ANCIENT CURES, CHARMS, AND USAGES OF IRELAND.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO IRISH LORE.
No matter how far civilisation may have progressed in any country during the long lapse of ages, yet the beginning of the life of humanity was simple and uniform throughout the entire world.
Man formed implements to aid his own natural force, which is limited, and by their aid he has gradually made it almost infinite. To provide for his daily subsistence, he had to invent the axe, the wedge, the bow, the canoe, and if he had not made tools to help himself to sustain life, he would have remained far inferior to the animal creation in power and resources, though they are only guided by instinct.
Primitive man picked up the hardest flints, struck them together and produced fire. Then he shaped and fashioned the flint chips by the aid of each other, and with these first rude elements of human power he could hew wood, dig the ground, kill his prey, and make war, or defend himself from other tribes.
The flint axe was the first symbol in the history of humanity, it is contemporary with the mastodon, and is the oldest record of human work to be found on the face of the globe. There is nothing more ancient than this tool, and nothing more humble; yet archaeologists can read the history of the primal race by it, as the astronomers calculate the orbit of a planet from measuring an arc of the circle. The first chapter in human life was the Age of Stone; the beginning of all things; when men dwelt in caves, and with their implements of flint or wood slew the wild animals for food and made clothing of the skins, deftly sewn together with thongs, using a fish bone for a needle; or wove tunics of plaited rushes, and cut their mocassins out of untanned hide, sewn in a like manner with the sinews of animals. But primitive man had also abundance of oysters for his sustenance, as has been proved by the enormous mounds of oyster-shells still existing in Denmark, amongst which may be sometimes found, even now, the flint knives used by the cave-men for opening the nutritive bivalve.
The Age of Stone, when men cleared a path through the central forests of Europe with their stone axes, and fought for existence with the bear and the hyaena, may have lasted for countless ages, while the world was preparing for the Adamic race — the last and highest that has yet appeared on earth; but it seems almost certain that the cave-men, the antediluvian or pre-Adamic race, never attained to a more advanced grade, for no evidence of a knowledge of metals has been found amongst their remains.
Metal, for the most part, remains hidden in the earth and the rocks, and cannot be used without much, labour and dexterous manipulation; but stone lies at the feet of man, before his eyes, and by the simplest effort can be made into a tool or a weapon, from the rudest hatchet to the highly finished flint implement which has received the modern name of celt, from celtis, a chisel, though some people erroneously imagine from the word that the implement owed its origin to the Celtic race. But the Celtic people, from whom the Irish are descended, are infinitely dissevered from the lower primal race of the cave-men, and did not follow in their track till perhaps a thousand years after the men of the Stone Age had spread over the world and were passing into oblivion. The Celts, when they first reached the West of Europe from their Eastern home, were to a certain degree advanced in culture, and had the knowledge of metals, at least of copper, which in time they learned to combine with tin, and thus formed the beautiful bronze weapons and tools, of which so many hundreds have been found in Ireland, unsurpassed in any modern work for the brilliancy and beauty of the metal, which shines like burnished gold.
The Celts found the stone hatchet in the hands of the indigenous race, and adopted the form which they reproduced in bronze, and added to the weapons and tools they had already in use. The first furrows of civilisation were traced and dug by the primitive man with his rude stone implements and without the aid of metal ; but the higher race, the Adamic, seems, if we trust the Bible, to have had a knowledge of metals from the very beginning, and the Age of Copper was the first in date of the two great metallic ages; copper being comparatively easy to extract and to work. The Celts of Ireland used it for their weapons from the earliest dawn of history, and it was the first metal which became of importance to man, being smelted without difficulty, and even hammered into shape easily in its native condition. But finally, brass, like the stone that preceded it, gave place to a still more powerful metal, and the Age of Iron succeeded.
This metal produced an immense revolution in the world, and is the source of all the higher developments of human industry, for its power is illimitable and its uses are infinite; and modern life and civilisation date from the knowledge and employment of iron beyond that of any other metal.
Thus, in the history of humanity, the law may be formulated — the Age of Stone first, the Age of Iron last, the Age of Brass intermediate and transitional. And legend and mythology have a certain basis of truth when they divide the epochs of the world into the Age of Gold, of Brass, and of Iron. For the knowledge of gold certainly preceded that of all other metals. As Sir John Lubbock remarks in his important and valuable work, "Prehistoric Times:" "Gold was the metal which no doubt first attracted the attention of man, as it is often found on the surface, and in many rivers, and by its bright colour would certainly prove attractive even to the rudest savage tribes, who instinctively love colour and personal decoration." Silver was not in use until long after gold, and was preceded by both copper and tin; but gold was often used in its crude state for ornamental purposes by savage tribes, though it never was of importance to human life for industrial purposes. A few years ago a cave was discovered in Spain containing several skeletons, all clothed in tunics of woven rushes, but decorated on the neck and arms with bracelets and collars of crude gold pressed into shape; and one skeleton, who, perhaps, was the king or chief, wore in addition a circlet of gold round the head — but no gold has been discovered as yet in Ireland belonging to the Stone Age.
