From Nineteenth Century, March 1890, p.357-383.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Writing dispassionately, as a person whose head should, and would, ornament Temple Bar, if some kindly disposed critics could only give to the Report of the Special Commission their own effective interpretation, I am inclined to join in the chorus of conditional satisfaction with which that long laboured document has been received by all the parties most interested and concerned. It is true, the Act 51 and 52 Vict. 1888, was not passed to create a tribunal to discover if I was sentenced in 1870 for being a Fenian, or to show that the Land League was organised by me eleven years ago. Still, to have these remote historic matters re-affirmed with becoming judicial gravity against a man who was not even included by the Times among the Respondents when the Commission began its ‘great inquest,’ will be, I hope, some compensating consolation to those who lament, in my respect, the absence of Temple Bar from among the recognised institutions of law and order in England. 
The Charges and Allegations which were placed before the tribunal of public opinion for a political ‘trial’ by process of party accusation, before being modified at the bar of the Special Commission for judicial inquiry, were–
Upon each and all of these charges, which Sir Richard Webster undertook to prove to the hilt on his brief from the Times, the Report of the Special Commission completely and unequivocally acquits every one of the Respondents.
I will now examine the modified edition of Parnellism and Crime as it was presented to the judges for investigation, and compare the verdicts on each of the fourteen counts with facts and evidence.
That the respondents were members of a conspiracy and organisation having for its ultimate object to establish the absolute independence of Ireland.
We find that the respondent Members of Parliament collectively were not members of a conspiracy having for its object to establish the absolute independence of Ireland, but we find that some of them, together with Mr. Davitt, established and joined in the Land League organisation with the intention by its means to bring about the absolute independence of Ireland as a separate nation. The names of those respondents are set out at page 32 of this Report.
The charge as it was made by the Times, and meant to be understood by the public, has completely broken down. It was more than half untrue: The allegation covered by the terms of the charge was that Mr. Parnell and his party deliberately joined in a conspiracy which had the absolute independence of Ireland for its ultimate object. The judges do not report that the League was any such conspiracy, while but seven out of Mr. Parnell’s party of eighty-six members are found to have joined the Land League with the ‘intention’ of doing what the Times declared the entire party, as a party, had confederated to accomplish. The Commissioners say that the National League ‘was substantially the old Land League under a new name.’ This is disputed by the entire evidence of the respondents. The programmes of the two organisations tendered in testimony differ essentially, while the plans of action were, respectively, as divergent. The Land League left the question of ‘self-government’ for Ireland out of its platform, while the National League adopted it as its first and principal plank. Defined by the National League it meant ‘Home Rule,’ while being neither mentioned nor defined in the Land League, it was interpreted according to the views of every man who cared to expound them on the subject.
The means employed by the old League were generally extra-Parliamentarian: organisation among the people; resistance to eviction and rack-rent; in a word, ‘a land war’ against landlordism. The National League, while improving upon some of the methods of the Land League, was based upon stricter constitutional lines and was worked upon Parliamentary principles. Its programme was drawn by Mr. Parnell and not by me. The Land League as an organisation, with its president’s expressed or tacit sanction, engaged in ‘the land war’ against landlordism. The National League has not. In its capacity as an organised body it has worked for the first plank in its platform, Home Rule. Mr. Parnell has only actively identified himself with this its chief object, at least in Ireland. A section only of the National League have carried on ‘the land war,’ and this in a manner far more legally and with less radical aims than characterised the Land League struggle.
The conclusion to which the Commissioners have come with reference to the seven members of Parliament who, with myself, are declared ‘to have established and joined in the Land League’ with the intention of bringing about the absolute independence of Ireland, must be considered by the public in conjunction with the following facts.
The Land League ceased to exist in October 1881, more than eight years ago. The only one of the seven Parliamentary respondents included in this judgment who was actively identified with the ‘establishing’ of the Land League, was Mr. Harris. Of the remaining six, Messrs. Dillon, O’Brien, and Redmond were never members of the IRB or of any secret revolutionary body; while the entire seven, having entered Parliament years ago and taken the oath of allegiance to Her Majesty, have, in the most solemn manner possible, proved, years before Parnellism and Crime was published, that they had not then, and therefore cannot have now, any intention of bringing about the absolute independence of Ireland.
Those of them who joined the Land League nine or ten years ago with such intention will not, I am sure, feel either morally or politically degraded at the judgment of the Report. The universal opinion of mankind is more just than the verdict of political opponents, and no man or body of men, who have honestly aspired to win absolute independence for Ireland, have yet earned from history the stigma of dishonour or disgrace. There are few men throughout the British Empire more generally esteemed than Sir Charles Gavan Duffy, who has been knighted for his services to the great colony of Australia; yet in 1848 he was tried and convicted of the ‘crime’ of conspiring to effect the complete national independence of his country.
The minor finding on the first charge, that ‘the support of the extreme party, both in Ireland and America, was secured’ by me for the Land League is, I respectfully submit, against the weight of evidence; unless by ‘party’ is meant ‘individuals’ who belonged to revolutionary organisations. As ‘a party,’ the IRB expelled me from its ranks in 1880, for having established the Land League. In narrating the circumstances of the Rotunda meeting of the 30th of April, 1880, in order to quote Mr. Parnell’s reference to ‘bread and lead,’ the Commissioners omit either to give or to mention the resolution which the attacking party of Fenians came to propose, which was as follows:–
Resolved: ‘That while we, the Nationalists of Dublin, are ready to make any sacrifice to give the land to those who cultivate it, we protest against the deceptive policy of Heaven-sent champions and ex-political prisoners who are trying to seduce the people from the straight road to independence’ (Evidence, p.1883).
At page twenty-three of the Report, the Commissioners say, in dismissing the subject of the meeting here referred to: ‘After this meeting at the Rotunda Mr. Parnell does not appear to have encountered any hostility from the physical force party.’ This is clearly an error. It was shown by Sir Charles Russell in his speech (Evidence, p.3709), and subsequently proved, that the following manifesto was issued after the date fixed by the Report as the termination of Fenian opposition to Mr. Parnell’s movement.
The agitators themselves claim to be Nationalists when it suits their purpose, no matter whether they hold forth in the Home Rule League, the Land League, at the hustings, or that exalted platform – the floor of the British House of Commons. We have borne with their vapourings and false doctrines, as well as their treacherous designs against the freedom and national independence of Ireland, fully aware that the fate of the ‘new departure’ would be short-lived and would, in its final collapse, bring unutterable political ruin to all its promoters. To this end we are resolved to let them have rope enough, but as they are not content with this forbearance, and are occasionally sheltering themselves behind the sacred name of Irish nationality, we feel constrained to warn them that if they persevere in such a course we shall be obliged to adopt measures that will end their career much sooner than anticipated.
