a national struggle sustained through many centuries, we have today
in Ireland a native Government deriving its authority solely from
the Irish people, and acknowledged by England and the other nations
of the world.
Through those centuries—through
hopes and through disappointments—the Irish people have struggled
to get rid of a foreign Power which was preventing them from
exercising their simple right to live and to govern themselves as
they pleased—which tried to destroy our nationality, our
institutions, which tried to abolish our customs and blot out our
civilization,—all that made us Irish, all that united us as a
But Irish nationality survived.
It did not perish when native government was destroyed, and a
foreign military despotism was set up. And for this reason, that it
was not made by the old native government and it could not be
destroyed by the foreign usurping government. It was the national
spirit which created the old native government, and not the native
government which created the national spirit. And nothing that
the foreign government could do could destroy the national
But though it survived, the soul
of the nation drooped and weakened. Without the protection of a
native government we were exposed to the poison of foreign ways.
The national character was infected and the life of the nation was
endangered. We had armed risings and political agitation. We were
not strong enough to put out the foreign Power until the national
consciousness was fully re- awakened. This was why the Gaelic
Movement and Sinn Féin were necessary for our last successful
effort. Success came with the inspiration which the new national
movement gave to our military and political effort. The Gaelic
spirit working through the Dáil and the Army was
In this light we must look at the
The new spirit of self-reliance
and our splendid unity, and an international situation which we
were able to use to our advantage, enabled our generation to make
the greatest and most successful national effort in our
The right of Ireland as a nation
under arms to decide its own destiny was acknowledged. We were
invited to a Peace Conference. With the authority of Ireland's
elected representatives negotiations were entered into between the
two belligerent nations in order to find a basis of peace.
During the war we had gathered
strength by the justice of our cause, and by the way in which we
had carried on the struggle. We had organised our own government,
and had made the most of our military resources. The united nation
showed not only endurance and courage but a humanity which was in
marked contrast with the conduct of the enemy. All this gave us a
moral strength in the negotiations of which we took full
But in any sane view our military
resources were terribly slender in the face of those of the British
Empire which had just emerged victorious from the world war. It was
obvious what would have been involved in a renewal of armed
conflict on a scale which we had never met before. And it was
obvious what we should have lost in strength if the support of the
world which had hitherto been on our side had been alienated, if
Ireland had rejected terms which most nations would have regarded
as terms we could honourably accept.
We had not an easy task.
We were faced with a critical
military situation over against an enemy of infinitely greater
potential strength. We had to face the pride and prejudice of a
powerful nation which had claimed for centuries to hold Ireland as
a province. We had to face all the traditions, and political
experience, and strength of the British nation. And on our flank we
had a section of our own people who had identified their outlook
and interests with those of Britain.
It may be claimed that we did not
fail in our task. We got the substance of freedom, as has already
been made real before our eyes by the withdrawal of the British
And the people approved. And they
were anxious to use the freedom secured. The national instinct was
sound—that the essence of our struggle was to secure freedom to
order our own life, without attaching undue importance to the
formulas under which that freedom would be expressed. The people
knew that our government could and would be moulded by the nation
itself according to its needs. The nation would make the
government, not the government the nation.
But on the return of Ireland's
representatives from London, Mr. de Valera, who was then leader of
the nation, condemned the Treaty in a public statement, while
supporting similar proposals for peace which he described as
differing “only by a shadow”.
But he, and all the Deputies,
joined in discussing and voting on the Treaty, and after full
discussion and expressions of opinion from all parts of the
country, the Treaty was approved.
And Mr. de Valera declared that
there was a constitutional way of solving our differences. He
expressed his readiness to accept the decision of the people. He
resigned office, and a Provisional Government was formed to act
with Dáil Éireann.
Two duties faced that
To take over the Executive from
the English, and to maintain public order during the transition
from foreign to native government; and
To give shape in a constitution
to the freedom secured.
If the Government had been
allowed to carry out these duties no difficulty would have arisen
with England, who carried out her part by evacuating her army and
her administration. No trouble would have arisen among our own
people. And the general trend of development, and the undoubted
advantages of unity, would have brought the North-East quietly into
union with the rest of the country, as soon as a stable national
government had been established into which they could have come
Mr. de Valera, and those who
supported him in the Dáil, were asked to take part in the interim
government, without prejudice to their principles, and their right
to oppose the ratification of the Treaty at the elections.
They were asked to help in
keeping an orderly united nation with the greatest possible
strength over against England, exercising the greatest possible
peaceful pressure towards the union of all Ireland, and with the
greatest amount of credit for us in the eyes of the world, and with
the greatest advantage to the nation itself in having a strong
united government to start the departments of State, and to deal
with the urgent problems of housing, land, hunger, and
They did not find it possible to
accept this offer of patriotic service.
Another offer was then
If they would not join in the
work of transition, would they not co-operate in preserving order
to allow that transition peacefully to take place? Would they not
co-operate in keeping the army united, free from political bias, so
as to preserve its strength for the proper purpose of defending the
country in the exercise of its rights?