THE NEW RACES
The cave-men, who had originally made the world their own, and overspread the whole earth, seem at last to have entirely passed away, having fulfilled their mission, as pioneers of the higher humanity that was to come; and they finally became extinct, along with the mammoth and the mastodon, and the great Cervus Megaceros of Ireland, and the many other giants of land and sea, that were contemporary with the rudimental humanity of the first ages of life. So when the world was sufficiently prepared for the new race, the men of the Stone Age died out, leaving no descendants, and no other evidence of their existence save the silent but eternal symbols of stone, by which we can see how they lived and worked, and had their being, and take the measure of their mental standard, which, though the lowest of the human types, yet was not without some instincts of art and design, for they drew rude sketches on the walls of their caves, and their weapons had often a rude ornamentation, the product perhaps of their leisure hours.
The races that followed to people the world belonged to a new creation, a higher humanity; and to them we owe all, the great representatives of mankind iu history, and all the existing peoples of the earth. Chief amongst them may be named the Semitic, Teutonic, and the Celtic races — the Semite being always eminent for religion; the Teuton for conquest, rule, and power; and the Celt for art and intellect. The Celtic race that founded our own Irish nation, and from whom the Irish nature obtains all its peculiar characteristics, was the first to bring culture to Ireland, architecture, the symbols of writing, and the arts of weaving and metal work, along with a code of laws that trained the people to a sense of right and justice.
Intellect amongst them was deemed worthy of the highest honour; and while all Europe lay in darkness, the Celts of Ireland in the early Christian centuries were distinguished for their love of art and learning, and sent forth from their schools many a man of eminence to carry the torch of light through the world; and to this day in all the highest illustrations of intellect in Europe can be traced a strain of the Celtic blood.
It is remarkable that through all the lapse of ages, the distinctive characteristics of a race never change or alter. The Semite is still the priest, the Teuton the warrior, and the Celt the artist and poet of the world. Three thousand years may have passed by, yet the Semitic race stands, as of old, at the head of the highest religious code and doctrine. The Teuton has never ceased going forth conquering and to conquer, till nearly the whole world is now under his sway; and the Celt (with whom we Irish have a living affinity), is still the passionate poet and orator, the centrifugal force of the huraan polity, ever sending forth a rush of new thought into the world, to kiudle as with light and flame the hopes and aspirations of oppressed peoples and nations, and to arouse their energies for the holy war against wrong, and for the sublime cause of human right.
THE AMERICAN IRISH.
The Irish of To-day.
The record of Irish wrong is now, perhaps, scarcely remembered by the nation whose struggles for conquest so long made Ireland a land of mourning and woe; but the tale still lives in Irish hearts with enduring vitality. Every century has witnessed some fierce effort to throw off the foreign yoke, and every generation adds new names to the long roll of martyrs and victims doomed to suffer for the vain but beautiful dream of national independence. Exile, confiscation, the prison, and the scaffold form the leading chapters of Irish history, even to our own day — an endless martyrology written in tears and blood.
Yet, some good has come of the evil.
Many holy and sacred things spring up in a nation's soul from the seed sown by persecution. Suffering purifies and refines, and a people learns the value of coherence and unity mainly through oppression. There is also something ennobling in the love of an object out of self, in the devotion to an abstraction called Country; in this dream of freedom, with all the word means — dignity, honour, self-reverence, and self-respect. It will be a sad day, perhaps, for the higher national life when Ireland has no more dreams, and the country no more martyrs, for then an ideal will have passed out of the life of the people, and a nation without an ideal aim on which to concentrate the passions, soon becomes hopelessly materialised, inarticulate, and dull. The subtle, spiritual fancies, and the finer issues of human feeling, are stifled by the sensuous, selfish enjoyment of the actual and the present; and nations, as well as individuals, become hard and cold, without the divine impulse of sacrifice and self-abnegation. To the impassioned nationality of the Irisb, with its large indefiniteness of aim and instincts of resistance, may be also
due much of the fervour of Irish eloquence. All oppressed nations are eloquent. When laws forbid a people to arm, they can only speak or sing.
Words become their weapons, and the Irish armoury is always bright and burning. Nationality, this dream of an ideal future, illumines their poetry and oratory, their music and song, with a vague splendour of passion and pathos, and preserves even the common speech and popular literature of the people from the coarseness and vulgarity so obtrusively characteristic of the English lower classes.
