The ‘baton’ convention, February 1909

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Home Rule, Issue 1(Jan/Feb 2012), Volume 20

The ‘baton’ convention of the UIL, 9 February 1909, as depicted in the O’Brienite/Healyite Irish Independent—‘An organised attempt was made by a band of rowdies and Ribbonmen, imported from Belfast and armed with bludgeons, to prevent Mr O’Brien, Mr Tomas O’Donnell, and Father Clancey from being heard at the Convention on Tuesday’.

The ‘baton’ convention of the UIL, 9 February 1909, as depicted in the O’Brienite/Healyite Irish Independent—‘An organised attempt was made by a band of rowdies and Ribbonmen, imported from Belfast and armed with bludgeons, to prevent Mr O’Brien, Mr Tomas O’Donnell, and Father Clancey from being heard at the Convention on Tuesday’.

Devlin’s use of the AOH to enforce party discipline reached its zenith at the ‘baton’ convention of 9 February 1909, called to consider, or to enforce the acceptance of, Birrell’s land bill. The main victim was William O’Brien, ironically the founder of the UIL, opponent of the land bill and supporter of a more conciliatory outlook towards unionists. O’Brien described how the UIL ‘Molly Maguire’ Convention refused him a hearing by means of
‘one hundred and fifty “stewards” from Belfast . . . [who] arrived by special train and were marched in military order to the Mansion House . . . Two sack-fulls of policemen’s batons had been already distributed to knots of “special constables” recruited for service within the hall at an honorarium of ten shillings apiece . . . The whole guillotine process was over within a minute, and Molly Maguire yelled her joy over the death . . . of Free Speech with her thousand throats and the rattle of her thousand “hazels”.’
Paul Bew argues that Hibernian opposition to William O’Brien emerged from the Ulstermen’s repugnance to O’Brien’s toleration of unionism. O’Brien’s crime was not his conciliatory position, although this was the justification given to the Hibernians. Rather, his offence was to challenge the authority of the two Johns and Joe.

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