Cill Dara Shinn Féin Poblachtach

'Thou art not conquered yet dear land’ – a century of protest

Bobby Sands Lecture delivered by the President of Republican Sinn Féin Des Dalton in Dublin, Monday, September 13.

THE prospect of a visit by the Queen of England to the 26 Counties next year has sparked debate on what the response should be to such a visit. The purpose of the visit is clear. It marks the culmination of an ongoing campaign to anglicise and pacify Ireland. The message, which is intended, is that Ireland and the Irish people now accept partition and British rule in the northeastern corner of Ireland.

Republicans rightly view such a visit as part of an orchestrated campaign to deny the reality of the British occupation of Ireland. A visit by the Queen of England - who claims the style and title of ‘Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ - to any part of Ireland is part of the process of bedding down the institutions of British rule in Ireland. British rule remains the source of conflict in Ireland and while it remains relations between our countries can never be normal.

Just as the reality of British imperialism is unchanging the tactics employed by it and its minions have not changed greatly either. At the beginning of the 20th Century visits by the head of the British state to Ireland were used as a weapon to reinforce the notion in the minds of the Irish people and world opinion that Ireland was an integral part of the ‘United Kingdom of Great and Ireland’.

Beginning with protests at celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. As part of the demonstrations to counter this event in Ireland Maud Gonne got use of a window of the National Club in Parnell Square from which were displayed on a big screen photos of evictions and patriots executed during Victoria’s reign. A parade of black flags with figures in white of the number that died of starvation during Victoria’s reign was carried as well as a coffin representing the British Empire. The march was held to coincide with a meeting of the 1798 Centenary Committees, which brought delegates from all over Ireland.

On O’Connell Bridge fierce fighting broke out in resistance to the British Colonial police. Connolly was arrested and the Coffin was thrown into the Liffey to shouts of “Here goes the British Empire. To hell with the British Empire”. Outside of the National Club in Parnell Square – where the magic lantern show was taking place- a baton charge resulted in the death of a woman.

The advanced political forces led by the IRB, the emergent Irish cultural and language movement went on in the Centenary celebrations of the 1798 Rising the following year to build a platform from which could be launched in the coming decades a vibrant and revolutionary national movement.

Opposition to the Boer war and recruitment for the British Army provided fresh impetuous. An Irish Transvaal Committee was formed led by people such as Arthur Griffith, William Rooney and Maud Gonne. Leading Fenians such as John O’Leary and Dr Mark Ryan also lent it moral as well as material support. Public meetings were held the most famous of which at Beresford Place let to a riot. The meeting was banned and all the speakers threatened with arrest. Several speakers failed to turn up but James Connolly, Maud Gonne, John O’Leary and Pat O’Brien who was subbing for Michael Davitt all decided to go ahead with the meeting. An attempt to block the progress of the speakers was foiled when James Connolly grabbed the reins of the carriage and forced their way through to Beresford Place.

These events shook the guardians of the British Empire and it was believed a visit by the Queen of England in 1900 would serve to bolster its foundations in Ireland. The work of the Irish Transvaal Committee was having an effect: recruitment to the British Army was at a standstill and it was believed that such a visit would revive it. In a letter to the Daily Express W B Yeats declared: “whoever stands by the roadway cheering for Queen Victoria cheers for the Empire, dishonours Ireland, and condones a crime”. Again the visit was met with protests, riot and arrests.

In the edition of April 7 of the United Irishman – which was banned - the first section of an article the remainder of which appeared in the issues of April 21 and 28 was carried entitled ‘The Famine Queen’: ‘The Queen’s visit to Ireland is in no way political,’ proclaims the Lord Lieutenant, and the English ministers. ‘The Queen’s visit has no political significance, and the Irish nation must receive her Majesty with the generous hospitality for which it is celebrated,’ hastens to repeat Mr John Redmond, and our servile Irish members whose nationality has been corrupted by a too lengthy sojourn in the enemy’s country.

