One hundred years ago was a great time to be in Ireland to paraphrase Thomas J. Clarke who had been sent by Clan na Gael leader John Devoy to revitalize the dormant IRB. Clarke was, of course, talking about the rising nationalist sentiment throughout Ireland and the growth of the Irish Volunteers as an army of his dream of a new Irish Republic. We are currently in a decade-long period from 2013 to 2023 when the centenary of many of the events along the road to that Republic should be commemorated. Beginning with the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913, which established the Irish Citizen Army, to 1923 when the Civil War ended and the Irish Free State became an accepted member of the League of Nations and began the journey to the Republic of Ireland. Likewise, there are events during that Decade of Commemorations which should not be observed in a favourable manner like the Loyalist gun-running into Larne, the Curragh Mutiny or Home Rule. These are all impediments to the nationalist movement that eventually succeeded despite them.
A recent assessment of Home Rule by former Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton leaves those of us who know our history astounded. He claimed that the Easter Rising was unnecessary as Home Rule was already in the offing, and that Home Rule should be commemorated. Ignoring his slight to the wisdom of the Patriots, let us take a look at Home Rule.
It was an idea first advanced by Isaac Butt in 1873 seeking an Irish Parliament for domestic affairs since O'Connell's Repeal Association faded away after the Great Emancipators death in 1847. Butt's death in 1879 left the Home Rule League to Charles Stewart Parnell who took it into Westminster's House of Commons as the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP). As the IPP grew, it was able to support the Liberal Party against the Conservatives in return for the submittal of a Home Rule Bill. In 1886, Prime Minister Gladstone submitted a Home Rule Bill and asked Parliament to pass it rather than be forced to do so by Irish unrest. The Bill was defeated in the House of Commons. In 1891 Parnell died and the IPP was led by his assistant John Redmond. Undaunted, in 1893, a second Home Rule Bill passed the House of Commons, but was defeated in the House of Lords. By the General Election in 1910, Liberals and Conservatives in the House of Commons were evenly matched. Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith came to Redmond with an offer. If the IPP supported his move to break the power of Lords and have his Budget passed, Asquith would introduce another Home Rule Bill. The Parliament Act of 1911 was passed forcing the Lords to agree to limit their veto power. If a Bill passed Commons twice, Lords could not veto it - only delay its implementation for two years.
In 1912, a third Irish Home Rule Bill was submitted. At a Home Rule Rally in Dublin, Padraic Pearse gave the Bill a qualified welcome saying,
It is clear to me that the bill we support today will be for the good of Ireland, and that we will be stronger with it than without it. But he concluded with the warning, however, if we are tricked this time, there is a party in Ireland, and I am one of them, that will advise the Gael to have no counsel or dealing with the Gall (foreigner), but to answer henceforward with the strong arm and the sword's edge ... If we are cheated once more there will be red war in Ireland.
The Bill was passed by Commons and Lords could only delay its implementation for two years. It would become law in 1914, but it never came into force. The reasons for that were many. First, the Loyalists in northern Ireland started an armed militia (Ulster Volunteer Force) to oppose it. Secondly, in a mutiny at the Curragh Military HQ in Ireland, British officers vowed to resign rather than force the implementation of Home Rule if it passed. Further, bowing to Conservative power in the parliament, Asquith proposed an amendment to the Bill to let the counties in Ulster vote - county by county - to be included or excluded from the Bill. That was changed by the Loyalists to exclude all counties of Ulster and the Liberals dropped the compromise, but delayed its implementation until the end of WWI. Partition was then suggested and the King signed the Bill into law on September 18th, 1914 with a pre-condition that it not come into effect until a provision had been made for Ulster!
The Bill that had been held out as a carrot on a stick, promising a new constitutional order and restraining the energies of a more militant approach to freedom for 40 years, would now not be implemented as it was passed; but it would be altered to partition Ireland, and they would remain a colony of the Crown. The perfidy of the British government was once more displayed and the frustrated Irish patriots took to the streets of Dublin to take what the Crown would not give.
After the Easter Rising inspired the War of Independence in 1919, a fourth Irish Home Rule Act was passed in 1920 establishing Northern Ireland as an entity within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and attempting to establish "Southern Ireland" as another resulting in the partition of Ireland. It was too late, for the Irish had already elected their leaders and they sat in a parliament of their own called Dáil Éireann which they maintained until they fought the British to the treaty table to establish the Irish Free State with more independence than ever allowed in all of the Home Rule Bills. The Irish Free State Constitution Act of 1922 permitted the ultimate realization of limited Irish independence through the removal many of the links with Britain established under the Treaty, and Ireland's neutrality in the Second World War demonstrated its independence in foreign policy matters from Britain. In 1949 it explicitly became a republic, ending its tenuous membership of the British Commonwealth.
Therefore, to commemorate the Home Rule Bill(s) would be to commemorate an example of Britain's perfidious duplicity; on second thought, maybe we should commemorate it, after all.
Home Rule, by Patrick Bonar