THEOBALD WOLFE TONE
We have come to the holiest place in Ireland; holier to us even than the place where Patrick sleeps in Down. Patrick brought us life, but this man died for us. And though many before him and some since have died in testimony of the truth of Ireland’s claim to nationhood, Wolfe Tone was the greatest of all that have died for Ireland whether in old time or in new. He was the greatest of Irish Nationalists; I believe he was the greatest of Irish men. And if I am right in this I am right in saying that we stand in the holiest place in Ireland, for it must be that the holiest sod of a nation’s soil is the sod where the greatest of her dead lies buried.
I feel it difficult to speak to you today; difficult to speak in this place. It is as if one had to speak by the graveside of some dear friend, a brother in blood or a well-tried comrade in arms, and to say aloud the things one would rather keep to oneself. But I am helped by the knowledge that you who listen to me partake in my emotion: we are none of us strangers, being all in a sense own brothers to Tone, sharing in his faith, sharing in his hope, still unrealised, sharing in his great love. I have, then, only to find expression for the thoughts and emotions common to us all, and you will understand even if the expression be a halting one.
We have come here not merely to salute this noble dust and to pay our homage to the noble spirit of Tone. We have come to renew our adhesion to the faith of Tone; to express once more our full acceptance of the gospel of Irish Nationalism which he was the first to formulate in worthy terms, giving clear definition and plenary meaning to all that had been thought and taught before him by Irish-speaking and English-speaking men; uttered half articulately by a Shane O’Neill in some defiance flung at the Englishry, expressed under some passionate metaphor by a Geoffrey Keating, hinted at by a Swift in some biting gibe, but clearly and greatly stated by Wolfe Tone, and not needing now ever to be stated anew for any new generation. He has spoken for all time, and his voice resounds throughout Ireland, calling to us from this grave when we wander astray following other voices that ring less true.
This, then, is the first part of Wolfe Tone’s achievement — he made articulate the dumb voices of the centuries, he gave Ireland a clear and precise and worthy concept of Nationality. But he did more than this: not only did he define Irish Nationalism, but he armed his generation in defence of it. Thinker and doer, dreamer of the immortal dream and doer of the immortal deed — we owe to this dead man more than we can ever repay him by making pilgrimages to his grave or by rearing to him the stateliest monument in the streets of his city. To his teaching we owe it that there is such a thing as Irish Nationalism, and to the memory of the deed he nerved his generation to do, to the memory of ‘98, we owe it that there is any manhood left in Ireland.
I have called him the greatest of our dead. In mind he was great above all the men of his time or of the after time; and he was greater still in spirit. It was to that nobly-dowered mind of his that Kickham, himself the most nobly-dowered of a later generation, paid reverence when he said:
Oh, knowledge is a wondrous power;
‘Tis stronger than the wind.
And would to the kind heavens
That Wolfe Tone were here today.
But greater than that full-orbed intelligence, that wide, gracious, richly stored mind, was the mighty spirit of Tone. This man’s soul was a burning flame, a flame so ardent, so generous, so pure, that to come into communion with it is to come unto a new baptism, unto a new generation and cleansing. If we who stand by this graveside could make ourselves at one with the heroic spirit that once inbreathed this clay, could in some way come into loving contact with it, possessing ourselves of something of its ardour, its valour, its purity, its tenderness, its gaiety, how good a thing it would be for us, how good a thing for Ireland; with what joyousness and strength should we set our faces towards the path that lies before us, bringing with us fresh life from this place of death, a new resurrection of patriotic grace in our souls!
Try to get near the spirit of Tone, the gallant soldier spirit, the spirit that dared and soared, the spirit that loved and served, the spirit that laughed and sang with the gladness of a boy. I do not ask you to venerate him as a saint; I ask you to love him as a man. For myself, I would rather have known this man than any man of whom I have ever heard or ever read. I have not read or heard of any who had more of heroic stuff in him than he, any that went so gaily and so gallantly about a great deed, any who loved so well, any who was so beloved. To have been this man’s friend, what a privilege that would have been! To have known him as Thomas Russell knew him! I have always loved the very name of Thomas Russell because Tone so loved him.
