My Friends—I have undertaken to speak of ‘the Use and Capacity of Confederate Clubs’—a subject on which it is hard to be too hopeful, or too cautious. For it is still a first experiment, and trembles between two extremes. In this Club we begin our labours in the midst of a hundred young men, in the glow of hope and courage. A promising and prosperous beginning. No work in this world ever had a more adequate foundation. If you be in earnest, if your souls be in this cause, if you will pursue it for true love of it, if you are resolved to purchase success by all the toil and self-denial and devotion that men before you have paid for that grand prize, the end is sure. For a hundred men kindled with Truth and Knowledge, and knowing no fear and no rest, are stronger than a generation. But they must be as apostles—putting away from them vice and falsehood, and selfishness; bearing patiently with scorn and misrepresentation, answering hate with love, rejoicing in self-denial, and raising their eyes aloft to the distant end, indifferent to all the thorns and jagged stones which may lie in their path. For even to redeem a nation is one of the capacities of Confederate Clubs—if only we could walk on this narrow path, which it is so much easier to point out to others than to travel by ourselves.
The USE of the Clubs, then, may be stated broadly as training to make us fit to see and to exercise all their CAPACITIES; and hence all the capacities of our country.
For we live in a land where the government are not competent to their duties where the aristocracy and gentry are not competent to their duties; and where the people, knowing many of their rights, alive to all their sufferings, are also not competent to their duties—or their sufferings would speedily end. This country wants governors to govern it, merchants to enrich it, nobility and gentry delighting to serve and adorn it, statesmen to shape its national career, soldiers to guard it, industrious and virtuous artisans to be its solid strength—in a word, a people competent to understand, and competent to defend, their rights. And yet (so wide are the powers of true devotion) it is assuredly among the capacities of Confederate Clubs to give it even all these; if they strive with heroic resolution to their end. If each man, or, since that would be beyond nature, if many men amongst us
‘try by great thoughts and good deeds
To show the most of Heaven they have in them’
if they bring all the divine resources of genius and wisdom, and the diviner and more irresistible strength of simple truth, that lie in them to this cause, we can, and shall attain all this. Mark, I do not state it as the necessary or probable result of Confederate Clubs, but as the sum of their power; the end within the scope of their capability. How shamefully we may fall short of it, by laziness or corruption, you easily can guess. To this end, the first step is EDUCATION. The wise and venerable prelate after whom this Club is named, has said:
‘Religion herself loses half her beauty and influence when not attended or assisted by EDUCATION; and her power, splendour, and majesty are never so exalted as when cultivated genius and refined taste become her heralds and her handmaids. Many have become fools for Christ, and by their simplicity and piety have exalted the glory of the cross; but Paul, not John, was the apostle of the nations; and doctors, even more than prophets, have been sent to declare the truths before kings and princes, and the nations of the earth.’
I truly believe so. If I did not, I, for one, would purchase neither knowledge nor freedom at the sacrifice of religion. Man’s relation to God is the most serious question he can ever have to determine; and no human liberty, or glory, or prosperity, ought to come in competition with it. If a word would make this island a proud nation, renowned from pole to pole, but a nation without religion, God forbid that I should pronounce it. The education we seek is the ally of faith: in the words of Dr. Doyle, ‘the herald and handmaid of religion,’ and the parent of good and great achievements. That we shall attain to that knowledge even in this one Club depends not on me, or the other officers you have elected, but on you. We cannot help you; the Irish Confederation cannot help you; in this matter you must help yourselves.
