Republished in the Gaelic American, June 27, 1914. Original speech delivered on May 24th.
A very large meeting was held on May 24 at Jenkinstown, County Louth, in furtherance of the Irish National Volunteer movement. Dr. Blake presided and the principal address was delivered by Mr. P. H. Pearse, who represented the Provisional Executive of the Volunteers.
Mr. Pearse said that the present generation in Ireland were putting themselves once more in touch with the virile generations of Irishmen. They were going down to bedrock, going back to reality in recognizing once more certain primal truths of citizenship which they should never have forgotten. Citizenship meant more than living within a certain geographical frontier. It involved the enjoyment of certain rights and the discharge of certain duties. In order that the rights might be enjoyed the duties must be discharged. The first duty and the proudest right of citizenship was the bearing of arms. Citizenship could not be achieved, and when achieved could not be guarded except by men with arms in their hands. All history teaches this lesson, and our own history shouts it trumpet-toned. Over 100 years ago one of the miracles which so often happen in Irish history happened. The English Colony of the counties of the Pale realized itself as an Irish Nation. It took arms in its hands; the Irish Volunteers of 1778 sprung into being, and within two years they had won for Ireland Free Trade. Within four years they had won for Ireland an Independent Parliament.
What did they then do? They made the mistake which had always been fatal to Ireland, a mistake which must never be made again; they trusted England. By the Renunciation Act of 1783 England renounced for all time any claim every again to make laws to bind Ireland. Grattan said, “England trusts us; let us trust England.” The Volunteers handed over to Government Commissioners sent down to receive them the arms with which they had won their freedom. Within a few years the very arms the Volunteers handed back were used to crush in blood the Rebellion of ’98. If the Volunteers had not made that fearful blunder the horrors of ’98 would not have been inevitable, the act of Union would be impossible, Emmet’s sacrifice would never have been necessary, the tragedy of the Famine would never have darkened the history of Ireland, the Irish people would not have been driven into exile, and they would now be a free people of twenty millions instead of a dwindling remnant of four millions. By the mercy of God, they were given to-day an opportunity of re-arming themselves and of reorganizing themselves as a nation. They should seize that opportunity.
There was an ancient poem in the Irish language which contained the following words: “Passing the power of the tongue of man to tell in every age what hath been designed of God for Ireland.” The designs of God for Ireland were working out wondrous wise in their own century. How many times had the cause of Ireland seemed to die only to rise again? In the dark days when Ireland lay bleeding and broken after ’98, when the country was bought and sold by the Act of Union, when Emmet was led to the scaffold without an arm raised to save him, it might surely have been said that the cause of Ireland was lost for ever. Forty years had not gone by when Thomas Davis and Charles Gavan Duffy commenced to preach again the old truths, and when the Young Irelanders brought a new soul into Ireland. When the men of ’48 rose and fell, or seemed to fall, and Mitchel was carried into exile few had hope for Ireland. Charles Gavan Duffy tried to rally the forces and everything looked well, when the cause was sold by Sadlier and Keogh. Duffy then despaired of Ireland and left her “a corpse on the dissecting table.” That was the darkest moment of Irish history.
Then there appeared in Ireland the figure of James Stephens walking the lonely roads and banding the people together in the Fenians – the organization which almost broke British power in Ireland. The Fenians rose in ’67 and seemed to fail, and then followed the magnificent Home Rule movement under Parnell. Parnell died amid the din of conflicting combinations, and as millions of hearts burned with sorrow and disappointment it seemed as if the cause of Ireland was lost. A new voice was, however, heard in Ireland – the calm, clear voice of the Gaelic League, recalling men once more to ancient truths and teaching them that Irish Nationality was an indestructible, spiritual essence, not dependent for its existence upon the political or other movements in which it might temporarily embody itself. For twenty years the Gaelic League had been preaching and teaching in Ireland, and this new movement was in a sense the outcome of the Irish Language movement. The Gaelic League sent them back to the practical things in politics. It taught them that the only way the freedom of a nation could be guarded was by the strong right hand.
