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From United Irishman, (Vo. 15), 20th May, 1848
Fifty years ago, and fifty such years, Ireland, ruled for England by landlords, stood, as she stands to-day, on the brink of deeper ruin, or of victory. From one end to the island to the other, a network of organization held all her sons together in the bond and oath of the United Irishmen. Leinster and Munster were armed and ready – the north completely organized and Republicanized. Burying in the holy brotherhood of Tone all religious discord, the people, ground by landlords and cheated by lawyers, had at last resolved to fight, shoulder to shoulder, for land, for life, and liberty.
All held the one true faith – the Irish faith; and, from the Presbyterian of the north to the brave priest of Wexford, worshipped one saint common to manhood, the only saint of freedom – the sword. In the heart of England there was “sedition,” and “treason,” and complaining people who worked and starved – in Scotland, rebellion – in the English armies, disaffection, and poor pay, and drilling, and toil – in her navies, mutiny.
Her resources were crippled, her difficulties amassed about her. At Boulogne was a camp of invaders – under the shores of the French coast a French fleet ready to sail for Sussex and Kent – while the Directory of the French Republic, under CARNOT, pledged to Ireland’s redemption, moved heaven and earth to it out a new expedition to her shores.
And just fifty years ago – ay, just one half century dead and gone, this 20th morning of May, a man was dragged wounded and bleeding into Newgate’s walls, never to leave them. In his hand was the rule of that mighty organization – at his nod were ready to burst forth, in arms, two hundred and fifty thousand men. He was the hero of our fathers, the centre of chivalry and love – his name was a spell amongst the Ulster Republicans, and at its mention the peasant of the south wept tears of pride in the man who dare to fling down his rank, and trample on his ruffian class, and stretch forth his arm for the PEOPLE.
He was the chief Republican of Ireland – a man whose every act, and word, and thought, was for his country – who sacrificed all, his rank and wealth, his wife, and children, and liberty, for her freedom – LORD EDWARD FITZGERALD.
And he died in jail among his enemies. He was seized on by the tyrants of our country, and cut off by the dagger or the doctor. The people for whom he yielded up his soul stood by, with Dublin in their hands, and never struck one blow for him – and they never recovered that – never.
The chief leader gone in peace and quiet, other leaders, one by one, were dragged to the jail, the gibbet, or the transport ship. The English oligarchy followed up the first blow, which none were bold and honest enough to return. Upon the ranks of the united came disunion, and faint-heartedness, and distrust, and cowardice, and treachery, and betrayal.
“Opportunity” after “opportunity” offered itself and passed away neglected; for a people who have not the courage to be just, can never have the wisdom to be brave. In vain did Ulster and south Leinster rise in insurrection – after yielding LORD EDWARD, Dublin had not the heart to move. In vain were the barracks, and forts, and magazines, in the hands of “disaffected” soldiers, waiting to be asked – in vain did militia in Ulster trim their ranks with the people – in vain came the difficulties of England abroad; the insurrection of starving labour, the crash of banks at home – the mutiny of her navies at the Nore – the Scotch revolt – nay, in vain, in vain, came that which dreamers dream of now – French aid for Irish freedom.
The heart of freedom – the last pulse of true Irish liberty died with LORD EDWARD in his cell. The hand of God was upon the people who stood coolly by and saw that brutal murder of their glorious chief. All things went wrong with them – the Orangemen of the north newly reclaimed to liberty, at once lost faith in a people who could act so basely and changed sides thenceforth. France, disheartened and disgusted, forsook the cause of Ireland for ever, got up a mock expedition to discharge her pledge, liberated Italy, and made peace, without a thought of us or our county – and from that day to this, Ireland a nation has been wiped from the history of the world.
And oh! My countrymen, look back over these fifty years – over the long, interminable train of ills, and woes, and insults, and ignominies, doomed upon our country from that hour. Then began the reign of terror – the “Riding School, in Earl-Street;” the fame of Hepenstal, and Norbury, and Sirr, and Beresford. Then began the British constitution on the drum-head, and the court of the triangle, and the judgement of the lamp-post – a reign of terror, which with coercion bills and martial law, and landlord tyranny, and German janissaries, and Welsh butchers, and assassin Lord Lieutenants, has lasted, in one shape or other, to this hour.
This city, then beautiful and passing wealthy, has become a painted sepulchre – her marts, barracks; her palaces, the night-houses of homeless beggars; the streets of her workmen, foul and rootless ruins – Jew money-changers in her fairest dome – and in her streets lean workmen, and idiocy looking from the wolfish eyes of want.
Plague on plague – the seventhfold seventh plague has swept over the land, till men despair of God, and die amid their dead wives and babes upon their cold hearthstone, blaspheming. Black, broken, roofless walls line the roads, and in the fields they digged are trenched, in ranks six and eight deep, a dead army of one million slaves, to manure rich grass for English bullocks. We have been declared surplus in our own land, to be starved and got rid of. Where our fathers looked to Heaven and their hands, we are brought to look to the workhouse door, and the mercy of the union clerk.