Ireland, then, has some compensation for her sufferings; many fine-toned chords in the nature of her people, a gentle courtesy of manner that is almost reverential, and a power of winning sympathy and love which the stolid English organisation, with its plethoric prosperity and self-centred egotism, is entirely without.
It is remarkable, also, that wherever the Irish are located in other lands, they never forget the old country. It is still the Mecca to which their eyes are ever turned. Exile even seems to intensify their feelings, and the fearless oratory of passion glows with a fervour that would be impossible in the police-ruled country at home. In America, more especially, free speech knows no limit with regard to the past and future of Ireland. Irish festivals are celebrated there with words that clang like swords, while memorial rituals keep the martyrs of freedom for ever living before the eyes of the people. Armed clubs are named after the chief leaders of Irish revolt, and solemn processions mark the anniversary of each national tragedy, for there are no triumphs to record in Irish history.
The Greeks of old wrote the names of their heroes in letters of gold upon the walls of their temples; the Irish must search for the names of their heroes on the walls of a prison.
This consecration of revolt, this canonisation of the victims of rebellion, has a powerful influence on the young generation of American Irish. It kindles a bitter and deathless indignation in their hearts, and, like a warm gulf stream, the tide of their passion surges across the Atlantic to raise the temperature at home to the revolutionary heat, which, in these days, generally culminates in the endeavour to found a Republic. It is singular that the Irish may live for years in England, yet they never acquire the Euglish manner — calm, grave, and self-possessed; nor the English habits of order and routine; nor even the English accent — while in America they rapidly become Americanised, bold in speech, audacious in enterprise, self-asserting in manner, and, above all, Republican in sentiment.
No Irishman returns from America loyal to Monarchy. On the contrary, he laughs to scorn the old bonds of servile feudalism, with all its superstitions of class worship; and his opinions soon gain many followers. The American flag holds the place of honour at all popular demonstrations in Ireland, and is always greeted with enthusiastic cheers, while the flag of England is nowhere seen.
It was the American flag that waved over the liberated Fenian prisoners during the great torchlight procession in Dublin to welcome their return. The English flag was not visible anywhere.
These are some of the outward and visible signs of the rapid spread of American influence and Republican tendencies amongst the Irish people, and it is a natural result, considering the incessant intercourse, and the strong relationship existing between Ireland and America.
Year by year Ireland sends forth thousands of her people in the emigrant ships, like outcast weeds to be flung on the shores of America, a helpless crowd of crushed, dispirited, unlettered peasants; slaves and serfs who have never even known their rights as freemen, dulled by want, oppression, and despair; speaking, perhaps, no language save the ancient tongue of the primitive Celt, through which no new light of thought has flashed for a thousand years; seeing nothing, knowing nothing in all God's great universe save the two awful and irresistible forces that for them
rule earth and heaven, the landlord and the priest.
Silent and troubled, with the scared, sad look of the hunted deer, they gather on the beach amid the wild cries of their kindred, and sail away in the exile ship, with all its unknown horrors, to the unknown land beyond the sea, as if they were passing to another life through the gates of death. But, in the next decade the children of these serfs of the desolated lives, the bewildered brain, and the darkened soul, spring up at once to the level of the nineteenth century — ardent in purpose, fearless in word, eager for action, and filled with a glowing ambition to scale those heights which under a Republic are accessible to all who have intellect and daring. The past is not forgotten, but they stand on it as on a pedestal, from whence they take a wider survey of their position, and recognise the truth at last that life means something more to man than mere passive endurance of the negation of all things that build up a nation, or a human soul. They are no longer helpless, incoherent masses of ignorant and unorganised men, waifs driven by the storm-winds of despair, with only bitter memories, or vengeful hopes to guide, that, like torches held over an abyss by an uncertain hand, too often lead but to dismay and ruin.
The American Irish are the opposite of all this.
They receive a soldier's training, with full privileges of freemen and citizens. They are educated and organised; important by their numbers, and by that ready talent and indomitable spirit which is rapidly gaining for them the highest positions as statesmen, generals, orators, writers, and journalists in the States.
Laws and Governments have an immense influence upon the moral nature of a people, and help to create a national character as much, or even more, than the ethnical elements out of which a nation is formed. Under a Republic, men acquire those noble qualities of self -reverence, self-respect, and personal dignity, rarely found amongst oppressed races; and the Irish nature, so long trodden down and humbled, and made almost abjectly servile through fear and coercion and penal laws, gains a new force and sense of strength under Republican teaching that is like an awakening from a death sleep.
