From An Claidheamh Soluis, September 16, 1899. The following is the text of a lecture delivered on September 6th to the Central Branch of the Gaelic League in Dublin. The text of the lecture has been slightly edited to be read in the first person, present tense.

I need hardly tell you, coming back to Ireland after an absence of over twelve years, one is bound to notice many and great changes. Old familiar faces seem to have passed away, and some bore upon them those marks of maturity that comes from age and experience. In social and economical conditions there have been many changes, some of them, thank God, for the better, some, I am afraid, for the worse. The newspapers have prepared one for the sad and sorry condition in which is known as the National cause found itself, the disorganisation and the recrimination of the leaders, and the apathy and disillusionism of the people. They prepared one for the end of a campaign that had been one of the most brilliant the world had ever seen, and which had won for its country lasting benefits. The course of affairs must bring to the minds of all thinking men the great difference there is between nationality and politics, it must bring to their minds the truth that political parties are but the means, while the nation itself is the end. It is, perhaps, providential that in the lull that now exists in Irish public affairs a new idea was coming into prominence, and a new society has begun to make its work felt amongst the people—I mean the Gaelic League.

I first became acquainted with the existence of the Gaelic League through that noble priest and true patriot, Father O’Growney, and on my arrival in this country I became acquainted with it still further, and have higher hopes of its ultimate success, and greater respect for the work it has done by the enemies it has the honour and good fortune to make. A man may be known by his enemies. A man who has no enemies has no virtues, and the cause that cannot create antagonists is not worth working for. So it is with the Gaelic League which gives knocks and knows how to take them. No doubt it would have been a more aesthetic thing—in fact a thing of beauty and a joy for ever—if it was enclosed in a glass-case of the University museum, but because it works for and with the people it is called brutal, coarse and vulgar. We have against the League all the so-called practical people, those good people who think there is nothing in the world that could not be measured by a yard stick or dispensed by pints. The man of pound shillings and pence has no use for this society. He will say, ‘It would be better for you to be providing for the needs of to-morrow.’ Ah! they would find that the soul of such an one would hardly make a decent spark in the brand of the burning. We have against us certain classes of politicians who believed in lifting themselves up and then pulling their country up after them by the hair of the head, the men who believed that they themselves are the sole bulwarks against British oppression, and that if they were withdrawn, science would look in vain in the Atlantic Ocean to find out Ireland. They cannot see how the preservation of the Gaelic League will help them and their schemes. These schemes may be very good (I know nothing about them, and care less), but because the men in this movement could not put their shoulders to the all-important task of making the political wheel go around, it is treated with a smile and a cold shoulder. I am sorry to say the League is more or less boycotted by national newspapers. I am afraid there is not in the hearts of the shareholders of these papers a sufficient estimation of the amount of money which could be subscribed by the members of the Gaelic League. They thought that although some of the men in the movement might be in earnest, yet the great majority were not willing to back their notions by their money, and that they would not boycott any sheet which is against the movement.

We have also against the League ‘the clane plaete’ culture of the country, the people who think their highest point of education was reached when they whitewashed their brogue with an English accent. The scarecrows! set up in a field for men to laugh at, trying to hide their nakedness in the tattered rags and second-hand clothes of John Bull. Then we have against us Professor Atkinson and Mr. Mahaffy, the two shining lights of Trinity College, who have set themselves up as guiding stars for the whole of Ireland, an institution which is the emblem and protagonist of everything anti-Nationalist.

This is one of the best signs that the movement has fluttered this institution, which represented everything that was most hateful and repugnant to Irish minds. These men, forsooth, must take our dead saints and heroes and drag them in the mire.

I take it for granted that my audience believe that Irish does not spell English, and that the Irish people have something of which they might be proud. Our history goes back for many ages, and we have a literature and tradition of our own, and blood distinct from that which flows in the veins of other people. If anyone believes that it is a distinction for Ireland to shine in the reflected light of Anglo-Saxondom, to such a one I do not address myself, but if there are men present who have read the history of their native land, and glory in those who gave their blood for it, and who are convinced that a fight which was a noble one in the past could not fail in the future, and who believes that Irish thought and Irish ways are the best for Irishmen, and that this country should be kept Irish and made more Irish—from these men I ask a hearing.

Man was made unlike the other creatures; there was no nobler work of God on earth than a true man. Christ, our Lord, has taught us to call our souls our own, and no two souls of men are alike. Each man has his own particular place to fill in this world, and that place does not belong to any other man. We must develop our individuality, and to develop this individuality is the object of education.

