Liam Mellows was an organiser, a Republican and a Revolutionary. He is remembered primarily for two things, the first is his role and capacity as Na Fianna Éireann organiser. Cycling around the country and setting up branches of Na Fianna wherever he went, instilling in them a counter-culture based on the principles of Irishness and Republicanism and repudiating the Anglicization of the Irish youth and people. The second matter which he is equally known for is rejecting the Treaty and participating in the occupation of the Four Courts, before being subsequently executed by the Free State.
The collected excerpts and speeches of Liam Mellows in America give a good indication as to where his political outlook lay, how he formulated it and what Liam Mellows thought of the highly americanized and ‘patriotic’ Irish-American lobby group that had formed up. The speeches indicate that Mellows was repulsed by how Irish-Americans behaved and did not dare challenge the alliance between the United States and Britain. The well to do Irish-Americans wanted to be ingrained in the establishment, to be seen as loyal to the United States and to not dare undermine the politics of the United States. Little has changed. Liam Mellows paints a stark picture while commenting on Irish-Americans but does not falter or flinch in presenting unrepentant Republican politics.
Alongside Padraig Pearse and James Connolly, Liam Mellows identified the cultural warfare of the British Empire as a central and conscious effort on the part of the British occupation. The transformation of the Irish people into loyal English subjects, the destruction of language, of unique identity was part and parcel of imperialism. Today — as Professor David Harvey identifies, ‘we are all neoliberals’ and what he means by this is almost identical as to what the three mentioned comrades understood it to be. American culture is everywhere, American ideas, American ideas, American propaganda — we are all little Americans, whether we like it or not and part of our highly Anglo-American culture and sense of identity has to be challenged and I would argue, completely undone. A cultural revolution that shatters imperialistic values and identity is more than necessary.
The collections of these works are taken from the book written by Dr. Conor McNamara “Liam Mellows: Soldier of the Irish Republic: Selected writings”.
I’d also recommend reading the book published by Desmond C. Greaves (http://www.books.ie/liam-mellows-and-the-irish-revolution)
On an aside note, while the Republican movement had continued to lobby the American administration, the Soviet government had offered recognition of the fledgling Irish State, and Liam Mellows himself identified at a meeting in New York. It is curious how history could have gone if it were the Soviet Republic that the Irish Republic aligned itself with, instead of simply replicating the English system in Ireland. The extra source that is worth reading on Irish-Soviet relations is a thesis found here by Michael Joseph Quinn.
Table of Content
Essay 1: ‘This country remains a stigma’ Hibernian Hall, Roxbury, Boston, 1 April 1918
Essay 2: ‘A cause that is as great as that of any race’ Washburn Theatre, Chester, Pennsylvania, 23 April, 1918
Essay 3: ‘Let America speak now on behalf of Ireland’, Irish Race Convention, Central Opera House, New York, 18-19 May, 1918
Essay 4: ‘Irish people have left in them some remnants o a soul’ Central Opera House, New York, 29 June 1918
Essay 5: ‘The greatest moral cowards on earth’, Madison Square Garden, New York, 21 September 1918
Essay 6: ‘There is still autocracy to reckon with’. Mannerchor Hall, New York, 19 November 1918
Essay 7: ‘Never in the whole history of Ireland has there been such a time’, Central Opera House, New York, 5 January 1919
Liam Mellows on the 4th of July:
“For a day of national celebration it is a disappointment; people apathetic, more interested in the possible result of a great boxing match for the world heavyweight championship being staged at Toldeo, Ohio, than in the future of America…… President Wilson parades up Fifth Avenue after returning from France today. We watch parade from hotel window; not very impressive and crowd show little enthusiasm; Wilson stands in automobile and bows, hat in hand, right and left, wearing famous smile”.
Liam Mellows on being monitored by the American secret service:
Surprised to be followed home by three of them who remained outside all night. The three on duty all night still watching — followed to mass and back… informed that eight are on the watch and that the reason is because of projected trip to California. Stayed in all day, SS still watching, perished in bitter cold in vestibule of home on opposite side of street.
Liam Mellows speaking in Madison Garden alongside Nora Connolly, John Devoy and Agnes Maurer:
When the war is over, when peace is declared, England will have a formidable problem to face. She will have to dispose of her thousands of soldiers, who returning from the battlefield, will find their occupations in England gone. She will have to attempt another plantation; it is necessary that she wipe out a section of the Irish people. It has been said by a section of the press of this country that the Irish are cowards because they have refused to be conscripted. But the Irish have proved themselves the bravest of the brave by standing out against the might of the British Empire. You here in America standing out on behalf of Ireland are asked to stand for a principle that is good in Ireland, that is good in America, that is god in the sight of God. We ask you to stand behind your own bone and blood in Ireland, and to stand behind them as never before.
At the Central Opera House:
The Romanovs are gone, the Hapsburgs are gone, the house of Hohenzollern is gone and then it is said there is peace because the power of the German Empire is broken. There can be no peace until another royal house, the House of Hanover — pardon me, I mean Windsor — is gone and with it all the English aristocrats — the Lansdownes, the Milners, the Balfours — and the power of another Empire that rode roughshed over the peoples of the world, the British Empire, is gone. When that occurs, the world will be liberated from the foulest tyranny that has ever cursed it, and from its ruins will arise a free Ireland, a free India, a free Egypt, a free Africa.
