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Prospect of conscription creates conflict in Cork

Thursday, 19th April, 2018 9:34am

The political fallout of the Manpower Bill and its proposal to create forced conscription of males over thirty years of age to the British army led to mass anti-conscription meetings and campaigns across Ireland.

The minutes of the Cork Harbour Commissioners meeting on 18 April 1918, as published in the Cork Examiner, reveals the non-black and white, and complex challenges within the wider public debate. Daniel Lucy, chairman, presided with Coroner John Horgan, noting that he had a resolution to propose on the question of conscription.

John Horgan moved: "That we declare that the English parliament has no moral or legal right to conscript the people of Ireland. We claim, in accordance with the principle of self-determination and liberty (or small nationalities, for which England is alleged to be waging this war) that the Irish nation can only be conscripted by a freely elected Irish parliament, and we call upon the nationalist leaders to unite in formulating a common policy against the attempt to finally decimate our nation; and that a copy of this resolution be wired to the Lord Mayor of Dublin, as chairman of tomorrow's conference."

Irish society was faced, John Horgan described, with a "terrible and tragic situation". "It was only right that the people should be under no delusion. The English government had neither legal nor moral right to pass this Act for Ireland."

He highlighted the years of struggle that went on in the House of Commons to carry through a moderate measure of self-government for Ireland. "There were three general elections, the veto of the House of Lords was abolished, and though it was the will of the people, the bill did not pass." He blamed a small minority in the north-east of Ireland who would not be coerced to accept self-government.

Patrick O'Brien seconded the motion whilst stating that the proposed conscription of the "manhood of Ireland" was an outrage, and then subsequently drew upon the concept of previous sacrifices being made detailing that after the Great Famine years the population dwindled from 9 ½ to 4½ million. His opinion was that "for every one man England would get from Ireland, she would have to get two to preserve the peace".

Charles Furlong felt they should not pass the resolution. He considered that the case against England had not been fairly put. The British parliament was still ruling Ireland, and having conscripted England and Scotland, was only asking Ireland to carry out the same laws. "Numbers of people in Ireland had sent their best to help England in the war, and why should not other people do the same thing. If England is beaten in this war, Germany will rule England and Ireland, and Irishmen would feel very sorry tor themselves if they did not help England in the war and perform their duty to king and country."

B Haughton endorsed the remarks of Mr Furlong and thought that the agitation taking place showed that their "kith and kin" in the trenches were largely overlooked. He described that at that moment in time the Germans were advancing slowly but steadily with Messines Ridge in their possession. Mr Haughton proceeded to critique statements made by Mr Horgan in August 1914, in which he said he quoted that "Ireland's interests are bound up with England, and that they should stand or fall together".

Alderman Jeremiah Kelleher was of the opinion that Germany should not beat England. However, he said that every party in Ireland – national and labour was– "united in the issue to resist this imposition on the people against, the will of the majority".

Referencing Mr Furlong’s comment to his duty to "king and country", Alderman Kelleher highlighted that he knew the country and his duty to it, but after last night's act he did not know the king. "The national and labour element, Belfast included, were united, and the democracy of Ireland would loyally obey the order of the conference of their leaders," he said.

Mr Dennehy reiterated that the national and labour element of Ireland were not going to allow England to fool the people any longer. He advised the people to be cautious, and not to rush into any act "that would give the capitalistic classes the chance to massacre them".

He continued: "Belfast labour is as loyal on the issue as any other part of Ireland, and they would let England see that if this north-east corner was not to be coerced into Home Rule, the rest of Ireland was not to be coerced into conscription. After this meeting the people of Cork would see that two members of the Board were in favour of conscripting the people against their will and could henceforward recognise them as their enemies."

The Chairman, Daniel Lucy, declared the resolution passed. He thought the action of the government would mean its death-warrant before many months. "The conference of the Irish leaders would advise the country what to do, and the people, who were determined to resist to the death this terrible tyrannical act of the English government would adopt their advice."

Kieran’s April historical walking tours:

Saturday 21 April, Stories from Blackrock, tour of Blackrock Village, from Blackrock Castle to Nineteenth Century Houses and Fishing. Meet at Blackrock Castle, 12 noon. (free, two hours, finishes near railway line walk, Blackrock Road)

Saturday 28 April, The Victorian Quarter; tour of the area around St Patrick’s Hill – Wellington Road and MacCurtain Street. Meet on the green at Audley Place, top of St Patrick’s Hill, 12 noon. (free, duration: two hours, finishes by St Patrick’s Church, Lower Road)

Sunday 6 May, The City Workhouse; learn about the workhouse created for 2,000 impoverished people in 1841. Meet at the gates of St Finbarr’s Hospital, Douglas Road, 2.30pm (free, duration: two hours, on site tour), in association with the National Famine Commemoration, 2018, Cork.

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