The vastness of America, the gigantic enterprise, the infinite extent of her resources, the boundless wealth waiting on every side for the skilful hand and the energetic brain, have a peculiarly stimulating effect upon the multitudes who have quitted a country where energy finds no work for hand or brain, and intellect has neither honour nor reward. The lassitude and languor induced by the utter stagnation of all things at home is thrown off, and men begin to feel that if they have the gifts to win success, they have also a right to share those splendid rewards which under a Monarchy are reserved almost exclusively for a favoured few, but which a Republic offers freely to all. And the American Irish are now powerful enough to command success. They have become a great and mighty people in the land of their adoption — a nation greater than the nation at home. There are twice as many Irish now in America as there are in Ireland. They form a third of the population of all the great cities, and are banded together in one powerful organisation by race, religion, memory, and hopes.
They have also one aim, which is to create a new era in the history of Ireland. This is the fanaticism of their lives — but they bide their time; the individual dies, the nation lives and waits. The English sneer down the idea; yet nothing will eradicate the splendid dream from the Celtic imagination that some day the Irish race will be powerful enough to recross the Atlantic with ships and arms and money, overthrow English rule, and annex Ireland to the great Federal Republic under the Stars and Stripes. And it must be confessed that the project is not wholly improbable or impossible, should there be some new arrangement of the nationalities of the world, for America needs a standpoint in Europe; and Ireland would form a capital Atrium for the unresting, eternally moving masses of the American people, who, having already swept along the whole coast of the Pacific, will soon be surging across the Atlantic to seek new homes. Indeed the subject has already been openly discussed, and even a suggestion offered that America should purchase Ireland from the English Government in a peaceable, orderly way; for con-sidering what a thorn in the flesh the Green Isle has ever been to England, the severance, it is thought, might be made without much grief on either side. Meanwhile, the American Irish boast of their ten millions, all ready to pour across the Atlantic when the fitting moment comes in which they can reconstruct their ancient motherland upon the newest Republican principles. We are accustomed to think of Ireland as only a nation of five millions, according to home statistics and census reports; but, including Australia with America, the Irish may be counted at eighteen or twenty millions; and in case of some violent European complication, or of war between England and the United States, it may be interesting to speculate on which side these millions would range themselves. Gratitude would bind them to America; they could never fight against the flag that sheltered them in their adversity, when evil laws and bitter tyranny forced them to abandon their own unhappy country; and they could scarcely be expected to show an enthusiastic desire to support England even at the sacrifice of their lives.
So tremendous a catastrophe, however, as war between England and the States will probably never happen; but revolutions may come silently and with spirit steps. Such a revolution, silent gradual, but certain, is now going on in the Irish mind abroad and at home, and some day the new ideas will find visible expression in perhaps a higher national life than any Ireland has yet known.
Education will create a new history; it is the force that above all others moulds the destiny of a people, and teaches them how to utilise their chances and opportunities. Hitherto the Irish have groped blindly after their ideal, which is National Independence — this is the magic phrase that binds them together as one people all over the world, as if it
symbolised a religion; and if they have striven for it through seven centuries of darkness and disorganisation, they are not likely to give it up now in this nineteenth century, when Liberty from the shores of America holds high her torch for men to read their rights by; and America has, in an especial manner, constituted herself the teacher of the Irish people. Lectures upon Irish history, poetry, oratory, and all that illustrates the genius, sufferings, wrongs, and destiny of the Irish, are the most popular of all subjects throughout the States, and attract eager and sympathetic crowds; for, strange to say, these subjects have also the additional charm of novelty. The Irish people are reared upon traditions, but have little accurate knowledge of their own history, while the upper classes are notoriously ignorant of it, with the exception of a few learned Academicians who study it curiously, as they do the Vedas, for mere ethnological or philological purposes.
The reason of this national ignorance is simply that Irish history is not taught in any of the schools of Ireland; not in the National schools, nor the endowed schools; nor is it included in the course at the Queen's Colleges or the Dublin University, to qualify for a degree. In Irish education, Irish history is steadily ignored by schools, academies, and colleges; a national annihilation that probably could find no counterpart in all the rest of Europe. Irish children may recite the kings of the Heptarchy, or the causes of the Punic Wars, but of the long, heroic struggles of their forefathers against foreign domination, they are taught never a word.
