fitzgerald held his own rally at the City Hall the same night, and clashes broke out between O’Brienites and Fitzie supporters at the meeting. The Irish Party, in a convention on December 28th, selected outgoing MP Augustine (‘Gussie’) Roche and the city coroner William Murphy. The campaign was intense, with the three groups holding meetings most nights in various parts of the constituency. Violence became a common feature of most of the meetings. For example, a Party rally at The Lough had to be scaled down after a caravan containing Roche and his supporters came under heavy attack in the Gilabbey Street area. O’Brien came under sustained attack in the last week of the campaign for his hypocrisy and inconsistency, not to mention his sectarianism (which seemed more than a touch ironic) in attacking the seats of Protestant MPs William Abraham in North Cork and Captain Anthony Donelan in East Cork. O’Brien countered by lampooning most of the Party programme, and, in one speech at Dillon’s Cross, he contrasted the enthusiastic gathering welcoming him with:
“[The] funereal procession that visited you the other night, with the coroner in attendance – (laughter) – in curious contrast to the mournful accompaniment of the fife and drums … playing the Dead March”.
It was altogether symptomatic of the tone set during the campaign.

Roche canvassed the votes of the trade and labour unions by speaking in the Evergreen Street area; this was also to strike at a key area of support for Fitzgerald: no man could, he asserted, win any beneficial legislation for the country or its people on their own; it was the result of a coalition of eighty people working as a team in the House of Commons. John Horgan saw O’Brien and Healy as “a most ill-assorted couple” and asked the voters to “give them a divorce … [or] at least … a judicial separation (laughter).” Elsewhere, an unnamed representative of Cork Unionists told the Cork correspondent of the Freeman’s Journal that it was likely that no candidate would be put forward, and admitted that many unionists were likely to vote for O’Brien, but Fitzgerald was likely to win his share of unionist voters also. On Saturday January 15th, Fitzgerald, Healy, Murphy, O’Brien and Roche were nominated as candidates, with polling day set for the following Tuesday. The Party held meetings citywide over the weekend, as O’Brien came under attack from clergy as well as from the candidates. Canon Shinkwin, PP, Glanmire, called the policies of the AFIL “absolutely ruinous and destructive to the country” and denounced O’Brien for being “never remarkable as a leader … [with] a wild personage … [and] a man that was carried away by his impulses”. It was a good thing that the Party “did not see their way to accept Mr O’Brien’s views or to put up with his idiosyncrasies and bow before him as a heaven-sent dictator (applause).” The weather over the weekend was not conducive to canvassing or speaking, with heavy snow showers and strong winds. As a result, O’Brien did not venture much outside and left the speaking to his lieutenants. Nevertheless, on Monday night before the polling both camps held large final rallies; the Party outside the Victoria Hotel in Patrick Street, the AFIL on Grand Parade. Neither group diverted from their messages delivered throughout the campaign: unity versus tyranny.

The results of the city election showed that O’Brien had been justified, despite his frail health, in standing for the seat. The total AFIL vote exceeded that of the Party, and they fell short of capturing both seats by just less than one per cent of the vote. In retrospect, it may be that the jettisoning of Fitzgerald from the ticket may have cost the movement the two seats. However, the realpolitik of the situation was that O’Brien needed the support of Tim Healy and his cadre against the Party, and thus had little choice but to accept Maurice Healy on the ticket. At a celebratory rally held at Turner’s Hotel, O’Brien expressed his sorrow for Healy, and declared the result “a terrible calamity for Ireland”. The Freeman’s Journal celebrated the result, claiming O’Brien now depended on the support of the Tory vote in the city to hold onto his seat. The Skibbereen-based Southern Star remarked:
“The devotion of Cork city … to Mr O’Brien has been remarkable. But … the people are tired of internecine strife … It was the opinion of Mr O’Brien’s best friends that he made a mistake in returning to public life at such a juncture as the present … It is certainly regrettable that Mr O’Brien should refuse to accept the lesson of the Cork City election as the indication of an altered public feeling towards him.”

In the county, five of the seven constituencies were contested. In Mid Cork, O’Brien’s chief organiser DD Sheehan fought off a challenge from the President of the Young Ireland Branch of the UIL, WG Fallon. The nominating convention in Macroom was beset by rioting, and Sheehan and his supporters made “hostile advances … towards Mr Fallon and the organisers of the Convention.” Windows in the Town Hall were broken, and when the Party group reached the Victoria Hotel, an angry mob gathered outside, and damage was caused to the façade of the building. Later in the evening, hand to hand fighting occurred between both camps, and houses of known Party supporters were attacked, though the violence later subsided. Intimidation and violence were to become a theme of the campaign, as both sides sought to entrench themselves in their respective positions. Sheehan later recalled the Party tactics were “audacious and unscrupulous”. O’Brien, though fully occupied with candidatures in Cork City and North-East Cork, found time to address an open letter to the voters of Mid-Cork, via the secretary of Sheehan’s campaign. After acknowledging that “the farmers and labourers of Mid-Cork owe a debt of gratitude to Mr Sheehan” who would require thirty men to replace him, O’Brien indulged in a little emotional rhetoric:
“One would despair, not only of Irish gratitude, but almost of human nature, if many thousands of families of farmers and labourers in Mid-Cork, whom he has so magnificently served, were to desert him in favour of some utterly unknown youngster from Dublin, of whom all that anybody here [in Cork] knows is that he is the nominee of the men who have killed land purchase and brought the whole National movement to the brink of ruin.”
Concluding, he hoped that the Mid-Cork voters would “teach the organisers of this campaign of calumny and vengeance against Mr Sheehan a lesson which will haunt them to their dying days.” It seems O’Brien supporters took this final order to heart, for in the concluding days of the campaign violence towards Fallon and his caravan broke out in Ballinagree, Ballinanmorrive, Coolea, Dripsey, Coachford, and Ballincollig. Sheehan eventually defeated his rival by 825 votes.

In North-East Cork, O’Brien stood against William Abraham. This contest was the most widely covered by the media outside of Cork city. Fiery rhetoric was once again in evidence, much of it directed against O’Brien by a Fermoy curate, Fr Michael Kennedy. The campaign was a mix of personality and ideology: it was a contest between the two strands of constitutional nationalism, and a test of O’Brien’s conciliatory platform. The Freeman’s Journal reported that Mallow, O’Brien’s native town, accorded him a reception that was decidedly chilly when “contrasted with the ovations … he was accustomed to [receiving] in his native town.” Riots broke out in Fermoy and Castletownroche at Party gatherings. Kennedy and O’Brien clashed over the fallout from O’Brien’s resignation in 1903. O’Brien toured the constituency on polling day by car, a tactic the Irish Times claimed was “an enormous advantage in a rural constituency, particularly … on a day marred by bad weather.” The Freeman correspondent predicted that Mitchelstown and Fermoy would solidly vote Nationalist, but Mallow would “largely favour him.” He was also likely to pick up votes from the “formidable” Unionist minority in all three towns. The Irish Times reported that Redmond had spoken in secret at Fermoy on the night of the polling, but this was never corroborated, nor carried by any other newspaper. The result gave O’Brien a majority of over fifteen hundred votes, an enormous advantage. In a speech at Turners Hotel in Cork shortly after the declaration of the result, O’Brien let it be known that he would hand the seat over to Maurice Healy, and therefore silence “the calumniators of Cork for evermore.” Cork and its people had “proved to both the English Parties and to their own Protestant fellow-countrymen … that they would be perfectly safe, in trusting their future to a people … animated by principles that had triumphed in North East Cork that day (cheers).” Maurice Healy then thanked the voters of North-East Cork for delivering “the ‘bosses’ … a most humiliating defeat.” The Times, analysing the result, saw it as a sign that the “revolt against Mr Redmond’s authority grows in strength, and in view of the balance between Ministerialists [Liberals] and Opposition [Unionists] … it has become a factor of distinct importance in the situation.” The Irish Times argued that the “remarkable victories of Mr O’Brien’s party … show that Nationalist Ireland resents the betrayals of the official clique.”

