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´╗┐Title: Ireland and Poland - A Comparison
Author: Rolleston, T. W. (Thomas William), 1857-1920
Language: English
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The United Kingdom is composed of four distinct nationalities. Each of
these has retained its own distinct character, its own national history,
its own patriotism and self-respect. Their affairs, great and small,
general or local, are administered by one Parliament in which each is
fully represented. A large majority of the Irish people have, however,
asked that in addition to some representation in the united Parliament
they shall be granted a local Parliament for the management of their own
internal affairs. The fact that this demand, which has an important
imperial as well as local bearing, has not yet been complied with has
constantly been used by the enemies of the Entente Powers to represent
as false and hypocritical the claims of those Powers to be regarded as
the champions of the rights of small nationalities; and the case of
Ireland has been compared with that of Prussian Poland, as though the
peoples of these two countries were suffering the same kind of
oppression, the same injustice, the same denial of the right of every
man to live and prosper in his own land on equal terms with his
fellow-citizens in every other part of the realm.

The best answer to this charge is to tell plainly, without contention or
exaggeration, what the united Parliament has done for Ireland since the
beginning of the period of reform nearly fifty years ago. That is what
is here attempted, so far as it can be done in a few pages. It must be
fully understood that on the Home Rule question the present statement
has no bearing whatever. That difficult problem lies in an altogether
different sphere of politics, and must he judged by considerations which
cannot be touched on here. Without, however, trenching in any degree on
controversial ground, it may be pointed out that the crucial difficulty
of the Home Rule question lies, and has always lain, in the fact that in
Ireland a substantial and important minority amounting to about 25 per
cent. of the population, and differing from the rest of the country in
religion, national traditions, and economic development, has hitherto
been resolutely opposed to passing from the immediate government of the
imperial Parliament to that of any other body. This minority being, for
the most part, grouped together in the North-east counties, the late
Government attempted to solve the difficulty by offering immediate Home
Rule to that section of Ireland which desires it, while leaving the
remainder as it is until Parliament should otherwise decree. This
proposal was rejected by the general opinion of Nationalist Ireland,
which was firmly opposed to the partition of the country for any
indefinite period. The question, therefore, remains for the present in
suspense, until a solution can be found which will not only ensure the
integrity and security of the Empire but reconcile the conflicting
desires and interests of Irishmen themselves.

Ireland Fifty Years Ago

So much to clear the ground in regard to the Home Rule controversy. I
shall now ask the reader to glance for a moment at the condition of
Ireland fifty years ago. At that time almost the whole agricultural
population were in the position of tenants-at-will, with no security
either against increased rents or arbitrary eviction. The housing of the
rural population, and especially of the agricultural labourers, was
wretched in the extreme. Local taxation and administration were wholly
in the hands of Grand Juries, bodies appointed by the Crown from among
the country gentlemen in each district. Irish Roman Catholics were
without any system of University education comparable to that which
Protestants had enjoyed for three hundred years in the University of
Dublin. A Church which, whatever its historic claims may have been,
numbered only about 12 per cent. of the population was established by
law and supported by tithes levied on the whole country. Technical
education was inaccessible to the great bulk of the nation; and in no
department of public education, of any grade or by whomsoever
administered, was any attention paid to Irish history, the Irish
language, Irish literature, or any subject which might lead young
Irishmen to a better knowledge and understanding of the special problems
of their country and its special claims to the love and respect of its

That was the Ireland of fifty years ago. It is an Ireland which at the
present day lives only on the lips of anti-British orators and
journalists. It is an Ireland as dead as the France of Louis XIV. Of the
abuses and disabilities just recounted not one survives to-day. The
measures by which they have been removed place to the credit of the
United Kingdom a record of reform the details of which, for the benefit
of friends or foes, may be here very briefly set down.

Religious Equality

In 1869 the Protestant Episcopal Church was disestablished and
disendowed, and is now--many Churchmen believe to its great spiritual
advantage--on the same level as regards its means of support as every
other denomination in Ireland. It may be mentioned that the Roman
Catholic Church in Ireland was long in the enjoyment of a State subsidy
for the education of its clergy, a subsidy commuted in 1869 for a
capital sum of 370,000 pounds.

