From “As It Was Said.”: Extracts from prominent speeches and writings of the Parnellite Party published in 1886 by the Irish Loyal and Patriotic Union.
The question whether the advanced Irish National Party – the party of separation – should continue the policy of isolation from the public life of the country which was inaugurated some twenty years ago by James Stephens and his associates, or return to older methods – methods as old, at least, as the days of the United Irishmen – is agitating the minds of Irish Nationalists on both sides of the Atlantic just now, and certainly no small incident has aroused such wide discussion in Ireland for many a day as the publication of the views of the exiled Nationalists resident in New York on the subject. This shows conclusively the importance of the action proposed. All intelligent Irishmen feel that the entrance into the every-day political life of the country of a large class of men with strong opinions and habits of organisation, but who have hitherto held aloof from it or only acted on rare occasions when principle was considered at stake, would be an event that would largely influence the future of Ireland. England’s difficulty is only Ireland’s opportunity if Ireland knows how to use it.
The object aimed at by the advanced National party – the recovery of Ireland’s National independence and the severance of all political connection with England – is one that would require the utmost efforts and the greatest sacrifices on the part of the whole Irish people. Unless the whole Irish people, or the great majority of them, undertake the task and bend their whole energies to its accomplishment – unless the best intellect, the financial resources, and the physical strength of the nation be enlisted in the effort – it can never be realised. I have often said it before, and I repeat it now again, that a mere conspiracy will never free Ireland. I am not arguing against conspiracy, but only pointing out the necessity of Irish Nationalists taking whatever publication for the advancement of the National cause they may find within their reach – such action as will place the aims and objects of the National party in a more favourable light before the world, and help to win the support of the whole Irish people.
Those who propose the new departure merely want to provide good wholesome work for the National party, which will have the effect of bringing all sections of Nationalists into closer relation by giving them a common ground to work upon, a platform really broad enough for all to stand upon, demanding no sacrifice of principle.
I yield to no man living in the lengths I am prepared to go to get rid of foreign domination in Ireland, but I refuse to be guided by the narrow dogmatism through the instrumentality of which a few pigmies managed for a sad decade or so to retain a leadership for which neither nature nor training ever fitted them.
The lack of political training and of practical acquaintance with public business – such even as could be acquired by membership of a town council – has always told heavily against the Nationalists; while their absence from such bodies left the whole country in the hands of the West Britons, who are only a miserable minority. The more this is examined the more ruinous this policy of isolation will appear, and the more advantages to be derived from an organised, steady and persistent effort to get possession of those local bodies will be seen.
With the majority of these bodies in our possession, even without the Parliamentary representation, we should be in a position to do many things we can only dream of now. With the municipal bodies and men of spirit and determination as Parliamentary representatives, backed by the country and by millions of the Irish race scattered over the world, there would be no necessity to go to London either to beg or to obstruct, and Irish Nationalists would have no more Tallaghts or “cabbage gardens” flung in their faces.
No party or combination of parties in Ireland can ever hope to win the support of the majority of the people except it honestly proposes a radical reform of the land system. No matter what may be said in favour of individual landlords, the whole system was founded on robbery and fraud, and has been perpetrated by cruelty, injustice, extortion, and hatred of the people.
Let a beginning be made with the absentees, the English lords and the London companies who hold stolen land in Ireland, and there will be enough of work for some years to come. But I shall be told the English Parliament will never do any of these things. Then, I say, these things must only wait till an Irish Parliament can do them better; but in the meantime good work will have been done, sound principles inculcated, and the country aroused and organised.
To those who are alarmed at language like this in regard to the Land Question I would say: “Look at France, at Prussia, and at the mutterings of the coming storm in England, and ask yourselves what is going to become of the land monopoly after a few more years of commercial and manufacturing depression – a depression sure to continue, because the causes of it are on the increase.” The English are a very practical and a very selfish people, and will not let any fine sentiment stand in their way when they think it is their interest to redistribute the land. What, may I ask, would become of the Irish landlords – especially the rack-renting, evicting ones – in case of a social convulsion in England? It is a question which they themselves must decide within the next few years. With them or without them the question will be settled before long, and many who now think the foregoing assertions extravagant will consider them very moderate indeed, by-and-bye.
December 11th, 1878