The Rocky Road to Revolution
At the moment of personal victory Hyde felt as if he had driven a team of powerful and unruly horses across a finish line. Whether the carriage could hold together, whether he could hold the reins through another contest, was a matter of grave doubt. He himself was still convinced that he had found, through the "nonpolitical" emphasis on national being in the Gaelic League and its policy of deanglicization, a way of separating Ireland from England in the most effective way possible. Once that task was accomplished—once Ireland felt and thought and moved like a nation—there was every chance, he still believed, that the continuing pressure for Home Rule would be irresistible, and that Ireland would be able to achieve legislative independence on its own terms without the use of physical force. But the pressure for physical force was itself becoming irresistible, and he did not know how long he could hold out against it. It was not, as some charged, that he was opposed to the use of arms; there was a time in his life when he, too, had thought that the freedom of the nation could never be achieved through any other means. It might yet be so. What he had hoped, still hoped, to avoid was another blood sacrifice that would leave the country once more with its young men dead, in prison, or in exile; its people demoralized; and its future hostage to still another draconian Coercion Act.
For some time the question of just how far he could take the Gaelic League along the road to nationhood had been before him. So many things had been a matter of persuasion rather than control. Everyone
now talked in code: Was the league still nonpolitical? (That meant opposed to physical force.) Had it been, was it being politicized? (Inclining toward physical force.) Which of the people around him were political or nonpolitical? (For or against physical force.) How long would he himself maintain a nonpolitical stance? As a boy he and his brothers used to race a sailboat in Roscommon. Remembering those days, he had often thought of the league as a sleek and sturdy craft pointed into the wind, his trembling hand on the rudder, his unblinking eye fixed on the sail, in his heart the fear that the end of a ship was wreckage. If now he had changed his metaphor, it was because circumstances had changed.
What were those unruly horses that now threatened to destroy the league? For one thing there was the movement founded and promoted by Arthur Griffith. On Hyde's return from America in June 1906 the Thurles branch of the Gaelic Athletic Association had hailed him as Ireland's "uncrowned king"—but had taken the opportunity also to affirm their allegiance to Sinn Féin. Since 1906 the movement's influence on the league, the GAA, and other organizations had remained philosophically strong but politically diffuse. Mary Colum was later to describe the Dublin of the first decade of the twentieth century as a "Swiftian town" in which Sinn Féin was the champion of "Swiftian ideas." Hyde himself had regarded those ideas as positive in sentiment and potentially useful in "spurring . . . lazy, incompetent, useless parliamentarians into some kind of activity." Often he had been warned, however, by John Quinn and others, that among Sinn Féiners there were those who regarded the league as an organization sufficiently close to their own ideas as to warrant attempts to pull it further in their direction. Hyde and his supporters had resisted these attempts not because they disagreed with Sinn Féin but because a boycott of English goods and services was a political statement bordering on physical resistance that would be swiftly punished by the British, leaving its perpetrators languishing in British jails. His friend James Hannay had advised Hyde that there were natural limits to such resistance: "I take the Sinn Féin position to be the natural and inevitable development of the league principles," he had said, repeating words Hyde had heard from others. "They couldn't lead to anything else." Hannay saw Hyde with but two alternatives: to become a great Irish leader or to lapse "into the position of a John Dillon." Whichever way Hyde turned, he had predicted, "the movement you started will go on, whether you lead it or take the part of poor Frankenstein who created a monster he could not control."
A more recent faction within the league were the Larkinites. When the Liverpool labor leader, "Big Jim" Larkin, founder of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, had arrived on the Dublin scene in 1908, many leaguers, especially the poorer workers and those attracted by Larkin's socialist theories, had joined his movement. Again, Larkin's ideas were sufficiently compatible with Hyde's own philosophical ideals as to create no serious conflict. Yet the Larkinites worried Hyde more than the Sinn Féiners because their hostility toward people of wealth and position threatened to divide the country along socioeconomic lines. At the same time Hyde himself could not help but admire the "tall, black-haired, powerfully built man with a great resounding voice" when he assured enthusiastic crowds that "no power on earth could prevent Irish from being taught to their children if that was what was wanted."
