By Thomas MacDonagh
Of the Irish Volunteers as an organisation this is no place to speak. Of the causes that led to the founding of that organisation it is yet impossible to speak in such a way as to shut out political discussion; and political discussion should cease when the present duty of the Nation stands clear. But of the Irish Volunteer, of the man for Ireland in 1915, one can speak, as one can speak of O’Donovan Rossa in 1865, and so for ever.
Most Irishmen have grown up with the feeling, whether vague or clear, that the most noble thing for them in life, after the service of their God, would be battle for Ireland. Even those who have done little or nothing to arm themselves and their countrymen for battle have known that feeling strongly. It is not merely the love of country felt by the fatter nations, the love of the traditional ways of thought and of life familiar to them, the love that brings home-sickness to the heart with the fear of exile or of death. It is not merely the love of the sod of Ireland, the love of nature here. It is not merely the love of liberty, of the rights of man. It is not merely hatred of the age-long oppression suffered by our race. It springs not merely from economic grievance, or from grievance against the administration of alien law, or even against the denial of native law. It is the knowledge that there lives in this country, in this race, a holy cause that will be served and served in blood, and served still though it be betrayed by every man and woman of us but one. While the fire of this cause burns in one Irish heart, the Nation lives. It is our doom and our dower. Failure in its service has brought upon us the calamities of our history. Adventure in its service has won glorious reward unsought, and has always forbidden the end. It is not governed by material advantage. Those who make the great journeys guide their course by the stars.
With this spirit ever moving them or troubling them, the Irishmen of this generation have grown up. Most of them have anxiously prayed that when their destined duty arrives their eyes may be made clear that they may know it, and their hands made cunning, that by some wild luck they may be skilled to serve it. Many have been confident that they will know it, and so have got themselves ready for it. Some have gone to meet it, prepared to bring it.
Until November, 1913, it was possible for Irishmen to feel vaguely this sense of duty and of destined service, to be taken or refused. Since then this much at least is clear, that all who are to take the service of this country must prepare themselves for that service. Those who before that time had talked of doing what the heroes of the Nation had done, those who had written essays or poems or plays, those who had made speeches in honour of Eoghan Ruadh O’Neill, or of Tone or Emmet or Rossa, all then found that, like the poet of Plato, they had uttered great and wise things which they themselves did not understand. They recognised that in them, with their reason and their calculation, there was another thing that looked through their eyes and beat with their hearts and spoke through their lips, and they knew that that other thing was the master of all their acts. That other thing told them that ease was to them a temptation of the devil, that the service of Ireland, to be a holy service, must be an arduous service. It told them that they should mistrust everything that came to them with rewards and promises of rewards. It told them that to seek fame in duty was a sin to Ireland, and a desire doomed to frustration.
The duty then was clear, and all to whom the heritage of nationality is given were gloriously glad.
Twenty months have passed since the first public enrolment of Irish Volunteers. The men who came at the beginning and have remained true to the undertaking they signed then, are now armed and trained to the use of arms. Others, who, through force from without or through a temporary failure in themselves, were led astray for a time by the English party divisions, which are the only political division among Irishmen, have come back and are coming back every day of late. And new men are coming in every day of late. Courage grows as our path is seen by all to be the old path. To-day for every man that is outlawed or imprisoned by the British Government hundreds know themselves Irishmen and join the Irish Volunteers. It is good for the Nation to know that Irishmen to-day are enduring what the men of the nobler generations endured, that the prison treatment which O’Donovan Rossa suffered in Chatham is suffered to-day in Mountjoy by Sean MacDiarmada.
The Irish Volunteer in 1915 is the heir to Irish Nationality, handed down from revolt to revolt since the alien plunderers came here seven hundred and fifty years ago. The Irish Volunteer has taken up in his generation the traditional policy of the Irish people, — abandoned for a few decades, — the policy of physical force. The Irish Volunteer stands pledged to the single service of Ireland in Ireland. He alters not his allegiance with change of circumstance. He owns one loyalty—to Ireland. He knows one duty—to Ireland. His deed cannot die into the air like a word. The ideal that he has conceived in his heart can never die; it is one for ever with love and honour and right; it is the ideal of his country free, in the happy enjoyment of the sacred gift that has kept her children true, and that leads him now to battle, to sacrifice and to victory.
Grieve not for him: speak not a word of sorrow;
Although his eyes saw not his country’s glory,
The service of his day shall make our morrow:
His name shall be a watchword in our story.
Him England for his love of Ireland hates:
This flesh we bury England’s chains have bitten:
That is enough; for our deed now he waits;
With Emmet’s let his epitaph be written.