There are nations whose ideas are barrack ideas, but such nations will not live, the day of their doom will arrive, for God made men to be men and not to be machines. If we should have numbers of people the same as in China—men all cast in the one mould—we shall have the ‘open door,’ which was the open door for poor John Chinaman to walk out. We have heard a good deal of talk about the Parliament of man and the federation of the world, and other such dreams of the unrealists. It is a noble thing to think that all men created by the same Father and worshipping the same God should live together in peace and friendship, but it is quite different to say that all nations should be blended into one hotch-potch, give up their individual existence, and become devoid of everything that makes for honourable emulation and ambition, and which makes life worth living.

It is in the scheme of things that there should be many nations and that they should be set against one another in the race for higher and nobler aims, because if nationality should cease to be, there would arise a condition of things similar to that which prevailed in Europe at the end of the Roman Empire, and we would suffer the fate of that empire—corruption, degeneration, and decay. We must not have me to hold that the unceasing condition of all nationalities is one of war, and that I am speaking against treaties and amities between one nation and another. But there is a minimum beyond which nations can not go, and if any one of its national attributes were taken away, the nation ceases to be.

It is not the first time in history that this plea of amity between conqueror and conquered has been made. Professor Mahaffy is Professor of Ancient History and that might account for a great deal.

The Persian Empire had been one of the most powerful on earth, and it had invaded the small country of Greece, and some Greeks thought it would be better if they made their submission to the Persian King, but there were men who believed differently, and they stood out against the pirate King and rolled back the invading flood of the tyrant, and their names are to-day held in honour, even by the Professor of Ancient History in Trinity College.

Love is a beautiful plea for the apostle of Anglicisation, and he tells us how much he loves us and how much his heart yearns for us, but you know it is not the first time a betrayal was accomplished in the name of love and by the kiss of peace.

I should apologise for speaking on this theme to this audience in the tongue of the stranger. It is a hard thing that it is necessary to use English in order to advance the Irish cause, that men have to put the Gaelic behind their backs in order to advance the cause of Irish nationality. The majority of the people of Ireland are in a sad plight owing to the carelessness of our forefathers. We have been delivered into captivity, but now, let us hope, we are in the position of men who have sundered their chains, and are using them to break our captors’ heads.

I should also apologise that I, who no longer belongs to Ireland, having been incorporated with another nationality, and having renounced my allegiance to the Queen, should come to speak to the Irish people about nationality and how they should preserve it. I have no excuse to make. I hold that when a man resigns his country, it is his duty to become towards his adopted country bone of its bone and flesh of its flesh. It was always the practice of the Irish who became citizens of another State not to diminish their claims because they were born beyond the sea. In America they believed they had a country which was not the ally of any other country, and that being so, the Irish in America believed it to be their duty to give it their allegiance. Every argument that makes for nationality in America makes for nationality in Ireland. Those who are born in Ireland should be Irishmen. I have just as soon see Ireland Anglicised as Americanised.

Now, let us examine the facts. Is Ireland still the most distressful country? Is Ireland still drifting? I presume you are all agreed that Ireland is a nation, and possesses all the factors that make up a nation, but I am afraid that anyone who examines the educational, the social, economical, political, and even religious condition of Ireland would be compelled to admit that the country has reached a critical period, that the foundations upon which we built are being undermined, the anchor on which we relied is dragging, and that unless we were up and doing the day will soon come when Ireland will be Ireland no more.

In former times the children of those who came to the country became more Irish than the Irish themselves, but now wherever one goes English customs are being observed, and the English tongue spoken. When we examine the system of national education we find from top to bottom that it is nothing but a means of teaching Irishmen to be English in thought and English in speech. He was a far-sighted man, as well as a great patriot, John MacHale, who, forty years ago, prophesised that they were building up a national system of education to ruin the Irish tongue and erect tombs to its memory.

The same might be said with regard to Intermediate Education. The text-books given to the children are the production of English writers who have no sympathy with this country, and even the little bit of Irish History they are supposed to have rubbed over them is put on with an English brush. Irish is kept by courtesy on the programme, and the Commissioners are so hard up for marks they have to steal some of the Irish marks, and it is only a matter of time till they make a clean sweep of the whole, and who can blame them when forty-two Catholic colleges does not send up a single student in Irish; and were it not for the good nuns in the North it would have gone out to the world that the women of Ireland were despising the language of St. Brigid and would take their chance, when they went to Heaven, of not understanding a word of what she said; and were it not also for the Fathers of the Holy Ghost, and for that noble and self-sacrificing and hard-working body of men, the Christian Brothers, Professor Mahaffy might appear to-morrow morning, and make his bow to the public and say, like Jack the Giant Killer, ‘Irish is dead, and I have killed it.’

