Published in An Phoblacht, 28 May 1926.
Liam Mellows joined the Fianna in its very early days. Colbert and Heuston belonged to the same group of boys and were his comrades.
Liam always had faith in its ultimate success, and, through all our difficulties, his steadfastness, courage and gaiety influenced all he met, and made us lean on him, and as time went on put more and more confidence in him.
He loved the young people and believed in them. He believed, too, that the Republic would be finally established and recognised internationally through the self-sacrifice and courage of the youth of Ireland.
One little scene between Liam and myself always rises before my vision when his name is mentioned. It was one of the unforgettable things that showed the greatness of his growing soul. I would like all our young patriots to know it, too, and to think of Liam when they are starting out on the road of life, and the crossroads are reached. One road leads into the darkness. It is only lit by the starry crowns of martyrs and by the lights of Heaven in the far, far distance. The other road is bright and gay, and leads to worldly success, to pleasure and money; the darkness at the end is hardly seen. Liam knew instinctively that the dark road led to a happy death, to comradeship with the noble dead and to immortality, while the bright and sunny path he scorned had brought many a confident and clever lad to die in the end the death of a Judas or of Carey, or Castlereagh or MacNally.
It was during the very early days of the Fianna, and we of the Executive Council were very depressed. There were hardly any branches of the Fianna outside Dublin, few workers and little money. Liam came to me one day and said to me, very quietly and humbly, but with a twinkle in his eye, “I’m thinking of giving up my job, and I’m wondering if you’ll approve.” He went on to tell me that his job was a poor one, and that he did not care about it, and that he proposed chucking it for something that he would like better, and that though it would not be worth much at the beginning he believed he would be able to work it up all right.
He then made the amazing statement that he contemplated going on the road to organise the Fianna. He went on to tell me that he had a bicycle and a good new coat, and that once he got clear of Dublin it would be very cheap work for he need never take a train, and he was sure that in most places he would be able to find sympathisers and friends who would give him a bed, and save hotel expenses. He asked us to raise 3O shillings for him, to give him a start and if possible 10 shillings a week. With this he cheerfully declared he would be alright; indeed, money was hardly necessary, for he was sure that the movement would always find friends who would put him up. But he would just like to know that the 10 shillings was there all right in case of emergencies. Very soon, he explained, he would cease to be a burden to us, for he believed that soon he would be able to provide the money for his own expenses, with something over for the “Executive from the affiliation fees of the branches he would establish”. Of course, it was all nonsense about his job, but it was Liam’s way of putting off and always belittling the sacrifices he was prepared to make.
Headquarters thought it over and hesitated. Some thought it too great a sacrifice, as if he gave up his job he would probably not be able to get another, and the risk of failure was great. A boy going out alone into the unknown to try and induce boys to take on their young shoulders that which the men had shirked for more than a generation sounded like some story out of the far off, glorious days of Gaelic greatness, it didn’t sound like a business proposition for an organisation in the twentieth century. And yet it was our Liam, the wisest of us all, who was expounding the scheme, a merry twinkle in his blue eyes when he saw some of the boyish faces of amazement listening to him.
Most of the Headquarters’ staff shared with me the belief that it is wrong to prevent or dissuade anyone sacrificing themselves for Ireland, if that is their wish, and so it came about that Liam got his way, gave up his job, and took up his cross for Ireland.
From that day his life was one of striving and struggling along the Calvary of his own choosing, his eyes fixed on the ultimate goal, never looking back. He had that faith in God, which opens the spiritual eyes of a pure soul, and so he knew instinctively that sacrifice alone is the coin in which we must pay for the things beyond and above material value that we would attain to and give to our country. So Liam, with a boyish faith, sacrificed himself, his life, every hour of it, for Ireland, to obtain freedom for her.
We, his friends, know just a little of what he sacrificed. Love smiled at him and he bade her wait; ambition courted him at every turn, he scarcely glanced her way; friendship pulled at his heartstrings; rest, comfort, peace, with inviting eyes, mocked him as he gently passed them by. Every joy of life that tempted him to pause and turn aside from the path of his choosing was but one more of the golden coins of sacrifice offered by him “for the glory of God and the honour of Ireland”.
His death was but the culmination of a life of sacrifice, the payment of the last golden coin.
We may weep for the happy memory of him, but no tears may be shed in sorrow and pity for the great death he died. They would be an unworthy tribute to one who we know found that higher peace and ecstasy that is only found in complete sacrifice, and that is God’s great gift to his martyrs.
In the Fianna all his comrades loved him. He was so ambitious for them and for Ireland and so forgetful of himself, never seeking position, power or honours. He was full of sympathy and kindness and always ready for a bit of fun, steadfast, reliable and honourable.
His fight in Galway in 1916, his work in America after his escape, his return and the great work he did on the Headquarters’ staff of the IRA during the Anglo-Irish War, his great speech against the “Treaty” in Dáil Éireann, his fight in the Four Courts and his execution are public property, they belong to Ireland and to all patriots the world over. But to his comrades of the Fianna belong his boyish years of quiet work and training, and the unfolding of the great character and brain that made him the man he was and earned for him the fear and hatred of Mulcahy, who knew that in the end Ireland must stand for Liam and the honourable and courageous, who cared for honour and integrity more than life; and so he had him killed.
Death has given immortality to Liam, immortality and power, and Liam dead will conquer, and the Republic for which he died prevail against her enemies.