THE "SPECIAL COMMISSIONER" IN IRELAND.* THIS is pre-eminently the age
of the special reporter, of that type of impressionist expert in journalism whom we despatch, note-book in hand, to the seat of war, or to interview some magnate of politics, literature, or finance. So long as the journalistic expert in question confines his attention to the matter in hand, this modern democratic short-cut to know- ledge may be of inestimable benefit to us. It is only when interviewing and special reporting degenerate into pernicious or trivial personalities that we are constrained to oppose the new method.
At the outset, then, we should like to say that a careful perusal of this collection of " Letters " on Ireland, by the special commissioner of the Birmingham Daily Gazette, has convinced us that the writer is an earnest and observing man, who has set forth his personal impressions on Ireland and the Irish people with great force and ability. Although the special commissioner is evidently a man of strong political con- victions, and writes at times with some of the redundancy and exaggeration which characterise popular journalism as well as popular oratory, yet we can quite credit his editor when he testifies that his instruction—" State nothing that you cannot stand by "—was carried out to the letter. The journalistic tourist arrived in Dublin in March, 1893, and after traversing the island in every direction, left Sligo in August with an immense sheaf of impressions largely bearing on the subject of Mr. Gladstone's abortive Home-rule Bill, and its effect on all classes of Irishmen.
In Dublin in March last, he naturally found Home-rule the one subject of conversation. It struck the Birmingham journalist as particularly noteworthy that a representative Irishman, whose fame is world-wide and yet non-political, Sir Howard Grubb, should declare that " the passing of the Home-rule Bill will be the signal of his departure to England with plant and working-staff, and that he has been preparing for this since 1886." Such a fact is indeed significant. The contrast, too, drawn by the writer between the attitude on the Home-rule question of the Irish Nonconformists, who, being on the spot, are staunch Unionists, and their English brethren, who in so many instances are merely abject disciples of Mr. Gladstone, is strikingly put, and cannot be too often repeated. Of that remarkable, prosperous, and, on the whole, popular body, the Irish Quakers, at least 95 per cent., he estimates, are Unionists.
Turning from these classes, who we shall be contemptu- ously told are mere portions of "the English garrison" in Ireland, the writer attempts to fathom the day-dreams of the genuine native Celts ; and he frankly admits that Home-rule, or, rather, the complete independence of Ireland as a nation, is dear to their hearts. Even here a careless or stupid ob- server might easily overrate the extent and measure of this so-called national anti-English sentiment. " The Gods ap- prove the depth and not the tumult of the soul " is a Teutonic, not a Celtic saying. Your true Celt is ever a man of high- sounding words and dramatic gestures, one to whom posing is almost as natural as breathing. And it would be a miracle if, after the years of agitation and the efforts of great Separatist leaders from Daniel O'Connell to Mr. Gladstone, the quick-
• /retard as It Is and as It would Be under Home-var. Sixtr.two Letters written lit, the Special Commissioner of the Birmingham Daily. Gazette. "Birmingham Daily Gazette" Company, Linal'..ed,
witted, volatile and unstable Irish Celt had not caught this anti-English infection. Let us not forget, however, that this fascinating and childlike race is by no means without acumen. To the lightest-hearted or the most embittered of these Irish dreamers who have been taught to regard their -disruption from England as a deliverance out of bondage. there often cornea a fore-glimpse of realities. The Birming- ham journalist, after spending some time among the Dublin corner-boys and larrikins who to a man were glorying in the approaching downfall of their more wealthy and worthy Unionist neighbours, observes that " the small shopkeepers, once ardent Nationalists, seem to be changing their minds " :—
" One of them confided to me the fact that he and his fellows. brought actually face to face with the possibility that the end of their aspirations and agitations would be attained, were beginning to ask whether, after all, taxation would be remitted ; whether, Indeed, the rates would not be heavier; and whether the monied people would remain in the country at all. Hearing on all sides these and similar confessions, accompanied by urgent admonitions
• of secrecy, you begin to ask whether the past conduct of these enlightened voters had any more substantial basis than a cantankerous and unreasonable discontent superadded to an Irishman's natural love of fighting? The leaders of the Separatist Party have made the most frantic efforts to win over 'the police, but apparently without much success. The Dublin Constabulary, a body of 1,300 men, is totally separate and distinct from the Royal Irish Constabulary; but I have reason to believe that the feeling of both forces is averse to Home-rule. Said a :sergeant yesterday, John Bull may have faults, but '—and here be winked expressively—' but—he pays !' "
We in fact shrewdly suspect, after reading this Irish itin- erary, that there are thousands of our fellow-subjects in Ireland who declaimed and voted in favour of Home-rule, but who, like sundry Gladstonians on this side, were sincerely grateful at the last moment to the House of Lords.