I do not think there has ever been a more true and loyal man than Tone. He had for his friends an immense tenderness and charity; and now and then there breaks into what he is writing or saying a gust of passionate love for his wife, for his children. ‘O my babies, my babies!’ he exclaims … Yes, this man could love well; and it was from such love as this he exiled himself; with such love as this crushed in his faithful heart that he became a weary but indomitable ambassador to courts and camps; with the memory of such love as this, with the little hands of his children plucking at his heartstrings, that he lay down to die in that cell on Arbour Hill.
Such is the high and sorrowful destiny of the heroes: to turn their backs to the pleasant paths and their faces to the hard paths, to blind their eyes to the fair things of life, to stifle all sweet music in the heart, the low voices of women and the laughter of little children, and to follow only the far, faint call that leads them into the battle or to the harder death at the foot of a gibbet.
Think of Tone. Think of his boyhood and young manhood in Dublin and Kildare, his adventurous spirit and plans, his early love and marriage, his glorious failure at the bar, his healthy contempt for what he called ‘a foolish wig and gown’, and then — the call of Ireland. Think of how he put virility into the Catholic movement, how this heretic toiled to make free men of Catholic helots, how, as he worked among them, he grew to know and to love the real, the historic Irish people, and the great, clear, sane conception came to him that in Ireland there must be, not two nations or three nations, but one nation, that Protestant and Dissenter must be brought into amity with Catholic, and that Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter must unite to achieve freedom for all.
Then came the United Irishmen, and those journeys through Ireland — to Ulster and to Connacht — which, as described by him, read like epics infused with a kindly human humour. Soon the Government realises that this is the most dangerous man in Ireland — this man who preaches peace among brother Irishmen. It does not suit the Government that peace and goodwill between Catholic and Protestant should be preached in Ireland. So Tone goes into exile, having first pledged himself to the cause of Irish freedom on the Cave Hill above Belfast. From America to France: one of the great implacable exiles of Irish history, a second and a greater Fitzmaurice, one might say to him as the poet said to Sarsfield:
Ag déanamh do ghearáin leis na ríghthibh
Is gur fhág tú Éire ’s Gaedhil bhocht’ claoidhte,
But it was no ‘complaint’ that Tone made to foreign rulers and foreign senates, but wise and bold counsel that he gave them; wise because bold. A French fleet ploughs the waves and enters Bantry Bay — Tone on board. We know the sequel: how the fleet tossed about for days on the broad bosom of the Bay, how the craven in command refused to make a landing because his commander-in-chief had not come up, how Tone’s heart was torn with impatience and yearning — he saw his beloved Ireland, could see the houses and the people on shore — how the fleet set sail, that deed undone that would have freed Ireland.
It is the supreme tribute to the greatness of this man that after that cruel disappointment he set to work again, indomitable. Two more expeditions, a French and a Dutch, were fitted out for Ireland, but never reached Ireland. Then at last came Tone himself; he had said he would come, if need be, with only a corporal’s guard: he came with very little more.
Three small ships enter Lough Swilly. The English follow them. Tone’s vessel fights: Tone commands one of the guns. For six hours she stood alone against the whole English fleet. What a glorious six hours for Tone! A battered hulk, the vessel struck; Tone, betrayed by a friend, was dragged to Dublin and condemned to a traitor’s death. Then the last scene in the Provost Prison, and Tone lies dead, the greatest of the men of ‘98. To this spot they bore him, and here he awaits the judgment; and we stand at his graveside and remember that his work is still unaccomplished after more than a hundred years.
When men come to a graveside they pray; and each of us prays here in his heart. But we do not pray for Tone — men who die that their people may be free ‘have no need of prayer’. We pray for Ireland that she may be free, and for ourselves that we may free her. My brothers, were it not an unspeakable privilege if to our generation it should be granted to accomplish that which Tone’s generation, so much worthier than ours, failed to accomplish! To complete the work of Tone! …
And let us make no mistake as to what Tone sought to do, what it remains for us to do. We need not re-state our programme; Tone has stated it for us:
To break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all political evils, and to assert the independence of my country — these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishmen in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter — these were my means.