And then there were the young men, intense and impatient, like Hyde's close friend Patrick Pearse. One of Hyde's ablest lieutenants, Pearse had resigned the editorship of An Claidheamh Soluis in October 1909 to devote himself, he said, full-time to St. Edna's School. But Hyde knew that he had been chafing under Hyde's insistence upon achieving nationhood through "nonpolitical" methods which had become too slow and uncertain for Pearse. Of Larkin, Pearse declared that he was "at least doing something ; he was making history." Hyde had countered with evidence that the league, too, had been making history, but without anyone being jailed or shot for it. It was not, Hyde knew, what Pearse and other young men wanted to hear, and he worried about the consequences of their impatience.
For the moment, however, the overriding problem was money. The last of the $55,000 that had been donated during his 1905–1906 tour of America was all but spent. Without funds nothing, active or passive, could be ventured or gained. Someone had to go back to America to seek support for another five-year plan. Fionan MacColuim was a loyal, hardworking, and efficient organizer. In August 1910 Hyde proposed that MacColuim and Father Michael Flanagan, a priest from Elphin and member of the Coiste Gnótha, be sent on a second money-raising tour. Plans were made to pay their expenses for approximately two years. Briefing MacColuim on how to get along with American reporters, Hyde had advised him not to distribute prepared statements but to anticipate questions and make himself available for interviews. As he had then decided not to go in August to the Celtic Congress being held in Brussels (any mention of the subject led to the usual row with Lucy
about the time he gave to league activities), he spent the month instead preparing the ground for his envoys, who were scheduled to arrive in New York in October. He drew from league files for MacColuim's use his list of contributors to his 1905–1906 campaign and sat down to compose what he privately called a "new American manifesto" (the actual title was "The Gaelic League in Ireland to the Irish People in America") to be distributed through Irish-American organizations in advance of their arrival. He alerted O'Daly to expect from him a circular letter to the Americans and asked him to speed it on its way.
Hyde began his American manifesto by assuring contributors that their donations of 1905–1906 had been well spent. It was their funds, he declared, that had made possible the campaign that had resulted in establishing Irish as a required subject in the National University. Without them Irish Ireland would not now be at "the climax and highest point" to which "it had yet risen." The truly Irish National University that had been blueprinted by this achievement would revolutionize "the entire intellectual outlook of Ireland." Until the founding of the Gaelic League, that outlook had been "imitation-English." Henceforth, thanks to American generosity and concern, it would be genuinely Irish. A fair and honest statement, it lacked the urgency of a specific attainable goal. There was little in it to stimulate the imagination, stir the heart—or open the pocketbook.
Fionan MacColuim arrived in New York on October 1, 1910. He set up an office on Madison Avenue and issued an appeal signed by members of the same committee that had backed Hyde in 1905–1906, including John Quinn. Quinn had agreed to allow the use of his name and even to pledge $250 to the new drive on condition that he not be asked for active assistance. Hyde did what he could to direct and advise MacColuim through letters and cables from Ireland. In December he mailed Christmas cards and a personal request for donations to 750 American supporters of his 1905–1906 tour.
From the start, however, things did not go well for MacColuim and Flanagan. Hyde's manifesto did not evoke the expected response. MacColuim was overwhelmed by America's immense size and the difficulties he foresaw in trying to cover it with only two men. The campaign of 1905–1906 had had distinct advantages. Hyde had arrived in the United States as a man of some achievement, with a name already known to most of the people he approached for funds. Many of them had been reading his revolutionary poetry and prose in Irish-American newspapers for a quarter century. They had welcomed him as a founder
of the Gaelic League, its president since 1893, and the author of its policy of deanglicization. The rich regarded him as urbane, well-educated, well-connected, charming. To the general population he was jolly, irreverent, unaffected, friendly. Neither MacColuim nor Flanagan had a reputation like Hyde's on which to draw, nor did they have his savoir faire . Hardworking, dependable, intelligent men who relaxed with a glass, a dance, a song, a story, they worked for the Gaelic League because they had a deep respect and love for Gaelic Ireland. Added to their difficulties, as MacColuim complained to Hyde, were the political uncertainties and "rotten financial condition" of the United States at the beginning of the second decade of the twentieth century.
