To be loyal to his cause is the finest tribute that can be paid to any man. And since loyalty to the Irish cause has been the great virtue of Irishmen through all history, it is time to have some clear thinking as to who are the Irish rebels and who the true men. When a stupid Government, grasping our reverence for fidelity, tried to ban our heroes by calling them felons, it was natural we should rejoin by writing “The Felons of our Land” and heap ridicule on their purpose. But once this end was achieved we should have reverted to the normal attitude and written up as the true Irish Loyalists, Brian the Great, and Shane the Proud, the valiant Owen Roe and the peerless Tone, Mitchel and Davis—irreconcilables all. When men revolt against an established evil it is their loyalty to the outraged truth we honour. We do not extol a rebel who rebels for rebellion’s sake. Let us be clear on this point, or when we shall have re-established our freedom after centuries of effort it shall be open to every knave and traitor to challenge our independence and plot to readmit the enemy. Loyalty is the fine attribute of the fine nature; the word has been misused and maligned in Ireland: let us restore it to its rightful honour by remembering it to be the virtue of our heroes of all time. In considering it from this view-point we shall find occasion to touch on delicate positions that have often baffled and worried us—the asserting of our rights while using the machinery of the Government that denies them, the burning question of consistency, our attitude towards the political adventurer on one hand, and towards the honest man of half-measures on the other. Loyalty involves all this. And it shows that the man who revolts to win freedom is the same as he who dies to defend it. He does not change his face and nature with the changing times. He is loyal always and most wonderfully lovable, because in the darkest times, when banned as wild, wicked and rebelly, he is loyal still as from the beginning, and will be to the end. Yes, Tone is the true Irish Loyalist, and every aider and abettor of the enemy a rebel to Ireland and the Irish race.
When you insist on examining the question in the light of first principles your opportunist opponent at once feels the weakness of his position and always turns the point on your consistency. It is well, then, in advance to understand the relative value and importance of argument as argument in the statement of any case. A body of principles is primarily of value, not as affording a case that can be argued with ingenuity, but as enshrining one great principle that shines through and informs the rest, that illumines the mind of the individual, that warms, clarifies and invigorates—that, so to speak, puts the mind in focus, gets the facts of existence into perspective, and gives the individual everything in its right place and true proportion. It brings a man to the point where he does not dispute but believes. He has been wandering about cold and irresolute, tasting all philosophies, or none, and drinking deep despair. He does not understand the want in his soul while he has been looking for some panacea for its cure till the great light streams on him, and instead of receiving something he finds himself. That is it. There is a power of vision latent in us, clouded by error; the true philosophy dissipates the cloud and leaves the vision clear, wonderful and inspiring. He who acquired that vision is impervious to argument—it is not that he despises argument; on the contrary, he always uses it to its full strength. But he has had awakened within him something which the mere logician can never deduce, and that mysterious something is the explanation of his transformed life. He was a doubter, a falterer, a failure; he has become a believer, a fighter, a conqueror. You miss his significance completely when you take him for a theorist. The theorist propounds a view to which he must convert the world; the philosopher has a rule of life to immediately put into practice. His spirit flashes with a swiftness that can be encircled by no theory. It is his glory to have over and above a new penetrating argument in the mind—a new and wonderful vitality in the blood. The unbeliever, near by, still muddled by his cold theories, will argue and debate till his intellect is in a tangle. He fails to see that a man of intellectual agility might frame a theory and argue it out ably, and then suddenly turn over and with equal dexterity argue the other side. Do we not have set debates with speakers appointed on each side? That is dialectic—a trick of the mind. But philosophy is the wine of the spirit. The capacity then to argue the point is not the justification of a philosophy. That justification must be found in the virtue of the philosophy that gives its believer vision and grasp of life as a whole, that warms and quickens his heart and makes him in spirit buoyant, beautiful, wise and daring.
