A Thríonóid ‘ga dtá an chumhacht,
An mbiaidh an dream-sa choidhche ar deoraidheacht,
Ní is sia ó chathair-lios Chuinn,
Nó an mbiaidh an t-ath-aoibhneas againn?
– FEARFLATHA O’GNIMH
THE Nationalist population of Ireland are the rightful, though dispossessed, owners of this island, its harbours, minerals, soil, fisheries, and stock. It is on this principle that the Gael has set before himself the aim of recovering complete economic control of all Irish resources. It is intolerable that, as at present, the veins of wealth in Ireland should be governed in foreign interests, by men of a foreign allegiance, and the true owners of Ireland exist merely as the wage-slaves of strangers. The struggle for economic sovereignty has two phases the agricultural and the industrial and it is one of the principal sources of strength to the Gaelic revival that in the former of these phases a large measure of success has already been achieved. In national matters, success increases the hunger for success.
Our English friends are continually reminding us that their Imperial Parliament backed the cheque with which the Irish landlords were bought out, and the land of Ireland transferred to the possession of the farmers. An examination of this transaction shows it to have been far less of an act of supernatural virtue than is represented. English investors were offered one of the finest securities ever placed upon the market, and have been receiving their interest ever since, while the Imperial Parliament was relieved of a difficult problem that had long impeded its machinery. England’s petted class of planters was given a cash settlement which mightily delighted those children of Mammon, and while English investors, the English Parliament, and England’s faithful garrison all derived immense benefits, the entire cost was shouldered by the Irish farmer.
It is well for the Irish farmer that he is relieved of paying rent, either fair or extortionate, and it is well that he has secure tenure of possession. But it is absurd to say that he is under any obligation for having restored to him that which is his own. Had England bought out her planters and handed over the land to its true owners as a free act of restoration, she would have performed an act of international equity. But when she performs an act of (comparative) social justice in calling off her landlords, she makes sure that the act shall cost her nothing, and that the injured party whose grievance she is redressing shall pay and pay well for his restored goods.
So the Irish Nation, dispossessed of its lands by Cromwell and the Penal Code, is at last restored a section of those lands, after an age of rack-renting and torture by titleless adventurers, backed by Imperial bayonets. It is granted this small area of its once wide territories on the condition that 100 millions be paid over to the thieves who have flourished so long, and to the English capitalist who expects a big commission in the form of interest. Every penny that is taken from Irish farmers for their land is plunder a war indemnity an unjustifiable levy upon the victims of a marauding excursion. Not one penny received by the Irish landlords is other than stolen money. The Irish farmers are paying for what is already indisputably their own.
It is not on the general moral principle that, in any country, the nation possesses sovereign rights over the country’s resources that we declare that the farmers are the owners of the Irish soil. This moral principle is denied by the economic systems of many states, which declare that a class may justly hold the monopoly of the nation’s wealth. We are prepared to meet even the capitalist theory of economic morality with proofs of our case. Setting aside, then, the natural right of the people to possess the soil, we look back to the days of the Gaelic State, and inquire who were its owners then. If we find it owned by a class of native landlords, from whom it was wrested by the newcomers, we are obliged to admit that according to capitalist morality, the Irish farmers have no more right to the land to-day than they had when it was owned by its former masters. If the land was owned by Irish landlords who have since perished, then the new holders can claim possession by right of prescription, for where one party to a dispute has ceased to exist, the other party has, by virtue of occupation, a natural right over claimants from outside, like the right of the finder of an unclaimed article. When we examine the landlords’ title-deeds, however, we find in them no such authority.
We find that before the tide of (unprovoked) war swept the Irish people from their homesteads, the land was both de facto and de jure owned by the nation as a communal possession. The Irish farmer enjoyed perfect security of tenure, and was as much possessor of the land he tilled as the shareholders of a modern company are possessors of that company’s assets. The Brehon law by which this ownership was decreed and regulated prevailed everywhere until it was suspended by exterior force. No person or power had any moral or legal right to disturb those possessors, nor could their land pass to other hands save by their voluntary concession. They were driven from their lands by arms, but they never voluntarily surrendered their right of ownership, and the intruders never established any claim save the claim of thieves’ might. It cannot be pretended that any right of prescription grew with time, for the actual owners, i.e., the nation, still lived on, eking out existence among bogs and rocks, and ever seeking the recovery of their rightful means of decent subsistence for which no substitute was offered.