From Dublin with its English garrison and its Celtic pro'e- tariat, the Birmingham journalist proceeded to Ulster; and here the fierce hatred of Mr. Gladstone's deplorable measure finds no uncertain utterance. Even if we allow a little for the political bias of the journalist, no one can read these -chapters without realising that the Protestants, and the well-to-do Roman Catholics, of the North of Ireland are not the men to submit to be governed by a Dublin Parliament composed either of the followers of Mr. Justin McCarthy or those of Mr. John Redmond.
Nothing can be more gratifying than the testimony borne
by these letters to the widespread and intense personal popularity of Mr. Balfour in Ireland. We have always been =foremost amongst those who have held that Mr. Balfour
was the greatest of Irish Chief Secretaries, not only because he was a just, capable, and industrious adminis- trator in a time of grave difficulty and peril, but also because he had a. sincere feeling of personal affection for Ireland, and even for the people who in ignorance, and misled by interested agitators, denounced him at -every turn. Mr. Balfour is, besides, both a man of breeding and a man of genius ; and the Irish peasant instinc- tively likes a gentleman, and appreciates wit and brilliancy.
We much mistake if the time does not come (it would come very quickly if Home-rule were granted) when Mr. Balfour's -connection with Ireland, his assistance to Irish agriculture, his scheme for light railways, and the romantic journey of his sister and himself through the " Wild West," shall be among the treasured memories in many an Irish cabin. Those who, carried away by the stress of partisan feeling, and by the noisy utterances of the so-called " representatives of Ireland "—a body of men not even respected by those who send them to Parliament—may feel inclined to sneer at this estimate of Mr. Balfour as an Irish Minister, would do well to read carefully the chapter entitled " Mr. Balfour in Dublin," as well as many incidental references to him throughout these pages.
It is not necessary to follow our special commissioner from county to county. Out of Ulster, he as an Englishman was struck most of all by the overwhelming power of the
priesthood. It may be that on this topic the writer displays that anti-sacerdotal bias which is still a marked characteristic
of the majority of Englishmen. But after making every fair allowance, it is a black page against any Christian priesthood which is here presented. The subject, however, is so painfully -controversial that we prefer not to dwell too much upon it. Even in dealing with this dominant and domineering Irish priesthood, there would be a hope of brighter things in the future if English parties themselves could but maintain towards Ireland a kindly but steadfast and patriotic policy. Amidst all his stories of spiritual tyranny and rapacity, and the terrible instances he gives of the refusal of the Sacrament to those who had voted according to their political conscience, is the following scrap of conversation with a loyal and culti- vated priest in Donegal :-
" I am a South of Ireland man and was educated at Douai. I have no sympathy with the great bulk of the Maynooth men, who
are mostly peasants and the sons of peasants Instead of tranquillising the people, which I hold to be the duty of the clergy, they have done all they could to awaken and keep alive their most dangerous passions. And to rouse the Irish, especially the southern Irish, is a matter of the greatest facility • The Bill will of course give nothing that the peasants expect. The fault will assuredly lie with John Bull. The expectations of the ignorant, that is the great mass of the people, will be wofully disappointed. Who is to blame ? they will ask. Numbers of politicians are waiting to tell them. Who but the brutal, greedy, selfish, perfidious Saxon ? An agitation will succeed, compared with which the worst times of the Land League were preferable. I shudder to think of the chaos, the seething and weltering con- fusion of the time to come."
Before closing this review of the special commissioner in Ireland, we should like to call attention to his entertaining allusions to the rapid conversion of Gladstonians when they become permanent residents in Ireland. A brief visit, such as the Newcastle working-men delegates paid to Belfast, seems to have a decided effect in uprooting any blind belief in Irish Home-rule. But it would appear that even in the case of the most ardent Gladstonian from England or Scot- land, a residence of six months converts the Home-ruler and Radical not only into a Unionist, but into the staunchest and most uncompromising of Conservatives. This is another tremendously significant fact.