Naturally, the object of an alien Government was to extinguish the idea of a country; to degrade and obliterate heroic memories; to brand a patriot as a traitor, and nationality as treason; and in this manner the pride, self-respect, and self-reliance of the Irish people have been slowly murdered through the centuries — for strong and noble qualities like these are only found amongst a people who are taught the dignity of nationhood, and to reverence the men of their race who have toiled, and fought, and suffered for some great idea, or some sublime word. America, however, fully responds to the eager desire of the Irish amongst them for fuller know-ledge and clearer light. Many influential journals are almost wholly devoted to Irish subjects, and, the past and future of Ireland are discussed with a fearless audacity unknown here; for, as Emerson remarks: "There is a boundless freedom in the States, and people have been put to death in other countries for uttering what are but the commonplaces of American writers. One of the best of these journals is The Boston Pilot, edited by an Irishman, John Boyle O'Reilly, the distinguished author of "Songs from the Southern Seas," a series of wild, fierce tales of adventure, remarkable for startling originality of conception, nervous language, and a full flow of sonorous harmonies in the versification. Another journal of considerable critical ability, The New York Nation, is also edited by an Irishman, Mr. Grodkin, son of the author of "Ireland and her Churches," and other works. The Irish World, the favourite organ of the ultra-democratic party, has a fiercer inspiration, and openly advocates an armed invasion of Ireland, and the redistribution of all the confiscated estates. This journal is indeed so violently anti-English, and the illustrations are so bitterly sarcastic on the Eaglish Court (although with none of the revolting ribaldry permitted to appear in some of the London papers), that recently it has been stopped at the Irish Post Office, and the priesthood discourage its circulation amongst the people. It is, however, extremely popular with the extreme section of the American Irish, and is held to be a true exponent of their views.
Amongst the many works issued by the American press on Irish subjects, the most recent, and by far the most important, is the "History of the Successive Confiscations of Ireland," by Mr. Amory, including lists of the families whose estates were seized and divided amongst the English adventurers. The work has excited great attention in America, for descendants of all these families may be found in the States, and they are proud of their kinship with the old historic clans.
Mr. Amory, the author, an American of distinguished position, influence, and wealth, whose opinion is of the highest value, writes with much kindly feeling of the Irish, yet with fairness and moderation, while he states the truth boldly at the same time, with respect to English policy, as only an American may dare to do. "If Ireland," he says, "still remains turbulent and disaffected, the fault is due to England, who never strove to gain the love of the people, but crushed, and despoiled, and exterminated in place of affiliating.
Had Irishmen, "he continues," been left lords of their own lands, and not made bondsmen to strangers, they would have been the honour and "The Transfer of Erin," by Thomas 0. Amory. Lippencott & Co., Philadelphia, 1877.
An immense interest has been recently manifested in America on the subject of family history. Since the close of the war people have had little to do, and so have taken to heraldry, and we may soon expect a Columbian King-at- arms, and an American Debrett. safety of the united realm, and proved themselves, as they are in America, an intelligent, thrifty, law- abiding, brave, generous, and noble-hearted people."
And when the Irish have shown themselves so worthy of freedom, he considers it "base and unjust in the highest degree for English writers to pursue them across the Atlantic, casting obloquy on their nation, their history, and their traditions, with the sole aim apparently of lowering them in the eyes of the people -who shelter and protect them."
In the interest, therefore, of fair play, he undertook the work "to show the true nature of English rule from which sprang all the evils of Irish destiny." And ho has accomplished his task with great ability. Every page shows careful and extensive reading, and patient study of the involved and complicated details of Irish history, along with a generous, high-spirited feeling towards Ireland, that contrasts very favourably with the usual tone of English writers on the same subject.
In the early portion of the "History," he chiefly follows "the Four Masters," but he has also amassed material from many other sources, ancient and modern, so that his volume is really a condensed history of Ireland down to the time of Elizabeth, when the last gleam of independent sovereignty died out with the submission of the great O'Neill, after a ceaseless war of four hundred years between the two races. A second volume will tell the story of Irish confiscations from James I. to Cromwell and William of the Boyne; after which the gloom of the penal laws settled on the country, and the Irish had no more land to be confiscated, nor even a legal right to hold any land on their own soil. "For a far less amount of wrong," Mr. Amory remarks, "the Americans cast off the English yoke for ever, and proclaimed independence."
The early portion of Irish history is passed over slightly, for there were no confiscations prior to the Norman invasion. The land belonged to the clan, and the goods of life were abundant and shared by all alike. The condition of the Irish people was better a thousand years ago than it is now; the progress of civilisation makes the rich richer, but the poor poorer. They seem to have lived happily in those primitive days, with music and song and cosherings and feastings, where they drank at their banquets of "the best seven sorts of wine," and never a care troubled them save an occasional brush with the Danes, or with each other.
A thousand years ago the people of Ireland had their share in the cattle of the plains, the salmon of the rivers, and the deer of the forest; now the railroads carry off all the produce of land and rivers for export. The great proprietors in consequence grow wealthy, but the peasants are reduced to the level of a root-eating people, and never taste meat but twice a year — at Christmas and Easter. other, to keep their shields bright and their swords clean. Nor were they deficient in artistic culture; their golden diadems, torques, bracelets, and other personal ornaments were costly and splendid, and evinced a skill in workmanship rarely equalled in this day. Like the Greeks, they prized highly personal gifts, and their kings were chosen for their stature, strength, and beauty. Courage they esteemed as one of the noblest virtues, and victory the highest glory. "What do you desire?" asked Saint Bridget of a great chief. "Shall I pray that the crown may never depart from your race, and that your soul may find rest in heaven?" "I care not for heaven," he answered, "of which I know nothing, but for long life in this world, in which I greatly delight, and for victory over my enemies." And Saint Patrick, having questioned the king on the eve of battle: "Which will you have — for my prayers are powerful — defeat to-day and heaven for ever, or victory and hell?" received the emphatic answer, "Hell to all eternity; so the victory is mine to-day in the battle!"