By October 1911 it was evident that results of the MacColuim-Flanagan fund-raising tour would be at best mixed. To Hyde, MacColuim expressed hope that the outlook might change after the election of a new American president, but the next United States presidential election was still a year away. When the totals were calculated at the beginning of December, it turned out that between October 1910 and December 1911, MacColuim and Flanagan had grossed only slightly more than $14,000–$41,000 less than Hyde had netted in seven months in 1905–1906. Moreover, meetings planned for the spring of 1912 in Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Paul, and Minneapolis had had to be canceled, so there was a serious question about how much more there was to come.
Hyde had foreseen the possibility of just such a situation when, several months earlier, Shane Leslie, a self-appointed, self-financed Celtic ambassador, had come to him with the offer that he would "roam America" on behalf of the league, pleading for dollars. Hyde accepted: he was at that point ready to enlist help from almost any quarter, even a Cambridge dandy from county Monaghan who wore a saffron kilt. "Cuchullain-og," as Leslie was known in Dublin (the ironic reference was to the hero of the Táin Bó Cuailnge , ancient Ireland's national epic), had startled and amused county Monaghan in 1906 with a campaign to spread the wearing of the kilt throughout Ireland. In that same year he had joined the Gaelic League. In 1911, with Hyde's blessing, he sailed for America to join the collection campaign.
Leslie was not received warmly by Hyde's American friends, least of all by John Quinn. He was, to be sure, a bit of a character, as Hyde had acknowledged—an amateur Irish Irelander. But recalling Quinn's 1905–1906 complaints of Concannon's "peasant" mentality and behavior, Hyde believed that Leslie actually might be more successful in
obtaining contributions from rich Americans. He had, after all, qualities Concannon lacked that Quinn had declared essential, including an aristocratic cachet and, through the Churchills, good family connections. As for his eccentricities, Americans, Hyde thought, might find them simply amusing.
John Quinn was an American who was definitely not amused. In letters to Hyde and Lady Gregory (she was then in America with the touring company of the Abbey) John Quinn wrote scathingly of Leslie's ridiculous appearance and preposterous behavior. He was certain, he declared, that Leslie would have no success raising funds for the league; he suspected that many Irish Americans would find him embarrassing. Quinn himself was embarrassed by some of the things that Leslie had said to American audiences and newspaper reporters. He suggested strongly that Hyde attempt to make amends. In response to Quinn's criticism, Hyde instructed Leslie on how to handle himself with the press. Leslie readily admitted that he had found reporters intimidating. "They are out for fun and misrepresentation as surely as I am out for dollars," Leslie complained. Hyde also supplied Leslie with points to make for the "practical people" who liked to know how their money was spent and advised him to visit and thank personally the Americans identified by MacColuim and Flanagan as their largest contributors. This was a task he could not leave to MacColuim—not after MacColuim had treated American audiences to his one-man song-dance-and-story show (mostly in Irish, which few understood) that reduced to laughter those whom it was supposed to move to tears. He therefore wrote encouragingly, expressing solicitous concern for Leslie's constantly sore throat, assuring him that he well remembered his own. What he hoped was that Leslie's good-natured charm and ready smile might induce some of the wealthier contributors to become permanent subscribers to the league.
As Quinn had predicted, Leslie's Gaeilgeoir (Gaelic-enthusiast) style was counterproductive. His timing, moreover, through no fault of his own, was unfortunate. In New York, where he had hoped to have his best audiences, news coverage of his appeal on behalf of the league and interviews to which he had given particular attention were crowded out by newspaper accounts of the December 1911 Playboy riots. Picked up by the national press, the Playboy protests were reported in other cities as well. Fearing their effect, Leslie postponed meetings in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. "I will get you the money, Creveen,
never fear, but at the cost of a sick heart," he declared melodramatically. "The Playboy has proved a sickening piece of bad luck for me."
The Playboy was even worse luck for Douglas Hyde, whose response to the riots was soon revealed as one of the most serious missteps of his career. It was he himself who, by his indiscretion, did the most damage to the league's campaign, brought his own judgment into serious question, nearly alienated Lady Gregory, and so infuriated John Quinn that their frequent, friendly correspondence cooled significantly.