Mellows in Roxbury, Boston:
America owes a vast deal to Ireland and we have a right to demand that debt be paid. As for as long as Ireland’s case remains unmentioned by the administration, so long will America’s war aims be open to criticism and this country remains under a stigma.
Mellows in Chester, Pennsylvania:
Meetings such as this and others that are being held all over this country are necessary in order to get the administration of this country to say one little word on behalf of Ireland, which has greater claims to America than on any other country. This is not too much to ask America to do, in view of all that the Irish people have done for America.
Mellows at an Irish Womens’ Council meeting in New York:
Russia has given more encouragement to the Irish Republic than America had.
Mellows at the Irish Race Convention in 1918:
I say that America, by its silence on the question of Ireland’s independence, has been and is still, until it speaks out, tacitly acquiescing in England’s domination.
Mellows at a Cumann na mBan meeting in New York:
This country that boasts of what it has done in the cause of freedom, holds its tongue on the question of Ireland. Its press is silent on the question of the barbarity of the British government in Ireland. It has condoned what has been going on in Ireland by its silence; at this very moment it is condoning what is going on in Ireland.
‘This country remains a stigma’ Hibernian Hall, Roxbury, Boston, 1 April 1918
We meet tonight to celebrate the proclamation of the Irish Republic and to honour the memory of those who gave their lives for Ireland during Easter Week Rebellion. To do so is a great pleasure, but we also meet to demand that the American administration incorporate the just rights of the people of Ireland in its war aims. It is sad to think, in the face of the reiterated statements of President Wilson that ‘no people should be forced under a sovereignty under which they do not wish to live’, that such meetings are necessary in this country for which the Irish have done and sacrificed so much. America owes a vast deal to Ireland and we have a right to demand that debt be paid.
It is fashionable nowadays to tell Ireland that she must forget. Forget what – her history? Woe to the country or the cause that forgets its history. If Ireland were to forget the past – if such a thing were possible – it is only logical that every other country and every other cause should forget the past, and then Easter Sunday would have no significance for the world, for it would not remember the Resurrection of Our Lord or that He died to save mankind.
Among the many wrongs England has inflicted on Ireland, the greatest, perhaps, was when under the system of so-called National Education, founded in 1832, the Irish language was nearly killed and the people, already political slaves, became mental slaves. Their minds became perverted; they could hardly call themselves Irish, but were rather bad imitations of the English. It was through this mental slavery that, whereby the history and traditions of Ireland were unknown, that such a movement as the last – but not lamented – Parliamentary Party became possible and the Irish people from standing in their alienable rights to complete nationhood, turned to beg concessions from England.
England never gave Ireland anything only when she was forced to do so by the Irish people, or when political exigencies abroad demanded it. Thus, the Home Rule Bill, miserable concessions as it was, was not passed because of the fight on the floor of the House, but because England wanted to placate the Irish in view of the coming war, which, when it broke out, England declared was forced on her. England actually thought that by ofering the Irish people that miserable bill, she would gain the good will of the Irish in America when she wanted to form an alliance with America before the war. On the other hand, England was at the same time actively taking steps to see that Ireland would not even get this farcical measure by instigating and helping the movement in the North of Ireland now known as Carsonism.
On the role of martyrs of the Rebellion, three names stand out pre-eminent. First and foremost stands the name Tom Clarke, at present rarely mentioned, but which, viewed with the perspective of time, will be regarded as the after of the Rebellion, for it was he who, after serving nearly sixteen long years in English prisons, continued the work of the Fenians and laid the foundations on which the others built.
Next comes the name of Padraig Pearse, who realised best that not alone must Ireland be independent, but it must be Irish as well. That mental freedom must go hand in hand with political freedom, and that Ireland’s great destiny lay in restoring to the world that wonderful civilization and culture that blazed a trail of intellectual glory through Europe when the darkness of Paganism and barbarism had settled on it, and that later gained for her the proud title of ‘the Island of Saints and Scholars’. With Pearse stands the name James Connolly, who realised that if Ireland were really to be free, it must be owned by the Irish people; that it was little use freeing Ireland from foreign tyranny if, in the course of a comparatively short time, it would fall under domestic tyranny as other countries had done.
The Rebellion was not caused, as some maintain, by Carsonism or by the strikes in Dublin a short time before, or the various acts of repression since the war, but was the direct outcome of the Fenian movement, which was inspired by ‘48 and which in turn drew its inspiration from the United Irishmen of 1798, thus preserving an unbroken chain of successive efforts to throw off the English yoke.
It is not so much a question with the Irish people of whether it is good English government or bad English government in Ireland, as the fact that it is foreign government. It has been charged by the enemies of Ireland that the Rebellion was a German plot and was instigated by German gold. This is an utter lie. As if the Irish were not capable of plotting for themselves! It was Irish through and through; planned by Irish brains and fought with Irish flesh and blood.