North Cork saw the election of Patrick Guiney, the vice-president of the North Cork LLA and an O’Brien supporter. James Flynn, the outgoing MP, had initially intended to stand again but was forced to retire; evidence suggests that Guiney played a key role in this decision. A group of his supporters attacked Flynn near Newmarket in December 1909; Guiney “doubted if Mr Flynn would again put in an appearance in North Cork … after the warm reception which he got that day in the Sand Pit.” Michael Barry of Newmarket was selected in Flynn’s stead. Newspaper coverage of the entire North Cork campaign was, at best, patchy. The fact that more newsworthy events were occurring in other constituencies in the county meant that editors of national dailies were reluctant to print lengthy reports of the speeches given by Barry and/or Guiney. The only paper that did this was the Cork Weekly News, which devoted large tracts of column space to reportage of speeches in the constituency, albeit mostly made by Guiney and his supporters. Extensive reportage was given to Guiney rallies in Tullylease, Milford, Doneraile, Buttevant, and Knocknagree, along with carefully annotated attendance lists. On Barry’s side, his speeches were only reported in the Freeman’s Journal on two occasions, the second of which was polling day. Was this an admission that Guiney was already more than certain to win the seat? The answer, as might be expected, is not wholly clear-cut. Commercial pressures dictated that reports on more significant election campaigns were carried. For Barry to squeeze his way into even the minor columns would have required something more than platitudes towards his opponent, and exhortations to the voters to put interests of unity before other considerations. In the face of organised, motivated opposition, this was never going to be enough. The only occasion when national newspapers took notice of the campaign was at its violent conclusion.

Two rallies were planned for Kanturk on Saturday January 29th. O’Brien was due to speak at the AFIL rally but, due to strict doctor’s orders and exhaustion, he had to cancel appearances at this rally and a later one in Charleville. Guiney was joined on the platform instead by DD Sheehan, MJ Nagle, and his usual coterie of Daly, Lucey and O’Shea. Guiney exhorted the people to swing away from the Party, in order to stop the practice of siphoning hard-earned money from American Nationalists into campaigns of violent intimidation towards hard-working small tenant farmers and agricultural labourers. Sheehan asked the voters to help them “root out cliqueism and Molly Maguireism in Ireland”, and promised
“If they voted for Mr Guiney they would be strengthening the hands of those who had already gone forward with a mandate from the constituencies to reform the Irish Party, to insist that land purchase must be restored to the conditions which prevailed under the Wyndham Act, and that money shall be speedily found for the expropriation of Irish landlordism … They would not … go into the Lobbies as the Liberal Whips dictated, but would see that the welfare of Ireland was put before every interest, either British or foreign.”
On the Party side, Barry, Tom Condon and David Sheehy had already addressed a meeting in the town. The parish priest of Kingwilliamstown asked, via a letter read to the crowd:
“Will Mr O’Brien ever learn that shameful and disgraceful abuse of opponents is not argument and that the number of ignorant people in Ireland who would be deceived by it is, thank God, rapidly decreasing?”
Barry asked the voters when they went to the polls on Monday 31st to “strike a blow against faction and … for Ireland and unity.” Condon remembered when he had gone to north Cork to help the locals against the landlord; they were now being asked by O’Brien to join with the same landlord “and the other men, who, a few short years ago[,] had been terrorising over them and whipping them with scorpion whips from one end of the country to the other.” In his opinion, Barry’s character “was above suspicion” and his election would help the Party “open the old house in College Green (cheers).” Sheehy condemned Guiney and his ilk for refusing the county council the honour of presenting an address to Captain O’Meagher Condon when he had visited the county recently. A vote for him would also be a vote “for every evicting landlord in the country, and for the House of Lords”. He asked the voters “not to discredit North Cork nor disgrace it, but … uphold the Nationalist prestige of their Division (cheers).” The main headlines came, however, not from the meetings and speeches, but from the violence that broke out when Barry’s supporters encountered Guiney’s at the edge of town. The RIC County Inspector for Cork (East Riding) reported on the scenes:
“it was only the presence and frenetic action of the large force [of RIC policemen] present which prevented a most dangerous riot … the men had to repel the rival parties with the butts of their rifles to prevent them breaking through the strong cordons … had the excitement lasted a few minutes longer I should have been compelled to charge both parties … but fortunately we were able to put one party out of the town[and] the necessity did not arise. All these people carried sticks [and] cudgels … many were armed with [word indecipherable] … they were mostly half mad with drink [and] excitement … it was the nearest shave for a very bad riot … without actually developing … that I have ever had anything to do with.”
Guiney eventually defeated Barry by over one thousand votes.

In West Cork, James Gilhooly defeated Bantry solicitor Daniel O’Leary. Tensions ran high in the constituency between the younger voters and their older counterparts, especially when O’Leary took to addressing meetings in Gilhooly’s stronghold of Bantry and the peninsulas. Violence and intimidation were also in evidence here: on Thursday January 27th, a Party meeting in Bantry, which was to be addressed by O’Leary, William Duffy and Richard Hazleton, was attacked by a boisterous mob that pelted them with lime and rotten eggs. Hazleton was partially blinded in this attack, but was able to continue on to another engagement in Ballydehob. Here, he was jeered and hissed at, and chants of ‘Dandy Dick’ and cheers were expressed for Tim Healy, along with more eggs being pelted at him. In the evening, Hazleton was accosted at Bantry train station, and more rotten eggs were thrown at his carriage; as the train moved out, loud cheers were heard. Another meeting in the town the following Saturday, this time with William Lundon in attendance, was also beset by violence and disruption, with eggs and mud thrown at their speaking caravan. In the verdict of the Cork Weekly News, the incident made for “a most trying time.” When Gilhooly and his supporters appeared in the vicinity, the scene grew ugly:
“A cordon of police … was drawn between the opposing crowds, but it soon appeared that an unfriendly element remained in Mr O’Leary’s crowd … The police received some hard knocks now and again themselves. Sticks were raised aloft by some country people, and a rush was made towards Mr O’Leary’s car … to pull him off. Sticks were brandished and angry threats were used by some of the crowd … The police after much difficulty pushed back the crowd … and the attempt at speech-making was resumed.”
Gilhooly then began to speak, and for a time the scene became nothing more than a circus, with performing acts in each ring. Eventually O’Leary and his followers left the square, amid cheers for Gilhooly. Polling day was also marred by incidents: instruments belonging to a band in Baltimore were taken from storage and thrown into the sea; fighting also broke out between sets of rival supporters on the streets of Bantry. Extra police were also drafted in to quell disturbances in Castletownbere, Goleen and Schull; the Southern Star pointed out this would lead to extra expense for the tax payer, “every penny of which … by forcing this contest, Mr O’Leary and his friends are solely responsible.” Allegations that Jasper Wolfe, who was Gilhooly’s election agent, as well as being employed as Returning Officer, had favoured his candidate by placing polling stations in such a pattern as to stymie O’Leary’s supporters from turning out were wide of the mark, as he had no say in the location of the stations. Gilhooly eventually defeated his younger rival by almost eight hundred votes.

In South-East Cork, Eugene Crean defeated James Burke. The combination of labour issues in the towns of Bandon and Kinsale and unrest in the more rural parts of the constituency, as well as the disillusionment felt by workers in the harbour villages of Passage West and Monkstown, ensured Crean saw off his Party rival by just over eight hundred votes. The Southern Star did not congratulate Crean on his re-election; instead it complained that Burke had lost due to
“[An] injudicious speech made by a Member of Parliament in Bandon, and … the strong opposition of the clergy and a popular representative in Kinsale.”

Two constituencies were not contested. In South Cork, Edward Barry, who had shown sympathies towards O’Brien but stood as a Party candidate, was elected unopposed. O’Brien and Sheehan had agreed not to contest this seat, due to these sympathies, and also because Sheehan and the Bishop of Ross, Denis Kelly, had seriously clashed in the late nineteenth century over the fielding of a local candidate in the first elections for Skibbereen Urban District Council. In East Cork, Captain Donelan was elected unopposed. The dearth of unsettled agricultural labourers in East Cork militated against the necessary rapid growth of an organisation that would have unseated Donelan, as well as the consensual politics that existed in the constituency. Such as there were labourers in the division, almost all were affiliated to the O’Shee faction of the LLA – a natural affinity, given that O’Shee represented the neighbouring division of West Waterford. The chief powerbroker in East Cork was PJ Bradley, who had split with the Sheehan faction of the LLA before Christmas 1909; his new organisation, the Cork City and County LLA (based mainly in the hinterland of Cork city and East Cork) divided the O’Brienite organisation and precluded the fielding of a rival candidate to Donelan.

The general election of January 1910 in Cork city and county was a hotly contested affair. The main aim of the Party, it seems, was to challenge popular perception of O’Brien and his cohort; this they did with some success. This should not detract from the fact that the All-for-Ireland League, still in a sense embryonic, had secured five of the eight seats available. The combination of force of personality and a hatred of the Board of Erin was a powerful one, and fed O’Brien’s rhetoric in almost all of his speaking instances. In the more rural parts of the county, the strength of the LLA and the mobilisation of working class votes in the larger towns ensured that O’Brienite candidates were successful. Much of the credit for this must surely go to DD Sheehan, but many of the candidates must also receive credit for the assiduous way in which they had built up a secure base of support, enabling them to withstand attacks from Party outsiders parachuted into the constituencies for the election campaign. Another point that may be briefly made here is that finance was a key player in the fielding of candidates: the five successful AFIL candidates lodged claims for expenses totalling almost one thousand pounds. For a new party, the AFIL certainly spent big in trying to ward off the Party threat. In the final analysis, there were high hopes that, with a concerted effort put into organisation, the kernel of a new movement that had been sown in Cork would begin to bear bountiful fruit in the near future. The prospects seemed more favourable in early 1910 than they had been in 1903 for a new awakening in Irish politics. The Reverend Richard Hodges concluded his survey of Cork history published in 1911 on an optimistic note:
“The year 1910 saw the successful inauguration in the City and County … of a movement in which its spirited and patriotic founder aims at building every class and creed together in working for the welfare of the country. He appeals to all to lay aside their political and religious animosities, and stand together as Irishmen for Ireland’s good.”

