(Irish Citizen Army, Belfast Division, 1914)
You are asked to stop and consider what this war will mean to the working class of this city and country. It already means that increased prices will be demanded for all food and household necessities. In every bite of food you eat you will be compelled to pay for the war; and as you are already poor and have at the best of times a struggle to live the war will mean hunger and misery to thousands – less food on their tables, less clothes on their backs or beds, less coal for their fires, less boots and shoes on their children’s feet and their own.
War will mean more unemployment and less wages. Already the mills of Belfast are put on short time, which means starvation wages, ware-rooms are closing down, and all foundries and engineering works which make machinery for the Continent, if they have not closed down already, are getting ready to do so. Thus before a shot has been fired by the British army on land, before a battle has been fought at sea, ruin and misery are entering the homes of the working people. What will be your case? Many thousands of you will die of slow starvation, or perish of cold and long-drawn-out misery before the end of the war if you suffer so much before it is begun.
Some people tell you it will be over in a fortnight. They said the same about the Boer War, but it lasted three years. And the Boer War was a mere picnic compared to what this war will be. Remember that Lord Kitchener tells all joining now that they must be prepared to serve three years. And he knows.
You women! Remember that it is the children you suckled at your breast, reared at your knees, whose little steps you watched and prayed over and were proud of, it is they who will be sent to fight the battles of the Empire – an Empire that despises you and them – an Empire under whose rule three million Irish people were thrown on the roadside to starve, four million driven like wild beasts out of their own country, an Empire under which in less than fifty years a million and a half of Irish men, women and children died of hunger in the midst of smiling harvests, and under which YOU have lived a lifetime of sweated misery and badly paid toil.
Women of Belfast. Will you send your husbands, fathers, sons or sweethearts to be slaughtered in defence of an Empire that stood quietly by and allowed the Orangemen to arm against you and against freedom for Ireland, but sent its soldiers to shoot down the unarmed people of Dublin when they attempted to arm in defence of Irish Nationality?
Remember, all you workers, that this war is utterly unjustifiable and unnecessary. Belgium would never have been in the slightest danger if France had not encouraged Russia to prepare to attack Germany. And France would never have given that encouragement to Russia had she not been urged to do so by the secret diplomacy of England. There would never have been war within two hundred and fifty miles of the Belgian frontier had not the French and English governments secretly resolved to attack Germany in order to help Russia – the greatest and most brutal foe of human liberty in the world.
The gallant Belgians are being sacrificed that they may pull the chestnuts out of the fire for the unscrupulous capitalist government of England and the half-savage government of Russia. Should we allow ourselves to be sacrificed also? No! No!! No!!! We have no foreign enemy except the treacherous government of England – a government that even whilst it is calling upon us to die for it, refuses to give a straight answer to our demand for Home Rule.
VOLUNTEERS! Has the iron of slavery so far entered your souls that you will sing the songs, carry the flags and fight the battles of the Power that even in its extremity refuses to allow your Nation to take its place amongst the Nations of the earth?
Britain guaranteed the independence of Belgium. Yes, as she guaranteed the independence of Egypt, and then swallowed it up and slaughtered and imprisoned its patriot sons and daughters. Britain guaranteed the independence of Belgium. Yes, as she guaranteed the independence of Persia, and then encouraged her Russian ally to invade it and drown its freedom in a sea of blood.
Britain guaranteed the independence of Belgium. But who will win and guarantee the independence of Ireland? Will the Volunteers? Will the anti-Irish aristocrats who are rushing in to become your officers allow you to take a stand for Irish Nationality? Remember the words of Wolfe Tone:
“When the aristocracy come forward the people fall backward; when the people come forward the aristocracy, fearful of being left behind, insinuate themselves into our ranks, and rise to be timid leaders, or treacherous auxiliaries.”
WE WANT IRELAND, NOT FOR PEERS OR THE NOMINEES OF PEERS, BUT IRELAND FOR THE IRISH.