(Written in November-December, 1913.)
It is only the truth that wounds. An Irishman to-day in dealing with Englishmen is forced, if he speak truly, to wound. That is why so many Irishmen do not speak the truth. The Irishman, whether he be a peasant, a farm laborer, however low in the scale of Anglicization he may have sunk is still in imagination, if not always in manner, a gentleman.
The Englishman is a gentleman by chance, by force of circumstance, by luck of birth, or some rare opportunity of early fellowship. The Irishman is a gentleman by instinct and shrinks from wounding the feelings of another man and particularly of the man who has wounded him. He scorns to take it out of him that way. That is why the task of misgoverning him has been so easy and has come so naturally to the Englishman. One of the chief grievances of the Irishman in the middle ages was that the man who robbed him was such a boor. Insult was added to injury in that the oppressor was no knight in shining armor, but a very churl of men; to the courteous and cultured Irishman a “bodach Sassenach” a man of low blood, of low cunning, caring only for the things of the body, with no veneration for the things of the spirit—with, in fine, no music in his soul. The things that the Irishman loved he could not conceive of. Without tradition or history himself he could not comprehend the passionate attachment of the Irishman to both, and he proceeded to wipe both out, so far as in him lay, from off the map of Ireland and from out the Irishman’s consciousness.
Having, as he believed, with some difficulty accomplished his task, he stands to-day amazed at the result. The Irishman has still a grievance—nay, more, Ireland talks of “wrongs.” But has she not got him? What more can she want—except his purse? And, that too, she is now taking. In the indulgence of an agreeable self-conceit which supplies for him the want of imagination he sees Ireland to-day as a species of “sturdy beggar,”—half mendicant, half pickpocket—making off with the proceeds of his hard day’s work. The past slips from him as a dream. Has he not for years now, well, for thirty years, certainly, a generation, a lifetime, done all in his powerto meet the demands of this incessant country that more in sorrow than in anger he will grant you, was misgoverned in the past. That was its misfortune, never his fault. This is a steadily recurring phase of the fixed hallucination in his blood. Ireland never is, but only always has been cursed by English rule. He, himself, the Englishman of the day, is always a simple, bluff, goodhearted fellow. His father, if you like, his grandfather very probably, misgoverned Ireland, but never he himself. Why, just look at him now, his hand never out of his pocket relieving the shrill cries of Irish distress. There she stands, a poverty stricken virago at his door, shaking her bony fist at him, Celtic porter in her eye, the most fearful apparition in history, his charwoman, shaming him before the neighbors and demanding payment for long past spring cleanings that he, good soul, has forgotten all about or is quite certain were settled at the time. Yes, there she stands, the Irish charwoman, the old broom in her hand and preparing for one last clean sweep that shall make the house sweet and fit for her own children. And John Bull, honest, sturdy John Bull, believing the house to be his, thinks that the only thing between him and the woman is a matter of wages; that all she wants is an extra shilling. Ireland wants but one thing in the world. She wants her house to herself and the stranger out of the house.
While he is, in his heart, perfectly aware of this, John Bull (for the reasons given by Richard Cox), is quite determined that nothing shall get him out of the house. “Separation is unthinkable”‘ say English Ministers. The task of Ireland is to-day what it always has been—to get the stranger out of the house. It is no shame to Ireland, or her sons, that up to this they have failed in each attempt. Those attempts are pillars of fire in her history, beacons of light in the desert of Sin, where the Irish Israel still wanders in search of the promised land. Few of the peoples of Europe who to-day make up the Concert of Powers have, unaided, expelled the invader who held them down, and none has been in the situation of Ireland.
As Mr. Gladstone wrote in 1890, “can anyone say we should have treated Ireland as we have done had she lain not between us and the ocean, but between us and Europe?
In introducing the scheme of mild Home Rule termed the Councils Bill in 1907, Mr. Birrell prefaced it with the remark that “separation was unthinkable—save in the event of some world cataclysm.” World cataclysms up to this have not reached Ireland—England intervened to well. She has maintained her hold by sea power. The lonely Andromeda saw afar off the rescuing Perseus, a nude figure on the coast of Spain or France, but long ere his flight reached her rock-bound feet she beheld him fall, bruised, mangled, and devoured by the watching sea monster.