We have a system of newspapers written in English and dealing with English topics, and carefully avoiding too much Gaelicism. The provincial press is all written in English, and regales the people of Skibbereen with gossip about the Queen’s boudoir, and instructs the people of the West on the merits of the Dreyfus affair, and treats the Donegal peasant to essays on Italian cookery, but have not a word to say of the old tongue, and have not a fount of type to print it.

In former times the ‘Shamrock’ and ‘Weekly Freeman’ were not so bad after all, as they used to print Irish stories. Latterly I do not know about the ‘Shamrock’, but the ‘Weekly Freeman’ is chiefly made up of clippings from the other weeklies and extracts from the Yellow Press of America. The magazines and books read by the youths of this country are all English in tone. I have seen the boys poring over these magazines around the bookstalls. What would they learn from them? Nothing, but to laugh at their fathers, and to turn their minds towards things they should never hear of.

Then we have the theatres (I can only speak from hearsay, as I have never been at one). The Dublin people were formerly supposed to be a theatre-going people. They prided themselves upon their taste in music, and that when a play bore the seal of approval from a Dublin audience it might command success anywhere. But look at your posters now? You take the leavings of the Strand and the stuff which has been filtered through the minds of English doodery; you take as perfect what is pleasing to the English imagination; your songs tells of the doings of the British Empire; and your music-hall songs tell of the glories and achievements of Tommy Atkins, and at the end of the performance, instead of the old time-honoured marching tune, ‘God Save Ireland,’ you listen reverentially to ‘God Save The Queen.’

What I say is true, and it is just as true that it is the fault of the people of Dublin. What charm could such an air have for the people of Ireland. Mingled with its strains rise up in vision the burned roof-trees, the people cast upon the road side, the heads of Irish peasants upon the pikes of Cromwell’s soldiers, the men who died by the hands of the assassin, and who were poisoned, lying in their shrouds, all rise up before their eyes. It called up views of the long procession of Irish exiles from north, south, east, and west, going out from the land of their fathers. Perhaps I mention these things with unnecessary heat, but I do not believe in saying one thing and doing another. I do not believe in any man who, by his presence or by his support, strove to tear from them anything of the Irish nationality they had left. Ireland is not like other nations. For six hundred years she has been as a vineyard whose walls were broken down and through whose paths the plunderers had swept. Every greedy adventurer has only to come over to Ireland to fill his purse. We have been a nation racked and tortured and torn, and were it not that God had intended that Ireland should be a nation, and should still continue to be a nation, I do not believe that we would be able to survive at all. If we went to work to build up Irish nationality we would have to take stronger measures than ordinary under the circumstances.

I believe that if a wall of brass, as Dean Swift said, was built one thousand feet high round Ireland it would be for the benefit of her people. I believe that if we could tow Ireland out of the Atlantic and free it entirely from English and Continental influences that such a measure would not be too strong. But unfortunately they can not do this. Should we still look on and do nothing while our young men are being changed? Ah! we have the measure in our own hands. God has not deserted us yet. The mind is the noblest part of man, and if we have Irish minds we would surely have Irish bodies, and if we could learn to think Irish thoughts, and speak them in the Irish tongue, and bring up our children, teaching them that their first duty was to the Irish language, the wall of brass would be built and the country saved.

But of course there would still be heard the small voice of the practical men, and the turtle voice of Professor Mahaffy, who tells us that Irish is not worth the bother, and that Irish people would lose nothing if the whole of the Irish language was thrown into Dublin Bay. That fallacy has been well exploded by Dr. Hyde, by Dr. Hickey, and by such men as Dr. Henebry in America. Outside the Sanscrit literature there is none so unique, so beautiful, or so instructive or full of human interest as the old Irish literature, and what is more, it is the language of the Irish people themselves. The Irish people are not the sons of painted savages who had to be licked into shape by the Romans. We belong to a nation which has records as old as any European nation, and in these records we can go back to a time when the Irish had a sense of literary form that their descendants who speak English only are devoid of.

But no matter how they wrote. After all it was Irish thought and Irish literature, and our first principle is that Irish is the best for Irishmen. If it were the most degraded dialect, it is better for us than the best ever spoken by man. However, we should not forget it, it was the noblest language ever spoken by the tongue of man. It was related that the mother of a certain Pontiff, who had sprung from the peasantry, once came to visit him, and she came arrayed in a costly raiment. When the Pope saw her, he ordered her away, and said he did not know her in those garments. She returned clad in her peasant’s costume, and the Pope leaving his throne embraced her, and said that now he recognised his true mother.

Irish, even if it were clad in rags, is the best for the Irishman who loves his mother, and he was no man who didn’t.