The Home Rule Bill was now on its way to the Statute Book. Ireland demanded Home Rule not for three-quarters of the country, but for the whole country. In response to a threat of force by a combination in one corner of the country the Home Rule Bill was being emasculated. Ireland, however, was their country, and no man, in obedience to any faction, had a right to piece or carve it out or cut off one of the four green fields of Ireland. This was being done because the men of the North-east had the courage and the manhood to arm themselves in defence of their opinions. They disagreed with that. They held that Ireland was theirs from the centre to the sea, from the nadir to the zenith, and while they were determined to hold Ireland, they owed it to the North-east men to acknowledge their courage in arming in defence of their convictions.
They realized now what a threat of physical force could do. The strongest English Government of modern times – as it was described – at the threat of force was going to bring in an Amending Bill to deprive them of some of their rights before the Bill was passed at all. The only answer they could make as men was that if a handful of men in North-east Ulster was arming against Irish freedom, then they would arm for Irish freedom. If the Volunteer movement had been started twelve months ago the present concessions would never have been dreamt of, because English Governments never act on principle, but proceed according to expediency. He did not know how the North men would enjoy the cutting off of their counties from the rest of Ireland; he did not know how the Orangemen would enjoy it because though they were Orangemen they never made the mistake of imagining that they were Englishmen. To prevent the filching of their rights they had got to drill, and, in the final resort, to arm themselves. They wanted Home Rule; they would have to get it, and when they got it they would seek to win something bigger and better than Home Rule. That, it seemed to him, was the only manly policy for Irishmen at the present time. Ireland with arms in her hands would be always able to drive a better bargain than if she were unarmed.
He was amongst those who believed that Ireland could not attain to any real or true measure of freedom within the British Empire. He believed that her destiny lay outside the Empire. Other good Irishmen held the opinion that Ireland could achieve a very good measure of freedom within the British Empire, such as Canada, Australia and South Africa. One point, however, there was on which every Irishman would agree, and that was that it was for Irishmen to say how much freedom they wanted, and not for England to say how much she would give. How could they make that demand if they were not able to back it up? Having been over 100 years telling England what they wanted, she was now at the last moment about to give them a fragment of their demand, and to withdraw portion of it before it ever reached them.
The Volunteer movement purposed to organize, drill and arm the young men of Ireland, not in hostility to any body of Irishmen, but to guard the liberties of every citizen against outside aggression. It was for themselves to shape their own destiny, and if they had the manhood to face the task, they were equal to it. They therefore proposed to teach the young men of Ireland the noble trade of a soldier, which no Irishman could learn for over 100 years unless he took the Saxon shilling. There did not exist in Ireland or England the power that could stop them from learning the use of arms.
He had just come back from a three months’ tour of America, and during those three months he came into touch with many leaders of Irish and Irish-American public opinion. The last words spoken to him by one of the most prominent Irishmen in the United States, just before he came on board a fortnight ago, were, “Let the men at home show that they are in earnest; let them show that they are men and the help of Irish-America will not be wanting to them.”
They had got to qualify for citizenship by learning its first duty – the defence of the soil of their native land. They wanted every man in the Volunteer movement who was able to shoulder a gun and to march in step, but they did not want idlers or ornamental soldiers. There were only two countries in the world where the citizens were not permitted the carrying of arms in defence of their liberties. Both were under British rule, one being India and the other Ireland. They were the only white population on the face of the earth forbidden the use of arms. Ireland, however, was not going to stand that state of affairs any longer.
The proclamation issued by the Government against the importation of arms a fortnight after the establishment of the Irish Volunteers did not count for much. Where there was a will there was a way, and there were Nationalists who would be willing and competent to do a little gun-running as well as the Ulstermen. When the men were ready for the arms the arms would be there. Ireland has lost many chances in the past; she could not afford to lose this one; if she lost it she would be unworthy of nationhood. They did not want to fight with England, and still less did they want to fight with the grandsons or great-grandsons of the men who died for Ireland in ’98. They wanted to cultivate friendly relations with the Orangemen of the North. As the Ulster and National Volunteers exchanged the military salute at Enniskillen, so they wanted friendly rapprochement and intercourse between the two bodies of Volunteers. The freedom they claimed for themselves they would grant to others, and they would not force any legislation down the throats of the Ulster Volunteers. They would not do the work of English soldiers or police. The Volunteer movement had brought together in a wonderful way men of all sections for the good of Ireland. In the future they would not flinch.
After the meeting a large number of Volunteers were enrolled.
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