From The Gaelic American, 31 March, 1906.
Gentlemen – I have learned much from my friend, Judge Coffey’s speech. I have learned one thing that I never heard before, that the Governor of South Carolina was guilty of two sentences. Gentlemen, up to this moment I was only conscious of the one, and, that I may emphasize it, allow me to drink to the health of my host tonight.
Now, the Judge was kind enough to give his own translation of that Irish poem, which every man of Irish birth who is here to-night ought to be able to read for himself. But the Judge was modest. He passed over the verse addressed to himself. He will allow me to read it. Now the meaning of that is – Judge, do not blush – “To powerfully overthrow the laziness of the law” – that is good – “to stand by the weak and feeble in the hour of their distress; and stoutman must become gentle and human in his presence; and might must submit to this man’s right.”
I think the upright man has never been better pictured in literature; and I tell you what, the Irish nation possesses a literature second to none; and when you see these opposite quotations translated into to-morrow’s press, if they are translated there, you will know what the literature is that was able to get so apposite a quotation for each of the toasts tonight.
I can hardly express my feelings when I look around upon the guests at this enormous banquet, my hosts. I really am without words to express my feeling of the unique honour that you have paid me; and I accept it, gentlemen, not in my own behalf, not as any tribute to me personally, unworthy as I am, but I accept it as your tribute to the cause of an Irish-Ireland. That is our gospel. I accept it as a tribute paid in my person to the men and women, my colleagues, that I have left behind me in Ireland undergoing the burden and the heat of the day – men and women who are striving to realize the ideals of every true Irishman, “Ireland a Nation Once Again.”
PRAISE FOR SAN FRANCISCO.
I have now travelled through about forty cities of the United States, and wherever I have gone I have preached the same gospel. Archbishop Montgomery here preaches this same gospel at every altar, wherever he may be. But in no city that I have visited have I met so kind a greeting, have I met such Irish feelings, or have I met such sympathetic Irishmen as in San Francisco. But, gentlemen, I will tell you the truth, I expected it. I have always understood that this is pre-eminently the spot in all America where the Irish race had a fair look-in with other races. And I have never wavered for one moment in my belief that where Irishmen get a fair look-in with other races, when other races come to the top, the Irishmen will be there before them.
So, gentlemen, I expected that you would have impressed upon this city the marks of your race, the marks of your kindliness, the marks of our civilization, and such a civilization as the Irishman has had.
Gentlemen, your ancestors, our ancestors, were the men who for generations possessed the only civilization in Europe. It was your ancestors and our ancestors who sowed the seeds in every country in the West of Europe, and we must never forget, and never be allowed to forget, our great race heritage.
You are the only people who have preserved the record of your own past, and preserved it in a literature of your own, when the rest of the peoples were plunged in darkness. You have preserved the longest, the most consecutive, and the most luminous literary track behind you of any people that has preserved its vernacular, except Greece alone.
I am not exaggerating when I say that during all the horror and darkness and confusion and ignorance of the people in the Middle Ages. Ireland, and Ireland alone, held aloft the torch of learning and of piety in the race of mankind for between three and four centuries. And, gentlemen, we do not know it ourselves.
IRELAND NEEDS A UNIVERSITY.
We have no university to instruct us. Irish-Ireland has no headquarters to teach it its own great past, and you look to your American books written in English, and you look to your English books written on the other side of St. George’s Channel, for those things, and you look in vain. You cannot find them. But go over to the mainland of the Continent; go to France, our natural ally; go to Germany, our best friend as far as literature is concerned; go to Belgium; go to any place of learning on the Continent, and there is not a university that will not tell you what I am telling you to-night. If you doubt me, turn to the pages of Windisch of Leipzig, turn to the pages of Zimmer, the great professor of Sanskrit, in Berlin; turn to Dr. Holger Pedersen of Copenhagen, the man whose work on the Irish grammar, written in Danish, is acknowledged through Europe to be the best thing done on that particular subject; turn to D’Arbois de Jubainville, the venerable professor of Paris; to my friend, George Dodd, of Britanny; above all, to my friend, Dr. Kuno Meyer, of Berlin; and do not forget to turn to the pages of Solomon Reinach, the learned Jew of Paris; and, gentlemen, between us and men of that race, I have often thought how close is the resemblance on the pages of history.
Turn to those men, and they will tell you what I am telling you to-night; and when it is told you by a tongue that is not Irish and by a pen that was never held in the hand of an Irish writer perhaps then you will believe it.
Our work in Ireland to-day, and the movement of which I have the honour to be President, is engaged upon a continuation of that ancient civilization. We were going to allow it to be wiped out of existence? Were we going to allow that splendid past of ours to become a dead letter, and to exercise no influence whatsoever upon the men who are its great inheritors? We are not.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE GAELIC LEAGUE.
We are going to build an Irish nation that shall be the rational continuation of the nation as it once was. We founded the Gaelic League a dozen years ago as a linguistic movement, a movement concerned with the ancient language of Ireland; but as that movement progressed, and as it grew and grew under our hands, nobody was more astonished than myself to find it turning out a great national movement, and not a linguistic one.
Some of the side fruits of the by-products of this linguistic movement of ours – and, remember, they were only by-products of it – have radically revolutionized ethical and social conditions in Ireland to-day.
