From An Claidheamh Soluis, December 20, 1913
To see Pádraig Pearse’s written response to this article, “The Psychology of a Volunteer”, it can be found clicking on the link.
No man can set bounds to the march of a nation; no, nor to the activities of the units composing the nation. Some of the units, influential units too, of the Gaelic League part of the Irish nation have recently been hinting that it has not been merely for the sake of saving the Irish language, we, Leaguers, have been working all these years. I do not for the moment quarrel with the philosophy of such a view, or even question the propriety of propounding it, but I bluntly challenge as un-Irish the psychology of any man that holds it.
Just consider the matter. Parnell told the people of Connaught that he would not have taken off his coat to the land question but that he saw in it a means to rouse the people of Ireland to assert their right to self-government. Now, that was just such a supercilious pronouncement as one might expect from a Palesman addressing the mere Gael. He would not, forsooth, have cared who owned the land of Ireland nor troubled about the tenants’ wrongs but that he saw in the question of both a something that would induce the people to fight! No, he would have looked on – with his coat on – from the Pale and let Davitt throttle the landlords! Is it in a similar frame of mind, and because of a parallel outlook on Ireland, some of our language leaders as present would seem to care for the language merely as a sort of stimulant in the fight for nationhood?
If it is, I submit that, to a Gael, that frame of mind and that outlook are simply unintelligible. He cannot as much as think of a fight for nationality apart from a fight for the language, aye, and for the land too. To him the three are indivisible; they are the Trinity of his Faith as a Gael. Circumstances may make it opportune to tackle the landlords this year, to agitate for Home Rule next year, and to prepare to raise the question of Irish the year after, but to talk of any one of the questions as being a stepping stone to the others is, to the Irish mind, to make a fundamental mistake; is, in fact, to betray the outlook of the Palesman.
It all seems a small matter, but is it? Irish history, as written, is a mere long drawn out fight of green against red, and the civilisations the colours stood for are lost sight of in the glare of the colours themselves by the readers of the history. What is an Oireachtas nowadays but a drama – tragedy if you like, comedy if you like – showing the Palesman – even the best intentioned of him – trying helplessly to understand, much less to appreciate, the Gael! He would in all probability shoulder a pike for Ireland as readily as, or even more readily than, the Gael, but of what value is the mere political patriotism or political hate that inspires him compared with the Irishism the Gael has inherited, and the civilisation he represents?
Of comparatively little value, and it is possibly mischievous, but certainly un-Irish to hail the hate, or even the patriotism, as of more account in the building up of Ireland a nation than that without which Ireland can never be a nation, the Irish language. It is difficult enough to get the modern young Irishman to turn his thoughts to being Irish, without whispering to him that he needn’t bother. And just now especially. The brawn of the country is at present getting such a chance of easily showing its patriotism that it is quite unnecessary to make the work still easier by absolving the young volunteers from the duty, if the would be Irish, of learning the Irish language.
I would be the last to advocate counsels of perfection for the ruling of enthusiastic youth, but I would not make patriotism too cheap for anybody. It is becoming too cheap latterly. A little more of the gospel of learning Irish merely as a fighting stimulant and we may expect the sight of companies of Óglaigh na hÉireann marching from Mass with English Sunday papers sticking out of their breast pockets.