To such straits have our enemies reduced us – to such cruel tyrannies have we submitted, that even the heart of the Turk, on the distant shore of the Dardanelles, at the far end of Europe, was so touched that he sent us the aims of beggars. Ay! The story of these fifty years is one long, low groan of a nation doomed to torture.
And now, on this same 20th of May, in a cell beside that where, fifty years ago, Lord Edward was abandoned to death – beside that whose walls still ring with the cry of defiance to which he gave his last spasm of life, “Come on, come on – damn you, come on!” – there another man sits a prisoner, for the same holy cause of Irish liberty – one more true Irish felon, JOHN MITCHEL.
Yes! Into the same dungeons – the graves of the United Irishmen of old – where the old man was murdered, and the loving brothers hanged, the hand of God has led back their spirit and their name, to test this generation too. Into the sepulchre the soul has entered again, to rise thereout in the majesty of freedom, or the terrible wrath of a nation’s vengeance. Round that living felon’s head are the memories of the past, and the hopes for the future – his cause is the one old cause of our fathers, and no new clap-trap monkery at all.
The soil of Ireland for the lives of the Irish people – the rule of Ireland by the will of the Irish people – the freedom of Ireland by the arms of the Irish people – these are his and theirs, one and indivisible. Stepping back over fifty years, he lifted Irish liberty out of Emmet’s blood, where the dogs of Thomas-street licked it; and holding it up on high, in its beauty, its purity, its splendour, its glory, side by side with English Whiggery and Toryism, and families and out-door relief, and “situations,” and Soyer brutalities, and levees, and starvation, and the debasement of provincial beggary, and the abhorrence and scorn of nations – he asked you, my countrymen, which you chose; and so he takes his stand in the felon’s dock on Monday.
For you. His are no sordid aims of self or class. The nationality he has taught is not the glorious nationality of landlord rule – not the nationality of more rents, more exterminations, more poor-houses, more graves – not the tragic farce of ’82, whose owners ruled only but by the disarmament of the people, and, even then, to repress the people, sold the nation they robbed to a higher robber.
No! – The destiny he sought for his country is not a limited provincialism – not a “crown and connexion” cheater – not a golden link, by which, like my lady’s lap-dog, Ireland should be longer led at the tail of an English Queen. He never stuffed delusion down your throats – never shoved himself between you and your tyrants, to stay your freedom and your arms – never stretched out his hand to tear the bread from the starveling’s lips, and fling him into despair again.
Popularity, personal influences, vulgar eliquery, or clap-trap, were never his means or his aim. He worked against popular opinion, without a clique, or a party, or organised body, of any sort, at his back – without pandering to this sect or that, or this hierarchy or that – without jealously or flattery – without secrecy or trick – but open and plain as the sunlight – relying on the omnipotence and majesty of Truth, the immortal beauty and serene purity of Freedom, the right of this old Irish land to Irish life, and the brawny arm and the noble heart of the working man.
And how he has succeeded, the bars which shut him out from liberty prove. Why is he there, but because he is the most mortal enemy of our enemies? Why is he there, but because his words have entered into, and become, those of the people – because the paupers whom he has brought back to manhood – the starveling, to whom he has taught the right to eat the produce of his labour, the artisan and the tiller are hand in hand in arms at his back? Why is he there, but because he has struck the true chords of the Irish heart – because now are heard throughout Ireland the tones which our tyrants tremble most to hear.
Now that he is locked up in jail, I, his friend, can speak of him. We all recollect that day; it is not many moons since when the Council of the body he helped to found and strengthen repudiated him. Of that meeting there were but 188 who agreed with him that the Irish people should arm, to win and hold their liberty. Recollect the time. Democracy was asleep in Europe – France had apparently sunk under the military rule of Louis Philippe – England had passed in safety over the year 1847 – her stocks were fair, her people stupidly inert under the lazy imbecility of the Whigs – Ireland had undergone a famine the most frightful the world has ever seen, without striking one blow for land or life – nay, the gale-day of November, the last such gale-day we can ever see, was past – the last harvest was swept to the English shores, in peace, law, and order; and ’48, with its silent slaughter, was upon us.
A coercion bill and a well-looking chief-butcher to her Majesty sufficed to hold us, emaciated and despised, to the earth. Even the landlords were easy. Tipperary was disarmed, and a special commission was made to close the rent receipts of last November. Altogether it was the saddest and most ominous period of our history. We were about to end forty years “agitation,” by the wholesale slaughter of one million, and to enter on a new course of patient degradation, of pauper diet, and parish coffins, and milk and water bubbles of speech.