Thoughts of the painful present and the past
Must bring the hour of reckoning at last,
EXECUTIVE OF THE IRB
‘The extreme party both in Ireland and in America,’ as an organisation, always opposed the Land League, though the hostility was not so marked in America as in Ireland; but it would be true to say that individual extremists in both countries joined the League in large numbers and gave to its objects a warm and effective support. The learned Commissioners quote Mr. Harris, M.P. (Report, p.24) in their counter-contention to Mr. Parnell’s assertion that the opposition of the Fenian party grew stronger after 1880 than it was before. Mr. Harris’s admission, however, must be taken along with the argument of his whole evidence, which was, that while the leaders of the Fenian party were strongly adverse to the Land League, the rank and file were, to a large extent, in strong sympathy with the new movement.
That one of the immediate objects of their conspiracy was, by a system of coercion and intimidation, to promote an agrarian agitation against the payment of agricultural rents, for the purpose of impoverishing and expelling from the country the Irish landlords, who were styled the ‘English garrison.’
We find that the respondents did enter into a conspiracy by a system of coercion and intimidation to promote an agrarian agitation against the payment of agricultural rents, for the purpose of impoverishing and expelling from the country the Irish landlords, who were styled the ‘English garrison.’
Barring the use and application of the word ‘conspiracy’ to the Land League, I confess it would be difficult for the Commissioners, sitting as English judges, to come to any other conclusion from the evidence contained in the speeches which are cited in the Report. That the Land League used the weapon of boycotting, which the judges declare to have been an ‘all-pervading tyranny,’ was never denied by the respondents. That all the respondents advocated boycotting was fully admitted by them in their evidence. But the charge in Parnellism and Crime was not that which has been decided against us in the words given above. The original allegation reads:–
There are volumes of evidence, and it is being added to every day, to show that the whole organisation of the Land League, and its successor tbe National League, depends upon a system of intimidation carried out by the most brutal means, and resting ultimately upon the sanction of murder (Blue-book, quoting Parnellism and Crime, p.194).
And again, at p.197 of same, the Times said:–
Murder still startles the casuist and doctrinaire, and we charge that the Land League chiefs based their movement on a scheme of assassination, carefully calculated and coolly applied.
This is the monstrous libel as it was formulated in the first two articles of the Parnellism and Crime series, and from this atrocious imputation the respondents are completely freed by the Report.
The special Dublin jury which tried the Land League Executive upon the charge of ‘Criminal Conspiracy’ declared by a ten to two vote in 1880 that the persons so indicted were not guilty. Upon the evidence submitted to the Special Commission, an Irish jury, influenced by popular feeling, and the character and deeds of ‘the landlord garrison’ of Ireland, would have acquitted the respondents. On the system of landlordism or the evils with which it has cursed the social life of Ireland, the judges could not pronounce. Evictions and unjust renting were, to them, mere processes of law. ‘Land-grabbing’ represented but a simple act of occupying land, from which someone else had been dispossessed from failure to fulfil his legal obligations, whether these obligations were just, or equitable, or the reverse. This and nothing more. The long and agonising story of the doings of the ‘landlord garrison’ could find no place in the judgment, if it even arrested the attention, of the three eminent Englishmen appointed by a landlord government to try a great political movement, and with it the whole Celtic people of Ireland, in accordance with the rules of judicial procedure. But if the learned Commissioners could investigate the deeds and records of the ‘garrison,’ as they have done those of the League, their decision might possibly concur with the following historic judgment:–
By his holding the peasant lives; his potato crop maintains him and his family, wretchedly indeed; but miserable as is the pittance on which he lives, it is derived from his holding. To that holding he clings with desperate tenacity; and lest he should be evicted he will promise anything. The unfortunate man can find no farmer near in want of hands and ready to give wages. The grave or the workhouse is now his only alternative, and this alternative has only of late years been offered to him. What, we ask, are likely to be the feelings of a man cast into the road with his wife and wailing children around him, without food, without shelter, without hope? Burning indignation in his heart, ignorant, and mad with desperate recklessness, he turns in his anger on the direct instrument of his misery. If that instrument, by the manner in which he performs the harsh duties of his office, adds bitter insult to the injury which by itself is too much for poor human nature to bear; if rude curses attend deadly wrong, can we wonder at the wild torrent of vengeance and of hate which bears away before it all thoughts of duty and obedience; ought we to be startled if before it lie prostrate all fear of doing evil, all thoughts of the terrible future, and the consequence that must inevitably follow the breach of that law which bids us do no murder? Revenge weaves for itself a fatal web of sophistry, and eagerly listens to any suggestion which gives to the gratification of its passion and hate the character of that wild justice which was long since declared to be the slave’s sole protection.
And is not society called upon under such circumstances to step in and consider the abuse of those rights of property which society has created for the benefit of all? Are we to stand by with folded hands looking on in mute despair, as if these events were an inevitable necessity, an evil beyond the reach of law or public opinion? Surely we are not justified in adopting any such listless course. If the proprietors of the soil, in maintaining the rights which the law has given them, thus recklessly inflict misery without stint upon the helpless and unfortunate peasantry; if they say that without the perpetration of barbarities that would disgrace a Turkish pasha their rents cannot be collected; if they are to bring in the attorney multiplying process, and with process multiplying costs, and reducing the peasantry to a hopeless slavery; and if they are then to convert the country into a battle-field for the landlords, and process-servers, and sheriffs, and sheriffs’ officers, on the one side, and the furious peasantry and banded assassins on the other: then we say it is the bounden duty of the Legislature boldly to interfere, and either to enforce upon the present landlords the duties, while it maintains the rights of property, or to create a new landed proprietary, whose intelligence and wealth will enable them to secure the peace of society, and thus lay the sure foundation of national prosperity. – The Times, May 30, 1850.
That when on certain occasions they thought it politic to denounce, and did denounce, certain crimes in public, they afterwards led their supporters to believe such denunciation was not sincere. [This charge is chiefly based on the ‘facsimile’ letter of the 15th of May, 1882, alleged to be signed by Mr. Parnell.]
We find that the charge that ‘when on certain occasions they thought it politic to denounce, and did denounce, certain crimes in public, they afterwards led their supporters to believe such denunciation was not sincere’ is not established. We entirely acquit Mr. Parnell and the other respondents of the charge of insincerity in their denunciation of the Phoenix Park murders, and find that the ‘facsimile’ letter on which this charge was chiefly based as against Mr. Parnell is a forgery.
This disposes of the most odious of the charges contained in Parnellism and Crime. It may appear to the Commissioners to have had the ‘facsimile letter’ for foundation, but throughout the entire series of Times articles which were embodied in the indictment against the respondents, this horrible imputation is reproduced in every form of possible innuendo. In the Times of the 7th of March, 1887, it is written:–
Murderers provide their funds, murderers share their inmost counsels, murderers have gone forth from the League offices to set their bloody work afoot, and have presently returned to consult the ‘Constitutional leaders’ on the advancement of the cause.
In the same issue it is again said:–
These tasks must be made as easy for them as possible; hence murder is verbally discouraged, and Mr. Parnell judiciously drops the inspiriting language he is accustomed to address to his brother conspirators when dollars are required.
That they disseminated the Irish World and other newspapers tending to incite to sedition and the commission of other crime.