Land Reform

As comparisons have been drawn between the systems of government in
Ireland and in Poland, let us consider for a moment the condition of the
Polish rural population under German rule. It must be noted that the
recent promises of Polish autonomy made by Germany--obviously for
military and temporary reasons--refer only to those portions of Polish
territory held by other States. No change is to be made in the position
of Prussian Poland. Here, for many years, it has been, and still is, the
avowed object of the Prussian Government either to extirpate or forcibly
Teutonise this Slavonic population, and to replant the country with
German colonists. The German Chancellor in 1900, Prince von Buelow,
defended this anti-Polish policy in the cynical saying that "rabbits
breed faster than hares," and the meaner animal, the Pole, must
therefore be drastically kept down in favour of the German. Between 1886
and 1906 the Prussian Government was spending over a million sterling a
year in buying out Polish landowners, great and small, and planting
Germans in their stead. The measure proved futile; the "rabbits" still
multiplied, for the Poles bought land from German owners faster than the
Government did from them. In 1904, in order to check the development of
Polish agriculture and land-settlement, the Government took the extreme
step of forbidding Poles to build new farmhouses without a licence. A
still more oppressive measure came in 1908, when, in clear defiance of
the German Constitution, the Prussian Government actually took powers
and were voted funds--from taxation paid by Poles and Germans alike--for
the compulsory expropriation of Polish owners against whom nothing
whatever could be alleged except their non-German nationality. These
powers have been put into operation, and every Pole in Prussia now holds
his patrimony on his own soil on the sufferance of a Government which
regards his very existence as a nuisance, because he occupies a place
which a German might otherwise fill.

During precisely the same period the British Government in Ireland has
been bending the wealth and credit of the United Kingdom to objects
precisely the reverse. Ireland, owing to the wars and confiscations of
the seventeenth century, had come to have a land-owning aristocracy
mainly of English descent with a Celtic peasantry holding their farms as
yearly tenants. The object of British land-legislation has been to
expropriate the landlords, so far as their tenanted land is concerned,
and to establish the Irish peasant, as absolute owner of the land he
tills. The Irish tenant is now subject only to rents fixed by law; he
can at any time sell the interest in his farm, which he has, therefore,
a direct interest in improving; he is also assisted by a great scheme of
land-purchase to become owner of his land on paying the price by
terminable instalments, which are usually some 20 per cent. less than
the amount he formerly paid as rent. Under this scheme about two-thirds
of the Irish tenantry have already become owners of their farms, while
the remainder enjoy a tenure which is almost as easy and secure as
ownership itself. It is not surprising, then, that a German economist
who has made a special study of this subject should declare that "the
Irish tenants have had conditions assured to them more favourable than
any other tenantry in the world enjoy"; adding the dry comment that in
Ireland the "magic of property" appears to consist in the fact that it
is cheaper to acquire it than not.[*] That magic has been worked for
Ireland by the British Legislature and by British credit. As in Prussia,
compulsory powers (limited by certain conditions and to certain
districts) stand behind the schemes of the Government; but the
compulsion is exercised not against the Irishman in favour of the
English settler, but against the (usually) English landlord in favour of
the Irish tenant. The State is now pledged to about 130,000,000 pounds
for the furtherance of this scheme, the instalments and sinking fund to
the amount of about 5,000,000 pounds a year being paid with exemplary
regularity by the farmers who have taken advantage of it.

[Footnote *: Professor M. Bonn, of Munich University. "Modern Ireland
and her Agrarian Problem," pp. 151, 162, translated from "Die irische
Agrarfrage." _Archiv fuer Sozialwissenschaft_; Mohr, Tuebingen.]

The Congested Districts Board

In the poorer and more backward regions of the West it has been felt
that the above measures are not enough, and a special agency has been
constituted with very wide powers to help the Western farmer, and not
only the farmer, but the fisherman, the weaver, or anyone pursuing a
productive occupation there, to make the most of his resources and to
develop his industry in the best possible way. This Board commands a
statutory endowment of 231,000 pounds a year. A system of light railways
which now covers these remote districts has given new and valuable
facilities for the marketing of fish and every kind of produce.

The various Boards and other agencies by which these measures are
carried into execution are manned almost exclusively by Irishmen.

The Agricultural Labourer

There is a world of difference between the present lot of the Irish
agricultural labourer and his condition in 1883, when reform in this
department was first taken in hand. Cottages can now be provided by the
Rural District Councils and let at nominal rents. Nearly nine millions
sterling have been voted for this purpose at low interest, with sinking
fund, and up to the present date 47,000 cottages have been built, each
with its plot of land, while several thousand more are sanctioned.