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


The history of the United Irish League in Cork city and county during the first decade of the twentieth century can be broken down into five periods:

The Origins and Expansion of the League (1898-1901), including a short case study of the murder of a land agent in Bantry in early 1900. I will also briefly examine the structure that grew up around the League in the county.

A period of consolidation that began after the National Convention of June 1900, when the UIL became the official organisation of the Irish Parliamentary Party. Much branch activity was informed and carried out according to the dominant class within the branch. Tensions between classes within branches sometimes came to a head; this may be seen in the case of the Kildorrery branch. I will also briefly examine the financial systems of the League, and discuss the uses that money collected by each branch was put to.

The resignation of League founder William O’Brien from the Party and the League in November 1903 ushered in the third period of the League history in Cork. This began a series of related events which led to the formation of two Leagues within the county by the time of the general election of January 1906.

From the January 1906 general election one can detect a period of stagnation and decline. During this period a new political landscape emerged in Cork, where supporters of O’Brien took over much of the League structure and used it as a vehicle for preaching their conciliationist gospel. The only unified action taken by branches concerned purchase negotiations on local estates under the terms of the Wyndham Land Act. The torch of radical action was taken up by the Land and Labour Association, led in Cork by DD Sheehan. The failure of the Irish Council Bill to win support in 1908 marked the beginning of a period of decline in the strength of the UIL in Cork. This disillusionment was enhanced by the actions of O’Brien and his supporters rejoining the Party. The shotgun marriage, borne by an atmosphere of mistrust, ensured it would not last long. The ‘Baton Convention’ of February 1909 marked the final straw as regards O’Brien’s relations with the Party. His final resignation in March 1909 led to the almost complete collapse of the League in Cork; a new political vehicle, the All-for-Ireland League, built upon the League structures, soon began to emerge. In the general election of January 1910 the AFIL won eight of the ten parliamentary seats in Cork.

Each of these periods will be examined in turn, expanding on the points outlined above. The UIL was, simultaneously, the last great agrarian movement of the nineteenth century and the first fully organised Irish popular political mass movement of the twentieth century.

The UIL was founded at Westport, Co Mayo, in January 1898. Its main driving forces in the early period were William O’Brien and Michael Davitt. While the motivations behind the League were deliberately vague (and have been the subject of much historical debate (see below)), its growth throughout Connacht was rapid. By the end of 1899, the League had 260 branches and almost thirty-five thousand members in the province. Its political threat and influence was such that the very fact of its rapid growth galvanised members of the heretofore fractured Irish Parliamentary Party to reunify under the chairmanship of former Parnellite John Redmond in February 1900. The League did indeed build upon the existing political structures: the National League, National Federation and some branches of the People’s Rights Association were in places subsumed by the UIL; this process of assimilation, however, was not straightforward and did not reach a satisfactory conclusion until after the National Convention in June 1900. At the same time as the League was growing rapidly in Connacht, it began to make forays into Munster. In Cork, sixteen branches were reported to be in existence at the end of 1899, with a membership of just fewer than fifteen hundred. A year later, these numbers had swelled to 104 and almost eight thousand. A combination of fiery rhetoric and desire for change led to the League taking root in Cork. O’Brien’s folk-hero status among the poorer tenant farmers was in no small part due to his exploits during the Plan of Campaign. In addition, the lower classes of tenants and landless agricultural labourers desired for changes in land ownership among both landlords and larger tenant farmers. The most political of the population wished to see an end to the factionalism that had bedevilled the Nationalist movement over the past decade. All looked to the League as a possible panacea to their problems; the egalitarian structure offered voices to all these political classes.

These may be considered as internal factors, leading to an increase in membership. It was the outside factors that shaped the dynamics of the League. The reaction of the press to the expansion of the League was, predictably, at variance with the messages of the League’s advocates. In particular, the nationalist weekly The Southern Star and its unionist counterpart The Cork Weekly News played significant roles in advocating or damning the work of the League in Cork. The chief cheerleader of the League, the Irish People (owned by O’Brien) also had a key role in advancing the cause of the League in the city and county. In order to illustrate the differing reactions of these sources to the League, I shall now briefly deal with a murder which occurred in Bantry in early 1900.

William Symms Bird was a land agent for the Leigh-White estate, which covered much territory to the north and west of the town. He was a prominent member of society in Bantry, serving on the committees of many local organisations and also acting as a local magistrate and justice of the peace. Although he was, in the words of the Cork Weekly News, “regarded as very popular with all classes in the district”, there were some who would have harboured grudges against him. In late February the recently-formed UIL branch in Bantry hosted a mass meeting in the town attended by people from all parts of west Cork. Addressing the meeting William O’Brien, as was his wont at this period of his career, delivered a fiery denunciation of the landlord system. The Star congratulated him on his “capital pronouncement” and concluded that, if the “enthusiasm [and] … resolute earnestness” of the Bantry meeting were replicated, “the downfall of landlordism cannot be long delayed”. The day the report appeared in the Star, Bird was found dead in his office, with gunshot wounds to the head and chest. Predictably, the death received much coverage in the following week’s Weekly News, with a three-column report on the discovery of the body, and the circumstances that may have led to the death. The leading article, which rarely commented on Irish political matters, insofar as it did not impinge on the life of the Cork unionist community, now, devoted half its usual length to comment on the discovery. The following excerpt is an interesting example:
“Mr. Bird was not unpopular … But all the same there is no getting behind the fact that the murder is an agrarian one. It is a very strange and striking sequence of events that the United Irish League demonstration of Sunday week should have been followed in a few days by one of the worst crimes which has disgraced West Cork for many years.”

The tone of the article is quite clear: the League was responsible for this shocking atrocity, and as such had to be proclaimed before others suffered a similar fate. This tone was not uncommon for the conservative unionist press. Anything that conspired to destabilise the relationship between landlords and tenants was to be snuffed out before it could radicalise the shape of rural Ireland. In spite of this, the only arrest made was that of Timothy Cadogan, a former tenant on the estate who had been evicted from his holding by Bird in 1894. His appearance before the resident magistrate was a source of much controversy in the press, as their representatives were barred from attending the hearing. The League paper, The Irish People, was incandescent over this action, berating the government for suppressing the right of free speech, although it was interesting that the Star, Weekly News and People were able to publish extensive reports of the proceedings the following week Coverage of the subsequent trial of Cadogan at the Munster Summer Assizes in Cork by the Star and the Weekly News was extensive. However, the emphasis laid was a total contrast. The former’s reports were comprehensive; the latter’s more selective in their choice of statements. Both papers gave prominence to the comments of Judge William Kenny on the opening day of the trial, which were also reported upon by the Freeman’s Journal and The Irish Times. The most vociferous reaction came in the Irish People, which indignantly charged Kenny with attempted “assassination of the United Irish League” and of trying to abrogate the right of free speech. Little or nothing regarding the case was heard until the following December, when Cadogan was re-tried at the Winter Assizes. The comments of Lord Chief Justice Sir Patrick O’Brien also attacking the League were extensively reported. The guilty verdict and subsequent death sentence for Cadogan was the focus of little comment by both papers. According to the county inspector for the west riding of Cork, the Cadogan trial and attacks on the UIL played a key part in the stunting of the growth of the League in the area. The virtual silence of the Star about the case spoke volumes. The People did continue to carry on a campaign against the alleged wrongful conviction of Cadogan until his execution in January 1901. Despite the hysterical reaction among unionists, the League gradually became less and less radical in its approach as it expanded.

A word or two at this juncture about the structure of the League is appropriate. The most basic unit of the League was the parish branch. This met regularly (weekly or fortnightly), and considered matters local and national. Each branch elected three officers (chairman, secretary and treasurer) who, more often than not, represented the branch on the Divisional Executive. The Executive was made up of delegates from each affiliated branch in the parliamentary division. Cork, having eight parliamentary divisions was entitled to have the same number of executives. The reality was that it was the responsibility of either a League organiser or local MP, having sympathy and support for the League, to initiate the executive in their division. The executive thus formed the local power base of the League, and whoever controlled the League would have serious influence upon the MP for the division. Each executive would select delegates for Provincial Directories, and would also be entitled to select delegates for the National Convention. Once the Provincial Directories were in place, a National Directory, based in Dublin, was formed. The de facto composition of the National Directory after the June 1900 convention consisted of half Party, half League representatives. Thus the alliance of the League with the Party rested with the Directory. Whoever gained control of the Directory could influence the political direction of the League.

