From The United Irishman, March 4, 1899.
A perusal of the Saturday Express is an agreeable change from the general tone of the other daily and weekly papers of Dublin. It is not Nationalist, but it is national and Irish. One may safely turn to its pages for a broad, free, and fair criticism of matters outside Parliamentary politics, and even on questions of burning intensity, its articles are calm and conciliatory, recognising that even the Unionist side has its weak points, and that all the honour, intellect and influence of the nation are not enrolled beneath its banner. It recognises the separate entity of Ireland, socially, intellectually—even as it insists on it financially. For all these, it deserves credit and respect; for education—even university education—and intolerance, though not synonymous terms, are still far from strangers in Ireland.
The Express, we say, has lately taken to discussing matters Irish in a temperate spirit. We are glad to find that one paper, at least, in the country is prepared to criticise things on their merit, rather than on the personnel of those who recommend them. We have all too long bound ourselves to the views of men, with very little attention, or, in fact, actual indifference, to the views themselves. Many of us have already seen the fallacy of such a policy; the numbers are growing, and there is every likelihood of a few years seeing the existence in Ireland of a healthy, independent, individual-minded minority in the country, who, if they cannot control the policy of the hour, can at least influence it sufficiently that no platform heroics or leading-column logic shall avail against the cause of truth and the best interests of the nation. For this, in a measure, our contemporary is to be thanked.
But there is reason to guard against the growth of a pseudo-nationality which shall endeavour to develop an Irish cult in art and literature at the expense of the broader nationality of the nation. Let us at once say that while we regard all the characteristics of our people as valuable, while we are convinced of the absolute importance of any peculiar trait, custom or possession of our people, for national individuality; while we are prepared to support any movement tending to keep our people in an Irish groove of thought, we are still prepared to do so only so far as those things make for the great goal—the absolute independence of Ireland of foreign control in every domain.
A writer in last Saturday’s Express, in a broad-minded article dealing with the recent debate on the Soudan Campaign, asks why Irishmen refuse to take part in the Imperialist scheme of Britain, and marvels that they should sneer at the efforts of the Britisher to civilise the dark places. While we cannot join our contemporary in the jubilation over the establishment of a post-office at Omdurman, or in the creation of a penny-postage for the desert, we will at once admit that we are in hearty sympathy with the civilisation of Africa. But we submit that the civilisation is narrow and selfish which opens a market for the sweat-produce of home centres; the civilisation which sees nothing noble nor heroic in a man’s belief in his right to freedom; the civilisation which, with the gloating wild-eyed vengeance of the tiger, degrades, defiles, and outrages the tomb of a man who died unconquered; the civilisation which only sees in the dusky millions an increased percentage for home investments, or soft places and snug salaries for younger sons and poor relations. For the advance of this civilisation, with all its money-grubbing, meanness, treachery, soullessness, and lofty scorn of all, but its own ideas, we trust, and we are convinced, the bulk of Irishmen will never lift a hand. No! Ireland and the Empire are incompatible. One cannot be an African ‘civiliser’ and an Irish Nationalist; one cannot trample on the rights of other people and consistently demand his own. Our mission may be as some imagine, the combating of doubt and darkness, but God forfend that our voices should be maxim-guns, or our arguments the points of British bayonets.