We find that the respondents did disseminate the Irish World and other newspapers tending to incite to sedition and the commission of other crime.
In giving their decision upon the dissemination of the Irish World, the Commissioners print six columns of extracts from the most violent of the writings that have appeared in that paper. A reading of these excerpts would convey the impression that nothing else but dynamite and destruction had been advocated by Patrick Ford, and that it was for such a propaganda I recommended the circulation of the paper in Ireland. Nothing could be more misleading than this except the extraordinary act of placing immediately after these selected passages the opinion expressed by me of Mr. Patrick Ford, years after he had abandoned the advocacy of a policy of violence towards England. I am convinced that this juxtaposition of my personal views of the man with the opinions at one time expressed in his paper was not meant to convey the impression that my estimate of his private character was founded upon his former newspaper dynamite doctrines. Yet there is not a word printed or implied from pages 59 to 65 of the Commissioners’ Report that could give a person unacquainted with the evidence any other idea than that I had lauded Patrick Ford for his incendiary writings alone. This I know was not in the minds of the learned Commissioners. It would be inconsistent with the evidence. I recommended the circulation of the Irish World in Ireland because of its teachings on land reform and on account of its warm and generous support of the Land League movement.
I never concurred in its propaganda of terrorism. At page 5601 of the evidence, a letter of mine, published in March 1883, is given, from which the following is an extract:–
It is true, and I regret it exceedingly, that Patrick Ford is represented in late despatches as having gone in with the dynamite party, and this acquisition, if really made, will lend to it a power which it never could otherwise obtain. From ‘spreading the light’ to educate, to advocating dynamite, which must destroy the movement of social reform, is an extraordinary change, indeed, in the opinions of a man who has been so strenuous a supporter of the moral force doctrine; and I can hardly believe that Patrick Ford has altogether abandoned reason for Rossa. Principles of reform, intelligently and fearlessly propagated, are far more destructive to unjust and worn-out systems than dynamite bombs, which only kill individuals, or knock down buildings, but do no injury to oppressive institutions; and that man must be politically blind who cannot see that the firing of ideas of ameliorative social reform into the heads of England’s toiling millions is infinitely more likely to hasten the solution of our own national and social problems than will be the blowing down of houses and the killing of innocent persons amongst these very millions. Any course of action on the part of Irishmen that would be calculated to consolidate thirty millions of people into a unit of deadly antagonism against every form of Irish political movement – and perhaps of retaliation upon seven millions of our race in Ireland and Great Britain – must be the proposition of a madman. The dynamite theory is the very abnegation of mind, the surrender of reason to rage, of judgment to blind, unthinking recklessness, and can only be equalled in unconscious imbecility by advocating the substitution of gunpowder for coal to hasten the process of generating steam.
I have sworn my belief that Mr. Ford had abandoned his advocacy of revenge against England since Mr. Gladstone adopted the policy of Home Rule for Ireland, and I know that this is so, not in this instance alone, but, in fact, as regards almost the whole Irish race in America. When speaking of Mr. Ford before the Commission, I had in mind the fact that he has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the relief of distress in Ireland, not once but several times, during the last ten years. I know likewise that, morally and as a Christian, his character stands unimpeachable where and to whom he is best known, and I have said, and I repeat it again, he is misunderstood in England because he is yet made out to be an implacable enemy of this country and a revolutionist of the darkest dye, when it is within the knowledge of all America that he is now an earnest advocate of moral force methods only, and is held in the highest esteem by the President of the United States.
To speak truthfully of a man in his private character because as a one time revolutionist he was England’s deadly enemy, and waged against her government in Ireland a warfare of violence, is, doubtless, a grave moral offence on my part, in the eyes of pharisaical opponents. I shall not attempt to purge myself of this sin, any more than of the still greater one of having once been the active enemy of England myself. I asked no absolution from the Commission in these matters, and I would set no value upon it were it offered me unsolicited. I call to mind, in this connection, some verses written by the most popular American minister London ever welcomed as a friendly ambassador.
Of all the sarse thet I can call to mind,
She never stopped the habus-corpus act,
That they, by their speeches, and by payment for that purpose, incited persons to the commission of crime, including murder.
We find that the respondents did not directly incite persons to the commission of crime other than intimidation, but that they did incite to intimidation, and that the consequence of that incitement was that crime and outrage were committed by the persons incited. We find that it has not been proved that the respondents made payments for the purpose of inciting persons to commit crime.
This charge, thus disposed of, was very different in its original form. The charge from the first to the last page of Parnellism and Crime was not a charge of constructive, moral, or legal responsibility for the words or acts of agents. What was alleged was, the deliberate selection by the respondents of men instructed and paid to organise outrage and murder, as the means by which the political aims of the League were to be attained.
The Attorney-General in his speech before the Commission spoke from his Times brief as follows:–
It will appear that an emissary of the Land League used to get the money from the treasurer – either Mr. Biggar, Mr. Brennan, or Mr. Egan, anyone of the officials who might be in charge, used to take down the money, £20 or £30, having received the money of course from Mr. Biggar, and then distribute it locally to the men who were to carry out the outrages.
Not a single word of this particularised allegation but has been rejected by the Commissioners as false.
That they did nothing to prevent crime, and expressed no bona fide disapproval of it.
We find as to the allegation that the respondents did nothing to prevent crime and expressed no bona fide disapproval, that some of the respondents, and in particular Mr. Davitt, did express bona fide disapproval of crime and outrage, but that the respondents did not denounce the system of intimidation which led to crime and outrage, but persisted in it with knowledge of its effect.
The original charge, as made by counsel for the Times in O’Donnell v. Walter, and repeated before the Commission, reads–
During the whole period of these years there is not, as far as I know, one solitary speech amongst the thousands delivered in which anyone of these men deprecated the outrages which were going on. – Blue-book, p.73.
And at p.74 of same, the Attorney-General affirmed on his brief–
On not one single occasion do we find the slightest speech or one single expression directed to diverting the minds of people from acts which certainly followed the infamous speeches directly inciting to outrage.
That they subscribed to testimonials for, and were intimately associated with, notorious criminals, defended persons supposed to be guilty of agrarian crime, supported their families, and made payments to secure the escape of criminals from justice.
We find that the respondents did defend persons charged with agrarian crime, and supported their families, but that it has not been proved that they subscribed to testimonials for, or were intimately associated with, notorious criminals, or that they made payments to procure the escape of criminals from justice.
The portion of this verdict which bears out the least injurious part of the charge simply affirms that which the respondents never denied. It was notorious that the Land League paid for or subscribed towards the expenses of many persons accused of agrarian offences. But, to reason from this fact, as the Times has persistently done, that subscribing to defend a person accused of a certain crime implies complicity in the perpetration of it, or encouragement to others to follow criminal example, is where the injury to the respondents lies, which is not perceptible in the wording of this section of the charge as given in the Report.