Union with the Party gave the UIL credibility among those classes who did not trust or accept the League upon its foundation. Initially the League had been depicted as a subversive organisation comprised of the poorer and thus more radical elements of society. The alliance with the Party brought into the League higher classes of tenant farmers, plus merchants, shopkeepers, and other middle-class professionals. This changed the social composition of many branches, and affected the dynamics of the branch action. It was a gradual process, however. Tensions which had been explicit between Leaguers and non-Leaguers now became more implicit, as the numbers of the latter declined.

The response of the Catholic Church to its formation and development was, initially, ambiguous. Some clergy, such as Frs. Michael Kennedy of Blarney and Thomas O’Callaghan of Doneraile, enthusiastically supported the League and played key roles in founding and running branches in their parishes. They also played roles in the establishment of executives in Mid and North-East Cork respectively. Many Catholic clergy, however, remained aloof, denying the League key clerical support. Others, such as Fr Magner in Cork city, were outspokenly Healyite and thus worked to subvert the fledgling League in the city. After the general election of October 1900, when the surviving bastions of Healyism in the city were scattered, the influence of these prelates was lessened. As the League grew, more and more clergy became heavily involved with the running of its branches and executives. This may be seen when collections for the Parliamentary Fund were held. Many branches chose to hold church-gate collections, and thus needed the permission of the local parish priest; this was granted more often than not, subject to a number of provisos. Many curates took to addressing branch meetings on political matters, thus lessening the radical impact of the branch, and transforming them into centres of debate and discussion.

The by-election in Mid Cork in the spring of 1901, occasioned by the death of sitting MP Charles Tanner, brought to the political fore DD Sheehan, co-founder of the Land and Labour Association. Under the UIL Constitution (revised in June 1900), the LLA was entitled to representation at selection conventions. The selection of Sheehan at a convention in Macroom demonstrated the growing power of the Association within the League umbrella. In truth, the LLA had been making its voice heard among branches in the north and east of the county for the previous eighteen months. As the League became more and more conservative in its outlook, the more radical of the poorer classes began to support the LLA at branch meetings.

The major tool at the disposal of local League branches was to investigate and adjudicate upon cases of ‘land grabbing.’ This was the term applied to the practice of tenants on an estate taking all or portion of the farm belonging to an evicted tenant, usually with the landlord’s permission. More often than not, cases of land grabbing were brought to a branch’s attention by the evicted tenant; thus demonstrating the power and influence that evicted tenants held within local branches. The offenders were then written to by the branch secretary, inviting them to appear before a specially convened meeting of the branch to cross-examine the alleged perpetrators about their alleged transgressions. Any decisions that were arrived at by these so-called “League Courts” were not binding. Appeals to the Divisional Executive were not uncommon. For example, the case of a land grabber in the Cloyne district during the autumn of 1900 was not resolved to the satisfaction of either party, and an appeal was made to the East Cork Executive, who ruled before Christmas in favour of the plaintiff. Unhappy with the verdict, the defendant took the unusual step of appealing via local MP Captain Donelan to the National Directory. After a lengthy delay, the Directory upheld the decision of the Executive. For cases to be referred all the way to the Directory was highly unusual. The majority of verdicts of the Courts were accepted, many of them after compensation was paid by the alleged grabber to the evicted tenant.

The Courts were but one facet of the system of justice operated by the League. An earlier, cruder method was to adopt the traditional tactics of boycotting and intimidation. These tactics were more commonly utilised by individual branch members who were attempting to pressure land grabbers or graziers. Police reports for the period 1901-2 show how often cases of boycotting and intimidation were occurring. Prominent personalities within the League were also kept under surveillance: James Flynn and Eugene Crean were observed advising people in Ballygarvan in December 1901 to boycott the holder of an evicted farm. In May 1902 three men, including League organiser PJ Rahilly, were charged at Millstreet Petty Sessions court with intimidation of a local large tenant farmer at markets in the town between January and April that year. Rahilly’s case was eventually dismissed, but his accomplices, James Corkery and Matthew Fitzpatrick were sentenced to three and two months’ hard labour respectively. The most interesting example of boycotting and intimidation occasioned by land grabbing came at the Kildorrery branch during 1901 and 1902

William Stackpole was a medium-sized farmer on an estate near Kildorrery, and was a fully paid-up member of the local League branch. In late 1901 his landlord evicted two brothers named Nagle who farmed an adjoining plot of land to Stackpole’s. Stackpole then used the occasion to allow his cattle graze on a portion of this farm. Though a League member, and thus by association an opponent of grazing, he did receive support from a number of members of his branch. However, his action raised the ire of the Nagle’s sister, Alice, who began complaining to the branch executive of the conduct of Stackpole. The executive condemned Stackpole’s actions, and began to organise a campaign of boycotting against him. The executive’s actions raised the hackles of some branch members, and branch meetings were taken up with heated discussions of the relative merits of the Stackpole and Nagle’s positions. Little coverage was had in the press, even in the League paper the People, of the dispute. The only source of coverage for the early part of the dispute was the police reports. Stackpole was accosted by Alice Nagle in the main street of Kildorrery in late September 1901, and she was arrested for battery. The secretary of the local branch, Thomas Nash, stepped into the breach, carrying out a campaign of boycotting against Stackpole and urging other members of the branch and of neighbouring branches to boycott Stackpole. Pressure was also put on the local Divisional Executive to blacklist Stackpole and place his name on a list of “obnoxious persons”. The RIC took to sending officers to attend branch meetings and record any comments made by Nash referring to this and a related case. Nash was subsequently arrested and charged with conspiracy.

The case made the pages of the People in late December, when a few minor leading columns were devoted to the decision of the Executive to settle the case. It was clear that the paper backed the branch over the member, and also that the paper did not approve of methods used in the county to justify the takeover of evicted farms; it had become common practice during the 1890s, but that did not make it right in the League’s eyes. Grabbers were, apparently, “‘cock of the walk’ in the great County of Cork.” It was the duty of all branches in the county to socially ostracise the grabber and his supporters, even if this led to the fracturing of branches. The end clearly justified the means. This, however, did not end the case. Members of the Kildorrery branch and of the Nagle family continued their campaign of intimidation well into 1902. The RIC Inspector-General noted in his report for June 1901 that:
“While it's [I.e. the UIL’s] ambition is to focus and govern political opinion, it appears to be run on very different lines, according to the locality in which it exists … In [some] ... branches, the wire-pullers are men who, to gratify private spleen and have revenge on some industrious and prosperous neighbour, form a branch, and make up cases of farms taken years ago, contrary to the UIL rules, and send reports of meetings … at which these parties were denounced, to the local papers.”
Whether or not this was the case with the Stackpole-Nagle controversy, and that it was Tom Nash who was the real instigator behind Alice Nagle’s attacks, this case proves that there were indeed tensions rife between all classes represented in UIL branches throughout Cork. In some parishes, indeed, farmers and non-farmers took to establishing two separate branches. In Mallow parish, for example, a separate branch was formed in the hillier and less fertile area of the parish, centred on the town-land of Fiddane, which alternately met during the years 1901 and 1902, when it was subsumed back into the Mallow branch.

The growth of the League in the county prior to the National Convention of June 1900 was not matched in the city. A number of factors were responsible for this. In the first place, the Nationalists of the city were heavily divided into strong, and often virulent, factions. Secondly, class politics also separated the constituencies to which the League had been pandering in the county. The key group here happened to be the labour-nationalists who gained a strong minority representation in the first open elections for Cork Corporation in 1899. Nationalism in the city was therefore split along social lines; working-classes tended to favour the labour-nationalists, while the more middle-class Nationalists supported a small clique on the Corporation led by wine merchant Augustine Roche. Within this labour-Nationalist divide there was, confusingly, a further divide between Roche (a Parnellite) and other members of the Corporation who had taken the anti-Parnellite side. The dominant personality on the labour side was former carpenter Eugene Crean, who had been elected mayor in 1899 and had lost out to Daniel Hegarty on becoming the first Lord Mayor of the city the following year. Crean was also an O’Brien supporter, and an advocate of the UIL. Attempts at accommodating the three cliques within an acceptable framework had floundered. There was a considerable reluctance among city dwellers to form a branch of the League within the city. Fr Kennedy told William O’Brien at one stage that James Flynn had said to him that Cork city “would not any longer consent to be harnessed to a farmer’s movement.” The coolness adopted by most of the clergy in the city towards the League could not have helped the cause. Gradually, this coolness thawed, allowing the League a foothold in the city. Somewhat inevitably, there began a struggle between the labour representatives and the more middle-class Nationalists for control of the League branch. A breakdown in the alliance between the League and the labour men saw both Roche and Crean nominated for Lord Mayor in 1901. The Nationalist vote was split, allowing Alderman Edward Fitzgerald, a former Unionist and alleged Healyite, to be elected Lord Mayor. Thereafter, there existed a cold war between Roche and Crean, each embodying their respective social groupings, and each determined to shape the League in the city into their own mould.

