Major Theme - {title}
Irish nationalists put on show of unity in Ballaghderreen
Crowds hold banners, at an anti-conscription meeting, in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon, on 5 May 1918. The person in the light coloured suit (background centre directly underneath the banner) addressing the crowd is Eamon de Valera. Photo: RTÉ Archives

Irish nationalists put on show of unity in Ballaghderreen

Ballaghderreen, 6 May 1918 - Irish nationalism presented an impressive united front yesterday at an anti-conscription rally in Ballaghderreen, Co. Roscommon.

A crowd of approximately 15,000 turned out at a monster rally that was addressed by, among others, the leaders of the Irish Parliamentary Party and Sinn Féin, John Dillon and Éamon de Valera respectively. The two men arrived in the town on Saturday, the day before the gathering, the latter being met at the train station by a band and body of Volunteers.

On Sunday when they both took the stage in the town centre, they were enthusiastically greeted with loud cheering and the waving of hats and handkerchiefs. The sense of political spectacle was further heightened by the presence of about 20 bands, one of which had travelled a distance of 40 miles to be there.

Sinn Fein leader Eamon de Valera (left) and Irish Parliamentary Party leader John Dillon (right) speaking to the crowds at Ballaghderreen, Co. Roscommon. (Images: RTÉ Archives)

The proceedings began when, Reverend J. Gallagher, presiding, read a letter of support from Dr Morrisroe, Bishop of Achonry, in which he stated that their opposition to conscription was based upon the principles that Allied statesmen had drawn a sword to defend.

‘English ministers’, he said, ‘held up their hands in holy horror at the idea of coercing a fourth of our population into compliance with measures that are admitted to be for the general weal of the entire country, but conscience gave no scruple when it comes to forcing upon the three-fourths of the community a penal enactment that from every point of view, agricultural, industrial, and religious is destined to bring ruin and disaster.’

Before moving onto the main speakers, Rev. Gallagher remarked to cheers that such a meeting – and such a show of unity - could not have been imagined just a few weeks before.

Dillon and de Valera
John Dillon similarly referenced the united front on display. He said that if the spirit manifested at the meeting was replicated across the country, then victory was certain. He cautioned against complacency, warning that the danger had not yet set in. He urged people to concentrate on securing an adequate fund and to set up an organising committee in every parish to secure the support and confidence of all sections of society.

‘If the unity of the nation was broken’, Dillon stated, ‘the government and military authorities would be encouraged to pursue their wicked and insane policy.’

A letter to the Chief Secretary's office, brining their attention to an anti-conscription leaflet (right) that was being distributed. Click to enlarge. (Image: National Archives of Ireland, CSO/RP 1918, 11301)

When his turn came to speak, Éamon de Valera opened his address in Irish. Then, turning to English, he spoke of nationalist unity and stated that it was ‘not the craven fear of death that kept them from the world war. It was common sense that kept them, and if the government dared to try their conscription act on this country it would be proved that there were still men in Ireland’.

In preparing themselves for responding to conscription, de Valera laid a stress on the need for local cooperation.

When the Sinn Féin leader finished his speech and sat down, Fr Flanagan of Crossna commented that what was represented on stage was ‘Ireland a Nation’ and it served as a symbol both of hope and confidence ‘to see united in conference men like John Dillon and William O’Brien, with [and here he pointed at de Valera] that brand that was snatched from the burning of Easter week and saved by Almighty God to be the hero leader of the young blood of 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.