Let us come now to that burning question of consistency. “Very well, you won’t acknowledge the English Crown. Why then use English coins and stamps? You don’t recognise the Parliament at Westminster. Why then recognise the County Councils created by Bill at Westminster? Why avail of all the Local Government machinery?”—and so forth. The argument is a familiar one, and the answer is simple. Though no guns are thundering now, Ireland is virtually in a state of war. We are fighting to recover independence. The enemy has had to relax somewhat in the exigencies of the struggle and to concede all these positions of local government and enterprise now in question. We take these posts as places conceded in the fight and avail of them to strengthen, develop and uplift the country and prepare her to carry the last post. Surely this is adequate. On a field of battle it is always to the credit of a general to capture an enemy’s post and use it for the final victory. It is a sign of the battle’s progress, and tells the distant watchers on the hills how the fight is faring and who is going to win. There would be consternation away from the field only if word should come that the soldiers had gone into the tents of the enemy, acknowledging him and accepting his flag. That is the point to question. There can be no defence for the occupying of any post conceded by the enemy. It may be held for or against Ireland; any man accepting it and surrendering his flag to hold it stands condemned thereby. That is clear. Yet it may be objected that such a clear choice is not put to most of those undertaking the local government of Ireland, that few are conscious of such an issue and few governed by it. It is true. But for all that the machinery of local government is clearly under popular control, and as clearly worked for an immediate good, preparing for a greater end. Men unaware of it are unconsciously working for the general development of the country and recovering her old power and influence. Those conscious of the deeper issue enter every position to further that development and make the end obvious when the alien Government—finding those powers conceded to sap further resistance are on the contrary used to conquer wider fields—endeavours to force the popular government back to the purposes of an old and failing tyranny. That is the nature of the struggle now. At periods the enemy tries to stem the movement, and then the fight becomes general and keen around a certain position. In our time there were the Land Leagues, the Land War, fights for Home Rule, Universities, Irish; and these fights ended in Land Acts, Local Government Acts, University Acts, and the conceding of pride of place to the native language in university life. Every position gained is a step forward; it is accepted as such, and so is justified. For anyone who grasps the serious purpose of recovering Ireland’s independence all along the line, the suggestion that we should abandon all machinery of local government and enterprise—because they are “Government positions”—to men definitely attached to the alien garrison is so foolish as not to be even entertained. When our attitude is questioned let it be made clear. That is the final answer to the man who challenges our consistency: we are carrying the trenches of the enemy.
Even while dismissing a false idea of consistency we have to make clear another view still remote from the general mind. If we are to have an effective army of freedom we must enrol only men who have a clear conception of the goal, a readiness to yield full allegiance, and a determination to fight always so as to reflect honour on the flag. The importance of this will be felt only when we come to deal with concrete cases. While human nature is what it is we will have always on the outskirts of every movement a certain type of political adventurer who is ready to transfer his allegiance from one party to another according as he thinks the time serves. He has no principle but to be always with the ascendant party, and to succeed in that aim he is ready to court and betray every party in turn. As a result, he is a character well known to all. The honest man who has been following the wrong path, and after earnest inquiry comes to the flag, we readily distinguish. But it is fatal to any enterprise where the adventurer is enlisted and where his influence is allowed to dominate. It may seem strange that such men are given entry to great movements: the explanation is found in the desire of pioneers to make converts at once and convince the unconverted by the confidence of growing numbers. We ignore the danger to our growing strength when the adventurer comes along, loud in protest of his support—he is always affable and plausible, and is received as a “man of experience”; and in our anxiety for further strength we are apt to admit him without reserve. But we must make sure of our man. We must keep in mind that an alliance with the adventurer is more dangerous than his opposition; and we must remember the general public, typified by the man in the street whom we wish to convince, is quietly studying us, attracted perhaps by our principles and coming nearer to examine. If he knows nothing else, he knows the unprincipled man, and when he sees such in our ranks and councils he will not wait to argue or ask questions; he will go away and remain away. The extent to which men are ruled by the old adage, “Show me your company and I’ll tell you what you are,” is more widespread than we think. Moreover, consistency in a fine sense is involved in our decision. We fight for freedom, not for the hope of material profit or comfort, but because every fine instinct of manhood demands that man be free, and life beautiful and brave, and surely in such a splendid battle to have as allies mean, crafty profit-seekers would be amazing. Let us be loyal in the deep sense, and let us not be afraid of being few at first. An earnest band is more effective than a discreditable multitude. That band will increase in numbers and strength till it becomes the nucleus of an army that will be invincible.