Having now sketched the outlines of the growth of the League, I wish now to briefly pause and examine the finances of the League. The funding of Nationalist movements had been in limbo since the Parnell split. With the advent of the UIL, there occurred a sea-change in the structure of Party finances. League branches paid an affiliation fee to the headquarters in Dublin. The nominal fee was £3. Branches normally collected more than this, and therefore, depending on prevailing economic circumstances, held over the surplus. As time wore on, the League structures began to become more streamlined, and a deadline of March 31st of each year was set for the payment of the fee in full, otherwise all rights granted to the branch would be withdrawn until the following year. With the union of the Party and the League, demands for money became more frequent. A general election fund was set up in the immediate aftermath of the June 1900 convention, for the purposes of defraying election expenses in the forthcoming general election. Once this fund had been closed, a parliamentary fund was opened. Branches were given an open-ended period to contribute as much as they could to the fund, which was used to pay the expenses of the MPs while they were attending Parliament. Lists of subscribers were published weekly in the Irish People. The amounts donated by each branch serve as indicators as to the relative economic health of a branch, as well as the economic well-being of the members of the branch. Some branches forwarded one entire sum to the Fund HQ in Dublin; others would pay in instalments. This is not to suggest that wealthier branches would contribute one lump sum. On the contrary, branches in poorer areas would send on one large sum, so as not to saddle members with constant pressure to subscribe. Reading the lists, one is struck by a pattern: many branches in Cork would contribute either in the spring, or the autumn of the year. Cork branches would also contribute generously to special funds e.g. the Tenants’ Defence Fund, set up to help evicted tenants in the winters of 1901-2 and 1902-3. Fundraising was a crucial facet of the League: monies raised at branch level would be reimbursed by a percentage from the National Fund; Divisional Executives would also receive a percentage of all monies collected in the division. The funds collected would be put to many uses, as outlined here:
· At branch level, expenses would be incurred by safeguarding evicted tenants (some branches would use money to built temporary accommodation for the evicted tenants); by fighting court cases arising from the conduct (or otherwise) of their members; by contesting Rural District Council and Urban District Council, as well as County Council elections in their area; and by reimbursing officers for expenses incurred in travelling to Executive meetings, conventions, etc.
· At Divisional Executive level, monies would be used to defray general election expenses; the cost of holding large meetings or demonstrations in their districts; and contesting court cases taken against their members.

FRACTURE (1903-6)

During the winters of 1900-1 and 1901-2 the UIL developed and maintained a series of agitations throughout the island of Ireland, with a view to compelling the Conservative Unionist government of Arthur Balfour to bring in legislation providing for compulsory sale of estates by the landlords. This almost continuous new ‘land war’ brought with it the added bonus for the League of being proclaimed in several counties, including Cork, thus increasing their legitimacy in the eyes of more radical nationalists. A series of developments during the latter half of 1902 brought about an almost complete volte face in the dynamics of the League. The new Irish Chief Secretary, George Wyndham, attempted to placate the League by introducing a new land bill in the House of Commons in the spring of that year. Although ultimately unsuccessful, this attempt to solve the land question by the government gave encouragement to those of more moderate political persuasion to try and explore alternative methods of bringing about a consensus on the land tenure issue. Much of the initial impetus came from the landlord side; this was understandable, as the majority of prominent nationalists were wholly engaged in either political or UIL business. In mid-June a Kerry landlord, Lindsay Talbot-Crosbie, acting apparently on the insistence of both the Healyite Irish Independent and the unionist Irish Times, wrote to the Freeman’s Journal calling for a conference of moderate men to work out an agreement on the land question. That the impetus came partly from the chief media mouthpiece of Healyism made the majority of the Irish Party leadership suspicious of any such offers. However, it was also clear that the League agitation was losing momentum.

It was against this backdrop that a letter appeared in the national press from John Shawe-Taylor, a Galway landlord. Shawe-Taylor’s arguments were along similar lines to those of Talbot-Crosbie’s. The only difference was that he nominated eight names as representatives. O’Brien’s attitude towards the proposal was initially sceptical, tinged with fear that this was the latest, more developed, Healy ruse. What did the most to dissuade him of this notion was the public statement by Wyndham in reaction to the letter. As a result, O’Brien appeared to undergo a Pauline-style conversion from outright hostility towards the proposed meeting to complete acceptance of the spirit in which the meeting was called. This apparent transformation has puzzled historians for a long time, and on the surface seems quite extraordinary. For a man who had for so long preached the gospel of ‘smashing’ the landlord system through forceful resistance, this sudden conversion to the cause of peaceful conciliatory tactics vis-à-vis the landed unionist community was without precedent in Irish history. This also had repercussions for the League in Cork; although technically independent of control from Dublin and London, influence by the politicians was crucial. Whatever line O’Brien pursued vis-à-vis the Land Conference was sure to be supported by a number of key figures within the League in Cork, and thus by extension a significant number of the rank-and-file membership.

Over the Christmas and New Year period (1902-3), the Land Conference met in Dublin. Its report, published in early January 1903, formed the basis for a land act introduced by Wyndham in March of that year. The provisions of the legislation were necessarily complex and controversial, because of complex negotiations between Wyndham and the Irish Party, including O’Brien, and also because of opposition from the Landowners’ Convention to an act compelling its members to sell. The spirit that underpinned the legislation, nonetheless, remained firm. Once the bill had passed all stages in Parliament, the crucial battle came within the Party. O’Brien saw the political opportunity for a review of the policies that had hitherto underpinned Party action inside and outside Westminster. He had written in early January that, should the Land Conference report be adopted for the most part by Wyndham in his new land bill, “the Irish Cause will [be in] … a more hopeful position than it has done for centuries past, because landlordism will be destroyed & … Home Rule is sure to follow”. With a few months to reflect on this, he had come to the conclusion that the most effective path to Home Rule lay in conciliating the Protestant unionists, making them less fearful of Catholic nationalist domination of a Home Rule Ireland; this could also have the effect of lessening the determination of the Unionist-dominated House of Lords to reject any bill that had even a smell of Home Rule behind it. At a meeting of the National Directory on September 8th, 1903, O’Brien succeeded, with the support of Redmond, in having a number of resolutions adopted, which outlined the new policies of the Party and the League. These argued that the method that had brought about the Land Act could also be used to solve a number of questions, including the evicted tenants’ question, the reform of Irish administration, and the university question. The UIL was seen as a vehicle whereby, through friendly negotiation with local unionists (landed and otherwise), the structures of a new broad-based centrist Irish political party might be created.

O’Brien argued that a number of areas should be selected to test the new machinery of the Land Act, and any defects should be noted and relayed to Wyndham for remedy. In these areas, special League Advisory Committees should be set up, comprising delegates from Divisional Executives, plus representatives from branches of all League-affiliated organisations e.g. the Land and Labour Association, along with representatives of evicted tenants (where applicable). Opposition from John Dillon, Michael Davitt and the Freeman’s Journal stymied these hopes. Locally, the cold reception from many senior clergy and members of the hierarchy to the provisions of the Act meant that any progress towards testing the legislation was shelved. Denis Kelly, the bishop of Ross, and Robert Browne, the bishop of Cloyne, were particularly vociferous in their opposition to the financial provisions in the Act; though Kelly later admitted that his love of figures had led him astray in analysing the particulars of the Act, rather than the spirit in which the legislation was conceived. O’Brien’s resignation from the Party and the League, as well as his closure of the Irish People, came as a serious blow to the cause of the League. His resignation as MP for Cork city threw the organisation there into a state of confusion and chaos. Writing in his memoirs, O’Brien argued that, if the structures of the League were akin to a de facto government of Ireland, then he, representing the governing party, felt obliged to resign his position in order that those critics of the new direction the movement was taking would be able to plot a new alternative course. The resignation precipitated a re-evaluation as to the future direction of the League. O’Brien was seen as the father of the movement and its beacon. His departure led to serious repercussions within both the national bodies and the local branches in Cork.

