A direct outcome of the Co-operative Movement was the creation by Act of Parliament in 1899 of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in Ireland—a Department which, though it possesses many faults of administration and of policy, has nevertheless had a distinctly wholesome influence on Irish life. In relation to the Co-operative Movement the judgment of Mr Dillon was once again signally at fault. He gave it vehement opposition at every point and threw the whole weight of his personal following into the effort to arrest its growth and expansion. Happily, however, the practical good sense of the people saved them from becoming the dupes of parties who had axes of their own, political or personal, to grind, and thus co-operation and self-help have won, in spite of all obstacles and objections, a very fair measure of success.
Meanwhile a remarkable development was taking place in the matter of bringing popular and educative literature within reach of the masses. Public and parish libraries and village halls were widely established. These were supplementary to the greater movements to which reference has been made, but they were indicative of the steady bent of the national mind towards enlightenment and education, and of a desire in all things appertaining to the national life for more and better instruction. Another important movement there was to which little reference is made in publications dealing with the period—namely, the organisation of the town and country labourers for their political and social improvement. It was first known as the Irish Democratic Trade and Labour Federation, but this went to pieces in the general confusion of the Split. It was resurrected subsequently under the title of the Irish Land and Labour Association. I mention it here as an additional instance of the regenerative agencies that were at work in every domain of Irish life, and among all classes, at a time when the politicians were tearing themselves to pieces and providing a Roman holiday for their Saxon friends.
THE BIRTH OF A MOVEMENT AND WHAT IT CAME TO
Whilst Ireland was thus finding her soul and Mr Gerald Balfour pursuing his beneficent schemes for “killing Home Rule with kindness,” the country had sickened unto death of the “parties” and their disgusting vagaries. Mr William O’Brien, although giving loyal support and, what is more, very material assistance to Mr Dillon and his friends, was not himself a Member of Parliament, but was doing far better work as a citizen, studying, from his quiet retreat on the shores of Clew Bay, the shocking conditions of the Western peasantry, who were compelled to eke out an existence of starvation and misery amid the crags and moors and fastnesses of the west, whilst almost from their very doorsteps there stretched away mile upon mile of the rich green pastures from which their fathers were evicted during the clearances that followed the Great Famine of 1847, and which M. Paul Dubois describes as “the greatest legalised crime that humanity has ever accomplished against humanity.”