When we plead for separation from the British Empire as the only basis on which our country can have full development, and on which we can have final peace with England, we find in opponents a variety of attitudes, but one attitude invariably absent—a readiness to discuss the question fairly and refute it, if this can be done. One man will take it superficially and heatedly, assuming it to be, according to his party, a censure on Mr. Redmond or Mr. O’Brien. Another will take it superficially, but, as he thinks, philosophically, and will dismiss it with a smile. With the followers of Mr. Redmond or Mr. O’Brien we can hardly argue at present, but we should not lose heart on their account, for these men move en masse. One day the consciousness of the country will be electrified with a great deed or a great sacrifice and the multitude will break from lethargy or prejudice and march with a shout for freedom in a true, a brave, and a beautiful sense. We must work and prepare for that hour. Then there is our philosophical friend. I expect him to hear my arguments. When I am done, he may not agree with me on all points; he may not agree with me on any point; but if he come with me, I promise him one thing: this question can no longer be dismissed with a smile.
Our friend’s attitude is explained in part by our never having attempted to show that a separatist policy is great and wise. We have held it as a right, have fought for it, have made sacrifices for it, and vowed to have it at any cost; but we have not found for it a definite place in a philosophy of life. Superficial though he be, our friend has indicated a need: we must take the question philosophically—but in the great and true sense. It is a truism of philosophy and science that the world is a harmonious whole, and that with the increase of knowledge, laws can be discovered to explain the order and the unity of the universe. Accordingly, if we are to justify our own position as separatists, we must show that it will harmonise, unify and develop our national life, that it will restore us to a place among the nations, enable us to fulfil a national destiny, a destiny which, through all our struggles, we ever believe is great, and waiting for us. That must be accepted if we are to get at the truth of the matter. A great doctrine that dominates our lives, that lays down a rigid course of action, that involves self-denial, hard struggles, endurance for years, and possibly death before the goal is reached—any such doctrine must be capable of having its truth demonstrated by the discovery of principles that govern and justify it. Otherwise we cannot yield it our allegiance. Let us to the examination, then; we shall find it soul-stirring and inspiring. We must be prepared, however, to abandon many deeply-rooted prejudices; if we are unwilling, we must abandon the truth. But we will find courage in moving forward, and will triumph in the end, by keeping in mind at all times that the end of freedom is to realise the salvation and happiness of all peoples, to make the world, and not any selfish corner of it, a more beautiful dwelling-place for men.
Treated in this light, the question becomes for all earnest men great and arresting. Our friend, who may have smiled, will discuss it readily now. Yet he may not be convinced; he may point his finger over the wasted land and contrast its weakness with its opponents’ strength, and conclude: “Your philosophy is beautiful, but only a dream.” He is at least impressed; that is a point gained; and we may induce him to come further and further till he adopts the great principle we defend.
His difficulty now is the common error that a man’s work for his country should be based on the assumption that it should bear full effect in his own time. This is most certainly false; for a man’s life is counted by years, a nation’s by centuries, and as work for the nation should be directed to bringing her to full maturity in the coming time, a man must be prepared to labour for an end that may be realised only in another generation. Consider how he disposes his plans for his individual life. His boyhood and youth are directed that his manhood and prime may be the golden age of life, full-blooded and strong-minded, with clear vision and great purpose and high hope, all justified by some definite achievement. A man’s prime is great as his earlier years have been well directed and concentrated. In the early years the ground is prepared and the seed sown for the splendid period of full development. So it is with the nation: we must prepare the ground and sow the seed for the rich ripeness of maturity; and bearing in mind that the maturity of the nation will come, not in one generation but after many generations, we must be prepared to work in the knowledge that we prepare for a future that only other generations will enjoy. It does not mean that we shall work in loneliness, cheered by no vision of the Promised Land; we may even reach the Promised Land in our time, though we cannot explore all its great wonders: that will be the delight of ages. But some will never survive to celebrate the great victory that will establish our independence; yet they shall not go without reward; for to them will come a vision of soul of the future triumph, an exaltation of soul in the consciousness of labouring for that future, an exultation of soul in the knowledge that once its purpose is grasped, no tyranny can destroy it, that the destiny of our country is assured, and her dominion will endure for ever. Let any argument be raised against one such pioneer—he knows this in his heart, and it makes him indomitable, and it is he who is proven to be wise in the end. He judges the past clearly, and through the crust of things he discerns the truth in his own time, and puts his work in true relation to the great experience of life, and he is justified; for ultimately his work opens out, matures, and bears fruit a hundredfold. It may not be in a day, but when his hand falls dead, his glory becomes quickly manifest. He has lived a beautiful life, and has left a beautiful field; he has sacrificed the hour to give service for all time; he has entered the company of the great, and with them he will be remembered for ever. He is the practical man in the true sense. But there is the other self-styled practical man, who thinks all this proceeding foolish, and cries out for the expedient of the hour. Has he ever realised the promise of his proposals? No, he is the most inefficient person who has ever walked the earth. But for a saving consideration let him go contemplate the wasted efforts of the opportunist in every generation, and the broken projects scattered through the desert-places of history.
Still one will look out on the grim things of the hour, and hypnotised by the hour will cry: “See the strength of the British Empire, see our wasted state; your hope is vain.” Let him consider this clear truth: peoples endure; empires perish. Where are now the empires of antiquity? And the empires of to-day have the seed of dissolution in them. But the peoples that saw the old empires rise and hold sway are represented now in their posterity; the tyrannies they knew are dead and done with. The peoples endured; the empires perished; and the nations of the earth of this day will survive in posterity when the empires that now contend for mastery are gathered into the dust, with all dead, bad things. We shall endure; and the measure of our faith will be the measure of our achievement and of the greatness of our future place.