Any person acquainted with the peasantry of Ireland knows of the wide distrust there is of the administration of the law. There is, unhappily, only too much justification for this feeling, and during the time of the Land League, as in all political agitations in that country, the agents and administrators of the law were men who were recruited from the ranks of the anti-national classes. Trials in Ireland are more expensive than in England. Poor peasants accused of illegal or criminal acts would have no chance of a fair trial if left to their own resources. Guilty or innocent, a person accused in these countries is entitled to a fair trial, and instead of shirking in any way the responsibility attached to this part of the above charge, I claim it was to the credit of the Land League that it aided justice in helping it to determine where criminality lay, and where innocence was untruthfully accused in a legal prosecution.
That they made payments to persons who had been injured in the commission of crime.
We find, as to the allegation that the respondents made payments to compensate persons who had been injured in the commission of crime, that they did make such payments.
The only instance of any such payment having been made, which came in evidence before the Commission, was that of the Timothy Horan letter and cheque for £6. This money was granted on the eve of the suppression of the Land League in October 1881, eight months after I had been arrested and sent back to prison, and consequently while I was in a situation which rendered it absolutely impossible for me to be connected with the grant. How I could, therefore, make this payment is not easily seen, except through very far-seeing judicial glasses. Most of the other prominent respondents were also incarcerated at the time of this transaction, and the only one of the sixty-four included in the charges and allegations whose name was in any way associated with this cheque was Dr. J.E. Kenny, M.P., who was not even present when the sum was voted. Technically what was done by the acting treasurer of the Land League was part of the work of the organisation for which the respondents are legally responsible under the law of conspiracy, but looked at from the point of view in which the Times has represented it, the respondents have incurred no moral responsibility whatever in regard to the voting of this £6. The Commissioners have dealt with this matter in the severest possible manner, and have, I think, gone beyond what anything but mere inference should warrant in assuming that proof of one such payment was evidence of many. It is insisted upon in the reasoning which leads to their decision that the absence of certain books, and inability of the respondents to produce all the correspondence of the Land League, does not enable them to agree to the contention of the respondents under this charge. But surely this is an insufficient reason why the allegation of the accusers should be accepted as true. The complaint about the non-production of Land League books and letters is not fully justified from the facts. The Commissioners report that the Land League has been continued under the name of the National League. I have already expressed my own opinion on this point. But, according to the decision arrived at in the Report, the actual time during which the Land League has had an existence was not from October 1879 to October 1881, but from the former date to the hour when the Report was drawn up. The complaint about the absence of books and correspondence is therefore unreasonable under the circumstances, as the Commissioners have had access to, and every opportunity of inspecting, every book, every letter, and every document belonging to the ‘Land League,’ from October 1882 until the inquiry into the charges and allegations began. This six years’ record of moneys received and paid, of letters written and received, and of minutes of meetings held, has been open to the inquisition of the Commission along with the books and correspondence commented upon in the Report, and the result has been the discovery of the Timothy Horan grant of £6, alleged, but not proved, to have been given to some men who had been wounded by the police in some nocturnal raid. If ever the ‘benefit of the doubt’ was conceded to the wrong side, it is in this instance, where one such payment, under the circumstances related, is accepted as conclusive proof that the respondents, who were but indirectly and through subordinates concerned in the grant of this £6, ‘made payments to persons who had been injured in the commission of crime.’
That the respondents invited the assistance and co-operation of, and accepted subscriptions of money from, known advocates of crime and dynamite.
As to the allegation that the respondents invited the assistance and co-operation of, and accepted subscriptions of money from, known advocates of crime and the use of dynamite, we find that the respondents did invite the assistance and co-operation of and accepted subscriptions of money from Patrick Ford, a known advocate of crime and the use of dynamite, but that it has not been proved that the respondents or any of them knew that the Clan-na-Gael controlled the League or was collecting money for the Parliamentary Fund. It has been proved that the respondents invited and obtained the assistance and co-operation of the Physical Force Party in America, including the Clan-na-Gael, and in order to obtain that assistance abstained from repudiating or condemning the action of that party.
The credence given by the Commissioners to Le Caron’s whole story – his history of Clan-na-Gael doings and the account of the alleged conversation and interview with Mr. Parnell – is one of the marked features of the Report. It is significant proof of what a skilfully played part can do in the way of making a good impression upon men who are supposed to be influenced only by the hard facts of evidence. As a witness, and apart from what he swore, Le Caron was the very best put forward by the Times. His manner in the witness-box could not be improved upon. Deferential, but not obsequious, to the Court; attentive and courteous to Sir Charles Russell, resourceful in his replies all round, and entirely devoid of bravado, except where he loudly boasted of always having been ‘an English-born fellow,’ he succeeded most artfully in masking the character and career of a spy behind the well-acted personality of a patriotic Englishman who for near thirty years had risked his life in efforts to counteract the plans of England’s enemies. It was an histrionic performance of a high order, and would have won any jury of Englishmen into a sympathetic belief in the artist’s romantic recital – especially as the Clan-na-Gael were not in court and could not therefore unfold a counter-story. Le Caron’s testimony was against absent enemies. The stage was all his own, and right good use he made of it.
His evidence is quite another matter. It has received no corroboration except in the single instance where Devoy’s letter of the 24th of June, 1881 (page 104 of the Report) appears to confirm Le Caron’s statements about the alleged talk with Mr. Parnell. This letter may or may not be Devoy’s. We have only Le Caron’s word for it that it is; while on the other hand Messrs. Parnell and O’Kelly have sworn they never had any conversation of the kind with Le Caron, and Mr. Parnell was equally emphatic in his declaration that he never sent any such message, as that alleged by Le Caron, to Devoy or anyone else in America. It is therefore one witness against, practically, three; and the learned judges have resorted to the ‘probabilities of the case’ as a foundation for their finding; but the ‘probabilities’ favourable to the credibility of Le Caron’s story only.
The probabilities on the other side appear not to have been taken into account at all. They would reasonably be the following: Armed with the introduction from Devoy to Mr. Egan, a trained and courteous spy seeking to serve his employers would endeavour to obtain an interview with Mr. Parnell. I believe such an interview did take place. Mr. Parnell would not swear it did not. He is compelled, like most members of Parliament, to see persons making application for interviews during the Session. The interview, therefore, is probable, alike from the point of view of the veracity or the concoction of the story about the conversation and message to America. The mere meeting with Mr. Parnell or speaking to him lends no proof whatever to the statements which Le Caron declares Mr. Parnell made and which Mr. Parnell swears he never used to Le Caron or anyone else. That Mr. Parnell is right and Le Caron wrong is probable from various considerations. If Mr. Parnell had spoken as alleged, or had entrusted such a mission to a man whom he had never met before – a most improbable thing in itself, when a man of Mr. Parnell’s reticent character is in question – it would be too big an achievement for the adventurous spy not to place the fact on record in Mr. Anderson’s keeping, where it might afterwards be found when required among the 1,200 reports, letters, and memoranda which, according to Sir Henry James, represent Le Caron’s contributions to the secret service intelligence department of the Home Office. No such record was produced before the Commission. No letter was ever written by Mr. Parnell or Mr. O’Kelly to the man whom the judges believe to have been an accredited agent from Mr. Parnell to Devoy and Hynes, nor did Le Caron, according to his own testimony, ever write a line from America to Mr. Parnell, informing him of the success of the mission confided to him. If Le Caron’s account of this interview is ‘probable’ in one particular, it is so in all. Yet he represents Mr. Parnell as having said, among other things, this: ‘He did not see any reason why a successful insurrectionary movement could not be inaugurated in Ireland, as we will soon have £100,000 in the Land League funds!’ (Evidence, p.2723). When asked by Sir Charles Russell what his opinion of such a proposal was, a proposal to engage in a war with Great Britain with a fund of £100,000 – Le Caron replied that he considered it ‘an insane idea.’ Yet ‘the probabilities of the case’ have inclined Sir James Hannen and his learned colleagues to the belief that Mr. Parnell, whom they nevertheless exonerate from all treasonable intent or designs, actually discussed a project of physical force rebellion against England within the precincts of the House of Commons!
