« PreviousContinue »
cause of this country that they should now take their position with the masses of their countrymen in organizing, as well as demanding, self-government for Ireland. If the movement for Federalism is to go forward, as I hope and believe it is, the form of the Irish Constitution must, within certain limits, be moulded by the views and opinions of those who take the lead in carrying the movement to a successful issue. If self-government is won by the people, without the upper classes—no man will expect that the new arrangements will be made with any particular regard to the privileges of those who will be looked upon as deserting their country. If the upper classes, on the other hand, take in that movement the place which every true-hearted Irishman is willing to concede to them, they will have their voice and influence in moulding these details upon which the practical working of any constitution must depend. That they should take no part in the coming victory of the Irish nation would be an injury to the cause of Ireland—but it would be a far deeper and heavier calamity to themselves.
But surely they, of all men, are the most interested in winning self-government for Ireland. In our own Parliament they would have the weight and influence which property and station and education are sure to command from the natural instincts of the Irish people. In the English Parliament they have none. If they have any fears of injustice being done them in an Irish Parliament, I have already pointed to those constitutional safeguards which are surely sufficient to prevent it. But if any security or guarantee can be devised that will give them further assurance, I venture to think that no Irishman will be found taking part in the national movement who will object to any that does not compromise the honour of his country.
Of all the fears that ever frightened men from their propriety, the most absurd is that which apprehends danger to
Protestant liberty from an Irish Parliament. It is more than absurd, it is unworthy of men strong enough with their own right arms to protect themselves against oppression. If ever there is an attempt to lower Irish Protestants from their rightful position, it will not be from an Irish Parliament that the attack upon them will come.
But with reference to these vague fears of danger to men's religion and property, especially the latter, let me ask those of the upper classes who entertain them, are they satisfied that their present position is one of security? Can they really believe that any English minister will ever burden himself with protecting them the moment that protection becomes inconvenient to English interests, or even to those of party? It is not in our present system of government that any reliable or abiding protection for any Irish right or interest is to be found.
But we live in times when men must look forward to the possibility of events which a few years ago were unthought of. It is impossible to look at the condition of England and of the world without gloomy forebodings, to which I, for one, do not wish to give definite form or shape. Who can tell the destiny that may, before many years pass by, await England herself? Will any one venture to predict that her greatness will never fall—fall by the aggression of foreign power, or, a worse fate still, be broken up by an outbreak of the infidelity and socialism that are spreading throughout her own land? The time may come when every Irishman would wish that we had in Ireland a Parliament and a Government which an English revolution could not touch, to guide the people and control the fortunes of our country. I am unwilling to pursue this train of thought, yet it is one that forces itself on every one who can read the signs of the times. These thoughts are suggested by a view of our position which concerns all classes of Irishmen. All I say is that events may occur in which it might be vital for the highest interests of Irishmen that
Ireland should have a constitution by which, when need arose, her separate nationality and her institutions might survive unharmed a shock that may yet shatter the fabric of Eng. land's governinent and power. It is not in the hour of peril and confusion that we might be able to give our national existence a constitution and a form.
But turning from thoughts like these—thoughts that may be prophecies, or may be but wild speculations—whatever is to be the destiny of England in the future, it is the interest as it is the duty of the upper classes of Irish society to place themselves in the front of a national movement for self-government. It is the opportunity of a reconciliation with the people which they may never have again. In the union of all classes of Irishmen we would have the best security for the peace and order of the country. It is in the well being and contentment of the people at large, that the only real safety for the privileges of rank or for the rights of property is to be found.
If a real, an earnest, and a united effort were now made to realize for Ireland self-government such as I have proposed, I believe the eyes of all Irishmen throughout the world would turn to it with hope. There are Irishmen—earnest and true-hearted Irishmen—who have been ready to stake all that is dear to them upon the desperate effort to obtain the redress of their country's grievances by force. There are thousands and tens of thousands of Irishmen who are ready, if the opportunity offered, to follow their example. But I am sure that the most determined and earnest of them would be ready to give up, or at all events suspend, these thoughts, and watch with patient hope and expectation, the result of any movement which would hold out the prospect of a real and honest effort peacefully to obtain selfgovernment for Ireland, and with self-government the blessings of freedom, prosperity, and peace.
Watching-watching anxiously and carefully-indications of things like these, I have believed that by an effort to obtain self-government under a Federal Union, we might not only in the end attain self-government, but in the means fit ourselves for it. To bring together in one combined national effort the separated classes of Ireland is in itself to reconstruct the Irish nation; it is to reform the broken and scattered elements of Irish society. We may win back to constitutional action the energies, and the virtues, and the heroism that would be wasted and wrecked in a wild attempt at insurrection—we may repair, wherever they are broken, the links of the religious union that bound the Catholic clergy and people together—we may reconcile the quarrels which have severed the owners and the occupiers of our soil—we may end those sacrilegious feuds which have kindled the most unholy passions in the name of holy things. All this, I have believed, might be done by placing before all Irishmen an object in which all may unite_by raising its image and its form above all the feuds and distractions that divide us—while in giving to our people the union of a common purpose, we might impart to them with it the dignity and grandeur of a united nation.
I believed a year ago that all this could be done in a movement such as these pages are written to promote. I believe so still, with an unwavering faith, if men can be found among us who can devote their time and energies to carry out these great and glorious objects, and who will pursue them with singleness of heart and with the wisdom which sincerity inspires. It is because I know and feel that such men can be found—they have been found—that with a good heart and courage I offer in these pages the little contribution of aid which I can bring to help them in a great and noble work.
THE DESTINY OF IRELAND.
I AM not content that this tract should be given to the public without the addition of a few pages which I know will, in the eyes of many, impress upon my views and opinions a visionary character. But without them this publication would convey a very imperfect and, therefore, in this instance, an untrue representation of my sentiments and thoughts.
It may appear to some that I take a low view of Ireland's future, because I am willing to ask for her a place, in some respects it may be, a subordinate one, in a confederation of the British Isles. This is not so. I have a faith, it may be a fanatical, but certainly an enthusiastic one, in a future for Ireland that will recall the glories of her ancient grandeur, and obliterate the traces of the centuries of miseries and humiliation which have intervened between that grandeur and our time.
I believe in that which is popularly called the destiny of nations—that is, I believe that nations are appointed to fulfil certain purposes in the great progress of the human race:
“There is a Providence doth shape their ends,
Rough hew them as they will."
I do not envy the man who can study history without feeling this—who can imagine that he is reading the records of detached human actions, or of human actions following each other in the natural and ordinary sequence of cause and