(From the “United Irishman” of May 13, 1848)
MY Friends – Since I wrote my first letter to you many kind and flattering addresses have been made to you by exceedingly genteel and very rich noblemen and gentlemen. Those of you, especially who are Orangemen, seem to have somehow got into high favour with this genteel class, which must make you feel rather strange, I think.
You have not been used to much recognition and encouragement of late years from British Viceroys or the noble and right worshipful grand masters. They rather avoided you – seemed, indeed, as many thought, somewhat ashamed of you and your old anniversaries.
Once upon a time no Irish nobleman or British Minister dared make light of the colours of Aughrim and the Boyne. But can you divine any cause for the sudden change of late? Do you understand why the Whig Lord Clarendon calls you so many names of endearment, and the Earl of Enniskillen tenderly entreats you, as a father his only child? Can these men want anything from you?
Let us see what the drift of their addresses generally is. Lord Clarendon, the English Governor, congratulates you on your “loyalty” and your “attachment to the Constitution,” and seems to calculate, though I know not why, upon a continuance of those exalted sentiments in the North. Lord Enniskillen, the Irish nobleman, for his part cautions you earnestly against Popery and Papists, and points out how completely you would be overborne and swamped by Catholic majorities in all public affairs.
My Lord Enniskillen does not say a word to you about what is, after all, the main concern – the tenure of your farms – not one word. It is about your Protestant interest he is uneasy. He is apprehensive not lest you should be evicted by landlords and sent to the poorhouse, but lest purgatory and the seven sacraments should be thrust down your throats.
This is simply a Protestant pious fraud of his Lordship’s, merely a right worshipful humbug. Lord Enniskillen, and every other commonly informed man, knows that there is now no Protestant interest at all; that there is absolutely nothing left for Protestant and Catholic to quarrel for. Even the Church Establishment is not a Catholic and Protestant question, inasmuch as all Dissenters and all plebeian Churchmen are as much concerned to put an end to that nuisance as Catholics are. Lord Enniskillen knows, too (or, if he do not, he is the very stupidest grand master in Ulster) that an ascendancy of one sect over another is from henceforth impossible. The fierce religious zeal that animated our fathers on both sides is utterly dead and gone.
I do not know whether this is for our advantage or not; but at any rate it is gone. Nobody in all Europe would now as much as understand it – and if any man talks to you now of religious sects, when the matter in hand relates to civil and political rights, to administration of government or distribution of property – depend upon it, though he wear a coronet on his head, he means to cheat you.
In fact religious hatred has been kept alive in Ireland longer than anywhere else in Christendom, just for the simple reason that Irish landlords and British statesmen found their own account in it, and so soon as Irish landlordism and British dominion are finally rooted out of the country it will be heard of no longer in Ireland any more than it is in France or Belgium now.
If you have still any doubt whether Lord Enniskillen means to cheat you, I only ask you to remember, first, that he has written you a long and paternal letter upon the state of the country, and has not once alluded to your tenant-right; and, second, that he belongs to that class of persons from whom alone can come any danger to your tenant-right – which is your “life and property.”
As for Lord Clarendon and his friendly addresses, exhorting to “loyalty” and attachment to the institutions of the country, I need hardly tell you that he is a cheat. What institutions of the country are there to be attached to? That all who pay taxes should have a voice in the outlay of those taxes is not one of our institutions – that those who create the whole wealth of the State by their labour should get leave to live like Christians on the fruits of that labour – this is not amongst the institutions of the country.
Tenant-right is not an institution of the country. No; out-door relief is our main institution at present – our Magna Charta – our Bill of Rights. A high-paid Church and a low-fed people are institutions; stipendiary clergymen, packed juries, a monstrous army and navy which we pay, not to defend, but to coerce, us – these are the institutions of the country. Indian meal, too, strange to say, though it grows four thousand miles off, has come to be an institution of this country. Are these the “venerable institutions” you are expected to shoulder your muskets to defend!
But, then, “Protestants have always been loyal men.” Have they? And what do they mean by “loyalty”? I have never found that, in the North of Ireland, this word had any meaning at all, except that we Protestants hated the Papists and despised the French. This, I think, if you will examine it, is the true theory of “loyalty” in Ulster.
I can hardly so fancy any of my countrymen so brutally stupid as to prefer high taxes to low taxes – to be really proud of the honour of supporting “the Prince Albert” and his Lady and his children, and all the endless list of cousins and uncles that they have, in magnificent idleness, at the sole expense of half-starved labouring people. I should like to meet the Northern farmer or labouring man who would tell me in so many words that he prefers dear government to cheap government; that he likes the House of Brunswick better than his own house; that he would rather have the affairs of the country managed by foreign noblemen and gentlemen than by himself and his neighbours; that he is content to pay, equip, and arm an enormous army, and give the command of it to those foreign noblemen and to be disarmed himself or liable to be disarmed as you are, my friends, at any moment. I should like to see the face of the Ulsterman who would say plainly that he deems himself unfit to have a voice in the management of his own affairs, the outlay of his own taxes, or the government of his own country. If any of you will admit this I own he is a loyal man and attached to our venerable institutions and I wish him joy of his loyalty and a good appetite for his yellow meal.
