Enigma of Ireland (iii).
Mail - November 8th, 1933
MR. COSGRAVE’S FIGHT FOR THE
How Farmers have been Hit by Mr.
de Valera’s Policy
By Gareth Jones
I’ll have a new shirt,
blue shirt, taboo shirt,
just the thing for me.”
This verse - not
perhaps in the tradition of Yeats or of Æ - I read in a paper called “United
Ireland” and I asked myself, Who are these Blue Shirts? The answer came
to me in a more exciting way than I anticipated when I attended a meeting at
Kilkenny at which their leaders, Gen. O’Duffy and Mr. Cosgrave, the greatest
opponents of de Valera, were to speak.
When I drove from
Dublin, a distance of 75 miles, I had noticed the slogans painted upon the road
in white: “O’Duffy will win!” “O’Duffy will unite Ireland!”
As we waited in
the town square for the General to arrive men gathered in blue shirts, over
which most wore mackintoshes or ordinary suits. The colour was bright, not
so dark as the Oxford blue and not so light as the Cambridge blue. Many
wore a black beret with a red St. Patrick’s cross upon it.
As the scattered
crowd sauntered in expectation near the towers of the Norman castle a lorry
rushed past, from which we heard the words: “Up Dev! Up Dev!” (“ Dev” is
the abbreviation of de Valera.)
more than a hundred men in everyday clothes marched past resolutely, in perfect
time and discipline. It was a demonstration of the Irish Republican Army,
a gesture of defiance against their enemies, the Blue Shirts, and a warning that
trouble was to come.
Soon, guarded by
police, a tall, wellbuilt man like an ex-Rugby International. with sparse fair
hair, wearing a blue suit and a blue cornflower in his buttonhole walked towards
the platform and stretched his right arm out as a salute to the thousands who
It was Gen.
O’Duffy. From one end of the town square came savage shouts and crowds
began running hither and thither.
“The I.R.A. are
starting all right,” remarked someone.
resounded from one section of the audience, while heads bobbed up and down to
see what was happening. Stones flew through the air and bottles crashed
until the police attacked the Republicans with sticks and drove them, up the
But the rioters
were not suppressed, and before long a band of scattered soldiers, wearing steel
helmets to protect their heads against bricks, and gasmask apparatus upon their
breasts ran into the square and order reigned again.
THE BLUE SHIRTS’ AIMS
This scene was a
revelation to me of the antagonism between the contending forces in Irish
politics, and since one of the three main forces is the United Ireland Party,
with its Blue Shirts, I decided to discover its character and aims.
I listened first
to Mr. Cosgrave, who spoke like a Welshman in that monotonous voice which many
preachers use when in the hwyl. I was soon to have an opportunity of
observing his character. Gen. O’Duffy then faced the crowd and was met
by hundreds of outstretched hands. He has a good, striking presence and
his demagogic attacks, expressions of horror, and sallies against de Valera
appeal to the crowd, but he rushes along at such speed that his delivery lacks
light and shade.
The best speaker
of the United Ireland Party, which is the party of the Blue Shirts, was James
Dillon, who had a slow, booming voice which arrested attention.
A STUDY OF MR. COSGRAVE
A few hours
later I was seated next to Mr. Cosgrave in his car returning to Dublin.
Here was the man
who, after fighting in Easter Week, 1916, was condemned to death, but whose
sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life, who supported Arthur Griffith
and Michael Collins in fighting for the treaty with Britain, and who was the
first President of the Irish Free State.
What a task for
any man to build up a new State when the foundations of law and order had been
swept away and when bands of Republicans were seeking to overthrow by force the
Government and denounce the treaty with Britain. But Mr. Cosgrave faced it
He has not
striking external features except his tuft of sandy upright hair and large
cavities for his eyes. He remained in power until Mr. de Valera was
elected, in February, 1932, and when he left economic war was declared against
During the two
and a half hours’ ride, as the car rushed through villages and towns towards
Dublin, he talked to me calmly about the economic situation and not a word of
personal bitterness did I hear, although he believes that de Valera is
undermining the strong economic structure which he built up.