As we look back to the communal Gaelic State, we see in its constitution the explanation of the Gaelic nation’s survival through ages of unparalleled bloody persecution. The communal ownership of the land accounts for that sturdy personal independence which preserved the physical virility of the race, and which, by giving every man his personal stake in the state, made settled, patriotic citizens. Under systems where the farmers are the creatures of large landlords, independence, security, expansive virility are less to be looked for. But it was not alone the fact that every man had his stake in the Gaelic State that made the nation so hard to destroy. It was the many-headedness, as of the hydra, of the Irish constitution that perplexed the enemy, who knew not where to strike.
It is true that the Irish State of pre-Invasion days was weak in central authority. Long peace the Norsemen round the coast had long softened into useful commercial Irish citizens had left Ireland careless of the need for a strong military monarchy, and when the most unscrupulous and most militaristic nation of Europe sent ravaging armies into Ireland, there was a tragic want of ruthlessness in the opposition that was offered. A strong mediaeval monarchy would not have been content to pen the invaders into Dublin; it would have swept the last intruder into the sea, and with a strong naval effort carried the war into the enemy’s camp to teach a wholesome lesson.
And yet this want of centralisation proved, in a sense, the nation’s salvation. Had the Irish State hung upon central institutions, the destruction thereof would have meant the nation’s destruction. Thus one great battle might have ended Irish independence. As it was, the real bond of Irish Nationality was enthusiastic loyalty to the national culture. It was a spiritual bulwark that no material force could break. Economically, the state was based on self-supporting stateships, and before foreign power could establish itself, each of these stateships had separately to be reduced. Each stateship had its pasturage, tillage, lea, wood, and fresh or salt-water fisheries; in all of which each of its citizens had his stake. Each stateship, again, had its own craftsmen, jurists, physicians and bards: a complete apparatus for independent and varied life.
Each stateship produced its own food, clothing, weapons, and cultural ministrations. The arts and crafts were, so to speak, by-industries of agriculture; and hence, so long as the land was held, the complete life of the Gael could thrive in local perfection. A nation thus vitally strong in every part was, as a whole, an organism that could not be quelled save by the extirpation of the race. So long as the people could cling to the soil – and often a clan swept completely from its holdings won its way back – the national life continued in almost full intensity, while the self-sufficiency of every clan made strangers seek absorption so as to enjoy the civic privileges that were otherwise denied.
We thus may learn one of the most important lessons of Irish history, viz., that the national war was also a social war. The Irish Nation, when truly Gaelic, fought its battle upon the social plane. By preserving a Gaelic society, the nation survived. Gaelicism of life was the hardest thing for the enemy to destroy, and it was only in the last century, when he partially succeeded, with his National Schools (wickedest weapon ever forged) that the nation lost for awhile resiliency and the power of absorption and recovery. There is a lesson in this for to-day.
England can deport our politicians, defeat our armed men, strangle with her censorship our diplomatic efforts; but while no means of resistance on our part is to be discarded because it can in the extreme be overborne, yet we do well to remember that England’s only argument, Force, cannot prevail against social endeavour. England cannot prevent us from forming and preserving a Gaelic society, and in proportion as Irish social endeavour is united and resolved, the might of England in Ireland will be rendered nugatory.
Along the western counties, where the Irish language still predominates, traces of the life of the stateships linger to this day. There are little groups of parishes almost completely self-supporting, although imported food and manufactured goods are now beginning to penetrate through the accursed gombeen-shops. Here neighbours co-operate to build the houses and make furniture. The superb bedding, of touch-delighting woollen texture, and the clothing of the people are from local looms. The food is mainly the good local produce oatbread and heather-honey are there. In co-operative labours and in a thousand pleasing social traits, the observer may see relics of a very different life from that of Anglicised Ireland, and may cast himself back in vision to the full-blooded life of pre-Famine days, and so to the Ireland of days before the Dispossession. Here there are literature and song and social wealth of life nourishing in the Gaelic tongue, and a happy existence is enjoyed in complete independence of all the tawdry works and pomps of the English-speaking world. You may meet strong farmers who have never heard of John Redmond, so virile, so self-sufficient, are the surviving fragments of the Gaelic polity.
Gaelicism is not so artificial a thing that it can be killed by a break in its continuity. Its principles are instinctive to the Irish people, and though the traditional Gaelic State has been beaten back to the Atlantic verge, its familiar lineaments have strangely begun to re-appear in the fields that it seemed forever to have left. The nation having recovered the land and so acquired security for self-expression, has mysteriously begun, as we may say, to crystallise out in its old form. As by some strange avatar the old economic methods have begun to assert themselves in modern conditions. Mr. Darrell Figgis, in two remarkable historical studies, has showed how the old stateships have, as it were, been re-established in the co-operative societies into which the emancipated farmers formed themselves.