I find here implicit all the philosophy of Irish Nationalism, all the teaching of the Gaelic League and the later prophets. Ireland one and Ireland free — is not this the definition of Ireland a Nation? To that definition and to that programme we declare our adhesion anew; pledging ourselves as Tone pledged himself — and in this sacred place, by this graveside, let us not pledge ourselves unless we mean to keep our pledge — we pledge ourselves to follow in the steps of Tone, never to rest, either by day or by night, until his work be accomplished, deeming it the proudest of all privileges to fight for freedom, to fight, not in despondency, but in great joy, hoping for the victory in our day, but fighting on whether victory seem near or far, never lowering our ideal, never bartering one jot or tittle of our birthright, holding faith to the memory and the inspiration of Tone, and accounting ourselves base as long as we endure the evil thing against which he testified with his blood.
Robert Emmet And The Ireland Of Today
You ask me to speak of the Ireland of today. What can I tell you of it that is worthy of commemoration where we commemorate heroic faith and the splendour of death? In that Ireland whose spokesmen have, in return for the promise of a poor simulacrum of liberty, pledged to our ancient enemy our loyalty and the loyalty of our children, is there, even though that pledge has been spoken, any group of true men, any right striving, any hope still cherished in virtue of which, lifting up our hearts, we can cry across the years to him whom we remember tonight, ‘Brother, we have kept faith; comrade, we, too, stand ready to serve’?
For patriotism is at once a faith and a service. A faith which in some of us has been in our flesh and bone since we were moulded in our mothers’ wombs, and which in others of us has at some definite moment of our later lives been kindled flaming as if by the miraculous word of God; a faith which is of the same nature as religious faith and is one of the eternal witnesses in the heart of man to the truth that we are of divine kindred; a faith which, like religious faith, when true and vital, is wonder-working, but, like religious faith, is dead without good works even as the body without the spirit. So that patriotism needs service as the condition of its authenticity, and it is not sufficient to say ‘I believe’ unless one can say also ‘I serve’.
And our patriotism is measured, not by the formula in which we declare it, but by the service which we render. We owe to our country all fealty and she asks always for our service; and there are times when she asks of us not ordinary but some supreme service. There are in every generation those who shrink from the ultimate sacrifice, but there are in every generation those who make it with joy and laughter, and these are the salt of the generations, the heroes who stand midway between God and men. Patriotism is in large part a memory of heroic dead men and a striving to accomplish some task left unfinished by them. Had they not gone before, made their attempts and suffered the sorrow of their failures, we should long ago have lost the tradition of faith and service, having no memory in the heart nor any unaccomplished dream.
The generation that is now growing old in Ireland had almost forgotten our heroes. We had learned the great art of parleying with our enemy and achieving nationhood by negotiation. The heroes had trodden hard and bloody ways: we should tread soft and flowering ways. The heroes had given up all things: we had learned a way of gaining all things, land and good living and the friendship of our foe. But the soil of Ireland, yea, the very stones of our cities have cried out against an infidelity that would barter an old tradition of nationhood even for a thing so precious as peace. This the heroes have done for us; for their spirits indwell in the place where they lived, and the hills of Ireland must be rent and her cities levelled with the ground and all her children driven out upon the seas of the world before those voices are silenced that bid us be faithful still and to make no peace with England until Ireland is ours.
