From The Irish Review, September 1912.
Anyone studying the maps of Irish and Scandinavian trade routes in Mrs. Green’s Old Irish World can realise the importance of the position of Ireland in the past. It has lost nothing in importance – in fact, its importance is, if anything, much increased – in this age of mighty warships, aeroplanes, and wireless telegraphy. On the rim of Europe and with its face to the great West, it occupies a position that, to any sea power, is unique. Irishmen perhaps do not realise it themselves, but there are others – Empire-building peoples – who know the advantages of its position.
When the English, in the days of Elizabeth, began their Empire building, they soon realised that, if they themselves were to be secure from rivals, they must secure Ireland. The Spanish were then the Continental sea power England feared. The connection between Ireland and Spain was old and ever friendly. There was danger for England in this connection. Hence Ireland had to be subdued, weakened, broken, lest its alliance with Spain would block the career of the English. Later, the danger was France. Again Ireland played an important part. Were Ireland strong and an ally of France, the English power was threatened and the dreams of Empire broken. The danger became very real to England in the days of Napoleon and when Wolfe Tone – statesman and leader that he was – sought an alliance with France.
But, as students of European history may now see, Napoleon’s great want was a fleet, a strong fleet. He wished to humble England; he had a means of doing so by crushing English power in Ireland; but he was unable to meet the English on the seas, and, with all his wonderful genius, he failed to organise a French navy and to build up the naval power of France. He may have known that Ireland was the weak spot in England’s armour, but without a fleet he was unable to strike. His Continental Blockade went for nought, and Waterloo was a result.
Now, there is another Continental menace to English power – Germany. This time the danger is greater, more ominous, and more pressing for England than ever before, because Germany has been forging the weapon that, as all students of history know, is the one that can most effectively strike at England. Year by year the Germans have been forging that weapon that would have enabled Napoleon to crush his greatest enemy, and England is taking alarm. It cannot prevent Germany strengthening itself and arming itself. Its way of safety, so English statesman think, is to increase at a feverish rate its own sea-power, to institute conscription in order to strengthen its land forces, and to make alliances.
In this latter programme Ireland is included. English statesman know, from an instinct of self-preservation, that an alliance with Ireland by any great Continental power possessing a strong fleet would be the writing on the wall for the British Empire. Hence, English statesman see their best plan is to secure the good-will of Ireland for themselves. And hence, beneath all the tinsel and trimmings, we see the great, the paramount impulse for the granting of Home Rule. A friendly Ireland is essential to England if the German menace is to be faced gravely. Not alone for itself and the position it occupies, but because, as English statesmen know, Irish influence joined with German influence in America has been powerful enough to defeat the alliance seekers there. England wants allies if it is to fight Germany. That is a fact acknowledged by English statesmen. It wants Ireland as an ally. It wants America as an ally. It feels, rightly or wrongly, that one cannot be got without the other. Hence, it is willing to grant certain concessions – the minimum necessary – to secure those allies. Hence Home Rule. Mr. Churchill, in addition, has said that England wants Irish soldiers and sailors, and he makes Cork Harbour a naval base to secure the latter.
England wants Ireland as an ally against Germany. She is willing to come to terms for that alliance. She offers the present Home Rule Bill. Mr. Redmond is satisfied with the terms it offers and pledges our alliance for them. But the question arises – could we not secure better terms? Would Germany offer us better? The more we value our own worth, the more others are likely to value it. Ireland, if she only knew, holds a winning hand between England and Germany. If she – or her leaders for her – play well, they can secure a measure of freedom for the old land that Thomas Davis may have dreamed of.
Ireland is not weak, while Germany menaces, but strong, and in her strength she should speak not “with bated breath and whispering humbleness,” but with the voice of a Nation, knowing its own mind and free to ally itself with any other nation that may help it to the place it should occupy among the nations of the earth, that may help it to realise the dream it has dreamed through the centuries.