The world knows nothing of England, only what England wants it to know, and meanwhile England goes on with its age-long war of oppression. One would imagine to judge by the English press in England, and the pro-English press here, that the Irish question was a tangled know which taxed all the ingenuity of England and also of Ireland to unravel. The Irish question is very simple and the solution is equally simple. England holds possession of Ireland by armed force against the will of the Irish people. Let her clear out of Ireland, bag and baggage, and the question will be solved. All the ills Ireland suffers from are due, directly or indirectly, to the connection with England. The so-called Irish Convention at present expiring in long drawn out agony, cannot and will not settle the Irish question. It was not intended to do so. It was only intended to throw dust in the eyes of the American people. The Irish people at home are tired of crawling and asking for concessions. Today they are standing up as men and women and saying ‘damn your concessions, we want our liberty’. You who meet here tonight, in voicing as American citizens the rights of Ireland, are not only doing a duty to Ireland, but also to America, as for as long as Ireland’s case remains unmentioned by the Administration, so long will America’s war aims be open to criticism and this country remains under a stigma.
‘A cause that is as great as that of any race’ Washburn Theatre, Chester, Pennsylvania, 23 April, 1918
Friends of Ireland: It is a splendid thing that we should meet here to celebrate the second anniversary of the proclamation of the Irish Republic. It is a splendid thing for us to have lived to this day to see the Irish people as they are, standing at last for their own rights, and for no one else’s. We also need to think that meetings such as this and others that are being held all over this country are necessary in order to get the administration of this country to say one little word on behalf of Ireland, which has greater claims on America than any other country. Modesty is also one of the characteristics for which Irish are noted, but for once we have thrown off that modesty, and we demand that Ireland’s claims to independence be recognised by England. This is not too much to ask America to do, in view of all that the Irish people have done for America.
The Irish people stand for a cause that is as great as that of any race: a cause as great as that which Belgium stands for; a cause as great as the liberty of Serbia and Montenegro. They stand for a cause which has lived for longer than that of any other countries, because Belgium and Serbia have been persecuted for three years, and Ireland has suffered for seven hundred and fifty years. Why is it that Ireland today is kept as she is, that the English do not give Ireland her freedom? Why is it that England tries to delude people into thinking she is doing what is right and just, when she is doing the exact opposite? The answer is not far to seek.
England, in the first place, built her empire on Ireland because when England began to expand, Ireland became the jumping off place for her to expand from, and from Ireland she built up her empire, that empire, which believe me, is no credit to this world. It was through the famines whereby the population of Ireland was decimated, and through the forced migration, by which the Irish people were driven to all parts of the world that the foundations of the British Empire were laid.
Is it because England hates the Irish so much that she keeps Ireland in slavery? The answer is no. England has very good reasons for keeping Ireland down. The very future and safety of her empire depends on her holding Ireland down. The very future and safety of her empire depends on her holding Ireland. If proof were needed, we have a very recent statement made by an organization known as the British Navy League, composed of officers of the British navy. In a memorandum presented to the British cabinet several months ago, they stated that the position of Ireland is vital to England, because Ireland contains eighteen harbours, possession of which by England is necessary in order that England control the trades routes of the world. Further on, they state that Ireland is the Heligoland of the Atlantic. You will find therein the reason why England keeps Ireland down: Ireland being the Heligoland of the Atlantic is necessary for England’s own aggrandisement.
Ireland has been battling, and today, still is battling her for her freedom. England, having got a foothold in Ireland, having got a grip of her throat, then turned to subduing the mind of the Irish people. They denied education to the people of Ireland and when at length they had to introduce some educational system, they brought in the system misnamed ‘national’, which was anything but national.
Everything possible was done to root out that national language. The taking away of the language perverted the minds of a large portion of the Irish people, as they became actual slaves. It was the slave mind, whereby the Irish people turned from looking at their own efforts, turned to beg concessions from England — it was this that gave rise to what became known as the late but not lamented parliamentary party. Go back a few years, and you will remember how England promised Ireland a measure of so-called home rule. England never gave anything, and never intends to give anything, unless the Irish people are in a position to wring it from her, or unless political exigencies abroad demand it.
It was this war that influenced England in pretending to give Ireland a measure of home rule. England knew the war was coming a long time before it came. She saw in the Irish people in Ireland a potential menace, and in the Irish in America, another. She was looking for alliances, there was one country she wanted to get into an alliance with badly — the United States. The one bar to that was a small section of the Irish people in America. If offered a bribe, she thought the Irish people in America would forget their animosity towards England, and allow England to secure an alliance. That is what lay behind the offer of home rule. While promising it on the one hand, she was taking steps so that the Irish people should not get it on the other.
Perhaps one of the most brazen and at the same time wonderful pieces of diplomatic hypocrisy has occurred in the last few years. England, while promising Ireland home rule, was at the same time instigating and helping Carson so that she would not get it. Do not forget that any English government, Liberal or Tory, is English and therefore anti-Irish before anything else. So at the instigation of the Liberal government, we find the movement started, known as the Ulster Volunteers, a movement which was helped by the British government, against whom they declared they would fight. The events of the last few years have made a lot of well-meaning but ill-informed people think that the Orangeman in Ireland, is Ireland’s enemy. He is not Ireland’s enemy. The Orangeman is before anything else an Irishman. There is one enemy of Ireland and only one at the present day, and that is England.
