From The Irishman, 18 April, 1863.
We would ask our readers – particularly our Irish-American readers – to ponder over the facts contained in the letter of our Skibbereen correspondent, in last week’s issue of this journal. Here we have a body of Irish Nationalists organising a peaceful, orderly, and dignified demonstration of sympathy with Poland. They are put down by a large armed police force – brought in from a district of thirty miles in extent for the purpose – with a High Sheriff and a stipendiary magistrate at their hand. It would appear that certain Phoenix prisoners – Mr. O’DONOVAN (Rossa) amongst the number – took an active part in devising and carrying out this demonstration of sympathy and admiration for the glorious “Legions of Despair,” who have called a prostrate people to its feet, and proved to the world what “the might that slumbers in the peasant’s arm” can effect, even when battling unaided against the disciplined hordes of an alien oppressor. Mr. O’DONOVAN (Rossa) is threatened with the summary vengeance of the government, if he should ever again be detected in such malpractices; but his letter to our discretion-loving Chief Secretary is sufficiently explicit – and it is not our intention, for the present, to deal with this particular feature of the proceedings at Skibbereen.
Not only are Phoenix prisoners threatened, and armed police paraded to strike terror when Nationality dares to show its “monstrous visage” down there in Skibbereen – but “shopkeepers will have a falling off in business, and men in situations are cautioned by their employers.”
Now, this is true of all Ireland.
To an observer at distance it might appear that we are free to say and do what we please, at least, within the limits of the “Constitution,” which is the “envy of surrounding nations,” and soforth. But if these who so think were to the fore, they would soon learn how far such a supposition is from the real state of things existing in Ireland. We know of educated and intelligent men who feel the degradation of their country – who mourn over the desolation and sufferings of her children – who, indeed (if they are to be believed), would strike like men for her independence, if they saw a chance of success – and who, notwithstanding, dared not walk in the funeral of McMANUS – dare not attend a National Banquet, or a meeting for any national purpose, lest they should money or caste by identifying themselves with a party which “Gentility” has tabooed.
There may be some encouragement in the fact, that when the hour of trial comes, these men will fling their venal, hypocritical “loyalty” to the winds, and take their stand in the ranks of their countrymen. But we tell them they are now doing all that in them lies to retard the advent of that hour, and crushing the heart of their country as effectually as if the rooting out of the Gael were as much a labour of love to them as it is to the power before which they bend in insincere homage; but which spurious fealty answers the purpose of said power just as well as the genuine article.
This is not the worst of it. For not only do these men we refer to desert the national standard, but, prompted by a narrow vanity, they endeavour to sneer down the efforts of those who have the courage and the self-denial to cling to it in the face of danger and sacrifice. It requires both courage and self-denial to be a true Nationalist in Ireland today; and we see no reason why we should conceal that such is the case. Is it too much, then, to implore of all Irishmen who would wish to see their country independent – who would rather see her a free and sovereign state than remain a beggared and plundered province (and surely we may include ninety-nine in every hundred of our countrymen of all classes and persuasions in this category) – is it too much, we say, to implore of them to look with toleration on every unselfish effort to keep this old island for the people for whom GOD created it? We can understand ardent and, mayhap, hot-headed patriots intolerant and impatient of those whose overcaution makes them look like laggards in the cause; but it is very hard to be either intolerant or impatient of men whose zeal in the midst of the atmosphere of apathy, venality, and corruption now surrounding us, impels them into what some may consider too precipitate a course of action. For our own part we could forgive the men who, in the heat of action and in the eagerness of the advance, would trample us in the dust, much sooner than we could forgive those who would allow the foe to trample on us.
Thinking not only of the strength and completeness of the machinery by which we are kept down and plundered, but of the black pall which our own hands have flung between us and the light – thinking of the innumerable agencies which are everywhere at work to smother and stamp out the aspiration for freedom which still lives, and prevent its taking such tangible shape as would give the world proof of its existence – thinking of all this and more, we may well ask, “What can poor Ireland do?”
But we ask this not in the spirit of despair. Rather, do we wish to appeal to our exiled brothers to make due allowance for us, if we do not unfurl the dear old banner in the light of day, and even if we are forced occasionally to hoist false colours. It may be very bad to hoist false colours; but it would be much worse if the colours displayed occasionally amongst us were not false. In fact, there is more of the element by which great deeds are wrought in Ireland than meets the eye. That element can only be destroyed when Ireland will no longer be the home of our race.
But how soon must not that be, if the fell design be not boldly grappled with? We feel the full weight of the responsibility that rests upon us. The tide is near the flood; the hour of the nation’s agony is fast approaching. As JOHN O’MAHONY has said, our race wields a power amply sufficient to crown their Widowed Queen with a crown of glory; but we at home must not be wanting in our duty to that Widowed Queen; and, with GOD’S blessing, we never shall.