Enlistment (United Irishman, 1904)

1.696. The United Irishman: A National Weekly Review, No.264, Vol.11, (Dublin), 19 March, 1904, 5.

Editorial comment from The United Irishman, on enlistment.

The editorial pages of The United Irishman for the 19th of March, 1904, gave considerable space to examining the findings of the ‘Annual Report of the Inspector-General of Recruiting’, covering enlistment statistics for the first nine months of 1903. In this report, in the words of the editorial, the “Inspector-General ‘explains’ why it is that within a few months after England had won the admiration of the world by compelling 30,000 farmers after a three years’ struggle (i.e. the Boer War) to capitulate, her regular army cannot obtain recruits.” The editorial underlines English military dependence on Irish recruitment and warmly welcomes the decline in enlistment in Ireland. Pointing up certain relaxations in the rules regarding the physical condition of recruits, it prefaces its discussion by drawing attention to the contrast with earlier attitudes towards the issue among the Irish political classes:

The incompetency of the Irish agitators is in nothing so strikingly exemplified as in their attitude towards the question of enlistment. During all the years they swayed this country their voice was never heard raised in deprecation of the enlistment of Irishmen in the British army and navy, but, on the contrary, it was oftentimes raised to encourage them to sell their strength, intelligence, and courage to the upholding of the Power which held their country in “a more than Egyptian bondage.” Parnell, great a man though he was, far from seeing that by withholding her Irish naval and military supplies he could have rendered England impotent to effectively resist his demands, fought the cause of the individual soldier, and secured the abolition of the cat-o’-nine-tails, with the natural result that recruiting was made easier in Ireland. We sell our pigs and with the proceeds buy American bacon; but this smacks of sweet reasonableness compared with our crying out for national universities, financial reform, and self-government, and at the same time tacitly encouraging our countrymen to bear arms in defence of the Power that denies us all these things. Will any Irishman who passes by a British recruiting-sergeant in the street of an Irish town without feeling that he is passing by a deadly enemy, reflect for five minutes on what the position would be if no Irishmen were found to enter the British army or the British navy? England’s only valuable fighting material would have vanished, and her army officers and naval commanders would go into action with the same amount of confidence in their men as the few European leaders of the Chinese did in the Chino-Japanese War. The utter collapse of the English soldier in the late Boer War is fresh in the memory of the world — the bravery and endurance of England’s Irish mercenaries, we regret to say, saved her from defeat. The Anti-Enlisting movement inaugurated in Ireland at that time has been fruitful of result. Had it been inaugurated ten years sooner, the result would have been, so far as Ireland is concerned, at least, the restoration of the Irish Parliament. Fifty years ago the wise Hungarian leaders saw and understood the importance of preventing the military spirit of Hungary being exploited in the interest of Hungary’s oppressor. They kept their people out of Austria’s ranks, and Austria, deprived of her best military element, was beaten in her war with Prussia, and left no alternative but to come to terms with Hungary — Hungary’s terms. Had Parnell emulated Deak in this respect, the Boer War would have rendered England as powerless to refuse compliance with Ireland’s demands as the Prussian War rendered Austria. The blindness of Parnell in this matter is one of the strangest blindnesses of which we have record.