In the year 1913, a body of men were formed, not to fight the Orangemen, but to safeguard Ireland’s rights. This movement was made possible only through the fact that the English government had permitted a similar movement. I will not go into the history of the Irish volunteers, but I will say that the movement saved Ireland. The war broke out. England proclaimed herself to be fighting for small nations, and called on the Irish to help. The Irish press was in the hands of the British government and the people were deluded. They were told they would defend Ireland best in France or Gallipoli, but they never heard that the place to defend Ireland was in Ireland. They were called on to fight for every small country not under the domination of England. They were led astray, and foolishly volunteered. None of those who went to fight for England now think that they did it right. They find that they went, not to fight for Ireland, as they had been told, but for England and England alone. They were helping not to free Ireland, but to rivet her chains on firmer than before.
The Rebellion of 1916 opened their eyes. The story of that Rebellion has been told in detail and I need not go into it here, there is one thing, however that has been said, and that is being used by the pro-British German press. That is that it was a German Rebellion. I say this, they lied, and they know they lied. It was not inspired by Germany, and was not helped by Germany. It was helped by the hard-earned money of the unfortunate working people of Ireland. It was fought by Irish flesh, and Irish blood. To say that it was a German plot is not alone an insult to the Irish people, but an insult to their intelligence. One would think the Irish people were incapable of plotting on behalf of themselves. The Rebellion saved the soul of Ireland, it brought back to the minds of the Irish people the fact that Ireland was their country, and if they wanted to make sacrifices for any country, they had every reason to make sacrifices for Ireland, in Ireland.
‘Let America speak now on behalf of Ireland’ , Irish Race Convention, Central Opera House, New York, 18-19 May, 1918
We meet under the shadow of a terrible and impending disaster in Ireland, and I really feel that, like Nero, we are fiddling while Rome is burning, to be throwing bouquets to the past deeds of the Irish race in America, or to be talking of Irish industries while our people in Ireland are going to be massacred by the British. The papers yesterday announced that five hundred Sinn Féiners in Ireland have been arrested. They gave as an excuse for these arrests a German plot. That is a lie false as hell. That ‘plot’ has been in preparation for two or three months. We are only seeing the beginning of it, and there may well be a ‘plot’ on this side of the Atlantic as well. We find Lord French made the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, sent there to regain his military reputation, which he failed to sustain in Flanders by the slaughter of defenceless Irish people.
There are times ahead for Ireland which are going to try the people of Ireland as they have never been tried before, and are we going to sit here and keep our mouths shut? We all feel these things too deeply now any longer to conceal the truth. A wrong is going to be perpetrated on Ireland the likes of which even the British government never conceived before. They have stated that they discovered a German plot, in order that they might thus alienate the sympathy of the people of America from Ireland. They could then turn around and do as they liked in Ireland, while the world looked on and laughed. This is a question that concerns the Irish race the world over as much as it concerns the people of Ireland. And it concerns the people of America, not alone the Irish, but the whole people of America, not alone the Irish, but the whole people of America, as much as it concerns the Irish race. The American administration when this country entered the war, declared it was for the purpose of freeing the oppressed people of the world. So far that has been done without geographical reservations. If America is honest about its declaration as to why it entered the war, then these peoples should be included in these declarations.
This wrong that is going to be done in Ireland is a terrible thing. Conscription at the hands of the British government is a crime not alone against the Irish people, but against the whole civilized world. And I say that America, by its silence on the question of Ireland’s independence, has been and is still, until speaks out, tacitly acquiescing in England’s domination. If there is bloodshed in Ireland, if our men and boys and women and girls are slaughtered, the fight will not alone be that of the men, but the women will take part in it also. This time the fight will be for the preservation of the very life of the Irish nation. If there be bloodshed in Ireland, the blame for that bloodshed will rest not alone with the British government, it will rest also on America, unless America speaks on behalf of Ireland. The Irish people have turned their eyes to this country. They believe this country when it states the reason why it entered the war. It is not alone on behalf of all the services that the Irish did for America, all the blood they have shed for America, it is not on behalf of these, but for the cause for which this country has declared it went to war.
They say that the Irish are pro-German. The Irish people have one enemy on this earth, and but one, all that is England. They look outside of England the whole world over for aid, and if this country denies them helpit will drive them to seek help anywhere. The Irish are no more pro-German than the Americans in the Revolution were pro-French. The state of affairs at home is so desperate that you people in this country are acting like a lot of curs if you do not speak now. Blood is thicker than water, and Irish blood is thicker than any blood in this world. We Irish who still believe in Ireland, who still have the same belief in freedom, we are not going to sit down. Those who say it is disloyal to speak the truth on behalf of Ireland, those people are not Americans; they are pro-British. Let America speak now on behalf of Ireland, or let it stop speaking about the freedom of small nations. The time to do is now, or else there may be other forces over which we have no control through which England may be swept out of Ireland.
‘Irish people have left in them some remnants o a soul’ Central Opera House, New York, 29 June 1918
I am going to put before you some very cold facts, so cold that they may send a shiver down some people’s backs. I am going to make a confession. There was a plot in Ireland, but it was not this time a German, Sinn Féin, or any other kind. It was a British plot against the Irish nation the world over. And what lay behind the plot? Conscription in Ireland. From the moment the great war broke out England had the idea of putting conscription into force in Ireland. But when the conscription was passed by the parliament of England for England, Scotland and Wales, it was not applied to Ireland. And the reason it was not applied to Ireland is because there were at the time a small number of Irish men and women who said that sooner than be conscripted by the British government and for the British government they would die where they stood. At last, the war was going so badly against England that she plucked up courage to try to enforce conscription in Ireland. But the Easter Week Rebellion and then conscription remained in abeyance.