The following six months saw the gradual loosening of the tight ties that bound the League together in Cork. Some branches began to strike out on their own and open negotiations with local landlords on the purchase of their individual holdings. These negotiations were fraught, given that many landlords took the controversial line that the terms offered by Party chairman John Redmond to the tenants on his estate in Wexford were the template for what they should receive. Many branches rejected the terms offered, and it took the intervention of the local parish priest to arrive at terms broadly favourable to both landlords and the majority of tenants. For example, negotiations on the Arnott Estate near Bandon dragged on for almost a year until the intervention of parish priest, Canon Patrick Shinkwin, secured an agreement broadly favourable to both parties. The fact that these negotiations were undertaken at all was significant. Those branches which had a significant majority of tenant farmers over landless agricultural labourers were confident enough to strike out on their own. The increasing alienation of those who had little or no land in this period brought the Land and Labour Association more and more into the frame. The LLA, through the exertions of its leader in Cork, Sheehan, began to expand its membership base, incorporating those who struggled to purchase their holdings as well as those who had no holdings which they could purchase. In effect, the LLA became a vehicle for those who had been alienated by the Wyndham Act. Two events during mid-1904 - the unanimous re-election of O’Brien as MP for Cork city in August, and the formation of a UIL Advisory Committee in the county in September - showed that there now existed, to paraphrase Tim Healy, “two United Irish Leagues” in the city and county. The ‘official’ UIL continued to act as the grassroots of the Party; the ‘unofficial’ UIL came more and more to be regarded as the voice of O’Brien and his supporters.

O’Brien made his return to national prominence at a mass demonstration in Macroom in December 1904 organised by Sheehan and the LLA, but also attended by many UIL branches in the Mid-Cork division. In his speech, O’Brien declared that he had severed his ties with the Party and the League, and was now going to champion the rights of the LLA and its supporters. This speech marked the laying down of the policies for O’Brien’s new grassroots movement. The League Advisory Committee, under the secretary ship of Sheehan, was to be the controlling body of the new movement, as well as attempting to implement the terms of the Wyndham Act. The identification by O’Brien with the growing labour movement was further enhanced by his visit to slums in Cork city with a large delegation from the Cork United Trades and Labour Council (CULTC), the governing body of trades’ unionism in the city. His motives in this period are somewhat unclear; historians are divided as to the real reasons for his support for the growing labour constituency. O’Brien himself maintained that his major concern was to reform and rejuvenate the moribund UIL through using the most politically active sections of society. His political strategy seems to be complicated; faced with alienation from the centres of power in the Party, he continued to preach conciliation at a macro-political level, whilst supporting a more radical grouping on a micro-political level.

The death of JFX O’Brien in the spring of 1905 led to a crucial by-election in the city. O’Brien, as the senior member, came under intense pressure to nominate a candidate acceptable to the O’Brienite faction in the city. The nomination of Augustine Roche was designed to placate the small Party element. Roche was an enemy of the powerful labour lobby; this harked back to the botched mayoral elections of 1901 and 1902. However, Roche did not take the pledge, and was as such considered by the Party as an outsider, and a member of the O’Brienite clique. There is some evidence that O’Brien had considered other candidates before publicly supporting Roche. A plausible scenario could be that Roche was persuaded by George Crosbie, owner and proprietor of the Cork Examiner, to ask O’Brien to support his candidacy, and that a deteriorating relationship between Crosbie and O’Brien may have led to the latter to sound out stronger supporters outside of Cork with a view to running them in the upcoming general election.

In early December 1905 George Crosbie visited John Herlihy, the editor of the re-launched Irish People, in Dublin. Writing to O’Brien in the aftermath of the visit, Herlihy spelt out the reason behind Crosbie's visit:
“As far as I could gather one person whom he did not name approached him & told him Redmond & Dillon were most anxious to see some arrangement come to & would consent to any reasonable terms”.
It would appear that O’Brien had thought a great deal about resuming cordial relations with the Party leadership. However, Herlihy voiced his doubts that Crosbie might not possess sufficient delicacy in any negotiations between O’Brien and the Party, but assured O’Brien that he had the full support of Jerry Howard and Fr Denis O’Flynn. That Tim Healy was in close contact with Crosbie, and was possibly the instigator of the contact, is a plausible theory, since Herlihy mentioned in a postscript that Crosbie was “anxious that Healy … be included in a settlement.” John Redmond agreed to the form which a settlement would take, but warned Crosbie not to allow O’Brien publicise any arrangement “until they [i.e. Dillon and Redmond] were ready”. The following week Herlihy told O’Brien that he was “pretty certain” that Redmond was trying to backtrack on his initial enthusiasm for an agreement, and argued in no uncertain terms that it was Redmond’s fear of seeing it in print that was leading him down that path. That feeling was somewhat supported by Crosbie himself, who wired Herlihy that “others” were objecting to the publication of the agreement: “one chance for peace is for all parties to keep out of print.” However, O’Brien had let his initial enthusiasm get ahead of him; a number of correspondents congratulated him on winning his way “to an honourable peace” and saw it as a victory for those who had always championed the policy of conciliation. Dillon and Redmond moved quickly to crush the spring. Crosbie, in a lengthy telegram to Herlihy, argued that it was the “publication of a two column article in the Irish People when they expected merely the bold statement that was agreed to … [that] was a breach of the agreement”. He also let Herlihy know that many of Redmond’s supporters had become “restive” and that, to mollify them, Redmond and Dillon would “feel themselves bound to publish an explanation of their position” which would lead to unwanted contests at the election. Crosbie then put his position as plain as he could:
“I heartily agree with position taken up by Mr [Redmond] and Mr [Dillon] and will not publish anything from myself for the present”.
Crosbie reiterated the same points to O’Brien himself. It may have been the turning point, for a few days later Herlihy wrote to O’Brien that Redmond had “consented to the publication of the document as approved by you”. O’Brien drafted several versions of an official announcement, before publishing one in the People. The agreement bound each party not to field candidates against one another. In a League context, this agreement also crystallised the realisation that the League, especially in Cork, had been fractured beyond repair. The realpolitik of the situation demanded a temporary settlement. However, this sticking-plaster masked many tensions, which found outlet in other areas. The following years saw a stagnation of the League in Cork, punctuated by periods of conflict between O’Brienites and Leaguers. The replacement of John O’Donnell (an O’Brienite) as League National Secretary by Joseph Devlin began a phase during which the organisation led by Devlin, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, gained more and more influence within the League.


In May 1907 Chief Secretary Augustine Birrell introduced legislation into the House of Commons providing for a measure of devolution. O’Brien supported the measure, seeing in it a piecemeal step towards full Home Rule. Although he was out of the country during this period, John Herlihy kept him informed of developments. The collapse of support for the Irish Council Bill - exemplified in its rejection by a specially convened Convention at the end of May - came as a surprise to both O’Brien and his supporters. John Herlihy reported at the beginning of June:
“I do not think that you have any idea of the state of utter collapse and disorganisation which persists in Ireland at present. The whole show is burst up. Everything is gone by the board … Home Rule is wiped out of the Liberal slate completely … Unless the people soon come to their senses they are past praying for.”
The evicted tenants of Cork, possibly in reaction to a decision at the Convention to shift their grievances into the sidelines, declared themselves fully for O’Brien at a meeting in the city at the end of May 1907. An open letter from Alderman John Forde, the titular League secretary in Cork city, criticised the Party for not accepting the values of conciliation and attributing the blame to those in the Party who preached disruption and dissension. Fallout from the debacle reverberated around the county. The following resolution passed by the Skibbereen Board of Guardians was typical of the reaction:
“That having regard to the disastrous results attending the efforts of the present Irish Nationalist representatives in trying to obtain Home Rule for this country, we are of opinion that it is absolutely useless to continue the struggle in the British House of Commons without a united Irish Party. As Irishmen we feel it incumbent on us to call upon the Leaders of the Irish People to at once call all their friends and numbers of Parliament together with a view to settlement of present difficulties.”
The Irish People argued that Party support in Cork was anaemic: “[it] could not find supporter’s numbering a corporal’s guard in the eight divisions of Cork City and County.”