In New York the traveling company of Lady Gregory's Abbey Theatre was appearing nightly in Synge's Playboy of the Western World . According to some newspapers, every evening the crowds were howling down the actors, interrupting their performance; outraged members of the audience were proclaiming that the play was an insult to Ireland, to Irish family life, and to Irish womanhood. According to Quinn, however, Playboy had as many supporters as detractors, and not all the newspaper coverage was bad by any estimation. Supporting his opinion was the fact that on December 3 the New York Times printed a long interview with Lady Gregory conducted backstage at the Maxine Elliott Theater. In the course of this interview, as she often did, Lady Gregory paid generous tribute to Hyde and the league for reviving the language and thus "sending writers back to the life of the country itself." John Devoy, publisher of the Gaelic American and chief conduit of American funds, interpreted Lady Gregory's statement to mean that the Gaelic League endorsed Playboy in particular and the Abbey Theatre in general. He threatened to abandon the Gaelic League unless Hyde published an immediate and official denial that the plays of the Abbey Theatre had been inspired in any way by the Gaelic League. In a panic, Father Flanagan sent Hyde an urgent request for a cable dissociating the league from the Abbey. "I am convinced," wrote Flanagan, in a letter explaining his sense of the situation, that unless such a cable is sent, "the Gaelic League must begin all over again in America and look for new friends in a most unpromising field."
Meanwhile Hyde, who had received similar threats from Clan na Gael, already had cabled Devoy not once but twice (the first cable, Devoy complained, was not strong enough). At the time these cables were sent Hyde knew nothing of Lady Gregory's interview, for it had not yet been published. By the time they arrived, however, they seemed to come in response to the furor over Lady Gregory's statement. That he had repudiated the Abbey Theatre was bad enough. That he ap-
peared to have repudiated also Lady Gregory added insult to injury. "Furious and disgusted" with Hyde, as he privately told Lady Gregory, John Quinn maintained a tight-lipped silence, knowing that almost anything said or written even confidentially could, if leaked indiscreetly, only make matters worse. Lady Gregory's concern was less for the effect of the blow on the reputation of the Abbey than for the feelings of the Abbey players who, faced with Irish-American invective across the footlights and the league's betrayal at home, were thoroughly demoralized. To Hyde she wrote only, "Oh, Craoibhin, what are these wounds with which we are wounded in the house of our friends?" His lame response—that he never intended to harm the Abbey but had felt forced to send the damaging cables because of the threats he had received from New York—did little to make amends. Nor did his cables reverse the already disappointing shortfall in contributions to the league's faltering fund-raising drive of 1910–1912.
Hyde could do nothing for the time being but hope that eventually his relations with Lady Gregory, Yeats, and all the others whose efforts centered on the Abbey could be repaired. He was not yet aware of just how seriously his foolish move had damaged his friendship with Quinn, for apparently he did not know that Quinn and Lady Gregory were then engaged in a passionate love affair. He realized that he had to do something to avert financial disaster for the league, but for the moment he did not know where to turn. Meanwhile, in addition to his new duties at University College, Dublin, where at long last, as professor of Modern Irish, he had the position he so long had been denied, demanding his attention were major changes in England that had implications for the future of Ireland and therefore the Gaelic League.
For several years the solidly entrenched Liberal government that had come to power in 1906 had been feuding with the House of Lords, which had the power to veto any bill passed by Parliament. In 1909 the Lords' veto of the budget precipitated a crisis that resulted in two parliamentary elections in 1910, neither of which produced the majority needed by the prime minister, Lord Asquith, to conduct the business of government. Asquith's problem was complicated by the fact that if he did not maintain the program for which Liberals had voted, he faced certain defeat from rising Tory strength; if he did follow the agenda promised the voters, he faced a veto in Lords. His solution to the dilemma was to propose a bill that would remove the threat of a Lords veto. Called the Parliament Act, it provided for an act of Parliament to become law despite a veto from Lords if it passed Commons three times
without revision. The only problem was that to secure passage of such a bill Asquith needed additional support. He turned to John Redmond for help, placing the Irish party for the first time since 1886 in a position to bargain for Home Rule. After several false starts the critical measure concerning the Lords' veto was passed in 1911; as Asquith had promised, a third and ultimately successful Home Rule Bill was introduced in 1912.