The fine sense of consistency that keeps us clear of the adventurer decides also our attitude to the well-meaning man of half-measures. He says separation from England is not possible now and suggests some alternative, if not Home Rule, Grattan’s Parliament, or leaving it an open question. In the general view this seems sensible, and we are tempted to make an alliance based on such a ground; and the alliance is made. What ensues? Men come together who believe in complete freedom, others who believe in partial freedom that may lead to complete freedom, and others who are satisfied with partial freedom as an end. Before long the alliance ends in a deadlock. The man of the most far-reaching view knows that every immediate action taken must be consistent with the wider view and the farther goal, if that goal is to be attained; and he finds that his ultimate principle is frequently involved in some action proposed for the moment. When such a moment comes he must be loyal to his flag and to a principle that if not generally acknowledged is an abiding rule with him; but his allies refuse to be bound by a principle that is an unwritten law for him because the law is not written down for them. This is the root of the trouble. The friends, thinking to work together for some common purpose, find the unsettled issue intrudes, and a debate ensues that leads to angry words, recriminations, bad feeling and disruption. The alliance based on half measures has not fulfilled its own purpose, but it has sown suspicion between the honest men whom it brought together; that is no good result from the practical proposal. There is an inference: men who are conscious of a clear complete demand should form their own plans, equally full of care and resolution, and go ahead on their own account. But we hear a plaintive cry abroad: “Oh, another split; that’s Irishmen all over—can never unite,” etc. We will not turn aside for the plaintive people; but let it be understood there can be an independent co-operation, where of use, with those honest men who will not go the whole way. That independent co-operation can serve the full purpose of the binding alliance that has proved fatal. Above all, let there be no charge of bad faith against the earnest man who chooses other ways than ours; it is altogether indefensible because we disagree with him to call his motives in question. Often he is as earnest as we are; often has given longer and greater service, and only qualifies his own attitude in anxiety to meet others. To this we cannot assent, but to charge him with bad faith is flagrantly unjust and always calamitous. In getting rid of the deadlock we have too often fallen to furiously fighting with one another. Let us bear this in mind, and concern ourselves more with the common enemy; but let not the hands of the men in the vanguard be tied by alien King, Constitution, or Parliament. All the conditions grow more definite and seem, perhaps, too exacting; remember the greatness of the enterprise. Suppose in the building of a mighty edifice the architect at any point were careless or slurred over a difficulty, trusting to luck to bring it right, how the whole building would go awry, and what a mighty collapse would follow. Let us stick to our colours and have no fear. When all these principles have been combined into one consistent whole, a light will flash over the land and the old spirit will be reborn; the mean will be purged of their meanness, the timid heartened with a fine courage, and the fearless will be justified: the land will be awake, militant, and marching to victory.
This is, surely, the fine view of loyalty. Let us write it on our banners and proclaim it to the world. It is consistent, honourable, fearless and immutable. What is said here to-day with enthusiasm, exactness and care, will stand without emendation or enlargement, if in a temporary reverse we are called to stand in the dock to-morrow; or if, finely purged in the battle of freedom, we come through our last fight with splendid triumph, our loyalty is there still, shining like a great sun, the same beautiful, unchanging thing that has lighted us through every struggle—perhaps now to guide us in framing a constitution and giving to a world, distracted by kings, presidents and theorists, a new polity for nations. A waverer, half-caught between the light, half fearful with an old fear, pleads: “This is too much—we are men, not angels.” Precisely, we are not angels; and because of our human weakness, our erring minds, our sudden passions, the most confident of us may at any moment find himself in the mud. What, then, will uplift him if he has been a waverer in principle as well as in fact? He is helpless, disgraced and undone. Let him know in time we do not set up fine principles in a fine conceit that we can easily live up to them, but in the full consciousness that we cannot possibly live away from them. That is the bed-rock truth. When the man of finer faith by any slip comes to the earth, he has to uplift him a staff that never fails, and to guide him a principle that strengthens him for another fight, to go forth, in a sense Alexander never dreamed of, to conquer new worlds. ‘Tis the faith that is in him, and the flag he serves, that make a man worthy; and the meanest may be with the highest if he be true and give good service. Let us put by then the broken reed and the craft of little minds, and give us for our saving hope the banner of the angels and the loyalty of gods and men.