Saturday 20 January 2018

Flashback 1912: John Redmond adresses a rally in support of Home Rule Bill

This week 104 years ago Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond addressed a rally on O'Connell Street in support of the 1912 Home Rule Bill

Standing tall: Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond addresses a rally in support of the 1912 Home Rule Bill on Sackville (O'Connell) Street, Dublin, March 31, 1912. Picture: Independent Archives
Standing tall: Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Redmond addresses a rally in support of the 1912 Home Rule Bill on Sackville (O'Connell) Street, Dublin, March 31, 1912. Picture: Independent Archives

Ger Siggins

From 1900, John Redmond was leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), leading demands for Home Rule for Ireland. The issue had dominated Irish life for half a century, and had a major influence on British politics too. By 1912, the ruling Liberals depended on support from Irish nationalists, ensuring Home Rule was top of the agenda.

Shortly before a Bill was brought before the Commons, the IPP staged a show of strength in Dublin city centre. It was a remarkable rally, with 150,000 people packed into Sackville Street.

The Irish Independent devoted almost half its 12 pages to coverage, proclaiming 'O'Connell Street covered by immense crowds'. (The newspaper's style was to call it O'Connell Street, which was first mooted in the 1880s, although the name wasn't officially changed until 1924).

The editor wrote: "Yesterday's demonstration was impressive in its proportions; it was still more impressive by reason of its representative character. The organisers deserve the congratulations of the country, inasmuch as they endeavored honestly and with splendid success to bring together nationalists of all shades of opinion to proclaim their adhesion to the principle of Irish Nationality."

Before the rally, Redmond visited the Mansion House, but the event was marred by scuffles outside involving Suffragettes. It wasn't quite baton charges and tear gas, but the reporter was animated by the fracas: "their sandwich boards were torn off them and smashed. Some of them had their hats torn off and their hair became disheveled."

As crowds gathered on Sackville Street, there was an air of good humour, and one gentleman who carried a 'No Home Rule' placard received just gentle ribbing. The activist Francis Sheehy-Skeffington showered women's suffrage leaflets from an upstairs window.

The Independent sent along one of the most respected journalists of the era, Jacques McCarthy, best known as the rugby writer who described an Irish player scoring a try at Twickenham as crossing the line "festooned with Saxons."

'Jacques' conveyed much of the excitement of the day: "The most dramatic moment was the resonant salutation which followed the singing of A Nation Once Again. The mighty chorus made Davis's poem sound half a song and half a cry of joy and pride. The refrain rang through the street again and again… The spectacle of this exulting multitude moved by its own poetic and patriotic fervour grasped one's imagination like a great drama. This incident of A Nation Once Again was history made audible - past, present and future ringing down the ages."

In an "unusually short" speech of 19 and a half minutes, Redmond addressed the unionist minority, saying "they might repudiate Ireland, but Ireland would never repudiate them."

There were dozens of speakers on four platforms around the street. They included Professors Eoin MacNeill and Tom Kettle, and MPs John Dillon, Willie Redmond and JP Nannetti. Down on Platform No 3 at the corner of Abbey Street, a little-known Gaelic League activist called Patrick Pearse made a speech in Irish in support of the Home Rule Bill, but warned, "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 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 moved 12 days later, and opposed by unionists and Sinn Féin. Debate raged for two years, but just before the King was to sign it into law the Great War broke out and the deal was shelved.

Just four years after his speech, and just across the street, Pearse read aloud the Proclamation that heralded the Easter Rising. He was executed days later. In March 1918, nine months after his brother Willie was killed fighting in Flanders, John Redmond died "broken-hearted".

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