From The United Irishman, March 23, 1901.
Oftentimes in glancing back over the expanse of Irish history it must have struck us how the nation seemed several times to be on the point of dissolution. Yet, hazardous as was her extremity, the nation has risen up like the phoenix from the ashes of its impending doom. After the battle of Kinsale the affairs of the country were desperate, but after the Flight of the Earls it seemed as if the soul had fled from the poor, hacked, war-worn body of Ireland. But within forty years of that, even, another O’Neill stood at the head of as stout an Irish army as ever tramped over the hills and dales of our country; and looked out over the bloody field of Benburb in the consciousness that Ireland was living still and as able for the fight as ever. But even that struggle was quenched in a sea of blood before the onslaught of the merciless Cromwell. The great plantation began, by which those were rooted in the country whose descendants are still with us.
A great portion of the Irish people were sold into slavery. Again it seemed that Ireland was on the point of perishing. Yet before half a century rolled by another generation had sprung to arms, another Irish army took the field, and the Boyne, Athlone, Aughrim and Limerick told that Ireland was Ireland still. Alas! Even those men passed away for nigh a century the country was to sleep in a torpor which, trance though it was, resembled death so closely that men almost forgot that Ireland was a nation. In 1782 the tap of drum was again heard in the land. The sword again leaped from its scabbard to voice the demands of the people. And, although the head and front of the movement was questionable in its nationality, the bulk of it was composed of the men whose ancestors had fought on the side of fatherland on many a field from the Yellow Fold to Kilcommodon. And yet the bright ray that glinted off the cannon and the sabres of the Volunteers was swallowed up in the gloom of English bribery and corruption; but in ’98 a few peasants once more told the old tale that the old, old cause was not dead. They passed away, undone and unrequited. Still the spirit of the ages lives on, and today, in the 20th century, the aspiration, the voice, the goal is the same as when Rinuccini, interpreting it aright, excommunicated all who had made pact or peace with the English.
But the question resolves itself – how comes it that this nation has survived so many disastrous wars, has so often leaped to arms, and is ready at the present moment to step as far as a generation ever did before? Confined within the precincts of this isle of ours, whence gather we the strength to maintain the struggle? How has it come to pass that from time long past, Ireland has been split into two bitterly hostile camps, each doggedly keeping its ground, and each determined to wage the struggle to the bitter end? These questions call for an analysis of the parties in the contest; those are the English interest and the Irish interest. The point at issue now is, what is the Irish interest? Briefly, it is the aggregation of the individual units of Irishmen composing the community in this country, who share common views, who work for a common object, who travel towards the one national goal – in a word, who have a common interest.
We are now led to consider what is an Irishman? Oftentimes, in debating the nationality of a person, it has been urged on one hand that he belongs to the country in which it is his fortune or misfortune to be born; on the other hand, it is held that his nationality is that of his parents, and when his father and mother are of different countries the question becomes a moot point. But when a man emigrates, the matter becomes a complex one. If he happen to emigrate against his will, for the country’s good, the country is only too anxious to disown him. If he go away of his own free will and settle in a foreign country and prosper, we follow him with longing eyes and we hold him up to the world as a shining example of the genius and talent of our race. For a kindred reason we are inclined to be jealous of outsiders who come to settle in our midst, perhaps to prosper and occupy a high place in the national social standing. The kernel of the nut is, what does a man’s nationality really consist in?
I should hazard the opinion that every man ought to be judged by his acts, and in default of acts by the expression of his motives from which spring his actions. If an Irishman go to America and settle down there, and if he take the oath of allegiance to the United States, he ceases to be an Irishman, inasmuch as the terms of that oath make him forswear all ties outside his adopted country. He becomes a free citizen of the United States, but he throws off his Irish citizenship. Yet it might be said that we, who live in Ireland and exercise the franchises granted us under the aegis of the British Constitution, have also sacrificed our citizenship of Ireland. But no. We are here, determined to make use of every opportunity to achieve the freedom of the nation and build up its fortunes. If a man go to America, or England, or anywhere else out of Ireland and settle down, he cuts himself off from Ireland, whether she be in chains or shall have gained liberty. Those who remain in the country are inheritors of the rights, as they are of the struggle which has been bequeathed us by a long line of anti-English Irishmen.
There remains the positive question – What makes the man to be an Irishman who remains in Ireland? I should say that the very same test which is the hall-mark of the American citizen ought to be the test of the Irishman, that he accept the doctrine of an Irish nation, Irish in its language, Irish in its policy, Irish in every outlook of its national life; and that he forswear all allegiance to every other nation in the world. The Englishman, if such there could be, who would take this test would be a thousand times more an Irishman than the Irish-born man with a Gaelic name who might crawl up to the ermine and administer the law of England against all traitors to his Sovereign Lod the King. A Gaelic pedigree and a Gaelic name are good, collateral securities when the heart is Irish. But when the heart is English, and when a hatred of every symptom of Irish nationality permeates all the veins, not the purest blood of Niall of the Nine Hostages can redeem the title Slave. But be he Gael or Cromwellian, French-Huguenot or Spanish-Irish, the man who swears to an Irish Nation – and he only – is an Irishman.