In 1918 it was nearly impossible to get the Catholic church, politicians, working class citizens, labor unions, suffragettes, Unionists, and Irish Nationalists to join together for anything. Ireland was still reeling and recovering from the Easter Rising of 1916, which most of these groups were still arguing over (as they are still doing today), but there was one proposal that unified them all – the Home Rule/Conscription law.
The English government had been ignoring the growing uproar in Ireland for centuries. When they martyred the leaders of the 1916 uprising and jailed thousands more, regular people were suddenly politicized activists. England destroyed Dublin to put down the rebels, and even those who had disagreed with the Rising were suddenly feeling quite rebellious themselves. Anti-English sentiment was growing all around the country and this became fury when England decided to enact conscription in Ireland.
The English tried to connect conscription to a current Home Rule bill making its way through Parliament. However, the thought of Home Rule had already infuriated Unionists and England’s attempt to connect it to the bill only riled up Nationalists as well. The uproar was immediate and it stretched across community divides, even if the reasons for the revolt were totally in opposition. Unionists didn’t have a problem with people joining the British Army, voluntarily or otherwise, but they would not abide by a Home Rule bill. Nationalists and Labor leaders for Home Rule or total independence were furious that conscription was tied to the bill and implemented strikes and protests against the proposal. Ireland was in chaos. Marches and protests began all over the country. Those who had stayed out of politics and had just been trying to live their lives, were suddenly fighting for them and Sinn Fein rode the anti-English wave to power.
The political party had been a progressive fringe group until the Easter Rising. Even though the party wasn’t directly involved in the conflict, the media insisted on labeling the men and women who fought in the Easter Rising as “Shinners”. Perhaps they hoped that by doing so, they’d dismiss the conflict and diminish the Nationalist party in one shot, but that didn’t happen. By 1918 Sinn Fein had emerged from the shadows and it quickly got involved in the fight against conscription. Its numbers and members continued to rise.
The Catholic church got involved as well and Bishops universally urged their flocks to strongly resist the law every way they could, excluding anything that went against God of course. Priests began to preach against Conscription from the altar. They quickly spread the word that on Sunday, April 21st, there would be anti-conscription pledges at the door of every church for the men of their congregations to sign. This pledge said “Denying the right of the British government to enforce compulsory service in this country, we pledge ourselves solemnly to one another to resist conscription by the most effective means at our disposal.” Thousands of men signed that pledge 98 years ago today, proving that England had badly underestimated the anger that conscription would cause and the change that it would bring to their ability to control or quell the Irish ‘problem’.
Technically the law passed, but due to the massive opposition against it and the changing tide in Ireland, it was not enforced. The upheaval it caused shook up Irish politics even more, giving Sinn Fein a rise to power and it was a major factor in the start of the Irish War of Independence a short time later.
Reblogged this on Bampots Utd.