Branch numbers of the League in Cork began to fall towards the end of 1907. From a total of 137 branches in the county in December 1907, a year later there existed 79. More worryingly from a Party point of view, subscriptions and fundraising dropped off on a large scale in the east riding of the county, though less so in the west. When one remembers that the east riding also included the city, one can get a sense of the almost total collapse of the League in this area. Some members of the staff of the Cork Examiner believed that the attitude of Lord Mayor Richard Cronin was hindering the progress of both the Party and the League. Roche was almost universally blamed by O’Brienites for stymieing the ambitions of Forde for the post, who believed a more conciliatory attitude would have brought about a stronger union of Nationalist forces. The defections of three Party MPs - including the Chief Whip Sir Thomas Esmonde - to Sinn Fein in the six months between autumn 1907 and spring 1908 was the source of much animation among League circles, and also gave a boost to Arthur Griffith’s fledgling movement. O’Brien had also made overtures to Esmonde and CJ Dolan, MP for North Leitrim. Behind the scenes, however, he was approached by several Party members and supporters, including George Crosbie, sounding him out as to his attitudes towards a reunion with the Party. Despite his public views on the Party leadership, O’Brien was apparently amenable. It is clear from a reading of O’Brien’s memoirs that, at this stage, he had not forgiven (nor indeed forgotten) the events of four years previously. Thus he was reluctant to engage in dialogue with those who, he believed, had very publicly during the latter half of 1903 clearly broken the Party pledge, and had not been admonished by what he argued had been a complicit leadership. DD Sheehan, who had been expelled from the Party in late 1906, wrote in his memoirs that his victory in the ensuing by-election in Mid-Cork was a victory for the proponents of conciliation. In truth, his uncontested election was as much a comment on the weakness of the Party-affiliated League in the division as it was a comment on the power of Conciliation forces. A variety of factors, nevertheless, caused O’Brien to re-evaluate his relationship with his erstwhile Parliamentary allies. Chief among these was a refusal of the Sinn Fein executive to countenance an alliance with O'Brien and his supporters. This, apparently, left Arthur Griffith much aggrieved as he had planned on using O'Brien’s access to finance and expertise in newspaper publishing to successfully re-launch his weekly newspaper as a daily. Perhaps a more significant force was the publishing of a report from the Treasury committee inquiring into the state of land purchase finance, which recommended the scaling back of key measures provided under the Wyndham Act, due to dwindling resources. Realising that the best route to opposing this planned mutilation of land purchase was through Parliament, O'Brien put his dalliance with Sinn Fein on ice, and grew more and more receptive to the overtures of Redmond. After much to-ing and fro-ing, O’Brien and his followers formally rejoined the Party in January 1908. His attitude towards the reunification may be summed up in the following lines written to Lord Castletown around this time:
“The principle of ‘cordial cooperation’ among Irishmen of all classes and creeds, for which I have been fighting against pretty heavy odds, has been officially sanctioned by the representatives of the Irish Party.”

Reform of land purchase in Ireland had been the concern of the Liberal government almost since it had swept to power in January 1906. The party had campaigned on a programme of radical social reform, which did not come cheap, and economies needed to be made. Encouraged by the more radical section of the Irish Party, who remained convinced that the passing of the Wyndham Act had been a calamity; the Liberal Chancellor David Lloyd George commissioned a study into the state of land purchase finance in Ireland. In an open letter published in the Irish People after the report was issued in March 1908, O’Brien argued that any such legislative review should be preceded by a conference between representatives of these two bodies. The conference report would then form the basis for any new amending Act, which would also take into consideration detailed comments re the machinery that had been overwhelmed by the flood of applications under the Wyndham Act. He also drew on bitter experience when he concluded that the “tyranny of narrow party calculations affects all parties alike in England and Ireland.” The language used here clearly demonstrates that O’Brien still held feelings of bitterness towards his new ‘colleagues.’ But when he tried to push the Party towards adopting a conciliatory stance on the proposed land bill, he was defeated on a vote by 42 to 15. Of the Cork MPs only William Abraham and James Flynn voted for the Party. This result effective broke the rapprochement between O’Brien and Redmond.

For the remainder of the year, O’Brien pursued an independent line on the land question. He wrote to his old conspirator Lord Dunraven that the League National Directory had laid down four “impracticable” demands before consideration of future land purchase. In late summer, plans were laid for a mass demonstration in Cork to show opposition to any amending land legislation that had not been the result of consultations between landlords and tenants. O’Brien was at pains to point out to fence-sitting prospective attendees of the former class that the meeting was not a formal conference, “but a public meeting of all … classes for the one specific purpose of claiming that Land Purchase should be completed at the … of the Imperial Exchequer.” The meeting went ahead at the City Hall on Thursday, October 1st 1908. Significant attendees included Lords Bandon, Dunraven, Barrymore, Kenmare and Castletown, Sir George Colthurst, as well as the six ‘rebel’ Cork MPs, who were joined by West Kerry MP Tom O’Donnell. Healy, unavoidably absent through “trade business”, nevertheless sent a letter read at the meeting in which he argued that “nothing but a union of the forces of landlord and tenant will extract the fulfilment of the bond of 1902 from the Shylocks of Whitehall.” A variety of speakers addressed the meeting; sections of landed unionism and conciliatory nationalism. The most important outcome of the gathering was the selection of a significant deputation to attempt to meet with Birrell and discuss their concerns about any new land legislation. The deputation was to consist of representatives of landlords, tenants, and MPs who had heretofore been closely identified with the Wyndham solution to the land question. In the immediate aftermath of the meeting, O’Brien corresponded with Birrell. The Chief Secretary torpedoed the idea of a deputation, claiming that there were more parties involved in the land purchase issue than those represented by the proposed deputation. In reply, O’Brien argued that the above excuse was “a breach of all constitutional conventions, which … Ireland will most certainly not stand” and asked pertinently:
“Is the ‘folly’ and ‘disaster’ of the Government’s contemplated policy of readjustment to be consummated without hearing a word from Irish lips in a matter involving the whole future of the country and of its relations to your own country?”
The Cork Weekly News, in common with most of the Unionist press, held the real reason for Birrell’s refusal had come from the Party. Predictably, the O’Brienite press held similar views, albeit tinged with much more bitterness and antipathy towards Dillon for his behaviour in the latter half of 1903. The Irish People launched a tirade in the direction of the Party and the Freeman for trumpeting collections held by maverick priests in Cork city and surrounding districts for the Parliamentary Fund. O’Brien once again threatened to resign his seat, and invited the Party leadership to force a contest, in the hope of bolstering support for him and his policy.

O’Brien and his supporters among the Cork Evicted Tenants’ Association were dismayed at the absence of any provision for evicted tenants, and decried the legislation as repeal of the Wyndham Act. Fr Denis O’Flynn also stuck his head above the parapet and argued that the Irish people had a clear choice of policies: one which give tenants control of their own land quickly and with no increase between previous rent and future annuities; and one that would increase prices by an average of four years’ purchase, and would bring about “another terrible land war … waged solely in the interests of the British Treasury.” To see Home Rule being dissolved before their eyes was bad enough, but to bring to a grinding halt a social revolution which had begun five years previously would be “the crown and culmination of the calumities [sic] brought on our unfortunate country by unwise leaders and a short-sighted and besotted policy.”

Irish Constitutional Nationalism had, since Parnell’s time, been bound to submit any significant legislation to a convention drawn from the grassroots of the Nationalist movement. So it was with the Birrell Land Bill. However, there did exist by the opening of 1909 a significant groundswell of opinion against the Party and its actions. Any convention summoned would have been representative of all shades of these opinions; including, inevitably, the O’Brienites. It was therefore with more than a feeling of unease that O’Brien and his coterie began preparations for the upcoming Mansion House meeting. A sense of the forces they were up against came in the form of a cold letter from Joseph Devlin to Cornelius Buckley of Blarney, one of the key men in the Sheehanite LLA, informing Buckley of the League Standing Committee’s decision not to allow LLA members to attend local meetings from which delegates to the National Convention would be selected. O’Brien was determined to attend the meeting, but he was wary of how the convention could be controlled, especially by the members of Devlin’s Board of Erin gang. The Irish People drew attention to the machinations leading up the Convention, laying particular emphasis on the Standing Committee’s refusal to send admission cards to so-called ’bogus branches,’ the majority of which, appropriately, seemed to be located in Cork city and county. These included both UIL and Sheehanite LLA branches, as well as the Cork Evicted Tenants’ Association. The message was clear: as little O’Brienite representation as possible.

The National Convention met in Dublin’s Mansion House on Tuesday, February 9th, 1909.O’Brien’s opposition to the Bill was greeted with a mixed reaction. Once he began to speak, his voice was almost inaudible at the rear of the room, due to whistles being blown, feet being stamped, and sticks being beaten on seats. It was quite clear that O’Brien and his supporters were being targeted for intimidation. Eugene Crean, James Gilhooly and Father Clancy then came under physical and verbal attack from John Fitzgibbon, MJ Flavin and Devlin. The Freeman reported it “was almost impossible to see what was taking place.” After the fracas had subsided, O’Brien resumed speaking, only to be further interrupted and shouted down; through perseverance, he “declared that while his strength lasted he would proceed with his speech.” A fight then broke out at the door leading into the room, and O’Brien almost ceded the stage. Under “strong emotion” he managed to complete his speech, with “perspiration on his forehead all the time. When he left the platform there were loud ironical cheers and boos.” Tom O’Donnell of West Kerry then spoke in favour of the amendment, but “was received in the most hostile spirit.” Tom Kettle, speaking against the motion, was afforded courtesy and attention by the gathering. That there was a clear agenda against O’Brien and his followers was revealed clearly when Father Clancy’s speech was heckled and jeered, after which both O’Brien and Tim Healy left the convention room. Shouts of an anti-Semitic nature were also targeted towards O’Brien – the mildest of which denounced “the Russian Jewess and her moneybags!”

