The horror of death lay over Ireland; cruelty and terror raised to a frenzy; government by martial law; a huge army occupying the country. In that dark time the plan for the Union with England, secretly prepared in London, was announced to the Irish parliament.
It seemed that England had everything to gain by a union. There was one objection. Chatham had feared that a hundred Irishmen would strengthen the democratic side of the English parliament; others that their eloquence would lengthen and perhaps confuse debates. But it was held that a hundred members would be lost in the British parliament, and that Irish doctrines would be sunk in the sea of British common sense.
In Ireland a union was detested as a conspiracy against its liberties. The parliament at once rejected it; no parliament, it was urged, had a right to pass an act destroying the constitution of Ireland, and handing over the dominion to another country, without asking consent of the nation. Pitt refused to have anything to say to this Jacobin doctrine of the sovereignty of the people—a doctrine he would oppose wherever he encountered it.
The Union, Pitt said, was no proposal to subject Ireland to a foreign yoke, but a voluntary association of two great countries seeking their common benefit in one empire. There were progresses of the viceroy, visits of political agents, military warnings, threats of eviction, to induce petitions in its favour; all reforms were refused—the outrageous system of collecting tithes, the disabilities of Catholics—so as to keep something to bargain with; 137,000 armed men were assembled in Ireland. But amid the universal detestation and execration of a Union the government dared not risk an election, and proceeded to pack the parliament privately. By official means the Commons were purged of sixty-three opponents, and safe men put in, some Englishmen, some staff-officers, men without a foot of land in Ireland. There were, contrary to one of the new laws, seventy-two place-holders and pensioners in the House. Fifty-four peerages were given to buy consciences. The borough-holders were offered 1-¼ millions to console them for loss in sale of seats. There was a host of minor pensions. Threats and disgrace were used to others. Large sums were sent from London to bribe the Press, and corrupt the wavering with ready money. Pitt pledged himself to emancipation.
Thus in 1800, at the point of the sword, and amid many adjurations to speed from England, the Act of Union was forced through the most corrupt parliament ever created by a government: it was said that only seven of the majority were unbribed. An Act “formed in the British cabinet, unsolicited by the Irish nation,” “passed in the middle of war, in the centre of a tremendous military force, under the influence of immediate personal danger,” was followed, as wise men had warned, by generations of strife. A hundred years of ceaseless agitation, from the first tragedy of Robert Emmet’s abortive rising in 1803, proclaimed the undying opposition of Irishmen to a Union that from the first lacked all moral sanction.
An English parliament, all intermediate power being destroyed, was now confronted with the Irish people. Of that people it knew nothing, of its national spirit, its conception of government or social life. The history and literature which might reveal the mind of the nation is so neglected that to this day there is no means for its study in the Imperial University, nor the capital of Empire. The Times perceived in “the Celtic twilight” a “slovenly old barbarism.” Peel in his ignorance thought Irishmen had good qualities except for “a general confederacy in crime … a settled and uniform system of guilt, accompanied by horrible and monstrous perjuries such as could not be found in any civilised country.”
Promises were lavished to commend the Union. Ministers assured Ireland of less expenditure and lighter taxation: with vast commerce and manufactures, a rise in the value of land, and a stream of English capital and industry. All contests being referred from the island to Great Britain—to a body not like the Irish influenced by prejudices and passions—Ireland would for the first time arrive at national union. The passing over to London of the chief part of Irish intelligence and wealth would give to Ireland “a power over the executive and general policy of the Empire which would far more than compensate her”; and would, in fact, lead to such a union of hearts that presently it would not matter, Pitt hoped, whether members for Ireland were elected in Ireland or in England. Ireland would also be placed in “a natural situation,” for by union with the Empire she would have fourteen to three in favour of her Protestant establishment, instead of three to one against it as happened in the country itself; so that Protestant ascendency would be for ever assured. The Catholics, however, would find in the pure and serene air of the English legislature impartial kindness, and the poor might hope for relief from tithes and the need of supporting their clergy. All Irish financiers and patriots contended that the fair words were deceptive, and that the Union must bring to Ireland immeasurable disaster.
Any discussion of the Union in its effect on Ireland lies apart from a discussion of the motives of men who administered the system in the last century. The system itself, wrongly conceived and wrongly enforced, contained the principles of ruin, and no good motives could make it work for the benefit of Ireland, or, in the long run, of England.
