Vindicating a Right — Great Public Meeting in Tuam — Protection of the People the Main Aim

The Tuam Herald, Saturday, April 14, 1923.


Tuam, the capital of North Galway, was the scene of the first public meeting since the General Election on Sunday, when a branch of Cumann na nGaedheal, the new Irish organization, was inaugurated under encouraging circumstances. The attendance was large, and generously representative of the town and the locality.

Notwithstanding the conditions exulting elsewhere in the country for some time past, this area has enjoyed comparative peace. That morning, however, the military post at Headford, about nine miles distant, was attacked by a band of 30 armed Irregulars, who damaged the military barracks with explosives. The troops at once replied to the attack and a vigorous exchange of fires was maintained for some hours, in the course of which, four soldiers were seriously injured and, as far as could be ascertained, one Irregular was killed. No doubt this prevented numbers of people from journeying to the meeting, which was addressed by several members of Dail Eireann.

The platform was erected in the square beside the ruined Town Hall — a grim reminder of Black and Tan days.

Messages expressing regret for this non—attendance were received from Mr. J. J. Walsh, P.M.G., and Major—General MacKeown, who stated that at the last moment he was called away on military duties.

Rev. C. Cunningham, Adm., Tuam, who was moved to the chair, said he held the same ideas now as he had did twelve months ago, when he stood there with Professor Whelehan. These were the right of every Irish citizen to have his opinion, to have the power of expressing it freely, and that all matters in this country of national importance should be decided, not by the gun, but at the ballot boxes.

The People to Judge

He read the following letter from the Arch bishop of Tuam; —

I am glad to know that the people of Tuam are to get an opportunity of discussing the pressing problem of the hour. About the merits of rival policies, I leave the people to judge. All I plead for at the present is the right of the people to a free meeting and a free discussion, instead of violence.
Let us henceforth have argument. It is the right of the people to say what kind of Government is best for them. This right can only be exercised through a free election. All parties should, therefore, unite in guaranteeing this freedom. In the meantime let us have a free interchange of opinion and argument.
If there is threatened duress from outside, that is all the greater reason that there should be no duress from within. If a people are threatened by an outside power, it is for the people to say what they wish to do under such a threat.
Let us, therefore, have free discussion, free meetings and a free election as between ourselves. Pending this election, it is the duty of all classes to support the existing Government in the maintenance of law and order


A Lasting Peace

Mr. Whelehan, T.D., acting Minister of Industry and Commerce, who was the principal speaker, said they were here to vindicate the right of the people of Ireland to free speech and the right of constitutionalism within the country, as against the rule of the bomb or of the gun (applause).

The fact that that meeting was twice as large as the meeting held there twelve months ago was abundant proof that, despite the enormous odds which the country had to face, and the disastrous policy of destruction that had gone on, they had not altogether failed to vindicate to the right of the people to free assembly and free speech.

There in Tuam he was asked: "What is the Government's policy with regard to the peace?" The Government, he answered, welcomed all honest efforts of peace, but he would emphasize that those efforts must be honest, and the aim must be peace, and not an armed truce which would lead them back again where they were twelve or thirteen months ago.

The Government did not stand for any humiliating terms; but no Government unless it failed in its first duty could allow arms to be scattered broadcast amongst the people in the country.

"Let there be no misunderstanding it," he declared "the Government wants peace; the country wants peace but the Government will insist that what it does get is peace, and not a reoccurrence of what has been taking place in this country for the past twelve months."

Another question put to him in Tuam was; "When was the Government going to stop the policy of executions and of killing people?" His reply was that the basic principle of government in such matters would be to prevent and to provide for the safety of the nation. The moment they ceased, the necessity for executions would cease.

He would ask his questioner to use his influence with such people as he pretended to represent and tell them that when the attacks upon the State ceased he (Mr. Whelehan) would guarantee them that that very instant there would be no necessity to vindicate to the rights of the people to live.

"The questioner," he added, "never raised his voice in protest when some of our people were shot down from behind walls and murdered in cold blood; but when the Government, through process of law and after trial, executed a person, their hero protested." (Applause)

Within the next six weeks, continued Mr. Whelehan, the Government would introduce a Land Bill, which they hoped would settle for the first time in a satisfactory manner the greatest questions which had torn the Irish people decades of years, and render it no longer necessary for them to seek abroad a livlihood which they should enjoy in Ireland (applause)

Connacht was going to have a good deal. In that settlement. At the conference the Minister for Agriculture would look after its interests, and no man knew better than he did Connacht's interests in the matter of a land settlement.

