THE YOUNG IRISHMEN-* Me. ST. JOHN ERVINE as a playwright is one of the ornaments of the Irish Theatre ; has also written two remarkable novels; he is a membertof an Ulster Protestant family, and was born in Belfast in 1883, This brief record of his antecedents must be borne in mind `by 'those who read what we take to be
his first excursion outside the domain of belles lettres. The title, he frankly confesses, is a mianniner ; he has very little to say
about 'Sir Edward Carson, and that little is pure disparagement.
In Mr. Ervine's view, Sir Edward Carson has never done anything for Ireland, and never will; in a footnote on 'pp. 49-50 he reluctantly concedes to him the possession of certain negative qualities, and elsewhere contrasts him not unfavourably with Mr. Redmond ; none the less, he dismisses him as the stage Irishman in excelsis, who has never meant business, and whom the shrewd old Unionists of _Ulster accepted as their political
leader precisely because they knew that he would never lead them into civil war or bloodshed. Thus, while acknowledging that Sir Edward Carson has exerted a restraining influence, Mr. Ervin minimizes the acknowledgment by representing him as a mere frothy talker, a leader of stage armies, and above all not a genuine Ulsterman. We have never shared the opinion that Sir Edward Carson was endowed with preter, natural wisdom or statesmanship of a semi-divine order, but, if only because of the immense personal sacrifices that he has made, we cannot fora moment accept this fantastic theory of his ascendancy, and we deplore the execrable taste, worthy of Mr. Bernard Shaw, of the gibe that when " the Great War broke out and the Ulster movement collapsed Sir Edward Carson did not rush on to the battlefield ; he rushed into church and got married." We deplore it all the more because, when Mr. Ervine completes his brief, perfunctory, and unjust depreciation of Sir Edward Carson, he has a great deal to say about Ireland in general and Ulster in particular that is fresh, illuminating, sane, and patriotic. He is a convinced Home Ruler, but he is no belittler of England. Indeed, he admits that the economic renascence of Ireland, in which the I.A.O.S. has taken a leading part, was only rendered possible by the British statesmanship which revolutionized Ireland through Land Purchase. He has no patience with those who are for ever harping on the tragedies of Ireland's past. He recognizes that some of the worst evils from which Ireland suffers are not the result of alien rule, and that she must be her own physician.
The great interest of this little book is that it is a deliberate
attempt to formulate the credo of the Young Irishmen of to-day. What Mr. Ervine means by the Young Irishmen is best explained in the passage which sums up his résumé of the splendid -work done by the I.A.O.S. and his glowing tribute to Sir Horace Plunkett and " YE," " perhaps the greatest of all Irishmen " :- "There is, then, a strange and wonderful renascence in Ireland, a quickening of old bones with new life, a great, outspreading develop- ment which will culminate one day in an Ireland which is as prosperous and developed as is Denmark now. In every nation there is a smother of activities that seem aimless and confused to the careless beholder, but somewhere in the midst of them, clear-eyed, cool-brained workers aro guiding the chaos towards coherence. In little country towns and remote villages in Ireland there are young men, inspired by Sir Horace Plunkett and /E,' who are formulating a synthesis of Irish life. They are few in number now and, for many reasons, not fully articulate, but they will grow in strength and power. They have done with old angers and ancient rages and the bitter wrangling of semi-dotards, nor have they any interest in internecine quarrels, the differences between Catholic and Protestant, Orangeman and Ancient Hibernian. They are bored by the sorrows of Ireland ' ; they do not desire ever again to hear of the horrors of the Great Famine or of any famine, for they are resolved that, so far as is humanly possible, Ireland shall know no more famine. They are tired to death of rhetoricians such as Mr. John Redmond ; they are sick of oratory and Irish- Americans and Curse-the-Pope-put-your-fut-in-his-belly Orange- men ; and above all they are tired of Ireland in the part of Lazarus whining for crumbs from England's table. Here and there, these Young Irishmen discover in the old ascendancy a man from whom they can hope for some help : Lord Dunraven, Lord Fingall, Lord • Sir Edward Carson and (he Ulster Movement. By St. John G. ErvIne. "Irishmen or To-day " Series. Dublin and Loudon Matuasel and Co. Ocl• 0414
Monteagle ; 'and perhaps Lord Ashbourne, though their interest in him is archaic rather than sociological ; but, while they are glad to have the encouragement and help of these men, they are resolved, that they shall enter into the heritage of freemen by their ow* exertions. A Mollycoddled Ireland, to them, is' an abomination ; but an Ireland which has risen in agony and bloody sweat to the realisation of a great destiny is to them a beautiful land, commanding
and receiving all, their services. ' Nature,' wrote has no intention of allowing her divine brood, made in the image of Deity, to dwindle away into a crew of little, feeble, feverish city folk. She has other and more grandiose futures before humanity if ancient prophecy and our deepest, most spiritual intuitions have any truth in them.' The Young Irishmen intend to let Nature have her way."