You do not, I am convinced, regard Confederate Clubs as talking rooms, or idling rooms, but as workshops for true and serious work. But they must be more than this. Some of our fathers died on the field for their country; some suffered fine and imprisonment, some ignominious death, in her defence. The enemy we have to combat is neither the armed soldier nor the partisan judge—only IGNORANCE and PREJUDICE; but the recruits we seek to enrol are men who will give themselves to this new work for Ireland with the same deep devotion that our fathers displayed in theirs—men who will be new soldiers and confessors in the same cause for which they toiled and died. Do you truly mean this? or are you coming here for amusement, or for display? Look into your own hearts, and ask are there mean or selfish motives mixing with your better aspirations? For I tell you, if you would live nobly and usefully—if you would truly serve Ireland, you must fling them out, and be the thing you seem. I believe you will—I trust your youth, and purity, and vigour. Our Confederation has the sap and bud of spring in it, and by the law of nature needs must grow; and I rely upon the generous instincts of youth that you shall grow better as you grow stronger. For the sublimest success we can attain (far above making Ireland a nation) is to train a race pure, true, incapable of cruelty or fraud, and incapable of abandoning the truth. This is the guarantee of all success.
Yes, Ignorance and Prejudice are the enemies we must go out against and overthrow. Between us and success there stands no other sentinel. For, remember, we do not come as robbers conspiring to pull down this or that class or interest; but, so help us God, as we truly desire to raise all this Irish nation, each according to his degree, in a common prosperity and independence. We say to the peers of Ireland, ‘Be truly peers and pillars of the state—not shadows of nobility without power or country. Hereditary legislators, be the legislators of a kingdom—not shivering spectres of a state that is dead.’ To the gentry we say, ‘This land is yours and ours; but it ceases to be ours while we permit it to be a fee-farm for England. Our fathers sixty years ago proclaimed in the face of Heaven that it was theirs, and that they would hold it against the world and they did. Then an Irish gentleman was a name to be proud of. And now again, we too may pledge that vow, and ratify it—and once more prosperity will run like new blood into the veins of Ireland, and hope and confidence will return to calm the angry front of the people, and national honour will kindle their genius, and industry, and enterprise to the highest, and it will still be a proud thing to be an Irish gentleman.’ And to the merchants, traders, and clergy—to the farmers, peasantry, and artisans of Ireland, we have true fellowship to offer in a pursuit that is theirs no less than ours; for it is not selfish or clannish, but above all things social and national.
To be able to rout ignorance and prejudice in others, we must first rout our own. Let us begin with prejudice.
We must not put on a show of sympathy, for the purpose of winning other classes to our views, but set out with a real and honest desire to help them as well as ourselves. To use such a pretence, and be, in fact, indifferent to their interest, is to be knaves. When you ask Protestants to help you, if you do not mean to protect the religious liberty of Protestants, in all contingencies, as zealously as you would protect your own, you are hypocrites, unworthy of liberty. When you invite the co-operation of the gentry, if you do not intend to maintain all their just rights—by which I mean their rights to their estates and a fair rent, not any assumed right, over the conscience or property of their tenants—you deserve to fail; and you will get your deserts. To speak the truth is wisdom and policy. It is easier to be anything that man can become than barely to seem it. Hypocrisy is a hard as well as an unprofitable task. But there is a spell in downright truth which men recognise and admit. How often were we assured that it was impossible to win the northern Protestants to nationality? And it was impossible by the means relied on. They were not to be cajoled. But when men of humbler pretensions spoke the thing they felt, remember how quickly it was recognised, and how soon it began to prevail. And, trust me, nationality is now planted in the north more firmly than it was in Munster in 1842.
How you shall train yourselves for these works—by what special efforts you shall strive to grow in knowledge and capacity, it is not my duty to discuss. You have already chosen Monitors who will guide you wisely, according to their best lights, and share all your toils; for they, too, long to grow wiser and better. It will be their business to make you acquainted with all that belongs to Ireland—to foster, and guide to noble ends, the love of knowledge that exists among you to teach it to dig down into our own soil—to grow familiar with our history, our resources, our hopes, our means, and our ends, that it may become a faithful servant to the nation. They will show you that though foreign dominion drains away rich resources, richer resources run waste from our own ignorance and folly. They will teach you that the highest of all our undeveloped capacities is not in the earth, or in the teeming seas, but in the undirected intellect of our people. I pray that you may come forth from your toils true Irishmen steeped in Irish memories, proud of Irish habits, panting with Irish hopes. But I entreat you to be patient; to learn truly what you undertake to learn. Master something thoroughly. Do not chatter about knowing this or that, but know it. Know and believe, and then you shall be fit to act; for opinion is the root from which all action springs. Know and believe, and then you shall be fit to preach; for conviction is the fire that lights conviction in others.