On Le Caron’s return to New York, following the incident of this interview, what more probable course would a spy adopt than that of writing to his friend Devoy such an account of the meeting with Mr. Parnell as would flatter Devoy into the belief that Mr. Parnell required him to come to Ireland or England – just at the time when his association with either Mr. Parnell or Mr. Egan would be most dangerous to Mr. Parnell’s policy and most agreeable to the plans which Mr. Forster in Ireland and Sir William Harcourt in London were pursuing against the Land League?
It was manifestly to Le Caron’s interest that he should incriminate Mr. Parnell at a time when it was being freely alleged by Sir William Harcourt and other members of the then Liberal Government that the Land League was being controlled by Irish-American revolutionists. It was with this object in view that Le Caron provided himself with a letter of introduction from Devoy to Mr. Egan when leaving for Europe in April 1881. Devoy had been referred to by Sir William Harcourt in March as ‘an enemy who should be stamped upon as a viper if he dared to land in England’; to which threat Devoy retorted through the Atlantic cable by saying that Home Secretaries could be stamped upon likewise. Le Caron came to Paris with ‘two sealed packets’ from Devoy, one for Mr. John O’Leary and the other for Mr. Patrick Egan. An air of much mystery was assumed by the adroit spy when detailing this circumstance. Asked by Sir Charles Russell if he had read the contents of either packet, the witness replied ‘No, Sir. No opportunity of doing that. Too securely sealed!’ and this answer conveyed the suggestion that important documents, of treasonable intent of course, had been carried by Le Caron from Devoy to Egan. I have succeeded in obtaining this ‘important sealed dispatch’ which was thus delivered to Mr. Egan. Unfortunately it did not come into my possession until after Mr. Parnell had withdrawn his case from the Commission. Here is the ‘dispatch’:–
Palmer House, Chicago: March 31, 188l.
Dear Friend, – This will introduce to you a friend of mine, Dr. Le Caron, of Braidwood, Ill., who is going to spend a few months in Europe. Although a Frenchman he is a member of the Land League, and has always been a good Irishman, barring the bull.
I want him to make your acquaintance and, as he treated Davitt well when in his town, I know you will show him any kindness in your power.
Remembrance to all friends,
Patrick Egan, Esq.
Should Le Caron or anyone interested in the Times case desire to test the authenticity of this letter, by submitting it to any person who has possession of any of Devoy’s writing, or who is familiar with it, I will give him every facility for inspecting the original. That this letter of introduction was given, unsealed, to the man who asked for or required it, as all such letters are, is inherently probable, and the air of dramatic mystery with which Le Caron spoke of it as a ‘sealed dispatch,’ which he did not, because he could not, open, was but in keeping with the inventive skill with which the most commonplace incidents were dressed up by an artist experienced in deception, in order to assail with suspicion the man whom Pigott’s forgery had been employed to destroy.
Le Caron’s testimony against the Clan-na-Gael was also a safe performance. The U.B. Circulars, many of which are printed in whole or in part in the Commissioners’ Report, were all in Le Caron’s handwriting. No other human being was produced before their lordships to corroborate the evidence tendered for the Times in this way. The circulars began and ended with the man who had sent them from America to Mr. Anderson of the Home Office. Those who could throw light upon these documents were American citizens, who would be unlikely to appear before a British tribunal; and Le Caron, therefore, had the field all to himself. It is upon this kind of testimony the learned judges have found that the Clan-na-Gael controlled the National League of America from the 25th of April, 1883, and that the former body was an organisation ‘actively engaged in promoting the use of dynamite for the destruction of life and property in England.’
With regard to the witness whose sole evidence has led the Commissioners to form this judgment, the following facts have been established in the evidence: he admitted that he had repeatedly taken oaths with the intention of breaking them; he asserted that Patrick Egan had told him there was a warrant issued for his (Egan’s) arrest at the time he left Dublin. No such warrant is on record, nor was the existence of any such document attempted to be proved before the Commission. He also declared that Egan had told him that Mr. Sexton, M.P., had helped Thomas Brennan ‘to escape’ (no warrant having been issued for his arrest, either), and no help of that kind or anything akin to it was ever required from, or rendered by, Mr. Sexton. He swore that ‘Daly of Castlebar’ was present at the Clan-na-Gael convention in Philadelphia, in April, 1883. There is but one ‘Daly’ of Castlebar, the editor of the Connaught Telegraph, who occupied the chair at the first Irishtown meeting, and he was never outside of the United Kingdom in his life. In innumerable other instances to be found in the evidence it can be shown again that this witness has woven so much romance into his story that no absolute reliance can be placed upon any particular statement he has made.
The references made in the Report to the Buffalo Land League Convention of January, 1881, are not all which the respondents might reasonably expect. The Commissioners say that James Redpath attended, and that ‘the action of this Convention does not seem to have satisfied the Clan-na-Gael.’ An extract from a Le Caron circular follows, and we are taken at a jump from Buffalo to Paris. It was proved in evidence that at this Convention the following resolution was unanimously passed:
That we cordially unite with the Irish National Land League of Ireland in deprecating all forms of violence, and earnestly urge the Irish people to continued patience under all provocation, remembering the words of O’Connell that ‘He who commits a crime gives strength to the enemy.’
A similar remark may be made about each of the subsequent American League Conventions. Admitting there must be considerable abridgment in the selection of the matter upon which a final decision was to be given, resolutions favourable to the respondents’ case are completely ignored, while all matter making for the contention of the Times is dwelt upon by the learned judges in their summary of each of the five Conventions, whose proceedings are reviewed in the Report. In dealing with the Washington Convention of April 1882, three lines of, General Collins’s speech are given, for the apparent purpose of bringing out the reference to the expression, ‘let us stand upon a platform broad enough for all the friends of Ireland to stand upon, and with all hearts, and wills, and energies, unite behind “United Ireland,”’ obviously meaning by the last two words a united Irish people, and not what the Report conveys, behind the leadership of the paper United Ireland. The following resolution is ignored in the judges’ summary of this Convention:
That we are proud of the Christian forbearance of the Irish people under their dreadful exasperations; and while exhorting every man in Ireland to continue to use his influence in preventing even the least act of violence, we solemnly charge the British government with the responsibility of all crimes and outrages occurring since the imprisonment of the leaders of the people.
