Letters from EOIN MacNEILL
Fr Eugene Nevin's evidence
16 March 1916
Dear Fr Nevin
I was very happy to get your note and the enclosed. It did not reach me in time for this week’s Irish Volunteer as we finish up printing on Mondays but I’d be glad to have it next week.
So far as I can judge the majority of the priests in Ireland are in hearty support of the position taken by the Irish Volunteers and I thank God for it for it would be unfortunate for Ireland and perhaps for the future of religion in Ireland if they were not. At the same time an occasional word of encouragement spoken by priests in public is of incalculable help. You may take it from me that Dublin Castle is aching for an opportunity to strike us down. I have been watching their attitude closely. They were bitterly hostile to us from the very first, long before the war, and they were never hostile to the Ulster Volunteers. They hesitate to strike because they know we will not submit tamely to their tyranny so they keep up a system of petty raiding and perjury hoping to wear us out or make us act rashly. In every prosecution of our men they have tried the most flagrant perjury.
The latest instance is the other day when it was sworn in Court that Mr Pearse said to a Constable in Grafton Street, ‘I ignore your Government and laws pertaining thereto’. Mr Pearse did not say a syllable of this or anything of the kind. Nothing could help more than for priests to speak out now and then and condemn the conduct of the Castle, especially in raiding for arms and in encouraging their subordinates to bear false witness.
The Independent, though it is not much good, would hardly refuse to publish letters dealing with these matters. In any case a letter in The Irish Volunteer would have its effect. But there is another strong reason why priests should not be silent when every enemy of the country gets the ear of the public. Our men do not half know the amount and earnestness of support and goodwill they can count on. Many of them are young and untried and they see all the powers of evil ranked against them and only a few raised in their favour. This does not intimidate them for their courage is splendid but in many cases it makes them imagine that the best they can do is to give up their lives in fighting a forlorn hope but in the assurance that their sacrifice will assure the fidelity of future generations.
This is a splendid spirit, but it is better still to hold on and build up and give our unfortunate country a chance to get rid of the delusions and degradations imposed on it by Liberal hypocrisy and the weakness of our poor pitiful leaders of the Irish Party.
Nothing will do more to sustain the men and give them confidence and steadiness than an occasional word of encouragement from priests. You may have noticed too that part of the Castle game is to divide the Nationalists into hostile factions. That was the meaning of charging Mr MacSwiney with inciting to the murder of Redmond, an absolute invention which they could not afterwards find anybody to swear to. Every opportunity should be used to expose and frustrate this abominable game.
I have read some of the performances of the gentlemen you refer to. We have to bear patiently with that sort of thing and counteract it as best we can. I always try to restrain myself in dealing with conduct of the kind lest our people should get as fierce against the misconduct of their own kith and kin that they would lose sight of their real enemies.
The late Dr Tohill, Bishop of Down and Connor, a holy and conscientious man, said to me many year ago ‘The connection with England is the one curse of Ireland’. Every piece of knowledge that comes to me proves this to be true. I hold proofs of the dishonourable and degrading character of English government in Ireland that would astonish the Russians.
Thanking you very heartily for your good words.
I remain, dear Father Nevin,
Poignantly pathetic in its earnest appeal for help where help should be spontaneously offered, his letter, after the lapse of many years, will be a revealing of the defeatist, the listless spirit of the time, a mirror that reflects the difficulties besetting the paths of the pure-souled patriot and scholar, Eoin MacNeill, one of the principal architects of the Ireland we have today.
30 March 1916
Dear Father Eugene,
Following what I wrote to you I would ask you – if at all possible – either to come to our meting in the Mansion House at 8 this evening or to write to me at the Mansion House. The meeting is a public one to protest against the government’s recent aggression towards the Irish Volunteers and in particular the recently renewed attempt to banish our organisers three of whom have received orders to leave Ireland with the alternative of being forcibly deported to England.
This sort of thing was defeated before and can be defeated again. But it is a good time for those whose voices command respect to make themselves heard.
If there were no effective public protest the result would be great exasperation.
I know that now in Lent you are not so free as at other times, but I ask you to do your best, and I also appeal through you to other friends to give us the maximum possible support at this time.