When you have learned, a new duty arises—to teach.
Under this duty comes Organisation and Conciliation. We live in the midst of men, many of whom hate, many of whom despise us. Each of us in his station must labour daily to make our principles familiar to all Irishmen, that they may know we do not deserve to be hated, but to be helped. This is your noblest task. But it will not be content with snatches of time such as we give to the theatre or the newsroom. It is God’s work, and asks the devotion of all our souls, and all our time. All our time that is properly ours; for no man must neglect his legitimate duty. Let no man be a disobedient son, or a negligent servant, or a thriftless citizen, that he may run after Confederate Clubs. We do not seek to make idlers and talkers: men must grow better by joining us. But learn to love the cause with all your soul, and it will be your recreation at every leisure hour to help it. Be up early to give it an hour in the morning. Come here when your work is over, not as to new work, but to a dear enjoyment. Let it mix with your daily labour itself, without marring it. Talk to your associates of how we hope to right Ireland, and of their duty to help us in that task. But when I said, ‘be in earnest,’ I said all; for, if the mind be kindled with a true passion, all things are new fuel to it. And that you may feel all your responsibility, never forget that in this movement you are not made spectators in a performance, but fellow-labourers in a great enterprise.
Wheresoever you see an honest man opposed to us, remember there is a man to whom you must show the right path. If you fail, the fault is yours, not his; for you carry with you that key which opens all pure hearts—THE TRUTH. But be gentle and loving. Be not angry with a brother because he has been led astray; but make haste to lead him right. In the light or in the shade he is still your brother. Not that you must soften or deface the truth to make it tolerable to him. Tell him all the truth plainly, but without asperity. A singularly able man, to whom I once objected that he treated antagonists too roughly, answered me, that he had won most of his friends and allies on the battlefield.
I have put the duty of self-culture before the duty of spreading our opinions, because it is not honest to preach any principle till you have sifted it, and tested it, with all your powers. But when you come to persuade and convert, do not parrot what you have heard from this man or that, but ponder on what you know or believe yourself, and then speak that. A simple thought, truly felt and truly uttered, is the spark that kindles men’s souls. What you feel deeply utter frankly, and be sure it will touch other men too. But while it is good always to speak the truth that is in you, you must first be quite sure that it is in you. Be sure you are not merely mimicking the feeling of someone else. When men speak out from their own hearts any conviction, however foreign to ours, we feel arrested and impressed by it. But we grow weary and impatient, under the most ingenious imitation of somebody else. O’Connell was grand and impressive, when he first pictured the burning wrongs of Ireland, and proclaimed her eternal rights. But what on the earth is more wearisome than to listen to some good, dull man parroting his ‘hereditary bondsmen,’ and ‘great, glorious, and free?’ And Thomas Davis’s doctrine of a nationality embracing all Irishmen, is as liable to fall into cant and wearisomeness, if we utter it without mastering its spirit, and inheriting it, as it were, by right of conquest.
I esteem this generation happy in having given to it the charge of great principles and the glory of maintaining them. There is no epoch in all Irish history I would so gladly witness as the one that is at hand. For whether we individually are, or are not, worthy to share their triumph, the principles will assuredly prevail. The sun in the heavens is not clearer to me than the signs of their universal success with the youth and manhood of Ireland—to whom fraud, and corruption, and cunning, and all the lingering devices of slavery, will be hateful. Not that we must glorify ourselves in being better than our fathers. We march by beaten tracks and open passes, where they had to cut down forests of falsehood, and ford morasses of prejudice. When O’Connell arose, it was the common lie of the day that a Catholic could not be believed on his oath—that Catholics were secret persecutors and murderers—that they kept no faith with Protestants, and the like. He has torn all these poisonous weeds out of our path; and hence we will fail miserably if we do not attain things morally impossible to his generation. For we start from his goal.
When I speak of the capacity of the Clubs, I can do no more than indicate barely the classes of pursuits to which they may be made available. If you follow out your task zealously, each of you will discover many uses and capacities which I overlook.
