'Early in the year l914 Cliffoney and its surroundings was awakened from its slumberings by the arrival in the village, to minister as a curate, of that great priest and patriot, the ever memorable and never to be forgotten Rev. Fr. Michael O'Flanagan.
His eloquent address and manly bearing had an inspiring effect and soon he became the idol of the entire half parish. He went about amongst the people, sympathising in their sorrows and making himself acquainted with their difficulties and trials. Soon he discovered their steadfast loyalty to their faith but humble submission to landlord and alien rule.'
Patrick McCannon, B.M.H. W.S. - 1,383.
Before going to Rome I had arranged with the Bishop to take my annual three weeks vacation immediately after I had finished in Rome instead of the following summer. I intended to pay a visit to Greece, and come home through the Balkans, Austria and Germany.
Towards the end of the Lent, however, I received a letter from the Bishop asking me to return to Ireland as soon as I had finished my course of sermons. This was the first hint I got that some unfriendly influence was being used against me with his lordship. However I did not attach much importance to it at the time.
I returned directly to Ireland though Turin and the Mont Cenis Tunnel. The Bishop was in Roscommon for a conference when I arrived. I had a conversation with him that evening. He volunteered no explanation of his withdrawal of the vacation, and I did not ask for any.
He told me about a heavy debt with which the college in Sligo was then burdened, and asked me to go to America to collect money to pay it off. I explained to him the way in which I got the money for Loughglynn, and told him that I would be willing to go if he gave me the same freedom of action with regard to the means of procuring the money that his predecessor had given me. To this he readily consented.
I told him, however, that owing to the great heat of the American summer, and the consequent slackness of all activity, I did not propose to leave Ireland until the following September.
Before leaving Rome, Fr. Dolan had intimated to me his intention of procuring for me an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity in recognition of the sermons I had preached in Rome. He told me that it was usual in Rome, before conferring a degree of this kind, to get the consent of the Bishop of the recipient.
He predicted, however, that Dr. Coyne would refuse his consent, founding his predicant, I presume, mainly on his experience with Cardinal Bourne. He then told me the story of how he procured the title of Monseigneur for Father Benson.
Fr. Benson had preached for Fr. Dolan on two or three occasions. He was a priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster, and Cardinal Bourne was his Bishop.
The Cardinal was on terms of friendship with Fr. Dolan and was often entertained as a guest at San Silvestro, when visiting Rome. On one of these occasions Fr. Dolan mentioned to him his project of getting Fr. Benson made a Domestic Prelate by the Holy Father, and asked for the Cardinal's consent. The Cardinal was quite willing and promised to write as soon as he returned to London.
After his return, Fr. Dolan wrote to him reminding him of his promise.
The Cardinal replied that there were many priests in Westminster who had done more than Fr. Benson for the Archdiocese, and that it would be an invidious thing to select him from among them for such an honour. Fr. Dolan answered that it was not for anything Fr. Benson had done in Westminster but for what he had done in Rome that he wished to procure the honour, and asked the Cardinal if he had any reason to give why Fr. Benson should not be honoured for his preaching in Rome, to please give it.
The Cardinal did not reply, and Fr. Dolan went straight to Pope Pius X. and got Fr. Benson made a Monseigneur without any further consent from his Bishop.
I did not imagine at the time that Elphin would be such an accurate copy of Westminster, hence, when I found Dr. Coyne in such a reasonable frame of mind, I asked him to give his consent to the honour that Fr. Dolan had proposed to procure for me.
Dr. Coyne not merely expressed himself as willing to give his consent, but said that he would regard it as an honour to himself and his diocese, to have such a title conferred upon one of his priests. He went away, however, without giving the necessary written consent, and some months afterwards, I wrote to him about it, on two or three occasions but he did not reply.
In the middle of July he transferred me to Cliffoney, Co. Sligo. He told me that there was a considerable debt upon the Parish Church and that he expected me to assist the Parish Priest, who was in delicate health, to pay it off. He also said that there was a struggling Lace Class there which I might be able to foster.
Apart from the sadness of leaving the place which I had spent two years learning to love, and the inconvenience of breaking up house and settling down again seventy miles away, I was delighted with my change to Cliffoney. I was going to a district of wonderful natural beauty and full of historical associations.
My parish lay between beautiful Benbulben on which Diarmuid O'Duibhne died, and the Bay of Donegal with the island of St. Molais lying in its waters. The road passing through the parish led from Donegal where Michael O'Clery and his companions wrote the great Annals of Ireland, through Cooldreibhne where Columcille and Finian contended in prayer...... through the town of Shells guarded by the upright corpse of Owen Bell, King of Connaught.
It was a district with which I had become acquainted during my student days, and visited afterwards during the four years that I was attached to Summerhill College, Sligo.
My great college friend, Malachy Brennan, was a native of Cliffoney, and I had spent a few weeks with him at his father's house before my ordination. We had climbed together all the mountains, and swam in most of the inlets of the sea in those old days.
But Malachy's father was now dead, his mother and sister, Margaret, had gone to live with him in Caltra, Co. Galway, where he was Curate, his brother Jack was a priest in Brooklyn, and Dolly, was a clerk in the Post Office in London. The strange looking name of Harrison had replaced that of Brennan over the door of their shop.
What with loneliness for Roscommon and sadness for the departure of the Brennans, the sea and the mountains had lost all their attraction for me on that first drive to Cliffoney. I always loved the mountains and the sea, but above all I loved the mountains and the sea of northern Sligo, because they seemed to me then, and still seem to me, more beautiful than any I had seen anywhere else.
Only once in my life did I hate them, and that was the day I went to take up my position as Curate of Cliffoney.
My predecessor Fr. Scott, had rooms in the house popularly known as the 'Hotel', situated on the northwest corner of Cliffoney crossroads. The landlord of the house, brother of the Parish Priest I had left in Roscommon, occupied rooms in the building along with his tenant. The situation did not appeal to me.
I rented one of the lodges at Mullaghmore. It was three miles from Cliffoney and the double journey of three miles was added to most of my sick calls and stations, but it was just beside the sea and that brought up for everything. It was there I learned the pleasure of swimming at night.
Every night just before going to bed, I put on an overcoat and a pair of slippers, and marched down to the head of the Pier. When one goes out swimming at night, at least in Mullaghmore at that time of the year, every stroke starts thousands of little phosphorescent lights shining in the water, with the result that one feels surrounded by a halo like the picture of a saint. I kept up this practice of swimming at night until I left Mullaghmore about the middle of November.
Mrs. Hannan, sister of the Archbishop of Tuam, owned a beautiful Cottage next her own home on the side of the road just half a mile north of Cliffoney crossroads. In former years the curate of Cliffoney lived in it.
The last curate that the people remembered there, was Fr. Patrick Hanly, the great Parish Priest of my native parish of Castlerea, a man who when at his best, was the greatest preacher and the greatest orator I ever heard. But in recent years the house had come into the possession of the local doctor.
In November the doctor who had been there, moved to another district and I took the house. The Parish Priest, Fr. Shannon, always said mass in Mullaghmore on Sundays, leaving two masses in Cliffoney to me. He had done this even during the time when I was living in Mullaghmore.
The convenience of living in Cliffoney under these circumstances, together with the attraction of a fine garden and the companionship that was available in Cliffoney, overcame my desire for a night swim, so I moved up to Mrs. Hannan's Cottage.
