From An Claidheamh Soluis, September 1, 1906.
The success of every human cause must depend, under God, upon the men who work for it – the men whom it has itself produced. High and noble as may be its aims, true and beautiful as may be its principles, a human movement must be carried on by human agents. Providence displays itself through its instruments. Their zeal as shown in energy, their earnestness as shown in efficiency, their devotion as shown in sacrifice, testify not alone to their belief in the cause but also to its sacred character. Nor is it by any rough average or loose totalling that man’s belief in a cause is to be judged or the success of the cause to be estimated. Each individual stands for himself alone. He cannot escape censure amidst the defects of his fellows, nor will he deserve praise from the efforts of his brethren. With his own individuality he must contribute to the cause, upon his own individuality will both he and it be judged.
It has often been said that Irishmen suffer from exaggerated individuality. That Ireland has frequently suffered from the effects of this evil form of individualism – the individualism that exalts its selfish demands above the interests of the nation – we must, with pain and sorrow, admit. How many Irishmen who might otherwise have served Ireland with head and hand have wrecked her interests on some trivial point of policy or procedure grotesquely distorted out of perspective? How often have men who would have spent their lives in work for Ireland abandoned her cause through an exaggerated sense of what was due to them individually? How often, alas! has the cause of Ireland been betrayed by the selfish passions and reckless impulses of men who with disciplined minds and guarded hearts would have willingly died for her? Men who would have endured rack and gibbet rather than betray Ireland for material gain have sold her interests for the less tangible but no less real selfishness of their own minds. Men whom sensual passions could not have sacrificed her to the mental passions of pride and envy, of obstinacy and hatred.
Individuality in such an evil sense we must suppress. But there is an individuality which shows itself in power of judgment, power of initiation and execution, power of co-operation and organisation; the individuality which is ready to accept personal responsibility and to utilise its own resources, which pours out what it has of good rather than wait for a suction-pump to extract it. Such an individuality in its people is one of the greatest assets of a nation. The Americans, most democratic of peoples, recognise its usefulness and assist its development by giving the largest executive powers and the most definite personal responsibility to its popularly elected officials of almost every grade. The Gaelic League from the first has possessed this asset to a great degree. None but those possessed of force of character and strong individuality would have been attracted to the movement in its early stages; none others would have stood the strain and responded to the demands which the working of the movement entails. The very nature of the movement develops such a character. To utilise it to the utmost should be a constant object with us in every part of the organisation. Let everyone take up his allotted and definite task, let him concentrate himself upon it, empty his best powers into it, and feel that he is responsible to Ireland and his comrades for its success. Neglect of the work entrusted to him will not be compensated for by spasmodic efforts in other fields. The secretary who leaves letters unwritten and business undone has no excuse in excursions into abstruse questions or in abstract dialectics. The teacher who neglects his beginners’ class in order to discuss the bardic metres is obviously at fault. These are cases where the personal responsibility is clear and definite and the danger may be seen and remedied. But everyone who takes part in the working of the League, from the newest member of a class up to the Craoibhin himself, has a similar individual responsibility. To determine the extent and limits of this responsibility, to accept it and act on it to the full should be the aim of all. A committee will progress by the individual efforts of its members and not by any occult communistic power. A class will depend upon each pupil in it quite as much as upon the teacher. “Ourselves Alone” should also mean “Each one of us alone” and in harmony with each other.