This also was
It must be remembered that the
country was emerging from a revolutionary struggle. And, as was to
be expected, some of our people were in a state of excitement, and
it was obviously the duty of all leaders to direct the thoughts of
the people away from violence and into the steady channels of peace
and obedience to authority. No one could have been blind to the
course things were bound to take if this duty were neglected.
It was neglected, and events took
Our ideal of nationality was
distorted in hair-splitting over the meaning of ‘sovereignty’ and
other foreign words, under advice from minds dominated by English
ideas of nationality; and, led away, some soon got out of control
and betook themselves to the very methods we had learned to detest
in the English and had united to drive out of the country.
By the time the Árd Fheis met the
drift had become apparent. And the feeling in favour of keeping the
national forces united was so strong that a belated agreement was
arrived at. In return for a postponement of the elections, the
Anti- Treaty Party pledged themselves to allow the work of the
Provisional Government to proceed.
What came of that pledge?
Attempts to stampede meetings by
revolver shootings, to wreck trains, the suppression of free
speech, of the liberty of the Press, terrorisation and sabotage of
a kind that we were familiar with a year ago. And with what object;
With the sole object of preventing the people from expressing their
will, and of making the government of Ireland by the
representatives of the people as impossible as the English
Government was made impossible by the united forces a year
The policy of the Anti-Treaty
Party had now become clear—to prevent the people's will from being
carried out because it differed from their own, to create trouble
in order to break up the only possible national government, and to
destroy the Treaty with utter recklessness as to the
A section of the army, in an
attempt at a military despotism, seized public buildings, took
possession of the Chief Courts of Law of the Nation, dislocating
private and national business, reinforced the Belfast Boycott which
had been discontinued by the people's government, and
‘commandeered’ public and private funds, and the property of the
Met by this reckless and wrecking
opposition, and yet unwilling to use force against our own
countrymen, we made attempt after attempt at conciliation.
We appealed to the soldiers to
avoid strife, to let the old feelings of brotherhood and solidarity
We met and made advances over and
over again to the politicians, standing out alone on the one
fundamental point on which we owed an unquestioned duty to the
people—that we must maintain for them the position of freedom they
had secured. We could get no guarantee that we would be allowed to
carry out that duty.
The country was face to face with
disaster, economic ruin, and the imminent danger of the loss of the
position we had won by the national effort. If order could not be
maintained, if no National Government was to be allowed to
function, a vacuum would be created, into which the English would
be necessarily drawn back. To allow that to happen would have been
the greatest betrayal of the Irish people, whose one wish was to
take and to secure and to make use of the freedom which had been
Seeing the trend of events,
soldiers from both sides met to try and reach an understanding, on
the basis that the people were admittedly in favour of the Treaty,
that the only legitimate government could be one based on the
people's will and that the practicable course was to keep the
peace, and to make use of the position we had secured.
Those honourable efforts were
defeated by the politicians. But at the eleventh hour an agreement
was reached between Mr. de Valera and myself for which I have been
It was said that I gave away too
much, that I went too far to meet them, that I had exceeded my
powers in making a pact which, to some extent, interfered with the
people's right to make a free and full choice at the
It was a last effort on our part
to avoid strife, to prevent the use of force by Irishmen against
Irishmen. We refrained from opposing the Anti-Treaty Party at the
elections. We stood aside from political conflict, so that, so far
as we were concerned, our opponents might retain the full number of
seats which they had held in the previous Dáil. And I undertook,
with the approval of the Government, that they should hold four out
of the nine offices in the new Ministry. They calculated that in
this way they would have the same position in the new Dáil as in
the old. But their calculations were upset by the people
themselves, and they then dropped all pretence of representing the
people, and turned definitely against them.
The Irregular Forces in the Four
Courts continued in their mutinous attitude. They openly defied the
newly expressed will of the people. On the pretext of enforcing a
boycott of Belfast goods, they raided and looted a Dublin garage,
and when the leader of the raid was arrested by the National
Forces, they retaliated by the seizure of one of the principal
officers of the National Army.
Such a challenge left two courses
open to the National Government: either to betray its trust and
surrender to the mutineers, or to fulfil its duty and carry out the
work entrusted to it by the people.
The Government did its duty.
Having given them one last opportunity to accept the situation, to
obey the people's will, when the offer was rejected the Government
took the necessary measures to protect the rights and property of
the people and to disperse the armed bands which had outlawed
themselves and were preying upon the nation.
Unbelievers had said that there
was not, and had never been, an Irish Nation capable of harmonious,
orderly development. That it was not the foreign invader but the
character of the Irish themselves which throughout history had made
of our country a scene of strife.
We knew this to be a libel. Our
historians had shown our nationality as existing from legendary
ages, and through centuries of foreign oppression.
What made Ireland a nation was a
common way of life, which no military force, no political change
could destroy. Our strength lay in a common ideal of how a people
should live, bound together by mutual ties, and by a devotion to
Ireland which shrank from no individual sacrifice. This
consciousness of unity carried us to success in our last great