Shortly after going to Cliffoney I called to see the Bishop to find out why he did not answer my letters. He was reading his Breviary in the garden when I spoke to him. At first he tried to put me off by telling me that he was surprised that a man like me should ask for such a thing. He thought I was above desiring anything of the kind.
To tell you the truth, I did not mind it very much. Long ago I had made it a practice not to seek for any position of honour. But I had not gone the length of refusing those that seemed to come my way of their own accord. I felt that if I had got the title I would be more than likely sorry.
The people would commence calling me by the cold title of 'Doctor' instead of the affectionate term 'Father' which is reserved for those who do not leave the ordinary ranks. But although I did not care for the title I was anxious if possible, to find out why the Bishop refused his sanction.
When he found that I was not above such things, he said that there were other priests in the Diocese who had got higher places on the Prize List in Maynooth than I had, and that he would be criticised if he passed them over and an honour of the kind on me.
He finally invited me in to tea without giving me a decided answer.
After tea I followed him out into the corridor and told him that I wanted a definite answer. I said that if he was not going to give permission that I wished at least to have the satisfaction of receiving a definite refusal. Then he lost his temper, and began to give out.
He said that when he was changing me from Roscommon he was anxious not to send me to a country district, and he tried to place me in some of the Deanery towns, but that none of the Vicars would have me. Then he told me that he wished to bring me to Sligo to his own house, and he was informed that he would not be safe from insult at his own table if I were present at it.
I replied that I knew well to what he referred, that he referred to a remark I made nine years before to Dr. Clancy, when he attempted to give us a lesson in loyalty to the King of England at his own table.
I told Dr. Coyne that if he used his dinner table as an opportunity for giving expression to political opinions that were offensive to me, and if he would consider it an insult for me to give expression to the opposite opinions, he certainly was right that he would not be safe from insult at his own table if he had me at it.
I reminded him that when a few months earlier he wanted me to go to America to collect for his College he was very agreeable about giving me permission to accept the honour from the Pope, but now that the new law had been made that prevented me from going, he had changed his attitude.
He replied that even before the new law had been made he had made up his mind not to let me go. He asked me did I know that my late Parish Priest had him bombarded by letter and interview, for six months to get me out of Roscommon.
He also said that he been told that I had grumbled because I had been sent to Cliffoney, and complained that it was poor reward for all the money I had made for the diocese in America.
This was quite untrue because my principle consolation on leaving Roscommon was the fact that I was sent into the country. I would have preferred any mission in the diocese to a Deanery town, and would prefer any of the Deanery towns to the Bishop's own palace.
The Bishop's use of the word 'bombardment' is a reminder that the War had broken out. That the Bishop's attitude towards the War was the direct opposite to mine I had inferred from various sources.
Early in the War he had lent his motor car to carry into the recruiting station, some of the poor unfortunate dupes who had been induced to join the Army. The honour of riding in the Bishop's motor car was to be a sign to them of the high and holy cause for which they enlisted.
One day at dinner he expressed great anxiety about the Germans, and said that if they were not beaten in a short time, he thought themselves and the English might agree to fight the war out in Ireland. I merely remarked that I thought Sardinia might be a better place owing to its milder climate.
The names of Cardinal Logue and John Redmond, and all the principal leaders in Church and State confronted the young men of Ireland in front of every Post Office and every Police Barracks, urging them to rush to the colours and save Ireland from the fate of Belgium.
The newspapers were full of the most lurid accounts of every kind of oppression and murder, said to have been committed by the Germans in their advance through Belgium. Burning Catholic Churches, and maltreating Nuns were two of the principle things used to rouse the zeal of the innocent Irishmen.
One of the recruiting posters which I remember well represented St. Patrick standing in front of one of the half ruined churches of France, appealing to the young men of Ireland to come and save it.
Every Irish member of Parliament with one exception, either supported this campaign or remained silent. All the principle newspapers and publications, daily, weekly, and monthly, with a very few honorary exceptions joined in the same campaign.
No prominent voice in Ireland was heard to warn or steady the young men of the country until 1915, a year and a quarter after the war broke out, when the Bishop of Limerick wrote his famous letter of protest against the treatment in Liverpool of a body of young emigrants from Ireland.
To bring the danger home all the more to the minds of the Irish people, the police were sent out along the coast warning the people to be prepared to fly with their possessions inland, as soon as they saw the Germans landing, and to burn anything that they were unable to bring with them. Rumours were circulated through the country that barbed wire fences were being erected here and there along the coast to assist in preventing these German invasions.
From the start I told the people in Cliffoney that there was no danger of a German invasion. I told them that these things were only done to frighten them so that their sympathy would go strongly with England in the war, and as a result that the young men would feel encouraged to join the army.
I told them that if the Germans were able to make a landing at all, it was easier and better for them to land in England, and absolutely impossible for them to land in Ireland. To bring an army into Ireland large enough to make any impression would require an Armada.
If the Germans were able to succeed in getting a few dozen of their fastest cruisers into the Atlantic, it would pay them better to spend their time raiding English commerce rather than land a few thousand troops in Ireland.
As for the German atrocities, I knew that when England first invaded Ireland she brought with her Gerald Barry in order to write up, or rather, write down, the Irish and show what savages they were. Hence, I was not at all surprised that as soon as England found herself at war with Germany she started to represent the Germans as a race of cruel monsters.
Of course none but a race of heartless monsters could possibly go to war with such an aimable old gentleman as John Bull.
That is the game that England always plays against her enemies. The Germans were the cruellest people in the world. Their one great desire was to get hold of Ireland. And when they took hold of Ireland their great delight would be to burn the churches and exterminate the people.
No matter what England did in the past, she was now fighting to prevent others doing the same. Indeed she was only waiting for an opportunity to make amends for her own past. 'When the Devil was sick, the Devil a Saint would be'.
It was as much as I could do to prevent the people of Cliffoney from being carried away. When the Mayor of Sligo, Alderman Jinks, and his band of recruiting sergeants came to Cliffoney the great bulk of the people stood to listen to them.
However, they were unable to get up any enthusiasm, and they got very few recruits. One recruit they got was Tom Hannan, a son of Mrs. Hannan. Tom was a bold dragoon, and I was in occupation of the house intended for him by his mother.
It was Mrs. Hannan that first told me about the Bog. The Congested Districts Board owned a bog in Cliffoney. She told me that it gave accommodation to the Parish Priest, and the Parson. That it also gave accommodation to Mrs. Hannan, but that it attached no bog to Tom Hannan's house.
This was an opportunity for me to do a good turn to Mrs. Hannan. If I could get the Board to give a turf bank to the house in which I was living, Tom could have the house and the turf bank afterwards, when he returned from the war. I, therefore, wrote a letter to the Congested Districts Board asking for this.
I want to make it perfectly clear that if the Board had granted my request it would have been no advantage to me, but rather the reverse, and therefore, I did not ask it in any selfish spirit. Fr. Scott, my predecessor, who owned no turf bank got a supply of turf from the people. If there was no turf bank attached to my house I would get the same.
But if I got the turf bank attached to my house the people might expect me to get the turf cut for myself. Hence, in looking for the turf bank I was thinking of the interests of Mrs. Hannan and her son, and not at all of my own.
However, as soon as the people heard that I was applying for a turf bank they came to me and explained their grievances about the Bog. It was only then that I learned the truth.