Oppressive financial burdens were laid on the Irish. Each country was for the next twenty years to provide for its own expenditure and debt, and to contribute a sum to the general expenses of the United Kingdom, fixed in the proportion of seven and a half parts for Great Britain and one part for Ireland. The debt of Ireland had formerly been small; in 1793 it was 2-¼ millions; it had risen to nearly 28 millions by 1801, in great measure through the charges of Clare’s policy of martial law and bribery. In the next years heavy loans were required for the Napoleonic war. When Ireland, exhausted by calamity, was unable to pay, loans were raised in England at heavy war-rates and charged to the public debt of Ireland. In 1817 the Irish debt had increased more than fourfold, to nearly 113 millions. No record was made in the books of the Exchequer as to what portion of the vast sums raised should in fairness be allotted to Ireland; there is no proof that there was any accuracy in the apportionment. The promised lighter taxation ended in a near bankruptcy, and the approach of an appalling famine in 1817. Bankruptcy was avoided by uniting the two treasuries to form one national debt—but the burden of Ireland remained as oppressive as before. Meanwhile the effect of the Union had been to depress all Irish industries and resources, and in these sixteen years the comparative wealth of Ireland had fallen, and the taxes had risen far beyond the rise in England. The people sank yet deeper under their heavy load. The result of their incapacity to pay the amount fixed at the Union was, that of all the taxes collected from them for the next fifty-three years, one-third was spent in Ireland, and two-thirds were absorbed by England; from 1817 to 1870 the cost of government in Ireland was under 100 millions, while the contributions to the imperial exchequer were 210 millions, so that Ireland sent to England more than twice as much as was spent on her. The tribute from Ireland to England in the last ninety-three years, over and above the cost of Irish administration, has been over 325 millions—a sum which would probably be much increased by a more exact method both of recording the revenue collected from Ireland and the “local” and “imperial” charges, so as to give the full Irish revenue, and to prevent the debiting to Ireland of charges for which she was not really liable. While this heavy ransom was exacted Ireland was represented as a beggar, never satisfied, at the gates of England.
Later, in 1852, Gladstone began to carry out the second part of the Union scheme, the indiscriminate taxation of the two countries. In a few years he added two and a half millions to Irish taxation, at a moment when the country, devastated by famine, was sinking under the loss of its corn trade through the English law, and wasting away by emigration to half its former population. In 1896 a Financial Commission reported that the Act of Union had laid on Ireland a burden she was unable to bear; and that, in spite of the Union pledge that the ability of Ireland to pay should always be taken into account, she was paying one-eleventh of the tax revenue of the United Kingdom while her taxable capacity was one-twentieth or less. While Great Britain paid less than two shillings in every pound of her taxable surplus, Ireland paid about ten shillings in every pound of hers. No relief was given.
Under this drain of her wealth the poverty or Ireland was intensified, material progress was impossible, and one bad season was enough to produce wide distress, and two a state of famine. Meanwhile, the cost of administration was wasteful and lavish, fixed on the high prices of the English scale, and vastly more expensive than the cost of a government founded on domestic support and acceptable to the people. The doom of an exhausting poverty was laid on Ireland by a rich and extravagant partner, who fixed the expenses for English purposes, called for the money, and kept the books.
The Union intensified the alien temper of Irish government. We may remember the scandal caused lately by the phrase of a great Irish administrator that Ireland should be governed according to Irish ideas. Dublin Castle, no longer controlled by an Irish parliament, entrenched itself more firmly against the people. Some well-meaning governors went over to Ireland, but the omnipotent Castle machine broke their efforts for impartial rule or regard for the opinion of the country. The Protestant Ascendancy openly reminded the Castle that its very existence hung on the Orange associations. Arms were supplied free from Dublin to the Orangemen while all Catholics were disarmed. The jobbing of the grand juries to enrich themselves out of the poor—the traffic of magistrates who violated their duties and their oaths—these were unchanged. Justice was so far forgotten that the presiding judge at the trial of O’Connell spoke of the counsel for the accused as “the gentleman on the other side.” Juries were packed by the sheriffs with Protestants, by whom all Orangemen were acquitted, all Catholics condemned, and the credit of the law lowered for both by a system which made the juryman a tool and the prisoner a victim. It is strange that no honest man should have protested against such a use of his person and his creed. In the case of O’Connell the Chief Justice of England stated that the practice if not remedied must render trial by jury “a mockery, a delusion, and a snare”; but jury-packing with safe men remained the invariable custom till 1906.
