My Withdrawal from Parliament in 1903

The following letters, throwing some light upon the circumstances under which I withdrew from Parliament in 1903, it was not found possible to insert at length in the body of the narrative:—


Mallow Cottage, Westport,

January 1, 1903.

My Dear Lord,—Your letter has just reached me here. With the spirit that prompted it, I am heartily in accord. I had a long chat with John Dillon, who states no objection to the tenants' terms, but objects to any Conference and apparently to any responsibility in connection with the settlement of the Land question. He will not, of course, however, do or say anything to resist the judgment of the country—his attitude so far as I could understand being an entirely passive one. As for our friend, Mr. Davitt, we had three hours and a half together on Tuesday, but in his present mood there would not be the smallest use in reasoning with him. The best plan is to avoid any unnecessary reference to him and let time do its work. Unfortunately it would not be possible, without wrecking the whole scheme, to allow these incoherent and mischievous newspaper controversies go on without reply. Your Lordship must recollect that the whole scheme depends upon a Treasury Contribution of about twenty millions. That money would be forthcoming if the Government were certain it would purchase peace, but of course it would be madness for any Government to ask England for such a sum if they were told by the Freeman and its correspondents that we are unable to guarantee peace and that, in fact, the Bill would create more discontent than ever The only way of putting an end to that danger is to prove that the country is with us, and that the country is doing for itself magnificently, in spite of all weak or irresponsible suggestions.

I, of course, heartily agree with your Lordship that the real question for the country is not whether it would accept our terms, but whether it will get them or anything like them. We most certainly wont unless the Government is convinced that the people have no share in Mr. Davitt's agitation. The present discussion is all sheer loss, and the curious thing is that the people who are now so eager to wreck a mighty settlement will be by and by the last to help us to fight a bad Bill if a bad Bill should be the result of their efforts.

However, I have still every hope that the splendid fidelity of the country will persuade Wyndham that he has a real chance of peace, and of course your Lordship may rest assured that Mr. Redmond and myself are keenly alive to the necessity for working cordially with men like Mr. Dillon and Mr. Davitt, as I have a strong confidence that we will succeed in doing. You will be yourself, I am certain, a powerful influence in that direction.

Believe me, my dear Lord Bishop,

Most cordially and devotedly Yours,

William O'Brien.

Most Rev. Dr. O'Donnell,

Lord Bishop of Raphoe.


18 Wynnstay Gardens,

My Dear O'Brien,—I am to speak in Edinburgh on Saturday. Of course, I was not surprised at Davitt's letter. It will do no harm. What about Dillon's views? He has not said a word to me about the Conference!—Very truly Yours,

January 14, 1903.

J. E. Redmond.


February 7th, 1903.

My Dear John,—I intended to call over yesterday afternoon. Various callers made it impossible for me to get out before six o'clock, and it was then too late to call, especially as I knew Redmond had called and told you all about our interview.[49] In any event, I am afraid, differing as we unfortunately widely do upon questions of National policy, nothing could be gained by discussions which could lead to nothing except irritating differences as to our points of view. The situation was been rendered infinitely more difficult than it was a week or two ago by the Freeman agitation, but we have only to do our best and if we break down give the fullest fairplay to those who may be able to do better.—Always Yours,

William O'Brien.

John Dillon, Esq., M.P.


2 North Great George's Street, Dublin,

February 11th, 1903.

My Dear William,—I should of course have been glad to see you if you had been able to call on Friday, but I agree with you that so long as the dominant question is the policy and results of the Conference there is not much to be gained by discussions between us. When the Government Bill is produced I hope we may find ourselves more in accord.

I do not know whether I ought to say anything about your allusion to the Freeman.—There again we differ—I think you exaggerate immensely the evil effects—(from your point of view) of anything the Freeman has done—Redmond, Harrington and you are at all events in a position to say that you have received from the country an absolutely overwhelming vote of confidence so far as your Conference proceedings go—and as you have alluded to the Freeman in writing to me—I am bound to say that you have been in a position to exercise and have exercised for the past two years infinitely more influence in the Freeman office than I have.—Yours,

John Dillon.


18 Wynnstay Gardens,


My Dear O'Brien,—Ginnell sent me a resolution of which notice had been given to the Directory by Father O'Connor of Newtownbutler, Co. Cavan (a prominent supporter of Mr. Dillon), asking Dr. O'Donnell (Bishop of Raphoe) to preside at the National Convention instead of me and inviting Sexton and Dillon to speak. Whatever may be the motive, and whatever view our friends might take of this resolution, it would certainly be hailed by our enemies as some sort of an expression of want of confidence. Much as I would like to be saved the worry, I still think the President of the League for the time being is the proper person to preside at the Convention.

I am to see Wyndham on Saturday and hope to cross that night and see you on Sunday.—Very truly Yours,

J. E. Redmond.

February 10, 1903.

P.S.—I saw Blake. He is quite friendly tho' he does not understand the situation.


My Dear O'Brien,—I have a letter from Dillon saying he won't be back before 1st May! So he does not mean to attend the National Convention!

I see the Archbishop and Davitt now seem to make out that they always thought a Bonus would be given!

I doubt very much if our resolution will have any effect on either them or the Freeman.—Very truly Yours,

J. E. Redmond.

March 1, 1903.



25 Palace Mansions,

Kensington, W.

My Dear William,—There is no need for me to say how much I regret, in common with every one, your resignation. What I want to say to you now is that I am really bewildered by what you say in your last letter. I had not the faintest idea that anything of the kind you mention was going on in the way of a "revolt" against the Party. I knew of course that there were strong differences of opinion as to "prices," but beyond that I must say I knew nothing and I am certain this is the position of a great number of the Party. It is all very disheartening and deplorable, and I cannot imagine what is going to happen. If there is to be a renewal of the split, as I fear, then a great number of members will resign as well as yourself. After your last letter it seems useless to ask you to change your decision, and no one knows what to do or say, except to join, as I do most sincerely in the general expressions of pain and sorrow which are being uttered all round.—Yours very truly,

Willie Redmond.

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The Irish Revolution

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William O'Brien was a County Cork M.P. who participated in the negotiations for Home Rule in Ireland. In this account, first published in 1923, he provides an insight into the politics and politicians of the time - John Redmond, John Dillon, Arthur Griffith, Sir Edward Carson, Bonar Law, Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, etc. - and gives his analysis of the origins of the Easter Rising of 1916 and the subsequent Irish Civil War. From his own perspective, O'Brien was very much anti-Partition, and was evidently frustrated at the failure to give adequate reassurance to the Northern Unionists.

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