The district around Cliffoney, formerly belonged to the Estate of Lord Palmerston. At one end of the Estate was a large bog with a road running through it. At the other end was another large bog without a road. The people that lived near the Bog that had the road were induced to allow the people from the other end of the Estate to cut turf on their bog, on the understanding that when the bog that had the road was cut away, a road would be built into the other bog and they would get a supply there. Before this happened, however, the Estate was divided.
The Estate Commissioners bought the old Bog, and the Congested Districts Board bought the new one. The Congested Districts Board built a road into the new bog, but refused to accommodate any tenants except their own. They accommodated not merely the tenants of their own who were in the neighbourhood, but they gave pieces of bog to tenants who lived miles away.
In fact they gave bog to the Inishmurray Islanders, who would have to come nine miles by sea and about seven by land in order to reach the bog. And yet, the tenants of the Estate Commissioners who lived beside the bog, and who had the strong historical claim I mentioned, would get no accommodation. The Inishmurray Islanders and others, who lived far away, were unable to use the bog themselves, so they proceeded to sublet it to those who lived near.
Then the Congested Districts Board sent around notices saying that anybody who sublet his bog would have it taken from him. Thus the Congested Districts Board was doing the dog in the manger, while its own tenants were unable to cut turf it refused to allow anybody else into the bog to cut it.
To cap the climax, another Dublin Castle body sent around circulars advising the people to cut more turf owing to the coming scarcity and costlinesss of coal. When the Board had supplied all its own tenants, within fifteen miles of the place, there was still left an area of sixty acres. I asked them to divide this among the bogless people of Cliffoney. They refused. I asked them again stating my reasons along the lines indicated. There was no satisfactory answer. In June I wrote them an ultimatum giving them a few days notice, telling them to send down a man who would divide the bog among the people, and if not, I would feel compelled to try my hand at dividing it. There was no reply.
On the 29th of June, I collected the people after Mass and invited them to proceed with me to the bog on the following day in a body. Next day was a big day in Cliffoney. The bulk of the grown up men and women, and many of the younger people of the parish, marched in a body from the crossroads of Cliffoney to the bog. They were well supplied with spades, shovels and slanes. We marked out three long drains at equal distances apart across the sixty acres and cut a large amount of turf out of them, and spread them along the bog.
That evening we all returned home rejoicing, with the feeling that we had done one days good work. On the following Sunday we appointed a committee and selected men to go in their turns, two each day, to the bog to attend to the turf while it was drying. When the peelers came up and told them to leave, they merely asked if they thought the day was going to be wet, because they said, if it turned out wet they would have to go home. The summer passed and the turf became dry.
But the Congested Districts Board was not idle. They issued summonses to myself, the local doctor, and four of the farmers of the district, inviting us to go to Dublin for the Court of Chancery, to defend ourselves against a charge of aggravated trespass. Some of the people suggested that we consult a lawyer. That was the usual thing to do in Ireland when law proceedings were threatened.
I proposed, however, that we refuse to play the game according to the rules laid down by the enemy. The Law Courts in Dublin were the spider’s parlour of Dublin Castle disguised with a little green and purple drapery. I made fun of the proposal to settle a dispute about turf banks in Cliffoney, amidst the wigs and gowns of a Dublin law court, and suggested as an alternative that we settle the dispute by inviting the gentlemen of the Board and their legal retinue to decide it in Cloonerco by a friendly game of pelting clods. The Board, however, refused our invitation even as we refused theirs.
The legal proceedings in Dublin were pursued to the comic end. One day there arrived in Cliffoney six long and costly telegrams, advising us that the Board had got an injunction against the six individuals whom the Board had selected as principals to restrain them from further interference with the bog. Next day there arrived by post six formal legal documents announcing the injunction.
Again we had a public meeting at the Cliffoney crossroads. One of the corners was occupied by the Police Barracks. At the beginning of the meeting none of the police were present. Before commencing to speak, I sent a messenger to the barracks asking the sergeant and his men to come out and witness what I had to say. When they made their appearance, I asked them in the presence of the people, to take down my exact words, so that they might be able to quote me correctly this time.
I then explained to the people what an injunction meant, and that anyone who violated an injunction would be guilty of contempt of Court, and would be liable to imprisonment at the pleasure of the court. I then said that any Court that stood between the people of Cliffoney and the bog that God had placed in their midst, for their use and benefit, deserved nothing but contempt, and that I for one, had nothing but contempt for it. I said that I had not more fear of blue paper than I had of white, and that anybody who could be frightened by paper had no business entering into a fight for justice in Ireland.
The six men who had been chosen for attack by the Board, were well chosen. Some of them were chosen because it was hoped that they would yield easily, and thereby divide our forces. The local doctor, for example, was one who was in a peculiarly weak position, because his salary was dependent upon the goodwill of another Castle department. I, therefore, requested the other five to take no further part in the fight, and that I would undertake all the responsibility. The great body of the un-injuncted I invited to come back to the bog the next day.
Again we had a large crowd in Cloonerco. Four of the five remained at home, but the fifth, Andrew Harrison tried to follow us to the bog, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that I was able to prevent him from coming with us. The turf was now dry. We had a large assembly of horse and donkey carts, and we took the turf off to the Cliffoney crossroads, and made a clamp of it on the side of the road, in front of the old school building, within a hundred feet of the police barracks. I then invited the police to watch it for us, and not allow any of it to be stolen. I got a long strip of white cloth, and attached it to the front of the clamp, inscribing on it in letters two feet high, the motto “AR MOIN FEIN” (“OUR OWN TURF”).
There it remained for several weeks to the amusement of passers by, on the side of one of the most frequented public roads in the West of Ireland. Dozens of motorcars passed by every day, and their occupants carried the story into distant parts of the country. The Law Courts in Dublin took up the matter again. We were tried for trespass. We put in no appearance. Judgement was given against the six of us, with a fine and costs, amounting to £99 (ninety nine pounds) and a few odd shillings. We were advised in legal document that we would be held responsible, jointly and individually, for this amount.
At this point there appeared upon the scene Mr. Thomas Scanlon, Member of Parliament for North Sligo. He called at my house, but I was away from home. He then returned to London and wrote to me from the House of Commons, a letter marked “Private and Confidential”.
He said if I undertook on behalf of the people that there would be no further trespass upon the bog, that he believed he would be able to induce the Congested Districts Board to abstain from collecting the Fine and Costs, and that when the legal difficulty was thus got rid of, he would himself approach the Board, and try to have the bog divided.
I replied that we were not troubled about the fine and costs, that the only thing that troubled us in Cliffoney was the bog. If he would only get the Board to divide the Bog we would be happy in Cliffoney.
He wrote to me again a letter also marked “Private and Confidential” address to him from Mr. Micks, of the Congested Districts Board, making the same offer. I repeated my first reply. I reminded him that he was a public servant, being the Member of Parliament for the Constituency, and that I was in a small way a public servant, being the representative of the people of the Cliffoney portion of his constituency. Under these circumstances I expressed surprise that he would write to me a letter marked “Private and Confidential” with regard to a matter of public interest, in view of the fact that I had not the privilege of being personally acquatinted with him. This ended as far as I am aware, the attempt of Mr. Scanlon to settle the dispute.
In October, Mr. T. W. Russell, vice-president of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland, went around the country holding a series of meetings, for the purpose of advising the people to increase their tillage. One of these meetings was called for the Courthouse, Sligo, for Saturday, October 12th (Saturday was on October 9th in 1915).