Nothing but evil to Ireland followed from carrying her affairs to an English parliament. The government refused the promised emancipation, refused tithe reform. Englishmen could not understand Irish conditions. The political economy they advocated for their own country had no relation to Ireland. The Irish members found themselves, as English officials had foretold in advocating the Union, a minority wholly without influence. Session after session, one complained, measures supported by Irish members, which would have been hailed with enthusiasm by an Irish parliament, were rejected by the English. Session after session measures vehemently resisted by the Irish members were forced on a reluctant nation by English majorities. When Ireland asked to be governed by the same laws as England, she was told the two countries were different and required different treatment. When she asked for any deviation from the English system, she was told that she must bow to the established laws and customs of Great Britain. The reports of royal commissions fell dead—such as that which in 1845 reported that the sufferings of the Irish, borne with exemplary patience, were greater than the people of any other country in Europe had to sustain. Nothing was done. Instead of the impartial calm promised at the Union, Ireland was made the battle-cry of English parties; and questions that concerned her life or death were important at Westminster as they served the exigencies of the government or the opposition.
All the dangers of the Union were increased by its effect in drawing Irish landlords to London. Their rents followed them, and the wealth spent by absentees founded no industries at home. A land system brought about by confiscation, and developed by absentees, meant unreclaimed wastes, lands half cultivated, and neglected people. Landlords, said an indignant judge of wide experience in a charge to a jury in 1814, should build their tenants houses, and give them at least what they had not as yet, “the comforts of an English sow.” To pay rent and taxes in England the toilers raised stores of corn and cattle for export there, from the value of eight million pounds in 1826 to seventeen million pounds of food stuffs in 1848, and so on. They grew potatoes to feed themselves. If the price of corn fell prodigiously—as at the end of the Napoleonic war, or at the passing of the corn laws in England—the cheaper bread was no help to the peasants, most of whom could never afford to eat it; it only doubled their labour to send out greater shiploads of provisions for the charges due in England. On the other hand, if potatoes rotted, famine swept over the country among its fields of corn and cattle. And when rent failed, summary powers of eviction were given at Westminster under English theories for use in Ireland alone; “and if anyone would defend his farm it is here denominated rebellion.” Families were flung on the bogs and mountain sides to live on wild turnips and nettles, to gather chickweed, sorrel, and seaweed, and to sink under the fevers that followed vagrancy, starvation, cold, and above all the broken hearts of men hunted from their homes. In famine time the people to save themselves from death were occasionally compelled to use blood taken from live bullocks, boiled up with a little oatmeal; and the appalling sight was seen of feeble women gliding across the country with their pitchers, actually trampling upon fertility and fatness, to collect in the corner of a grazier’s farm for their little portion of blood. Five times between 1822 and 1837 there were famines of lesser degree: but two others, 1817 and 1847, were noted as among the half-dozen most terrible recorded in Europe and Asia during the century. From 1846 to 1848 over a million lay dead of hunger, while in a year food-stuffs for seventeen million pounds were sent to England. English soldiers guarded from the starving the fields of corn and the waggons that carried it to the ports; herds of cattle were shipped, and skins of asses which had served the famishing for food. New evictions on an enormous scale followed the famine, the clearance of what was then called in the phrase of current English economics “the surplus population,” “the overstock tenantry.” They died, or fled in hosts to America—Ireland pouring out on the one side her great stores or “surplus food,” on the other her “surplus people,” for whom there was nothing to eat. In the twenty years that followed the men and women who had fled to America sent back some thirteen millions to keep a roof over the heads of the old and the children they had left behind. It was a tribute for the landlords’ pockets—a rent which could never have been paid from the land they leased. The loans raised for expenditure on the Irish famine were charged by England on the Irish taxes for repayment.
