Mrs. Philip Snowden Talks About Ireland and Growing Troubles
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Mrs. Philip Snowden Talks About Ireland and Growing Troubles is an article written by Mary Conan Doyle, the first daughter of Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in the Waterloo Evening Courier on 5 march 1921.
Mrs. Philip Snowden Talks About Ireland and Growing Troubles
Mrs. Snowden looked at me, with her steady, level gain: "No — there is little hope of reconciliation between the parties in Ireland, under the present government."
She has just returned from a prolonged visit to Ireland, and has recently traveled all over Europe studying social conditions so her words have weight.
"It is a tragedy," she went on, "a short-sighted minority, trying to coerce a majority."
"We are all longing to know what is going on over there. The press is bewildering on the subject," I said.
"Well, it's simply this: There is a 75 per cent republican government in the south and west, and there is a 25 per cent imperial government in the north — and the 25 percenters are having a bad time!"
I asked her it the republican government represented Sinn Fein. She says only partly. The Sinn Fein is a private political society, and divided into two parties, the pacifists and the militants. The former would coincide with the attitude of the government.
In England it is scarcely recognized that the opposition government exists at all, while in reality they are so established as to have their own army, and law courts! Many wealthy unionist landowners attend the republican courts. There is a very widespread sympathy with them even amongst the English residing in those parts. The feeling of bitterness towards the crown is very intense in the south. They feel there is a different standard of justice for Englishmen in their own country and in Ireland. They claim they have tried all peaceable methods to get recognition, and that now they are out to kill — anyone known to be in the pay of this 25 per cent government is their mark. They do not grudge their own party getting shot in return, as they are prepared for that, but they do most bitterly resent government reprisals, by which quite innocent people are made to suffer. The military police on the side of the crown are known as the "black and tans," and they seem to be left a free hand to do as they will. The home government is not always directly responsible for the outrages committed, but at least they do nothing to restrain them. Mrs. Snowden has quite recently returned from Russia, and has written a book on bolshevism and its influence. I asked her if any parallel struck her, between the Russian and the Irish character and disposition. "Yes," she said, "it is true there is a certain affinity. Both races are fiery, mystic, emotional. But there is this great difference: You can drive a Russian — but you can't drive an Irishman. But the Irish can only be led thru their affections, thwart them, and they are as steel; on the other hand the Russian, with centuries of autocracy behind him, is born with the instinct of servility. There is no education to speak of, they are isolated, perhaps a week's journey from the nearest town; there is little chance of their waking up and combining to do anything effectual, yet awhile...
Was there much pro-German sentiment in Ireland? was my next question. Mrs. Snowden gave an emphatic negative. The Irishman's own words on the subject are illuminating: "Tho we might not understand or appreciate the English in a thousand years, the Germans are even more antagonistic to our nature!"
This made us laugh in spite of the earnestness of the subject. Were the Irish paying us a compliment we wondered.
She tells me de Valera, head of the republican party, is enormously popular over there. His hold on the people is remarkable. Some months ago, Mrs. Snowden was talking to a little Irish colleen somewhere in the remote west of Ireland, and the subject was de Valera's return. "Now, glory be to God," exclaimed the girl, "the president will be coming back, and there may be peace yet in poor Ireland!" On another occasion Mrs. Snowden was lecturing at the Albert hall in London, and said something to the effect, "If a republic were established in Ireland," when a small voice from the gallery piped out. "There is a republic in Ireland!"
I wondered if there was any class-feud in Ireland, or trouble between the landowners and the tenants. Mrs. Snowden says no; at present the community is united in a common grievance, but that if the crown continues to adopt extreme measures, and the people are goaded still farther, then she thinks a form of communism will be established.
At present the Orange party of the north — the small minority — consider they represent the brains and the wealth of the country, as they have held the monopoly in the manufacturing industries. This already, however, is rapidly diminishing as after-war conditions have crippled the trades. But the rest of Ireland, rich with its farm and dairy produce, is flourishing as ever. There is a distinct movement to boycott Belfast which if carried out will ruin the party. The stopping of trade between the north and the south would be a very serious thing at the present time. One thing, especially, shows that the republicans are in deadly earnest. The whole party is pledged to give up drink. It is very strictly adhered to, and is a contrast to the old government which was very lax in that respect.
Mrs. Snowden talked a lot of continental opinion on the subject. "The Irish policy has seriously impaired our reputation," she said. "People are quite polite, but when we wax indignant about bolshevism, or talk of the rights of small nations, and German atrocities, they just shrug their shoulders. It has done us untold harm, and many of the less friendly powers regard us frankly as disciples of Prussianism, and loathe us for our hypocrisy!"
"Do you see no hope of the tangle being cleared up?" I asked.
"Only thru change of heart in our loaders over this side. They must realise that force is foredoomed. The age of coercion is past — tact and sympathy could very quickly repair the damage if applied now but left till later the harm will be irretrievable."
"How deplorable these misunderstandings are, for it is chiefly the result of being at cross purposes," I said.
"Yes, the English people are sound at heart, but they are misrepresented in Ireland, and incidentally in Europe, too, by those who stand for them."
"The best cure is publicity then?"
"Undoubtedly. Whole truth instead of half truths! The people must be made to know, and realize."
Watching Mrs. Snowden's face whilst she talked made me realize the gravity of her words. She is not a hysterical woman, nor the sort that hitches all their enthusiasm onto a "cause." She is essentially the mother-type-kind, calm, and steady; in fact, the very type of woman least likely to indulge in exaggerations.
As we parted just one thought had a ray of comfort for me. She is English — so is her type of mind and nature. There are many who share her characteristics, and they are not in the least stodgy and domineering as the traditional foreign idea of us insists on! If only that type can gain the full recognition and manage our affairs for us, all may yet be well.