Our first idea was to make a demonstration in Sligo on that day. We proposed to bring into Sligo a number of crates of the turf, and march with them in procession through the town, and then to distribute them among the poor in some of the back streets. We discovered, however, that a large number of men from these places had joined the army, and that their relatives were being looked after by the “Defender of Small Nations”. We, therefore, distributed all the turf among the poor people of the parish of Cliffoney itself.
On Saturday at 12 o‘clock, I was in the Courthouse waiting for the tillage meeting. In the Hall I spoke to Canon Doorly, who was to preside. I told him that I intended to say a few words to the people at the meeting. He advised me to say nothing. I reminded him that it might be a long time before I got such an opportunity again. He said that there were some opportunities that were better missed. We then went into the meeting.
The Canon opened with an address defending the farmers’ sons against the charge of being “slackers”. He said that a lot of people had an exaggerated idea of the number of sons the farmers had. He thought, that they would be as profitably employed at home in keeping up the food supply of the people. He had a sheet of paper in his hand on which were written the names of the speakers. He called upon T. W. Russell, who made a speech. Then he called upon a number of others, and they made speeches. I remember very little of what they said. They all seemed to think that unless an increase was made in the tillage area of the country, we were in danger of scarcity of food the following summer.
At 2 o’clock, the Very Rev. Chairman got up with the intention of bringing the meeting to a close. He pointed out that it was getting late in the day, and that some of the people present must be in a hurry to do their marketing. I got up and reminded him that he had evidently exhausted the list of speakers who had been selected before the meeting to make pronouncements. I asked him if he intended to give an opportunity to a member of the rank and file of the meeting to say anything. He allowed me to proceed.
I began by pointing out that the increased tillage that it was proposed to make during the coming winter and spring, would not afford any relief against the danger of scarcity in the summer of 1916. The only thing we could do was to make provision against scarcity in the summer of 1917. I then delated upon the danger there was upon the revival of the submarine campaign. If the government was really in earnest about the promotion of tillage, it would be necessary to expend some money on it. Let the young men and women who were flying out of Ireland be planted upon the lands that had been emptied of their population by the famine and evi89ctions of the last seventy years. Although the meeting was composed mainly of the well-to-do loyalists of Sligo, my remarks were received with great interest, and with general approval.
A large portion of the people applauded when I had finished. Two other speakers got to their feet and supported what I had said. Then Mr. Russell got up and said that we who proposed that the Government should spend money upon the Bill were play acting. To which I replied that Mr. Russell and his colleagues were much better at play acting than the people of Cliffoney.
On Monday morning I had a letter from the Most Rev. Dr. Coyne, Bishop of Elphin, transferring me to Crosna. Although this bolt had a most painful effect upon me, I said nothing about it. I was not compelled to present myself in Crosna until the following Saturday, and I hoped to keep the matter secret until the end of the week.
On Tuesday, however, the rumour got around the parish, and that evening a large body of people, in a state of great excitement, assembled around the Presbytery. They insisted upon my saying a few words to them. I explained that it was my duty to obey without entering into the motives that impelled the Bishop to act.
On Wednesday, the whole able-bodied population of Cliffoney, set out for Sligo. Every bicycle, car and cart in the half parish was brought into action, and the whole distance of fifteen miles was covered by mid-day. People who saw the crowd come into Sligo, thought at first it was a large funeral, but then they noticed that the hearse was missing.
When they got within sight of the town, they put into use the knowledge of drill that they had acquired as a result of the volunteering of the two previous years. They formed fours, and marched in a body through the heart of the town and right up to the Bishop’s palace. There they waited four long hours until the Bishop’s dinner time. The Bishop had gone away to Dublin, and would not be back until the end of them week. It was his usual custom to run away whenever he anticipated trouble. The evening turned out wet, and the people came home very weary and full of anger and disgust.
That fine October day I had spent wandering around the beautiful shore of Mullaghmore, greatly comforted by the loud roar of the tireless Atlantic waves. The next two days were spent in preparing to depart. I had nine fine apple trees in my little garden at Cliffoney. They had been neglected by former tenants, but I had tended them carefully the previous winter. I had thinned out the branches where the growth was too thick, removed the moss from their stems, and had the soil dug up lightly around them, and coated with sea-weed and artificial manure. They were all coated with beautiful apples. They were on the side of the public road, with nothing to protect them but a stone wall about three feet high.
The district was thickly populated with crowds of boys, who had the usual Irish boys’ desire for other peoples apples. A short time before, the Parish Priest whose garden was out of sight of the public road, and surrounded by a high wall, had to cut down his trees, because none of the fruit was left to himself. Yet none of my apples had been taken. Even in September when I was away on vacation for three weeks, my apples were untouched. I could never find out fully what was the reason, but before leaving Cliffoney, I rewarded the boys for their honesty, by distributing the great bulk of the apples amongst them.
On Saturday morning I said my last mass in Cliffoney. The church was crowded as on Sundays. I spoke a few words of farewell to the people, and advised them to stick to their guns in their fight for the bog. I told them that the thing that troubled me most in having to part with them was the fear that it might cause them to waver and lose the fight. I knew that various proposals had been made amongst the people to take strong action in protest against my removal. But I did not know until afterwards, that they had formed a Committee and had discussed several definite plans.
One of these, was to retain me by force in their midst. They had arranged to prevent any motor-car or other vehicle from carrying me to Sligo, and had made arrangements to commandeer my bicycle. However, the few words which I said to them made them abandon this plan.
The house in which I lived in Cliffoney was not a regular parochial house. It was rented from Mrs. Hannan, and was not occupied by a priest for many years before my time. I was, therefore, under no obligation to hand it over to my successor. I continued to be Mrs. Hannan’s tenant for a few months after leaving, and left my housekeeper there in charge of my furniture. I knew, however, that things would be unpleasant for my successor, and as he was not in anyway to blame for my change, I wished to lessen the unpleasantness as much as I could for him. Therefore, when I met him in Sligo, I invited him to stay in my rooms in Cliffoney, and that my housekeeper would put everything that was necessary at his disposal.
I came to Crosna that evening by motor-car, coming by the road through Ballinafad and around by the north shore of Lough Key. I was struck by the beauty of the little church from a distance, outlined against the sky at the top of the hill. But when I went up the narrow hilly road, as far as it, in search of the priest’s house, I thought it would be an inconvenient place to live.
However, when I got as far as the church, I was directed back again to a house half a mile away and lower down another road. On my way to the house, I noticed in an adjoining field a small hall built of wood and iron. It looked as if it had been deserted for some years. A few days later I learned its history.
The Parish Priest had built it as a Parochial Hall. After a time some difference arose between himself and the local branch of the A. O. H. about its use. The Hibernians built a hall for themselves on the top of the hill, beside the church. Then the Parish Priest’s hall was used no longer. The Hall was vested in four Trustees. Two of them were on the side of the Irish Party, and the Bosses of the Hibernian Order. The other two were drifting towards the movement that afterwards spread all over Ireland, under the name of ‘Sinn Féin”. One of these latter had possession of the key. An effort was made to make him give it up and to exclude from the hall all who were not orthodox supporters of the war policy of the Irish Parliamentary Party. Law proceedings were threatened on several occasions, but the threats were never carried out. Whenever the Hibernians wanted the Hall, Batty Moran who held the key, allowed them into it, and locked it up again when they had left. I had been only a short time in Crosna when the local dramatic Club, which was entirely Sinn Féin in its tendencies, gave an evenings entertainment. From that entertainment and from the old deserted hall built by the Parish Priest I learned a lesson.
