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‘We shall never consent to divide this island or this nation’
John Dillon in pencil, chalk and wash, by Sir Francis Carruthers Gould ('F.C.G.'). Photo: © National Portrait Gallery, London

‘We shall never consent to divide this island or this nation’

John Dillon commends bravery of Volunteers who have enlisted

8 March 1915 - ‘We shall never consent to divide this island or this nation and we shall never consent to allow any section, clique, or faction to rule the people of Ireland’, the Irish Parliamentary Party MP, John Dillon, said in Belfast yesterday.

Mr. Dillon was speaking at a review of 800 Irish Volunteers who had marched through Belfast City from Smithfield Square and down the Falls Road to Celtic Park. Thousands of people had lined the route and cheered enthusiastically as the Volunteers passed.

The Belfast Volunteers marched from Smithfield Square and down the Falls Road to Celtic Park (above) where they were inspected and addressed by Mr Dillon. (Image: Illustrated London News [London, England], 10 Feb 1912)

He noted the huge change that had come over Ireland during the past year since the establishment of the Volunteer Forces and the outbreak of the Great War. He commended the bravery of the 3,000 men from the Belfast Volunteers who had already enlisted to fight in Flanders and France but also stressed the importance of those who had remained at home: ‘The right to carry arms and to drill is the mark and sign of a free people. It will be impossible for any power on earth to consign the Irish people to slavery again once they have tasted the power of carrying arms.’

Conciliation and friendship

He continued by saying that there could be no bitterness or hostility towards any section of the Irish nation and that conciliation and friendship were vital: ‘But in the bayonets and rifles that you bore upon your shoulders today are contained the warning that in the future of this country no section will be allowed to trample upon the liberties of the nation, and the sooner they learn that lesson and lay it to heart the better for everyone in Ireland.’

John Dillon maintained that there could be no bitterness or hostility towards any section of the Irish nation, presumably a reference to unionists, in particular those in Ulster, who strenuously oppose Home Rule. This picture shows Edward Carson reviewing a massive parade of Ulster Volunteers at the Agricultural Show Grounds in Balmoral in September 1913. (Image: Illustrated London News [London, England], 4 October 1913)

Mr Dillon concluded by referring to the fact that Britain was presenting itself as the champion of small nations and of oppressed people: ‘But how could she have assumed that position, how could she have dared the public opinion of the world if she had not placed upon the Statute Book the Home Rule measure?’

The Times' opinion

The Irish Times was highly critical of the tone of Mr Dillon's speech, calling it 'deplorable'. Rather than look beyond the war to the inevitable resumption of hostilities on this island, the Times  thinks Mr Dillon should instead hope that the experience of enduring the war together will lend a sense of perspective to the young men at the front.

'Surely we may hope that this community of suffering and peril will make them better Irishmen and more fully conscious of their blood brotherhood. Surely we may hope that after the war the first ambition of these thousands of young Irishmen will be to live at peace in Ireland?'

[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.