October 9, 1881. The address, reproduced almost entirely, is taken from Charles Stewart Parnell and what he has achieved for Ireland by J.S Mahoney, published in 1885.
People of the City and County of Wexford — I am proud to see that your county has not forgotten her traditions, but that you are prepared to-day, as you always were to return a fitting answer to threats and intimidation, even if it should become necessary to use those means which were used in 1798 by an unscrupulous government, — means which failed then, and which, please God, will fail again if they are tried again. You in this country have arrived at the commencement of the second year of existence of this great Land League movement. You have gained something by your exertions during the last twelve months, but I am here to-day to tell you that you have gained but a fraction of that to which you are justly entitled. And the Irishman who thinks that he can now throw away his arms, just as Grattan disbanded the Volunteers in 1782, will find to his sorrow and destruction, when too late, that he has placed himself in the power of a perfidious, cruel, unrelenting English enemy. You have had an opportunity recently, many of you, no doubt, of studying the utterances of a very great man, a very great orator, a person who recently desired to impress the world with a great opinion of his philanthropy and hatred of oppression, but who stands to-day the greatest coercionist, the greatest and most unrivalled slanderer of the Irish nation that ever undertook that task. I refer to William Ewart Gladstone and his unscrupulous and dishonest speech the day before yesterday. Not content with maligning you, he maligns John Dillon. He endeavours to misrepresent the young Ireland party of 1848. No misrepresentation is too patent, too low, or too mean for him to stoop to, and it is a good sign that this masquerading knight-errant, this pretended champion of liberties of every other nation except those of the Irish nation, should be obliged to throw off the mask to-day and to stand revealed as the man who, by his own utterances, is prepared to carry fire and sword into your homesteads unless you humble and abase yourselves before him and before the landlords of this country. But I have forgotten I had said that he had maligned everybody. Oh, no; he has a good word for one or two people. He says that the late Mr. Isaac Butt was a most amiable man and a true patriot. When we in Ireland were following Isaac Butt into the lobbies, endeavouring to pass the very act which William Ewart Gladstone passed, by having stolen the idea from Isaac Butt, William Ewart Gladstone and his ex-government officials were following Sir Stafford Northcote and Benjamin Disraeli into the other lobby. No man was good in Ireland until he was dead and unable to do anything more for his country. In the opinion of an English statesman, no man is good in Ireland until he was buried and unable to strike a blow for Ireland, and perhaps the day may come when I may get a good word from English statesmen as a moderate man when I am dead and buried.
When Mr. Gladstone a little lower down accuses us of preaching the doctrine of public i3lunder, and of proclaiming a new gospel of plunder, and, further down, of the promulgation of a gospel of sheer plunder — (A voice, ‘That is his own doctrine.’) I would be obliged to my friend in the crowd if he would leave me to make the speech, and not be anticipating me. When the people talk of public plunder they should first ask themselves and recall to mind who were the first public plunderers in Ireland. The land of Ireland has been confiscated three times over by the men whose descendants Mr. Gladstone is supporting in the fruits of their plunder by his bayonets and his buckshot. When we speak about plunder we are entitled to ask who were the first of the plunderers. Oh, yes; but we can say a little more than that too; we can say, or at all events if we don’t say it others will say it, that the doctrine of public plunder is only a question of degree. Who was it that first sanctioned this doctrine of public plunder will be asked by some persons. I am proceeding in the demand that the improvements of the tenants — and their predecessors in title — shall be his, no matter how long ago they may have been made. I am proceeding upon the lines of an amendment in the land act of 1881, which was introduced by Mr. Healy, framed by Mr. Gladstone’s attorney-general for Ireland and sanctioned by Mr. Gladstone, his whole cabinet, the House of Commons, and the House of Lords. If your rents are reduced at all under this land act, it will be because this land act requires that for twenty years back the improvements of the tenant or his predecessors in title shall not be valued by the landlord for rent, and I say that it is a question of degree if you extend that limit of twenty years, within which period the improvements of the tenants have been protected by the legislature, to that period, no matter how long, within which those improvements have been made.
