From The United Irishman, March 4, 1899.
For some years back people have been growling at me over the alleged decadence of the Gaelic Athletic Association, and their gloom and desolation that would come swift and sure along with its funeral and have hearkened patiently to the pessimistic friends of the destructive-criticism tribe whose members are always ready to find fault with what exists, but who never dream that while they are pouring their wearisome complaints into my ears, that I am as cool as a New England lawyer eating a cucumber at the back of a tombstone during a blizzard.
Nature, working along the lines of heredity, and strengthened and confirmed by the never-ending study of the principles that guide Irishmen along the path that leads to racial independence, confirms by belief that Ireland is not destined to be long controlled by any foreign power. All the workable elements, necessary and sufficient to resist and resent the insolent claims of a hostile gang to rule Ireland socially and morally are here to-day—fresh, vehement, and true. What we lack is the constructive genius. We want the man who will cry: ‘Make way for liberty.’ We want the man who will show that in the Gaelic Athletic Association there are latent the promise and potency, physically speaking, of making Ireland the foremost nation on earth. The order may appear to be a large one. But the Ireland of my dreams is not confined to a club, a society, a country, a province, or a country. The sun never sets on the Irishman, no matter under what heading he is described in the Press or in the pulpit. The Irishman may be decried, boycotted, insulted, slandered, libelled, but he can’t be got rid of. The evanescent political turbulence and the partial demoralisation that has followed its train for twenty years, could not stem the tide of Gaelic democracy that, in 1879, began to dash up against the very doors of the rich and to thunder against the dams which wealth had reared between itself and the ills of poverty.
In that year I became acquainted with P. W. Nally. On a Sunday afternoon we strolled leisurely across the Phoenix Park. We could not count more than a score of people in that vast expanse of public ground. We drifted into a conversation bearing on the condition of life in Ireland when our fathers exulted in fetching mad bounds on the hurling fields, and casting stones and throwing the sledge, or sweeping over the country with the speed of a cloud shadow on a March day.
The dreariness and desolation of the scene before us were touched on to by two men, who clearly foresaw the iceberg devastation that threatened their country, under the ill-concealed motto: ‘Havoc and spoil and ruin are my game.’
Great thoughts develop slowly. The two men agreed that an effort should be made to preserve the physical strength of our race. Those two men were singularly alike in temperament, in their hated of iniquity, in their passionate love of Ireland, and in their implicit faith in the ultimate triumph of Ireland. The younger of the two was more passionate and hurried in manner and methods than his more matured friend, whose scorn and hatred flashed more through his laughter than through his tears. The younger went to jail and died in Mountjoy convict prison in November, 1891. The elder dreamt along and largely helped to found the Gaelic Athletic Association on the 1st of November, 1884.
History is too much neglected in Ireland. This is a deplorable fact. Men who have done untold services are too often forgotten soon after the clay is shovelled over them. Men whose money and brains and energies and lives are always forthcoming to serve their fellow-men are too often rewarded with a funeral, a few wreaths, and perhaps a pile of stones with their names written in the language of the race they hated. Their teaching is far too often forgotten.
I here desire to inform the friends of P. W. Nally in the province of Connaught that he did more to encourage and strengthen and sustain his friend, whose feeble hand and uncertain pen trace these lines, than any layman that ever agreed to found the Gaelic Athletic Association for the preservation and cultivation of the National Pastimes in Ireland.
I have endeavoured to pay a long deferred tribute to the work and memory of my friend, P. W. Nally, whose labour and suffering and martyrdom I commend to every reader of the UNITED IRISHMAN. When I first met him, the half-starved and despairing peasant farmer had taken the cruel and ruthless landlord by the throat. The gaunt spectre of famine was stalking over the fairest parts of western Ireland. The lazy, the listless and the hungry varied the monotony of their wretched existence by coming to a railway station to see the trains and the passengers. The gaunt crowds were in the highway, as they were in the days of Speranza. The sea showed up the stately ships that bore their food away amid the stranger’s scoffing. The sons of well-to-do fathers, home from College, the Bank Clerk, the Local Sub-Inspector of police, and others who believed that the Saxon Treasury was at their backs, introduced the game of cricket. The hapless poor became listless spectators; and the work of demoralisation thrived apace. This was when the comely women of the present generation were as young as Eily, Kate, and Mary, who frolicked round poor Pinch and Caoch O’Leary, when Keegan was young in Upper Ossory, and when the aging men of this closing century were as blithesome as the curly-headed boy who frisked to the tune of ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley.’ In those far-off days, I recalled my father’s advice and the agonising appeal of Meagher of the Sword, twenty-five years before. Meagher said: ‘We have the wedding and the wake, but where is the Irish hurling gone?’
I saw the hurling in Dublin. I essayed to rouse the people from the appalling torpor that was creeping over them, and vampire-like, thinning out the heart’s blood of the Irish nation. I saw the labourer, tradesman, artisan, policeman, and soldier excluded from the athletic arena. I saw them
Crouching to their masters’ mercies,
Drugged with slavery’s cup like Circe’s,
And, not being ‘imbued with the spirit of peace, of obedience to the laws and of loyalty to the sovereign,’ I took it into my head to strike one smashing blow on behalf of Ireland.
I calculated that, with the support of the survivors of those who marched in the funeral of Terence Bellew MacManus in 1861, and who worked and fought and suffered in the following years, I might be able to bring one-tenth of the male population of Ireland into the open spaces on Sundays to hurl, play football, jump, cast a stone, or throw a sledge. I desired the support of those who trudged and dredged in the realms of obstinate, sullen toil. I sang out:
Then, glory be to the manly brow—
To the brow bedewed with sweat;
For the wealth of the earth,
Deny it who can
Is stamped on the brow of the workingman.
On Saturday, the first of November, 1884, nine Irishmen met at Thurles. They founded the Gaelic Athletic Association. In March, 1886, it was estimated that there was 50,000 men in its ranks. One-fourth of the work was accomplished. The young men of Dublin, in every business and capacity of life, gyrated with the speed of a whirlwind. The smouldering volcanic and intenser inner life of Ireland flashed in the gloom of a nation’s sorrow, and the Rappareees, the Hugh O’Neills, the Owen Roes, the Mitchels, the Emmets, the Geraldines, the Tones, the Swifts, the Sarsfields, the Wild Geese, the Fintan Lalors, the Smith O’Briens, the Ninety-Eights, the Benburbs, the Young Irelands, and many other branches of the Gaelic Athletic Association sprang into existence in and around Dublin with startling suddenness. The robust young men of the city, who were mostly of rural origin, looked up their histories for suitable titles. The children who had heard of the firebrands of the Wicklow Hills, recalled Feach MacHugh and Billy Byrne, and Michael Dwyer, and elected them the patron saints of clubs. The Ireland that lies south of a line extending from Dundalk (the home of Cuchullin) to Sligo, was overwhelmingly Gaelic in less than two years. Unhappily, the progress of the movement was arrested. It is not my purpose here to blame the dead or the departed. I wish, however, to assure my readers that Nally’s friend is alive and vigorous, and that he has sons to take his place at once. But these reflections, or historical recollections, are extending too far for one week. I thought, in the simplicity of my guileless heart, that I could say why I wanted to say in one column of the UNITED IRISHMAN. I have realised that it will take several weeks to reach all my friends. I direct the attention of the rising generation to the fact that youth and indifference are not synonymous; that the youth of a nation are the trustees of Posterity; that the Angel of the Trumpet will note them as he passes.