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Nationalist & Union Opinions

The Hay Plan & Conscription In Ireland During WW1

3. Nationalist & Union Opinions
By now, Ireland's Catholic bishops had taken up the anti - conscription cause, discussing the issue at a Standing Committee meeting on 9 April. [13] This was the first of two; the second was held nine days later. [14] Several bishops did not wait for the second meeting to address the issue. These included 'Doctor Gilmartin of Clonfert, Doctor Naughton of Killala, and Doctor Mckenna of Clogher at Sunday services. [15] To add support to their colleagues, more messages were sent by the bishops of Kildare, Kilkenny, Killaloe and Limerick to add to the growing anti-conscription demonstrations that were to be held in their dioceses on 14-15 April. [16] Nevertheless, the most forceful voice came from Doctor Hallinan of Limerick, who wrote:

Stand erect, close up to your ranks, put your backs to the wall, shout at the top of your voices - and let your voices be in unison - on no account are we Irishmen going to consent to military conscription by the British Government in this country. [17]

Strangely, the following day, 10 April, the Cork Examiner, which had believed the idea that military conscription was a non - starter two days earlier, now called the plans by the government as little short of 'ingenuity'. Moreover, the editorial conceded that the proposals had been 'elaborately thought out, complete in every detail, and quite in accordance with the orders that the Anti-Irish Press has issued to the Government, possibly with the connivance of the latter'. [18] On 11 April, the Cork Examiner attacked the Home Secretary's statement that Irish MP's were not the true voice of Ireland, and because of this, Britain or Westminster could decide solely if conscription were to be imposed on Ireland or not. The editorial believed this was nothing short of 'mediaeval tyranny'. [19]

The Belfast correspondent of the Morning Post looked at the issue in a completely different way. In clarification, the suggestion was that if Lloyd George wanted to link Home Rule with conscription, he would only cause untold damage to himself and his government. Northern Unionists concerned themselves also with the hundreds of thousands of men engaged in war work and food production that they considered as important as fighting, with the view that the upheaval of enforcing this conscription policy would create more problems than it would solve. [20]

Another concern for Unionists was the threat of the creation of federalism within the United Kingdom. This idea allowed for a form of Irish Home Rule that would not affect Ulster, something, which Carson himself considered in early 1918, but the War Cabinet was itself reluctant to accept such a policy. Significantly, it was the English press who could not accept the government's policy on conscription, but again, for different reasons. Some accepted that the introduction of conscription was now dead in the water. These included the Star, Truth, Evening Standard and the Westminster Gazette. However, several of the Tory press felt that if Ireland did not accept conscription, than it was helping Britain's enemies and destroying the British Empire and itself into the bargain. [21] This point was endorsed by several British regions that felt that conscription should be imposed if for no other reason than 'equality of sacrifice'. [22]

Author: Dave Hennessy

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