Of the results of the Labourers' Act a recent observer writes:

    "The Irish agricultural labourer can now obtain a cottage with three
    rooms, a piggery, and garden allotment of an acre or half an acre,
    and for this he is charged a rent of one to two shillings a week ...
    These cottages by the wayside give a hopeful aspect to the country
    ... flowers are before the doors of the new cottages and creepers
    upon the walls. The labourer can keep pigs, poultry, and a goat, and
    grow his potatoes and vegetables in his garden allotment."[*]

[Footnote *: Padraic Colum: "My Irish Year," pp. 18, 19.]

Local Government

In 1898 a Local Government Bill was passed for Ireland which placed the
administration of the poor law and other local affairs for rural
districts on the same footing as in England. The rule of the Grand
Juries, which had lasted for two and a half centuries, and which had, on
the whole, carried on local affairs with credit and success, was now
entirely swept away, and elected bodies were placed in full control of
local taxation, administration, and patronage. In the case of the larger
towns free municipal institutions had already existed for some sixty
years. In these the franchise was now reduced, and is wide enough both
in town and country to admit every class of the population. Since 1899
the new elective bodies have had important duties to fulfil in regard to
the development of agriculture and technical instruction.

The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction

This new Irish Department of State grew out of a demand formulated after
long inquiry and discussion by a voluntary Irish committee representing
both Unionist and Nationalist opinion. It was established in 1899, and
now commands the large endowment of 197,000 pounds a year, with a
capital sum of over 200,000 pounds. The annual endowment is clear of all
charges for offices and staff, which are on the Civil Service Estimates.
Its head is a Minister responsible to Parliament, but associated with
him are Boards of Agriculture and Technical Instruction, two-thirds of
which are elected respectively by County and Borough Councils. Without
their concurrence no expenditure can be undertaken, and local work is
largely carried on through committees appointed by these Councils. The
people at large are therefore intimately and responsibly associated with
the work of the Department, the annual meetings of which form a kind of
industrial Parliament, where the whole economic organisation of Ireland
can be reviewed, debated, and developed. The Department works by
teaching, by inquiry, by experiment, and has an immense field of
activity in dealing with cattle diseases, the improvement of stock, the
control of creameries, the marketing of produce, etc. It has also
brought facilities for technical instruction into every important centre
of population.

University Education

This important question was settled in 1908 by the foundation of a new
University, the "National University," with its central authority in
Dublin and colleges in Dublin (the old Catholic University of which
Cardinal Newman was rector), in Cork, and in Galway. The University is
open to all creeds, and may not impose religious tests upon its
students, but its government is mainly in the hands of the Roman
Catholic hierarchy, and it is accepted as a fair settlement of the
question of Catholic higher education in Ireland. In the management of
its internal affairs, the appointment of professors, the selection of
textbooks, etc., the National University is wholly autonomous and free
from Government interference. One of its most remarkable features is
that the Irish language has been made an obligatory subject for
matriculation. The endowment of the University, with its constituent
colleges, amounts to 74,000 pounds a year, and it was voted a capital
sum for building and equipment of 170,000 pounds. It need hardly be said
that no parallel to this institution exists in Prussian Poland.

Language and Native Culture

In this as in other respects a comparison with the theory and practice
of German administration may help to place the policy of the United
Kingdom in its proper light. When at the Congress of Vienna, 1815,
Prussia definitely acquired her present share of Polish territory, King
Friedrich Wilhelm III promised for himself and his successors, "on my
kingly word," that the Poles should have religious freedom, the use of
the Polish language in administration, in the Law Courts and in the
schools, and be in all respects on an equality with their German
fellow-citizens. We have already seen how these promises were kept in
regard to the vital question of the ownership of land. They have been no
less flagrantly broken in regard to the national language. The use of
Polish is strictly prohibited at all public meetings. No Polish deputy
to the Reichstag may address his constituents in the only language they
understand. Since 1873 German alone may be taught in the national
schools. The language of instruction must be German wherever half the
pupils are capable of understanding it, and after 1928 it is decreed
that no other language must be heard in the schoolroom. A decree of 1899
forbids teachers to use Polish even in their own family circles. Anyone
who is caught teaching Polish, even gratuitously, is punished by fine or
imprisonment. Polish literature found in the houses of private persons
is confiscated, and its possessors imprisoned, if the police consider it
to bear the least trace of any propagandist character.[*]

[Footnote *: "The Evolution of Modern Germany," by W. H. Dawson, brings
together in its twenty-third chapter most of the facts relating to this
question. See especially a letter from a prominent member of the Polish
aristocracy quoted on p. 475.]

