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.
ORIGINS AND EXPANSION, 1898-1901
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.
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.
LAND CONFERENCE, DECEMBER 1902 - JANUARY 1903
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.
WYNDHAM LAND ACT
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.
RESIGNATION OF WILLIAM O’BRIEN, NOVEMBER 1903
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.
“TWO UNITED IRISH LEAGUES”
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.
MACROOM DEMONSTRATION, DECEMBER 1904
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.
CORK CITY BY-ELECTION, JULY 1905
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.
THE ‘PACT’ GENERAL ELECTION OF JANUARY 1906
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.
STAGNATION AND DECLINE (1906-10)
THE IRISH COUNCIL BILL
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.”
THE RISE OF SINN FEIN - DISSATISFACTION WITH THE PARTY - “UNITY”
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.”
LAND ACT 1909
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.”
‘BATON CONVENTION’ - FEBRUARY 1909
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!”
THE ALL-FOR-IRELAND LEAGUE
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.
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