From The United Irishman, April 15, 1899.
I looked round Belfast last week for the good of my health. I found myself on Tuesday evening at a concert promoted by the Red Branch Hurlers. Michael Cusack was in the chair. The man who could not enjoy the humour of the situation ought to eat his head or keep it between his two ears. Verily, the courage of some people passeth all understanding.
Here was to be seen, presiding over a large assemblage of Northern Gaels, who fully represented the truest, the profoundest and intensest national life of Ireland, a man whose personal acquaintance with the Gaels of Belfast is so small that he would not know the names of half-a-dozen of them if they all filed up before him. But he can separate the wheat from the chaff, all the same. He will not sing, except to annoy and worry the enemies of Ireland. Yet, he presides at a concert in the chief city of the province whose people are erroneously supposed to be guided along lines of thought which are at variance with those of the province that gave him birth. He plays on no musical instrument, except the Irish heart, of which he appears to be master. Yet, he presides at a concert for the first time in his life, in the midst of ‘strangers,’ with the suppressed delight with which he hearkened, a quarter of a century earlier, to Jennie Bellair’s (Mrs. Warden) rendering of ‘The Days of the Kerry Dances.’
What most forcibly struck me while observing the quivering fury of his pleasure while contemplating the scene before him, was the fact that the Irish can never be controlled or governed, except by Irishmen, who take their inspiration from the soil and the climate that gave their unconquered and unconquerable spirit to the Gaels. It is terrifically true of our race that ‘Man is fearfully and wondrously made.’ When I consider the enormous power wielded for the good of Ireland by ‘a poor schoolmaster whose hair is grey,’ I am compelled to believe that if a man of brains and energy, of conciliating disposition, of inflexible resolution, and of immortal hope could be found in Ireland, there would scarcely be found in our midst, in the short span of seven years, more than a few traces of the hell-begotten West-Britonism that has been slimily drizzling down on the Irish Gael for centuries. The Gaels are poor in purse; but I see their bright mysterious tide of life dashing up against the very doors of the rich, and thundering against the dams which wealth has raised between itself and the ills of poverty.
While hearkening to the Gaels of Uladh ringing out their chorus in clarion tones, I bethought me of the Walhalla wherein Runic Oden shouts his war-song to the gate. Go, if you can, to next concert of the Red Branch Hurlers, of Belfast, and you will hear a song and a chorus of well-trained voices that will make you squirm if you are ‘all a knave or half a slave.’ When you go there, be prepared to meet stern and resolute men, every man an uplifted lance, and every man ready to back his sentiment with a blow. To save you from the suspicion of being a shrivelling idiot in their midst, I give you the chorus of their rallying song of the Gaels, in which you must join standing, with nothing on your head but your hair—if you have any:
‘With brave hearts to still defend her,
Erin yet shall break the chain;
North and south cry—NO SURRENDER,
As we join the Gaels again.’
That’s all for the present. The Irish News gives an account of the re-union. It omits the Chairman’s reading of a poem from the UNITED IRISHMAN of the week. It omits reference to the profuse, yet unostentatious, hospitality of the Red Branch Gaels, and to the fact that the rising dawn threatened to din the gas-lights before the company separated. I’ll have another look round next time.