From The United Irishman, July 15, 1899.
Daniel O’Connell held the opinion during his political career, that whenever he found the English Press commending any action he had taken, that action of his must have been a very serious blunder; and he felt very uneasy till he had thought out the matter carefully, and discovered wherein the error lay, that he might be on his guard in future.
This opinion of his was very shrewd and wise, and if we at present would endeavour to overcome every habit and desire in our political lives which is held worthy of praise at the other side of the Channel we might begin to make some little headway. The broad principle still holds good, that England will look with favour upon nothing we attempt, however advantageous it may be for Ireland, if it be in the least degree against her own interests. And whenever we find her inclined to be partial towards any movement here, we are safe to assume that such a movement will ultimately tend against our welfare; or else that it is merely some paltry or utterly worthless effort which can never come to anything as a source of National improvement—some mere child’s-play in which we are encouraged that our minds may be diverted from aiming at something broader, or higher, or more useful to our people.
There are several matters of this class attracting more or less attention in Ireland just now, and it is of one of them—the Tourist Development notion—that I have a few remarks to make. This is a matter more of the mischievous than the useless type, and it is being pushed forward as a means towards the financial redemption of the country, by a circle whose ambition is bounded by the financial success of a few ‘concise’ guides, and the welfare of a few ‘united’ hotels. They tell us that if we can bring money enough into Ireland during the dog-days we can live in a state of happy idleness for the balance of the year; and so plausible is their story that they are actually being supported by what claims to be the National Press of the country, and have enlisted the sympathy of many who are looked upon as leaders of the people. The prospect is held before us that, as a nation, we are in the position of a father with a family of handsome sons and daughters; and that all we need to do to solve the problem of living ‘on the cheap’ is to deck out our sons and daughters in golfing costume, and place them on the streets to beg, trusting to their comeliness to extract the coppers from the pockets of all who come along in sufficient quantities to keep ourselves in opulence at home. The father who could bring himself to act in such a manner must eventually deprave and demoralise his home; and though the beauties and attractions of the scenery of Ireland are worthy of the world’s admiration, still, to make it our business to parade them as a means of National revenue, is inviting an abasement of National thought and character that will ruin our native Celtic life as certainly as would the action of the father I have quoted in my simile ruin the domestic life of his family.
Once make Ireland an attraction for the masses of the English towns, and the country will be flooded with a motley crowd different in thought and feeling from ourselves, and indifferent to most of what is held sacred in this country. To amuse them, and retain their favour, we must accommodate our way of living to theirs to a great extent; we must fall into their style of conversation, if we wish to be considered up-to-date and worthy of their distinguished patronage; we must learn to recognise indecency as wit; and we must provide them with the free-and-easy entertainments to which they are accustomed, without a murmur, and with an utter disregard of their tendency to vice. We must keep up a constant supply of the precious publications which they love to read; and on our pianos we must always have the latest songs which (for mildness) are called ‘comic.’ We must be prepared to swallow an unlimited amount of sneering comments on Ireland and the Irish, in many cases from men who never saw Ireland or an Irishman before; we must submit to be called idle, lazy drunkards, by men who spend nearly twice as much per head for drink as we do, and whose race has forced idleness upon us: we must be prepared to admit that everything is wrong in Ireland from the railway to the clocks; and we must school ourselves to subscribe to the gospel they hold, that there is only one people on the face of the globe who, by right of merit, should be allowed to live, and that they are the English.
There is no one who feels more than I do the evil of emigration which the lack of public spirit is perpetuating; but still I would rather see our people go away to our kindred across the ocean, by tens of thousands, than live at home by touting for the patronage of a nation which despises them, to be Nationally and morally disgraced as a result of this patronage afterwards. For there can be no two opinions about it, that if we enter on the business of catering for the English tourist on a very large scale, of serving up beefsteaks in quantity, and blacking their boots by the gross, we shall find when the dog-days are over, that as well as their money, a good deal of the contaminating influence of loose-living town manners on the life of a moral people, has been left amongst us also. And we shall find, as well, that the Celtic spirit of the country, and the native ambition of the people, have been weakened by the introduction of new notions, and by the contact of unsympathetic minds.
This is a result which every true Irishman must deprecate, and consequently no true Irishman should seek to make a National business speculation of the tourist traffic, or advance it as the means left of saving the country. It is really nothing of the sort. It may produce a few good chambermaids who will air the sheets, and a race of energetic waiters who won’t have time to crack a joke. It may persuade ‘boots’ to shave himself more regularly, and wear a gold band on his hat, or even restore the good humour of the ‘jarveys,’ but when we consider it on broad National principles, its disadvantages by far outweigh its possibilities of profit. Ireland has suffered enough and struggled enough to have earned for herself a brighter future than the tourist traffic would open up before her. She deserves something better than to degenerate into a backboneless, cosmopolitan refuge of sinners like the Isle of Man; and the efforts of those who undertake to work for her should be based on the ideal of a future worthy of her history and traditions. A more miserable and pitiful prospect than Ireland, with its glorious record of valour and sacrifice and genius, with its treasure of song and story, with the hopes to which it has clung through ages, and which it still so fondly cherishes—hopes of which twenty millions of her exiled race are dreaming and dreaming day-by-day—turned into a playground for the race which have been her bane, which has despoiled her and plunged her in poverty and ignorance, deriding her for the misery which followed its own acts, it is impossible for the mind of man to conceive. Such a prospect might well call down the spirit of Tone or Sarsfield or O’Neill—men who knew what Ireland was and ought to be—to protest against a notion so iniquitous. Let the tourist come if he likes and go when he likes; but let us stamp upon the policy that would warp our ambition and make us hope for nothing better than to cater and serve him, and pray for more to come when he’s gone. There are plenty of legitimate means by which we can live in Ireland, if the spirit of the country can only be aroused to utilise them. The energy wasted in the tourist movement might do some good had it been turned into a more worthy channel; but I fear the men who have taken up the question are of the class who only support mischievous or useless ventures, and avoid everything which offers a prospect of really solid National advancement.
From the day the first English tourists came to Ireland a blight has settled on the country. They were ‘personally conducted’ by a venerable old renegade named Dermot MacMorrogh, who, having outraged the first principle of social morality, was obliged to bring over some Englishmen, so that he might have somebody in the country to whom he could look for support, as he knew very well his chance amongst the Irish was not much.
The man at present in charge of the movement would appear to Mr. Crossley, an Englishman, who differs from Dermot in this, that the latter admitted he brought over the foreigners for spite, and Mr. Crossley insists that he is doing it for love of the country—to which he does not belong. However, since Dermot’s time we have had a good experience of all kinds and conditions of the English tourist, and as the quality remains in or about the same, Irishmen will be acting foolishly if they sympathise with the effort to bring more of them amongst us.