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The German Plot

The Hay Plan & Conscription In Ireland During WW1

5. The German Plot
Nine days later, on 5 May, Edward Shortt, a fifty-six year old barrister, [37] was appointed Ireland's Chief Secretary, with Lord French as the new Lord Lieutenant. [38] The following day, on 6 May, the Freeman's Journal described the appointment as the beginning of 'a Military Dictatorship'. [39] This was based on French's prior appointment as Commander-in-Chief of Home Defences, and before that, his position as head of British forces in France until 1916. However, Shortt and French could not have been more different to Duke and Wimborne. While Duke believed that enforcement of conscription would cause widespread bloodshed, Lord French had no such qualms. It would appear therefore that the task of enforcing conscription needed a firm hand, with the Royal Air Force being used as enforcement 'by 'play[ing]' about with either bombs or machine guns'. [40]

However, no matter how much Lord French wanted to enforce conscription in Ireland, the government could not accept such a policy - moreover the threat of another rising could not be discounted. Concern regarding conscription was uppermost in connection to the British government's unease concerning Germany's military push towards Paris. [41] This began on 21 March, when Germany launched its greatest offensive of the war along a fifty-mile front with France. The offensive almost 'broke the back of the Entente Cordiale and the brunt fell on the British Fifth Army'. [42]

Lloyd George went to France to investigate and reported to the War cabinet meeting on 6 April when he declared: 'I cannot tell you what had happened, nor can General Wilson tell me nor Field-Marshall Haig'. [43] Another crisis now loomed, with the common belief in British government circles that another 'German Plot' was in the offing. This conviction became more certain with the arrest of Joseph Dowling, a former N.C.O. of the Connaught Rangers who had been a prisoner of war in Germany. Dowling was alleged to be one of Casement's men - one of those who Casement asked to join his Irish Brigade in 1916. However, another more important factor was the judgement that de Valera as leader of Sinn Féin had also been in contact with the German military. [44]

On Thursday 16 May, de Valera and seventy-two others were arrested and immediately deported to England. Earlier that day, 16 May, Walter Long Britain's Colonial Secretary [45] sent Lord Reading, the British Ambassador in Washington, a telegram declaring the British government's position on the deportations. The contents of the telegram were so sensitive that the evidence was to be sent directly to the State Department by the American Ambassador. This was not the end. Long also told Reading that, 'for 'secret service reasons', President Wilson should be asked to approve the telegram's publication in the United States or England, 'in such a way that they would appear to have been discovered in the U.S.A.'. [46] This, it was believed, would allow the American President to bail the British government out of the conscription crisis. President Wilson refused. The reason was based on the lack of evidence of the plot; indeed, the documents were pre-April 1917 when America declared war on Germany. [47]

Commenting on the alleged plot on 18 May, Liam de Roiste [a radical nationalist from Cork] wrote that arrests were for reasons that 'others might ''unknowingly'' become corrupted', a point that had been made by the Chief Secretary. [48] The same day, Lord French had proposed the recruitment of 50,000 men, which he expected to have enlisted by October 1. [49] Two days later, on 20 May, Chief Secretary Shortt wrote to Lloyd George:

We cannot and do not pretend that we can prove that each individual taken has been in active personal communication with German agents, but we know that someone has, and each of the interned persons has said or done something which gives ground that he or she is in it. [50]

On 22 May, Shortt and Walter Long brought their evidence of the German plot to the cabinet. Again, not everyone was convinced. Realising this, Admiral Hall, the Director of Admiralty Intelligence, was brought into the meeting to explain the evidence to those who did not accept it. [51] Nevertheless, the scepticism remained until the cabinet finally agreed that, although the arrests were justified, they should be presented to the public in a very careful manner. [52]

Two days later, on Friday 24 May, the German plot was again in the news. The Cork Examiner editorial asked if the government had evidence of a plot, and why was there such 'hesitancy' in releasing the evidence? Another concern forwarded by the editorial included the number of those alleged to have been part of the plot; it just was not possible for all those who had been arrested to be part of the plot, considering that the number arrested stood at 150. [53]

The following day, 25 May, the Freeman's Journal took up the issue when it suggested that, those arrested had all been in jail during the period of the plot. Moreover, some also supported Kitchener and Carson in the defence of Ireland in the opening months of the war. [54]

Author: Dave Hennessy

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