Delivered to the Cork Corporation on the occasion of his inauguration as Lord Mayor of Cork, March 1920.
I shall be as brief as possible. This is not an occasion for many words, least of all a conventional exchange of compliments and thanks. The circumstances of the vacancy in the office of Lord Mayor inevitably governed the filling of it; and I come here more as a soldier stepping into the breach, than an administrator to fill the first post in the municipality. At a normal time it would be your duty to find the councillor most practised and experienced in public affairs. But the time is not normal. We see in the manner in which our late Lord Mayor was murdered an attempt to terrify us all. Our first duty is to answer that threat in the only fitting manner, by showing ourselves unterrified – cool and inflexible for the fulfilment of our chief purpose – the establishment of the independence and integrity of our country, the peace and happiness of the Irish Republic. To that end I am here. I was more closely associated than any other here with our late murdered friend and colleague, both before and since the opening of the Irish War of Independence, in prison and out of prison, in a common work of love for Ireland, down to the day of his death. For that reason I take his place. It is, I think, though I say it, the fitting answer to those who struck him down.
Following from that there is another matter of importance, only less great; it touches the efficient continuance of our civic administration. If the present aggravated persecution by our enemies could stop us, voluntarily, in the normal discharge of our duties, it would help them very materially in their campaign to overthrow the Irish Republic, now established and functioning according to law – notwithstanding the English Army of Occupation. I feel this question of the future conduct of our affairs is in all our minds. And I think I am voicing the general view, when I say that the normal functions of our corporate body must proceed, as far as in our power lies, uninterrupted, with that integrity and efficiency of which our late civic head gave such brilliant promise.
I do not wish to sound a personal note, but this much may be permitted under the circumstances. I made myself active in the selection of our late colleague for the office of Lord Mayor. He did not seek the honour and would not accept it as such, but when put to him as a duty, he stepped to his place like a soldier. Before his election, we discussed together, in the intimate way we discussed everything since that hour in Easter week when we lay together under the enemy’s guns. We discussed what ought to be done and what could be done, keeping in mind, as in duty bound, not only the ideal line of action, but the line practicable at the moment as well. That line he followed with an ability and success all his own. Gentlemen, you have paid tribute to him on all sides. It will be my duty and steady purpose here to follow that line as faithfully as lies in my power – though no man in this Council could hope to discharge its functions with his ability and his perfect grasp of public business in all its details, and as one harmonious whole.
I have thought it necessary to touch on this normal duty of ours, though – and it may seem strange to say it – I feel at the moment it is even a digression, for the menace of our enemies hangs over us, and the essential immediate purpose is to show the spirit that animates us, and how we face the future.
Our spirit is but to be a more lively manifestation of the spirit in which we began the year, to work for our city in a new zeal, and, because by our initial act we have dedicated it to the Republic, and formally attested our allegiance, to bring by our administration of the city glory to our allegiance, and, by working for our city’s advancement with constancy in all honourable ways in her new dignity as one of the first cities of the Irish Republic, to show ourselves eager to work for, and, if need be, die for the Irish Republic.
I would recall some of my words on that day of our first meeting after the election of Lord Mayor. I realised that most of you in the minority here would be loyal citizens of the Irish Republic if the English Army of Occupation did not threaten your lives; but that you lacked the spirit and the hope to join us in the fight to complete the work of complete liberation so well begun. I allude to it here again because I wish to point out once more the secret of our strength and the assurance of our final victory. This contest of ours is not, on our side, a rivalry of vengeance, but one of endurance. It is not they who can inflict most, but they who can suffer most, will conquer, though we do not abrogate our function to demand and see that evildoers and murderers are punished for their crimes. But it is conceivable that the Army of Occupation could stop our functioning for a time, then it becomes simply a question of endurance. Those whose faith is strong will endure to the end in triumph. The shining hope of our times is that the great majority of our people are now strong in that faith.
To you, gentlemen of the minority here, I would address a word. You seem to be hypnotised by the evil thing, the usurpation that calls itself a Government. I ask you again to take courage and hope. To me it seems – and I do not say it to hurt you – that you have a lively faith in the power of the devil, and but little faith in God. But God is over us, and in His Divine intervention we must have perfect trust. Anyone surveying events in Ireland during the last five years must see that it is approaching a miracle that our country has been preserved during a persecution unexampled in history, culminating in the murder of the head of our great city. God has permitted this to be in order to try our spirit, to prove us worthy of a noble line, to prepare us for a great and noble destiny. You among us who have no vision of our future have been led astray by false prophets. I will give you a recent example. Only last week in our city, a judge, acting for the English usurpation in Ireland, speaking in the presumptuous manner of such people, ventured to lecture us, and he uttered this pagan sentiment:
‘There is no beauty in the liberty that comes to us dripping in innocent blood.’
At one stroke this English judge would shatter the foundations of Christianity, denying the beauty of that spiritual liberty which comes to us dripping in the blood of Christ crucified, who, by His voluntary sacrifice on Calvary, delivered us from the dominion of the devil when the pall of evil was closing down over the darkening world. The liberty for which we to-day strive is a sacred thing, inseparably entwined with that spiritual liberty for which the Saviour of man died, and which is the inspiration and foundation of all just government. Because it is sacred, and death for it is akin to the sacrifice of Calvary, following far off, but constant to that Divine example, in every generation our best and bravest have died. Sometimes in our grief we cry out foolish and unthinkable words: ‘The sacrifice is too great’ – but it is because they were our best and bravest they had to die. No lesser sacrifice could save us. Because of it our struggle is holy, our battle is sanctified by their blood, and our victory is assured by their martyrdom. We, taking up the work they left incomplete, confident in God, offer in turn sacrifice from ourselves. It is not we who take innocent blood, but we offer it, sustained by the example of our immortal dead and that divine example which inspires us all for the redemption of our country. Facing our enemy, we must declare our attitude simply. We see in their regime a thing of evil incarnate. With it there can be no parley, any more than there can be a truce with the powers of Hell. This is our simple resolution. We ask for no mercy, and we will make no compromise. But to the Divine Author of Mercy, we appeal for strength to sustain us in our battle, whatever the persecution, that we may bring our people victory in the end.
The civilised word dare not look on indifferent while new tortures are being prepared for our country, or they will see undermined the pillars of their own government, and the world involved in unimaginable anarchy. But if the rulers of earth fail us, we have still some refuge in the Ruler of Heaven; and though to some impatient hearts the judgments of God seem slow, they never fail, and when they fail, they are overwhelming and final. His judgment is now surely hanging over the Empire of our enemies. The words of the prophet who heralded the doom of Babylon have a new and prophetic application in this hour:
‘Oh, thou that dwellest by many waters, rich in treasures
The end is come for thy entire destruction.’