‘The Queen’s visit to Ireland has nothing at all to do with politics,’ cries the fishmonger, Pile, whose ambitious soul is not satisfied by the position of Lord Mayor and who hankers after an English title.

“Let us to our knees, and present the keys of the city to her Most Gracious Majesty, and compose an address in her honour.’

“Nothing political! Nothing political! Let us present an address to this virtuous lady,’ echo 30 town councillors, who when they sought the votes of the Dublin people called themselves Irishmen and Nationalists, but who are overcome by royal glamour. Poor citizens of Dublin! Your thoughtlessness in giving your votes to these miserable creatures will cost you dear. It has already cost the arrests of sixteen good and true men, and many broken heads and bruised limbs from police batons, for you have realised – if somewhat late – the responsibility of Ireland’s capital, and, aghast at the sight of the men elected by you betraying and dishonouring Ireland, you have, with a courage which makes us all proud of you, raised a protest, and cried aloud, ‘The visit of the Queen of England is a political action, and if we accord her a welcome we shall stand shamed before the nations. The world will no longer believe in the sincerity of our demand for National Freedom.”

The article concludes: “Taking the Shamrock in her withered hand she dares to ask Ireland for soldiers – for soldiers to protect the exterminators of their race! And the reply of Ireland comes sadly but proudly, not through the lips of the miserable little politicians who are touched by the English canker but through the lips of the Irish people.
“Queen, return to your own land; you will find no more Irishmen ready to wear the red shame of your livery. In the past they have done so from ignorance, and because it is hard to die of hunger when one is young and strong and the sun shines, but they shall do so no longer; see! Your recruiting agents return unsuccessful and alone from my green hills and plains, because once more hope has revived, and it will be in the ranks of your enemies that my children will find employment and honour! As to those who today enter your service to help in your criminal wars, I deny them! If they die, if they live, it matters not to me, they are no longer Irishmen.”

One of the devices used to show support for the visit was the organisation of a free picnic or ‘treat’ for children in the Phoenix Park. 5,000 children –rounded up from the city’s schools. An article in the United Irishman complained that nationalists had made no effort to organise a similar event for children. This struck a chord.

Groups such as the Ladies Committee of the Wolfe Tone Committees formed the Ladies Committee of the Patriotic Children’s Treat. Donations poured in from all over. Cakes, buns casks of lemonade and ginger beer. Shops all over Dublin donated as well as John Daly’s bakery in Limerick. Anna Parnell was among those who contributed towards the cost of the day. By June 30 25,000 children had been registered at the offices of the Celtic Literary Society to take part in ‘treat’. Originally it was intended to hold the event at Bodenstown but due to the size of the event it was decided to accept the offer of the owner of Clonturk Park to hold it there.

The children paraded through the streets of Dublin while men from the Celtic Literary Society and the GAA acted as stewards. Many held up green cards proclaiming: “Irish Patriotic Children’s Treat – no flunkeyism here”.

In her address Maud Gonne told the children that their presence revived hopes in nationalists’ hearts, which were sad from weary struggle. She hoped that Ireland would be free by the time they had grown up, so that they could put their energies into building up a free nation and not the “arid task of breaking down an old tyranny.”

In her autobiography A Servant of the Queen Maud Gonne wrote: “The Patriotic Children’s treat became legendary in Dublin and, even now, middle-aged men and women come up to me in the streets and say: ‘I was one of the patriotic children at your party when Queen Victoria was over.’”

Writing in the Worker’s Republic James Connolly in an article entitled The Coming Generation described the day:

“Last week we witnessed in Dublin the first political parade of the coming generation.
“Between twenty-five and thirty thousand children turned out and walked in processional order through the streets of the city, to show the world that British Imperialism had cast no glamour over their young minds.

“And that in the person of Her Britannic Majesty they recognised only a woman – no better than the mothers who bore them, if as good.

“It was a great sight to see the little rebels taking possession of the city – a sight more promising for the future of the country than any we can remember.

