Ulster 1913 poster for the famous rally attended by Bonar Law and over 70 conservative senior politiciansIn his address to the Ulster loyalists at the Balmoral show-ground near Belfast on Easter Tuesday, 1912,  Andrew Bonar Law, leader of the Conservative Party at Westminster, roused the attendant crowds with the rallying cry, ‘You have saved yourselves by your exertions and you will save the Empire by your example. [1]  He was perfectly serious, and his words reflected the innermost fears of the Secret Elite.  If Ireland was allowed to cede from Great Britain the consequences for the Empire would be staggering, if not altogether fatal. To defend Ulster was to defend the Empire. The deadlocked second election of December, 1910 had resulted in a Liberal government dependent on the support of the Irish Home Rule Party, and the cost of that support was a promise of Home Rule with an Irish Parliament and Irish Executive in Dublin.

This was an issue which divided both Ireland and the political classes in Britain on the rigid lines of religion and  heritage with a prejudice so deep that those with vested interests were blinded to fair judgement. By 1912, John Redmond, the Home Rule leader in the House of Commons knew that the Tories (Conservatives) were helpless in the face of democratic decision-making. The Liberal-Irish Home Rule majority was overwhelming. (346 – 272) [2] Thus, in accordance with Parliamentary democracy, the Government of Ireland Bill was introduced to the House of Commons by the Prime Minister himself on 11 April, 1912 ‘with power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Ireland.’ [3] In what foreboded things to come, Asquith was interrupted several times by Sir Edward Carson and Captain James Craig, (later Viscount Craigavon) anxious as they were to interfere with the democratic procedure as soon as possible.

Sir Edward Carson in full flow; Note the absolute determination to reject Home Rule

Though it was essentially a modest Bill, the like of which determined the government in several of the Empire’s colonies, [4]  the opposition to Home Rule in Ulster was resolute. Initially, the choice opponents faced was either to accept the inevitable or protest vehemently and galvanise public opinion against the Bill. That, of course, could not alter the parliamentary arithmetic. They chose the latter, but when that was stymied by parliamentary procedure more radical action was taken. Of all the domestic issues between 1910-1914, the future of Home Rule for Ireland consumed the English upper classes, related and connected as they were to the Protestant landowners in the South of Ireland. For the upper echelons of the Secret Elite, led as it was by Lord Alfred Milner, [5] Irish Home Rule was tantamount to the first step towards the disintegration of the British Empire and the end of the great Imperial vision to which he had dedicated his life. [6]

To the ruling elites, Ireland, especially Southern Ireland was a disloyal colony peopled by a lesser species. Take a minute to examine the cartoons in Punch magazine in the nineteenth and twentieth century. The images frequently represent Irish men and women as pigs, monkeys, apes and, on at least one occasion, a gorilla. Frankenstein is a popular caricature.

Drunken country bumpkins abound, in sharp contrast to Noble Britannia or the regal Empire lion. De-humanising the common folk is a tactic of oppression, [7] and Catholic Ireland was oppressed. Rebellions in 1798, 1803, 1848 and 1867 were put down with great severity. [8] Yet a whole generation of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the ‘bold Fenian men’ celebrated in ballads, preceded the explosive events of 1916. The British establishment could not grasp the fact that in demeaning the culture of independence in Ireland, its language and literature, they were playing a dangerous game, much resented by ordinary Irishmen.

Contrary to the rabid anti-Irish propaganda which was sustained for so long in the British press, the problem facing Ireland in the years before the war was not of its own making. The problem was the British presence in Ireland. [9] Writing in 1911, Roger Casement almost caught the true nature of the Secret Elite [10] by declaring that  ‘British interests assume that the future of the world shall be an English-speaking future’. He described the designs of ‘British interests’  in terms of England being the ‘landlord of civilisation, mankind her tenantry and the earth her estate.’ [11] Almost, but not quite. The Secret Elite were already ahead of the game.  Well before 1911, assumptions had crystallised into a plan to wipe out Germany and take control of the civilised world. [12] The ultimate success of this ambition could not be left to the expediency of any political party and behind the scenes, protected by the British establishment, Lord Alfred Milner, the self-styled and unapologetic British ‘race patriot’ took control. [13] You may never have heard of Alfred Milner for the simple reason that his immense contribution to ‘British interests’ in the first quarter of the twentieth century has been carefully airbrushed. His direct involvement in Ireland’s history between 1912-1914 proved decisive.

Carson Kidnaps Ulster- Puck cartoon

There were already two Irelands. Ulster, in the more industrialised north, was predominantly Presbyterian Protestant and working class. The men of Ulster had taken no part in anti-British uprisings since the debacle of 1789, and loyalty to the union flag was their mantra. In the other three provinces, Munster, Leinster and Connacht, rural agricultural Ireland was comparatively impoverished … and Catholic … a religion whose loyalty was assumed to the Papacy in Rome. Two tribes  had emerged by the first decade of the twentieth century, unequal and mutually suspicious. The expectation raised by the introduction of the Home Rule Bill in 1912 polarised inbred attitudes; fear and loathing in the North and hope for a more independent future in the South. This was an impasse which could not be solved through democratic means without good-will on all sides. Fear and loathing, propaganda and vested interest was all that was on offer.