But we must first exhaust the known and admitted duties. We have begun here by carrying out the suggestions of the Confederation. We have formed and will conduct our classes with zeal and care. We will help the manufacture movement, spread the principles of the Confederation, recruit members for its ranks, and funds for its coffers—duties we have undertaken to perform by the very establishment of our Club. But when we have performed our task, we will have still leisure for independent exertion; and I trust the members of our Club will be able to visit in succession many of the spots of historic renown that lie near us, and see Irish history in cairn, castle, and bawn, its chronicles of clay and stone. That they will be able to visit such manufactories as we still possess, and become acquainted with their practical working. And I hope, when the Confederation needs lecturers to go into the provinces, and show the people of each town, not fortunate enough to have a local Club, what peculiar resources they possess and do not use what special capacities they may develop, if they will—that it may confidently look for them here, and in the other metropolitan Clubs.
Of this wide and yet individual mission which the national movement opens I have spoken elsewhere what (since I cannot express it better now) I will quote:
‘The policy of a rising nation ought to be as grand and comprehensive as the sublime system of the Catholic church, which, as Macaulay finely remarks, finds in its bosom a place and a work for every class of intellect and disposition—Cardinalates and legateships for the profound and subtle, the statesmen of the church; missions to heathen lands and martyrs’ crowns for the young holy enthusiasts, the soldiers of the cross; the pulpit and the apostolic labour for those on whom has fallen the new gift of tongues, the divine power of persuasion, which we call oratory; colleges and schools for its practical daily workers; holy and laborious orders of charity and mercy for its pious women; and the culture of children and the tending of the poor and the sick for its virtuous youth and manhood.’
‘And so with a people like ours. There is a life’s work for all who will help us. The council and committees for the men of insight and governing power, whom nature has distinctly commissioned to lead and rule;—the forum for the orator—the library for the students of our history and resources—the practical duties of organisation for the men of daily and determined industry—the task of popular guidance to the patriot priest or lawyer, or the educated country gentleman. Lay orders of brotherhood to teach and preach the creed of Nationality for the men of intense soul, to whom life has but one object. To each, according to his strength and skill, a place and an appointed work.’
And surely this is the way our heavy task may best be accomplished. For consider the work that remains to be done. To gather new friends—to convert ancient enemies to remove hereditary prejudices—to make the past plain by the light of history, the future by the light of political science—to gather into our Confederation the young and pure of those destined to be enemies of Ireland, if we do not kindle their fresh hearts with love and knowledge to bring all the wide resources of genius and wisdom, of practical sense and bold speculation, of grey experience and fiery enthusiasm, to elevate and inform the popular will—that true moral force which is destined to work our deliverance. A heavy work, but I repeat, not too heavy for our means, if the Confederate Clubs do not fall into sloth. There is even at this hour an army of willing workers confederated with us and a still greater army of reserve scattered over the country, in its cities, and hamlets, and ancient manors, and colleges, and farm-houses, panting to be shown how they may serve Ireland—hot with an agitating indefinite purpose, which longs to be interpreted to itself and become action. Labour and sacrifice for a noble end—for an end that would fill and accomplish the divine longings of their awakening hearts—would be rapture to them. Out of such fiery Irish natures came the missionaries who are spreading the Christian faith in distant, savage lands, and the poor, perverted missionaries, who are carrying only slaughter and death under the name of war and victory. What achievement can be difficult if we can enrol the flower of these young hearts into a great brotherhood for Ireland? Men who, for the sake of their suffering country, will bend to all labour, however toilsome; face all perils, however threatening; offer up all sacrifices, however bitter; who will share, according to their capacity, the endless toils that belong to a task like ours, of which so many are obscure and silent, far away from encouragement or applause.
In all these labours, recollect that nothing is to be done at random. In each we must have the predetermined end in view: first, to strengthen the country by intelligence, till its spirit become too strong and subtle for slavery; and again, to learn the duties that will ennoble and perpetuate the freedom we will win. The diffusion of knowledge and opinion is the only security for liberty. Where there are few thinkers in a country, death or corruption may carry them off, and leave the land defenceless. But every widening of the circle strengthens it; and we must place the safe keeping of liberty beyond accident or fraud.
