From The Irish People, June 17, 1865.
“Fenianism” in Ireland must have completely changed its character since it first began to figure in the newspapers. Not many months ago it usually turned up in a tap-room, and was invariably “under the influence.” It smelt strongly of whiskey, and was generally presented to the public in connection with a fine of five shillings and costs. When an unlucky wight did happen to get into more serious trouble for “rendering an illegal oath,” a half-gallon of beer was as sure to figure in the proceedings as a New Testament or the Path to Paradise. Calling for “another round” was an indispensable preliminary to “swearing in;” and men conspired against the Queen of England, her crown, and dignity to the tune of “We won’t go home till morning.” When one of the conspirators appeared abroad, he was filled with a lofty scorn for that highly respectable force whom he irreverently designed “hornies;” and evinced a resolute determination to keep the two sides of the road. And when “Fenianism” turned out in force it was sure to choose the immediate vicinity of a police barrack for the display of its proficiency in drill. Such were the glimpses of “Fenianism” with which we were favoured by English and Irish newspapers.
But, according to the same authorities, “Fenianism” has undergone a wonderful transformation. It is a horse of quite another colour. It shuns the public-house and gives the police-barrack a wide berth; and, so far from being remarkable for an unsteadiness of gait, the “Fenian” may now be known by his measured tread and upright, soldierly bearing. “Fenianism” is no longer laughed at. It is “an ugly fact.” So say the newspapers.
We attached slight importance to the sneers of British and West-British scribes, when they were in the mood for sneering. And the more series, but not less malicious, notice with which, for some time back, they have favoured Irish Nationalists concerns us just as little. We cannot forget, however, that the attempt to throw ridicule upon Irish Nationalists was not confined to the enemy’s press. Men who consider themselves patriots were not behindhand in showing their love of country in this very original way. A foolish or disreputable act done by a reputed “Fenian” gladdened the hearts of those patriots, and was pointed to as proof positive that a certain party was composed wholly of rowdies. It was conveniently forgotten that more ruffianism could be found among the supporters of a “legal and constitutional” hero at a single election than calumny has been able to invent for the “Fenians” from one end of Ireland to the other. A tipsy nationalist excited the disgust of gentlemen who would feel quite at home in the midst of a drunken mob. The sight of a “Fenian” coming out of a public house has furnished the text of many a sermon to pious agitators who would not scruple to give an order for an unlimited supply of whiskey to “prime” the liberal candidate’s bludgeonmen. But honest, thinking men could not long be deceived by these tactics. Truth is not so easily extinguished; and many persons see the truth now who for a while were blinded by calumnies invented by knaves and perhaps believed by some well-meaning, but prejudiced persons who, with the best intentions in the world took to bearing false witness against their neighbours in the interest of religion and morality. This practice still goes on, but the number of those who are influenced by it has greatly diminished. Even old women and young schoolboys begin to doubt whether all they hear about the “Fenians” is gospel.
Drunkenness and faction-fighting are disappearing. Our young men are becoming more intelligent and manly, and, consequently, more moral every day. And this change is most apparent precisely in those places where the IRISH PEOPLE is most read, and “Fenianism” is said most to abound. The most ignorant can scarcely be persuaded that the thing which produces such fruits is quite so black as it is painted.
The attempt to fasten the charge of rowdyism upon the true nationalists of Ireland has utterly failed. Even the enemy’s press has given it up. Patriotic Irishmen would do well to follow its example. If denouncing rowdyism affords them any pleasure they have a rich treat before them. They will find one “nomination day” worth fifty years of “Fenianism.” So we would recommend them to reserve their strength for the general election. As for those aggravating “Fenians,” they have clearly made up their minds to leave blackguardism to moral-force patriots who wish to send their friends to the London parliament to win the “three points,” and not to beg for places for anybody’s cousins, brothers, sons or nephews. Of course not!