Why should the landlord be entitled to compensation for improvements that may have been made one hundred years ago, any more than lie should be entitled to improvements made twenty years ago? And I say that it is this doctrine of public plunder. It is a question of degree, and William Ewart Gladstone, who has shown himself more capable of eating his own words, and better able to recede from principles and declarations which he has laid down with just as much fervour as he made the speech the other evening, will, before long, if he lives long enough, introduce a bill into the House of Commons to extend this very principle of public plunder which he has sanctioned by las act of 1881, and to thoroughly protect the interests of tenants and their predecessors in title for improvements they have made, so that if we are to go into this question the utmost that Mr. Gladstone and the Liberal party will be able to make out of it will be to find that there are some persons very much better entitled to call him a little robber than he is to call me a big one. But I was forgetting a point; he has a good word for Mr. Shaw. He has discovered that there are only four or five honest Irishmen in the country, and one of these is Mr. Shaw. He blames me for not having disapproved of what he falls the dynamite policy. Well, I am not aware that Mr. Shaw has repudiated the dynamite policy either; but I’ll tell you what Mr. Shaw said, and you must bear in mind that, in addition to speaking well of him as an honest Irishman, Mr. Gladstone also offered him a situation as one of the land commissioners. Mr. Shaw did not repudiate the dynamite policy any more than I did; but I’ll tell you what he did eighteen months ago in the county of Cork. He said that his blood boiled whenever he saw a process-server, and that he never met one without feeling inclined to take the lynch-pin out of his car. Now, gentlemen, if I said that to you to-day Mr. Gladstone would have me in Kilmainham before three weeks were out. Nay, more, if I had ever spoken anything like that Mr. Gladstone would have had me in Kilmainham long ago.
Referring to Mr. Gladstone’s charge that “he (Mr. Parnell) was afraid, now that the land act was passed, lest the people of England by their long-sustained efforts should win the hearts of the whole Irish nation,” Mr. Parnell said:
Long-sustained efforts in what? Was it in evicting the 2,000 tenants who have been evicted since the 1st of January last? Was it in patting the two hundred honourable and brave men in Kilmainham and the other jails of the country? Was it in issuing a police circular of a more infamous character than any which has ever been devised by any foreign despot? Was it in the sending of hundreds of thousands of rounds of ball cartridge to his Bashi-Bazouks throughout the country? Was it in sharpening the bayonets of the latest issue to the Royal Irish Constabulary? And if it was not all these sustained efforts which Mr. Gladstone has taken up nobly and well from his predecessors in the title of misgoverning Ireland, I should like to know what were the efforts of which William Ewart Gladstone talks when he speaks of those sustained efforts which he is making for the people of Ireland. He charges us with having refused to vote for the second reading of his land act; he charges us with having used every effort to disparage, to discredit, and, if we could, to destroy his land bill; he points to our refusal to compromise our position by voting on the second reading as his proof, and then he goes on to say that on every subsequent occasion, on the two subsequent occasions when that bill was really in danger, I and the Irish party rescued Gladstone and his cabinet by our thirty-six votes from destruction and defeat. And then in the close of his speech he admits our whole position and contention. In one last despairing wail he says that when the government is expected to preserve the peace it has no moral force behind it. The government has no moral force behind it in Ireland. The whole Irish people are against them. They have to depend for their support on the self-interest of a very small minority of the people of this country, and therefore they have no moral force behind them. Mr. Gladstone, in those few short words, admits that the English government has failed in Ireland ; he admits the contention that Grattan and the volunteers of ’82 fought for; he admits the contention that the men of ’98 lost their lives for; he admits the contention that O’Connell argued for; he admits the contention that the men of ’48 staked their all for; he admits the contention that the men of ’65, after a long period of depression and of apparent death of all national life, in Ireland, cheerfully faced the dungeon and the horrors of penal servitude for, and admits the contention that to-day you in your overpowering multitudes have re-established, and, please God, will bring to a successful and final issue, namely, that England’s mission in Ireland has been a failure, and that Irishmen have established their right to govern Ireland by laws made by themselves for themselves on Irish soil, and he winds up with a threat. This man, who has no moral force behind him, he winds up with a threat: ‘No fear of force and no fear of ruin through force shall, so far as we are concerned, and it is in our power to decide the question, prevent the Irish people from having the full and free benefit of the Land act.’ I say it is not in his power to trample on the aspirations and the rights of the Irish people with no moral force behind him. These are very brave words that he uses, but it strikes me that they have a ring about them like the whistle of a schoolboy on his way through a churchyard at night to keep up his courage. He would have you to believe that he is not afraid of you because he has disarmed you, because he has attempted to disorganize you, because he knows that the Irish nation is to-day disarmed, so far as physical weapons go. But he does not hold this kind of language with the Boers. What did he do at the commencement of the session? He said something of this kind. He said he was going to put them down; but as soon as he had discovered that they were able to shoot straighter than his own soldiers, he allowed these few men to put himself and his government down, and though he has attempted to regain some of his lost position in the Transvaal by the subsequent chicanery of diplomatic negotiations, yet that sturdy and small people in the distant Transvaal have seen through Mr. William Ewart Gladstone, and they have told him again for a second time that they will not have their liberties filched from them; and, as the result, I believe we shall see that Mr. Gladstone will again yield to the people of the Transvaal. And I trust we shall see, as the result of this great movement, that just as Mr. Gladstone, by the act of 1881, has eaten all his bold words, has departed from all his former declared principles, so we shall see that these brave words of this English prime minister will be scattered as chaff before the united and advancing determination of the Irish people to regain for themselves their lost land and their lost legislative independence.