This was the moment for which Hyde had been waiting. He could now unleash his "political" feelings by degrees, to stir public opinion in favor of the bill. He began slowly, gradually strengthening his statements in favor of physical force as the bill progressed through the parliamentary process. In June of 1911 he had participated in a debate with Pearse at St. Edna's College on methods of achieving nationhood. Pearse had told the boys of St. Edna's that if Home Rule came as expected within the next few years, they would have a part in directing Irish affairs. If Home Rule did not come, he had declared ominously, they would have to use force to attain independence. Hyde did not contradict Pearse but cautioned against impatience, as Home Rule now seemed assured. The sword must not be used unless there was no alternative, he warned, and even then, only if they could muster the strength necessary to assure victory. By May of 1912 he had moved closer to Pearse's position. In a speech at Mullingar, Hyde roared to an enthusiastic crowd, "You will be living in a fool's paradise if you keep waiting for the spirit of imperialism to fuel the office of patriotism and to fire you with pride of race and country and energy of action ." In November 1912, in Castlebar, he proclaimed, "The breath of freedom is in the air. The man without love of race and pride of country is a poor specimen." During the same month, referring to the September signing, in Belfast Cathedral, of the "Solemn League and Covenant" to defeat Home Rule and to the establishment by Sir Edward Carson and others of the "Provisional Government of Ulster," he told the Gaelic Society of Trinity College that Ireland suffered "no religious hatred now except in one province only." For the moment he took no public notice of a simultaneous third threat from the Carsonites, the raising of a private Ulster army, the Ulster Volunteers.
Between December 1911 and December 1912 the league's budget crisis grew steadily worse. There was now work to be done and the spirit with which to do it, but no funds. In a personal plea to Judge Keogh in New York, written January 26, 1913, and printed and dispatched to other key Irish-American figures, Hyde described plans to
increase the number of traveling league teachers from 100 to 300, set $100,000 as the sum needed, and avowed that he would raise $3 in Ireland for every $1 sent from America. The $5,000 Keogh had sent him in June 1912, he explained, had been spent in part for salaries ($360 per year) for fifty teachers of Irish in the poorer parts of the country, especially the Irish-speaking districts of the west where each teacher covered 100 square miles on bicycle to reach the schools and branches of the league. These teachers, he told Keogh, using the militaristic analogies he always applied to the work of the league, were "the soldiers of the Irish Revival Movement."
John Quinn was among those to whom Hyde sent a copy of his letter to Keogh. The answer he received was not what he had anticipated but the blunt and angry words Quinn had not written in December 1911. Quinn had withheld comment on Hyde's part in the Playboy affair, he explained, because his trio of envoys was still seeking funds in America. But now he told Hyde that he had no stomach for Irish matters since the "filth and lies of the Playboy episode." Making no direct reference to Hyde's part except by implication, he wrote, "I never saw a man stoop to such meanness as Devoy did. . . . The whole episode was pitiful and nauseating." The Gaelic League, he declared, had been hurt by attacking the Abbey, for the company had had "the sympathy of cultivated people in this town." "It mystified some people here, was not understood by others, and gave the ordinary man the impression that the Gaelic League was on the side of the rioters."
Between 1912 and 1913, while the Home Rule bill continued to pick up support throughout Ireland and Hyde tried to restore the flagging fortunes of the Gaelic League, labor trouble was brewing in Dublin and preparations for armed defense against violence threatened by the Ulster Volunteers were becoming increasingly visible. Meanwhile Arthur Griffith made a concentrated attack on Hyde in the form of a personal letter published in Sinn Féin in early July. Point by point, Hyde defended his record in a lengthy letter to Griffith which appeared in Sinn Féin on July 26, 1913. For a time it silenced Griffith, but Hyde had no illusion that his rebuttal would be either final or lasting. Certainly, bitternesses and dissension still characterized the Coiste Gnótha. The Kelly/Freeman controversy had gradually died down only to be replaced by new rumors and charges. In another 1913 crisis Hyde was assailed for the league's failure to protest the printing of Insurance Stamps (under the National Insurance Act of 1911) in English rather than Irish. At that point he decided that he had had enough. In a long
speech to the Coiste Gnótha sent to all branches, he blamed the incident on the fact that his heart was no longer in his work. His conclusion sent shock waves through the entire organization: "I therefore now leave this chair which I have occupied for twenty years and put myself under the protection of the Coiste Gnótha and the country. Goodbye." He was returned to the chair by acclamation, but he suspected that it would not be long before he would have to take the step again, the next time perhaps for good. The league, he confided to close friends, had begun to lose its charm for him when it became powerful and therefore worth capturing and exploiting. There were those, "notoriously Griffith," who had "set about to do" just that.