Alfred Milner found a cause which wrenched him from his covert preparations for war with Germany. During the seven years between 1905-1912 he had busied himself with Imperial conferences involving Heads of State or the Empire’s press [14]; in associating himself closely with the retired Army Chief of Staff, Lord Roberts, and the cause of national service; in supporting the Navy League and visiting Canada and Egypt [15] to extol the virtues of the British Empire. Though always an influential voice in the conservative ranks and a member of the House of Lords, it was support for Ulster which propelled him back into direct action. His purpose was to rescue a ‘white settler colony of superior British stock from submersion in a sea of inferior Celts’. [16] Do not for a moment let that insult to the Celtic majority in Ireland pass without considering its depth of feeling. For Milner and his loyal Secret Elite associates, this was a struggle between the superior and the inferior, for the right to keep Ireland lashed to the Empire or break away from all that they valued.

Ulster Covenant

With Asquith’s Home Rule Bill progressing inexorably through Parliament, it became apparent that it would become law before the end of 1914 unless something truly extraordinary happened. Sir Edward Carson, a lawyer and Unionist MP for Trinity College in Dublin, was chosen by the Secret Elite to stir Ulster. He owed his political fortune to Arthur Balfour, the former prime minister and member of the cabal’s inner-circle, [17] who was ever proud to boast that ‘he had made Carson’. [18] Though Edward Carson fronted a Solemn League and Covenant in 1912 to defeat by all means necessary ‘the present conspiracy to set up a Home rule parliament in Dublin’ [19] which was signed by hundreds of thousands in Ulster, it was Milner and his Secret Elite acolyte, Leo Amery, [20] who devised a United Kingdom pledge to extend the support into mainland Britain. Before this agitation lost its urgency in the weeks preceding the war, nearly two million people had signed the British Covenant. [21] Milner was determined to galvanise support and create a diversion which would make it impossible  for the government  ‘to concentrate its attention on the suppression of Ulster’. [22] In January 1913 an illegal private army, the Ulster Volunteer Force was recruited exclusively from signatories from the Covenant.

Action descended from dissent to interference bordering on treason. Alfred Milner raised massive funds to support Carson’s provisional government from his innermost circle of friends including £30,000 (around £2,500,000 at current prices)  from Lord Astor and sums of £10,000 each from Lord Rothschild, the Duke of Bedford and Lord Iveagh of the Guinness family. Many other contributions touched £1,000. [23] This secret slush fund was exclusively created to defend Ulster from the imposition of Home Rule by every means possible. It helped pay for the gun-running which armed the UVF with German weapons in April 1914. [24]

Milner nullified the Government’s military authority in Ireland by promising Sir Henry Wilson, the Director of Military Operations that if any officers resigned rather than take arms against a protestant revolt in Ulster against Home Rule, ‘they would be reinstated when the conservatives came to power.’ [25]  Headline on Curragh MutinyThus he paralysed the government’s arm in Ulster and abetted the army mutiny at the Curragh. [26] He tried to convince Bonar Law that the Army Annual Bill, the constitutional basis for raising an army, could be revoked and thus create a dangerous parliamentary crisis. In the end Lord Alfred Milner overstepped the bounds of legal propriety in a manner which, had an Irishman taken such action, an arrest for sedition or treason would have followed. Indubitably, the Secret Elite’s most senior members were determined to wreck the Home Rule Bill.

Every action causes a reaction, and the sight of Ulster bristling with arms which pointed in the direction of Dublin and the south, galvanised the Irish Volunteers, a movement of some 170,000 men. Though resolute in their cause, they significantly lacked weapons, military experience and a united leadership. They too attempted to arm themselves but had little funds or rich and ennobled backers. The narrative of Erskine Childers’ attempt to help the Volunteers redress the imbalance has been written and commented upon by many sources. In our book Hidden History, The Secret Origins of the First World War, we dedicate a chapter to explain how, had the Germans failed to attack France through Belgium, the arming of both sides in Ulster could have become a casus belli for the war-makers in Britain. [27]

Irish Volunteers, 1914

The inequitable reaction from English conservative politicians and newspapers to what transpired in Ireland was often ridiculous. While their view was that the raising of a private army in Ulster was a necessary consequence of the imposition Home Rule, they regarded the Irish National Volunteers in a completely different light. On 17 June 1914, Milner’s great friend, Leo Amery, asked the Secretary of State for Ireland why an aide de camp to the Lord Lieutenant had inspected and addressed a meeting of Volunteers, exhorting them to ensure the triumph of Home Rule. (Bear in mind the fact that Home Rule was official government policy.) Despite which, faced with the orchestrated outrage of his detractors, the perpetrator, a Captain Bellingham, was obliged to confess an error of judgement on his part. Shame on him! When Irish MP John Dillon  asked why no such action was taken against the Marquis of Londonderry and Lord Lord Kilmorey, the King’s aide de camps, when they inspected the Ulster Volunteers, the question was greeted with laughter. The Belfast Nationalist MP Joe Devlin responded by asking if there was one law for the rich and one for the poor? Opposition Conservatives jeered at him. Prime Minister Asquith intervened to state that there ought to be absolute equality. [28] Ah yes, there “ought to have been” absolute equality, but in a myriad of different ways, there was no equality in Ireland.