Had Italy been placed as Ireland is, cut off from all external succor save across a sea held by a relentless jailer, would she have been to-day a free people, ally of Austria on terms of high equality?
The blood shed by the founders of modern Italy would all have been shed in vain—that blood that sanctified the sword of Garabaldi—had it not been for the selfish policy of Louis Napoleon and the invading armies of France. Italy, no more than Ireland, could have shaken herself free had it not been for aid from abroad. The late Queen Victoria saw clearly the parallel, and as hereditary custodian of Ireland, Her Majesty protested against the effort then being made to release Italy from an Austrian prison, when she herself was so hard put to it to keep Ireland in an English jail. Writing to her Prime Minister on July 25th, 1848, Her Majesty said: “The Queen must tell Lord John (Russel) what she has repeatedly told Lord Palmerston, but without apparent effect, that the establishment of an entente cordiale with the French Republic for the purpose of driving the Austrians out of their dominions in Italy would be a disgrace to this country. That the French would attach the greatest importance to it and gain the greatest advantage from it, there can be no doubt of. But how will England appear before the world at the moment she is struggling to maintain her supremacy in Ireland; * * *” and on October 10th, following, her Majesty wrote to her uncle, the first King of the Belgians (who owed his new-minted crown to the Belgian people depriving the Dutch sovereign of his “lawful possessions'”) in the following memorable words:
“Really it is quite immoral, with Ireland quivering in our grasp and ready to throw off her allegiance at any moment, for us to force Austria to give up her lawful possessions. What shall we say if Canada, Malta, &c, begin to trouble us? It hurts me terribly.” (Page 237, Queen Victoria’s letters, published by order of His Majesty, King Edward VII).
It hurt Ireland much more terribly, that failure to throw off the hand that held her “quivering in our grasp,” so soon to stretch her “a corpse upon the dissecting table.”
Ireland has failed to win her freedom, not so much because she has failed to shed her blood, but because her situation in the world is just that unique situation I have sought to depict. Belonging to Europe, she has not been of Europe; and England with a persistency that would be admirable were it not so criminal in intention and effect, has bent all her efforts, all her vigor, an unswerving policy and a pitiless sword to extend the limits of exclusion. To approach Ireland at all since the first English Sovereign laid hands upon it was “quite immoral.” When Frederick of Hohenstaufen (so long ago as that!) sent his secretary (an Irishman) to Ireland, we read that Henry III of England declared “it hurt him terribly,” and ordered all the goings out and comings in of the returned Irish-German statesman to be closely watched.
The dire offence of Hugh O’Neill to Elizabeth was far less his rebellion than his “practices” with Spain. At every cessation of arms during the Nine Years War he waged with England, she sought to obtain from him an abjuration of “foreign aid,” chiefly ” that of the Spaniard.” “Nothing will become the traitor (O’Neill) more than his public confession of any Spanish practices, and his abjuration of any manner of hearkening or combining with any foreigners.”
Could O’Neill be brought to publicly repudiate help from abroad it would have, the Queen thought, the effect that “in Spain * * * the hopes of such attempts might be extinguished.
As long as the sea was open to Spain there was grave danger. If Spaniard and Irishman came close together O’Neill’s offense was indeed “fit to be made vulgar”—all men would see the strength of combination, the weakness of isolation.
“Send me all the news you receive from Spain for Tyrone doth fill all these parts with strange lies, although some part be true, that there came some munition.” It was because O’Neill was a statesman and knew the imperative need to Ireland of keeping in touch with Europe that for Elizabeth he became “the chief traitor of Ireland”—”a reprobate from God, reserved for the sword.”
Spain was to Elizabethan Englishman what Germany is to-day.
