One hundred years ago on this day 1914 John Redmond leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party and Home Rule Movement on his way home from London alleges he coincidentally came across a meeting of the Maryboro Volunteers here in Woodenbridge and as he said “I could not deny myself the pleasure and honour of waiting to meet you”. Likewise, we are here today and it is no coincidence; as it is no coincidence that volunteers from all over Wicklow, 1200 so far, are remembered across the road in this British World War One Memorial Garden.
Why Woodenbridge? Why on the centenary of Redmond’s speech other than he is regarded as having greatly influenced their enlistment and split the volunteers.
That is why we are here today, not to disrespect the sacrifices of this misguided tragic loss of life but to question the role of Redmond and the Home Rule movement.
James Connolly and the Irish Citizens Army on hearing of Redmond’s call to the volunteers to join the British army made up a large banner and placed it across Liberty Hall, We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser But Ireland. We are here today I believe duty bound to present the views of the Irish Citizen’s Army, the men and women who risked and gave their lives fighting the crown forces and who believed England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity.
Redmond’s speech says “at this moment this country is in a state of war, this war is undertaken in defence of the highest principles of religion, morality and right”. King Leopold the 2nd of Belgium - what right did he afford the Congolese people in the Congo Free State when he robbed their rubber plantations and ivory enforcing his reign of terror with Belgian officers and recruited mercenaries when he enslaved them, cut hands and feet off women and children if the men were not productive enough, whipped and starved them to death in camps?
Where were the Home Rulers Redmond and associates while Irish people were fighting for their rights in the workplace? Connolly had the measure of their priorities:
if an Irish landlord evicts a tenant farmer he is denounced by the Home Rule press as an enemy to Ireland. But an Irish employer can lock out and attempt to starve thousands of true Irishmen as was done in the building trade in 1896 in the tailoring trade in 1900 and in the engineers of Inchicore in 1902 and not a member of parliament would take up the fight for the workers or bother himself about them.
But that alignment with business continued with the 1911 lock out in the foundries in Wexford and the 1913 lock out in Dublin. In the course of the 19th century as a result of British oppression and starvation of 1847 the population of Ireland halved only 67 years before Redmond’s call to join the British army.
World War One was an imperialist war for greed and dominance with the working class as the tools to fight it just as the Home Rulers diverted our volunteers fight for Irish freedom to be sacrificed and die on foreign soil for the British Empire.
The Home Rule Party were merely the ambassadors at a foreign court, ambassadors who remained powerless until the popular armies in Ireland had struck down landlordism in spite of evictions battering rams imprisonment and death. The Irish parliamentarians met the British politicians on their own chosen field of battle and lost every move of the game. Every time the astute British politicians called for a sacrifice on the part of the Irish Home Rule Party, that party yielded the point and sacrificed their principles. They yielded to sacrifice Ulster and divide their country, they yielded the control of taxation, they yielded control over the Post Office, customs and excise, and in short they yielded everything that gives life and power to a nation.In conclusion Connolly wrote in The Irish Worker of the 8th August 1914:
And finally, when their grandest opportunity came in the breath of war they yielded up countless thousands of the lives of their trusting fellow countrymen. And in return they achieved nothing!
should the working class of Europe, rather than slaughter each other for the benefits of kings and financiers, proceed tomorrow to erect barricades all over Europe...that war might be abolished, we should be perfectly justified in following such a glorious example and contributing our aid to the final dethronement of the vulture classes that rule and rob the world.