The Cork visit marks the close of the first stage in the history of the Convention. At the opening of our session there it was decided to appoint a Grand Committee of twenty, whose task should be, “if possible, to prepare a scheme for submission to the Convention, which would meet the views and difficulties expressed by the different speeches during the course of the debate.” The Convention itself, after its deliberations of that week, would adjourn until the Committee was in a position to report. This second stage, purely of committee work, was to last much longer than anyone anticipated: the Convention did not reassemble till the week before Christmas. If that length of adjournment had been foreseen, the Committee would never have been appointed.
Mr. Lysaght in his first address to the Convention had pressed upon us the view that Sinn Fein could be won. But he warned us also (with such emphasis that some speakers afterwards resented it as a threat) that if the Convention produced no result, or an unacceptable result, or provoked suspicion by delay, the result would be a revolution. Already impatience was growing. We could publish no account of our proceedings: but it became known inevitably that we had not as yet reached one operative conclusion in our task of Constitution building.
At Cork, Sir Horace Plunkett made an encouraging speech at the public luncheon; he announced the appointment of our Committee, which certainly looked like business. But only when we got to detail did men fully realize the difficulties and the embarrassing nature of the position.
The Ashe affair had done more harm than we knew. When the Primate was making the hopeful speech from which a few words have already been quoted, he spoke also of our experience as having been a process of mutual education, which we needed to extend beyond our own assembly. He promised his help in this, and it was felt that Ulstermen generally were on their honour to report well of what they commended in our presence. They were, it seems, at least as good as their word; the Committee behind them was favourably impressed, and when we went to Cork—so I have been informed—the question of giving the delegates full powers to negotiate was under discussion. But this mood was dissipated by the angry temper in all sections which arose out of the imprisonments, the hunger-strikes, the penalties imposed, and the successive concessions to violent resistance.