Saturday, March 26, 2016

German Catholic Leader Raises the Irish Question #1916 #281

A curious one page leaflet from the Eileen Ryan Collection entitled "German Catholic Leader Raises the Irish Question", is an extract from the Catholic Citizen, Milwaukee, 17 February 1917 in which comment is made on Herr Matthias Erzberger, leader of the German Catholic party on Germany's interest in Ireland's Independence. Erzberger was initially a supporter of the Great War, but later wanted peace. He was later to be the leader of the German delegation at Compi├Ęgne on 11th November 1918 at which he signed the armistice to end the war on behalf of Germany. He was considered a traitor by many Germans for this and was murdered on 26th August, 1921 by right wing extremests.

In the leaflet below Erzberger supports the cause of Irish Independence during a speech in the Reichstag. The leaflet in undated, but does refer to the extract from the Catholic Citizen as being from 17th February 1917. I don't know when Erzberger made the speech, but it was most likely late 1916 or very early in 1917. He compares Ireland's situation with that of Belgium - he asks "if Belgium should be free, why not Ireland, far more important to the world than Belgium". Later he demands "the Freedom of this truest and purest of the small nations". Very flattering, but bear in mind that Erzberger was the leader of the Catholic Party in Germany during the war with Britain and her allies. 

In the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, reference is made to "our gallant allies in Europe" - widely thought to be Germany and also a phrase that sealed the fate of many of the 1916 leaders. Erzberger finishes up his speech with an offer to help Ireland achieve independence: "The German sword must do it, if the conscience of the enemy, admitting the right of it, does not do it". Whether Erzberger was really interested in Irish Independence is a good question - perhaps his enemies' enemy was his friend. We know that Germany sent guns to Ireland on the Asgard before the war and and on the Aud in 1916. What would have happened if Germany had won the war we'll never know. Of one thing I'm sure - I doubt very much that the "German sword" would have brought independence or peace to Ireland. Publication of this leaflet in Ireland probably contributed little to the cause of Independence here, but any support abroad was probably latched onto in the propaganda war that followed the 1916 Rising.


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