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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 84



This move was a startling volte-face from the position hitherto occupied by the "Extreme" section; and although matters were fully understood at "headquarters" with regard to the ins and the outs of the "New Departure," some explanation was necessary for the general crowd of conspirators. And this explanation Mr. John Devoy, the leading spirit amongst them, supplied in the following statement, which obtained publicity through the press "Ireland can never be freed," said he, "through the British Parliament or by constitutional agitation in any form; but constitutional agitation is one means of advancing our cause, and we should avail ourselves of it. The world judges us, and, above all, England's enemies judge us, by our public representatives, and in the times that are coming we can't afford to be misrepresented any longer. 'There is no use sending men to the British Parliament to beg, but we can send men there to protest before the world against England's right to govern Ireland; and when all is ripe we can command our representatives to withdraw from the British Parliament and meet in Ireland as a national legislature. It is only through such means that the whole Irish race the world over can be aroused, and then active sympathy enlisted, and when that occurs the work is half done, and we can wait patiently for the result." "Do the Irish page 14 Nationalists intend to abandon their physical force theories and mainly depend on constitutional agitation ?" asked The New York Herald reporter, referring to the cable despatch. "Not by any means," was the reply. "We simply don't believe in little insurrections that England can crush in a few days or weeks. We propose that, in the event of war, Ireland shall keep quiet; that the organised Nationalist outside of Ireland shall actively assist England's enemies and hurt her whenever and wherever they can."

But while advanced and constitutional politicians might be quite happy at forming such an alliance as this, it was quite another and far more difficult thing to get the great mass of the people in Ireland, who did not and would not belong to revolutionary societies as such, into line with the new movement. But Devoy and his associates were in no way nonplussed by these difficulties which stared them in the face. "No party or combination of parties in Ireland," said he, "can ever hope to win the support of the majority of the people except it honestly proposes a radical reform of the land system;" and, continued he, while it might probably be necessary to await the establishment of an Irish Parliament before the confiscation and abolition of landlords, which he advocated, could take place, still, "in the meantime, good work will have been done, sound principles inculcated, and the country aroused and organised." In short, the land agitation was to be used as a means to an end, for the purpose of arousing and organising the country. The old cry of exorbitant rent was to be raised, and, by banding the people together in a land organisation, the nucleus of the future Army of Independence was to be formed. The plot was further developed in perspective by Devoy's suggestion of having the municipal offices filled by Nationalists, which would, he said, lead up to a condition of things by which, "with men of spirit and determination as parliamentary representatives, backed by the country and by millions of the Irish race over the world, there would be no necessity to go to London either to beg or obstruct."

With the platform thus put together by the united exertions of the different parties to the treaty which had for its ultimate object the Disruption of the Empire, there was little delay in getting the new movement fully under weigh. Meetings were immediately held in the south and west of Ireland, and, working on the money supplied page 15 from the "Skirmishing Fund," organisers were at once sent over Ireland to put matters in train. The public meetings started off with an enormous gathering at Irishtown, in County Mayo, on the 20th April, 1879, where Thos. Brennan, the future Land League Secretary and then Fenian, provoked cheers for Cetewayo by the statement that their fight was one for independence; and that they should be glad to see their enemies obstructed and harassed, no matter where or by whom, whether it be in Westminster or Zululand, whether the attacking party be commanded by a Parnell or a Cetewayo. Mr. Parnell was not present at this gathering, which partook more or less of the character of a "test" meeting, but he put himself en evidence at a meeting in Westport in the month of June following, where the question of rents was first definitely raised; and where he administered the advice to the tenants "to keep a firm grip of their holdings," or in other words to refuse the payment of rent, and to offer organised resistance to evictions. Davitt promulgated his principles for the new agitation at Castlebar in August, and read to the meeting he then addressed, the proposed constitution of the new organisation; and on the 20th of October following the first meeting of the Irish National Land League, as it was called, took place in Dublin, Mr. Parnell, M.P., being present, but not in the chair.

Two resolutions adopted at this meeting call for notice : the first ran in these words:—"That none of the funds of this League shall be used for the purchase of any landlord's interest in the land, or for furthering the interest of any parliamentary candidate," and it was a pretty plain indication that at this time there still remained a certain amount of scepticism regarding the efficacy of constitutional procedure, and an intention to keep the money free for "active service." And the second resolution was to the effect that the President of the League (Mr. Parnell had accepted this position) should be requested "to proceed to America, for the purpose of obtaining assistance from our exiled countrymen and other sympathisers" for the objects of the League. Of course it is not to be understood for a moment that the Land League was the only organisation which undertook the collection of funds to relieve the distress which undoubtedly existed in Ireland at this time. Quite the opposite. The Duchess of Marlborough, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the New York Herald, and several other individuals and institutions page 16 inaugurated funds: and their collections were quite enormous in amount when compared with what was received by the Land League. One peculiarity connected with these funds was, that whereas full and complete balance-sheets were forthcoming regarding all those outside the Land League's undertaking, it has hitherto been found impossible to obtain any accurate statistics regarding the disbursement of the amount collected by Mr. Parnell and his colleagues.