The ruffian aristocracy had taken their final stand with the English – O’Connellite agitation had reduced the middle classes to the lowest state of boon-craving abasement. The people were fast losing hold of the land; and even in Ulster tenant-right was going.
To the followers of the old school, who could not live and die without moaning somewhat, nor get on at all without “agitation,” nothing seemed possible but the old patriot rigmarole of committees, resolutions, speeches, addresses, elections, and all that. The Council of the only body in Ireland which pretended to represent the nation, resolved on “constitutional operations,” and seven years more of “education, organization, and conciliation,” of a people fast sinking into idiocy, poorhouses, and fever graves. But on this starving people no man relied.
Save one. Then it was, in that dark, gloomy, despairing time, that this one man, who now lies in gaol, resolved the people should not be deserted – that the tenant-right should not be sold or sacrificed to any class – that they should not be wholly pauperised, wholly robbed, wholly starved, without a struggle. He staked his life and liberty on that. He knew that if they did not strike for their own lives, it was because no man dared to show them how. He showed them how – he taught them that this rule which choked them was a dream, an unreality, a vile incubus, which it needed but one bold blow, even by one man, to dissipate for ever. And on Saturday night last, as he walked into the batch of Newgate, he triumphed. The rest remains with us.
Yes! The right of the Irish farmers to the Irish soil, of the Irish worker to food and life, of the artisan to wages fit for man, of Irishmen to live in their own land longer, these are the questions to be tried in Green-street. These are the questions to which the sullen, steady tramp of tens of thousands round his prison walls, morning, noon, and night, give answer. These are the questions of which the dwellers of the Liberties, the men who starve on a meal a day, and hide their shabbiness on Sundays, lest they should be known – of which the dwellers nowhere, the vagrant natives of a vagrant land, will march in tens on tens of thousands, from the valleys of Wicklow, the flats of Meath, and the plains of Kildare, in able-bodied pauperism and lankness, and gaunt, famished aspect, to demand of the jury who tries him its opinion.
These are the questions which shall in one week be answered – mayhap “legally,” by some twelve lucky, or prudent, or honest men – mayhap by the piled up barricade, and the flash, and roar, and groan, and the crush of ranks, and the chiming bells, and the lurid flame with its waving tongues, and the smashed jails and razed castles, and the thousand unutterable spasms by which Providence makes known to his world that “the hour has struck, in his decree, for the resurrection of a conquered nationality.”
Yes! My friends, this simple question of wages of food, of the right of each man to live by his toil – this question whether the Irish people shall be swept off million by million or not – has come to be the question of Irish independence. Men, in whom the love of Irish liberty beats as strongly as in any of us, draw back from this man in jail because he is a Republican. Alas1 – They know not what they do. There they are working away with devotion, greater or less, with clap-trap dignity, greater or less, and love of popularity, and love of respectability, greater or less, to “free the country,” nothing knowing how it is to be freed more than the child unborn.
But some time since when he said it was by arms, they could not, poor-well meaning Utopians that they are, see three weeks before them, and now they cannot see one week. They cannot comprehend that daily, hourly, by the minute and second, a certain portion of this old Irish race is being turned into clay – a certain portion of Ulster tenant-right is being turned into nothing – that the classes above the people, from the smallest shopkeeper, are sinking down, down into bankruptcy, idiocy, mendicancy – that to insure longer life to the working man, the Irish people must hurl down their tyrants, and take their soil and its wealth into their own hands.
They cannot see that of those hitherto feel, and who ought to be fed on that produce, there is truly a mighty surplus. Last November, for instance, there was growing in Ireland (says one of LORD CLARENDON’s statists) ample food for twenty millions of men – for two and one-half times our population, and now that is gone – but one poor half of us have one meal per diem; and thousands on thousands not even that. Yes! To live at all we must live in freedom; and there is but one shape freedom can take amongst us – a Republic. To that we are all hastening under the one impulse of national preservation – some blindfolded, some stuttering inarticulately, some bombastically enough, some even wrestling hard with the power which drives them on – but all to that, my friends, however little they know it.
And into that glorious type of national power, JOHN MITCHEL shall walk a free man from his jail. If by a jury of his countrymen – then so much the better: he shall have proved the truth on which eh started, that English rule here is an unreality – a vile, horrid dream – a mere goblin of the sense – to which we too long stupidly shrunk submissive, thinking it “government” and its airy mumblings, “law;” which needed but that one man should spit upon, and laugh at to exercise it for ever.
And if not by a jury, then by the verdict of some thousands of armed citizens, ready to back the defiance he will hurl from the felon’s dock – and by fifties of thousands throughout the land, wherever want has been, and tyranny. Never – oh! Never again – shall the faults of ’98 bring down the just hand of an avenging God, in reigns of terror, and tyranny, and famines, upon a people ungrateful – upon men so bewildered or depraved, as not to know that “to be brave is to be truly wise.”
T. DEVIN REILLY.