We may add that Mr. Ervine does well to remind us that the I.A.O.S. is not yet thirty years old, and that it is still hampered by a vast number of handicaps, above all by the very powerful opposition engineered by the gombeen-men and publicans, " greatly assisted by the policy of Mr. T. W. Russell, the
chameleon of politics."
Mr. Ervine admits that the Young Irishmen are neither numerous nor organized, and that they have so far thrown up no leader. What he does claim for them is :a . generous ideal combined with a full sense of realities. What they propose to do generally in Irish politics is what the Old Irishmen— among whom he makes honourable mention of the late Mr. Thomas Sinclair—did particularly in co-operative societies :-
" The Young Irishman wishes to make a drastic change in the state of Irish affairs. Wherever he looks in Ireland he finds inferior institutions, corrupt management, artificial divisions, an ignorant, prejudiced Press, an uninstructed people and a low level of sub- sistence. When he compares his country with England, he in humiliated by the difference between them. He reads the history of Ireland, and has a sense of horror when he realises how deficient in spiritual quality his contemporaries are in comparison with their forefathers. He feels that the greatest danger to Irish developthent lies in the complacency and self-deception of the Irish people. It is not English tyranny which is destroying Ireland, for there is no English tyranny now ; it is Irish blindness which is destroying it."
Developing this theme, Mr. Ervin maintains that the Young Irishmen are most oppressed by the lack of spiritual impulse in Ireland. He cannot resist a sneer at England's choice of a dishonest meat contractor for her patron saint, but balances it by adding : " It is lamentable that the Irish people should place a gombeen-man in the place of St. Patrick." The Young Irishmen have, as we have said, no leader at present, though "it may be that Sir Horace Plunkett, who is their inspiration, will become their leader, but the question of leadership is not one of immediate consequence." Their first duty is to bring a sense of reality into Ireland. They have to search for knowledge and experience, and then to make opinion in Ireland. And they will have to spend years in undermining the position of the present political leaders, for they have no use for Mr. Redmond, the rhetorician ; or Mr. Dillon, whose conduct in inciting one section of his countrymen to enmity against another section is " unpardonable " and "abominable " ; or Mr. Devlin, who seeks to perpetuate party-religious organization in the " contemptible " society of the A.O.H. They despair of the Irish Conservatives, and above all they detest the policy of doles and subsidies :- " The enactment of the Land Purchase Laws in Ireland, the widespread efforts to ameliorate the life of Indians, the building of the Assouan Dam and the extraordinary attempts made by Lord Kitchener to give some security of life to the fellaheen, all these are ameliorative acts of which Englishmen may legitimately boast. . . . But what, one asks oneself, is the purpose of all these ameliora- tive acts ? Is it merely that the fellah's belly may be full, that the ryot may be free of the money-lender, that the Irish peasant may own land ? Is there to be no end of this debilitating process of doing things for men who ought to be doing those things for them- selves ? Is England always to be the dry-nurse of Ireland ? The Balfourian legislation, designed to kill Home Rule by kindness, of which Mr. Lynd complains in his book [Rambles an Ireland]. has had the effect of turning Irishmen into a nation of cadgen, continually whining that the Government shall do something for them instead of setting to work and doing it for themselves. Canon Hannay, in his novels, has complained of the fact that greedy contractors or lazy people generally obtain money from the Irish Government for the erection of piers that are not needed and the distribution of seed potatoes that will not end in benefit to those to whom they are given. All over Ireland to-day may be seen grass-grown piers, providing excellent grazing for cattle, but serving no further purpose than that. It is humiliating to a Young Irishman to observe these • signs of waste, the Balfourian equivalent of pattern et circenses. If the money to pay for these piers came out of the pockets of the Irish people, they would not be built ; but since that gigantic jackass, the British taxpayer, is perfectly willing to pay for anything that the muttonhead politicians propose, the Irish people are content to bleed the blighters ! ' If the process of bleeding the blighters' could be limited to draining money from the pockets of Englishmen, I should not complain . but- it cannot so be limited. While the money is pouring into Ireland, the manly spirit is pouring out of it ; and in the end the virtue remains with England, for the loss of money is of little account, but the loss of spirit is utter damnation."