The lesson was that it would be far better both for the priests and the people, to leave the parish hall entirely in the control of the people themselves, and that if the priest was a trustee or a member of the Executive Committee, he should be on the same footing as any other member.
A new school was opened in Cliffoney shortly after I went there. Thus the old school building which stood at the southwest corner of Cliffoney crossroads became vacant. The building itself belonged to Mr. Ashley, the Landlord. I wrote to Mr. Ashley and asked him to give the old school building for a parish hall. He was quite willing to give it, but the schoolmaster refused to give up the key. For years he had used the little playground of the school as a kitchen garden, and had driven the school children onto the public road. During the time that I was in Cliffoney the schoolmaster refused to give up the key. Some of the Irish Volunteers wished to break into the building by force, but in view of the fact that we had the other fight of the bog on our hands, I thought it was better to restrain them and do one thing at a time.
As soon as I would have got the school, I intended to do what was usual at the time, to vest it in three Trustees. One of them the Parish Priest, another the Curate, and a third some layman. But to tell the truth, even though I was trying to get the school I dreaded the time when I should have this additional burden on my hands.
There was a Parish hall in Grange at the other end of the parish, and whenever I went up to a play or a concert, the curate Fr. Crehan, was always in charge of the entire proceedings. He had to go on and off the stage every few minutes to announce the singer, and he had to make sure that the persons in charge of the curtain, let it up and down at the right time. He had all the responsibility for keeping the hall in repair, and if anything happened in connection with the hall that became a matter for criticism, he was criticised. When I sat at the entertainment in Crosna, free to enjoy the fun, without any responsibility, I saw the advantage of having a hall that would be entirely in the hands of the people. And I made up my mind that when the key of the old school building in Cliffoney was finally surrendered, that if I could, the hall would be given over to the people. This was actually done the following summer when the Landlord, Mr. Ashley, visited the place. With results, I believe, that are most satisfactory, not merely to the priests but to the people themselves.
The Monday after my arrival in Crosna, I went to Sligo to a High Mass. I there learned that the people in Cliffoney had seized the key of the Sacristy door, and closed the church refusing to admit my successor. On Sunday morning during Mass time, a large congregation assembled and recited the Rosary in common, kneeling on the gravel walk in front of the church door. Before leaving Cliffoney I knew that some such extreme action as this had been proposed by some of the leaders in the fight against the Congested Districts Board. I had pleaded with them as strongly as I could against this course. But I believed then, and still believe that a great deal could be said in justification of the peoples action.
On Wednesday morning I called to see the Bishop. He refused to shake hands with me, and said that he would not submit to the absurdity of receiving in a friendly manner a priest who was in open rebellion against him. I disclaimed responsibility for the Cliffoney rebellion, and told him that I had argued with the people against the action they had taken. This caused him to drop his attitude of hostility, and he asked me to go to Cliffoney and persuade the people to give up the key of the church to the Parish Priest. I promised him to do my best, but told him that I could not guarantee success.
I went to Cliffoney and had a long interview with the Committee elected by the people to keep the church closed. They told me that they were determined to keep the church closed until I came back. They said that even if I succeeded in persuading them to open the church that they would be afraid of the general public.
Many of them told me that their own wives and children told them not to dare come home if I succeeded in persuading them into opening the church. They told me that they were expecting me to come down on the errand on which I was engaged. They knew that I was not a free agent, and that I was compelled by the Bishop to do what I was doing. They also told me that if I asked them for my own sake to give up the key, to save me from being suspended that then they would do it. I replied that would be a cowardly thing for me to do, and that if I could not persuade them that it was right for them to give it up, that I would not ask them to do it on any other ground.
They considered that the Bishop in removing me from Cliffoney had taken sides with Dublin Castle and the Congested Districts Board in the fight for the Cliffoney bog. It was not his affair as a Bishop to interfere on the side of the oppressors of the people. They considered that they had enough to contend with, in fighting all the forces of Dublin Castle and all the weakness that was in some of their own ranks, without having their own Bishop take sides against them, and they felt that if the Bishop did not leave them free to look after their turf banks, that they were not going to leave him free to look after his church. If he wanted to thrash the matter out with them, let him come down himself.
Two hundred of them had gone to see him many of them on bicycles, and donkey carts, and he was away from home. He had a motor car, supplied to him by the people, and it would be small trouble to him to return their visit. If it was a sacrilege for them to close the church they had got bad example from their Bishop because it was a sacrilege for him to take away their priest at the bidding of Dublin Castle.
When I returned to Sligo I met the Bishop in his Dining-room, at St. Mary’s. He stood in front of the fire with his back to the fireplace, and I stood on his right, with my elbow resting on the corner of the mantlepiece. When I told the Bishop about the interview he was very angry.
Amongst the many uncomplimentary things which he said to me, he told me that he agreed with some of my brother priests who considered that I was not right in my mind. I replied that he evidently considered it one of the privileges of a Bishop to insult with impunity. He accused me of hypocrisy and pretence, and said that I really encouraged the people to keep the church closed whilst pretending that I wanted to get it opened, and accused me of handing the key over to the layman. He reminded me of the ecclesiastical law by which I was bound to hand the key over to my successor.
I replied that I was not the custodian of the key in Cliffoney at any time, and when I went there, the key was already in the hands of a layman, having been given to him by the Parish Priest. It was not for me to interfere with the arrangements which the Parish Priest had made for the custody of the key. “Ah,” said he, “that is a nice way to treat a poor invalid Parish Priest.” “Yes” said I, “if you had done your duty in connection with that parish for the past few years this trouble would never have occurred.”
At this point the Bishop walked out of the room, and I saw him no more. He had come down to tea and I suppose he did without it for that night. I sat down and had tea with his Administrator, Canon Doorley, who was present during most of the interview. That was the last time I met the Bishop until after Easter Week 1916. The speech I made at the Tillage meeting in Sligo attracted a great deal of attention all over Ireland, and I was only a few days in Crosna when I began to get invitations to address meetings in many parts of the country.
I consented to speak in a few places, the first important place being Belfast. For a long time I had been working out the theory of the Ulster Difficulty. On a few occasions in which I had passed through the north of Ireland, I noticed on the railway carriages, and in other places, scribbled on the walls, “To Hell with the Pope,” and “No Rome Rule.” It was never to Hell with Ireland, and there never seemed to be any objection to Home Rule, except on the one ground that it would be ROME RULE. I had begun my college course in 1890 at the beginning of the Parnellite split.
The question of the priest in politics was very much discussed in Ireland during the last decade of the nineteenth century. We were constantly talking about it and argueing about it as students in Maynooth. On the one side it was said rudely that a priest ought to mind his own business and not to dabble in the affairs of the laity, or it was said politely that the calling of a priest was too high and holy to have him mix in purely secular affairs.
Against this, it was contended that a priest should have the same right to political action that anybody else had, and that surely the Irish people would never deprive the priests, who were so devoted and loyal to their interests of the right of playing their part in the political life of the country.