No Irish parliament, no matter what its constitution, could have allowed the country to drift into such irretrievable ruin. O’Connell constantly protested that rather than the Union he would have the old Protestant parliament. “Any body would serve if only it is in Ireland,” cried a leading Catholic nationalist in Parnell’s time; “the Protestant synod would do.” In the despair of Ireland, the way was flung open to public agitation, and to private law which could only wield the weapons of the outlaw. All methods were tried to reach the distant inattention of England. There were savage outbursts of men often starving and homeless, always on the edge of famine—Levellers, Threshers, and the like; or Whiteboys who were in fact a vast trades union for the protection of the Irish peasantry, to bring some order and equity into relations of landlord and tenant. Peaceful organisation was tried; the Catholic Association for Emancipation founded by O’Connell in 1823, an open society into which Protestants and Catholics alike were welcomed, kept the peace in Ireland for five years; outrage ceased with its establishment and revived with its destruction. His Association for Repeal (1832-1844) again lifted the people from lawless insurrection to the disciplined enthusiasm of citizens for justice. A Young Ireland movement (1842-1848) under honoured names such as Thomas Davis and John Mitchel and Gavan Duffy and Smith O’Brien and others with them, sought to destroy sectarian divisions, to spread a new literature, to recover Irish history, and to win self-government, land reform, and education for a united people of Irish and English, Protestant and Catholic. The suppression of O’Connell’s peaceful movement by the government forced on violent counsels; and ended in the rising of Smith O’Brien as the only means left him of calling attention to the state of the country. The disturbances that followed have left their mark in the loop-holed police barracks that covered Ireland. There was a Tenant League (1852) and a North and South League. All else failing, a national physical force party was formed; for its name this organization went back to the dawn of Irish historic life—to the Fiana, those Fenian national militia vowed to guard the shores of Ireland. The Fenians (1865) resisted outrage, checked agrarian crime, and sought to win self-government by preparing for open war. A great constitutionalist and sincere Protestant, Isaac Butt, led a peaceful parliamentary movement for Home Rule (1870-1877); after him Charles Stewart Parnell fought in the same cause for fourteen years (1877-1891) and died with victory almost in sight. Michael Davitt, following the advice of Lalor thirty years before, founded a Land League (1879) to be inevitably merged in the wider national issue. Wave after wave of agitation passed over the island. The manner of the national struggle changed, peaceful or violent, led by Protestant or Catholic, by men of English blood or of Gaelic, but behind all change lay the fixed purpose of Irish self-government. For thirty-five years after the Union Ireland was ruled for three years out of every four by laws giving extraordinary powers to the government; and in the next fifty years (1835-1885) there were only three without coercion acts and crime acts. By such contrasts of law in the two countries the Union made a deep severance between the islands.
In these conflicts there was not now, as there had never been in their history, a religious war on the part of Irishmen. The oppressed people were of one creed, and the administration of the other. Protestant and Catholic had come to mean ejector and ejected, the armed Orangeman and the disarmed peasant, the agent-or clergy-magistrate and the broken tenant before his too partial judgment-seat. In all cases where conflicting classes are divided into two creeds, religious incidents will crop up, or will be forced up, to embitter the situation; but the Irish struggle was never a religious war.
Another distinction must be noted. Though Ireland was driven to the “worst form of civil convulsion, a war for the means of subsistence,” there was more Irish than the battle for food. Those who have seen the piled up graves round the earth where the first Irish saints were laid, will know that the Irishman, steeped in his national history, had in his heart not his potato plot alone, but the thought of the home of his fathers, and in the phrase of Irish saints, “the place of his resurrection.”
If we consider the state of the poor, and the position of the millions of Irishmen who had been long shut out from any share in public affairs, and forbidden to form popular conventions, we must watch with amazement the upspringing under O’Connell of the old idea of national self-government. Deep in their hearts lay the memory carried down by bards and historians of a nation whose law had been maintained in assemblies of a willing people. In O’Connell the Irish found a leader who had like themselves inherited the sense of the old Irish tradition. To escape English laws against gatherings and conventions of the Irish, O’Connell’s associations had to be almost formless, and perpetually shifting in manner and in name. His methods would have been wholly impossible without a rare intelligence in the peasantry. Local gatherings conducted by voluntary groups over the country; conciliation courts where justice was carried out apart from the ordinary courts as a protest against their corruption; monster meetings organised without the slightest disorder; voluntary suppression of crime and outrage—in these we may see not merely an astonishing popular intelligence, but the presence of an ancient tradition. At the first election in which the people resisted the right of landlords to dictate their vote (1826), a procession miles in length streamed into Waterford in military array and unbroken tranquillity. They allowed no rioting, and kept their vow of total abstinence from whisky during the election. A like public virtue was shown in the Clare election two years later (1828) when 30,000 men camped in Ennis for a week, with milk and potatoes distributed to them by their priests, all spirits renounced, and the peace not broken once throughout the week. As O’Connell drew towards Limerick and reached the Stone where the broken Treaty had been signed, 50,000 men sent up their shout of victory at this peaceful redeeming of the violated pledges of 1690. In the Repeal meetings two to four hundred thousand men assembled, at Tara and other places whose fame was in the heart of every Irishman there, and the spirit of the nation was shown by a gravity and order which allowed not a single outrage. National hope and duty stirred the two millions who in the crusade of Father Mathew took the vow of temperance.