All this, it will be seen, is merely the drastic execution tion of the
policy laid down by Treitschke, the prophet of modern Germany, and more
recently urged by the most popular living representative of Prussian
ideals, H. S. Chamberlain.

    "There is," writes Chamberlain, "no task before us so important as
    that of forcing the German language on the world (_die deutsche
    Sprache der Welt aufzuzwingen_.)" The German has "a twofold duty"
    laid on him: "never must a German abandon his own speech, neither he
    nor his children's children; and in every place, at every time, he
    must remember to compel others to use it until it has triumphed
    everywhere as the German Army has done in war. ... So far as the
    German Empire extends, the clergy must preach in German alone, in
    German alone the teacher must give his lessons ... Mankind must be
    made to understand that anyone who cannot speak German is a

[Footnote *: "Kriegsaufsaetze," 1914.]

Such are the ideals and such the practice of the people whom Roger
Casement and one or two other enthusiasts for Gaelic culture in Ireland
have sought to make the dominant power in that country, because it will
rid them of "English" rule.

Let us now see what "English" rule (it is not really English at all, but
the rule of the United Kingdom) is actually like in regard to this
particular subject. Up to the decade 1830-40 it may be said that the
Irish language was spoken by fully half the population of Ireland. No
restrictive measures were in force against it. But during that decade a
general system of elementary education was introduced, and in the Board
Schools the language withered away with astonishing rapidity. At the
last census (1911) only 16,000 persons were recorded as speaking Irish
alone, while the number of those who knew anything of the language was
only about 13 per cent. of the population. Whether this change was a
blessing or a bane to Ireland is a subject which is outside the range of
this discussion, but whatever it was the Irish people themselves had a
full share of responsibility for the result. With scarcely an exception,
the abandonment of Irish was approved by the clergy, the political
leaders, and the masses of the people "The killing of the language,"
writes Dr. Douglas Hyde, "took place under the eye of O'Connell and the
Parliamentarians, and, of course, under the eye and with the sanction of
the Catholic priesthood and prelates ... From a complexity of causes
which I am afraid to explain, the men who for the last sixty years have
had the ear of the Irish race have persistently shown the cold shoulder
to everything that was Irish and racial."[*] Their attitude is easily
understood. Irish had long ceased to be used for literary purposes. No
Irish newspapers, no Irish books were printed; English was regarded as
the only available key to the world of modern culture, and Ireland
became an English-speaking country without a struggle and almost without
a regret.

[Footnote *: "Beside the Fire," pp. xliii, xliv (1890). Dr. Hyde was the
first president of the Gaelic League, and is now Professor of Modern
Irish in the National University.]

In the early 'nineties, however, a popular movement took shape for the
rescue of what still remained of the language and for its restoration,
so far as was practically possible. Classes for the study of Irish were
formed all over the country, folk-tales were collected, MSS. of
half-forgotten poets were disinterred and edited, the first scholarly
and adequate dictionary of modern Irish was compiled,[*] and plays,
poems, and stories began to be written in the re-discovered language.
These activities were mostly organised and directed by the Gaelic
League, a body founded in 1893. One can easily imagine how a Prussian
Government would have dealt with such a movement, especially as a
certain disaffected element in the country immediately began to make use
of it for its own ends. The British Government looked on not only calmly
but approvingly. When a general demand arose for the effective teaching
of Irish in the elementary schools--though at this time only about
21,000 old people were recorded in the census as ignorant of English--it
was at once agreed to. Irish had been permitted and paid for, though not
markedly encouraged, since 1879. It was now placed on a list of subjects
which might be taught in school hours, and extra fees were allotted for
teaching it at the rate of ten shillings per pupil--twice the amount
allowed for French, Latin, or music. Grants are also made to certain
colleges where teachers of the language can be trained. All this began
in 1901, and since that time over 12,000 pounds a year has been paid for
Irish teaching directly from Imperial funds--about twice the amount
collected in the same period by voluntary contributions from Ireland and
the rest of the world. Nor is this the limit of the grant; it is limited
only by the willingness of school managers and parents to make use of
it. Indirectly, the State is paying much more, for the various
professorships and lectureships in Irish subjects--language history,
archaeology, and economies--established under the National University
account for well over 3,500 pounds a year. Taking the direct expenditure
on elementary education alone, the State has paid for Irish teaching
since 1879 a sum of no less than 209,000 pounds. It may therefore be
claimed that in cultivating her ancient language and native traditions,
Ireland enjoys the fairest and most liberal treatment ever accorded to a
small nationality incorporated in a great Empire.

