Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly, R.N., Commander-in-Chief, Coast of Ireland, to Secretary of the British Admiralty Sir Oswyn A. R. Murray

SECRET.

FROM  COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF, COAST OF IRELAND.

TO     The Secretary of the Admiralty.

DATE   28 April 1918.                      No. W,130.K.

SITUATION IN IRELAND.

          With reference to Admiralty telegram No.8631 the present situation (27 April 1918) is one of passive rebellion, everyone doing their usual work, and trying to get arms, ammunition, binoculars etc. by force or theft, and damaging small unimportant property, which they think will embarrass authority and shew their hatred for England.

          Work continues as usual, but at any moment it may stop without reason given. Whenit stops damage will probably be attempted to anything that they think will be of use to us against the rebels, such as viaducts, bridges, docks, Port War Signal Stations, War Signal Stations etc. There have been many thefts of gelignite and other explosives, which shew what the rebels hope to achieve.

     2.   It may truthfully be said that nine Irishmen out of ten, South of the Sligo-Dublin line, cannot be trusted. They try to be employed in Government works, such as dockyards, offices etc., with a view to learning how to make bombs, what are the vital points in ships, docks etc., that can be most easily destroyed; to learn our cyphers and to find out the movements of our ships, as well as to get good wages. And the loyal men in the dockyard (mostly Scotch and English) heartily wish they were the other side of the Irish Sea, but having made their homes here they are lo[a]th[e] to give up and lose their places.

     3(a) If conscription be given up, the rebels have won, England has been frightened out of her proposed determination, and English law willgive way to rebel pressure. The police will be powerless, private lands will be seized and ploughed up, and English authority will rule by favour and only so long as it suits Ireland. The rebels will drill, steal arms as at present only more so, and the interference with them will be impossible. The majority of magistrates, mayors etc. South of Sligo-Dublin line are rebels to the English Government as at present constituted, and justice will be non-existent.

      (b) If conscription be administered with a trembling hand, then the country will be in a flame, rebellion will be open, and civil war will spread from Galway to Waterford.

      (c) Should, however, the country be supplied with sufficient troops, firm and able and just generals be in command, and the conscription law firmly put in hand, the rebels will offer trouble at first, there will be a vast amount of noise, a certain number of people will be shot, and then there will be a sullen acquiescence except for a certain number who will take to the mountains until starved out in the winter.

     4.   Though there is a certain feeling among the rebels, especially in Cork county, against the Navy, remembering how much the Navy assisted to preserve order and to quell the last rebellion,2 yet as a whole there is no great feeling of enmity against the Navy. But these people are so easily swayed by passion or listening to an intemperate speech that no reliance can be placed on what they may do when excited.

     5.   Assuming then, as I do, that conscription will be introduced with a firm hand, I expect the following to happen:-

(i)  A considerable cessation of work and endeavours to prevent others doing any work for the Government. They have not enough money to carry out a general strike for long. This will very greatly reduce the output of labour in 

Haulbowline Dockyard, and the intimidation which will accompany it will add still more to the reduction. If the Naval occupation of the Military side of Haulbowline can be done (which owing to the deadly inertia at present seems to be far off), then a certain number of Scotch, English and loyal Irish workers will be able to be lodged on the island, so that work need not entirely stop as long as these men are willing to work.

(ii) Passage docks and Dublin docks will probably be ordered to stop Government work, so that all the trawlers, drifters, motor launches etc. will have to be repaired or refitted in England or Wales.

(iii) Coaling parties (shore labour) will probably cease work and ships will have to coal themselves from colliers, coal lighters will be unable to be filled and used. This applies also to trawlers at Berehaven, Galway, etc. Galway and Killybegs may have to be given up as Naval centres, and the trawlers worked from Berehaven unless the Military can guard them.

(iv)  Since the Church has frightened a large number of people, such as shopkeepers and farmers, it will be easy for the priests to persuade them to refuse to sell food to any Government people, and the Naval and dockyard people will have to send for food in sloops to England.

(v)   Probably the United States’ ships and men will be treated in the same way as we are, since the Southern Irish knew well how friendly they are to us. But the U.S. ships can feed themselves to a great extent from their repair ships and the U.S. stores on shore, and since they burn oil fuel and coal labour will not interfere with them. An extra oiler moored in the roads will be required so as to ease the situation in the dockyard.

     6.   I would draw attention to this fact that so many people do not seem to appreciate.

          The Roman Catholic priests are principally against Home Rule knowing that they will lose the greater part of their power in the country when it is introduced. But they did not dare shew their fear of it for fear of their own countrymen. When, however, conscription was introduced they saw their opportunity, and by the camouflage of fighting conscription they were able to regain their hold on the country (which they were losing) and so postpone the loss of power Home Rule will cause them. They also of course know that the young men going to France will not be the ignorant willing slaves of the Church, that they are now, when they return.

          The Royal Irish Constabulary can no longer be entirely trusted owing to their fear of the Church, but this does not refer so much to the Officers as to the more ignorant constables in the West and South.

          We want a strong consistent policy, with strong consistent men to carry it out. No going back now.3

Lewis Bayly             

    ADMIRAL,            

COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF.     

TDS, DLC-MSS, William S. Sims Papers, Box 79.

Footnote 1: Cable not found.

Footnote 2: The Easter Rising of 1916.

Footnote 3: Despite what Bayly wrote here, conscription in Ireland was not put into effect. See: Pringle to Sims, 19 April 1918.

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