From The United Irishman, September 16, 1899.
The negotiations at present on foot between various of the groups arrogating to each of their particular selves the title of ‘Nationalist’ has stirred up but the veriest semblance of interest among the people. That happy and perfect specimen of humanity, the Britisher, who shudders at the enormity of official France, enjoys hugely the present situation. ‘The annual autumn farce of unity,’ says the Saturday Review, ‘is once more on the cards.’ The opinion of any Britisher, journalist or otherwise, should not and does not here concern us, but the possibilities and outlook for the future of Irish public life certainly does. Most thinking people have long ago taken the measure of all the leaders of the Irish race who strut about just now; and of their honesty of purpose or power of performing anything opinion is more or less unanimous. That unity is for us, a small and impoverished nation, an essential of success goes without saying, that the unity likely to come of the coalition of any or all of the present factions would raise the drooping spirit of the people one iota is quite another matter. A party living on a played-out policy, and existing only for the personal benefit of its members, is not a thing that any country can long tolerate, and it needs no genius to state the purpose that animates the present undoubtedly sincere desire of Messrs. Redmond and Healy to weld together the men who have blackguarded each other for eight years, and make the dollars roll in once more. The one real and thorough hope behind this cry of reconciliation is that the Irish race may be bamboozled again into believing that England can be argued into doing justice. The country wants peace and the country needs a policy. Peace amongst her people, a policy to awaken their interest, and a man to direct it. The latter we cannot command, but the other two matters are not impossible. Peace we cannot have while a single prominent man of the present warring factions remains in a position to command attention; a policy we may have, but it cannot advance unless the people take it up, and until their minds are disabused of the fact that at present there is anything before them they will not view with very much satisfaction a new departure. We may briefly summarise what the contemplated ‘unity’ of the newspapers means. It presumes the restoration of the status quo ante bellum, 1890—the rehabilitation of the old, old war-cries which shoot the skies to the accompaniment of burning homesteads and the sympathy of British Liberals. It imagines a return of the regime which closed the Press against free discussion and made an oracle of every village orator who shouted with the ‘party.’ It means a reign of blind submission to the views of a certain number of men returned to the British Parliament to serve the people, and leading them instead of being directed by them. It means that every man who presumes to differ with the enlightened ideals of his Parliamentary representative is to be branded a coward or a Castle-hack. It means that everything is to be subordinated to the ‘cause,’ which is taken to mean the keeping of eighty odd men in Westminster for the purpose of talking hugely at the Government benches, drinking tea with sympathetic Liberal ladies, and lounging about the town in the intervals. This is what it has meant; this is what the devotees of ‘unity’ see before them in the future.
I presume to ask the Irish people whether this is a result worth striving for. It is not a matter merely drawn from imagination. We have seen it working for years; we have seen its consequences; we are reaping its results; shall we with our eyes open and our minds capable of understanding submit to this thing again? Our population is still dwindling; our national prestige is all but gone; our manners, our morals, our thoughts, our ideals, our songs, and our books are all eloquent towards the influence which a generation of Parliamentarianism has had upon us. Shall we permit it continue? In a moment of enlightenment we have seen how far we had drifted from our original position, and we have taken some trouble to remedy our state. Shall we cease, and once again give ourselves up to the eddying tide of Parliamentarianism, with the possibility before us that this time we may be engulfed entirely?
Now, I am no mere sentimentalist. I do most thoroughly and truly believe that nothing short of the complete destruction of British rule can ever fully develop this nation. I do not conceive any remedy short of entire independence as calculated to make our people what they might and what they ought to be. I am sufficiently practical, however, to recognise that such independence is not to be got for stretching out one’s hands. I am convinced that if we wait for it, we shall have no Irish nation when it comes, and I am more than doubtful that anything of the nature is likely to be fostered by existing political parties; hence, I say, Away with them, and way for the new policy. But it may be argued, and not unjustly, that the curse of Ireland has not been a lack, but a plethora of policies. We have even at the present day five or six of them, and that ought to satisfy the most exacting. Yet we find them, with one exception, more or less moribund. The Financial Relations’ movement has fallen as flat as a griddle. Mr. Horace Plunkett’s agricultural arrangement has had some effect, but it is in no sense national, the three Home Rule factions are effete, and the only things with any vigour in them are the language, musical, and literary propagandas, each of which are distinct and separate, but all of which may be classed as the educational movement. These latter and the two first are, of course, strictly ‘non-political,’ and, therefore, more or less academic. Of them, the language movement alone has got any hold on the people, but it has succeeded because it possesses claims which none of the others can advance; its success must necessarily bring with it the strengthening of the musical element of the propaganda, for both are inextricably wound into each other. It may not effect the rest, but there is no reason why it should not. With politics, as at present understood, and which, after all, mean nothing but partisanship, the Gaelic League has rightly had nothing to do, but with politics in the sense of some public policy aiming at the reincarnation of an Irish nation it cannot refuse to meddle, unless it desires to remain a dilletanti organisation, confining itself merely to doctrines and theories, and taking no share in the material building up of the nation. What has got to be recognised is this—The Irish nation is fast dwindling away, and unless some check can be put upon its decrease another century will find it, not only derelict of native ideas, but wholly absorbed in its neighbour. There is little use of eternally asserting the fact, there is every need for obviating it, unless we are prepared to become sharers in that nebulous Hiberno-English Empire which Standish O’Grady and men of his school see looming as the future of our people. It is a glorious work and a labour to be aided by all our intellects, the restoring of the old tongue of our nation to its rightful place. To make it once more the vehicle of thought in fair and market, at home, and wherever Irishmen may cross each other’s path the world over. But we are making a mistake if we teach the people to regard it as an end; it is but a means, a most effective agency for the preservation of the national soul. We shall all become more Irish by its use, more attached to what is our own, more careful of what has come to us from other time, but it is not a panacea for everything. It must be made to work concurrently with and in concert with whatever makes for the keeping of our people at home. We must make it useful, and its greatest use will be its power of lowering the emigration returns; its power of creating a preference for what we create ourselves; its power of making us proud of things our own because they are ours; its power, in a word, of fostering national pride and preserving us from the tentacles of that octopus miscalled ‘civilisation.’ Hence the policy of the immediate future must be at once directed towards the intellectual development as well as the material preservation of our people. With the former no party since the Young Irelanders concerned itself; the latter has been the especial province of all politicians since. The population has decreased by nearly half during their operations. This has not been wholly the fault of the politicians; much is the result of the system of government and much the fault of the people themselves, and as much as either the outcome of the growth of foreign competition and the change in economic conditions. But the politicians at many periods, and at none more than from 1880 to 1890, could have changed the whole course of events. A word from the united body of parliamentary representatives would at once have wrought a mighty change in the people’s attitude towards native manufacture. Theland agitation was a necessary and an unavoidable movement. It became a mistake when every other interest was subordinated to it. The land question lies decidedly at the root of most of the evils still prevalent; but while it was being settled everything else was being neglected, and our market in produce was invaded by Dane, Canadian and German, till we were beaten to a second place, and in some matters all but entirely out of the market. Now it is manifest that no arrangement of the land tenure can provide a field in agriculture for the average family of the Irish farmer. We must, therefore, endeavour to procure something for the young men and women to do, if we desire to keep them at home. Let us then begin by feeding and clothing ourselves; maintain by all means whatever markets we still possess abroad; improve by all means our output, and learn as much as may be necessary from the foreigner everywhere, but raise as much excess in the country as shall support ourselves. It is absurd beyond question to think that the people who raise the stock which supplies Limerick with the means of maintaining a world-wide reputation must content themselves with the rankest output of Illinois. If it will not pay a large concern in Dublin, Waterford or Belfast to compete with Canada or Chicago, there is no reason why a series of small factories in say the country towns could not do a local trade, and thus provide employment and provision for their districts. The presence of one trade creates a necessity for another, and while colossal fortunes are an impossibility under such a system of small industries, all the needs of a surplus agricultural population are supplied by it. There may, of course, be things beyond the capabilities of the provincial towns, but these the large cities might readily supply. Prosperity does not depend on the existence of wildernesses of chimney-stacks or the eternal buzz of machinery, but we cannot much longer remain a farm for Britain or anywhere else. We must supply our own needs ourselves and look to the foreigner afterwards. The task of bringing the country round to this view will be stupendous, and will need the influence that can only come from a strong party working unitedly. In pressing it forward no sight must be lost of the main issue lying before any struggle that seeks to benefit the people of the nation. We have organisations devoted to the popularising of Irish industries, but they have effected little or nothing. They have slapdashed ‘No Politics!’ above their portals, and, consequently precluded their members from taking part in anything that reflects on the governing powers. We may be told they do not seek to bar individual action, but that is nothing. The prestige attaching to an organisation with a definitive object is worth the ability of any number of men working individually. Therefore the body which takes in hand the awakening of the country must be prepared to enter every field and fight every corner while the slightest benefit is likely to result. We may sacrifice the support of a few well intentioned Unionists by so doing, but if the peasantry are preserved who shall say we have done wrong?
Let me not be taken as a visionary. He is a bad tactician who despises any weapon, and even if parliamentarianism be played out—as it certainly is at present—we must retain the representation, for it is an engine that, in the hands of the enemy, could be utilised much to our harm. The fullest measure of falseness done to the country by the party of 1880-1890 was in teaching the people to believe that the representation in the British House of Parliament was their only potent weapon. It is as we have seen effective, but the eloquence or arguments of all the eighty odd Mentors who composed the Irish Party has not made it so. It can never be regarded as a reliable force, for it is always open to bribery, and can never rise above suspicion. It has its uses, however, but must always be kept in check instead of being allowed, as it has been, to be the dominant factor in Irish affairs. Outside the British Parliament, amongst the people themselves, is the true field. We must teach them that as all power springs from them, so the reason for most of their evils lies with them. As they must give their thoughts to Irish ideas, and must make for themselves Irish ideals to remain Irishmen, so, too, they must take their eyes off the benches in Westminster and take off their coats to work at home. They must make their towns markets for the produce and manufacture of the country. What is not made at present in Ireland they must seek to have made, and they have but to ask to find some enterprising man ready to supply. Their public men, whether County Councillors or members of Parliament, must be pledged to such a programme. It must be made a first principle of National opinion to be Irish in dress, and, as far as possible, in language. People will protest against Irish being made a sine qua non of one’s patriotism, but the sympathy and support of everyone for it ought to be made imperative. He is surely a poor representative of a country who despises its language. The people ought to bestir themselves and enunciate a policy of mental and material advancement. The numbers of the nation must be maintained if we are to exist at all, the spirit must be preserved, else we shall disappear likewise. For this Unity is necessary—but this is not the unity of the Home Rulers.