America entered the war with all the ideals that the Allies have stated they entered the war for, and some others in addition. And it was these others that made England see she had to reckon with American opinion in favour of Ireland, and that the Irish prisoners were released. In order not to hamper America in the war, England thought it was high time she made a show in an effort to do something for Ireland. So what was known as the Irish Convention was called into being. It was no more an Irish Convention than if it was composed of Arabs and met in Timbuktu. It was called by the British government in the interest of the British government. We cannot imagine her calling a convention together to do something for Ireland. This convention was called to throw dust in the eyes of the American people. Ater it had met and travelled from one part of Ireland to the other so much that it got the name of the itinerant convention, it at long last promulgated its decision. It took eight months, and meanwhile the world outside Irelad waited breathlessly. And what was its decision? It amounted to nothing, and on consequence Ireland got nothing.
And Llyod George immediately announced in the House of Commons that Ireland would get conscription, and at the same time would get Home Rule. They were eager to hand out a little freedom, and all their freedom was going to be taken away on the other hand. Conscription was the pill and home rule was the am. All Ireland, instead of shrinking back in a fight at the idea of being conscripted, grew if possible even more courageous, and not alone that, they became united as they never were united before.
We had the wonderful spectacle of seeing all of the people of Ireland becoming overnight Sinn Féiners, and even a thing that has not happened in Ireland since England set foot in it, the hierarchy of Ireland became revolutionary. All Ireland was united in one grand protest against the application of conscription, England’s hand for this time being stayed. She had not reckoned how things would turn out. She had ever thought that the Irish people had left in them some remnants of a soul that they denied the right of England to conscript them for any war, because they were in a position of slavery under England. So England for a while was foiled.
But long years, centuries of cunning in such matters have enabled the English to bring the arts of the sham up to the highest degree. First of all Lord Wimborne, who whatever else he may have seen, was no fool, was replaced by Lord French, the man who had commanded the gallant retreat from the Mons, and whom the British government sent to Ireland, let us hope to execute a similar retreat. Mr Duke, the new chief secretary was replaced by a Mr Shortt who we are assured is most friendly to Ireland. And Sir Bryan Mahon was removed and an English general who spent his life fighting for democracy in India was sent with ten thousand Gurkhas to take his place, and meanwhile our old friend, Sir Edward Carson, was very nicely manipulating the strings. On the 15th of April, a man was arrested in County Clare in Ireland and on him were found forty-five pounds of English sovereigns. It was three after that before a cable about the arrest was sent to America. If it was of such importance, why was the news kept back from America?
The boat he came in, we are assured in the first reports, was a collapsible boat that came in a German submarine, and now we have word from the representative of Mr Ford that the boat was his boat, and that it had been supplied to the British government only in the year 1917. And now we have Mr McPherson making the statement that the man’s name was Dowling, a soldier who had been imprisoned in Germany and on top of that Lord Wimborne says that the man was a former policeman. And perhaps in time to come the greater mystery of the man in the boat will outrival the mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask. It was in County Clare that this man landed, and for three months before that Clare had been proclaimed district, under martial law. Every cross road was patrolled, every town held by the military, every inch of the coast guarded by patrols. All this had been published in the newspapers, and it must have been known to the German government, and would they be so foolish as to land a man in such a place.
On May 18th and 19th came the great drive on the Irish front. Seventy-six men and three women were arrested and sixty-nine of them were deported immediately to England, locked up in English jails, and not allowed to communicate with anyone. All the men that they arrested were not the same type. The British government knew all the different kind of men, and yet we find among them Arthur Griffith, who was a revolutionary, but not a physical force man. It is also well to note that for some time there had been an election standing for which Arthur Griffith had been nominated as Sinn Féin candidate, and on the issue of that election conscription stood for the time being in Ireland.
And after a long time we found the evidence published up to 1916, and a few things thrown in about 1917, and while these things occurred these men were in penal servitude in English jails. The important part of the evidence the government states they will not publish because it would not be in the interest of the Empire to publish it. For the time being a voluntary recruiting scheme is to take the place of conscription. We know the answer that appeal will get from the Irish people. We know that the plot failed almost immediately. We know that the Irish people stood firm behind their leaders, that the British government did not split the Irish people on this question. We know that they failed to frighten the clergy away as they hoped to do. And the framework was so palpable that even some of the British newspaper editors blushed with shame.
The assault in Ireland was preceded by a long range bombardment of the Sinn Féin trenches in America. The Cavan election is the best test of the opinion of Ireland today, because there is a man who is branded by the British government as a pro-German plotter; after all efforts to split the people had failed, we find they returned Arthur Griffith with twelve hundred majority. It was even a greater victory than it looks, for neither the young men nor the young women in Ireland have a vote. When conservative, middle aged men, most of them farmers, can return Arthur Griffith by a majority of twelve hundred, you can have some idea of how Ireland stands.