I live in a place that is very full of heroic memories. In the room in which I work at St Enda’s College, Robert Emmet is said often to have sat; in our garden is a vine which they call Emmet’s Vine and from which he is said to have plucked grapes; through our wood runs a path which is called Emmet’s Walk — they say that he and Sarah Curran walked there; at an angle of our boundary wall there is a little fortified lodge called Emmet’s fort. Across the road from us is a thatched cottage whose tenant in 1803 was in Green Street Courthouse all the long day that Emmet stood on trial, with a horse saddled without that he might bring news of the end to Sarah Curran. Half a mile from us across the fields is Butterfield House, where Emmet lived during the days preceding the rising. It is easy to imagine his figure coming out along the Harold’s Cross Road to Rathfarnham, tapping the ground with his cane, as they say was his habit; a young, slight figure, with how noble a head bent a little upon the breast, with how high a heroism sleeping underneath that quietness and gravity! One thinks of his anxious nights in Butterfield House; of his busy days in Marshalsea Lane or Patrick Street; of his careful plans — the best plans that have yet been made for the capture of Dublin; his inventions and devices, the jointed pikes, the rockets and explosives upon which he counted so much; his ceaseless conferences, his troubles with his associates, his disappointments, his disillusionments, borne with such sweetness and serenity of temper, such a trust in human nature, such a trust in Ireland! Then the hurried rising, the sally into the streets, the failure at the Castle gates, the catastrophe in Thomas Street, the retreat along the familiar Harold’s Cross Road to Rathfarnham. At Butterfield House, Anne Devlin, the faithful, keeps watch. You remember her greeting to Emmet in the first pain of her disappointment: ‘Musha, bad welcome to you! Is Ireland lost by you, cowards that you are, to lead the people to destruction and then to leave them?’ And poor Emmet’s reply — no word of blame for the traitors that had sold him, for the cravens that had abandoned him, for the fools that had bungled; just a halting, heartbroken exculpation, the only one he was to make for himself — ‘Don’t blame me, Anne; the fault is not mine.’ And her woman’s heart went out to him and she took him in and cherished him; but the soldiery were on his track, and that was his last night in Butterfield House. The bracken was his bed thenceforth, or a precarious pillow in his old quarters at Harold’s Cross, until he lay down in Kilmainham to await the summons of the executioner.
No failure, judged as the world judges these things, was ever more complete, more pathetic than Emmet’s. And yet he has left us a prouder memory then the memory of Brian victorious at Clontarf or of Owen Roe victorious at Benburb. It is the memory of a sacrifice Christ-like in its perfection. Dowered with all things splendid and sweet, he left all things and elected to die. Face to face with England in the dock at Green Street he uttered the most memorable words ever uttered by an Irish man: words which, ringing clear above a century’s tumults, forbid us ever to waver or grow weary until our country takes her place among the nations of the earth. And his death was august. In the great space of Thomas Street an immense silent crowd; in front of Saint Catherine’s Church a gallows upon a platform; a young man climbs to it, quiet, serene, almost smiling, they say — ah, he was very brave; there is no cheer from the crowd, no groan; this man is to die for them, but no man dares to say aloud ‘God bless you, Robert Emmet.’ Dublin must one day wash out in blood the shameful memory of that quiescence. Would Michael Dwyer come from the Wicklow Hills? Up to the last moment Emmet seems to have expected him. He was saying ‘Not yet’ when the hangman kicked aside the plank and his body was launched into the air. They say it swung for half-an-hour, with terrible contortions, before he died. When he was dead the comely head was severed from the body. A friend of mine knew an old woman who told him how the blood flowed down upon the pavement, and how she sickened with horror as she saw the dogs of the street lap up that noble blood. Then the hangman showed the pale head to the people and announced: ‘This is the head of a traitor, Robert Emmet.’ A traitor? No, but a true man. O my brothers, this was one of the truest men that ever lived. This was one of the bravest spirits that Ireland has ever nurtured. This man was faithful even unto the ignominy of the gallows, dying that his people might live, even as Christ died. Be assured that such a death always means a redemption. Emmet redeemed Ireland from acquiescence in the Union. His attempt was not a failure, but a triumph for that deathless thing we call Irish Nationality. It was by Emmet that men remembered Ireland until Davis and Mitchel took up his work again, and ‘48 handed on the tradition to ‘67, and from ‘67 we receive the tradition unbroken.
You ask me to speak of the Ireland of today. What need I say but that today Ireland is turning her face once more to the old path? Nothing seems more definitely to emerge when one looks at the movements that are stirring both above the surface and beneath the surface in men’s minds at home than the fact that the new generation is reaffirming the Fenian faith, the faith of Emmet. It is because we know that this is so that we can suffer in patience the things that are said and done in the name of Irish Nationality by some of our leaders. What one may call the Westminster phase is passing: the National movement is swinging back again into its proper channel. A new junction has been made with the past: into the movement that has never wholly died since ‘67 have come the young men of the Gaelic League. Having renewed communion with its origins, Irish Nationalism is today a more virile thing than ever before in our time. Of that be sure.
