From The Irish People, January 23, 1864.
The rule of the foreigner has never been accepted by the Irish people. Such acceptance would involve a depth of debasement to which no civilised race of men has ever fallen. Accept the rule of England! Accept confiscation and robbery, insult, torture, and contempt. No human being who knows anything of Ireland believes that her people regard, or ever regarded that rule but as a thing to be hated and cursed – to be trampled upon and got rid of, whenever God in his mercy would send a fair chance to grapple with it. If opportunities have come and gone unprofited by, it was never the people’s fault. They are not even to be blamed for surrendering themselves blindly to the guidance of false or incompetent leaders. So many influences combined to shut out the light from them that no one can wonder at their blindness, heretofore, in this respect.
But enough of light has dawned upon them of late years to enable them to see their position clearly. They know they are now upon the brink of an abyss from which there is but one way of escaping. We do not want to deceive the people. We tell them plainly that this one only road from ruin and disgrace, to safety, and liberty, and glory, can only be trod by the bold of heart and resolute of will. Do our people possess these qualities? We believe they do – we know they do. They were never wanting in dash and courage to face danger – but along with this the manhood of Ireland to-day is instinct with a spirit of self-reliance and self-sacrifice, which we do believe brings them up to the level of those peoples the story of whose heroic struggles for freedom will ring through the world for ever. If we have formed a true estimate of our young men – if we have read their hearts aright – then have we reason to rejoice that the fate of the Irish Nation must be decided soon and quickly one way or the other. A good cause; stout hearts; strong arms; clear heads, to plan and lead; order, discipline, obedience – with these what may we not hope for? Where these are, opportunities come as surely as lightning precedes the thunder-clap. The opportunity once come, and finding us so prepared, success may be reasonably, glory certainly anticipated. But why should we rejoice that the alternative of freedom or destruction should be so thrust upon us, that willingly or unwillingly we must choose between them? Perhaps our thankfulness in this respect springs from mere selfishness. We naturally wish to share in the glory of lifting our bleeding motherland from the earth. We should like to see her sorrow-dimmed face wreathed in smiles before we die. Or – next dearest blessing – we should like to die in a manly way for her; haply in a “head-long charge” – or under the star-lit sky, while the hills around blazed with the signal-fires of victory, proclaiming from the centre to the sea, that at long last the robber flag was down in the dust, and Ireland had her own again. We plead guilty to entertaining these selfish aspirations; and peradventure it is because of them we feel this secret satisfaction at finding ourselves driven to bay.
For it has not been for nothing that oppression and false teaching have been sapping our nature for generations. And if our people had some small share of the material comforts of life – and if there was no danger of their utter extirpation – we are not quite sure but that we should be tempted to put the debt we owe our country “on the long finger” – merely doing something to keep alive the aspiration for nationhood – laying the flattering unction to our souls that we were sowing the seed which would ripen into a glorious harvest for our children, who would bless us in our graves. And so we should pass from the earth without having done one manly deed for country or kind.
We might be content with mere sentimental patriotism; dreamily loving our green island, gloating over her unrivalled scenery, studying her language, sobbing with sorrow and love while we listened to her entrancing music; pondering over her ancient glories, and haply making ballads or essays upon them; bewailing her slavery, and the web of discord, which a wayward fate wove for her – and, anon, smashing the Saxon foe to atoms in rhyme or prose. But the stern necessities of the hour forbid this puny self-delusion. We witness the “periodical slaughter” of our people; we see the grass growing upon their hearths; we watch the stalworth manhood and virtuous womanhood of our race flying away to distant lands – and seeing all this we must be men and no thanks to us.
We have had our moments of gloom – but of despair never. A miracle forbade us to despair. That miracle is the indestructibility of the longing for a distinct national existence in the hearts of the Irish people. If the Great Ruler had not destined us to be a Nation, this sentiment – or call it what you will – could not have survived the ordeal through which it has passed. Has it lived through ages of darkness and storm but to be quenched while it glows with an intenser heat and a purer light than ever? Either that or we are on the threshold of liberty.
Youth of Ireland! all depends upon you. Upon your courage and devotion hangs the fate of your country. You are our vanguard. Be prepared to meet the foe in an ordered phalanx, and your measured tramp shall hush the voice of denunciation – you will inspire the waverer with courage – the doubter with confidence – the selfish with devotion – the despairing with hope – the apathetic with life, and UNITED Ireland leaping to her feet, shall, with one sweep of her unfettered arm hurl the invader into the sea.
This, young men of Ireland, is your mission. Oh! be worthy of it.