In dealing with the Philadelphia National League Convention, due prominence is given to Mr. Parnell’s cable letter to president Mooney; but no mention is made of the fact, admitted by Le Caron in evidence, that an attempt to introduce a discussion upon the subject of dynamite and physical force was voted down by the entire Convention. It is equally overlooked that the official report of this Convention shows the allocation of over 20,000 dollars of American League money for relief of distress in Ireland. It is from the date of this Convention the judges affirm that the Clan-na-Gael controlled the National League of America. A Le Caron circular, boasting of the capture of the League by the secret organisation, is cited, but what appears to lend more confirmation to the view taken in the Report on this point is the bombastic and untruthful comment quoted from the Irishman newspaper of the 12th of May, 1883. The American press of Philadelphia declared that the outcome of the Convention was a victory for the moral over the physical force element in the assemblage, and such witnesses, with all the penetrating reputation of American reporters and interviewers, are more reliable than a spy in the pay of the Home Office, whose interest and inclination would lie in painting everything in the darkest colours, or a sensational paragraphist on a Dublin weekly paper, which had but recently ceased to be the organ of Richard Pigott.
With all due respect to the three eminent Commissioners who devoted so much trained ability to their most arduous labours, I deny that the Clan-na-Gael did then, or at any subsequent Convention, capture or control the American League, as sworn by Le Caron and credited in the Report. Clan-na-Gael men were, undoubtedly, at each of these Conventions, but they were in a minority at everyone of them. They attended, not in that capacity, but as members of the Land League. Prominent men among them were elected at Philadelphia, Boston, and Chicago to offices of importance, it is true, but in not one single instance as Clan-na-Gaelers. They were elected as upholders of the Land League policy, and not as advocates of physical force. The official reports of these Conventions which were adduced as evidence make this manifest. Contemporary newspaper reports do the same. Conventions are not to be judged by the presence of a minority holding extreme views, but by the Convention’s own organised action as expressed by its platform, and resolutions emanating from the vote of the majority of delegates. An organisation must be judged by the same rule. Patrick Egan was not elected president of the National League of America, at the Boston Convention in 1884, because he was then a member of the Clan-na-Gael, but from the fact of his having been treasurer of the Land League of Ireland. Had the Clan-na-Gael the control of the League organisation in the sense asserted by Le Caron, and credited upon his unsupported statements by the Commissioners, the League funds would have been appropriated, in whole or in part, for revolutionary purposes, and the open organisation would have been utilised for the ends of the secret body. No evidence whatever was adduced to establish any such facts. The League funds were audited and publicly accounted for at each Convention, and the official reports handed in to the Commission by me as evidence contain the particulars of the receipts and disbursements of all Land League moneys from the first Land League Convention of Trainor Hall, New York, in May 1880, to the last or Chicago National League Convention of August 1886.
That at the time of the Kilmainham negotiations, Mr. Parnell knew that Sheridan and Boyton had been organising outrages, and therefore wished to use them to put down outrage.
We find that this charge has not been proved.
This charge was first made by the late Mr. W.E. Forster in 1882. It is true it did not originate with the Times, but it was dextrously used as a corroborant to the forgeries and fabrications of Parnellism and Crime, and was made in this manner more injurious to Mr. Parnell than if it had been invented like the other special charges. The terms used by the Commissioners in the body of their Report plainly indicate that their verdict was ‘not guilty,’ rather than ‘not proved.’ They say (p.56):
That Mr. Parnell should employ Sheridan and Boyton to quiet the disturbed districts was natural, as they had been organisers there, and had no doubt acquired influence in those districts. We cannot doubt that Mr. Parnell was aware of the inflammatory speeches they had made, and there is no evidence that he knew that Sheridan or Boyton had organised outrages.
In justice to Boyton, it can be said that no charge of organising outrage was ever brought against him in Ireland. He was imprisoned under Mr. Forster’s Coercion Act without trial, like hundreds of other Land Leaguers; but after his release in 1882, he took up his residence in London, where he lived down to 1885, visiting Ireland frequently in that interval, and it is not on record that any attempt has ever been made by the administrators of the law in Ireland to indict him for any of the crimes or outrages imputed to him without any justification whatever by the Times.
That Mr. Parnell was intimate with the leading Invincibles, that he probably learned from them what they were about when he was released on parole in April 1882, and that he recognised the Phoenix Park murders as their handiwork.
We find that there is no foundation for this charge. We have already stated that the Invincibles were not a branch of the Land League.
At p.58 of the Report, the Commissioners state more fully their disbelief in this charge, and say–
We consider that there is no foundation whatever for the charge that Mr. Parnell was intimate with Invincibles, knowing them to be such, or that he had any knowledge, direct or indirect, of the Phoeuix Park murders, and we find the same with reference to the other respondents.
This charge and its atrocious accessories rang throughout a startled civilised world. One of the editions of Parnellism and Crime appeared with the representation of a finger-mark of blood upon the cover, as a figurative proof of Mr. Parnell’s red-handed guilt in the murder of Lord Cavendish and Mr. Burke!
That Mr. Parnell, on 23rd January, 1883, by an opportune remittance, enabled Byrne to escape from justice to France.
We find that Mr. Parnell did not make any remittance to enable F. Byrne to escape from justice.
This charge had a ‘setting’ in the columns of the Times which rendered it far worse than as it was presented to the Commission for investigation. The part which Byrne was alleged to have played in the Phoenix Park murders was coupled with a statement that the knives by which the Secretaries were butchered ‘lay for several days in a paper parcel along with a rifle and revolvers in the Parliamentary Offices of Mr. Parnell and his colleagues, open to the inspection of the curious.’ In these offices Frank Byrne was employed, and the picture of the ‘brown paper parcel’ with its hideous contents was intended to convey the impression to the public that the members of Mr. Parnell’s party who frequented these offices had inspected the weapons used in the Phoenix Park murders. It was also stated in Parnellism and Crime that Mr. Parnell saw Byrne while out on parole from Kilmainham, in April 1882, and that he learned from him what the Invincible plans were which subsequently culminated in the Phcenix Park murders.