Is it not the dream of earnest men of all parties to have an end to our long war, a peace final and honourable, wherein the soul of the country can rest, revive and express itself; wherein poetry, music and art will pour out in uninterrupted joy, the joy of deliverance, flashing in splendour and superabundant in volume, evidence of long suppression? This is the dream of us all. But who can hope for this final peace while any part of our independence is denied? For, while we are connected in any shape with the British Empire the connection implies some dependence; this cannot be gainsaid; and who is so foolish as to expect that there will be no collision with the British Parliament, while there is this connection implying dependence on the British Empire? If such a one exists he goes against all experience and all history. On either side of the connection will be two interests—the English interest and the Irish interest, and they will be always at variance. Consider how parties within a single state are at variance, Conservatives and Radicals, in any country in Europe. The proposals of one are always insidious, dangerous or reactionary, as the case may be, in the eyes of the other; and in no case will the parties agree; they will at times even charge each other with treachery; there is never peace. It is the rule of party war. Who, then, can hope for peace where into the strife is imported a race difference, where the division is not of party but of people? That is in truth the vain hope. And be it borne in mind the race difference is not due to our predominating Gaelic stock, but to the separate countries and to distinct households in the human race. If we were all of English extraction the difference would still exist. There is the historic case of the American States; it is easy to understand. When a man’s children come of age, they set up establishments for themselves, and live independently; they are always bound by affection to the parent-home; but if the father try to interfere in the house of a son, and govern it in any detail, there will be strife. It is hardly necessary to labour the point. If all the people in this country were of English extraction and England were to claim on that account that there should be a connection with her, and that it should dominate the people here, there would be strife; and it could have but one end—separation. We would, of whatever extraction, have lived in natural neighbourliness with England, but she chose to trap and harass us, and it will take long generations of goodwill to wipe out some memories. Again, and yet again, let there be no confusion of thought as to this final peace; it will never come while there is any formal link of dependence. The spirit of our manhood will always flame up to resent and resist that link. Separation and equality may restore ties of friendship; nothing else can: for individual development and general goodwill is the lesson of human life. We can be good neighbours, but most dangerous enemies, and in the coming time our hereditary foe cannot afford to have us on her flank. The present is promising; the future is developing for us: we shall reach the goal. Let us see to it that we shall be found worthy.
That we be found worthy; let this be borne in mind. For it is true that here only is our great danger. If with our freedom to win, our country to open up, our future to develop, we learn no lesson from the mistakes of nations and live no better life than the great Powers, we shall have missed a golden opportunity, and shall be one of the failures of history. So far, on superficial judgment, we have been accounted a failure; though the simple maintenance of our fight for centuries has been in itself a splendid triumph. But then only would we have failed in the great sense, when we had got our field and wasted it, as the nations around us waste theirs to-day. We led Europe once; let us lead again with a beautiful realisation of freedom; and let us beware of the delusion that is abroad, that we seek nothing more than to be free of restraint, as England, France and Germany are to-day; let us beware of the delusion that if we can scramble through anyhow to freedom we can then begin to live worthily, but that in the interval we cannot be too particular. That is the grim shadow that darkens our path, that falls between us and a beautiful human life, and may drive us to that tiger-like existence that makes havoc through the world to-day. Let us beware. I do not say we must settle now all disputes, such as capital, labour, and others, but that everyone should realise a duty to be high-minded and honourable in action; to regard his fellow not as a man to be circumvented, but as a brother to be sympathised with and uplifted. Neither kingdom, republic, nor commune can regenerate us; it is in the beautiful mind and a great ideal we shall find the charter of our freedom; and this is the philosophy that it is most essential to preach. We must not ignore it now, for how we work to-day will decide how we shall live to-morrow; and if we are not scrupulous in our struggle, we shall not be pure in our future state, I know there are many who are not indifferent to high-minded action, but who live in dread of an exacting code of life, fearing it will harass our movements and make success impossible. Let us correct this mistake with the reflection that the time is shaping for us. The power of our country is strengthening; the grip of the enemy is slackening; every extension of local government is a step nearer to independent government; the people are not satisfied with an instalment; their capacity for further power is developed, and they are equipped with weapons to win it. Even in our time have we made great advance. Let one fact alone make this evident. Less than twenty years ago the Irish language was despised; to-day the movement to restore it is strong enough to have it made compulsory in the National University. Can anyone doubt from this sign of the times alone that the hour points to freedom, and we are on the road to victory? That we shall win our freedom I have no doubt; that we shall use it well I am not so certain, for see how sadly misused it is abroad through the world to-day. That should be our final consideration, and we should make this a resolution—our future history shall be more glorious than that of any contemporary state. We shall look for prosperity, no doubt, but let our enthusiasm be for beautiful living; we shall build up our strength, yet not for conquest, but as a pledge of brotherhood and a defence for the weaker ones of the earth; we shall take pride in our institutions, not only as guaranteeing the stability of the state, but as securing the happiness of the citizens, and we shall lead Europe again as we led it of old. We shall rouse the world from a wicked dream of material greed, of tyrannical power, of corrupt and callous politics to the wonder of a regenerated spirit, a new and beautiful dream; and we shall establish our state in a true freedom that will endure for ever.