As reported in the Dublin Daily Express, 26th November, 1913. The inaugural meeting of the Irish Volunteers was held on 25th November, 1913, at the Rotunda, Dublin.
The bearing of arms is the proudest right and most essential duty of citizenship. Irishmen ceased to be citizens and became a mob when they threw away the arms with which they had achieved a measure of freedom. The history of Ireland for the past hundred years might be described as the hopeless attempt of a mob to realise itself as a nation.
If the Volunteers had not flung aside their arms in the morrow of victory the insurrection of ’98 would not have been inevitable; the Act of Union would not have been possible; the Famine would have been averted, and Ireland to-day would be a nation of twenty millions instead of a dwindling four millions.
The policy of the Volunteers is the co-operation of Irishmen of every class, religion, and shade of political belief in the common task of defending the rights of Irishmen. Love of Ireland is not the monopoly of any political party, and I hope there will be a place for all Irishmen who love their country in the ranks of the Irish Volunteers.
So far from being in antagonism to the Ulster Volunteer companies, organised by the Unionists in North East Ulster, I can conceive circumstances in which it would be desirable and feasible for us to fraternise with the Ulster Volunteers. However we might differ among ourselves as to the degree of political autonomy which is desirable for Ireland, we are all agreed that it is for Ireland herself to determine that degree. There are some who share with me the conviction that there can be no true freedom for Ireland within the British Empire.
There are others who hold the view that Ireland can enjoy very substantial freedom within the Empire, and though I do not agree with them, I can regard it as an understandable view. The point on which all are agreed, and I think that in this, too, our Unionist fellow-countrymen are agreed is that it is for Ireland to say how much freedom she wants, and not for the Empire to say how much freedom she will give. Ireland armed would make a better bargain with the Empire than Ireland unarmed.