Split in Volunteers deepens

Split in Volunteers deepens
John Redmond addresses a body of Volunteers in Wexford on October 4th. The obelisk on the right is the momument to John E. Redmond MP, the granduncle of the present Irish leader.Photo: Irish Life, 9 Oct 1914. Full collection of Irish Life available from the National Library of Ireland.

Split in Volunteers deepens

Battle for control of the Irish Volunteers between Redmond and MacNeill

The split in the Irish Volunteer movement has deepened with branches across the country declaring their support for rival leadership groups.

The majority of the branches are moving to align themselves with the leadership of John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, with a smaller number loyal to the leadership of Prof. Eoin MacNeill.

Prof. MacNeill and his supporters within the Volunteer movement have announced that they will hold a national convention in Dublin on 25 October.

Prof. Eoin MacNeill (left) and The O’Rahilly (right), members of the original Provisional Committee of the Volunteers. (Image: National Library of Ireland, MacManus Collection)

Referring to the moves by Eoin MacNeill and others to re-assert control over the Volunteers after his plea for the Volunteers to join the British army, Mr. Redmond said in Kilkenny yesterday that they were were ‘cranks and mischief-makers, lurking in dark corners, to endeavour to stab us and trip us up in our work’.

He continued by describing them as: ‘A little body of men who, if you look back on the last 20 or 30 years, have done absolutely nothing to gain our free Constitution, whose names you can’t find in the nationalist movement for the last twenty years.’

Mr. Redmond repeated his plea for Irishmen to join the British army: ‘To say that we will only defend Ireland by remaining at home at ease is, I say plainly here, a contemptible policy. We should bear our share, our fair share, of the obligations of the position we have won.’

LJ Kettle (left) has been appointed Joint Secretary of the re-organised council of the Volunteers under Mr Redmond and Col Maurice Moore (right), late of the Connaught Rangers, is their new Chief Inspector. (Images: Irish Life, 9 Oct 1914. The full collection of Irish Life is available from the National Library of Ireland)

Redmond said that he was glad to be able to say that Irishmen had thus far more than fulfilled their duties: ‘Thousands, and tens of thousands of reservists, drawn mostly from the ranks of the National Volunteers, had been summoned to the colours, and had gone willingly to the front – in many cases escorted by their fellow countrymen with bands and banners in procession to the railway stations.’

Mr. Redmond then referred to rumours that the British government intends to introduce conscription for Ireland which have swept Dublin, with the old Militia Ballot Act said to be the proposed means by which men will be drafted into the army.

He said that newspaper stories that the British government intends to enforce the Militia Ballot Act in Ireland are ‘absolute lies’ and ‘ridiculous falsehoods’.

Redmond’s claims have been rejected by the Irish Independent, however, which is standing over its story. Amongst the evidence to support its claim that the government was seriously considering enforcing the Act, the paper points to the fact that the necessary forms and proclamations have been printed to allow for it to be enforced.

The rumours surrounding the introduction of conscription have been causing alarm around Ireland. This confidential RIC report for Cavan, October 1914, states: ‘About 150 young men left for America during last month in consequence of the announcement in the Irish Daily Independent newspaper that the government were going to put the Militia Ballot Act in force.’ Click to read full document. (Image: National Archives UK, CO 904/95)

The Independent asks: ‘Does Mr. Redmond suggest that the printers took this work upon themselves as a piece of pastime?’

In his contribution to the debate, Prof. Eoin MacNeill said any attempt to enforce the Militia Ballot Act would be unconstitutional and unlawful.

He said that reviving the act ‘would be a piece of lawless military despotism. The Act belongs to a bygone age of landlord ascendancy, when the governing classes thought they could do as they pleased with common people’.

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