He struck me as
solid, reliable, practical, and gifted with common sense and with a sound
knowledge of economics and a grasp of figures. His comment on the economic
war between the Free State and the United Kingdom was that be doubted if in the
circumstances any two Governments in the world desiring - as these two
Governments assured each other they did - amity and concord would have allowed a
situation to develop so harmful to both countries.
It must be a
tragedy to Mr. Cosgrave to see the undoing of the solid work which his
Government had carried out in their term of office. Three years ago we
wondered at the prosperity of Ireland, which seemed immune from the economic
diseases biting into the world’s business structure. We envied the low
taxation of the Free State, then 3s. in the pound. Housewives joined with
agricultural experts in praising the goods which came from the Free State.
Live stock, the most important branch of Irish agriculture, improved enormously
as a result of the measures taken by the Government, such as the Live Stock
Breeding Act of 1925, which only allowed good quality bulls to be used for
Minister of Agriculture, secured the selection, grading, and packing of Free
State eggs and the poultry trade benefited greatly. He re-organised the
creamery industry, and this had far-reaching effects upon the prosperity of the
In finance the
Cosgrave Government carried out a policy of careful budgetary housekeeping, and
this is one of the main reasons for the large reserves of wealth which have
accumulated in the Free State. That the Cosgrave Government made a
magnificent job of their ten years’ rule over Ireland is the conclusion not of
political partisans but of economic experts throughout the world.
FIGHT TO KEEP THE TREATY
Their power is
now represented by the United Ireland Party in Opposition, with their youth
organisation, the Blue Shirts, and they are battling against de Valera for the
maintenance of the treaty with Britain and for the end of the economic war.
however, is not Mr. Cosgrave but a more adventurous, more political and less
economically-minded figure, Gen. Eoin O’Duffy, who struck me as being in
character the very reverse of Mr. Cosgrave.
slashing, he is a more romantic figurehead than the ex-President could ever be,
and in him the part played by personal antagonism and by personal attack seems
greater. He is not the thinker but the fighter and the organiser of the
United Ireland Party, and offers the colour and fire which the Irish people
personality sat next to me at dinner on the following night, and I learned from
him the aims of the United Ireland Party and of the Blue Shirts. He told
me: “Mr. de Valera’s policy has brought disaster upon the farmers of the
country. There is no outlet for our cattle and prices have dropped
catastrophically. It does not pay to breed cattle, neither does it pay to
graze cattle. There will, therefore, in time be a decrease in breeding and
this will be a blow to the wealth of Ireland. The main cause of this is
the economic war and the tariff on our goods going to Britain.’ Therefore we
shall put an end to the economic war as soon as possible when we get into
BRITAIN THE BEST MARKET
“What is your
policy towards Great Britain, General O’Duffy?” I asked. He
replied: “My view towards Ireland’s place in the British Commonwealth is
this: What is best for Ireland? That ‘guides my judgment. Great
Britain provides the best markets for Irish products, and our economic links
with Britain are very strong indeed. Therefore I think it is good business
to accept free partnership in the British Commonwealth and sheer economic
madness to antagonise our best customer.
“Mr. de Valera
has been blind to the real situation. He thought that he could find
markets in Europe. Where are those markets now? While Mr. do Valera
is quarrelling the Danes, the Argentinians, and others are capturing the
Will the Blue
Shirts gain power? They certainly have good leaders. There is Gen.
Mulcahy, former Chief of Staff of the Free State Army, quiet, unassuming, a good
strategist, but a puzzle for the character reader.
There are also
Frank MacDermot and James Dillon. Their economic policy is sound and they
appeal to the better educated and the middle classes. But they have one great
obstacle, and that is the anti-British rallying cry by their opponents and they
are accused of “playing England’s game.” However unjustified, this
accusation can do them untold harm and can block their path to power.
prophets in Dublin, therefore, are doubtful as to the Success of the United
Ireland Party and predict a move further to the Left rather than a return to the