In most parts of Ireland, large numbers of priests drilled their parishioners and lead them in a body to the poles to vote Parnell out of political life, and influence in Ireland. In my native county of Roscommon, and in a few other places, the cry was raised “No priest in politics” and the majority of the people remained loyal to the Chief who had lead them in their successful fight against landlord tyranny.
I remember on one occasion when I was a student at Maynooth, the Most Rev. Dr. Healy, then Bishop of Clonfert, and later Archbishop of Tuam, delivered a lecture to the students, in which he seemed to support the view expressed in the motto of the Parnellites “No priest in politics.” In discussing it with some of my fellow students I ventured to say that the cry the Parnellites should have was “No Bishop in politics.”
The trouble was not that the priest exercised his rights as an individual citizen, but the trouble was the organisation that was hidden behind the priests, and which bound them all to act in common, whether individually they approved of the action or not. I did not mean of course, that the Bishop as an individual should not have as much right to vote as anybody else. I meant that he had only an individual right to his own opinion, and had no right to use his ecclesiastical position to force that opinion upon those who in ecclesiastical affairs were subject to his jurisdiction.
In other words, let the Bishop when he comes into political life leave his mitre and crozier behind him, and let the priest when he goes on a political platform remember that he has no right to wear his stole. When the Orangeman scribbled up on the railway carriage, “No Rome Rule” he protested against the domination of the Church in political life. The Pope appointed the Bishops, the Bishops met in Maynooth twice a year.
At a secret meeting they laid down common lines of action with regard to questions of Irish politics. Returning, each to his own diocese, they gave the lead to their priests as to the direction in which they would use their influence. Any priest who was not satisfied to take a hint got a reminder in the shape of a change from one parish to another. In extreme cases he got a letter prohibiting certain forms of activity, perhaps on the plea that they were prejudicial to the performance of his duties as a priest. In some extreme cases he might be suspended or driven out of Ireland. Thus a machine which the Irish people did not control, a machine, the working of which they had only a very faint knowledge of exercised a most far reaching and vital influence in the political life of the country.
The Orangeman’s crude cries of “To Hell with the Pope,” and “No ROME Rule” were protests against the influence of that machine. In other words, the Orangeman protested against an influence that came from outside Ireland just as the Nationalist Irishman does. Just as a Catholic hated the rule of a Dublin Castle which was controlled from outside Ireland, so the Orangeman hated the rule of a Maynooth which was also controlled from outside Ireland.
The Orangeman was, therefore, as great an Irish patriot as the Nationalist. The orange colour in the Sinn Féin Flag had as much right to its position there as the green colour. Each colour deserved equal honour in the National Flag. The principles of which each colour was a symbol were necessary for the development of the Ireland of our hopes. The green man would have to accept the principles of the Orangeman if he wished to Orangeman to accept, in turn, his principles. All this would be brought about by the assertion of each individual priest to his own freedom in Irish political life without subservience to his ecclesiastical superior. I prepared a speech for Belfast putting this principle plainly.
On my way to Belfast I read the address for one or two of my friends and they endeavoured to persuade me not to deliver the address as prepared. Still, I had my mind made up to go on with it. In Belfast I consulted one or two more friends, and got the same advice, and yet, in spite of all I went to the meeting prepared to deliver the lecture as written.
However when I faced the audience I could not bear to go on with it, and I omitted to give an explantation of the significance of the Orange and Green. The intense enthusiasm of the Belfast audience, and the unity of soul that prevailed the entire mass of people who filled St. Mary’s Hall, and crowded the street on the outside, was greater than I ever met at any time anywhere else in Ireland. I had no heart to say anything that might hurt the feelings or disturb the conscience of such an audience.
About this time I went to Cliffoney again, and made another effort to persuade the people to open the church. Owing to the way in which the Committee pleaded on the last occasion, that they were afraid of public opinion, I made my appeal direct to the people this time. I summoned them all to the crossroads, and held there a large public meeting. I spoke to them from the wall of the yard surrounding the church. I reminded them of the great inconvenience they were causing themselves and pointed out to them that if they continued their present attitude much longer, the fight might develop in such a way as to make things very unpleasant for them on the occasion of Baptism or sick-calls.
I gave of course the usual arguments about the liberty of the church, and the sacredness of its sanctuary. Indeed I gave them every argument I could, with the exception of one. I did not whine or ask them to open the church for my satisfaction in order to prevent me from getting into further trouble. I wanted, if possible, to get them to open the church without losing their respect. Little would be gained by bringing their bodies into the church unless one could bring their hearts as well.
At the end of the address I asked those people who were in favour of opening the church to remain outside on the road, and those who wished to keep it closed to walk into the church yard. I think only one man remained outside on the road, all the rest, men, women and children, voted in favour of continuing the barricade.
On that occasion I packed up my books and furniture in order to have them brought up to Crosna. The people asked me to allow them to bring them up for me. A few days afterwards a string of carts accompanied by about forty men came all the way along the forty miles of road that seperate Crosna from Cliffoney.
The closing of the Cliffoney church was barely mentioned in the newspapers. There was nowhere any discussion to defend the people or to explain their motives. The result was that the story was distorted into numerous different shapes in the different parts of the country. Some of the young men who came to Crosna volunteered to go in pairs through some of the neighbouring counties in order to defend the people from calumny, and to explain their action. Some of them went as far as Longford and home through County Leitrim. Others went all through the heart of Roscommon as far as Roscommon town. Some of them went west into Galway and Mayo, and the western portion of County Sligo.
Although it was winter time they went those long journeys almost entirely on foot. They talked to the people that they met along the roadside, at fairs and markets, and some of them had the courage to make speeches outside the church doors on Sundays. I accompanied two of the best of them, Willie Gilmartin and Andrew Conway, as far as Castlerea.
We called upon John Fitzgibbon who was a Draper in that town. He was Chairman of the Roscommon County Council, Member of Parliament for South Mayo, and a member of the Congested Districts Board. We explained to Mr. Fitzgibbon, the plight in which the absurd action of the C. D. B., had put the people of Cliffoney. We pointed out that he was the only man on the Board who occupied prominent positions in the County which were in the gift of the people. His presence on the Board was the principal part of the disguise it wore, when parading itself as a popular and respectable body. We told him that unless he had influence enough to get the Bog divided he ought to resign from the Board and strip it of its popular disguise.
Afterwards, these two young fellows, who were only about twenty years of age, went on together as far as Tuam. They called upon Archbishop Healy. The Archbishop himself had been a curate in Cliffoney when he was a young priest. His sister Mrs. Hannan lived there still. All his life time Mullaghmore had been one of his favourite resorts during his summer vacation. It used to be said of him in joke that he always considered Benbulben the most beautiful mountain in Ireland until he was made Archbishop of Tuam, and even though Croagh Patrick was given first place, he still considered Benbulben second.
He received the two Cliffoney boys with his usual large hearted hospitality. He advised them to go home and induce the people to reopen the church. This lead them into an argument with him in theology. At one point he directed their attention to the books that lined the wall of his room, and asked them what did they know about Canon Law. One of them replied that they did not know anything about Canon Law, but that they knew how to say the Rosary, and that in the Penal days when multitudes of the people who knew nothing but the Rosary kept their faith, some of the Bishops with all their Canon Law fell away from it. He kept them for lunch and sent them away unchanged.