Just as the 1906 General Election confirmed that the League in Cork had been irrevocably divided, the aftermath of the Baton Convention saw the administering of the last rites to the League as a formal political body within the majority of Cork constituencies. Just over a month after the rowdy scenes at the Mansion House, a monster meeting of the Sheehanite LLA in Kanturk saw the launch of the All-for-Ireland League. In truth, this meeting merely formalised the split in constitutional Nationalism that had existed in the city and county since 1903. The Cork League Advisory Committee had formally dissolved and reconstituted itself as the governing body of the AFIL in early March. Many LLA branches in Cork now began to reform as AFIL branches, and attract erstwhile UIL members and even some former unionists. The rise in “UIL” numbers recorded by the RIC in the county in the period March 1909 to March 1910 may be explained by reference to this trend.

However, no sooner was the AFIL established than it was faced with its first stern test. Having fought a losing battle with the Party heavyweights for the past three years, O’Brien’s health had suffered severe damage. He was diagnosed as suffering from phlebitis, neuritis, rheumatic gout, and a cyst on his throat: all undoubtedly a result of the stress he had been under. Requiring immediate surgery and complete rest, O’Brien resigned from Parliament, closed the Irish People, and departed for Italy, where he underwent a serious operation in Venice. His seat in Cork city became a battleground between the AFIL - basically the trades unions and ward unionists - and the Party; Maurice Healy, the ‘All-For’ candidate, defeated George Crosbie, who had been persuaded by Redmond and Augustine Roche to stand for the seat as a Party candidate. In the aftermath of the by-election, the trades’ union governing council in the city split along Party/AFIL lines, with a Cork District Trades Council being formed in August 1909, comprising those ex-Trade and Labour Council members who had been in complete sympathy with O’Brien and his policies. The CDTC represented the poorer, unskilled labourers in the city. Thus the political split also displayed social undertones. The poorer classes tended to support the AFIL; the more prosperous and socially well-off gravitated towards the Party.

The general elections of 1910, while establishing the AFIL’s political hegemony at the expense of the Party in Cork city and county, also laid bare the political cleavages that had been present in the umbrella of the UIL since the resignation of O’Brien in 1903. Though O’Brien expressed severe reservations at throwing himself into the hurly-burly of Irish politics again (he had just turned 57, and was in a delicate state of health), he did accept, albeit resignedly, the verdict that his supporters in Cork wished him to lead the new League at Westminster. At this stage, the LLA had formally split; Sheehan having resigned his joint chairmanship of the national organisation at a meeting in Castletown-Kinneigh in August. Dovetailing his new position within the AFIL with his organisational acumen among the labourers and poorer tenant farmers, Sheehan succeeded in merging the two bodies. In his memoirs, Sheehan tells us that he had to fight against hordes of organisers sent into the county to bolster the moribund and rapidly dwindling UIL. If we accept that this is the case (and, to date, I have found no concrete evidence to support or reject this assertion), it is hardly surprising that, in the face of a motivated, well drilled opposition with access to funds the AFIL, who were as a group heavily depended on the personal wealth of O’Brien and his wife, should struggle to assert themselves on the Cork political stage. Nevertheless, with the rejection by the House of Lords of the ‘People’s Budget’ on November 30th, 1909, a general election loomed large. The Budget - brainchild of Lloyd George - had sought to increase government revenue by increasing taxes on liquor and spirits, as well as raising the spectre of a land tax. An Irish backlash against the government - and by extension the Party - over these issues would play into the hands of dissidents such as the AFIL.

The Party attacked the AFIL on issues close to its heart. Despite the mud-slinging, the electorate of the city returned O’Brien and Roche; both having been returned unopposed in 1906, but now standing on either side of a political chasm. In the county, violence marked the campaigns in Mid and North Cork. Sheehan fought off the challenge of William Fallon, president of the Young Ireland UIL branch, despite intense fighting in Macroom and various villages in the Lee valley. In North Cork, James Flynn had indicated that he would seek a Party nomination. Patrick Guiney, a native of Kanturk who had spent time in America and who had built up a substantial political machine since his return to his native town, violently challenged Flynn and managed to secure his retirement. Tom Condon, campaigning for the eventual Party candidate Michael Barry, argued that O’Brien had performed a remarkable volte-face; having previously been in the area to help the fight against landlordism, Condon now thought it surreal that O’Brien was now taking their side. Guiney and Barry supporters clashed violently at Newmarket; the county RIC inspector claimed he had felt “compelled to charge both parties” had the scenes lasted longer. Violence also flared in West Cork, where Party speakers William Duffy and Richard Hazleton were pelted with eggs, flour and lime at both Ballydehob and Bantry. Band instruments were stolen at Baltimore and Bantry, and the caravan of Party candidate Daniel O’Leary was assaulted in the square in Bantry. Fighting also broke out in Castletownbere, Goleen and Schull, where extra police were required to quell the disturbances.

When the dust settled, the AFIL had captured five of the eight seats available in Cork. Roche was joined by Capt Anthony Donelan in East Cork and Edward Barry in South Cork as Party-aligned MPs. O’Brien had ousted William Abraham in NE Cork, and then handed the seat over to Maurice Healy as a reward for his work in Cork city during his absence (and also, no doubt, to gain another member of the ‘Bantry Band’ on his side). This was painted by Party propagandists as contradictory to O’Brien’s preaching of conciliation towards Protestants; O’Brien retorted that Abraham was a stooge of the Party and the Board of Erin. A phoney war ensued between the AFIL and the Party in Cork following the conclusion of the elections. The Cork Accent, a paper brought out by O’Brien during the campaign, continued as a weekly as a search for investors to turn it into a regular mouthpiece for the AFIL continued. Lord Castletown pledged a total of £200 towards getting the paper launched. Dunraven had already promised a sum of £3,000 towards the venture. In June 1910 the Cork Free Press appeared, with an opening front-page editorial by Canon Patrick Sheehan of Doneraile, calling for a new force in Irish politics to bridge the gap between the increasing polarised Nationalist and Unionist camps. Sheehan had long held that anything that would disturb the supposed utopia of Irish rural life was to be opposed; his modernist political views were slightly incompatible with his social views. Figures lodged with the Treasury showed the AFIL had spent the best part of one thousand pounds in fighting the campaign in Cork, again lending credence to the taunts heard at the Baton Convention decrying the “Russian Jewess and her moneybags!”
In creating an organisation to rival that of the Party in Cork, O’Brien and his colleagues had adhered more closely to the model of the UIL than they would have wished. Much of the organisational work of the new League was borne by DD Sheehan; the pressure of constant travel between London and Cork, allied to the almost incessant conflict between sections of both the AFIL and the Party, may have resulted in him suffering a relapse of his alcoholism. With Sheehan out of action, the strength of the AFIL suffered. However, the remnants of the UIL, now nothing more than a shell containing a sizeable portion of the Board of Erin, were in no position to challenge the seemingly limitless funds available to the AFIL. In the snap general election of December 1910, the Party lost all bar one seat in Cork; only Captain Donelan retained his seat in East Cork. Even then, it was a close run thing: factionalism within the Sheehanite LLA, led by PJ Bradley, stymied the fielding of a rival candidate to Donelan, whose re-election was attributed by the Cork Free Press to government patronage at the naval works in Queenstown. John Walsh, who unseated Edward Barry in South Cork, was a veteran Fenian who had been involved in the abortive rising of 1867; in later years he had taken the Parnellite side in the split, and was by the time of his election a director of the Beamish & Crawford brewery. The expense of a second general election in less than twelve months, allied to the absence of a clear fund-raising structure among the grassroots of the AFIL, meant that any contest was borne almost exclusively by the O’Briens, with a little help from Dunraven and some of his allies. The funds of the Cork Free Press were regularly raided to keep the League afloat; its over-extension in areas outside of Cork brings to mind the chastening experience of Arthur Griffith and Sinn Fein just a couple of years previously. The AFIL was, by this stage, heavily dependent on O’Brien for finance as well as leadership and direction. In this final respect, only the burden of money made the situation any different from a decade previously. From a position of building up a new pan-nationalist movement throughout the country, including Cork, ten years previously O’Brien, now a decade older, faced the same challenge in markedly different contexts. The story of the United Irish League in Cork had, therefore, come almost full circle.