When the Normans came, the Irish were no rude barbarians, as some English writers have endeavoured to represent them. They had a Christian civilisation of seven centuries; a learned priesthood, honoured throughout Europe; colleges for instruction, the resort of many Saxon princes; musicians eminent in their art above all others; and a code of wise, just laws, including evidences of much tender feelings towards the weak and helpless. Even in the pagan time a queen of Ireland erected a hospital near her own royal residence for the sick and those wounded in battle, and called it "The House of Sorrow." The many stately abbeys, the sculptured crosses, the illuminated manuscripts (which to the Normans seemed the work of angels) attest their wonderful sense of symmetry and beauty, and their reverence for all things pertaining to religion; while evidences of a still older art and culture exist in those mystic towers which Giraldus Cambrensis gazed upon with awe and wonder above six centuries ago, and which happily, though volumes have been written on the subject, still remain inscrutable, for nothing could be more revolting to the imaginative mind than the satisfactory solution of a world-old mystery.
Farther back, even in the very night of time, are the sepulchres of the Boyne, and the Cyclopean Temple of New Grange, relics of the same mighty race that dwelt on the Argive plain, and were the Cyclopean builders of Mycenae. Rude in art, but powerful in strength, their tombs stand to this day in all their awful and majestic grandeur in Ireland as in Greece, memorials of the great, silent race, that had no literature and no alphabet, but whose colossal symbols of expression were temples and tombs.
The Celts in many things have a strong affinity "with the Greeks, the highest honours were given to learning and poetry, and their music had the same subtle power ascribed to the Dorian measure, which had "such strange influence over the human soul, that the bards were often summoned to heal feuds by their divine harmony."
A people of this sensitive temperament, proud, passionate, and warlike, accustomed to think greatly of their race, who had owned the soil for nearly two thousand years before the coming of the Normans, and had never endured the yoke of the Cassars, nor the presence of a foreign enemy, save the pirate Danes of the coasts, was ill-fitted to bear the hard, insulting tyranny of English rule. The stolid Saxons had a different temperament, they were rapidly crushed, and humbled, and made the serfs of their Norman masters; and after a while they patiently accepted their fate, and became the traders, and toilers, and factory hands of the Empire, no man pitying them. It was evident that nature meant them for a destiny of inferiority, for a servile race, and so they have remained ever since, emphatically "the lower classes" of England.
The Celts, on the contrary, with their Greek nature, love glory, and beauty, and distinction, everything that is free and splendid, but they hate toil and despise trade. They were made for warriors and orators, for a life of excitement and daring, lit by swift impulses, fast and fiery as electric flashes. They will do anything for love or fame. They adore a hero, but they will never tamely submit to coercion, injustice, and a position of inferiority, like the apathetic, dull-brained Saxon.
It would indeed be impossible to find natures more entirely antagonistic than the Saxon and the Celt. The English live under method and rule laboriously and industriously, without excitement or ambition, and will even bear oppression, so as a chance of gain comes with it. They will manufacture muskets for their own country, or for the foreign army that fights against England, with equal readiness, and dispassionate commercial calm; and they will shout for war with the Turk or the Christian, or against them, not for the sake of God, but for the sake of cotton.
But of all races the Celt is the most easily led by the affections. If the people believe that their popular hero really loves Ireland, they would sacrifice their lives for him. The English are grateful for benefits to self, the Irish are grateful for sympathy with their country. When they say of a man, "He died for Ireland," the voice is low and tender, as if they spoke of the passion of Christ.
The great mistake of England was not trying to gain the love of this people. The Irish demand some visible personal object for their homage and devotion, but England's rule was only known to them through cruel Acts of Parliament, and to her demand for "gratitude" they might have answered:
"We, for all our good things, have at your hands — Death, barrenness, child slaughter, curses, cares, Sea leaguer, and land shipwreck, which of these —
Which shall we first give thanks for?
The Irish are naturally loyal, with an almost oriental abnegation of self, to those they love; but the English never cultivated their affection, and never comprehended the deeply reverential Irish nature, so full of passionate fanaticism, that sympathy with their ideal, whatever that may be, whether in politics or religion, is more to them
than if gold were showered upon their path; but as they never received sympathy or affection, but only taunts, insults, and penal laws, the history of Ireland, from the fatal year 1172 to the present hour, is the saddest in Europe.