Cavan put the kibosh on conscription. Lloyd George having declared that his government would stand or fall by the application of conscription and home rule to Ireland, gets Lord Curzon to announce the other day that both had been dropped. Then Lord Wimborne followed quickly on his heels, and said as far as he knew there was no plot. Then Mr Short, stands up and says there will be no more executions unless England is forced to do it. Then Lord French goes to Belfast, and states that the government of Ireland, the English government of Ireland, will carry out its duty in every respect. And Lloyd George, in the House of Commons, still with a view of disintegrating the people of Ireland, says the Irish Party have no share in the blame, and he says also that Ireland must do her share in this war, and the Irish people assure him that they are quite prepared to their share for freedom.
The British government is trying to force the people to do their part in the war. There is no use in trying to convince England of the terror of her ways. I would like to state for the benefit of those people who pose as Ameicans, and who say that Ireland should aid England in this war, that this is not Ireland’s war at all. The Irish people, as a people and a nation, have had neither hand nor part in it, and the one country they would want to go to war with is the country that keeps them down. There is no use in putting up hypothetical cases of oppression. The Irish people are being taxed by the British government for this war, out of which they get no return. They are England for carrying on the war and in the second place they are paying England for misgoverning Ireland. Ireland has only one interest in this war, and that is so far as it loosens England’s grip on her. When Ireland has her entire independence it will be well to point out to her where her duty stands.
At the present moment one would think it was a crime to be a Sinn Féiner in America. And what does Sinn Féin mean? What is called Sinn Féin used to be called Americanism in America. America has benefited and benefited greatly by the subjection of Ireland, because it drove out to this country the best bone and blood of Ireland. We gather to ask America at this moment to intervene on behalf of Ireland, and on behalf of those that have been deported to England. And we have a right to know in view of all the Irish people have done for America and are doing at the present time. And now that this country has set up this standard with all these altruistic motives written on it, it is high time that it declared where it stands on the question of Irish independence.
Ireland has just won several victories. First she has won the Cavan election. Secondly, she has forced the British government to withhold both conscription and home rule, and the Irish people want neither. And thirdly, it is due to the attitude of the people at home that Irishmen in this country, who owe no allegiance to any country under the sun but Ireland, that they are exempt from the English draft. That is where Sinn Féin stands at the moment. But it has a long way to go yet before the ultimate victory comes. You people here must not shrink from doing your duty to Ireland, because in doing your duty to Ireland you are acting up to the highest principle of Americanism.
‘The greatest moral cowards on earth’, Madison Square Garden, New York, 21 September 1918
Friends of Ireland, the hour is late, and I don’t intend to keep you very long. It is very little I have to say, and there will be no rhetoric about it, but plain facts. We are here, as we have met on several occasions, to advocate the application of the principles which the Allies and America have gone into the war for, to Ireland. We are here to advocate the cause of Irish freedom, which has many meanings for the Irish, running into several grades: you have the freedom that England would give to India: you have the freedom which she has given to South Africa: you have the freedom that she would give — or rather she pretends she would give — to Ireland; but none of these grades of British Empire freedom will suit Ireland, and none of them Ireland will have; and the British press and American press wasting a good deal of their valuable space telling the Irish people that they ought to be satisfied with home rule.
President Wilson admits that all peoples had the right to determine their own future, and I presume the Irish are a people. Why, therefore, the silence? Silence would not be so bad, but why the underhand attitude against Ireland? As long as America fails to speak on behalf of Ireland, so long as she leaves Ireland out, so long must there remain a grave suspicion that there were other interests at stake in this war besides that of small nations in regard to the recruiting in Ireland.
Lord French, the little Tsar of Ireland, said that if there were not 50,000 men forthcoming, conscription would have to be put in force. The Irish people are making every effort to guard against conscription. They are using every effort to prevent their being taken into the British Army, or into any other army against their will, to be forced to fight for freedom in other countries, while it is denied their own, which is, I think the quintessence of slavery. But the Irish people, no matter how much they are forced, will never be conscripted. There is a slogan in this country ‘safety first’ and it is typically American; but in Ireland it is ‘principle first’. The Irish will never be conscripted as long as God leaves the breath in their body.
If it is attempted to be enforced, they will die. England has a sinister purpose in trying to get more recruits in Ireland: she is planning another plantation of Ireland when her soldiers return from the front. There is nothing that England will not do to hold Ireland. The conditions are the same now as in the days of Cromwell. The enemy is the same — but the spirit of the Irish is the same!
‘There is nothing that has happened to Ireland in the past that cannot happen to it again under the present government, but while we in America are trying to enlighten the American public, we know in our hearts that the administration of this country must know of these conditions, and we cannot understand why nothing is said. On every hand we hear of the glories of the Irish race, but my God, to judge them by the Irish in America, I would say they are the greatest moral cowards on earth.
‘There is still autocracy to reckon with’. Mannerchor Hall, New York, 19 November 1918
There is no need of my recapitulating recent events in Ireland, other speakers have done or will do that. But we know at this moment, in addition to those leaders held in English jails, there are over three hundred prisoners in Belfast jail alone for some trivial offences. And out of those three hundred, one hundred and fifty are at the moment lying ill with Spanish influenza and there is not a single nurse in the jail to look after them. There are two orderlies doing them with quinine, and of these one hundred and fifty many are down with pneumonia, and may at this moment be dying. And this is England who is fighting for small nations!
And worse, Madame Gonne MacBride, who is among the three women arrested in connection with Lloyd George’s plot, went into jail a healthy woman last May, and on October 30 she was released in a dying condition.
