November 1873, Dublin.
Mr. Gladstone said that Fenianism taught him the intensity of Irish disaffection. It taught me more and better things. It taught me the depth, the breadth, the sincerity of that love of fatherland that misgovernment had tortured into disaffection and misgovernment, driving men to despair, had exaggerated into revolt. State trials were not new to me. Twenty years before, I stood near Smith O’Brien when he braved the sentence of death which the law pronounced upon him. I saw Meagher meet the same; and then I asked myself this: ‘Surely the state is out of joint; surely all our social system is unhinged, when O’Brien and Meagher are condemned by their country to a traitor’s doom!’
Years had passed away, and once more I stood by men who had dared this desperate enterprise of freeing their country by revolt. They were men who were run down by obloquy – they had been branded as the enemies of religion and social order. I saw them manfully bear up against all. I saw the unflinching firmness to their cause by which they testified the sincerity of their faith in that cause – their deep conviction of its righteousness and truth. I saw them meet their fate with a manly fanaticism that made them martyrs. I heard their words of devotion to their country, as with firm step and unyielding hearts they left the dock and went down the dark passage that led them to the place where all hope closed upon them, and I asked myself again: ‘Is there no way to arrest this? Are our best and bravest spirits ever to be carried away under this system of constantly resisted oppression and constantly defeated revolt? Can we find no means by which the national quarrel which has led to all these terrible results may be set right?’ I believe in my conscience we have found it. I believe that England has now the opportunity of adjusting the quarrel of centuries. Let me say it – I do so proudly – that I was one of those who did something in this cause. Over a torn and distracted country – a country agitated by dissension, weakened by distrust – we raised the banner on which we emblazoned the magic words, ‘Home Rule.’ We raised it with feeble hand. Tremblingly, with hesitation, almost stealthily, we unfurled that banner to the breeze. But wherever the legend we had emblazoned on its folds was seen the heart of the people moved to its words, and the soul of the nation felt their power and their spell. Those words were passed from man to man along the valley and the hill-side. Everywhere men, even those who had been despairing, turned to that banner with confidence and hope. Thus far we have borne it. It is for you now to bear it on with more energy, with more strength, and renewed vigour. We hand it over to you in this gathering of the nation. But, oh! let no unholy hands approach it. Let no one come to the help of our country,
‘Or dare to lay a hand upon the Ark,
Of her magnificent and awful cause,’
who is not prepared never, never to desert that banner till it flies proudly over the portals of that ‘Old House at Home’ – that old house which is associated with memories of great Irishmen and has been the scene of many great triumphs. Even while the blaze of those glories is at this moment throwing the splendour over the memory of us all, I believe in my soul that the Parliament of regenerated Ireland will achieve triumphs more glorious, more lasting, sanctified, and holy than any by which her old Parliament illumined the annals of our country and our race.