I have said again and again that when the Gaelic League was founded in 1893 the Irish Revolution began. The Gaelic League brought it a certain distance upon its way; but the Gaelic League could not accomplish the Revolution. For five or six years a new phase has been due, and lo! it is with us now. Today Ireland is once more organising, once more learning the noble trade of arms. In our towns and country places Volunteer companies are springing up. Dublin pointed the way, Galway has followed Dublin, Cork has followed Galway, Wexford has followed Cork, Limerick has followed Wexford, Monaghan has followed Limerick, Sligo has followed Monaghan, Donegal has followed Sligo. There is again in Ireland the murmur of a marching, and talk of guns and tactics. What this movement may mean for our country no man can say. But it is plain to all that the existence on Irish soil of an Irish army is the most portentous fact that has appeared in Ireland for over a hundred years: a fact which marks definitely the beginning of the second stage of the Revolution which was commenced when the Gaelic League was founded. The inner significance of the movement lies in this, that men of every rank and class, of every section of Nationalist opinion, of every shade of religious belief, have discovered that they share a common patriotism, that their faith is one and there is one service in which they can come together at last: the service of their country in arms. We are realising now how proud a thing it is to serve, and in the comradeship and joy of the new service we are forgetting many ancient misunderstandings. In the light of a rediscovered citizenship things are plain to us that were before obscure:
Lo, a clearness of vision has followed, lo, a purification of sight;
Lo, the friend is discerned from the foeman, the wrong recognised
from the right.
After all, there are in Ireland but two parties: those who stand for the English connection and those who stand against it. On what side, think you, stand the Irish Volunteers? I cannot speak for the Volunteers; I am not authorised to say when they will use their arms or where or how. I can speak only for myself; and it is strictly a personal perception that I am recording, but a perception that to me is very clear, when I say that before this generation has passed the Volunteers will draw the sword of Ireland. There is no truth but the old truth and no way but the old way. Home Rule may come or may not come, but under Home Rule or in its absence there remains for the Volunteers and for Ireland the substantial business of achieving Irish nationhood. And I do not know how nationhood is achieved except by armed men; I do not know how nationhood is guarded except by armed men.
I ask you, then, to salute with me the Irish Volunteers. I ask you to mark their advent as an augury that, no matter what pledges may be given by men who do not know Ireland — the stubborn soul of Ireland — that nation of ancient faith will never sell her birthright of freedom for a mess of pottage; a mess of dubious pottage, at that. Ireland has been guilty of many meanness, of many shrinkings back when she should have marched forward; but she will never be guilty of that immense infidelity.
Robert Emmet And The Ireland Of Today
We who speak here tonight are the voice of one of the ancient indestructible things of the world. We are the voice of an idea which is older than any empire and will outlast every empire. We and ours, the inheritors of that idea, have been at age-long war with one of the most powerful empires that have ever been built upon the earth; and that empire will pass before we pass. We are older than England and we are stronger than England. In every generation we have renewed the struggle, and so it shall be unto the end. When England thinks she has tramped out our battle in blood, some brave man rises and rallies us again; when England thinks she has purchased us with a bribe, some good man redeems us by a sacrifice. Wherever England goes on her mission of empire we meet her and we strike at her; yesterday it was on the South African veldt, today it is in the Senate House at Washington, tomorrow it may be in the streets of Dublin. We pursue her like a sleuth-hound; we lie in wait for her and come upon her like a thief in the night; and some day we will overwhelm her with the wrath of God.
It is not that we are apostles of hate. Who like us has carried Christ’s word of charity about the earth? But the Christ that said, ‘My peace I leave you, My peace I give you’, is the same Christ that said, ‘I bring not peace, but a sword.’ There can be no peace between right and wrong, between truth and falsehood, between justice and oppression, between freedom and tyranny. Between them it is eternal war until the wrong is righted, until the true thing is established, until justice is accomplished, until freedom is won.
So when England talks of peace we know our answer: ‘Peace with you? Peace while your one hand is at our throat and your other hand is in our pocket? Peace with a footpad? Peace with a pickpocket? Peace with the leech that is sucking our whole body dry of blood? Peace with the many-armed monster whose tentacles envelop us while its system emits an inky fluid that shrouds its work of murder from the eyes of men? The time has not yet come to talk of peace.’