In the whole of Irish history no time brought such calamity to Ireland as the Victorian age. “I leave Ireland,” said one, “like a corpse on the dissecting table.” “The Celts are gone,” said Englishmen, seeing the endless and disastrous emigration. “The Irish are gone, and gone with a vengeance.” That such people should carry their interminable discontent to some far place seemed to end the trouble. “Now for the first time these six hundred years,” said The Times, “England has Ireland at her mercy, and can deal with her as she pleases.” But from this death Ireland rose again. Thirty years after O’Connell Parnell took up his work. He used the whole force of the Land League founded by Davitt to relieve distress and fight for the tenants’ rights; but he used the land agitation to strengthen the National movement. He made his meaning clear. What did it matter, he said, who had possession of a few acres, if there was no National spirit to save the country; he would never have taken off his coat for anything less than to make a nation. In his fight he held the people as no other man had done, not even O’Connell. The conflict was steeped in passion. In 1881 the government asked for an act giving them power to arrest without trial all Irishmen suspected of illegal projects—a power beyond all coercion hitherto. O’Connell had opposed a coercion act in 1833 for nineteen nights; Parnell in 1881 fought for thirty-two nights. Parliament had become the keeper of Irish tyrannies, not of her liberties, and its conventional forms were less dear to Irishmen than the freedom of which it should be the guardian. He was suspended, with thirty-four Irish members, and 303 votes against 46 carried a bill by which over a thousand Irishmen were imprisoned at the mere will of the Castle, among them Parnell himself. The passion of rage reached its extreme height with the publication in The Times (1888) of a facsimile letter from Parnell, to prove his consent to a paid system of murder and outrage. A special commission found it to be a forgery.
With the rejection of Gladstone’s Home Rule bills in 1886 and 1893, and with the death of Parnell (1891), Irish nationalists were thrown into different camps as to the means to pursue, but they never faltered in the main purpose. That remains as firm as in the times of O’Connell, Thomas Davis, John O’Leary, and Parnell, and rises once more to-day as the fixed unchanging demand, while the whole Irish people, laying aside agitations and controversies, stand waiting to hear the end.
The national movement had another side, the bringing back of the people to the land. The English parliament took up the question under pressure of violent agitation in Ireland. By a series of Acts the people were assured of fair rents and security from eviction. Verdicts of judicial bodies tended to prove that peasants were paying 60 per cent. above the actual value of the land. But the great Act of 1903—a work inspired by an Irishman’s intellect and heart—brought the final solution, enabling the great mass of the tenants to buy their land by instalments. Thus the land war of seven hundred years, the war of kings and parliaments and planters, was brought to a dramatic close, and the soil of Ireland begins again to belong to her people.
There was yet another stirring of the national idea. In its darkest days the country had remained true to the old Irish spirit of learning, that fountain of the nation’s life. In O’Connell’s time the “poor scholar” who took his journey to “the Munster schools” was sent out with offerings laid on the parish altars by Protestants and Catholics alike; as he trudged with his bag of books and the fees for the master sewn in the cuff of his coat, he was welcomed in every farm, and given of the best in the famishing hovels: “The Lord prosper him, and every one that has the heart set upon the learning.” Bards and harpers and dancers wandered among the cottages. A famous bard Raftery, playing at a dance heard one ask, “Who is the musician?” and the blind fiddler answered him:
“I am Raftery the poet,
Full of hope and love,
With eyes that have no light,
With gentleness that has no misery.
Going west upon my pilgrimage,
Guided by the light of my heart,
Feeble and tired,
To the end of my road.
Behold me now,
With my face to a wall,
To empty pockets.”
