From The United Irishman, July 8th, 1899.
‘Burn everything English except their coals,’ is a remark which was originally made a long time ago. Its antiquity is evidenced by the fact that it doesn’t say a word about their matches.
It was never intended as a precept to be acted upon literally, as its comprehensiveness would include the English people themselves, and would imply the necessity of an elaborate system of premature cremation. But still the words were uttered seriously, to give forcible expression to a very necessary doctrine – a doctrine to which the people of Ireland, unfortunately for themselves, have failed to subscribe. It may be that the comprehensiveness which I have mentioned frightened them off; but I don’t think myself that was the reason. I am rather inclined to believe that the doctrine was repudiated, because it involved a little steady, consistent, individual patriotism. Irishmen are patriotic enough – in quantity. Take any number of them, and put a few brass bands in the middle, and a few nice flags round about them, and they will promise anything you ask them with ‘a heart and a half.’ They will listen to you with the most good-humoured attention; they will pass your resolutions with acclamation, and when you have finished they will accord you a hearty vote of thanks with the most thunderous applause and hope to have you soon again amongst them. But, take them individually and you will find – well, a very considerable difference.
This is the natural result of the course of political life which the people have been leading. They have eased their minds of all responsibility, by passing all the responsibility on to their leaders, who, in order to avoid the risk of mismanaging the trust, have wisely decided to do nothing, and make the greatest possible ‘fuss’ they can about it.
They have been living on ‘fuss’ for many years; and the people have got so inured to the system, and have yielded up their independence of mind to such an extent that they have come to regard bombast and parade as the royal road to progress, and to believe that they are acting in a truly patriotic spirit, leaving nothing wanting, as long as they continue to bolster up the fraud. The whole system is a huge, ridiculous farce, and demands that the people, individually, cease to shirk their responsibilities, and that each must come to understand that he has, himself, certain practical duties to perform towards working out the redemption of the country.
This necessity for individual activity applies to every question of the day; it applies in a very special manner to the question of industrial advancement. In fact, it is the only means by which any industrial advancement can be made. One Irishman making a resolve in his own mind to purchase no foreign article the like of which is at all produced in Ireland, and then keeping his resolve, will do more good to the country than a public meeting of three thousand or four thousand people, passing such a resolution without the remotest notion of acting up to it. He may not attain the same degree of notoriety, or be flattered to the same extent as the man with less patriotism who boldly enters the political arena and subscribes to the policy of glamour and confusion which prevails there; but he is a better man nevertheless. Some day practical efforts of this nature may come to be appreciated; for looking seriously at the present state of things, we cannot but come to the conclusion that the disposition which obtains of judging a man’s work by the ‘rumpus’ he creates in doing it, instead of by the value of the work itself, is really too ridiculous and funny to last for ever.
The conduct of the political affairs of any country is a matter of importance. In Ireland the mutual admiration element and every other element which have brought politics to the same level of seriousness as ‘peggy-in-the-ring,’ must be effectually eradicated. Each man must use his brains for himself, and do his own part of the work.
In the matter of industrial progress, no man can have a doubt as to his duty. ‘Burn everything English except their coals and matches.’ That’s the whole of it. Of course the working out of this idea involves a little trouble; but you can get nothing worth having in this world or the next without trouble. In the early days of organised industry the future prospects of Ireland were rather better than the future prospects of England. The surplus of food supplies was greater, the geographical position was better, and the water power of the country then, and even now, a most valuable consideration, was much superior. If our forefathers had been allowed to develop the country as they were disposed, the comparative scarcity of coal, as an argument against an industrial Ireland, would not be a matter of such important consideration as it is to-day. Their industries would have been established, and the motive power at their disposal would have been gradually brought to a higher point of utility, so that they would not have been at all obliged to ‘shut up shop’ the day the steam engine was invented, though many seem to think that such would have been the case. However, it is idle talking of what might have been. The fact remains that our forefathers were not allowed to develop the country. For one hundred and fifty years the least sign of progress in almost any branch of industry in Ireland, and in some cases where there were no signs of progress whatever, or the least suspicion that any industry might at any time interfere with a similar trade in England, was sufficient to bring forth protests from the manufacturers of the latter country, and to cause petitions to be presented to the King or to Parliament begging for restrictive legislation. The King and the Parliament invariably did anything they were asked in that direction, and the Irish effort was strangled before it had time to grow. From time to time nearly every trade in Ireland was attacked, our people were practically prohibited from exporting almost everything, or importing anything they wanted – even Irish cattle were refused admittance into England, when the English people placed any value on the cattle trade themselves. And while Irish progress was thus discouraged, English trade was fostered by bounties, protected by duties, and in many cases penalties were enforced to prevent Englishmen patronising any manufactures but their own.
The consideration of England’s jealousy towards Irish trade is not by any means a source of pleasure. In fact it will give you such an overdose of the concentrated essence of the most despicable selfishness, that, unless you are a very hardy man, your recovery will be slow; but still it is necessary to refer to it occasionally. I refer to it now to remind you that our neighbours over the way went to considerable trouble, without a murmur, to cripple our industries, and that it is not much to ask that we should take a little trouble to revive them. The trouble that our neighbours took has paid them very well; if we wake up a little, we will find ourselves the better for it also. All we have to do is, whenever we have anything to buy, and that such an article is made in any part of Ireland, to ask for the Irish brand. If the shopman has not got it, try somewhere else, and keep on trying till you have found it, and I venture to prophesy that in twelve months’ time there will be more Irish goods to be had than we have the money to pay for. And in a little while longer we would find Englishmen starting branch factories amongst us as the only means of retaining their connection in the country. Though it would be preferable to retain within our shores the entire proceeds of the value we produce there would be a balance of advantage in supporting a factory of a non-resident Englishman giving employment here, as against supporting one who gave none.
The restoration of our trade lies entirely in our own hands; it is a matter of concern to every one of us, Nationalist or Orangeman; Liberal or Tory – even to Englishmen living in the country. The principle of supporting Irish trade has long ago been recognised; but the practice is very lax, like the practice of many another principle in Ireland. We have all been leaving the principle to some one else to carry out. The only evidence that it exists at all is that now and then our ire is roused when we hear about some unfortunate chairman of some unlucky local board who has sanctioned an order for half a dozen buckets from an English house. This vexes us. We are perfectly certain that buckets enough can be made in Ireland to satisfy the most voracious chairman that ever lived. We think about it all day, and make up our minds to write a letter to the papers when we go home, and so we do.
Having had our tea, we fill our pipe with somebody’s English navy-cut, light it with a Belgian match, and settle down to write. Taking off our Yorkshire coat, lest it might be creased, we sit down upon a foreign chair before an imported table, and begin. That the ink we use is English, and that the paper and the envelope are Scotch; we are effectually prevented from remembering by the bubbling of the indignation with which this most unpatriotic chairman has filled us full!
Now, when we come to think of it, we are apt to be very inconsistent, and we must endeavour to mend our ways. Criticism, like charity, and all the other virtues, should properly begin at home.
Public officials and company directors will often, of course, go wrong – a striking example being the fact that the numerous ‘non-dividend’ railways buy their rolling stock abroad – but the strength of the country is its people, and the future of its trade is in their hands.
Let them accept their responsibilities – let them do their duty, and a prosperity shall ensue which will free our land from the curse of emigration that is tearing from us year by year the best men and women of our race – some, perhaps, for brighter days, but many, I fear, for bitter disappointment and destruction.