The Government, he continued, had a very definite industrial policy which would help in every conceivable way their manufacturers. It was better he contended, that they paid 20 percent extra for Government contrasts to Irish firms rather than pay the unemployment dole to men out of work. That was what they had done recently, for they thought, it was wiser than that two factories would be closed down and men dismissed for lack of employment. It would yield a better return to the taxpayer then that this should occur, and it was better economics that they should pay the unemployment dole.

The Government would take care that with regard to public money it would be expended as economically as possible, but at all costs Irish industry was going to be fostered by the Government, and he would appeal to Irish manufacturers and Irish workers alike to combine to do their utmost to avail of the present great opportunity to put the industries of the country on a proper economic footing, so that they could stand up in the world market with their foreign neighbours.

In the case of one great Irish public company, it had, he said, given the new State a peculiar kind of help by sending in a claim to the Government for £150,000 for the repair of a special structure, doubling the claim. The Government asked for details, and the amount was reduced to £40,000. The Government still doubted the claim, and ultimately the work was completed by them at a cost of £25,000. That he said was a scandal.

It was also the intention of the Government to deal with housing and to settle the question of town tenants as well as rural tenants as soon as they could.

Above all, their education system must be based on the Gaelic conception of ideas in the spiritual, intellectual and the physical life of man.

To carry out their policy the Government appealed to the people to take their courage into both their hands and not allow the rights which they had won to be flushed away from them by terrorism or any others.

Referring to the unavoidable absence of Major—General McKeon, Mr. Whelehan said even if he were there he would not speak, because he had been told as a military officer that he could not do so. General McKeon had intended to be present, but informed him (the speaker) that he would sit on the platform and he replied that would be the best speech he could deliver, because it would show that the high officers of the Army were subject to discipline and would obey.

General McKeon's message was "That the Irish Army was subject to the Irish people.", and would obey the Government set up by them. It was ???? That was at stake in the country, and it was up to the people to help those who were striving to save the civilization of that ancient nation (cheers).

Mr. Seamus Dolan T.D., (Leitrim), said that the Irish people had stood up against bigger things than that which faced them now, and the bomb in the hand of an outlaw was not going to deter them and keep the nation from living.

In this organization they were undertaking the constructive ?? of the work of Sinn Fein. He did not anticipate an immediate election for Local Government bodies or Parliament owing to the difficulty of reversing the franchises lists.

In this connection he stated that the Government had decided to extend the time for making claims up to April 25, and claim forms would be available at every post office in the Free State.

Right Rev. Monsignor Macken, Dean of Tuam, said there were peace movements all over the country, and people whether Free Staters or Republicans, should try and have a conference with the men who were fighting and consult with them about the best method of bringing about peace.

The people had now to undertake the responsibility of nationhood. They would have an election very soon, and before God the sooner the better.

"To—day", he proceeded, we have an attitude of sadness because brother against brother, and he would be a poor Irishman who would not try and bring about peace and let the nation go forward as it ?????? I will not say a word today in favour of the free State or a Republic, because I am a peace maker.

"Now, I was out on ???? But not fighting — and not some of the boys, and you would not be too hard upon them if you saw their mental and physical sufferings, and realize their mental minds.

"He would be a cold Irishman who would not try to stop that thing and do all in his power to bring them altogether again, to consult with one another and see what further steps they could take to build up their country.

"Let us show," he concluded "that we can only be knocked down ??? build up There is no use in knocking down England if we don't build on our own nation (applause)

Mr. Patrick O'Malley T.D., who spoke in Irish, said it was time for them to end this senseless war, because the state of ruin through the country did not bring them nearer to a Republic. Neither would they get a Republic by marching over the dead bodies of fellow Irishmen.

Those men fighting against them were still dear to him, and he would tell them that if they came back tomorrow, Ireland's Government would receive them generously and those who fought in the past would not be forgotten in the future (applause)

Messrs. Peter H??? T.D. (LouthMeath) and George M??? T.D. Galway also spoke.