About this time there occurred an incident which helped a good deal to rouse the Irish people to a sense of the reality of their position. Rumours that the English intended to impose conscription on Ireland were beginning to circulate. A number of young Irish emigrants who were supposed to be flying to America to escape conscription were mobbed, insulted and handled roughly in Liverpool. This drew an eloquent protest from the Bishop of Limerick. Thousands of copies of the Bishop’s letter were printed and circulated all over the country. Recruiting for the army, never popular in Ireland outside some of the towns, thus received a very desirable stand back.
It was a time of great anxiety for me. Many a morning on my way back from the Autumn stations had I climbed the hill up to the house slowly, afraid that I might find before me a letter from the Bishop indicating some new addition in his hostility to my action as an Irish Nationalist. I took it for granted that he would be pressed strongly to prevent my appearance on the public platform by agents of Dublin Castle or by people who were amenable to its influence. I knew well what had been the fate of any priest in the past who had taken an uncompromising stand on the side of the Irish Nation.
The more recent example was Dr. O’Hickey. A Professor in Maynooth, he had given me almost my first lesson in Irish, he was dismissed from his chair because he fought against the college authority of the Bishops, in favour of compulsory Irish in the University. He had spent long years in exile in the vain search of redress in Rome. Then he came home to die of a broken heart in the country that had well nigh forgotten him. No newspaper in Ireland had ventured to write an obituary notice that was worthy of him. Even the official organ of the League, of which he had been the champion, when it came to the most significant part of his life, the part which few knew anything about, dismissed it by saying that everybody knew all about it.
Yet, I felt driven irresistibly along the road which Dr. O’Hickey had travelled. I had, however, for many years made up my mind to avoid what I regarded as a great mistake, made by those who had gone before me. I would not appeal to Rome. In fact, I would not appeal at all. I would continue to do what I thought was right and let the result work itself out as it might. The right of the Irish people to independence was not decided by revelation, but by reason only. It was a right that could not be submitted to any court outside Ireland. It was bad for Ireland, and equally bad for Rome if the decision to such a question should be sent out to embarrass the Vatican.
I agreed to lecture shortly before Christmas in the Round Room of the Rotunda, Dublin. In order to avoid bringing about a crises, I chose a subject about which there was no room for controversy. It was a subject upon which I had lectured at the Maynooth Union the previous summer. It was the “Food of the Irish People.” I tried to show how much healthier the Irish people were when they lived upon the products of their own soil. I had an idea that the closing of Cliffoney church afforded me a certain amount of protection, both against further and more extreme action upon the part of the Bishop as well as the Castle authorities.
If the Bishop moved against me he would incur the increased anger of the people of Cliffoney, and probably run the risk of having the story spoken of elsewhere. At the same time some of the inner ring of Dublin Castle hoped that internal dissension amongst the Catholics of Ireland might grow out of the incident. Nothing that could happen would be more to their liking.
Shortly before Christmas I had been urged by some of my closest personal friends amongst the clergy, to make another appeal to induce the people of Cliffoney to reopen the church. The morning of Christmas Eve they got a letter from me in which I simply stated that the best Christmas gift they could make me would be the news that they had all attended Mass again on Christmas morning in their own Church.
This simple request had the desired effect. Where all previous arguments of mine had failed, as well as threats from other sources, this simple letter succeeded, and so the people, who for two months had knelt and said the Rosary on the bare ground walk outside the church door in the depth of winter, were again assembled under its protecting roof.
In the middle of January I went to Cork to address a public meeting in the City Hall. On my way down, there came into the carriage with me at one of the stations in the County, three young fellows going off to join the army accompanied by the recruiting sergeants who had captured them.
One of them hid his sadness under an air of gaiety. Another made no effort to disguise the bitter disappointment with which he found himself in his present plight. The third was half asleep. He had not yet fully shaken off the effects of the drink that had brought him down. I spoke to them about the War, and about the application to Ireland of the principles of liberty which they had been invited to fight for in distant lands.
When we got off the train at Cork, these three poor young fellows, knelt down on the pavement to get my blessing. It was only then thay I realised fully, for the first time, the horror of the action of Cardinal Logue and those other Bishops and leaders of the Irish Party who allowed their names to be plastered up on the recruiting posters all over the country, as a means of inducing the poor innocent, enthusiastic, Catholic boys of Ireland to deliver their very lives into the hands of hypocrites who guided England’s War Machine.
The incident was a good preparation for the speech I made a few hours afterwards. There were five of the Capuchin Fathers beside me on the platform. There was however, no priest of any other religious order, and no secular priest in evidence, but the Great Hall was crowded to the door. And the large ante-room, itself capable of holding some two thousand people, was also crowded. Outside on the street there was a very large over crowd meeting unable to gain access to the meeting.
In my speech I poured all the contempt I could upon England, her War aims, and her War methods. Next day the Tory paper of Cork printed a long report of my speech. It was a garbled account, as such reports usually are, yet in the main it represented the sentiments to which I gave expression. The paper also made an editorial attack upon me. The whites of its pious eyes were turned out in horror at the Minister of a christian church who referred to the great blunder at Gallipoli as the “farce of the Dardanelles.” Yet, he had the satisfaction within a year or two, of reading a somewhat similar description from the Prime Minister of England.
The Cork meeting was reported in the Dublin papers of the following day. These papers would reach Sligo on the late train. The Bishop had them for breakfast on the second morning after the meeting. Whether he had letters also from Cork and Dublin to drive home their lesson, his archives, unless some interested hand intervenes, will some day show. In any case he lost no time in writing to me a letter which I received on the morning of my return from Cork.
St. Mary’s, Sligo.
14 January 1916.
Dear Father O'Flanagan,
I regret exceedingly that I find it necessary - in the interests of religion, ecclesiastical discipline and good order - to withdraw from you as I do hereby and until further notice, permission to preach anywhere in this diocese: - as also to celebrate mass outside the parish of Ardcarne without my permission in writing. I also forbid you “sub poena suspensiouis” - to harangue the congregation, on any subject, inside or in the vicinity of the church or station house; or to speak publicly and disparagingly of your brother priests or ecclesiastical superiors.
In this connection and in view of the recent grave public scandals with which your name has been so painfully and notoriously associated, I desire to direct your most serious attention to the Eccommunicto speciali modo R. P. reservata (No. 4. Appendix II. P. 50 aeta et deciu Con. Prov. Tuam.) Finally I must forbid you to deliver any public lecture or address, or to remain a night outside the parish of Ardcarne without my special permission in writing.
Praying to God to grant you the grace to apply your energies and talents - after the noble example of so many of your brother priests - to the practical and edifying work of the mission.
I remain your grieved and afflicted
Signed Bernard Coyne
This letter was a direct challenge to the two fold object that I had before me, and to which I had devoted all my endeavours. The one was to do, at least one man’s part in rousing the Irish people out of their apathy, and to give them a clear conception of their nationality. The other was to emancipate the priest from the control of the church in political affairs. Here was the Bishop assuming the most complete control over my own political life and activity, and preventing me from doing anything further on behalf of Irish nationality.
At the same time, although I regarded his letter as being an altogether unwarranted assumption of authority, I did not feel that the time had yet arrived when it could be successfully challenged. At the time of the Parnell split, the Bishops had succeeded in imposing their will, not merely upon the priests of Ireland, but upon the Irish people. And although the right of the people in the abstract to freedom of political activity had been gradually reasserted.