And meanwhile this country, America, this country that boasts of what it has done in the cause of freedom, holds its tongue on the question of Ireland. Its press is silent on the question of the barbarity of the British government in Ireland. And not alone that. And more than that, we might perhaps pass over its alliance, but it has been worse than that. It has condoned what has been going on in Ireland by its silence; at this very moment it is condoning what is going on in Ireland.
And worse than that. It has allowed minor officials — we do not know how minor they may be — to even join in this hue and cry after Ireland. We know that Irishmen who have been doing what they could do for Ireland in this country have been framed up, and we know that Americans who dared to speak for Ireland have also been treated in a shameful manner; and we are told no people may be forced to live under a sovereignty under which they do not wish to live.
England’s war aims at the present moment — what are they? To say they are the veriest hypocrisy would be mild indeed. We can take our old enemy Balfour when he voiced his opinion of one of President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, the that most vitally concerns England, the great question of the freedom of the seas, speaking to a crowd of Australians not so long ago he said, ‘under no circumstances is it content with the safety and unity of the British Empire that the German Colonies should be returned to Germany’. And with all the unctuous hypocrisy which England has used in justification in holding down Ireland he adds, ‘And please not that this doctrine is not an imperialist doctrine; it is one in which the interests of the whole civilised world are as closely concerned, or almost as closely concerned, as the interests of the British Empire itself.’
In other words, they look on the British Empire as the world, and the rest of the world can go to hell. And that British Navy League, an institution of British naval officers, in a statement issued in the early part of this year stated that on no account must Ireland get its freedom, because it would interfere with England’s conception of the freedom of the seas. It is claimed now that the war is over — that is, in the world. Ireland, of course, is outside the world; that autocracy has ended. We are told that thrones are tottering, and that no longer will militarism rule the world. There is still autocracy to reckon with. There is still autocracy in one of the associates of this country, in this war, and this country went into the war to end autocracy. But it has not ended it yet, nor probably won’t end it unless it turns on England.
The world is passing through great upheavals; revolutions are occurring almost every day. We have seen the great power of the Czar go; the Romanovs are gone; the House of Hapsburg is gone; the House of Hohenzollerns has gone, how long more is the House of Wettin going to last? There is great jubilation over the downfall of Prussian Junkerism and Prussian Militarism. How long will it be until there is the same triumph, until there is the same jubilation over the downfall of English Junkerism and English militarism?
Today we hear that England has at last made up her mind to settle the Irish question by granting Ireland Home Rule, but excluding Northeast Ulster. England stated that Ireland will get Home Rule, but that Northeast Ulster must not be coerced. And she has played up that Ulster question through her press and propaganda in this country until we are told today that there are two peoples in Ireland. There are not two peoples in Ireland: there are but one people in Ireland, the Irish People. If you want to prove it, ask the first Orangeman you meet; ask him if he is an Englishman and you will get your answer. Now, Ireland does not want Home Rule, and no matter what England may say she will not be satisfied. It does not lie in the power of the English to settle the Irish Question, it lies in the people of Ireland.
‘Never in the whole history of Ireland has there been such a time’, Central Opera House, New York, 5 January 1919
The dividing line, at least in Ireland, between MIP (Member of the Irish Parliament) and RIP has been a rather narrow one. We have met tonight to congratulate the people of Ireland on the wonderful victory they have gained, in expressing in no uncertain voice, their opinion regarding the future of their own country. They have exercised, in so far as lay within their power, the rights of self-determination and they have determined that Ireland shall and must be free and independent. The victory they have gained is a wonderful victory, and can be gauged best by comparing the Ireland of a few years ago, the slavish Ireland, the downtrodden Ireland is gone, and gone forever. The voice, the real voice of Ireland, has broken through the ring of silence that encircled the country, and it is reverberating around the world, causing joy and hope among the exiled children of the Gael, and causing joy and hope also, and giving encouragement to other oppressed peoples in India, Egypt and elsewhere.
The victory that has been won by Sinn Féin has vindicated Easter Week 1916; and it marks the end of a long reign of Anglicisation, and corruption — and the corruption followed as a result of the Anglicisation. It has ended the most shameful period in the history of Ireland, when at last the Irish people showed signs of people conquered. It has given evidence of the new spirit that has been infused into the country, and has shown that the Irish people possess every quality necessary to maintain themselves as an independent people, and has given every proof of their desire for their freedom and independence. It has raised the question of Ireland from one of mere party politics to the dignity of an international and worldwide principle. And it has once again demonstrated the truth of the old saying that no man can serve two masters; that the Irish people cannot be loyal to an Empire elsewhere and be loyal to their own country; that they cannot be Irish and English at the one time; that they must be wholehearted if the freedom of Ireland is to be won. And those who misinterpreted the aspirations of the Irish people, those who sought to lead them along the lines of imperialism and degradation, have been swept aside as those in the past who tried to the same thing were swept aside; and the people of Ireland have remained where they always remained — loyal to Ireland.
And the reign of terror that has existed in Ireland since the late war began has proved to be a failure and the invincible Irish nation has once again demonstrated to the world that it cannot be crushed. It was Carlyle I think, the English essayist, who said when asking the question, ‘what should happen to a mouse when it is in the way of an elephant?’ and he, giving the answer, said ‘Squelch it, by God squelch it’. And the British imperial elephant found the little mouse of Ireland in its way, and it raised its foot to squelch it, and stubbed its toe instead. The reign of tyranny to which I referred has now proved a failure — it filled the jails of Ireland with the best and bravest of the race; it sent some of the noblest of God’s creatures to the firing squad, and one to the scafffold — this reign of tyranny proved a failure.
