To The Editor of “The Nation.”
SIR – I like your title – there is resolve in it. I like your motto – for it proves to me that you know the wants of the country. “To create and to foster public opinion in Ireland and to make it racy of the soil,” is to lay the foundations of nationality. A nationality thus founded in the hearts and intelligence of the people would bid defiance to the arms of the foeman and the guile of the traitor; and though time should destroy it, still time would reproduce it again – in our island, if it existed; in other lands, if Ireland – the pile of rock and clay – should have perished; for, as Edmund Burke said, “a nation is a spiritual essence.” While a people feel and understand its national existence, it is imperishable. A country must be corrupted, before it can be enslaved.
Rightly to conceive, and passionately to pursue self-government are the real wants of Ireland. We want an educated and purpose-full public opinion – educated, for knowledge is power, the power to be free. It must be full of one purpose, too, and that purpose not a vague philanthropy, which reiterates intentions and shuns actions – not merely a wide wish to do something or everything, for unless desires and designs are concentrated and limited they are sterile – not changeful, for Reuben’s doom is that of all who fluctuate, “unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.”
We want a public opinion “racy of the soil.” The mind of the people must be developed, so as to give the most encouragement to the tendencies of their race and organisation. The eagle will not plough, though he is strong, nor the poet be sagacious in ledgers, nor the Irishman prosper after the manner of English or American prosperity.
Again, all that our climate and soil suggest to us, we should do, and so doing, should grow to be different from men of other climes and soils.
And again, we have a history. “The sea,” said Sheil, “reminds us of many things.” The ocean of history suggests still more. It tells us that foes have always come from England, from Strongbow to Ebrington – and friends have come from France, from St. Patrick to St. Ruth (our two greatest saints, as your contributor, Mr. O’Callaghan, calls them). It tells us that valour was never wanting, since the time when Dathy died victorious at the foot of the Alps, to the time when Sarsfield signed the treaty of Limerick; but that misplaced trust in the promises of invaders, and a too generous neglect of precaution, occasioned our disasters. It tells us that all the races and creeds in the country have at different times acted nobly for Ireland, and generously towards each other; and, therefore, that all have much to be proud and grateful for in the conduct of the other races and sects. It tells us that all these same races and sects have done injustice and vengeance (more or less) to each other, and, therefore, that they owe mutual forgiveness, and the repentance which shall prove its reality, by love and by succour for virtuous and common ends.
A public opinion “racy of the soil,” should be full of these things as a healthy tree is full of sap. The fibres make the skeleton of the tree, but the sap is its life. Lands and population make the frame of a nation; a thoughtful, proud, valorous, pious mind, deriving its nature from the peculiar nature and history of the country, is its life.
Pardon this attempt to develop part of the meaning of your motto. There is a large and noble class among the Irish Protestants who would do and dare every thing, even to taking the field for national government, if they were made to see what is meant by it. At present they regard the cry for Repeal of the Union as meaning a desire on the part of the Roman Catholic majority to gain an ascendancy. They think that an Irish Government now would be in the hands of men of loose principles – men either bigots themselves, or panders to the bigotry of others; and they foresee that such a government would, before twenty years, lead to a civil war, and either to the ruin of the Protestants, or the re-conquest of the country.
I believe them wrong – I am sure they are honest. Some among the Protestants – aye, and some among the Roman Catholics, too, sir – I say it inoffensively – are interested in our subordination to England, with all the misery and meanness which follow therefrom; but the real interest of the vast majority of the Irish Protestants is (like that of the vast majority of the Irish Roman Catholics), to have Ireland governed by and for its inhabitants, and by and for them alone. If I am not mistaken in this, it is the obvious duty of those desiring nationality to try and convey this truth to the minds of the Protestants. Every thing which goes in the least degree to identify them with their country, and to show them that they would have an ample share of the gain and fame, the prosperity and honour of independence, is a step towards nationality. Every thing which offends even the prejudices of the Protestants – every thing which identifies Repeal and Roman Catholicity as meaning two parts of the same thing, must disguise their true interest from the Protestants, and must excite their feelings against the restoration of a native government. If you would liberate Ireland, and keep it free, you must have Protestant help – if you would win the Protestants, you must address their reason, their interest, their hopes, and their pride. I, for one, a Protestant by ancestry, creed, and all the relations of life, and therefore intimately knowing them, think it possible to effect this object. For Protestants I write now, and for them I shall write again, if you or any other paper will give me the occasional use of a column or two.