Unknown scribes still copied piously the national records. A Louth schoolmaster could tell all the stars and constellations of heaven under the old Irish forms and names. A vision is given to us through a government Ordnance Survey of the fire of zeal, the hunger of knowledge, among the tillers and the tenants. In 1817 a dying farmer in Kilkenny repeated several times to his sons his descent back to the wars of 1641 and behind that to a king of Munster in 210 A.D.—directing the eldest never to forget it. This son took his brother, John O’Donovan, (1809-1861) to study in Dublin; in Kilkenny farmhouses he learned the old language and history of his race. At the same time another Irish boy, Eugene O’Curry (1796-1862), of the same old Munster stock, working on his father’s farm in great poverty, learned from him much knowledge of Irish literature and music. The Ordnance Survey, the first peripatetic university Ireland had seen since the wanderings of her ancient scholars, gave to O’Donovan and O’Curry their opportunity, where they could meet learned men, and use their hereditary knowledge. A mass of material was laid up by their help. Passionate interest was shown by the people in the memorials of their ancient life—giants’ rings, cairns, and mighty graves, the twenty-nine thousand mounds or moats that have been counted, the raths of their saints and scholars—each with its story living on the lips of the people till the great famine and the death or emigration of the people broke that long tradition of the race. The cry arose that the survey was pandering to the national spirit. It was suddenly closed (1837), the men dismissed, no materials published, the documents locked up in government offices. But for O’Donovan and O’Curry what prodigies of work remained. Once more the death of hope seemed to call out the pieties of the Irish scholar for his race, the fury of his intellectual zeal, the passion of his inheritance of learning. In the blackest days perhaps of all Irish history O’Donovan took up Michael O’Clery’s work of two hundred years before, the Annals of the Four Masters, added to his manuscript the mass of his own learning, and gave to his people this priceless record of their country (1856). Among a number of works that cannot be counted here, he made a Dictionary which recalls the old pride of Irishmen in their language. O’Curry brought from his humble training an incredible industry, great stores of ancient lore, and an amazing and delicate skill as a scribe. All modern historians have dug in the mine of these men’s work. They open to Anglo-Irish scholars such as Dr. Reeves and Dr. Todd, a new world of Irish history. Sir Samuel Ferguson began in 1833 to give to readers of English the stories of Ireland. George Petrie collected Irish music through all the west, over a thousand airs, and worked at Irish inscriptions and crosses and round towers. Lord Dunraven studied architecture, and is said to have visited every barony in Ireland and nearly every island on the coast.
These men were nearly all Protestants; they were all patriots. Potent Irish influences could have stirred a resident gentry and resident parliament with a just pride in the great memorials of an Ireland not dead but still living in the people’s heart. The failure of the hope was not the least of the evils of the Union. The drift of landlords to London had broken a national sympathy between them and the people, which had been steadily growing through the eighteenth century. Their sons no longer learned Irish, nor heard the songs and stories of the past. The brief tale of the ordnance survey has given us a measure of the intelligence that had been wasted or destroyed by neglect in Ireland. Archbishop Whately proposed to use the new national schools so as to make this destruction systematic, and to put an end to national traditions. The child who knew only Irish was given a teacher who knew nothing but English; his history book mentioned Ireland twice only—a place conquered by Henry II., and made into an English province by the Union. The quotation “This is my own, my native land,” was struck out of the reading-book as pernicious, and the Irish boy was taught to thank God for being “a happy English child.” A Connacht peasant lately summed up the story: “I suppose the Famine and the National Schools took the heart out of the people.” In fact famine and emigration made the first great break in the Irish tradition that had been the dignity and consolation of the peasantry; the schools completed the ruin. In these, under English influence, the map of Ireland has been rolled up, and silence has fallen on her heroes.
Even out of this deep there came a revival. Whitley Stokes published his first Irish work the year after O’Curry’s death; and has been followed by a succession of laborious students. Through a School of Irish Learning Dublin is becoming a national centre of true Irish scholarship, and may hope to be the leader of the world in this great branch of study. The popular Irish movement manifested itself in the Gaelic League, whose branches now cover all Ireland, and which has been the greatest educator of the people since the time of Thomas Davis. Voluntary colleges have sprung up in every province, where earnest students learn the language, history, and music of their country; and on a fine day teacher and scholars gathered in the open air under a hedge recall the ancient Irish schools where brehon or chronicler led his pupils under a tree. A new spirit of self-respect, intelligence, and public duty has followed the work of the Gaelic League; it has united Catholic and Protestant, landlord and peasant. And through all creeds and classes a desire has quickened men to serve their country in its social and industrial life; and by Agricultural Societies, and Industrial Development Societies, to awaken again her trade and manufactures.