Yet, the right of the priest to such freedom could only be secured with infinitely greater difficulty. There would be, therefore, no hope of success if I were to challenge openly the Bishop’s assumption of control over my political activity. I did not reply to the Bishop’s letter, but I abstained for twelve months from violating any of the principle restrictions he put upon me. It seemed hard at first to have to stop preaching, and I did not know how I would be able to face it.
However, on further consideration I came to the conclusion that in as much as the indignity had been put upon me in a good cause it was really a matter for pride instead of humiliation. Therefore, on the first Sunday I simply asked the people not to be disedified by my ceasing to preach to them on Sundays, as I had been prohibited from doing so by my Bishop.
I contented myself by writing some articles for such papers as the Catholic Bulletin, Nationality and the Spark. I also succeeded in establishing a local Company of the Irish Volunteers. At the same time I only awaited an opportunity of challenging the Bishop openly on the question of his political command. His right to prohibit me from preaching I did not question. Whether he had sufficient cause or not, was for him to judge and not for me.
But his right to interfere with me as an Irish citizen upon the public platform, I did not acknowledge. Invitations poured in upon me from all over Ireland. I was getting tired of trying to explain how the Bishop had forbidden me, and why I continued to act in obedience to his prohibition.
I had been invited to attend a great Review of the Irish Volunteers, to be held at Athenry on Sunday, 23rd April 1916. I intended to put the matter to the test on that day. But the difficulty was how to get to Athenry. Athenry is some sixty miles from Crosna. After saying second Mass, I would have to cycle to Boyle and there get a motor-car that would bring me the rest of the way. I could not start before 12 o’clock. Under most favourable circumstances it would take an hour to reach Boyle, and three more to get to Athenry.
Next day my fellow curate, Fr. O’Beirne had to go to Sligo for the young priests annual examination. From there he had to go to Dublin to assist at a marriage. The consequence was that if I did go to Athenry I would have to return again on Sunday evening. The weather, however, decided the matter. Sunday morning was wild and wet, and blew a gale in the teeth of anybody who ventured to go from Crosna to Boyle. It would take two hours instead of an hour to reach Boyle, and with the uncertainty of travelling it would be unlikely that I would reach Athenry in time for the meeting.
Next day the Insurrection broke out in Dublin. All week our little Company of Volunteers awaited orders. They were ready to undertake anything, but the orders never came. There were no Irish Volunteers organised nearer than Ballaghadereen, Tobercurry and Ballymote.
The general sympathy of the people of Crosna was of course, with the men of Easter Week. The same was true of every place where the propaganda of the Irish Volunteers had been carried on. And even in places where people were left to their own instinct, the only criticism was the criticism of an old man from a neighbouring district, who said “Ah! Poor fellows, they made the burst too soon.”
One man, an ardent supporter of the old Redmondite policy, which even at that early date, had been set aside by the bulk of the people in Crosna, openly gloated over the news of the shelling of Liberty Hall. He thought that his old party and his old policy would surely come back into favour again.
I never saw men in Ireland walk with the same elasticity and pride in their step as I saw them on that Easter Tuesday morning, when the rumours of the Insurrection had been definitely confirmed. They would certainly have gone out in their thousands to fight for Ireland if there had been only some organisation sufficiently widespread to give them the call.
The horror of the Executions came as a great surprise to the bulk of the Irish people, who had been living in a fool’s paradise created by the Irish Parliamentary Party’s traditions. It did not cause so much surprise to those of us who had been advocates of a bolder policy.
The only thing that surprised us was the depths to which the Party policy had caused so many of our people to fall as evidenced by the resolutions of some of our public bodies and by the action of the Irish Party itself in Parliament.
Early in May we had a Conference in Boyle. The Bishop sent for me after the Conference. He expressed sympathy with me, and said I was not looking well, and that after the disaster that happened so many of my friends, and the cause which I had so much at heart, I could hardly feel happy in Ireland. He reminded me that two years before I had been willing to go to America on a lecturing tour. He said that he would not allow me to go to America on vacation. He could only give me four months, but during that time I might get some place where I might like to settle down for five or ten years, or if I liked permanently.
I thanked him for his kindly interest in my health. I told him that I was not conscious of any illness. That far from being unhappy or discontented in Ireland, that Ireland never seemed to me such an interesting place to live in as it did now. At the same time, I told him that I considered his offer of a four months vacation in America as a very attractive and tempting one. It was not a thing to lightly accept or reject at a moments notice. I would take time to consider it. If I decided to accept I would let him know. If not he would know by my silence that I intended to remain in Ireland.
A great wave of resentment against England passed over America owing to the atrocities committed by the English Army in Dublin during Easter Week, and to the long series of executions that followed. The game which England had always played so well, of blackening the character of any enemy arranged against her in war, and had its effect in gaining her a great deal of support and sympathy in America in her fight against Germany.
But now it was seen clearly that England herself was prepared to outdo the atrocities she had laid at the door of the Germans. The Bowan-Colthursts, and the Maxwells had repeated in Dublin everything that their German prototypes had been accused of in Belgium.
Thus were the eyes of America being opened. The white-wash was falling off the sepulchre, and a glimpse in revealed the dead man’s bones, and all the rottenness which it concealed. The only thing left open to England now, was to masquerade as a penitent, she would admit the wrong she had done, she would put on sackcloth, and sprinkle ashes on her head, and cry piccavi in the ear of an edified world.
Hence Asquith came to Dublin. He declared that Dublin Castle rule had broken down, and that it would have to be replaced at once. The Home Rule Act would forthwith to put into operation. This was of course, intended merely as a gain, to deceive as many people as possible throughout the world and especially in America, and thereby lessen the obstacles that made America hesitate before throwing in her lot with England against Germany.
In August 1914, the War was given as England’s excuse for not putting the Home Rule Act into operation. England was so busy rushing to the rescue of Belgium, that no reasonable man could expect her to devote any attention to Ireland. But two years afterwards a few men fought and died for Ireland, and behold the change! An Irish “Settlement” now became a war necessity.
So crooked is the path of hypocrisy, that the reason which for two years had been sufficient to prevent Home Rule being put into operation, and became the reason for putting it into operation at once. Hence would England take off her coat and go to work at last in settling the Irish Question. But of course, there was the Ulster Difficulty. That must never be lost sight of. Only for that difficulty the Irish question would have been settled long ago. But now it would be settled in spite of that difficulty. That is unless -- unless -- that difficulty proved altogether unsurmountable.
To make it unsurmountable it was necessary to fix upon some principle that was incompatible with Home Rule. This principle was promptly discovered and given to the world in the terms “Ulster must not be coerced.” It then became necessary to discover an Ulster that would object to being coerced. If Ulster had been consulted, and a vote of the entire province taken, the people of Ulster might decide that their territory was still what it had been during all its history, one of the provinces of Ireland. Hence a boundary was taken that would be most hateful and objectionable, to the largest possible number of people.
Not merely was Ireland to be divided, but Ulster also was to be divided. Three Counties of Ulster were to be cut off and united to the other three Provinces. Amongst them was Donegal, the most northerly county in Ireland, which was to be taken from the North and attached to the South of Ireland. Two other counties, which if left to their own choice would certainly have united themselves to the body of Ireland, were compelled to unite with the North. As a rule a pill is coated with sugar in order that the patient may swallow it with the least possible trouble. But this pill of Home Rule was coated with the most nauseous substance endurable for the deliberate purpose of preventing the patient from swallowing it.