From The United Irishman, September 30, 1899.
Amongst the other regrettable qualities which our Celtic ancestors have bequeathed us is a certain lack of tenacity of purpose. We work up a great deal of enthusiasm from time to time, but a few months suffices to play it out, and we drop back to the humdrum of letting things take their course, till some fresh incident occurs to stir our interest again and awaken our energy for a brief space. This statement may not seem at all justifiable in the face of the fact that seven hundred years have not sufficed to reduce the country to submission. The truth of it will seem more apparent when one reflects that our struggles have only been sufficient to irritate the enemy, and have never been prolonged enough to free ourselves.
There are some things in which we are left behind by other peoples. Military dash we are admitted to possess, talent and courage, and a great disregard of consequences may also be ours, but in dogged persistence and plodding endeavour most of us are not equal to the foreigner. How many organisations have we not seen started for every conceivable purpose, initiated with a great blare of triumphs, carried on with enthusiasm for some time, and then withering not slowly, but all at once, into nothingness, to be succeeded, within a year or two, by an exactly similar organisation fated to the same doom. There must be some reason for this phenomenon. Progress is at all times commendable, but consistency and tenacity are equally good. The creative and destructive faculties appear to be abnormally developed in most of us. The qualities which go towards the pursuit of a fixed object, the maintenance of an existing entity, somehow are sadly lacking. Judged from any standpoint, this eternal hankering after re-arrangement and amendment is disastrous. It fritters away the time, the energies, and the ambition of all the young people, whose concentrated attention to one particular means of action might make the nation better, and whose abilities, instead of being given to some great national work, are occupied by the advancing of some, doubtless very good and well-intentioned, but none the less petty society, whose influence scarcely extends beyond the personal acquaintances of its founders. This I say, not in criticism of any attempt made to organise and direct the sentiment of a particular district, but with reference to the whole of our people, here and everywhere else, who seldom work in the same harness for six consecutive years. As I have said, there must be some reason for this peculiarity, and I think it is to be attributed, more or less, to the fact that the bulk of our people, entirely ignorant as most of them have been kept of the needs of the country, not knowing exactly what is wanted, are ready to follow any fresh cry which promises the ends they have been seeking for centuries.
We are ignorant of our past, hence we are at the mercy of every mountebank who chooses to claim for his programme the natural succession to the policies and doctrines of other days. We are ignorant of our present, consequently we are at a loss to answer the coward and the cad who justify their treason or their indifferentism by an alleged lack in the country of the means of self-support and self-protection. We are ignorant of the future, naturally, but we are also careless of it, because we take no care of the influences and resources around us to enable us to avail of its opportunities. We may possess enthusiasm and patriotism, but we are not enough in earnest for people who may have soon, and certainly some time, will have to face the ordeal which lies before all who desire independence. We have not realised that the perpetuity of Irish sentiment, the preservation of Ireland herself, depends on every man and woman of our race becoming in themselves the apostles and teachers of the Faith of Nationality.
No success can come except through organisation, but organisation means something more than numbers and mass meetings. The man or woman who sits down resolutely to do something towards enlightening the rest of the people on some point of national interest, who tries to fan into active being some decaying faculty or characteristic of the nation, who endeavours to stimulate their neighbours to a sense of reverence and respect for the crumbling ruin in their midst, or the traditional lore of the elders of the neighbourhood, is preparing ground for true organisation. It is good to have behind one an united people; but a few who know exactly why they hold their opinions are even better. History has never been made by the millions; the few have sacrificed and did all that the world is proud of. The single seed can eventually fill the corn field, the silent, earnest thinker moves the mass.
But Ireland has need of all her thinkers, and it is, therefore, the more necessary that they be in earnest. It is necessary that they be men whom no danger shall deter and whom no cold-shouldering shall discourage; that they be men whose interest in what is right alone shall be sufficient to make them continue their labours and rise superior to all the disillusions which unselfish effort so often has to face. They can only be so by being thoroughly in earnest, and they can be most in earnest by having the whole case of Ireland at their fingers’ ends. “Paul not John,” says Dr. Doyle of Leighlin, “was the Apostle of the Gentiles,” and the men who desire to serve Ireland, in the sense of inducing her people to take a serious interest in her, must be no mere sentimentalists. Ireland has claims on nationhood that rest on more than a sentimental basis. Sentiment of the salt of human thought – it keeps a people fresh and pure, it preserves them for their destiny, and destroys the enervating spirit of Esauism that is born with us all, but it is not damaged in any way by having material reasons to support it. Though most people with any ambition regard themselves more or less as Solons, it would be well if, before rushing enthusiastically into national matters, we endeavoured to exactly understand the requirements of the positions we undertake to fill, and having weighed all, give our whole soul to the advancement of the cause we advocate. This does not in any sense necessitate us foregoing very much of our leisure time, but certainly does mean giving a certain, definite amount of time, and with unbroken regularity, to whatever we engage in. Every man or woman joining a national organisation should not fancy their work done with the paying of a subscription, but should do what little they may to spread abroad its doctrines. Quite as much good may be done in a room containing half-a-dozen as in a field of a thousand, if the half-dozen are in earnest. The resources of nationality are not wholly comprised in a series of resolutions, but in one. If we had recognised this, we might not have so many monuments and memories around us of broken hopes and shattered promises. But it is even yet not too late. Today is ours, and tomorrow likewise, if knowing ourselves, we may.