Gareth Jones

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The Enigma of Ireland (iii). 
The Western Mail - November 8th, 1933


How Farmers have been Hit by Mr. de Valera’s Policy

By Gareth Jones

“Oh, I’ll have a new shirt,

A blue shirt, taboo shirt,

My anti-Ballyhoo shirt

Is 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.) 

Shortly after 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 greeted him. 

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. 

Catcalls 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 street.

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. 


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 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 bravely. 

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 Britain. 

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 breeding purposes. 

Mr. Hogan, 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 farmers. 

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. 


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. 

The leader, 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. 

Reckless and 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 want. 

This dashing 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 power.” 


“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 trade.” 

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. 

Political 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 Cosgrave Régime.













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