In August 1913 labor problems erupted in a sequence of violence and vicious retaliation that nearly paralyzed working Dublin through fall and winter and into the early spring of 1914. The violence led to the development of an Irish Transport and General Workers' Union "army" consisting of squads of workmen armed with hurling sticks assigned to protect members attending strike meetings; these squads became the basis of the Citizen Army. In November 1913, in response to growing threats from the Ulster Volunteers, a meeting held in the Rotunda resulted in the formation of the Irish Volunteers under the leadership of John MacNeill. Word spread of new recruits joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood. By the spring of 1914 military drills had become a regular feature of Irish life, reported and photographed for the newspapers, and often reviewed by Hyde and other public figures. Speaking in March 1914 at two such events at Lanesborough and Longford, Hyde proclaimed,
Our duty is to be prepared to take the field as one man against any enemy tyrant or oppressor from whatever quarter of the globe he may appear. A country which is not prepared to make some sacrifice for its freedom at a moment like this is unworthy of that freedom—and mark my words, will never attain it.
Addressing Volunteers at Bray and Balbriggan on July 5, Hyde hailed "a wonderful national awakening, a marvelous resurgence of nationality." "I make bold," he declared, "to say that the way of the Volunteers has been made easier by the doctrines preached by the Gaelic League." Even if "the still small voice of culture is silenced amid the clash of arms and din of warlike preparations, it will assert itself later on. It cannot be silenced." Only July 12 Hyde reviewed 4,000 Volunteers at Castlebellingham. On July 30, addressing Volunteers at drill on the Earl of Kenmare's demesne in the company of the kilted Lord
Ashbourne, Hyde avowed, "We will put the guns in the hands of our soldiers, please God, and when they fire the noise will be felt from the hills of Ireland and the seashores." In early August, addressing a meeting of the Gaelic League in Killarney, he argued that if Ulster Volunteers were permitted to drill with arms, so should the same permission be given to the Irish Volunteers. No one mentioned England. Anticipating smooth passage of the Home Rule Bill, no one seemed to think there was any reason why they should. The problem, if any, everyone agreed, would come from Ulster. When the Great War broke out in August 1914 and Redmond in September pledged the service of the Irish Volunteers wherever England might need them, Sinn Féiners and Gaelic Leaguers committed to physical force against Britain split with the Redmondites.
Hyde had been correct in anticipating, in 1913, that he would soon have no choice but to offer his resignation again, but he scarcely could have predicted the reasons. What changed everything for Hyde and those with whom he had worked since 1893 was no petty sniping from within but the guns of August 1914. The final stages in the process of peaceful attainment of legislative independence, so long awaited, so recently assured, were postponed indefinitely—most thought forever—by Britain's involvement in the conflict that became World War I. Angry and frustrated at having their nationhood snatched from them on the eve of victory, many refused to accept the British pronouncement. "England's disadvantage is Ireland's opportunity," they cried, urging a call to arms. Others, especially those who had suffered through the fall of Parnell, were simply too dispirited to protest. Certain that the war would not last more than a few months, Hyde tried to hold the center by preaching patience on the one hand, preparedness on the other, and reminding all of the folly of futile and fatal action.
