From The United Irishman, August 18, 1900.
One of the most melancholy pilgrimages, perhaps, that one can make is to a temple of national glory where the dust of great men comingles in a general tomb. We see those lying side by side who, in the heyday of their career, were perhaps bitter foes, but who now sleep in all the silent unanimity of Death. In many a moment of fierce wrath the thunderbolts of eloquence were mutually hurled, and now a simple slab or more ornate effigy is the mute witness to the transient nature of man. The voice that once mayhap pierced the roof of Parliament and thrilled the hearts of the nation; the arm that carried the prestige of the country to a higher pitch and added to the renown of the national prowess; the brain whose workings evolved the hidden treasures of Nature, ennobled and ameliorated the path of life and adorned the daily routine with intellect and imagination – all here lie still and quiet beneath the pale hand of Death. But if, then, the earthly career of those is over who worked and sought for the greater glory and good of the nation, and if but the cold and lifeless marble is the only visible memorial of their past being, yet without the temple, in the vast life of the nation their work is perpetuated and the monuments of their former prowess rest in the continued advance of the country. Sympathising hands may raise the stately cenotaph or erect the majestic statue – they are at best but dumb testimonies to the general regard. But to visit such a collection of monuments and behold the evidences of a country’s greatness, as instanced in such a metropolis of the dead, inspires one with thoughts as to the life-work of those vanished minds and as to the legacy they have bequeathed to our day.
Considering the limited scope which has been allowed to her national genius, Ireland has produced a fair share of great men. Unfortunately, linked as she is with England, whose neighbourhood is a source of perpetual blood-sucking, a great proportion of her intellect is drawn with magnetic force to the focus of that empire whose eternal boast even claims dominion over the sunshine. Were Ireland relieved of this paralysing connection and allowed to pursue the tenor of her way, she would beyond a doubt rise quickly in the rank of nations even to the very foremost, while now she must lie concealed behind the aegis of Britain, nor dare bid welcome to any other nation without a permit from London. And under such a yoke it is a wonder that in this country there has sprung up a spurious crop, rank and file, and far from being racy of the soil.
Not to go into a roll-call of the living, let one but think over the illustrious dead to whom honour is done in their own country, and what a picture meets the mind’s eye!
One goes into Westminster Abbey and contemplates the respect and recognition paid to the great men whom England claims her own. The name of Burke calls to mind the greatest days of Parliamentary eloquence. The tomb of Pitt conjures up a vista of those days when England strove for bare existence, when last she measured her strength with France and came well-nigh being worsted in the struggle. A simple slab with the name of Fox recalls one little morsel of justice that ever an English minister tried to do to Ireland, while by his side Grattan reposes claimed by the nation whose bond he sore withstood until beat down by fraud and chicanery and to whose legislature he became no mean ornament. On all sides we are surrounded with the mementos of great men whose abilities and talents were devoted to their country, no less sensible of their duty than were their countrymen of their worth. Let us turn to Ireland and search for such a temple. Enter St. Patrick’s, the most likely to correspond to Westminster. What a hideous monstrosity meets the eye just on the threshold in the form of a monument to the Earl of Cork. Here on the very doorstep of what is called a National cathedral we see rapine and murder put on a pedestal, while the true hand of history writes a most damning epitaph over him, whose vile life is here celebrated by a most barbaric structure. And beyond that there is little, if anything, that appeals to the Irishman whose mind is not rotted with the servile doctrines of the English ascendancy. Between ecclesiastics of cloudy memory, whose chiefest virtue was to have worked for their stipend, and dead and killed soldiers of the English army, whose lives were expended in some bloody holocaust on the altar of English dominion over weak and defenceless peoples, the whole cathedral seems let out to a choice few who are as representative of the Irish nation as Lucifer is of the archangels. It is not, then, to a great fane like Westminster or the Pantheon that we can go to behold the memorials of our famous and revered dead. It is not even to Glasnevin we can go to visit the graves of even a fair proportion of them. It is to the lonely country graveyards we must go, where in silence and fear the bodies were borne of those who died martyrs to the cause, and whose burial in Christian fashion was permitted only on sufferance. No mighty monument marks the resting place of Emmet. A lowly stone tells the wayfarer where Tone is laid. Over the country in many a nook and corner there is many a green mound covering one who gave up his life for the land which he sought to raise from the slough of English tyranny, and for which he would have worked and striven as hard and earnestly as the greatest English statesman in his own country to raise it to a high and ever higher level. In nearly every case nothing but the green sod tells of this sacrifice, and the dust of the dead is mingled with their native earth unhonoured by sculptured stone.
But If there lack in Ireland a fane to contain within its sacred precincts memorials to the true and tried Irish who have served the real and sincere interests of their country, there exists in the love of their people a living testimony to the respect with which their memory is revered. The people will sift the chaff from the grain, and though the worthless and the wicked be glorified for a time by magnificent monuments adorned with grandiloquent epitaphs, the Irish people will treasure up the memory of those whose principles are theirs, and whose epitaph will be written when we, following those principles, will achieve National freedom. A day may come to witness an Irish Westminster, an Irish Pantheon, but it will not more reflect the hallowed memory of the dead than at present dwells in our hearts. But it will do then what now is impossible; marking the advent of our freedom, its cenotaphs will breathe an inspiration to many a rising generation, bidding them to go forth and emulate those who here rest in final repose, by advancing the prowess and glory of the Irish Nation!