Finally, Mr. Ervine enumerates some of the specific changes which the Young Irishmen desire to make in Irish affairs. They wish to reduce the number of priests in Ireland, not on anti- Catholic but on economic grounds, " because they believe that there is a limit to the number of priests that any country can maintain," and because the bulk of the priests are not only non-productive members of the community, but badly educated, of poor intellectual quality and inconsiderable scholarship, and grasping in the matter of fees. They wish to bring all religious establishments—Roman Catholic or Protestant—within the scope of the Factory Acts, because many of them are sweating- shops of the worst kind ; but Mr. Ervine does not anticipate any objection on the part of the Protestants, because their orphanages, particularly in Dublin, are proselytizing agencies rather than pseudo-charitable, pseudo-industrial organizations. " The Irish peasant loves God, but he also loves money, and he will not long tolerate congregations of people who exploit his love of God in order that they may ruin him." The Young Irishmen wish to reduce the number of the police and see them employed in productive work. They wish to control the excessive and dangerous power of the publican; and here we gladly quote the remarkable passage in which Mr. Ervine denounces the most dangerous of all Ireland's enemies :—
" On the day on which this section of this chapter was written, the English newspapers contained reports of the parliamentary debate in which Mr. Lloyd George announced his table of increased duties on spirits. The Irish Nationalists, to a man, opposed the new taxes. This singular unanimity (for all Tories and all Radicals are not unanimous on Drink questions) is due to the fact that the Irish Nationalist party, so to speak, is kept by the Irish publicans. The publican, indeed, is the most dangerous of all the enemies the Irish people have, and the task of conquering him will absorb a consider- able part of the energies of the Young Irishmen for many generations. It is not alone that he is a retailer of liquor, which, up to a point, is harmless enough, but that he is able, through his side activities, to climb to a position of power in national and local politics. The publican is often the gombeen-man. He lends money to his neigh- bours at rates of interest fixed by his own caprice on condition that the borrower deals exclusively with him. This means that the borrower must purchase provisions and stores from the gombeen. man at prices fixed, not by the laws of supply and demand (for there are no laws of supply and demand in country parts in Ireland), but by the gombeen-man's knowledge of the borrower's capacity to pay. it also means that the borrower must sell the products of his farm to the gombeen-man, again at prices fixed by the latter. Money seldom passes between the two parties in these sales. The sum allowed for the farm produce is set against the debt incurred for provisions and drink and stores and the reduction, if possible, of the amount of the loan. It is inevitable that farms should be mortgaged to these gombeen-men and that many farms are forfeited to them. We may witness the growth in Ireland of a new race of landlords, without tradition or grace, who will involve their tenants in hardships as severe as those which were inflicted upon them by the old race. The publicans, because of their wealth and the peculiar influence they exercise on their neighbours, have a greater amount of political power than any other body of men in Ireland. They and their nominees serve on every local authority in the country, while the parliamentary party is like putty in their hands. And wherever their influence is exercised, it is expressed in terms of corruption and jobbery. . . . Tho Irish publican, intent on his own enrichment, even if it causes the ruin of his country, seeks to establish in Ireland something of the organisation which his emigrant kinsman has established in Tammany Hall."
That the Young Irishmen should endeavour to extend the operations of the I.A.O.S. far beyond their present boundaries is inevitable, since they recognize in co-operation the most effectual means of killing the gombeen-men. In conclusion, Mr. Ervine advocates the nationalization of Irish railways and canals ; the reform of Irish education, on the basis of better instruction, better training and pay for teachers, and the exclusion of all ministers of religion from school management; the improvement of housing in industrial areas ; and the establishment of a minimum wage. This is a tolerably drastic programme, but there is a great deal in it to which Unionists can cordially subscribe, and the vision of a united Ireland, in which there will be a genuine fusion of classes, freed from sectarian antagonism, animated by the gospel of self-help, and taking for their motto L'Irlanda fora da sa, is a generous and noble ideal.
There are many other points in the book which deserve notice, notably Mr. Ervine's energetic effort to minimize or disprove the conventional view of the two Irelands, and to show that the difference is superficial or " decorative " rather than essential ; and his belief that what Ireland needs, and what she will get under Home Rule, is the predominance of Ulster efficiency —in ether words, that Ulster will not merely come in, but come
out on top. But while preaching reconciliation and fusion, Mr. Ervine lays down as an indispensable antecedent condition the sweeping away of all Old Irishmen. Ireland is to be saved by the Young Irishmen ; his belief in the power of youth is unlimited, he has no reverence or respect for age. Si jeunesse savait never enters into his calculations. His Young Irishmen know all that need be known. Compromise is to them abhorrent. And as the foundation of the new movement was largely laid by the co-operation of the elder Irishmen, this hard and exclusive confidence in youth impairs the persuasiveness of Mr. Ervine's appeal.