Irish Hierarchy’s Statement on the Condition of Ireland (1920)
Two months later – Burning of Cork City Centre by British Forces, December 1920. Over 5 acres of the city were destroyed.
The Irish hierarchy issued the following statement in 1920 at their October meeting in St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth:
It is not easy for the Pastors of the Flock to uphold the Law of God and secure its observance when oppression is rampant in a country. Where terrorism, partiality, and failure to apply the principles which its members have proclaimed, are the characteristic of government, the task is rendered well-nigh impossible. And, unhappily, by such means as these, in a most aggravated form, Ireland is now reduced to a state of anarchy.
With no feeling of complacency do we recall the fact that when the country was still crimeless we warned the Government that the oppressive measures, which they were substituting for their professions of freedom, would lead to the most deplorable consequences. The warning was in vain; and never in living memory has the country been in such disorder as it is now.
Before the war began, and especially before the drilling and arming of Ulster, Ireland, however insistent on reform too long delayed, was in a state of order and peace. Now there are murders, raids, burnings, and violence of various kinds.
On a scale truly appalling have to be reckoned countless indiscriminate raids and arrests in the darkness of night, prolonged imprisonments without trial, savage sentences from tribunals that command and deserve no confidence, the burning of houses, town halls, factories, creameries and crops, the destruction of industries, to pave the way for want and famine, by men maddened with plundered drink and bent on loot, the flogging and massacre of civilians, all perpetrated by the forces of the Crown, who have established a reign of frightfulness which, for murdering the innocent and destroying their property, has a parallel only in the horrors of Turkish atrocities, or in the outrages attributed to the Red Army of Bolshevist Russia.
Needless to say, we are opposed to crime, from whatever side it comes. Nearly two months ago His Eminence Cardinal Logue, in condemning the murder of a policeman, wrote as follows:
“I know that we are living under a harsh, oppressive, tyrannical regime of militarism and brute force, which invites, stimulates, and nourishes crime. I know that, latterly at least, all pretence of strict discipline has been thrown to the winds; that those who profess to be the guardians of law and order have become the most ardent votaries of lawlessness and disorder; that they are running wild through the country, making night hideous by raids, continual rifle-fire, burnings, and the destruction of valuable property; that reckless and indiscriminate shootings in crowded places have made many innocent victims; that towns are sacked as in the rude warfare of earlier ages; that those who run through fear are shot at sight; that in one case, lately, an inoffensive and industrious man, knowing nothing of, and caring less for, politics, has been dragged from his family while they were reciting the Rosary, and shot by the soldiers on the public road.”
Things have become much worse since this was written. Men have been tortured with barbarous cruelty. Nor are cases wanting of young women torn, undressed, from their mothers’ care in the darkness of night.
For all this not the men, but their masters, are chiefly to blame. And it is not a question of hasty reprisals, which, however unjustifiable, might be attributed to extreme provocation, nor of quick retaliation on evildoers, nor of lynch law for miscreants, much less of self-defence of any kind whatsoever. It is the indiscriminate vengeance of savages, deliberately wreaked on a whole town or countryside, without any proof of its complicity in crime, by those who ostensibly are employed by the British Government to protect the lives and property of the people and restore order in Ireland.
This went on, month after month, and there was no sign of restraint or reproof or public investigation or deterrent punishment on the part of the authorities. It went on unchecked and unabated until the world was horrified at the deeds perpetrated under a regime called government in Ireland. Then it was palliated and excused, more than half denied, and less than half rebuked, by a Minister of the Crown, on its way to being presented in a false light, and in that light equivalently condoned and approved by his superior in the British Government. Outrage has been connived at and encouraged, if not organized, not by obscure and irresponsible individuals, but by the Government of a mighty Empire, professing the highest ideals of truth and justice.
All the time the carnage of sectarian riots on a vast scale has been allowed to run its course in the cities and towns of Ulster, resulting in woeful slaughter on either side, in deprivation of employment, in the burning of shops and homes, and therefore in extermination, for the weaker party. In Belfast, a fortnight ago, 8,100 persons had registered as expelled workers, and over 23,000 people were receiving daily relief. In no other part of Ireland is a minority persecuted. Only one persecuting section can be found among the Irish people; and perhaps recent sad events may, before it is altogether too late, open the eyes of the people of England to the iniquity of furnishing a corner of Ulster with a separate government, or its worst instrument, a special police force, to enable it all the more readily to trample under foot the victims of its intolerants.
But it would be idle to be too confident even of that. The governing classes across the water, instead of encouraging Ulster Unionists to coalesce with the rest of the country, have used that section for centuries as a spear-head directed at the heart of Ireland. Oppression, as everyone knows, generates crime, and leads to further oppression. But more potent than even the rule of brute force, in reducing Ireland to anarchy, has been the grossly partial course taken by the British Government in regard to the North-East.
The whole British administration sat complacently while a provisional government was formed and an army drilled in Ulster, the police and customs officials held up, the roads and wires seized. Let anyone contrast the inaction of the Government on the landing of arms at Larne with the onslaughts of the military when arms were landed at Howth, or the treatment of the Ulster Volunteers as compared with the Irish Volunteers, which resulted in the arming of Orangemen and the disarming of the rest of Ireland, or of the 36th Division as compared with the 16th and the 10th. The Mutiny at the Curragh showed that, if the North-East opposed it, the benefit of law under the British Constitution was not for the rest of Ireland. The highest offices in the gift of the State were for the contingent rebels of Ulster in contrast with the bullet for Irish insurgents.