“I would venture to say one word here to my Irish fellow countrymen of all political persuasions. If they imagine they can stand politically or economically while Britain falls they are woefully mistaken. The British fleet is their one shield. If it be broken, Ireland will go down. They may well throw themselves heartily into the common defense, for no sword can transfix England without the point reaching Ireland behind her.” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in the Fortnightly Review, February, 1913, “Great Britain and the Next War.”)
The voice is a very old one, and the bogey has done duty for a long time in Ireland. When to-day, it is from Germany that freedom may be feared, Ireland is warned against the Germans. When, three hundred years ago the beacon of hope shone on the coast of Spain, it was the Spaniards who were the bad people of history.
Fray Mattheo de Oviedo, who had been sent to Ireland as Archbishop, wrote to King Phillip III from O’Neill’s stronghold, Dungannon, on June 24th, 1600. We might be listening to the voice of the Fortnightly Review of yesterday. “The English are making great efforts to bring about a peace, offering excellent terms, and for this purpose the Viceroy sent messengers twice to O’Neill, saying, among other things, that Your Majesty is making peace with the Queen, and that his condition will be hopeless. At other times he says that no greater misfortune could happen to the country than to bring Spaniards into it, because they are haughty and vicious and they would destroy and ruin the country.” The Irish princes were no fools. “To all this they reply most honorably that they will hold out so long as they have one soldier or there remains a cow to eat.”
Hugh O’Neill saw clearly that all compromise between Ireland and England was futile, and that the way of escape was by complete separation and lay only through Europe. He again and again begged the Spanish King to sever Ireland and erect it into an allied State. He offered the crown of Ireland to a Spanish prince, just as three centuries earlier in 1315 another and a great O’Neill offered the crown of Ireland to Edward Bruce.
The coming of the Bruce saved Gaelic Ireland for three centuries. Had Phillip of Spain sent his son as King to Ireland, her fate had been settled then instead of remaining three centuries later to still confront European statesmanship with an unsolved problem. In many letters addressed by the Irish leaders to Phillip II and Phillip III we find the constantly recurring note of warning that to leave England in possession of Ireland meant the downfall of Spain. The Irish princes knew that in fighting England they were in truth fighting the battle of European civilization.
Writing to Phillip II from Lifford. on May 16th, 1596, O’Neill and O’Donnel drew the King’s attention to the cause of Ireland as the cause of Europe, and in the name of Ireland offered the crown to a Spanish Prince. “But inasmuch as we have felt, to our great and indescribable harm the evildoings and crimes of those whom the Queen of England is in the habit of sending amongst us, we beg and beseech Your Majesty to send someone well known to you and perfectly fit to be the King of this island, for his own welfare, ours. and that of the Christian State”‘ (Christendom).
They asked for a Prince “who will not be unwilling to rule over and live amongst us and to direct and guide our nation well and wisely.” They pointed out how “he will obtain much advantage and glory by so doing,” and finally they begged “would that your Majesty would appoint the Archduke of Austria, now Governor of Flanders, a famous man and worthy of all praise, than whom none would be more acceptable.” (The original is in Latin in the archives of Simancas.)
No more statesmanlike appeal was ever made from Ireland; and had the Archduke of Austria assumed the crown of Ireland in 1569, “now or never” would indeed have become “now and forever.” Had Phillip II carried out his often repeated promises of sending aid to that country the fate of his own kingdom must have been a very different one.
“I wish it were possible for me, by word of mouth, to show the importance of this undertaking and the great service that would be rendered thereby to God and His Church, and the great advantage it would he to the service of Your Majesty and the peace of your States to attack the enemy here.”
So wrote, in 1600, to Phillip III, the Archbishop of Dublin, already quoted Mattheo de Oviedo.
This prelate had been specially sent to Ireland “to see and understand the state of the country misrepresented by English emissaries at foreign courts.”
The wrath of Elizabeth against O’Neill was largely due to his keeping in touch with the Continent, whereby the lies of her agents abroad were turned to her own ridicule. To Essex, her viceroy, she wrote: “Tyrone hath blazed in foreign parts the defeat of regiments, the death of captains, and loss of men of quality in every quarter.”