Yet the first invaders conquered more through love than war. The Normans were a fine, brave, high-spirited race, one of the leonine races with firm noses, as Victor Hugo describes them, destined to conquer. They intermarried rapidly with the royal families of Ireland, and thus immense estates passed into their hands, many of which are held by their descendants to this day. The five daughters of Isabel, grand-daughter of King Dermot Mac-Murrough, had each a county for her dower; they all wedded English nobles, and it is remarkable that to this line can be traced all the highest names in the English peerage, the royal family of England, and, through the Stuarts, all the leading crowned heads of Europe.
The Norman Irish, the descendants of these mixed marriages, grew into a splendid and powerful race, the Geraldines at their head. Queen Elizabeth came of this blood through her mother and the Ormonds, indeed, Mr. Hepworth Dixon imputes the fascinations of Anne Boleyn to this Irish strain; and the Irish gradually came to love these Norman nobles who lived amongst them, adopted their speech and dress, and often fought with the clans against England. But these strong bonds of friendship soon excited the jealousy of the English kings, and it is a singular fact that the first coercion laws in Ireland were enacted to break this amity between the two races. Marriage was strictly forbidden with the Irish, and fosterage — for the children grew so fond of their foster kindred, that they often refused to leave them, and renouncing allegiance to England, adopted the Irish mode of life and dress. But no laws were found adequate to prevent intermarriage. Even Spenser, the poet, when he came over to receive three thousand, acres of the forfeited estates, took to wife an Irish girl, whose portrait he has sketched so prettily in the "Epithalamium;" and all Cromwell's troopers, when they settled down with their land warrants, married Irishwomen, despite the severest penalties. Then a new danger alarmed England, for the children of these marriages spoke nothing but Irish, and complaints were made by the officials that the English tongue was almost dying out in Ireland; farther efforts "were made in consequence to force the English settlers to put away their Irish wives, but in vain.
Thus a second mixed race sprang up in Ireland, still known as "the Cromwellian Irish," strong Protestants, but Liberal in politics, and rather Republican in theory. Meanwhile the Irish disdained to use the language of the invaders, or adopt their dress, for "the tribes of Eriu ever hated foreign modes." The English kings sometimes sent over presents of costly robes to the great chieftains, but they refused to wear them; and Shane O'Neill appeared at the Court of Queen Elizabeth in the long flowing yellow mantle, brooched with gold, after the Irish fashion, and addressed her Majesty in Irish, which sbe was ungracious enough to say resembled "the howling of a dog." When asked to confer in English with the Commissioners, he replied, indignantly: "What! shall an O'Neill writhe his mouth in clattering English? "The husband of Grana-Uaile, a De Burgho, could speak French, and Latin, and Irish, but no English; and one frequently reads in the annals of some Norman noble, who swore brotherhood with an Irish chieftain, and assumed the Irish dress, and Irish speech, in sign of friendship.
In order therefore to crush more completely the tendency to union between the two races, drawn together by sentiments of chivalry and love, a policy of the most insulting degradation was adopted towards the Irish of the Pale. They were forced to give up their old historic names, and assume hideous and unmeaning surnames, from colours, as black, white, gray, green, brown; or from fishes, as salmon, cod, haddock, plaice; and every other stupid appellation that malice could invent, and by which the old associations of noble descent might be obliterated. They were also excluded from all places of trust and honour; the son had to follow his father's trade, lest by some chance he should rise in the social scale; and at all times it seems to have been held a praiseworthy act to kill an Irishman, without let or hindrance, fear of law, or punishment of the slayer. The Norman nobles who sided with the clans were also persecuted, and great portions of their estates were given over to a new lot of English colonists less friendly to the Irish. The Geral dines especially, being the most powerful, were treated with most severity. In the reign of Henry VIII., six nobles of the Geraldines were executed in London for aiding rebellion amongst the Irish, but even this bitter vengeance could not quench their national zeal. From Silken Thomas to the fated and interesting Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the great house of Kildare has always been on the side of the Irish nation.
The war of races lasted without intermission for four hundred years, dating from the invasion until the fall of O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone, the last independent prince of Ulster. Then followed the still fiercer war of religions, which has not even yet ended. Queen Elizabeth resolved that the Irish should become Protestant, and burnings, massacres, and devastation were the persuasive means employed.
All who would not conform were driven from their homes, and left to perish in the bogs and woods where they tried to find a shelter. All the South was confiscated and divided amongst a set of Protestant English adventurers. The Irish were cast forth to die, and the horrible work of destruction went on until even the Queen complained that she would soon reign only over ashes and corpses.
