From The Irishman, 10 March, 1877.
It has never been the custom in Ireland to eulogise the illustrious dead over their graves; and, on my own part, I have always thought that the grave of the patriot was not the fitting place for oratory, even for eloquence the most chaste or the most inspiring, but rather for the prayer and the tears and the resolve. I have not forgotten the address read in Glasnevin Cemetery upon a memorable occasion, when the ashes of Terence Bellew MacManus, after being carried over two oceans and a continent, found a resting-place in his own land – nor do I forget the eloquent panegyric more recently spoken in the Cemetery of our southern capital; but “God’s acre” seems to me like God’s house; and for this reason alone I will venture to express a hope that public speaking at funerals may continue among us to be the exception and not the rule. You will easily understand from what I have just said, it was with the utmost reluctance I consented to address a few words to you even here, rather than embarrass by my refusal the committee who have given so much time and labour to the organising of this most impressive and significant manifestation of a people’s gratitude and a people’s faith. But I am sure you will all agree with me that this is not the moment, nor is this the place to delineate or try to delineate the character of the perfect patriot, the earnest worker, the able and prudent leader, who lies dead in our midst today; or to speak at any length of his labours and sacrifices in the undying cause of this unhappy but unconquered nation.
The name of John O’Mahony is a household name in Ireland, and in every clime where her scattered children have found a home. His whole life was given to his country. True, he was never in chains, never knew the cruelties, the insults, the untold horrors of a British convict prison, nor was he strangled upon a British scaffold. Yet was John O’Mahony a martyr for Ireland; and from my knowledge of the man – and I believe he showed me his whole heart – his tender, affectionate nature, his yearning love of home and kindred, his sensitive pride, it is my firm conviction that no patriot living or dead ever endured more intense or prolonged suffering for the sake of the land that bore him than was endured for Ireland’s sake by him around whose lifeless clay we are now assembled, and whose name will live for ever in the affections of a generous people, who reject with loathing the cold-hearted suggestion that honour should be accorded only to the successful and the victorious.
During the latter years of his life of sacrifice he had to struggle, and he did struggle long and courageously, against bodily disease. Yes, his constitution, if not his heart, was broken; and, feeling that his end was near, he reluctantly loosed his grasp of the old flag, and said, “I’ll go home and die.” Oh! It is a sad, sad story. Less happy than Mitchel, he was never again to see his beloved Erin of the streams – never to rest his eyes on the fair hills of holy Ireland. It was hard; but when he saw even this last fond hope fade away, thank God he at least knew that his dust would be Irish earth; for in the knowledge he had the assurance that he had not lived in vain. When the head of Robert Emmet fell upon the scaffold in Thomas-street, from that moment the great organisation founded by Wolfe Tone was a memory; an inspiring memory, no doubt, a memory to enkindle and keep alive the aspirations of liberty in the hearts of after-generations; but still only a memory. When the imprisoned leaders of ’48 prohibited any attempt to rescue them, and O’Mahony, his heart torn with disappointment and anguish, broke up his camp on Ahinna, and with a price upon his head escaped to France, from that hour Young Ireland lived only in its songs. But in spite of denunciation and calumny, of dissension, and disaster, and derision, in spite of the dungeon and the gallows, the movement the foundations of which were laid by Doheny, O’Mahony, and Stephens more than twenty long years ago, is not a memory, it is an existing thing.
Behold the proof in these precious relics borne to us over three thousand miles of ocean, in the ordered lines which followed them through the streets of the great city on that ocean’s far-off shore, in the hosts of men who, from the moment of their arrival in Cork harbour, have thronged round them as to a holy shrine. Behold the proof that his has been no wasted life in the abounding love that says to every man in Ireland nursed, “Join with us in honouring the memory of the dead, share in our sorrow today, as we mean that you shall share in the priceless blessing for which he has taught us how to labour – which he has showed us the way to win.”
And you who expect to obtain from an alien parliament some semblance of self-government, some security for the tiller of the soil, some right to educate your children in a way of which your consciences can approve – why can you not see, why have you not the justice to acknowledge, that you dare not even speak with bated breath of these things, if the country had not been lifted out of the lower deep of hopelessness into which venality and condoned treachery had plunged her – by men who knew how to dare and to suffer, as their fathers before them had dared and suffered, and who have demonstrated to friend and foe that – thanks to the progress of education – our people are at length capable of earnest, persevering, intelligent, self-sacrificing endeavour for the attainment of a possibly remote end!
No, we have not failed! John O’Mahony has not laboured and lived in vain. And, oh! how he did love Ireland. She was his mother, his queen, his idol, his all the world! And in the long roll of her patriot martyrs and confessors no name will shine with purer lustre than his.
Let us dry our tears; and, standing round the bier of our dead chief, let us resolve to watch and labour and unite, always trusting in the justice of God, who has implanted this immortal longing for nationhood in the hearts of our people, and hopefully remembering that:
Freedom hath arisen
Oft from prison bars,
Oft from battle flashes,
Oft from hero’s lips,
Oftenest from his ashes.
His travels are all over, and gently he rests in the bosom of his adored motherland, and as that sun goes down, millions and millions of the Irish race, remembering that its last beams will rest upon the grave of John O’Mahony, will join in our prayer – God rest the soul of the true and the brave!