I have not spoken to you of the political principles of the Confederation. That you are Confederates presupposes an acquaintance with them.
But there are two of them which mix themselves up so intimately with our moral obligations, that I am induced to pause a moment upon them. I speak of the principle that forbids the selection of dishonest men to be representatives of the people in any emergency, or on any pretence; and the principle that enforces the duty of independence of all English governments, and a total abstinence from the solicitation of places.
These principles have been so misrepresented that it is necessary we should understand clearly upon what grounds we are expected to hold them. The first ground is, that they are produce the state of mind essential to produce the state essential to Repeal-essential to among Irishmen that will ensure it of conviction in England that will ensure it without blood-shed.
At this hour, when injustice and insult have driven the Irish gentry to despair, I believe they are withheld from Repeal mainly by one consideration—by a fear that the people would misuse their power. This fear was strengthened, and most reasonably and naturally strengthened, by the election of persons of infamous character by the people. Thus every such election not only loses the opportunity of arming an honest Repealer with power to promote our cause, and puts that power into the hands of a dishonest Repealer to betray it, but, moreover, furnishes a dangerous argument against Repeal itself. It is a double-edged dagger, to wound us on the right and the left.
Some men have excused themselves by saying they did not approve of such and such a person, but voted for him, conceiving a bad Repealer better than none. Not at all; he is worse than none. A non-Repealer can do us little harm; a false Repealer may betray us at a vital moment; indeed, he is always betraying us—for, in a moral-force struggle, men without character not only bring no strength, but count against us; character being an essential element of moral force. What a great parliamentary party from Ireland might effect, and how it should be constituted, is a theme too wide to enter upon now; but I tell you that you will elect men in vain to forward Repeal, till you are prepared to send no one to control the affairs of the State to whom you would not entrust the guardianship of your children, or the care of your character or your wealth.
The grounds for abhorring place—begging are not merely the obvious one—the temptation it affords to treachery—but, far more, its evil tendency on the national mind. It would turn us into a nation of mendicants. The Confederation desires to teach the people to rely on themselves, to help themselves, and be strong. Place-begging teaches them to rely upon some beggarly hope, to hang after the tail of some patron, to lose self-respect and manhood, and be weak and contemptible for ever.
There is but one defence set up for it. We are told we lose this appointment and that, which may, perchance, be filled by enemies of the people. To be sure; we lose something; but it is something which we cannot have along with Repeal. You must choose between them. If you would win the race, you must not stop to gather the golden apples by the way. And how small the sacrifice compared to the gain? For generations all the places of emolument in this island were given to the English faction; and we must not count a few years’ more abstinence against the great end we strive for. The poor tenant has often and often defied his landlord, and voted for Repeal the good magistrate has abandoned the bench (the place most essential to have occupied by true men), and declared for Repeal the trader has sacrificed his customers—the doctor his practice the student his ambition, and many men their dearest ties; and shall the place-beggar alone be protected from all sacrifice, and be encouraged to set up his selfishness as a barrier to the public good? I declare from my conscience that every day’s experience convinces me more and more that this question of place-begging involves the question of Repeal, and that one or other must be sacrificed.
I have, perhaps, raised too many claims on mind and body, in the labours and duties I have suggested. But the men who have most served and adorned the world have been the hardest workers and to them success still opened wider fields of labour. And recollect the career that opens to Ireland. Hard work will be good training for us. For when we attain our national rights, we expect no fool’s paradise of idleness and revel. New duties will come with them, which if you keep up your moral health, you will rejoice to undertake. Meantime, in you, Confederates, above all Irishmen, practical exertions are necessary. You cannot flatter the whims or vanities of the people. You cannot feed them with delusive hopes. You must often tell them painful truths, and paint all the rugged difficulties of the path we have to tread. How then can you hope to win or retain them but by great labours, to attest your devotion and sincerity?
