The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 84
The working of this policy served to demonstrate the way in which public opinion was being paralysed in Ireland, and the hold which the organisation was getting over the entire South and West. A number of men unknown, save in the secret councils of Fenianism, were returned to Parliament; their only plea for public recognition or distinction being that they were undoubtedly possessed of ability, even though misdirected in its application. Not one of them had a stake in the country, and, with some couple of exceptions, they were all impecunious. At the time it was matter for wondering comment that they should have been able to defray the expenses of their return to Parliament, much less to maintain them selves in London; and, for a period, though various suggestions were page 19 made, the matter remained in uncertain obscurity. But time brought the solution of the difficulty, as it almost always does, and it then crept out that the money which had been subscribed for the alleviation of distress and the purposes of Land Agitation alone : and which was precluded by the special resolution already quoted, from being applied to parliamentary expenses, had been pretty freely used. But of the money question more anon. The reference to it is only useful here as demonstrating at what an early stage the unscrupulousness of the Agitators was shown.
Meantime, the undercurrent of Agrarian agitation had been assuming more alarming proportions, and the results of the gospel of hatred and rapine were making themselves felt. And it became a subject for strong remark that crime always followed in the track of the organisation's development. In January, 1880, twenty-six meetings were held throughout the lower portion of the country, and no less than one hundred and fourteen crimes were reported; in February there were fifteen meetings and ninety-seven crimes; in March twenty-two meetings and eighty-three crimes; and in April, although there were only four meetings,—the elections had just terminated,—the people were so stirred to passion that there were sixty-seven crimes. In May, June, and July, there were only some seventeen meetings each month, yet there were eighty-eight, ninety, and eighty-four crimes reported. With the rising of Parliament in August the members were set at liberty to pursue their speech-making and inciting in Ireland; and, accordingly, the meetings doubled trebled, and quadrupled in quantity, and crime increased to a proportionate extent. In August thirty-eight meetings stood on the list, opposed to one hundred and four crimes; in September the numbers were thirty-two meetings and one hundred and sixty-seven crimes; in October seventy-seven meetings and two hundred and sixty-eight crimes; in November one hundred and nineteen meetings and five hundred and sixty-one crimes; and, in the last month of the year, the meetings numbered one hundred and ninety and the crimes eight hundred and sixty-seven. In short, the total of the crimes which had occurred in 1879 was eight hundred and sixty-three, while those in 1880 numbered two thousand five hundred and ninety.
So hot, indeed, were things becoming in Ireland, that the Govern- page 20 ment of the day (a Liberal Administration led by Mr. Gladstone) found it necessary to place fourteen of the principal leaders and speakers on their trial. The jury, however, could not agree, and Mr. Parnell and his colleagues were once more at liberty. But if the prosecution was abortive as far as the Government were concerned, the Parnellites thought the opportunity too good to allow it to slip, and much capital was made out of the occurrence: the Government were defied and ridiculed; and, ever eager to profit financially by the varying phases of the movement, a Fair Trial Fund was started, the moment the prosecution was notified. Your Irish patriot of the latter-day type, à la Parnell, never forgets the treasury. Like the leader of the Salvation Army, he considers the proceedings could not be regarded as formal unless there is a collection.
Elated with their triumph over the Government, the Agitators went ahead with amazing recklessness; and their commendation of crime and outrage was the most striking characteristic of their stand at this time. The Extremists had no cause for finding fault with the way in which "the treaty" was working. They had pledged their money and support if, under the Parliamentary movement, "active" work was allowed to progress. And active work was progressing with a vengeance. In the year 1881 (there is no use in troubling with further details regarding each month's quota) the total murders, outrages, &c., mounted up to the enormous number of 4-60: "You can carry and use pistols," said one Land League organiser. "I say you must organise and establish a branch of the Land League. There has been more good done since this week—there has been a landlord shot at Ballinrobe ! "shouted another to an excited, cheering crowd of hot-blooded peasants.
"You, the members of the Local Land League, can use your exertions to get everything in favour of a person who is charged with such a crime as shooting a landlord," said J. G. Biggar, then and still a Member of the Imperial Parliament; and Mr. Brennan, the Secretary of the organisation, who was always fond of telling what the "tyrants" suffered in the French Revolution, read with pride, from one of his reports to his Central Council, that "early in March about two hundred persons were arrested in west of Ireland, and tried on the charge of assaulting process- page 21 servers. The League defended all the prisoners, and succeeded in getting verdicts of respital in most cases, but seventy-five persons were convicted," &c. After the reading of which report a resolution was passed to support the families of the prisoners, and to attend to their lands and dwellings during their confinement. And so, by incitement from the platform, and commendation and assistance from the League itself, murder was idealised and crime transposed to virtue. In order to the better assistance of their ends, a weekly journal, called United Ireland, was started in Dublin, and by this organ the most revolutionary of sentiments were sent flying over the entire of the country.