In these days we have formal approval reported of the Belfast pogrom from a Minister of the Crown, and his promise of protection under the new Belfast Parliament for all who are true to the colours. A prominent member of the British Government can scarcely open his lips without encouraging antipathy to Ireland on the part of the North-East, putting ‘Ulster’ on its old Plantation mettle and threatening everyone that ‘Ulster’ will be heard from. If there is anarchy in Ireland the Ministers of the British Crown are its architects.
The plausible sentiment of not coercing Ulster is founded on false pretence, but on false pretence with a purpose. Anyone of ordinary judgment can see how undesirable it is to coerce a minority if in reason the process can at all be avoided. But to give a guarantee to a minority, in advance, against all coercion is to put a premium on unreasonableness and to make a settlement impossible. Had such pledge been given and made good to the minorities in Canada, which clung to Downing Street and resisted the concession of responsible government at home, that blessing would never have matured and created the great Dominion of our time.
It is not hatred of coercion that operates in Ireland, but partiality for the North-East. ‘Ulster’ must not suffer the contamination of a Dublin Parliament. But all Ireland must be coerced for the sake of the North-East, and especially Tyrone, Fermanagh, and Derry City must be put under a Belfast Parliament against their will. That is the outcome of the very acme of cruel false pretence, and, if it be pressed, we warn the British Government of the danger of bitter and prolonged civil strife, with far greater reason for it than for the hostility to a single Parliament which, at the bidding of intolerance, the Government endorses in advance.
Not by inhuman oppression will the Irish question be settled, but by the recognition of the indefeasible right of Ireland, as of every other nation, to choose the form of Government under which its people are to live.
But, as more immediately urgent than anything else, we demand, in the name of civilization and national justice, a full inquiry into the atrocities now being perpetrated in Ireland, by such a tribunal as will inspire the confidence of all, and with immunity to witnesses from the terrorism which makes it impossible to give evidence with safety to life or property.
The Press is gagged in Ireland, the right of public meeting interdicted, and inquests suppressed. There has been brutal treatment of clergymen; and, certainly, to ban a distinguished Archbishop of Irish birth [Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne — shane], who is the trusted leader of democracy in Australia, and prevent him from visiting his native land, is one of the most unwise steps that purblind and tyrannical oppression could take.
But still more cruel, and not less destructive of any prospect of peace between the two countries, is the continued imprisonment of the Lord Mayor of Cork [Terence MacSwiney — shane] and the other hunger strikers, who think nothing of their lives if they can do anything for Ireland in the sad plight to which the rule of the stranger has reduced her.
In existing circumstances it would be idle to say to our people that the outlook was anything but menacing. It is not, however, idle, it is only what is right, to say to them that there never was a time when they should rely on God with more confidence that He will prosper their struggle for freedom while they remain steadfast to the ideals and requirements of Holy Faith. It is for a nation of martyrs to cultivate constant self-restraint. Our people were a great Christian nation when pagan chaos reigned across the Channel. They will remain, please God, a great Christian nation when the new paganism, that now prevails there, has run its evil course.
Our relations with England have been always a terrible misfortune for us. But in the end the constancy of Faith is sure to prevail. It will hasten the day of freedom and peace if we resolutely ‘walk as the Children of The Light; for the fruit of The Light is in All Justice and Godliness and Truth.’
Accordingly, ‘see that none renders evil for evil to any man, but ever follow that which is good towards each other and towards all men.’ God is our help, as He has been through all the centuries of trial, the hope of our fathers. With His blessing upon us we need fear no foe. With His light to guide us we need dread no future.
Let us use well the all-powerful weapon of prayer on which He bids us rely; and to that end the Bishops direct that a Novena with the usual devotions be held in the churches in preparation for the feast of the Irish Saints on the 6th of next November, and that, while this trial lasts, the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, Queen of Peace, be recited after the principal Mass on days of obligation and every public Mass on other days.
They also very earnestly recommend that, in every household, along with the Rosary at night, the same Litany be said, to obtain from the Divine Mercy peace, freedom, and every blessing, spiritual and temporal, for our beloved country.
The Bishops undertake to celebrate Mass for this purpose on the 6th of November, and they request the priests of Ireland, secular and regular, so far as they are free, to do likewise.
Given at Maynooth on 19th October, 1920.
+MICHAEL CARDINAL LOGUE, Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of All Ireland.
+WILLIAM, Archbishop of Dublin, and Primate of Ireland.
+JOHN, Archbishop of Cashel.
+THOMAS, Archbishop of Tuam.
+ABRAHAM, Bishop of Ossory.
+PATRICK, Bishop of Raphoe.
+ROBERT, Bishop of Cloyne.
+JOSEPH, Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise.
+PATRICK, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin.
+DENIS, Bishop of Ross.
+THOMAS, Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh.
+MICHAEL, Bishop of Killaloe.
+LAURENCE, Bishop of Meath.
+CHARLES, Bishop of Derry.
+PATRICK, Bishop of Clogher.
+PATRICK, Bishop of Kilmore.
+PATRICK, Bishop of Achonry.
+JAMES, Bishop of Killala.
+BERNARD, Bishop of Elphin.
+DANIEL, Bishop of Cork.
+JOSEPH, Bishop of Down and Connor.
+BERNARD, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore.
+EDWARD, Bishop of Dromore.
+CHARLES, Bishop of Kerry.
+WILLIAM, Bishop of Ferns.
+DENIS, Bishop of Limerick.
+THOMAS, Bishop of Clonfert.
+EDWARD, Bishop of Spigaz.