The practical man will say, ‘What money will it put into my pocket, and into the pocket of my son? We must have the English for our sons and daughters who go to England, Australia, and Canada. What will they do going there with their awkward, uncouth Irish on their lips?’ What an argument to draw from the exportation of their flesh and blood. It is no benefit to this country if thirty or fifty thousands of its sons and daughters are taken away every war, and those who are left only waiting the opportunity to go also. It is the greatest curse that any Irishman can see in this a sign of progress, as it is a well-known fact that no country can be progressive whose children leave their native shore in thousands every year. But then, is it a fact that it is necessary to know English? Take the Germans and the Poles, they have prospered as much as we, and they came to America not knowing a word of English. When they get there they find they must learn it, and the process of doing so sharpens their wits, but there is only intellectual sluggishness for the Irishman for he only knows one language—English—and that badly. If the Gaelic league progressed as it should, I can tell them that position after position would spring up that would demand the services of Irish-speaking people, and the practical men who stood aloof would be compelled to acknowledge that he had made a mistake, and that Irish was a paying concern.

If the Irish people were true to themselves before ten years had passed away all Irishmen who went in for public positions would be required to know the tongue of their fathers. Now the question for consideration was this—Is the programme of the Gaelic League possible? Is it possible to bring back a language so dear to its people as the Irish language? I believe, in the first place, that nothing that the Irish people put their minds to is impossible. I am not now giving them what is called at the other side taffey or soft soap. When the Irish people take matters properly in hand what appeared up to now impossibilities become not only possible but actually clear facts. This is a people’s work. We must trust ourselves, we must follow the motto of the Gaelic League, ‘sinn féin, sinn féin amháin.’ I have no faith in leaders. I do not believe in the policy of ‘follow my leader.’ It is no use to trust to the National Schools or to the Intermediate. We should remember that the State does not come first in education, but that the parents do, and if parents would insist that their children were sent to schools in which Irish was an obligatory subject, in a few years the scandal such as they had seen in the recent intermediate results would disappear. I believe the heads of colleges would welcome this, but if we are to become an English colony we must compete with the English schools.

With regard to the newspapers it is a matter of business. The old idea of an editor, a privileged person, sitting away down in some place like a diving bell, giving out his commands and communicating with the outer world by means of tubes and wires, is doomed. Nowadays people do not take their opinions from newspapers. They pay their penny to get news not opinions, and if the editor does not give the right sort of news, out he must go. It is like a grocery store. You go into a store, and if the groceryman cannot give you the right sort of tea and soap, you go somewhere else. If all the people in this hall were to put their pennies on one newspaper, and take them away from another, you would have the whole staff of that paper sitting up all night to find out where the trouble lay.

The feeling against Irish at one time caused children to be flogged for using it. The object of the Gaelic League is to see that that feeling passes away. Your object is by your conversation, by your writings, by your letters, by your dealings with all with whom you come in contact, make it clear that your first thought is the restoration of the old tongue to the place it held long ago. If you are in earnest, no class, no body of men can stand against you. You would find assistance from many which you did not dream of. The clergy of Ireland are a body who have deserved well of the Irish people in the past, and in the present they stand by their flocks. Perhaps they were not all spotless, but I challenge anybody to show me a body of such numbers who would have stood by their people like the priests. But their standing by the people would be little use if the people did not stand by them. Men came and said, ‘You can fill your bellies and be fat, if you bow your knee to Baal.’ The Irish priest said to them, ‘No, cast the flesh pot by! Turn your eyes to the desert and look to the next world for reward and comfort.’ The people believed them and passed the good things by, and went cheerfully through the desert of the Penal Laws.

Now the Irish people have a right to turn to the Irish priests and to say to them, ‘There is another ideal, it is the ideal of creating an Irish-speaking race.’ The Irish people have a right to say, ‘As we stood by you for your ideal, so now, O Priest of the People! stand by ours.’ I don’t think the appeal will be in vain. I have gone through the land for the past two or three months and I find them all hopeful, and, I believe, if you will be hopeful and you will see all the forces of public opinion ranged on the side of this movement. If Irishmen were only true to themselves that end would be accomplished despite all opposition. They would hear the ring of the Irish tongue once more all over the land, the same tongue that echoed through the ruined abbeys, and that filled the ancient cloisters in the days of old.

And now we stand as if upon the seashore, from which the waves have departed, leaving it all unsightly with slime and rocks. But, behold! away in the distance we see a streak of light, and as we gaze we see the light approaching—it is the turning of the tide—and the waters come on with a rush and blot out all the unsightly objects on the foreshore, and leave the scene all lovely and fair before your eyes. God grant that that tide may surge around the walls of Dublin, and that this land may be Irish in thought and in tongue.