From The Nation, November 22, 1845.
If the Government which afflicts this country appears to some apathetic on the vital question of providing food for a People threatened with starvation, or suffering them to purchase it for themselves – if no active measures be in contemplation to give employment upon the many public works that lie neglected, to develop the obvious and wide fields of industrial enterprise that lie untilled – still let no man say we have not an active and a vigilant Government. The commercial ports, indeed, may not be opened to admit food; but there is hot haste in the dock-yards, at the naval stations everything is being put in readiness. There may be no energy displayed in procuring labourers for public works; but there is great request for shipwrights and engineers at all Government arsenals. To feed hungry mouths there is no sort of hurry; but the Prime Minister has declared, by his amanuensis of the Morning Herald, that “law must be vindicated and sedition crushed.”
Yes – once more the growl of England’s dog of war begins to sound across the Irish sea. Their criminal prosecution against a nation of conspirators turned out (how could it else?) one of the signalest failures – their crafty policy of disunion and corruption, though apparently too successful for a time in producing irritation and division, has also fallen far short of the vital part at which it was aimed. The one, all-absorbing, all-combining question of Irish nationality – of home-legislation – of REPEAL – is still the question of questions. Domestic Government is now, as ever, the one great want of seven millions of People.
And so the brutal throats of the enemy’s thirst bloodhounds have opened to bay upon us again. Parliament, it seems, will meet a month before its usual time – not, we may be sure, with any object friendly to us – not to expedite our railway business; for that, according to their stupid rules, cannot be considered before a certain day – not to open the ports; a landlord legislature cannot brook that – no; but to consider whether the voice of Ireland may yet be safely choked and her hands pinioned, and her opening eyes quenched in blood.
Thus we interpret the language of Sir ROBERT PEEL in the columns of the Morning Herald and Standard, the latter of which announces to us, as its view of the advantages of Irish railways, that every part of Ireland will soon be “within six hours of the garrison of Dublin.”
And be it so. If there be any one thing more than another now essential to the progress and speedy success of the cause of Ireland, it is external violence, or the insolent threat of such. Let war streamers once more throng our harbours – let the land again bristle with bayonets, and proclamations thunder from the Castle – let Insurrection Acts be hung over our heads and law-officers come forth in all their parchments; and in one week both friend and foe may measure what length of stride our cause has made since this time twelvemonth. It is good for us that the instinctive insolence of our enemies should sometimes recall us to our sober senses, and enable us to see how petty are the collateral disputes that have seemed to divide us, and how grand, how proud, how sacred is the Nationhood we have sworn to win for our country, and leave in the guardianship of our children.
Then welcome war-streamers, welcome Coercion Acts, and Castle Proclamations, and Queen’s Bench Prosecutions – let troops, if they can be spared, be concentrated upon our shores from all the four winds; another marked and distinct step in our national progress will have been made, and next year will see us nearer – nay, within grasp – of our mighty goal.
For actual measures of coercion, all Ireland laughs at that coward threat. The military uses (or abuses) of railways are tolerably well understood; but it might be useful to promulgate through the country, to be read by all Repeal Wardens in their parishes, a few short and easy rules, as to the mode of dealing with railways in case of any enemy daring to make a hostile use of them. The bold Hollanders once prevented their country from being overrun by French armies by laying it under water – they opened the embankments, and admitted the sea, and in one day those fertile plains, with all their waving corn, were a portion of the stormy German Ocean; and railways, though inconceivably valuable to any People as highways of commerce, yet were better dispensed for a time than allowed to become a means of transport for invading armies.
A hint on this subject may be thought enough; but we see no objection to speaking plainly; and, therefore, we give a few practical views, which may be improved as engineers turn their attention to the subject.
First, then, every railway station within five miles of Dublin could in one night be totally cut off from the interior country. To lift a mile of rail, to fill a perch or two of any cutting or tunnel, to break down a piece of an embankment, seem obvious and easy enough.
Second – The materials of railways, good hammered iron and wooden sleepers, – need we point out that such things may be of use in other lines than assisting locomotion.
Third – Troops upon their march by rail may be conveniently met with in divers places. HOFER, with his Tyroliens, could hardly desire a deadlier ambush than the brinks of a deep cutting upon a railway. Imagine a few hundred men lying in wait upon such a spot, with masses of rock and trunks of trees ready to roll down – and a train or two advancing with a regiment of infantry, and the engine panting near and nearer, till the polished studs of brass on its front are distinguishable, and its name may nearly be read; “Now, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost! – now —.”
But ‘tis a dream. No enemy will dare put us to realise these scenes. Yet, let all understand, what a railway may and what it may not do.