Speech at the Banquet to the Officers of the American Relief Ships, 1846.

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen, — I almost hesitate to thank you for the high honour you have conferred upon me, in requesting me to speak to the health of the Ladies of America, for in doing so, you have imposed upon me a very serious task. This I sincerely feel… In this assembly, every political school has its teachers—every creed has its adherents—and I may safely say, that this banquet is the tribute of United Ireland to the representative of American benevolence. Being such, I am at once reminded of the dinner which took place after the battle of Saratoga, at which Gates and Burgoyne—the rival soldiers—sat together. Strange scene! Ireland, the beaten and the bankrupt, entertains America, the victorious and the prosperous! Stranger still! The flag of the Victor decorates this hall—decorates our harbour—not, indeed, in triumph, but in sympathy—not to commemorate the defeat, but to predict the resurrection, of a fallen people! One thing is certain—we are sincere upon this occasion. There is truth in this compliment. For the first time in her career, Ireland has reason to be grateful to a foreign power. Foreign power, sir! Why should I designate that country a ‘foreign power’ which has proved itself our sister country? England, they sometimes say, is our sister country. We deny the relationship—we discard it. We claim America as our sister, and claiming her as such, we have assembled here this night.

Should a stranger, viewing this brilliant scene, inquire of me, why it is that, amid the desolation of this day—whilst famine is in the land—whilst the hearse-plumes darken the summer scenery of the island—whilst death sows his harvest, and the earth teems not with the seeds of life, but with the seeds of corruption—should he inquire of me, why it is, that, amid this desolation, we hold high festival, hang out our banners, and thus carouse—I should reply, ‘Sir, the citizens of Dublin have met to pay a compliment to a plain citizen of America, which they would not pay’—‘no, not for all the gold in Venice’—to the minister of England.’ Pursuing his inquiries, should he ask, why is this? I should reply, ‘Sir, there is a country lying beneath that crimson canopy on which we gaze in these bright evenings—a country exulting in a vigorous and victorious youth—a country with which we are incorporated by no Union Act—a country from which we are separated, not by a little channel, but by a mighty ocean—and this distant country, finding that our island, after an affiliation for centuries with the most opulent kingdom on earth, has been plunged into the deepest excesses of destitution and disease—and believing that those fine ships which, a few years since, were the avenging angels of freedom, and guarded its domain with a sword of fire, might be entrusted with a kindlier mission, and be the messengers of life as they had been the messengers of death—guided not by the principles of political economy, but impelled by the holiest passions of humanity—this young nation has come to our rescue, and thus we behold the eagle—which, by the banks of the Delaware, scared away the spoiler from its offspring—we behold this eagle speeding across the wave, to chase from the shores of Old Dunleary the vulture of the Famine.’

Sir, it is not that this is an assembly in which all religious sects and political schools associate—it is not that this is a festive occasion in which we forget our differences, and mingle our sympathies for a common country—it is not for these reasons that this assembly is so pleasing to me. I do not urge my opinions upon any one. I speak them freely, it is true, but I trust without offence. But I tell you, gentlemen, this assembly is pleasing to me, because it is instructive. Sir, in the presence of the American citizens, we are reminded by what means a nation may cease to be poor, and how it may become great. In the presence of the American citizens, we are taught, that a nation achieving its liberty acquires the power that enables it to be a benefactor to the distressed communities of the earth. If the right of taxation had not been legally disputed in the village of Lexington—if the Stamp Act had not been constitutionally repealed on the plains of Saratoga—America would not now possess the wealth out of which she relieves the indigence of Ireland. The toast, moreover, to which you have invited me to speak, dictates a noble lesson to this country. The ladies of America refused to wear English manufacture. The ladies of America refused to drink the tea that came taxed from England. If you honour these illustrious ladies, imitate their virtue, and be their rivals in heroic citizenship. If their example be imitated here, I think the day will come when the Irish flag will be hailed in the port of Boston. But if, in the vicissitudes to which all nations are exposed, danger should fall upon the great Republic, and if the choice be made to us to desert or befriend the land of Washington and Franklin, I, for one, will prefer to be grateful to the Samaritan, rather than be loyal to the Levite.