Meanwhile there was, as always, another league crisis over money. In 1914–1915 a second deputation had been sent off to America in the hope of obtaining sufficient funds to cover operating expenses for a year or two. Diarmuid Lynch, a Gaelic Leaguer from county Cork who had previously been president of the Gaelic League in New York State, and Thomas Ashe, a native of Dingle, had gone to New York in February 1914. They in turn had been followed by Fionan MacColuim, Nellie O'Brien, and Eithne O'Kelly, who had had the fresh idea of using a traveling exhibition to promote Irish industries and art. Again, the effort proved disappointing. Total league expenses for March 1, 1914, to January 31, 1915, had run to £3,600, while receipts for the same
period had been only £3,400. As the cost of sending the delegation had come to over £600, a £1,000 advance from American sources had barely prevented a league deficit. The Irish products delegation, which had exhibited in many of the cities Hyde had visited in 1905–1906, reported gross contributions of £1,500.
In the spring of 1915 Hyde called Nellie O'Brien and Fionan MacColuim home from America. He warned them that the league needed careful steering at present, especially as it seemed likely that O'Daly might resign from his post as secretary. Quickly arranging passage, they prepared a last appeal to the American Irish for St. Patrick's Day, 1915. Their message: "$300 will keep one man on the wheel for a year, circulating and teaching Irish language and history and Irish songs and dances." Awaiting their return in the middle of the deteriorating world situation during that unhappy spring, Hyde received a pathetic call for help from Julius Pokorny, a German Celticist. Pokorny had not known that his maternal grandfather was Jewish. An anti-Semitic purge had resulted in his suspension from the university. There was disturbing news also about Kuno Meyer, who had founded the School of Irish Learning in Dublin in 1903 and had been the first editor of its journal, Eríu . Since the outbreak of the war he had become publicly and vehemently pro-German, creating an uproar that led both Dublin and Cork to rescind the Freedom of the City awarded him in 1911 and 1912. Hardest to bear were the daily casualty lists that announced the deaths of sons of many of Hyde's Connacht friends, boys Hyde remembered as children playing in the endless summer twilight beneath the trees that lined the long avenues leading to their gracious homes. As they grew older sometimes he had joined them in informal cricket games when they were home on their holidays from Trinity, Oxford, and Cambridge. Now in the spring of 1915, one by one they paid their final dues, loyal members of a vanishing class. To John Quinn, Hyde wrote:
Nearly everyone I know in the army has been killed. Poor young Lord de Freyne and his brother were shot the same day and buried in one grave. The MacDermot of Coolavin, my nearest neighbor, has had his eldest son shot dead in the Dardanelles. All the gentry have suffered. Noblesse oblige . They have behaved magnificently.
From Georges Dottin at the University of Rennes, Hyde received news that there, too, sons of scholar-friends had been summoned to the killing fields of the western front.
In the months leading up to the league's ard-fheis in August 1915,
Hyde tried to check the separatists with speeches that pleaded with them to eschew violence until the time was right and to avoid any armed confrontation with the formidable British military machine until they were better prepared. He offered no apologies for the fact that, despite his own increasingly political rhetoric, he continued to insist that the league remain nonpolitical. Challenged to "go political" with the league, he argued eloquently that most branches were run by officers and secretaries, National School teachers, and customs and excise officers—Irish women and men filled with national feeling who were precluded from taking any part in political activity. For them the league provided an acceptable outlet for their energies.
On St. Patrick's Day, 1915, Moore and Hyde addressed a crowd of over three thousand people in Dundalk's Market Square. Moore, who had retired to the sidelines until he received Hyde's summons, told the crowd that he had come back to the league only to find it "deserted by its bravest and best." The Galway branch was "withered, killed by these wise young men, these know-alls of Irish politics, who have reduced to impotency and almost bankruptcy, the Gaelic League." In mid-May the Weekly Freeman reported that Hyde had spoken in Wexford before "an enormous concourse of people." "To be a nation," he told them, "they should have the marks of a nation." Reasserting his belief in the place of the Gaelic League, he declared that it "stands for no party, but for all Ireland."
Self-evident to anyone intimately acquainted with league affairs was what Hyde did not explain: that the league's nonpolitical stance had won and held the support of hundreds of younger clergy and their bishops while successfully warding off such clerical imperialists as Father Patrick Dinneen; that by keeping national politics out of the league he had secured the support of Redmond and his Parliamentary party at a critical juncture during the fight to establish mandatory Irish in the university; that he had written endless letters, mediated quarrels without number, smiled when he was seething inside, and balanced, juggled, temporized, and conciliated to the point of exhaustion. Nor were his struggles over.