But England, we are told, offers us terms. She holds out to us the hand of friendship. She gives us a Parliament with an Executive responsible to it. Within two years the Home Rule Senate meets in College Green and King George comes to Dublin to declare its sessions open. In anticipation of that happy event our leaders have proffered England our loyalty. Mr Redmond accepts Home Rule as a ‘final settlement between the two nations’; Mr O’Brien in the fulness of his heart cries: ‘God Save the King’; Colonel Lynch offers England his sword in case she is attacked by a foreign power.
And so this settlement is to be a final settlement. Would Wolfe Tone have accepted it as a final settlement? Would Robert Emmet have accepted it as a final settlement? Either we are heirs to their principles or we are not. If we are, we can accept no settlement as final which does not ‘break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils’; if we are not, how dare we go in annual pilgrimage to Bodenstown, how dare we gather here or anywhere to commemorate the faith and sacrifice of Emmet? Did, then, these dead heroic men live in vain? Has Ireland learned a truer philosophy than the philosophy of ‘98, and a nobler way of salvation than the way of 1803? Is Wolfe Tone’s definition superseded, and do we discharge our duty to Emmet’s memory by according him annually our pity?
To do the English justice, I do not think they are satisfied that Ireland will accept Home Rule as a final settlement. I think they are a little anxious today. If their minds were tranquil on the subject of Irish loyalty they would hardly have proclaimed the importation of arms into Ireland the moment the Irish Volunteers had begun to organise themselves. They had given the Ulster faction, which is used as a catspaw by one of the English parties, two years to organise and arm against that Home Rule Bill which they profess themselves so anxious to pass: to the Nationalists of Ireland they did not give two weeks. Of course, we can arm in spite of them: today we are organising and training the men and we have ways and means of getting arms when the men are ready for the arms. The contention I make now, and I ask you to note it well, is that England does not trust Ireland with guns; that under Home Rule or in the absence of Home Rule England declares that we Irish must remain an unarmed people; and England is right.
England is right in suspecting Irish loyalty, and those Irishmen who promise Irish loyalty to England are wrong. I believe them honest; but they have spent so much of their lives parleying with the English, they have sat so often and so long at English feasts, that they have lost communion with the ancient unpurchaseable faith of Ireland, the ancient stubborn thing that forbids, as if with the voice of fate, any loyalty from Ireland to England, any union between us and them, any surrender of one jot or shred of our claim to freedom even in return for all the blessings of the British peace.
I have called that old faith an indestructible thing. I have said that it is more powerful than empires. If you would understand its might you must consider how it has made all the generations of Ireland heroic. Having its root in all gentleness, in a man’s love for the place where his mother bore him, for the breast that gave him suck, for the voices of the children that sounded in a house now silent, for the faces that glowered around a fireside now cold, for the story told by lips that will not speak again, having its root, I say, in all gentleness, it is a yet terrible thing urging the generations to perilous bloody attempts, nerving men to give up life for the death-in-life of dungeons, teaching little boys to die with laughing lips, giving courage to young girls to bare their backs to the lashes of a soldiery.
It is easy to imagine how the spirit of Irish patriotism called to the gallant and adventurous spirit of Tone or moved the wrathful spirit of Mitchel. In them deep called unto deep: heroic effort claimed the heroic man. But consider how the call was made to a spirit of different, yet not less noble mould; and how it was answered. In Emmet it called to a dreamer and he awoke a man of action; it called to a student and a recluse and he stood forth a leader of men; it called to one who loved the ways of peace and he became a revolutionary. I wish I could help you to realise, I wish I could myself adequately realise, the humanity, the gentle and grave humanity, of Emmet. We are so dominated by the memory of that splendid death of his, by the memory of that young figure, serene and smiling, climbing to the gallows above that sea of silent men in Thomas Street, that we forget the life of which that death was only the necessary completion; and the life has a nearer meaning for us than the death. For Emmet, finely gifted though he was, was just a young man with the same limitations, the same self-questionings, the same falterings, the same kindly human emotions surging up sometimes in such strength as almost to drown a heroic purpose, as many a young man we have known. And his task was just such a task as many of us have undertaken: he had to go through the same repellent routine of work, to deal with the hard, uncongenial details of correspondence and committee meetings; he had the same sordid difficulties that we have, yea, even the vulgar difficulty of want of funds. And he had the same poor human material to work with, men who misunderstood, men who bungled, men who talked too much, men who failed at the last moment …
Yes, the task we take up again is just Emmet’s task of silent unattractive work, the routine of correspondence and committees and organising. We must face it as bravely and as quietly as he faced it, working on in patience as he worked on, hoping as he hoped; cherishing in our secret hearts the mighty hope that to us, though so unworthy, it may be given to bring to accomplishment the thing he left unaccomplished, but working on even when that hope dies within us.