Even at the moment, after the people have spoken in such unmistakable terms, the jails remain filled; the estimate of the number of those held in jail is in or about a thousand; and of those nearly one hundred are in England. The British government says they are interned — their word ‘interment’ means the same as imprisonment. And one of them them the other day owing to mistreatment and neglect, to the close confinement and terrible atmosphere in which these prisoners are confined, one of them the other day died in an English jail, with hardly a friendly hand near him — another martyr added to the long, long list of those who have died for Ireland.
The victory for which we meet to celebrate has not been an easily won victory, it has been hard; it was fought hard on both sides. On one side stood degradation, submission, doles, corruption: on the stood freedom, principle, and all that makes life glorious and beautiful. And on the one side, everything mean, underhand, unscrupulous and treacherous that could be done was done. The country is in the grasp of martial law, led by foreign soldiers, with hirelings everywhere to intimidate the people: with the leaders, the real leaders of the Irish people locked up in English and Irish jails, their voices gagged misrepresented and slandered abroad — thus, a nation went to the polls. But principle gained the day; and the wonderful organisation, that in spite of all the steps of the British government, has been maintained in Ireland – that wonderful organisation proved triumphant, and Ireland won by returning seventy-three Sinn Féin members against seven little Irelanders and twenty-five unionists — almost three-fourths of the representation of Ireland.
And those who have been selected will not go to the British House of Commons. They will not accept four hundred pounds a year from the enemy to fight that enemy with; but they will stand and they will meet in Ireland and endeavour to shape the destiny of Ireland in Ireland, and not from England. And in passing, let us not forget a good deal of this victory is due to that great body in Ireland, that has always been true to Ireland — the poor, the working people. Do not forget the attitude of Irish labour on the question of Irish independence, when, brushing aside their own interests, they withdrew their own candidates and at this election in favour of the Sinn Féin candidates, in order that Ireland might present a spectacle of unbroken unity. The sacrifices that the people of Ireland have made during the last four years are legion. Residing here in this country, it is hard, very hard, to have any conception of the amount of sacrifices that have been made in Ireland within the last few years. Never in the whole history of Ireland has there been such a time as the present. Never did the people display such self-sacrifice; never did they display such devotion to liberty and principle; never in the long age of English tyranny have the Irish people proved themselves more worthy of the inheritance of the tradition, of the principle to strive for Irish independence, that has been handed down for generation after generation.
The people of Ireland have shown themselves today to be an example, a shining, a bright example to the whole world, an example that could be copied with advantage everywhere. And now the work that lies before Ireland is hard. Ireland has won a victory, but not the great victory that we want; that we hope for, and believe in, the road to that victory that has to be travelled is hard and thorny still. Sacrifices innumerable will yet have to be made. Courage, dauntless and enduring, will be required; but the people have that courage, they have that endurance, they have started it to win and they are going to win.
Sinn Féin, what is it? What does it stand for? What does it represent? It is not a party as you regard in politics. It is the Irish nation. It is not composed, as a portion of the press here would have us believe, of more wild hot headed enthusiasts, nor is it composed on the other hand, as other slanders have tried to make it appear, of blackguards and cut-throats, or people of that ilk. But it is composed of the brains, the talent, the virtue, the best of the Irish nation. And it stands — as it is for this the people of Ireland have voted — it stands not for an Ireland within the British Empire, not for the acceptance of doles from the British government, not for a so-called freedom tied up in Imperial swaddling clothes, but it does for an Ireland free and independent from sea to sea, unshackled, unfettered, as the good God made it.
And those who have been elected — such of them that are not in jail, for thirty-six of them are in jail now, and several of them are on the run, wanted by the British government — such of them who can will meet in Ireland; they will convene a national assembly and they will present the case of Ireland to the Peace Conference. And from this day out in Ireland, principle reigns and expediency is gone. No more truck with the English government; no more recognition of British law in Ireland; no more recognition of English courts of injustice; and the withholding as far as possible of every cent of money from the Imperial treasury.
Already, English law, as it is called, is a farce in Ireland; for England may hold the country but she does not rule it. The Irish people are a force in the world today, a force or good, a force for democracy, for Ireland at this moment presents the spectacle of being one of the most democratic countries in the world. The people of Ireland are determined that their destiny shall be shaped not by a foreign government, but by themselves; they have determined that it is they who are going to settle the Irish question; that it is they that are going to have the last word on it not Chief Secretary Shortt or somebody else.
The Irish people are determined that no matter what the sacrifice — and they are prepared for every sacrifice that can come now — they are determined now that having set their feet on the path, they will not turn back; they have laid their hand to the plough, and they will not falter. They stand for the freedom of Ireland, the complete and absolute freedom of Ireland, for an Ireland unfettered, for an Ireland unshackled, for an Ireland working out its own destiny, shaping its own future, nourishing its children on its own soil. It stands for this in the face of England, in the face, if necessary, of the whole world. It stands for all these things in the face of all the powers of oppression, in the face of hog, dog and devil.