The manner in which gun-running was permitted to operate demonstrated the partiality of the British Elite and the British army. The events at Larne in April took place without the intervention of the police, customs or the military. Ulster was thus fully armed with not a harsh word exchanged. Guns to arm the Irish Volunteers in July 1914 were an altogether different matter. Though the cargo of older weapons and ammunition landed at Howth near Dublin was but a fraction of that already in the North, the army directly confronted the Volunteers marching back to the capital, [29] and a bayonet charge left several wounded. Later that day, goaded by Dubliners on Batchelor’s Walk, the soldiers fired on the crowd, leaving four dead and thirty-eight wounded. [30] Ordinary citizens were gunned down on the streets of Dublin. Imagine had that happened in Belfast, Glasgow or Liverpool? On mainland Britain, it would have caused a political furore… but this was in Ireland … and there was other business in Europe.

John Redmond leader of the Home Rule Party

Addressing the House of Commons on 27 July, John Redmond stated that the troops had marched through the streets of Dublin with loaded guns… an unheard of situation. He demanded that the regiment be withdrawn immediately from Ireland and a full judicial and military inquiry set up. [31] War intervened. The dead were buried, as was the need for an enquiry. The impact of these events frayed hope in the minds of ordinary Irishmen and women. The legacy of the army’s clear partiality in the Curragh ‘revolt’ and the open relaxation of the law in the North compared with the harassment in the South, exasperated those waiting patiently for Home Rule. Citizens in the South lost faith in the British army. Who would defend them if Ulster exploded? John Redmond ended his speech with the words: ‘Let the House clearly understand that four fifths of the Irish people will not submit any longer to be bullied, or punished or penalised or shot for conduct which is permitted to go scot-free in the open light of day in every county in Ulster by other sections of their fellow countrymen‘. [32] Bold words indeed. Yet eight days later he committed Ireland to an imperialist war. Strange.

What the Secret Elite had sown in well-fertilised fields of bitterness was soon to reap its own whirlwind.

[1] The Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) INF/7A/2/8.
[2] General Election, 3rd-10th December 1910. http://www.election.demon.co.uk/geresults.html
[3] Hansard House of Commons Debate, 11 April 1912 vol 36 cc1408-10.
[4] A.M. Gollin, Proconsul in Politics, p.181.
[5] Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment, p. 32.
[6] Gollin, Proconsul, p. 179.
[7] http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/01/28/irish-apes-tactics-of-de-humanization/
[8] Micheal Foy and Brian Barton, The Easter Rising, p. 2.
[9] A.J.P. Taylor, Essays in English History, p. 217.
[10] Quigley refers to them as the Milner Group, but they were more powerful and more expansive than just that. Milner was the most influential leader, but the Elite extended into many other powerful areas including banking and finance. All were elites in their own field.
[11] Roger Casement, The Crime Against Europe, p. 79.
[12] Gerry Docherty and Jim Macgregor, Hidden History, The Secret Origins of the First World War, pp. 58-60.
[13] Lord Milner’s Credo, The Times, 27 July 1925.
[14] J. Lee Thompson, Forgotten Patriot, p.169.
[15] Ibid., p. 292.
[16] Milner letter to Carson, 9 December 1913, Gollin, Proconsul in Politics, p. 183.
[17] Quigley, Anglo-American Establishment, p. 312.
[18] Ibid., p. 176.
[19] PRONI INF/7/A/2/51.
[20] Thompson, Forgotten Patriot, p. 296.
[21] Walter Long, Memories, p. 203.
[22] Thompson, Forgotten Patriot, p. 296.
[23] Gollin, Proconsul pp. 187-8.
[24] Docherty and Macgregor, Hidden History, pp. 310-311.
[25] Sir Henry Wilson, Diaries, p. 132.
[26] Gollin, Proconsul, p. 188.
[27] Docherty and Macgregor, Hidden History, pp. 301-318.
[28] The Times, 18 June 1914, page 12.
[29] In contrast to the open-door approach taken by the authorities in Belfast to the illegal landings at Larne, between 160 and 180 troops, from the Scottish Borderers were rushed by tram cars from their barracks to confront the Volunteers marching back from Howth.
[30] Jonathan Bardon, A History of Ireland in 250 Episodes, p. 438.
[31] Hansard House of Commons Debate, 27 July, 1914, Vol. 65 cc1022-66.
[32] Ibid.