Now, Lord Clarendon and Lord Enniskillen want you to say all this. The Irish noble and the British statesman want the very same thing: they are both a tail. The grand master knows that if you stick by your loyalty and uphold the British connection you secure to him his coronet, his influence and his rental – discharged of tenant-right and all plebeian claims. And Lord Clarendon knows on his side that if you uphold landlordism and abandon tenant-right and bend all your energies to resisting the “encroachments of Popery” you thereby perpetuate British dominion in Ireland and keep the “Empire” going yet a little while.
Irish landlordism has made a covenant with British government in these terms – “Keep down for me my tenantry, my peasantry, my “masses” in due submission with your troops and laws, and I will garrison the island for you and hold it as your liege-man and vassal for ever.” Do you not know in your very hearts that this is true? And still you are “loyal” and attached to the institutions of the country!
I tell you frankly that I for one am not “loyal.” I am not wedded to the Queen of England; nor unalterably attached to the House of Brunswick. In fact, I love my own barn better than I love that House. The time is long past when Jehovah anointed kings. The thing has long since grown a monstrous imposture, and has already in some civilised countries been detected as such and drummed out accordingly. A modern king, my friends, is no more like an ancient anointed shepherd of the people than an archbishop’s apron is like the Urim and Thummin. There is no divine right now but in THE SOVEREIGN PEOPLE.
And for the “institutions of the country,” I loathe and despise them. We are sickening and dying of these institutions fast; they are consuming us like a plague, degrading us to paupers in mind, body, and estate – yes, making our very souls beggarly and cowardly. They are a failure and a fraud, these institutions. From the topmost crown jewel to the meanest detective’s notebook there is no soundness in them. God and man are weary of them.
Their last hour is at hand, and I thank God that I live in the days when I shall witness the utter downfall and trample upon the grave of the most portentous, the grandest, meanest, falsest and cruellest tyranny that ever deformed this world. These, you think, are strong words, but they are not one whit stronger than the feeling that prompts them – that glows this moment deep in the souls of moving and awakening millions of our fellow-countrymen of Ireland – aye, and in your souls, too, Protestants of Ulster, if you would acknowledge it to yourselves.
I smile at the formal resolution about “loyalty to Queen Victoria” so eagerly passed and hurried over as a dubious kind of form of tenant-right meetings and “Protestant Repeal meetings.” I laughed outright here on Tuesday night last at the suspicious warmth with which Dublin merchants, as if half afraid of themselves, protested so anxiously that they would yield in loyalty to none.
They, democrats by nature and position, meeting there without a nobleman to countenance them, with the Queen’s representative scowling black upon them from his castle, are – they declare it with most nervous solemnity – loyal men. Indeed, it was easy to see that a vague feeling was upon them of the real meaning and tendency of all these meetings – of what all this must end in, and to what haven they, and you and we, are all in a happy hour inevitably drifting together.
My friends, the people’s sovereignty – the land and sea and air of Ireland for the people of Ireland – this is the gospel that the heavens and the earth are preaching, and that all hearts are secretly burning to embrace. Give up for ever that old interpretation you put upon the word “Repeal.” Repeal is no priest movement; it is no sectarian movement; it is no money swindle; nor “eighty-two” delusions; nor puffery; nor O’Connellism; nor Mullaghmast “green cap” stage play; nor loud-sounding inanity of any sort got up for any man’s profit or praise.
It is the mighty, passionate struggle of a nation hastening to be born into new national life, in the which unspeakable throes all the arts and powers and elements of our Irish existence – our confederations, our Protestant repeal associations, our tenant-right societies, our clubs, cliques and committees, amidst confusions enough and the saddest jostling and jumbling, are all inevitably tending, however unconsciously, to one and the same illustrious goal – not a local legislature – not a golden link or a patch-work Parliament or a College Green Chapel-of-ease to St. Stephen’s – but an IRISH REPUBLIC, one and indivisible.
And how are to meet that day? In arms, my countrymen, in arms. Thus, and not otherwise, have ever nations of men sprung to liberty and power. But, why do I reason thus with you – with you, the Irish of Ulster, who never have denied the noble creed and sacraments of manhood? You have not been schooled for forty years in the fatal cant of moral force; you have not been utterly debauched and emasculated by the claptrap platitudes of public meetings and the empty glare of “Imposing demonstrations.” You have not yet learned the litany of slaves and the whine of beaten hounds and the way to die a coward’s death. No; let once the great idea of your country’s destiny seize on you, my kinsmen, and the way will be plain before you as a pike-staff twelve feet long.
I will speak plainly. There is now growing on the soil of Ireland a wealth of grain, and roots, and cattle far more than enough to sustain in life and in comfort all the inhabitants of the island. That wealth must not leave us another year, not until every grain of it is fought for in every stage, from the tying of the sheaf to the leading of the ship. And the effort necessary to that simple act of self-preservation will at one and the same blow prostrate British dominion and landlordism together. ‘Tis but the one act of volition – if we resolve but to live we make our country a free and sovereign State.
Will you not gird up your loins for this great national struggle, and stand with your countrymen for life and land? Will you, the sons of a warlike race, the inheritors of conquering memories – with the arms of freemen in all your homes, and relics of the gallant Republicans of Ninety-eight for ever before your eyes – will you stand folding your hands in helpless “loyalty,” and while every nation in Christendom is seizing on its birthright with armed hand will you take patiently, with your rations of yellow meal, your inevitable portion of eternal contempt?
If this be your determination, Protestants of Ulster, then make haste; sign addresses of loyalty and confidence in Lord Clarendon, and protest, with that other lord, your unalterable attachment to “our venerable institutions.”