This is a remarkable admission from an independent and unprejudiced authority. He candidly declares they never understood the situation in America. Neither was it understood in England, and the House of Commons is the last place which tries to understand anything except party or personal interests. There is just about as much freedom of opinion and individual independence in Parliament as there could be in a slave state. In Ireland, as I have said, outside Munster the truth was never allowed to reach the people. Even the great national movement which Mr William O’Brien re-created in the United Irish League had almost ceased to function. It was gradually superseded by a secret sectarian organisation which was the absolute antithesis of all free development of democratic opinion and the complete negation of liberty and fair play.
Up in the north of Ireland there existed an organisation of a secret and sworn character which was an evil inheritance of an evil generation. From the fact that the Ribbonmen used to meet in a shebeen owned by one Molly Maguire, with the Irish adaptability for attaching nicknames to anything short of what is sacred, they became known as “Molly Maguires,” or, for short, “the Mollies.” In some ill-omened day branches of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, which had seceded from the American order of that name, began to interest themselves in Ulster in political affairs. They called themselves the Board of Erin, but they were, as I have said, more generally known as “the Mollies.” They were a narrowly sectarian institution and they had the almost blasphemous rule that nobody but a Catholic frequenting the Sacraments could remain a member. They had their own ritual and initiation ceremony, founded on the Orange and Masonic precedents, and had their secret signs and passwords. It is possible that they were at first intended to be a Catholic protection society in Ulster at the end of the eighteenth century to combat the aggressiveness and the fanatical intolerance of the Orange Order, who sought nothing less than the complete extermination of the Catholic tenantry. A Catholic Defence organisation was a necessity in those circumstances, but when the occasion that gave it justification and sanction had passed it would have been better if it were likewise allowed to pass. Any organisation which fans the flames of sectarianism and feeds the fires of religious bigotry should have no place in a community which claims the sacred right of freedom. It was the endeavour of Mr O’Brien and his friends finally to close this bitter chapter of Irish history by reconciling the ancient differences of the sects and inducing all Irishmen of good intent to meet upon a common platform in which there should be no rivalries except the noble emulations of men seeking the weal of the whole by the combined effort of all.