Pearse Beasley was among those who did not agree. On June 12, 1915, he published "The Gaelic League—Wanted, a Policy" in which he insisted that the league must stop "marking time." Hyde did not mind: the issue had been debated again and again. He stood on his record of twenty-two years. But did he want to continue the debate? Was it indeed worth arguing, with Home Rule assured as soon as the
war was over? Did he want to try to hold together the existing coalition of disparate factions until then? Did he want to face again the prospect of bringing back the league from the brink of bankruptcy? He was half-way to his fifty-sixth birthday. He felt old and tired. Even since the league was considered newsworthy, letters criticizing him had appeared regularly in the Dublin press. Just a few days before, he had been attacked in the Irish Times for being "a dreamer, a man who lives and moves in a world that is not the real world." It would be strange to pick up the paper and not be able to find out what he had been doing wrong. The prospect had an unmistakable appeal.
A few weeks before Hyde went to Dundalk for the ard-fheis of 1915, he made his decision. He would resign the presidency rather than preside over a league in which he could not believe. He would not resign his membership, of course; that was not necessary. But as it now appeared that those who wanted activist planks in the league's program were in the majority, they could have the chair. On August 1, in a much-publicized ceremony in Glasnevin Cemetery, O'Donovan Rossa, that fierce Fenian celebrated in the Irish poems of the young Hyde, was eulogized by Patrick Pearse. Rossa, whom Hyde had visited in New York, first in 1891 and again in 1905–1906, had died in America after a long illness. His body had been brought to Ireland for burial. As Ruth Dudley Edwards, Pearse's biographer, explains, the funeral, attended by hundreds of thousands, was calculated by its organizers to arouse the passions of activist Ireland. Instructing Pearse on the content of his oration, Thomas Clarke had told him, "Make it as hot as hell, throw all discretion to the winds." Pearse responded with a panegyric that left the crowds sobbing and cheering. Its peroration—
They think they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have pacified half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but the fools, the fools, the fools!—they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace—
echoed all the way to Dundalk where the twenty-second ard-fheis of the Gaelic League was about to begin.
Fairly certain that he would be returning on the afternoon train, Hyde packed only a light bag in preparation for the meeting. He too had prepared a script. He already had told Colonel Moore that if the votes favored an activist motion, he would gather up his papers, vacate the chair, and walk out of the ard-fheis . After the usual housecleaning
motions had passed and minor disputes had been settled, the resolution for which Hyde had been waiting was read. It came in the form of a motion from Pádraig Ó Maille; it called for adding to the league's objectives that of working to free Ireland from foreign rule. This was the one Hyde could not accept, not because he did not want Ireland free from foreign rule but because such a motion made the Gaelic League a political party. He began to collect his papers. Colonel Moore, hoping to avoid the inevitable, suggested substituting the single word "free" for "free from foreign rule." From the chair Hyde countered that the statement remained political. It was as he thought: Ó Maille's resolution passed by a large majority. Next on the agenda were elections to the Coiste Gnótha. Hyde wrote a note addressed to Pádraig O'Daly, to be read out the next day when the time came for choosing a president, declining the honor of reelection on the grounds of health.
On August 2, 1915, with Hyde's chair already empty before them, O'Daly read Hyde's letter of resignation. At first there was silence, then after some minutes, an all-around murmur. No proposal of any kind was advanced. The meeting was adjourned for two hours. When the meeting again came to order, the question of the presidency was raised. Several resolutions thanking Hyde for his service were read into the record. John MacNeill took the chair. He advised keeping the presidency vacant on the chance that Hyde might be persuaded to return if the league provided him with a private secretary. Pádraig O'Daly submitted his resignation. Sean T. O'Kelly was elected to O'Daly's post. For a number of days accounts of the Dundalk meeting passed from branch to branch, with everyone adding something about what someone had said or how someone had looked when Hyde's resignation was read. Even Hyde's enemies recognized that they were witnessing the end of an era.
As for Hyde himself, he wrote in his diary, "I got my baggage from the hotel without anyone noticing it, got into the hotel bus, and . . . to the train and was soon on my way to Dublin with a lighter heart than I had known for years."