And he went on to argue that the delay might be a blessing in disguise. Civil war between Irishmen had always seemed to him an impossibility. That impossibility was now universally admitted. In a passage of unusual heat he denounced the “so-called statesmen” who came over unasked to our country to inflame feelings—as Mr. Bonar Law had done; and he appealed to all sections “to enable us to utilize the interval before a Home Rule Parliament assembles to unite all Irishmen under a Home Rule Government.”
At Waterford he was largely occupied with repelling the charge that he and his colleagues had made a bargain with the Government to ship Irish Volunteers overseas to fight whether they would or no. This was the line on which opposition was developing, and it was assisted by articles in the English Press, which laid it down that unless the Irish furnished a sufficiency of recruits, Home Rule should be repealed.
An extension of this argument, that Redmond was buying Home Rule with the blood of young Irishmen, raised the question whether Home Rule was worth the price. While the Bill was not yet law, it was a flag, a symbol. Once it became an Act, men’s attitude changed; they turned to criticizing what they had got; and one powerful newspaper, bitterly hostile to the Parliamentary party, expended much ingenuity in exaggerating the limitations of what had been gained. While one set of critics endeavoured to show how miserable was the price obtained, another dwelt on the unrighteousness of making such a bargain without Ireland’s consent. In Redmond’s speech at Kilkenny there was a note of resentment. He refused at any great crisis to consider “what might please the gallery or the crowd, or might spare him the insults of a handful of cornerboys.”
But the kernel of all his thought was put into one sentence by him at Belfast. “The proper place to guard Ireland is on the battlefields of France.” It was from Belfast after this meeting that the first striking demonstration of response came—organized and inspired by Mr. Devlin. On November 20th nearly a full battalion of recruits, many National Volunteers, entrained for Fermoy; a week later they were followed by another great detachment. The example spread; and when Redmond spoke at Limerick on December 20th, the Irish Times in a friendly leading article admitted that “the National Volunteers were now coming forward in large numbers and the Irish Brigade was going to be a credit to the country.” This was a very different note from that which had come from Unionist quarters at earlier stages.
So far as recruiting went, Redmond had won. He was sure of making good to England. But in what concerned making good to Ireland, he had no progress to report. He stated that already nearly 16,500 men from the Volunteers had joined the Army, and he could not understand why Government was so chary of giving assistance to train and equip this force. There was no doubt as to the mass of men available. Figures supplied by the police to the Chief Secretary estimated that between September 24th, when the split took place, and October 31st, out of 170,000 Volunteers, only a trifle over 12,000 adhered to Professor MacNeill.