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‘A declaration of war on the Irish nation’: rivals unite in opposing conscription
The men who are leading the people - (L-R): John Dillon and Joseph Devlin (IPP), Arthur Griffith and Éamon de Valera (Sinn Féin), Tim Healy and William O'Brien and MJ Egan (Labour), leaving the Mansion House in Dublin after the meeting. Photo: Freeman's Journal

‘A declaration of war on the Irish nation’: rivals unite in opposing conscription

Dublin, 20 April 1918 - The disparate strands of Irish nationalism have come together in Dublin to register their opposition to the Military Service bill. The bill, which received Royal Assent on 18 April, will introduce conscription to Ireland

A meeting was held at the Mansion House in Dublin over the last two days at which the Lord Mayor, Mr Laurence O’Neill, presided. Leaders of the Irish Party and Sinn Féin were in attendance with their attention turned to a unified purpose, despite the parties having clashed in a series of by-elections over the past 18 months. Also in attendance were the representatives of Labour: William O’Brien from Dublin, Thomas Johnston from Belfast, and M. Egan from Cork.

It was, many observers agreed, ‘among the most historic events of Irish history’.

The meeting began at 10 am and continued for three hours when it broke to allow a deputation consisting of John Dillon, Éamon de Valera, T.M. Healy, W. O’Brien and the Lord Mayor to travel to Maynooth to meet with Irish Catholic Hierarchy.

Sinn Féin have been vocal in their assertion that a vote for the Irish Party was a vote for conscription in recent by-elections; these posters are from South Armagh in February 1918. The two parties have now joined forces to oppose the measure. Click images to enlarge. (Images: National Library of Ireland)

When the Mansion House proceedings resumed they did so with a statement of support from the Bishops and the conference adopted the following declaration:

‘Taking our stand on Ireland’s separate and distinct nationhood, and affirming the principle of liberty that the Governments of nations derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, we deny the right of the British Government, or any external authority, to impose compulsory service in Ireland against the clearly expressed will of the Irish people.

‘The passing of the Conscription Bill by the British House of Commons must be regarded as a declaration of war on the Irish nation. The alternative to accepting it, as such, is to surrender our liberties and to acknowledge ourselves slaves. It is in direct violation of the rights of small nationalities to self-determination, which even the Prime Minister of England – now prepared to employ naked militarism to force his Act upon Ireland – himself officially announced as an essential condition for peace at the Peace Congress. The attempt to enforce it will be an unwarrantable aggression, which we call upon all Irishmen to resist by the most effective means at their disposal.’

The following day the members reconvened and decided upon a series of other approaches to furthering their anti-conscription objectives. It was decided that moneys would be collected for a new Irish Defence Fund in every parish in the country. This would remain in the hands of the parish priests or local elected officials until it was decided how it should be put to use.

It was also decided that a detailed statement of Ireland’s case be put before the world. The Lord Mayor was appointed the nation’s envoy and was requested to travel to Washington and present the statement to the President of the United States in person.

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]

RTÉ

Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.