O’Neill, not only for years beat her Generals in the field, he beat herself and her councillors at their own game. To Essex, in an ecstacy of rage at the loss of the last great army sent, she wrote (September 17th, 1599): “To trust this traitor upon oath is to trust the devil upon his religion. Only this we are sure (for we see it in effect), that you have prospered so ill for us by your warfare, as we cannot but be very jealous lest we should be as well overtaken by the treaty.”
(Essex wished to bring O’Neill in by a treaty which, while ostensibly conceding the terms of the Irish Prince, was to allow the Queen time to carry out her purpose.)
The Irish Princes knew Elizabeth and her Ministers, as well as she read Essex. “Believe no news from England of any agreement in this country,” they had written to Phillip II in 1597, “great offers have been made by the Queen of England, but we will not break our oath and promise to you.'” In a letter written a year earlier (October 16th, 1596), replying by the special envoy sent by the King, they said: “Since the former envoys left us we have used every means in our power, as we promised we should do, to gain time and procrastination from one day to another. * * * But how could we impose on so clever an enemy, so skilled in every kind of cunning and cheating if we did not use much dissimulation, and especially if we did not pretend we were anxious for peace? We will keep firm and unshaken the promises which we made to Your Majesty with our last breath; if we do not we shall incur at once the wrath of God and the contempt of men.”
How faithfully they kept those promises and how the Spanish King failed in his, their fate and the bitter ruin of their country shows. That men fighting for Ireland, had to meet Elizabeth and her statesmen with something of her own cunning is made very clear to anyone reading the English State papers in Ireland.
Essex, in one of his “answers,” wrote: “I advise Her Majesty to allow me, at my return to Dublin, to conclude this treaty, yealding some of their grants in the present: and when Her Majesty has made secret preparations to enable me to prosecute, I will find quarrels enough to break and give them a deadly blow.”
The Irish, however, failed in this contest. They were not sufficiently good liars, and lacked the higher flights of villainy necessary to sustain the encounter. The essential English in Tudor days, and much later, for administering a deadly blow to an Irish patriot was “assassination.” Poison frequently took the place of the knife, and was often administered wrapt in a leaf of the British Bible. A certain Atkinson, knowing the religious nature of Cecil, the Queen’s Prime Minister, the founder of a long line of statesmen foremost as champions of Church and Book, suggested the getting rid of O’Neill by some “poisoned hosts.” This proposal to use the Blessed Sacrament as a veritable Last Supper for the last great Irish chief remains on record, endorsed by Cecil.
Another Briton, named Annyas, was charged to poison “the most dangerous and open rebel in Minister,” Florence MacCarthy More, the great MacCarthy. Elizabeth’s Prime Minister piously endorsed the deed—”though his soul never had the thought to consent to the poisoning of a dog, much less a Christian.”
The fundamental characteristics of the two peoples, English and Irish, were perhaps never more sharply brought into contrast than in some of these measures adopted by an English Queen and her Ministers to get rid of an Irish enemy. The Earl of Ormonde, the Queen suggested, might aid one of her projects for getting rid of Shane O’Neill. Ormonde, although the head of an Anglo-Irish house, conspicuous for its loyalty to the Crown, had four centuries of Irish chivalry in his veins. His reply is on record, and as a warrant of Irish honor, it stands beside Burghley’s warrant to his English poisoner. “The clause in the Queen’s letter seems most strange to me. I will never use treachery to any, for it will both touch Her Highness’s honor too much, and mine own credit; and whosoever gave the Queen advice thus to write to me is fitter to execute such base services than I am.” The Irish blood will out—even in a butler.