Next to the complete acquittal of Mr. Parnell from the three specific and monstrous charges which were based upon Pigott’s forgeries, the most significant collapse of the Times case is the silence of the Report with respect to Mr. Patrick Egan. Mention of his name is not altogether omitted, but, excepting where at pages 114 and 118 he is found to have joined the Clan-na-Gael after having left Ireland, there are no serious charges of any kind proved against him. Yet, Mr. Egan, as treasurer of the Land League, was accused of more diabolical criminality than any other of the prominent Land Leaguers, not excepting Mr. Parnell, during the inquiry. The Times witness Delaney swore (p.1,856 of the Evidence) that ‘Mr. Egan and Mr. Brennan were the principal leaders of the Invincibles.’ He again swore (p.1,859) that James Mullet and other Invincibles received sums of money from Egan. The Attorney-General, speaking from Mr. Soames’ brief, and evidently relying upon Delaney’s proffered testimony as well as on Pigott’s forgery of Mr. Egan’s name in the letters addressed to Carey, asserted in the trial of O’Donnell v. Walter, that several months after Egan resigned the treasurership of the Land League he had funds in hand to enable his fellow criminals in the Phoenix Park murder plots to escape to America;’ ‘that Mrs. Frank Byrne’s sister-in-law got £200 from Egan to enable the whole gang (of Invincibles) to escape to America, and on Mrs. Byrne’s discharge from custody Egan made her a further grant of money for the same purpose,’ while the whole contention of the Times with reference to Mr. Egan was that he was the paymaster of the Invincible conspiracy. Not a single word of these abominable allegations is believed in the Report. They are outrageous libels upon a man who has been held up to the most cruel odium during the past three years, and who now stands vindicated by the judges’ decision that the Invincibles were not, as alleged by the Times, a branch of the Land League. The Commissioners have rejected Delaney’s evidence as being as worthless as Pigott’s forgeries, and the magnitude of the injury which both were expected to inflict indirectly upon Mr. Parnell and his party will be the true measure of the defeat which the Times has sustained in its falsified charges against the ex-treasurer of the Land League. Too much credit cannot be given by the whole Irish race to the President of the United States for having had the courage as well as the sagacity to nominate Mr. Egan as Minister Plenipotentiary to Chili while yet the Times-Pigott accusations were hanging over the head of the man whose character and reputation this unholy alliance conspired to destroy. President Harrison was influenced by his own judgment of Mr. Egan, and time has vindicated the justice and wisdom of his action.
That he was a member of the Fenian organisation, and convicted as such, and that he assisted in the formation of the Land League with money which had been contributed for the purpose of outrage and crime.
We have shown in the course of the Report that Mr. Davitt was a member of the Fenian organisation, and convicted as such, and that he received money from a fund which had been contributed for the purpose of outrage and crime, namely, the Skirmishing Fund. It. was not, however, for the formation of the Land League itself, but for the promotion of the agitation which led up to it. We have also shown that Mr. Davitt returned the money out of his own resources.
The four statements contained in this finding are strictly true. But, in estimating the value of this verdict and admission to the Times, it must be borne in mind that my former conviction for Fenianism was a notorious fact years before Parnellism and Crime was written, and that I had likewise expiated the legal penalty of penal servitude which such conviction involved. It was, moreover, a matter in my history which I had never attempted to disguise when speaking to British audiences from 1878 to 1887; and those in Ireland who joined the Land League, with objects justly recognised by the Commissioners as free from ulterior purposes, were not invited to do so in ignorance of my political antecedents. Three of her Majesty’s judges need never have been taken from their ordinary duties to investigate a circumstance which everyone of the Queen’s subjects knew as much about before the Commission as he knows now, and this observation can also be applied to the three other statements in the finding upon this special charge.
In the month of July 1882, I published, in an interview in the New York Daily World, which was reproduced in the Irish press, the story of the Skirmishing Fund money, which forms the gravamen of this charge. The judges have accepted this story as true, and they have rejected the allegation which the Times founded upon it, namely, that it was with this money the Land League was formed. It is the Times that is convicted here, and not I. The accusation on this head was levelled at Mr. Parnell and the other respondents, through their colleagueship with me in the Land League, and the Commissioners have found, truly, that it was a transaction with which I was alone concerned, and for which neither Mr. Parnell, as head of the Land League, nor the other persons accused with him, as members of that body, had any the least responsibility. This whole charge, therefore, had nothing but ancient history for foundation, and the published facts were simply distorted by the Times in order to implicate Mr. Parnell.
The secondary aspect of the judgment upon this special charge will, I admit, be considered from another point of view. It will be said by many that the acceptance by me of money that had been subscribed for the ‘Skirmishing’ fund – for purposes of criminal violence against England – though not so used by me, was, in itself, a guilty act, and is morally reprehensible. I shall not attempt to reason on what is and what is not a legitimate subject of moral reproach in political action. It would be a useless waste of effort in this instance. The judges have pronounced truly upon the facts. I have no regrets to offer or apology to make for the facts being in accord with truth.
That he was in close and intimate association with the party of violence in America, and was mainly instrumental in bringing about the alliance between that party and the Parnellite and Home Rule party in America.
With regard to the further allegation that he was in close and intimate association with the party of violence in America, and mainly instrumental in bringing about the alliance between that party and the Parnellite and Home Rule party in America, we find that he was in such close and intimate association for the purpose of bringing about, and that he was mainly instrumental in bringing about, the alliance referred to.
I have little, if any, fault to find with this verdict, except as to the meaning which may be attached to the word ‘alliance’ in the connection in which it stands. If by ‘alliance’ is meant that I succeeded in winning over to the movement of the Land League men who were still revolutionists and members of organisations which existed for purposes of physical warfare against England, the finding of the judges is true. It did not require the labours of a Special Commission to discover that fact. I never attempted to disguise it. I sought for the aid and co-operation of all men in America who had experienced the evils of Irish landlordism to help in the movement organised to purge the system from the social life of Ireland, and the extent of my success in that direction was and is still the measure of my gratification at having combined exiled Irishmen of extreme views with those of moderate ones in a work both English parties are now competing with each other in anxious rivalry to complete. The learned Commissioners do not, however, put any definite interpretation of the ‘alliance’ in their Report, and I assert that it must in fairness be read in the light in which I place it, and not as meaning that ‘the Party of Violence’ was allied, as a party, with the ‘Parnellite and Home Rule Party in America’ for the objects, or any of them, for which such ‘Party of Violence’ existed.
But the point which the Times attempted to establish in making this second special charge against me is completely set aside by the wording of the judges’ finding. What the Times alleged in the particulars served upon me by ‘Soames, Edwards, and Jones,’ on the 27th of October, 1888 (which was but a copy of the document handed in to the Commission) was, ‘that he was mainly instrumental in bringing about the alliance between that party (“the Party of Violence”) and the Parnellite and Home Rule Party in Ireland.’ This was the language and meaning of Parnellism and Crime. Mr. Parnell was accused of being, along with his movement in Ireland, but a puppet of the Clan-na-Gael. His movement and party were declared to be but a section of a revolutionary organisation which used dynamite as a weapon against England, and included assassination in its methods; and the charge against me was that I had effected an alliance between ‘the American branch’ of this organisation and ‘the Parnellite and Home Rule Party in Ireland.’ The judges have given a totally different reading of this charge in substituting ‘the Parnellite and Home Rule Party in America’ for ‘the Parnellite and Home Rule Party in Ireland’ which was the letter and spirit of the Times allegation; and this finding is in keeping with the decisions given in acquitting Mr. Parnell and the Parliamentary respondents of all knowledge of the part played by members of the Clan-na-Gael in the movement of the American National League. The leaders and members of ‘the Parnellite and Home Rule Party in America’ are all American citizens. They are not British subjects, and, therefore, in bringing about an ‘alliance’ between them and others who were, likewise, American citizens, I have in no way compromised Mr. Parnell or infringed the law of England in this particular achievement.
