Persecution of the Land League

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900
CHAPTER XCII. (continued)

After the passage of the Land Act of 1881, the government commenced a vigorous persecution of the Land League, and banned it as an illegal society, giving practical effect to the fierce crusade preached against it in the landlord organs and English press. The argument thought least vulnerable, in voting down a longer toleration of the existence of the Land League, was, that its mission—if it ever had one—was now fulfilled. That the one great grievance of Ireland had been removed. That, in the Land Act, an inestimable boon had been conferred on the country; and that it devolved on the people to show their gratitude to that ministry which furnished the long-sought panacea for their ills, and watched over their interests with paternal solicitude. This reasoning was wrong in the premises, for the Land Act, as we have pointed out, though superior to anything that had preceded it, yet was a very imperfect legislative measure; of no practical benefit to the majority of small tenants, unless they had funds to fight out their newly-acquired rights in the Land courts, and to support their starving families while their suits were pending. And here the Land League gave ample proof that its occupation was not gone, nor its day of usefulness ended. It was the League furnished the legal expenses of the poorer tenants when they brought forward their claims and grievances in the Land courts, and supplied them and their families with the necessaries of life while the struggle lasted.

The government ran amuck in its raid on the Land League, and grasped the latter with a hand of iron. The executive of the Central Land League Office, in Dublin, were nearly all arrested; but, fortunately, the treasurer, Mr. Patrick Egan, transferred the funds and himself to Paris in time to evade seizure. The police swooped down on League meetings wherever held and dispersed them, sometimes at the bayonet point. Editors of newspapers, and hundreds of officers and members of local Land League clubs throughout the country were hurried off to prison without warning or trial, there to be detained at the pleasure of the lord lieutenant, during part or the whole term of the Coercion Act, which would not expire until September 30, 1882. The parliamentary leaders did not escape the general proscription. Mr. Parnell, John Dillon, Mr. O'Kelly and others were relegated to the retirement of Kilmainham; and the father of the Land League, as he may well be called—Michael Davitt—on the flimsy pretext of having broken his ticket-of-leave parole, was hurried off to Portland.

Time was when the brains were out the man would die, and, on the strength of the Shakesperian aphorism, perhaps, the government had calculated that when the head was cut off the Land League body would cease to exist. But here it miscalculated. The Land League doctrine, preached for two years from the platform, and disseminated widely by the press, had made too deep an impression on the popular mind. Every man now knew his duty, and the work of the Land League went on, though the suppression of the organization was carried out. Fortunately the Land League had been recently supplemented by the Ladies' Land League; and the society of brave women deserve immortal honor for the sacrifices of time and liberty—some of them also being imprisoned—they offered in the cause; and the untiring energy they displayed in distributing relief, and discharging all the duties of the male Land League officials who had been arrested. To their exertions, and to the fact that the League funds were safe in the keeping of the treasurer in Paris, is due that the struggle was not relinquished until one other notable concession was gained—namely, the Arrears Bill. This Act met with a stubborn resistance in the House of Lords, intensified by some occurrences which preceded it, to which we will briefly allude.