To Carew, the President of Munster, Cecil wrote enjoining the assassination of the young Earl of Desmond, then “in the keeping of Carew”: “Whatever you do to abridge him out of Providence shall never be imputed to you for a fault, but exceedingly commended by the Queen.” After this, we are not surprised to learn that in her instructions to Mountjoy, the successor of Essex, the Queen “recommended to his special care to preserve the true exercise of religion among her loving subjects.” As O’Neill was still in the field with a large army, she prudently pointed out, however, that the time “did not permit that he should intermeddle by any severity or violence in matters of religion until her power was better established there to countenounce his action.” That the character of their adversary was faithfully appreciated by contemporary Irish opinion stands plain in a letter written by James Fitzthomas, nephew of the Great Earl Gerald of Desmond, to Phillip II. “The government of the English is such as Pharaoh himself never used the like; for they content not themselves with all temporal prosperity, but by cruelty desire our blood and perpetual destruction, to blot out the whole remembrance of our posterity * * * for that Nero, in his time, was far inferior to that Queen in cruelty.”
The Irish chiefs well sustained their part in meeting this combination of power and perfidy, and merited, on the highest grounds of policy the help so often promised by the King of Spain. They showed him not only by their valor on the field but by their sagacious council how great a part was reserved for Ireland in the affairs of Europe if he would but profit from it and do his part.
In this the Spanish King failed. Phillip II had died in 1598, too immersed in religious trials to see that the centre of his griefs was pivoted on the possession of Ireland by the female Nero. With his son and successor communication was maintained and in a letter of Phillip III to O’Neill, dated from Madrid. December 24th, 1599, we read: “Noble and well-beloved, I have already written a joint letter to you and your relative O’Donnell, in which I replied to a letter of both of you. By this, which I now write to you personally, I wish to let you know my goodwill towards you, and I mean, to prove it. not only by word, but by deed.” That promise was not fulfilled, or so inadequately fulfilled, that the help, when it came, was insufficient to meet the needs of the case.
History tells us what the sad consequences were to the cause of civilization in Ireland, from the failure of the Spanish King to realize the greatness of his responsibilities. But the evil struck deeper than to Ireland alone. Europe lost more than her historians have yet realized from the weakness of purpose that let Ireland go down transfixed by the sword of Elizabeth.
Had the fate of Europe been then controlled by a Hohenzollern, instead of by a Habsburg Spaniard, how different might have been the future of the world!
Although Europe has forgotten Ireland, Ireland has never forgotten Europe. Natural outpost and sentinel of that Continent in the West, for three hundred years now gagged and bound, since the flight to Rome of her last native Princes, she stands to-day as in the days of Phillip III, if an outcast from European civilization none the less rejecting the insular tradition of England, as she has rejected her insular Church. And now once more in her career she turns to the greatest of European sovereigns, to win his eyes to the oldest, and certainly the most faithful of European peoples. Ireland already has given and owes much to Germany. In the dark ages intercourse between the Celtic people of the West and the Rhinelands and Bavaria was close and long sustained. Irish monasteries flourished in the heart of Germany, and German architecture gave its note possibly to some of the fairest cathedral churches in Ireland.
Clonfert and Cashel are, perhaps, among the most conspicuous examples of the influence of that old time intercourse with Germany. To-day, when little of her past remains to venerate, her ancient language on what seemed its bed of death owes much of its present day revival to German scholarship and culture. Probably the foremost Gaelic scholar of the day is the occupant of the Chair of Celtic at Berlin University, and Ireland recognizes with a gratitude she is not easily able to express, all that her ancient literature owes to the genius and loving intellect of Dr. Kuno Meyer.
The name of Ireland may be unknown on the Bourses or in the Chancelleries of Europe; it is not without interest, even fame, in the centres of German academical culture. But that the German State may also be interested in the political fate of Ireland is believed by the present writer. He knows something of the greatness of soul of her ruler, of his breadth of view and of the part he designs, under God, the German people to play in the future of mankind. The task of freeing Ireland and of restoring that exiled island to the current of European life is one worthy of the greatness and strength of the German Kaiser and his people. Where the Kings of Spain, in varying measure promised help and failed to give it. where Louis XIV and Napoleon planned but failed to achieve, a German Empire at war with England cannot be misdirected as they were. The contention of Ireland so often put before those monarchs, that England, to be beaten, must be driven out of Ireland, will not be laid in vain before the greater brains and mightier purpose that control the vaster armaments of Germany.