In 1902 a second British Royal visit was proposed. Rumours of such a visit were circulating for some time – not unlike today - Inghinidhe na hEireann circulated leaflets to women voters in the 1902 local elections urging not to vote for anyone who had welcomed Queen Victoria in 1900. This visit took place in July 1903.

Although it would be another year before the visit they were the first to organise protests. The forces of nationalist were determined to mount even bigger protests and were more confident of their ability to do so.

Again it was met by protests and marches in Dublin and on the Falls Road in Belfast. Another children’s ‘treat’ was held which despite shorter notice and less organisation than the previous time, which attracted 15,000 children as opposed to 9,000 in the Phoenix Park for a loyalist gathering.

The most significant achievement of the national forces came following what has become known as the battle of the Rotunda. Applications for membership came from Glasgow; Manchester while Anna Parnell was an early supporter.

As soon as news of the impending visit was made public, Edward Martyn, the playwright and first President of Sinn Féin wrote a letter of protest, “It is for Nationalist Ireland to…. tell the government (British) with one voice that if they bring the King here under any other guise than as a restorer of our stolen constitution they will regret their rashness”.

On May 9 Arthur Griffith published inside information, which claimed that an address of welcome to the King of England would be placed on the agenda of Dublin Corporation. The Lord Mayor Tim Harrington a prominent member of the Irish Home Rule Party had arranged to be out of the city when the vote would be taken.

It was decided to confront Harrington and force his hand as to whether he supported such a welcome. Tim Harrington was advertised as chairing a meeting of the United Irish League in Dublin’s Rotunda. The opportunity was sized.

The delegation chosen to carry out this task was from the ‘People’s Protection Committee’. This committee was formed to ensure people would not be coerced into supporting the visit. Maud Gonne’s description of the scenes, which unfolded, cannot be bettered.

The result of this was a series of meetings to protest against any address of welcome being voted by Dublin Corporation. When the Corporation met in July finally met to vote the motion in proposing an address of welcome was defeated by three votes. As she left the building Maud Gonne was cheered to the rafters. According to the account in the United Irishman: “For the first time since the Norman invasion the capital has denied before the world the right of the King of England to rule this country.”

A body called the National Council was formed during the protest to coordinate activities. Both Home Rulers and nationalists were welcome to join provided they believed in the “absolute independence of the country.” The National Council would be one of the organisations which formed the nucleus of Sinn Féin in 1905.

By 1911 another visit by a British Monarch helped sharpen the cutting edge of Republican and progressive forces. Sinn Féin formed a United National Societies Committee with Michael O’Rahilly (The O’Rahilly) as secretary. This brought together Sinn Féin, the United Irish League, Wolfe Tone Clubs (dominated by the IRB) and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, co-ordinating opposition to the visit. A ‘monster’ meeting was held in Beresford Place to demonstrate opposition to any address of welcome to the British King. The meeting was set for June 22 to coincide with the coronation of the new King and which was an enforced Bank Holiday.

All members of Dublin Corporation were canvassed. Constance Markievicz, Patrick MacCartan and The O’Rahilly led this. O’Rahilly also canvassed his own local Pembroke Urban District Council in the heart of Unionist South Dublin as well as Waterford Corporation. The result was that all of these bodies refused to issue formal addresses of welcome to the British King.

A major coup for the committee was when O’Rahilly obtained permission from the Corporation’s paving committee for permission to erect two poles across Grafton St through which the British King was due to pass. A green and gold banner was strung across between the poles declaiming, “Thou art not conquered yet dear land”. Lines from O’Rahilly’s poem. The poles and the message they supported were only noticed on the morning of the procession and were torn down. In their zeal the DMP (Dublin Metropolitan Police) also tore down decorations declaring their loyalty to the British Crown. The illegal seizure brought more publicity than if the poles had been left in place.