I would ask you to consider now how the call I have spoken of was made to the spirit of a woman, and how, equally, it was responded to. Wherever Emmet is commemorated let Anne Devlin not be forgotten. Bryan Devlin had a dairy farm in Butterfield Lane; his fields are still green there. Five sons of his fought in ‘98. Anne was his daughter, and she went to keep house for Emmet when he moved into Butterfield House. You know how she kept vigil there on the night of the rising. When all was lost and Emmet came out in his hurried retreat through Rathfarnham to the mountains, her greeting was — according to tradition it was spoken in Irish, and Emmet must have replied in Irish — ‘Musha, bad welcome to you! Is Ireland lost by you, cowards that you are, to lead the people to destruction and then to leave them?’
‘Don’t blame me, Anne; the fault is not mine,’ said Emmet. And she was sorry for the pain her words had inflicted, spoken in the pain of her own disappointment. She would have tended him like a mother could he have tarried there, but his path lay to Kilmashogue, and hers was to be a harder duty. When Sirr came out with his soldiery she was still keeping her vigil.
‘Where is Emmet?’
‘I have nothing to tell you.’
To all their questions she had but one answer: ‘I have nothing to say; I have nothing to tell you.’
They swung her up to a cart and half-hanged her several times; after each half-hanging she was revived and questioned: still the same answer. They pricked her breast with bayonets until the blood spurted out in their faces. They dragged her to prison and tortured her for days. Not one word did they extract from that steadfast woman. And when Emmet was sold, he was sold, not by a woman, but by a man — by the friend that he had trusted — by the counsel who, having sold him, was to go through the ghastly mockery of defending him at the bar.
The fathers and mothers of Ireland should often tell their children that story of Robert Emmet and that story of Anne Devlin. To the Irish mothers who hear me I would say that when at night you kiss your children and in your hearts call down a benediction, you could wish for your boys no higher thing than that, should the need come, they may be given the strength to make Emmet’s sacrifice, and for your girls no greater gift from God than such fidelity as Anne Devlin’s.
It is more than a hundred years since these things were suffered; and they were suffered in vain if nothing of the spirit of Emmet and Anne Devlin survives in the young men and young women of Ireland. Does anything of that spirit survive? I think I can speak for my own generation. I think I can speak for my contemporaries in the Gaelic League, an organisation which has not yet concerned itself with politics, but whose younger spirits are accepting the full national idea and are bringing into the national struggle the passion and the practicalness which marked the early stages of the language movement. I think I can speak for the young men of the Volunteers. So far, they have no programme beyond learning the trade of arms: a trade which no man of Ireland could learn for over a hundred years past unless he took the English shilling. It is a good programme; and we may almost commit the future of Ireland to the keeping of the Volunteers. I think I can speak for a younger generation still: for some of the young men that are entering the National University, for my own pupils at St Enda’s College, for the boys of Fianna Éireann. To the grey-haired men whom I see on this platform, to John Devoy and Richard Burke, I bring, then, this message from Ireland: that their seed-sowing of forty years ago has not been without its harvest, that there are young men and little boys in Ireland today who remember what they taught and who, with God’s blessing, will one day take — or make — an opportunity of putting their teaching into practice.
Since I spoke the words here reprinted there has been a quick movement of events in Ireland. The young men of the nation stand organised and disciplined, and are rapidly arming themselves; blood has flowed in Dublin Streets, and the cause of the Volunteers has been consecrated by a holocaust. A European war has brought about a crisis which may contain, as yet hidden within it, the movement for which the generations have been waiting. It remains to be seen whether, if that moment reveals itself, we shall have the sight to see and the courage to do, or whether it shall be written of this generation, alone of all the generations of Ireland, that is had none among it who dared to make the ultimate sacrifice.