[Footnote *: By the Rev. P. S. Dineen; published by the Irish Tests

Reforms and Their Results

On the reforms which have been thus briefly sketched, one or two general
remarks may be in place.

It has sometimes been contended that except by violence, or the menace
of violence, Ireland has never obtained anything from the English
Legislature. It would be truer to say that she has never obtained
anything at all. England is not a sovereign Power, and does not
administer Irish affairs, nor even her own. What has been gained has
been gained from the Legislature of the United Kingdom, in which
Irishmen, like every other race inhabiting that kingdom, have had their
full share of representation and of influence. And if in Ireland, as in
other countries, the necessity of reform has sometimes been made evident
by disorder, it is wholly untrue to say that this has been always or
even usually the case. Land-reform in its earliest stages, like trade
unionism in England, was accompanied by disorder. But the greatest
measure of Irish land-reform--the Wyndham Act of 1903--was worked out on
Irish soil by peaceable discussion among the parties concerned, and
Parliament acted at once upon their joint demand. It was in precisely
the same way that the Department of Agriculture came into being; nor did
the great measures of Local Government, of University education for
Catholics, of the Labourers' Acts, or the recognition extended to the
Gaelic movement, owe their origin to any other cause than the wholesome
influences of reason and goodwill.

The internal condition of Ireland already shows a marked response to the
altered state of things. It is visible, as many travellers have noticed,
in the face of the country; it is proved by official records and
statistics. Emigration has declined to its lowest point; education has
spread amongst the people. Irish emigrants, when they do leave their own
shores, take higher positions than ever before. A population of some
four millions, largely composed of small farmers, has lent forty-seven
millions sterling to the Government; and, what is still more
significant, the deposits in Post Office Savings Banks have risen from
six millions in 1896 to over thirteen millions the year before the war.
The new War Loan is reported to have had an extraordinary success in
Ireland. On the last day of subscription a single Dublin bank took in
one million sterling.[*] With some self-appointed champions of Ireland
abuse of the British Empire is a very popular amusement, but the Irish
farmer and the Irish trader put their money in it, and with it they
stand to win or lose.

[Footnote *: The Times, Feb. 17, 1917.]

Irish agriculture, partly owing to climatic conditions and partly to the
fact that Ireland has a monopoly of the export of live cattle to
England, has developed hitherto rather in the direction of
cattle-raising than of tillage; and cattle have increased since 1851
from three million to over five million head, and sheep from two
millions to three million six hundred thousand. Poultry have nearly
quadrupled in the same period. The gross railway receipts--another
significant symptom--were 2,750,000 pounds in 1886. In 1915 they had
risen to 4,831,000 pounds. The co-operative agricultural associations,
in which Ireland has shown the way to the English-speaking world, now
number about 1,000, and do a trade of well over five millions a year.
The thousands of labourers' cottages which have sprung up, each with its
plot of land, have been to the Irish labourers what the Land Acts have
been to the farmer--they have completely transformed his economic status
in the country.

Accompanying these symptoms of material progress, we have witnessed in
recent years a striking outburst of intellectual activity. Irish
literature, in poetry and drama, has attracted the attention of the
whole world of culture, and exact and scholarly research in history and
archaeology have flourished and found audiences as they were never known
to do in Ireland till now. This has not been the work of any one section
of the people, either in creed or in politics; but the whole movement
has been inspired by an Irish patriotism which no sane person regards as
conflicting in any degree with allegiance to the Empire under the
shelter of which it has grown and prospered.

The circumstances above set forth do not pretend to be the whole story
about modern Ireland, nor do they show that the millennium has arrived
in that country. Apart from Home Rule, which is outside our present
field, much still remains to be done--there is elementary education to
be advanced, commercial facilities to be developed, land-purchase to be
completed. But it is contended that the real facts about Ireland are
wholly and absurdly inconsistent with the picture of that country which
the friends of Germany circulate so industriously at the present time.
Ireland is not an oppressed and plundered nation, ground under the heel
of a foreign Power, and with her individual life deliberately stifled
like that of Poland in the German Empire. Only through ignorance or
malice could such an illusion gain currency, and it needs only the touch
of reality--reality which every one can easily see or verify for
himself--to dispel it for ever from the mind of every candid inquirer.

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