Maurice Fitzgerald, the outlawed claimant to the Earldom of Desmond, wrote to Phillip II from Lisbon on September 4th, 1593:
“We have thought it right to implore your Majesty to send the aid you will think fit and with it to send us (the Irish refuges in the Peninsula) to defend and uphold the same undertaking; for we hope, with God’s help, your Majesty will be victorious and conquer and hold as your own the Kingdom of Ireland * * * We trust in God that Your Majesty and the Council will weigh well the advantages that will ensue to Christendom from this enterprise * * * since the opportunity is so good and the cause so just and weighty, and the undertaking so easily completed.”
The task was easy of accomplishment in Tudor days; to-day it will be the first test of Imperial sovereignty in Europe; a task that will tax the greatness of a great people, the genius of their statesmanship, the intelligence of their ruler, but one that will infinitely repay the labor of accomplishment.
The task of Ireland is to prepare for the coming of the German. No people can expect freedom except through sacrifice. Our young men and women, our boys and girls, must be taught the part Germany is destined to play in the affairs of the world, and must be trained to know their duty when the day of trial comes. The history of human freedom is written in letters of blood. It is the law of God. No people who clutch at safety, who shun death are worthy of freedom. It was not by Act of Parliament or gift of the hater that Aodh O’Neill sought to win freedom for Ireland. Nay, rather will Irish liberty come as the gift of the halter.
The dead who die for Ireland are the only live men in a free Ireland. The rest is cattle. Freedom is kept alive in man’s blood only by shedding of that blood. It was not an act of a foreign Parliament they were seeking, those splendid “scorners of death,” the lads and young men of Mayo, who awaited with a fearless joy the English army fresh from the defeat of Humbert in 1798. Then, if ever. Irishmen might have run from a victorious and pitiless enemy who, having captured the French General and murdered in cold blood the seven hundred Killala peasants who were with his colors, were now come to Killala itself to wreak vengeance on the last stronghold of Irish rebellion.
The ill led and half armed peasants, the last Irishmen in Ireland to stand in pitched fight for their country’s freedom, went to meet the army of England, as the Protestant Bishop, who saw them, says: “running upon death with as little appearance of reflection or concern as if they were hastening to a show.”
The late Queen Victoria, in one of her letters to her uncle, the King of the Belgians, wrote thus of the abortive rising of fifty years later in 1848:
“There are ample means of crushing the rebellion in Ireland, and I think it is very likely to go off without any contest which people (and I think rightly), rather regret. The Irish should receive A GOOD LESSON OR THEY WILL BEGIN AGAIN.” (Page 223, Vol. II., Queen Victoria’s Letters).
Her Majesty was profoundly right. Ireland needed that lesson in 1848, as she needs it still more to-day. Had Irishmen died in 1848 as they did in 1798 Ireland to-day would be fifty years nearer to freedom. It is because a century has passed since Europe saw Ireland willing to die that to-day Europe has forgotten that she lives.
As I began this essay with a remark of Charles Lever on Germany so shall I end it here with a remark of Lever on his own country, Ireland.
In a letter to a friend in Dublin, he thus put the epitaph of Europe on the grave of a generation who believed that “no human cause was worth the shedding one drop of human blood.”
“As to Ireland all foreign sympathy is over owing to the late cowardice and poltroonery of the patriots. Even Italians can fight.” (Letter of C. Lever from Florence, August 19th, 1848.)
It is only the truth that wounds. It is that reproach that has cursed Ireland for a century.
Sedition, the natural garment for an Irishman to wear, has been for a hundred years a bloodless sedition. It is this fiery shirt of Nessus that has driven our strong men mad. How to shed our blood with honor, how to give our lives for Ireland—that has been, that is the problem of Irish nationality.
The day the first German comrade lands in Ireland, the day the first German warship is seen proudly breasting the waves of the Irish Sea with the flag of Ireland at her fore, that day many Irishmen must die, but they shall die in the sure peace of God that Ireland may live.