“Irishmen were now,” he writes of recent years, “coming into the possession of their land. They had won, that is to say, that on which the National Polity had been built without the power to re-create the State. Their holdings were small, and in the new world-wide competition they were unable to compete against farming syndicates all over the world. So the Organisation Society grouped them into co-operative societies with a view to giving them a corporate responsibility and power. And a remarkable thing happened. The new societies became in many ways the modern counterparts of the old Stateships. They are (though only in matters of business) legislative and economic units; they have their central townships, where they meet, and about which reside the artisans of those units; they enact their own limited governance of themselves. With Ireland a Sovereign State it would take very little to make of them what the Old Stateships had been, and to rebuild from them the wise and distinctive National Polity that was once so ruthlessly destroyed.”
That the future of Ireland lies in Co-operation no observer of the signs of the times can doubt. Every great revolution of opinion takes a full generation to effect. The Parliamentary Party and movement survived a score of blunders lived on after innumerable betrayals of trust because the rising of a new generation was necessary before a sweeping change of vision could come to the country. In the meantime, Sinn Fein Irish-Ireland had to wait patiently in the wilderness. Co-operation, too, had to be preached, as in the wilderness, for the space of a generation, but to-day every young man of intelligence, almost as a matter of course, accepts co-operation as the progressive policy. The land is passing into the hands of an intellectual generation completely converted to the cause. The young farmer, eager, as youth always is, for the progressive path, reads modern Irish literature, and finds, every one of the intellectual leaders of the country preaching co-operation sees no one defending the cause of the old régime of traders who grew rich on selling bad seeds and inferior manures – save the representatives of an inefficient and discredited party. All the forces of enlightenment advocate the co-operative cause, and the new generation has no doubt as to its course.
With Young Ireland resolved to organise the countryside on co-operative lines, it is to be expected that the co-operative societies will shortly take on the complete colour of Young Ireland’s ideals and ambitions. Co-operation, at present solely an economic movement, will be worked to its full potentiality as a means for advancing the resurgent Gael’s cultural and social desires. The co-operative societies will take over the leadership of all communal activities. As they pass into the hands of the younger men, their business will, gradually, come to be conducted in Irish, and the fact that they are controlled by the democracy will render them friendly to the advancement of Irish in business life, where the capitalist economic institutions are hostile to the use of the national tongue. The movement presently afoot to equip each co-operative society with a rural library is again indicative of the lead which co-operative societies are destined to take in promoting national culture. Only the other day, to take another example of co-operative activities, we saw the Enniscorthy society establishing its own cinema.
Here we see the possibility of Irishising the people’s amusements. In time, every co-operative society will have its hall, in which the public will enjoy dramatic and other fare selected by their own folk, instead of being obliged to accept, as heretofore, the trivial and often offensive entertainments offered them by foreign and capitalistic theatrical syndicates. Thus the co-operative societies may become the most effective patrons of Irish music, Irish drama and Irish talent that these have ever enjoyed. We can also foresee the societies inviting the thinkers and scholars of the nation, and distinguished foreign visitors, to lecture in their halls; and in this, and other ways, leading the restoration of the democratic culture of old.
When the co-operative societies have thus reached their full entelechy, when the whole soil of Ireland, including the rich midlands now held by graziers, is back in the hands of its owners, either by the payment of indemnity or otherwise, the control of Irish Me, so far as the countryside is concerned, will have been almost completely won back by the nation. But if Ireland, securing Self-Determination, has won her independence, these democratic stateships will become the vital framework of the most distinctive of civilisations. The National Government, when raising revenue, will draw from the communal wealth of these stateships, and so the harsh and unequal incidence of taxation will no longer fall upon the individual.
The common wealth will pay the common expenses, and we shall have an end of the present shifting of the burden by the rich classes to the bourgeoisie, and by the bourgeoisie to the poor, who have no one below them to pass it on to. The decentralisation effected by the stateships will, as of old, keep the professions and the industries healthily in touch with the land, and, in turn, will keep the farmer agreeably in touch with other phases of life than the agricultural. Thus there will be no excessive growth of artificiality in the towns no cockney-ising of the youth and at the same time there will be no isolation, as at present, of the farmer from the mobile world, no rustication. Extreme divergences between classes will be reduced. The diffusion of small private property, which will follow a widespread stake in the land, will increase stability, personal independence and good citizenship. In short, the greater the degree of adhesion to traditional Gaelic social principles, the greater will be the beauty, security and nobility of the restored Gaelic State?