From The United Irishman, March 24, 1900.
The unity of the Parliamentary party has so far given no indication of what the future public policy of the country is to be, outside of a general opposition to all the traditional reactionary methods of England. Home Rule as a policy is as dead as it can well be, and nothing in the nature of an aggressive propaganda or a national programme seems even dimly possible. There are rumours of a convention, but of its nature or the work that might come before it there is no data to go upon. The one organisation outside of the language movement which shows itself is the United Irish League, and its recent action in Mayo, or rather the action of those at the head of it, shows it to be guided by the same intolerant and self-sufficient spirit which smothered and gagged free opinion from the days of the Land League to the fall of the “Union of Hearts.” We are sadly in want of discipline in Ireland, and nothing of course can be gained without organisation, but there must be no burking of opinion. The cause of the nation is too scared and too high a trust to be left wholly to platform patriots and village demagogues. I am not disposed to reflect on the utility of both of these factors. I would only suggest such limitation of their influence as would secure a hearing for an independent minded man, and prevent him being howled at and derided as a traitor and an enemy. We must see that the childish and insensate, the blind and unthinking obedience of the late eighties is not repeated. As I have before insisted we must know what we want, and the value of the means by which it is proposed to get it. We must learn to analyse our public movements and our public men, not for the purpose of finding frivolous faults in them, for they cannot be perfect, but for the remedying of any serious defects, and the maintenance of their power of doing good. It is, possibly, not quite an original idea, but it is none the less one deserving of insistence – no man will give all his energies for a thing he does not understand. A man may become wildly and gloriously enthusiastic in a crowd, but cheers are of no practical use. If we want to secure anything like a national government in Ireland we must begin by teaching every one from the labourer up what is he loses by being a bondslave in his own land. Few men will give their lives for an ideal, many may for the practical things that make a home and a people happy. Consequently any fresh movement aiming at consolidating our nation must first of all have an educational value, or it will eventually follow all its predecessors to oblivion.
Now it may be granted that as agriculture is the staple industry of Ireland the land question must monopolise attention, especially in the provinces. It cannot be denied that the vast grazing tracts of the west, of Meath, and Tipperary would be better employed maintaining a populous peasantry than as they are. No Irish Nationalist will or can quarrel with any man or any movement which seeks to reduce the emigration statistics, and provide a field for Irish effort at home, but the line must be drawn and drawn tightly when it is sought to raise an agrarian question into the importance of a national one, when the interests of one class are set against all the other needs of the nation. I am not one of those disposed to consider what the artisans have suffered by the last land war. In the great upheavals of any country some interest must be sacrificed. If it were possible to settle the matter by the sacrifice of all the existing mechanical industries in the country there should be no hesitation in accepting the settlement, for they would phoenix-like arise again through the influencing suns of better times. But the interests that I think of are not those of any section but of Ireland herself. No man looking around our country can deny that the struggles of the last agitation have cost her more than any class advantage was worth. They have lowered the morale, physical and intellectual, of her people, turned them from themselves and their fathers to imitate the Britisher, taught them that the Englishman of the past acted through ignorance, and that the Englishman of today is a sturdy honest fellow who only needs to be taken properly in hands to see his wrong-doing. Taught them in fact that the whole past of our country was a mistake, that Providence evidently intended these two islands to work in harness, and that it were as easy to avoid Fate as to change our destiny. That of late years we have heard that theory from few platforms in no way alters the fact that it has been taught to the people. It only ceased as a doctrine when the “sturdy honest fellows” of the Liberal and Radical clubs got tired of, or had no further use for their “Irish” auxiliaries.
Those who hold by the primary importance of the land question as underlying all others, if they be honest men, cannot but admit the demoralising effect which the chicanery and low cunning of the last land war has had upon the people – how far it accustomed them to habits of deceit and petty trickery. The writer is not one who imagines that any great national movement can be immaculately free from blotches; but when one encourages a certain line of action he ought to be certain that it may not some time or another be utilised in an exactly different direction, with possibly equally effective results. He knows that the agencies against the people in Ireland are not particularly of a heroic or even of a manly character, but nothing should be done that may endanger the national character, nothing employed that can lessen the influences of the past. Much in recent years has been done in the name of expediency; memories have been allowed to lapse and men have been forgotten; principles have been trifled with – and the harvest has been of Dead Sea fruit and ashes.
All these thoughts, or rather the one continued thought, have been suggested by things as they stand today. The people are apparently making up their minds to go into some movement; they are casting around for some principle to stand by, some policy to work for, some goal to reach. It is well that they should do so; it is well that they should even embark on a movement that would lead them back to where they started, for anything that engrosses their minds and provides them with food for thought and energy is better than that enervation and listlessness which consumes and obliterates a people. No one, except a person wilfully blind, believes that the United Irish League is a national power. I do not stand upon its merits as an organisation, but merely draw my conclusions from facts furnished by its official organ. Every other week one reads reports of branches being reorganised, and oftenest in the very cradle of the League. The Parliamentarians are not, apparently, too much in love with it, and will only touch it failing everything else. That time will most assuredly come, and the duty of all true Nationalists – those Nationalists who do not believe in any humdrum British creation in College-Green or anywhere else – is to see that the land question, while getting all due and reasonable consideration, is not allowed to become the all-dominating factor which it was in the past. There will most certainly be a shriek that such conduct is playing the landlords’ and the grabbers’ game, but the exercise of a little patience and the insistence of a hearing for every view, may prove it not quite so unpatriotic as it could be represented. There must be consideration for more than the farmers and their labourers. With all the lamentation which the politicians make of the ruin which has overtaken the national question during their quarrelling, it is a fact beyond gainsaying that the country has made more real progress towards true nationality within that time than it ever did while they were together. No unity among the Parliamentarians, no combination among the people, must be allowed to endanger the onward march of the movements which have succeeded in awakening the people to a sense of the worth of their own belongings. It was a matter deserving of lamentation that the loudest-lunged around a platform, the most profuse in their display of green silk and gold lace, were also the disseminators of the latest London comic, the most up-to-date in fashion, whether in ties or tanned boots. There have been healthy changes made in matters of the kind, but the respect for Irish customs and characteristics has not yet reached its natural and proper proportions; and any movement that seeks to catch the popular mind must be able to recognise the necessity for respecting and maintaining and advancing everything that makes us less English. Such a movement must also embrace our industries. The farmer who ambitions a populated countryside, must not be allowed to forget the influences that have emptied our towns, and filled our shops with the output of every place but Ireland’s. The man who talks of bullocks fattening where men should be must beware of foreign artificers supplying the needs that Irish hands could meet. The people who ostracise a grabber must also be made to understand that he who allows the industries of his own land to wither, or who fails to aid their resuscitation, is equally deserving of the scorn and contempt of honest men, is also a wretch to be avoided. These are a few things which other men in other movements forgot. The torpor was upon us then, and we drifted towards annihilation unknowingly. We have wakened and can see somewhat before us. Every class of the community has crying needs for remedying. There is danger in attempting the cure of too many at the one time, but let us, at least by endeavouring to understand what is wanted, learn how far each may be met without compromising the others.