Organisation : Waterford County Museum
Article Title : The Hay Plan & Conscription In Ireland During WW1
Page Title : Introduction
Page Number : 1
Publication Date : 05 October 2010
Expiry Date : Never Expires
Category : World War I

British rule in Ireland did not end with the Easter Rising of 1916 as many people believe but an event that occurred two years later, what we now call the Conscription Crisis. Indeed this crisis not only galvanised Irish society, it also helped in the rise of Sinn Féin, which would lead to their eventual win in the general election in December 1918. What's more, the Conscription Crisis did not begin in April 1918 as is commonly believed but a few days earlier on 27 March, when David Lloyd George the British Prime Minister presented to his cabinet plans to raise a further 555,000 men for the war effort of which 150,000 were expected to come from Ireland.

The following day, Ireland's Chief Secretary Herbert Duke, Lord Wimborne the Lord Lieutenant, Sir Edward Carson the leader of the Ulster Unionists, and the Irish Lord Chief Justice, Sir James Campbell, all recorded their opposition to imposing conscription in Ireland. [1] Concern against conscription did not only exist in cabinet. In a memorandum sent to Duke from the G.O.C. Irish Command with additions inserted in italics by General Byrne, the head of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the trouble with conscription was plainly spelled out. [2] It ran:

Conscription can be enforced, but with the greatest difficulty. It will be bitterly opposed by the united Nationalists and the clergy. The present time is the worst for it since I have been in Ireland, because the cry will be: 'England down, Ireland's opportunity.' [3]

The memorandum also spelled out the difficulties that would ensue if conscription were to be enforced: these included 'organised strikes, dislocating the life of the country, railway, post office and telegraph communications cut'. [4] Other concerns included the watching of coasts and interference with tillage if conscription were to be imposed. However, these problems would pale into insignificance if Sir James Campbell's views were not taken into consideration the following day.

Sir James, the Lord Chief Justice, argued that if conscription had been applied to Ireland as was proposed, it would lead to 'tremendous bloodshed and the number of men worth getting whom it would yield would be very small'. [5] Furthermore, Sir James had been a stronger supporter of Irish conscription until then, as was Sir Edward Carson who called for conscription in Ireland as late as October 1916. This is not to assume that Carson had given up on conscription. He also stated that 'if however, the British Government found themselves unable to get men from Great Britain without enforcing conscription in Ireland, the question became a very different one'.[6] 

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