I came to Galway on the day the Home Rule Bill was signed and attended a couple of Volunteer drills, where I noted the activity of some young men going round with a password: “For whom will you serve?” “For Ireland only.” After the publication of the dissenting manifesto a Committee was called, and I obtained leave to be present. There was a sharp discussion, and at the finish the vote was a tie, whether to support Redmond or the dissentients. This did not at all please me or my friends, so we determined to have a big general meeting to see on which side public support really lay. Everybody was invited, and a great many people could not get into the hall; this mattered the less because the Sinn Feiners cut the electric wires leading to the building and plunged us in darkness; luckily, it was a fine night, and we took the meeting outside with great success. A couple of interruptions were drastically dealt with, and complete peace then prevailed. Two of the four county members were among the many speakers, and the last man to address the meeting was a wounded Connaught Ranger back from the line. We cheered for the Rangers, and then we cheered for the King; the local band was present, but unable, though quite willing, to assist at this point. “Isn’t it a pity,” the chief bandsman said to me, “there was three of us knew the tune well, but they’ve all gone to the front, and not a one of us ever heard it.”
But as a net result the original Volunteer organization was killed. The pick of the young and keen who were with us went off to the war; the young and keen who stayed kept up an organization with very different purposes. There was plenty of material in Galway and everywhere else to build up a volunteer corps such as Redmond desired to see; but the organizing spirits were in the opposite camp, and our friends did not interest themselves in what seemed to be a kind of play-acting when such serious business was afoot in the world. Had they been set to duties of coast patrol, under officers who were available on the spot, and given clear recognition as part of the defensive forces, their body would have been alive and active; as it was, it atrophied and grew inert. Broadly speaking, the same was true all over the country. Redmond was willing to make bricks for the War Office to build with; they insisted that he should make them without straw.
Facts directly connected with recruiting ultimately convinced the British public that the War Office had spoilt a great opportunity in Ireland. But the fundamental blunder, the deep-seated cause which undermined the force of Redmond’s appeal, was the refusal of recognition to the National Volunteers and the failure to fulfil the promise held out in Mr. Asquith’s Dublin speech.