Do not turn aside, then, from the toil that lies before us; it will be its own reward. As we master the knowledge of all the rich capacities and resources of our country, new strength and confidence will grow up in us, and what now seems difficult will be easy. And I trust to see many an Irish enterprise now, and many an Irish institution hereafter, draw its directors and officers from the trained ranks of our Confederate Clubs—the Polytechnic Schools of Ireland.
The study of our history, which, I rejoice to know, you have already commenced, has uses fully as practical. The same faults have been committed over and over again by the Irish race, and this study is our only protection against their recurrence. Of politics, if it were only the politics of a parish, you can know nothing truly without the light of history. In what direction the national mind should be guided. Where lie the true strength and security of the country?—Whence must flow its permanent prosperity? These are questions which history alone will answer.
Again, it is the fountain-head of public opinion. The fixed conviction of the people, taught to ponder over the story of our long torture and ruin, and to contrast their own state at this hour with the natural condition of a land so gifted by God—the solemn memory of our heroes and martyrs, and of the long array of confessors, who, scorning to live in a slave’s land, went forth from it to make Ireland’s name illustrious in the courts and colleges, the camps and monasteries, and princely libraries of Europe—they know not what moral force means who undervalue the fiery and irresistible spirit which such memories kindle in men’s souls. Fighting to defend all the wealth of the Indies, all the prosperity of Venice, when of old she wedded the sea, we would be weak, compared with the stormy and burning strength that such passionate memories feed; for there is still something scathing and terrible in the nationality of an enslaved nation.
Of hard, practical duties we will have several, which I need not enforce. The Registries, for example, must be our special care, or our desire for competent representatives will die with the breath that utters it. We must be ready for the Elections.
As we gather force and knowledge, we must make our opinions felt through the Corporations and Boards of Guardians. We must study what are the true duties of these offices, and encourage their performance. We must preach to these representatives of the people the necessity of cultivating and exhibiting the public virtues that make authority respected—that men may love and honour the principle of popular representation. To do what is right, irrespective of present consequences to say what is true (when it becomes necessary to speak) in despite of prejudice or ignorance—in the good words of old, ‘to be just and fear not.’ For, less than a miracle of God would not liberate a people among whom knowledge, and self-respect, and independence, the capacity to see, and the courage to dare, were not common. Never, never, have such a people won freedom: seldom, when it was their birthright, have they preserved it from ruin.
The Clubs will be the executive of the movement, and the Council itself must, in time, gather new strength from them. When their year of office has expired, I trust to see the present Council call for a new election, in which the men who have been most effective in the local organization shall be chosen, to help the country in a wider field. Thus our system at once expands and condenses. Each member brings in a new recruit—each member of the Council establishes a new Club so it expands; every man who displays peculiar capacity, and desires the new labour, must be drawn into the Council—so it condenses and concentrates its strength.
And now I have touched upon our leading duties—Education, Conciliation, Organisation—and you have heard me with patience and attention.
Have I been talking jingling words to you? And you—have you applauded idle rant and exaggeration? Or do you believe my words? and will you put them in action? I have been exhorting you to truth, and here is a practical truth for you and me to begin with—to do the thing you have applauded. The latter history of Ireland is a chronicle of great undertakings ending in nothing. Let us begin with our little undertaking in this Club, by carrying out strictly all its details. Trust me, the example will be worth something to ourselves and others. For more than power, or prosperity—more than armies, or navies, or commerce, or intellectual glory, or conquered fields, does the practice of speaking and acting only the truth, make a country great and happy.
One word more and I am done. We have been told that we begin this work at a dark hour. Surely; but hence at one fitter for such a beginning. After a frightful demonstration of the evil, the right hour is come to comprehend and value the remedy. The Catholic Association sprung up immediately after the horrors of the last famine; for great trials make men serious and eager. And not then, or ever, in the world were the means and appliances of success more plentiful, if we use them nobly and wisely.
And now I conclude by reminding you again, that if this movement fail there will be to blame, in the first place—us. For if we in this room alone, or any other hundred men, are as true to Ireland as we are all of us to our own passions and interests, I believe and know that failure is impossible.