Take two of them; take the industrial movement. When they founded the Gaelic League we did not think of Irish industries. As the League progressed, we found that every adherent of the Gaelic League became a warm and thorough-going supporter of Irish industry in all its forms. And we have something to show for it. There are our woollen mills; there are our cloth mills. Do you know that within the last three years we have doubled the output of our cloth mills; we have doubled the output of our woollen mills; we have trebled the output of our paper mills? We have enormously increased every minor industry that Ireland possesses; matches, starch, blacking, all those things that are beneath the dignity of a speaker at this great banquet to mention; but, remember that nations are built upon such pettinesses. And we are going to build up our nation by a close attention to minor details – even the starch and the blacking and the matches come into it.
I have found that in every country in Europe, where there has been a linguistic revival, it has invariably been accompanied by an industrial revival as well. Belgium, Bohemia and Hungary all show it, and we are no exception to it. Another thing, there was never a linguistic revival of the language in Europe attempted that yet failed, and do you think that we are going to fail? Never.
Another by-product of our movement is the great revival of temperance in Ireland. I may say, with almost complete truth, that of all the people who are working heart and soul in the Gaelic League to-day, every one of them, except myself and Mr. Thomas Bawn, who is here to-night, are practically teetotallers. No doubt I would be the same, but it is not expedient for an apostle, like St. Paul, who has to be all things to all men, you know.
But I can claim this for the Gaelic League: it has broken up the power of the drink traffic in Ireland, and above all, it has taken the capital city of Ireland, Dublin, out of the hands of the saloonkeepers.
A PROPER NATIONAL OBSERVANCE.
It is something over three years ago now since the Gaelic League – this is another by-product of it, you never know where we are going to stop – determined that St. Patrick’s Day must be observed as the proper national holiday as the Patron Saints’ days of every country are observed as national holidays. So we went to the great stores of the city; they consented to close. We went to the Stock Exchange; we went to the banks and to the various big mercantile industries – they all said they would close. Then we went on a deputation to the saloonkeepers of Dublin, and I never will forget that deputation. There was a parish priest, there was a barefooted friar, there was a publican himself, there was myself, and there was half a dozen other rag, tag, and bobtail. But, though we were insignificant in appearance, faith, we had the good-will of the people behind us; and when the publicans, and they alone, refused to close their houses on St. Patrick’s Day, we held our great language procession, two days later.
The language procession, walking through the streets of Dublin, had branches of the Gaelic League, each branch with its own banner borne over its head, and their sympathisers, walking five abreast, and walking at a good round trot, took an hour and forty minutes to pass a given point. We struck off enormous cardboard placards, and carried them at intervals in our procession, and on the placards was written, “Don’t drink in the publicans’ houses,” “The selfish publicans won’t close,” “The publicans spoil St. Patrick’s Day.” The result was electrical. There were one hundred and fifty of them outside our offices the next day waiting for closing cards to put in their windows.
That year we closed 40 per cent; the next year we closed 50 per cent, and the arrests for drunkenness fell from about 130 to 17. This year we closed 60 per cent, and no doubt we will keep on 10 per cent, and 10 per cent, until we have closed them all.
Another thing. We brought forward a bill in Parliament then to make St. Patrick’s Day what they call a bank holiday; that means, a compulsory holiday for Government officials in the post offices and in Government banks, and we got it carried without any one raising a word of remonstrance. Lord Dunraven, whose name has been so prominently connected with devolution in the last year or two, had charge of the hill in the House of Lords, and he wired over to Dublin and asked what we would like to do – would we care to close the public houses by compulsion on St. Patrick’s Day, or by law, for, if so, he could get a clause inserted in the House of Lords and do it. That telegram was shown to me, and I said: “Certainly not. If we cannot close them by force of public opinion in Dublin itself, we shall never close them by compulsion from London.”
THE LEAGUE AIMS HIGH.
I just tell you that story to indicate the many directions into which this language movement has branched off; for this language movement is a movement to give back to Irishmen their sense of self-respect again. And any band of men that aim high are certain, if they do not obtain their ultimate goal, of going a long way towards it; and we aim high, for we aim at nothing else than establishing a new nation upon the map of Europe.
Gentlemen, I look forward to a great and emancipated Ireland in the future, an Ireland speaking in its own language. Oh, gentlemen, if we had such a thing to-day, how it would react upon the mind and soul of every Irishman in America to know that he had his fatherland behind him, as the Germans have their Fatherland.
We look forward to an Ireland, I say, speaking its own language, thinking its own thoughts, writing its own books, singing its own songs; to an Ireland that shall really be a nationality, as Europe counts nationalities. And I cannot say how grateful I am to the Irishmen of this great continent for the warm-hearted, the speedy, the rapid way in which they took to themselves and assimilated doctrines that had never ben preached in America before.
Gentlemen, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, not in my own name, but in the name of the men and women I left behind me, fighting this fight in Ireland. In their name I thank you, and in their name I shall thank you, for your kindness and your graciousness to me, and for the wonderful manner in which you have received me.
COPYRIGHT NOTICE – The transcription of this text originates from the scans of the Gaelic American available on the Villanova Digital Library. As such, this work is licensed under a CreativeCommons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Please read the terms of the license to understand the rights and responsibilities entrusted to you via this license.