There are mistakes not a few in the Report upon which much comment might be made by the respondents. But, on the other hand, allowance must be granted for the manifold difficulties which beset three English judges, presumably ignorant of Irish history and modern Irish national politics, when they commenced their task of investigating the events of the Land League period. At page 6 of the Report, it is stated that ‘Th.F. Bourke, for whose rescue Clerkenwell Prison was blown up,’ was among those who signed an address presented to me while in America in September 1878. Here two names are confounded. Thomas Francis Bourke, mentioned in this connection, was in no way identified with the Clerkenwell outrage. It was a ‘Col. Ricard Bourke’ who was a prisoner in Clerkenwell when the explosion alluded to occurred, and there was no mention of his name in relation to me, throughout the investigation before the Commission.
At page 109, the Commissioners report that I went to America in 1882 with Mr. William Redmond and ‘Mr Dillon, M.P.’ There was in 1882, and there is now, but one Mr. Dillon, M.P., and he did not accompany me on my then visit to the United States. Mr. John Dillon’s brother, William Dillon, was a passenger on the same ship, but beyond this casual association in crossing the Atlantic, he had nothing whatever to do with my visit on that occasion. The mistake is not an important one, but, in view of the finding against Mr. John Dillon in another part of the Report, I deem it right to correct an error that may, possibly, have contributed to the formation of the opinion come to by the learned judges, that Mr. John Dillon, M.P., entered the Land League with sentiments kindred to my own upon the question of the absolute independence of Ireland.
There are mistakes in the Christian names of several of the forty-four members of Parliament affirmed to have been guilty of ‘Criminal Conspiracy,’ which are more likely to give rise to amusement than to a counter-indictment of Sir James Hannen and his colleagues. It is, however, a moot point whether, in the event of a State prosecution following upon the judges’ finding, ‘Gametr’ M. Byrne, ‘Morris’ Healy, ‘Joseph’ Condon, or ‘J.F.K.’ O’Brien could be legally identified among Mr. Parnell’s Parliamentary Party.
Exception can reasonably be taken to the apparently one-sided manner in which the statistics of agrarian crime are arranged from page 81 to 87 of the Report. The argument and treatment here given correspond almost exactly with the figures used by Sir Henry James in his summing up for the Times. No use whatever is made of Sir Charles Russell’s statistics. While it is pointed out that more agrarian crimes took place in Mayo, Galway, and Sligo, where the League was active, than in other counties where it was not so active, there is no mention of the fact that there were more evictions in those three counties than in any of the corresponding counties during the years mentioned. On page 87 a total number of agrarian crimes for 1879, 1880, 1881, and 1882 is given by the figures 11,964, while no reference is made to the fact that the same returns from which these figures are taken show that no less than 6,010 of these were but threatening letters, while only 1 in 200 of the grand total were homicides, and of these not one-third were proved by evidence to be agrarian.
The observations in the Report upon the rejection of the Compensation for Disturbance Bill can be contrasted with the language made use of by the late Mr. W.E. Forster when he succeeded in persuading the House of Commons to pass the measure as an indispensable means of preserving order and preventing disturbance pending the introduction of a Land Bill. The learned judges were not more competent to form a judgment on this point than the late Chief Secretary for Ireland.
On page 109 it is recorded, in one sentence between extracts from two of Le Caron’s U.B. circulars, that Mr. Patrick Egan arrived in America from Ireland and went at once to the house of Alexander Sullivan. There was no evidence produced before the Commission to connect this or any other private visit of Mr. Egan’s with the issuing of any dynamite document, as thus suggested in the Report.
The Report in its entirety bands over the name, and work, and record of the Land League to the consideration of the historian, the politician; and the statesman. What the learned Commissioners thought right to say, in explanation of the purely judicial nature and scope of their inquiry, in the beginning of their judgment, would be more appropriately found at its conclusion.
We must leave it for historians to investigate the remote causes of the present condition of Ireland – we must leave it for politicians to discuss, and for statesmen to determine, in what respects the present laws affecting land in that country are capable of improvement, and we must confine our researches to the question whether the respondents or any of them have been guilty of the things charged and alleged against them; we have no commission to consider whether the conduct of which they are accused can be palliated by the circumstances of the time, or whether it should be condoned in consideration of benefits alleged to have resulted.
History, impartially written, will say that the Land League was not without its serious faults, nor were its leaders free from the ordinary weaknesses and mistakes of human nature in the heat and turmoil of fierce political agitation. But the Land League all but accomplished its mission. It found the Irish name a byword and reproach among nations for weakness, vacillation, and disunion. It has given it a new meaning of power, undeviating purpose, and disciplined unity. The ‘traditional’ Ireland of faction and impotence has gone with the ‘traditional’ Irishman of stage buffoonery; and in its place the world recognises an alert and potential nationality which is destined, in vindicating its own indefeasible rights, to work a change in the constitution of the British Empire of far-reaching and beneficial importance to it and to Ireland.
The League found the Irish peasant a virtual slave on the land of Ireland. It has ‘rooted’ him in the soil on which he was but a rent-earning machine, and has given him a right of property, where he was previously but a trespasser, equal to that of his former master.
It found ‘the English landlord garrison’ lords of the soil of Ireland, as Elizabeth, James, and Cromwell had planned they should remain; and the League has replaced the Celtic people back into their inheritance, and has compelled the landlord government of England to project and carryon this racial restoration by means of British taxes, as the only way of rescuing the ‘garrison’ from the fear of an ultimate possible penniless capitulation.
The League found the Irish race politically broken and scattered all the world over by the exterminating work of the ‘landlord garrison;’ and it has, by its organisation in Ireland, Great Britain, America, Canada, and Australia, combined this race for political purposes, as if it were inhabiting the country from which its exiled millions were driven – effectively combined, too, under a trusted, tried, and victorious leader.
The League found a dominant feeling of revenge among the Irish in America towards England, and of hostility to the British Empire for past wrongs. It has, under Mr. Parnell’s leadership, changed that feeling into one of friendly responsiveness to the altered views and policy of the British people on the Irish question.
And the Land League, accused by the Times of being a revolutionary conspiracy having for sole object the complete separation of Ireland from Great Britain, has been the indirect means of uniting, with bonds of mutual good-will, the masses of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland in one practically combined movement and struggle for Home Rule or the Federation of the Empire, the abolition of land monopoly in Great Britain and Ireland, and for the full vindication of the rights of labour.
The Revolution, of which these are the garnered and still growing fruits, has been accomplished with infinitely less bloodshed than was expended in the battle for the abolition of tithes in Ireland a generation ago, and with less actual violence than characterised the reform movements of 1832 and 1848 in England.
1. ‘We suppose there is no doubt whatever that the accused would have been convicted and sentenced, and, most assuredly, one hundred, not to say two, hundred years ago, such a conviction would have been followed by nothing short of capital punishment.’ – The Times, Feb. 20, 1890.
Last updated on 28 May 2009