The story is unfinished. Once again we stand at the close of another experiment of England in the government of Ireland. Each of them has been founded on the idea of English interests; each has lasted about a hundred years—”Tudor conquest,” Plantations, an English parliament, a Union parliament. All alike have ended in a disordered finance and a flight of the people from the land.
Grattan foretold the failure of the Union and its cause. “As Ireland,” he said, “is necessary to Great Britain, so is complete and perfect liberty necessary to Ireland, and both islands must be drawn much closer to a free constitution, that they may be drawn closer to one another.” In England we have seen the advance to that freer constitution. The democracy has entered into larger liberties, and has brought new ideals. The growth of that popular life has been greatly advanced by the faith of Ireland. Ever since Irish members helped to carry the Reform Acts they have been on the side of liberty, humanity, peace, and justice. They have been the most steadfast believers in constitutional law against privilege, and its most unswerving defenders. At Westminster they have always stood for human rights, as nobler even than rights of property. What Chatham foresaw has come true: the Irish in the English parliament have been powerful missionaries of democracy. A freedom-loving Ireland has been conquering her conquerors in the best sense.
The changes of the last century have deeply affected men’s minds. The broadening liberties of England as a free country, the democratic movements that have brought new classes into government, the wider experience of imperial methods, the growing influence of men of good-will, have tended to change her outlook to Ireland. In the last generation she has been forced to think more gravely of Irish problems. She has pledged her credit to close the land question and create a peasant proprietary. With any knowledge of Irish history the religious alarm, the last cry of prejudice, must inevitably disappear. The old notion of Ireland as the “property” of England, and of its exploitation for the advantage of England, is falling into the past.
A mighty spirit of freedom too has passed over the great Colonies and Dominions. They since their beginning have given shelter to outlawed Irishmen flying from despair at home. They have won their own pride of freedom, and have all formally proclaimed their judgment that Ireland should be allowed the right to shape her own government. The United States, who owe so much to Irishmen in their battle for independence, and in the labours of their rising prosperity, have supported the cause of Ireland for the last hundred years; ever since the first important meeting in New York to express American sympathy with Ireland was held in 1825, when President Jackson, of Irish origin, a Protestant, is said to have promised the first thousand dollars to the Irish emancipation fund.
In Ireland itself we see a people that has now been given some first opportunities of self-dependence and discipline under the new conditions of land ownership and of county government. We see too the breaking up of the old solid Unionist phalanx, the dying down of ancient fears, the decaying of old habits of dependence on military help from England, and a promise of revival of the large statesmanship that adorned the days of Kildare and of Grattan. It is singular to reflect that on the side of foreign domination, through seven hundred years of invasion and occupation, not a single man, Norman or English, warrior or statesman, has stood out as a hero to leave his name, even in England, on the lips or in the hearts of men. The people who were defending their homes and liberties had their heroes, men of every creed and of every blood, Gaelic, Norman, English, Anglican, Catholic, and Presbyterian. Against the stormy back-ground of those prodigious conflicts, those immeasurable sorrows, those thousand sites consecrated by great deeds, lofty figures emerge whom the people have exalted with the poetry of their souls, and crowned with love and gratitude—the first martyr for Ireland of “the foreigners” Earl Thomas of Desmond, the soul of another Desmond wailing in the Atlantic winds, Kildare riding from his tomb on the horse with the silver shoes, Bishop Bedell, Owen Roe and Hugh O’Neill, Red Hugh O’Donnell, Sarsfield, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Robert Emmett, O’Connell, Davis, Parnell—men of peace and men of war, but all lovers of a free nation.
In memory of the long, the hospitable roll of their patriots, in memory of their long fidelities, in memory of their national faith, and of their story of honour and of suffering, the people of Ireland once more claim a government of their own in their native land, that shall bind together the whole nation of all that live on Irish soil, and create for all a common obligation and a common prosperity. An Irish nation of a double race will not fear to look back on Irish history. The tradition of that soil, so steeped in human passion, in joy and sorrow, still rises from the earth. It lives in the hearts of men who see in Ireland a ground made sacred by the rare intensity of human life over every inch of it, one of the richest possessions that has ever been bequeathed by the people of any land whatever to the successors and inheritors of their name. The tradition of national life created by the Irish has ever been a link of fellowship between classes, races, and religions. The natural union approaches of the Irish Nation—the union of all her children that are born under the breadth of her skies, fed by the fatness of her fields, and nourished by the civilisation of her dead.