The meeting in Beresford Place brought 30,000 people –the largest gathering in the city since Parnell’s meeting in Inchicore in 1891. The O’Rahilly as secretary read telegrams of support from prominent Fenians such as John Devoy, John Daly, Robert Johnston of Belfast and Dr Mark Ryan in London, both of whom were 25 years on the Supreme Council of the IRB. The chair of the meeting was the veteran Henry Dixon (Who later would be the oldest internee in Frongoch following the 1916 Rising) The meeting was addressed by Major John MacBride, Laurence Ginnell MP, Constance Markievicz, Arthur Griffith, James Connolly and Cathal Brugha.

The women of Inghinidhe na hEireann together with James Connolly’s Socialist Party of Ireland together organised a public meeting in Foster Place addressed by James Connolly and Helena Moloney. A pamphlet by Connolly addressed the reasons for protest: “Knowing from previous experience of Royal Visits, as well as from the Coronation orgies of the past few weeks, that the occasion will be utilised to make propaganda on behalf of royalty and aristocracy against the oncoming forces of democracy and National freedom, we desire to place before you some few reasons why you should unanimously refuse to countenance this visit, or to recognise it by your presence at its attendant processions or demonstrations”. Among the reasons, which included a rejection of monarchy in all its forms were: “There is nothing on earth more sacred than humanity, we deny all allegiance to this institution of royalty, and hence we can only regard the visit of the King as adding fresh fuel to the fire of hatred with which we regard the plundering institutions of which he is the representative.” He concluded: “Hasten the coming day when, in the words of Joseph Brennan, the fearless patriot of '48, all the world will maintain:
'The Right Divine of Labour
To be first of earthly things;
That the Thinker and the Worker
Are Manhood's only Kings.

A Nationalist Women’s Committee was also formed to campaign against an address to the Queen of England on behalf of the women of Ireland. In particular great anger was expressed at shop girls and other vulnerable groups being pressurised into signing such an address by employers.

Indeed the women including notable figures such as Helena Maloney forced the pace in terms of organising protest and were always in favour of the most direct action when it came to opposing the visit. Margaret Ward’s Unmanageable Revolutionaries gives a colourful account of this: (PP 78/79). On the day of the visit while the planned pilgrimage to Bodenstown went ahead the women of the committee with the support of the older boys of Na Fianna Éireann distributed leaflets to the crowd lining the route of the procession: “Today another English Monarch visits England. When will Ireland regain the Legislature, which is by everyone granted to be her mere right? Never! As long as Irish men and women stand in the streets of Dublin to cheer the King of England and crawl to those who oppress and rob them. God save Ireland.”

In the following decades Republicans organised protest and resistance to public displays celebrating the British monarchy in Ireland. In May 1937 in the lead up to the coronation two days of rioting ensued in O’Connell St during which shots were fired. The meting had been called for College Green but was banned. 300 Free State police occupied the venue and a running battle took place with 250 men of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA.

The protests were led by leading Republicans such as Tom Barry and Frank Ryan both of who spoke from the platform in Cathal Brugha Street with bandaged heads on the second night. Shop windows in Cork city, which featured displays celebrating the Coronation were smashed. Customs huts along the border were also burnt which was celebrated in the ballad ‘Bonfire on the border’.

In 1953 when Elizabeth Windsor was crowned ‘Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ an explosion at Kilnasaggart Bridge just north of the border in Co Armagh severed the Dublin-Belfast railway line. One of the few public showings of the event by BBC television in Dublin was interrupted and the television smashed. Private showings of the event in various parts of the 26 Counties were interrupted by protests. Cinemas in Newly and Bainbridge, which showed the coronation, were wrecked by explosions.

Today the attitude of all progressive forces to such visit to any part of Ireland has not changed. The purpose of these visits as Connolly reminds us is “will be utilised to make propaganda on behalf of royalty and aristocracy against the oncoming forces of democracy and National freedom”. The nature of imperialism does not change and neither should our response to it. In 2011 Republican Sinn Féin must place itself in the vanguard of opposition to what will amount to a parade of imperial pomp and Seoininism and west Britishness. Our message must be equally clear British rule in Ireland will never be normal or acceptable. Like The O’Rahilly we say “Thy art not conquered yet dear land.”

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