Spenser, the poet, has left a vivid description of. The Rev. 0. P. Meehan has graphically described this memorable epoch of Irish history in his admirable volume entitled, "The Flight of the Earls." the state of Ireland at that time. He describes the land as "the fairest upon earth," but the people wandered about like ghosts from the grave, house-less and starving, and all the roads were strewn with the unburied dead.
When King James came to the throne the Irish had a gleam of hope. He was a Stuart of the line of their ancient kings, and they looked for tenderness at his hands for the sake of his Catholic mother; but the hope was vain. The war of religions waxed fiercer, and the persecution was more bitter and cruel. Queen Elizabeth had confiscated the South; King James confiscated the North, and handed over the fishful rivers and broad lands of Ulster to the Worshipful Fishmongers of London, who rejoice in their possession even unto this day. And again, massacres, burnings, and devastation were the means employed to get rid of the unhappy natives of the soil. It was not wonderful that a terrible vendetta should be the result.
In the memorable year 1641 the Irish rose en masse, headed by Lord Maguire, Earl of Enniskillen, with the avowed object of sweeping all the English out of the island at once, seizing Dublin Castle, and proclaiming a national independent Government.
But the project failed, as all projects against English power have failed in Ireland. Lord Maguire was captured and brought over to London for trial. He was but twenty-six (the leaders of revolutions are all young), and he met his fate with the calmness of a martyr for religion. When they teased him with taunts upon Romish doctrines, and advice to abjure them, he only answered: "I pray you, gentle- men, let me have peace that I may pray." He earnestly pleaded to be tried by his peers in deference to his rank, and to be beheaded in place of being hung: these requests were denied, and having been degraded from his title of Lord Enniskillen, which afterwards was conferred upon one of the Cole family, he was drawn on a sledge from the Tower through London, and on to Tyburn, where, being removed into a cart, he kneeled down and prayed, awhile, and so was executed. The war of religions went on with still increasing bitterness during the Republican period between the Irish, who held for King Charles, and the Parliamentary forces, until Cromwell himself at last appeared upon the scene, and stifled Royalists and Catholics alike in a bath of blood. South and North had already been confiscated. Cromwell completed the work by confiscating all the rest of Ireland. His policy was extermination, and this he carried out with a ruthless ferocity that has made; An interesting novel founded on the rising of 1641, entitled "Tully Castle," by Mr. Magennis, of Fermanagh, has recently appeared. The hero is Lord Maguire, and the trial scene and his tragic death are drawn with much power and minute accuracy of detail, his name eternally abhorred in Ireland. "The curse of Cromwell on you" is the bitterest malediction a peasant can utter even to this day.
The Irish were the Canaanites to be hewed down branch and root. Had the nation had but one neck he would have struck it off. The priests were massacred by hundreds, the nobles were driven into exile, the women and children were sold in thousands as slaves to the West India planters.
The whole of the land was seized, and five million acres were parcelled out by lot to his troops in payment of their arrears of pay.
The bleakest portion of Connaught alone was reserved for the remnant of the Irish people amidst the wild, treeless mountains of the West, and thither the fugitives were driven during all the rigours of winter, with orders not to approach within five miles of the sea under penalty of death — the object being to shut up the last survivors of the Irish nation from all intercourse with the world, and, if possible, to extirpate them wholly by famine and sickness.
One should read this tragic tale of the uprooting of a nation in Mr. Prendergast's great historic work, "The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland" No nation ever endured greater horrors, and no people.
One of the most valuable contributions which this age has given to Irish history, and perfectly trustworthy, being compiled from authentic sources and State papers, but the Irish could have survived them. The land remained untilled, the cattle and corn were destroyed, and food had to be imported from "Wales for Cromwell's soldiery. A court-martial sat in St. Patrick's Cathedral, and all delinquents who refused to go to Connaught were hanged, with a placard on the breast, "for not transplanting." The corpses of the slain and the famine-struck were flung into the ditches; multitudes perished from want, and the roads were covered with the unburied dead.
The wolves came down from the mountains in such numbers to seize their prey, that travelling became dangerous because of them. Then a price was set on the wolves and on the men who still wandered about the woods and bogs near their ancient homes — five pounds for the skin of a wolf, ten pounds for the head of an Irishman, even twenty pounds if he were distinguished; still the heads did not come in fast enough, and a free pardon was then offered to any Irishman who killed another and brought his head to claim the reward.
At length Parliament interfered, with a suggestion that it were better not to extirpate the whole nation, but to leave some to till the ground, as the Commissioners reported that four-fifths of the richest land lay waste and uninhabited.
The English had now been governing Ireland for five hundred years, and this was the result. The accession of James II., however, promised better times. He was a Stuart and a Catholic, and the Irish always clung with fatal fondness to the Stuart race, as being of their own blood. But loyalty had no better fate than disaffection. They had leagued with Spain for the sake of King Charles; they now leagued with France for the sake of King James. Cromwell avenged the first, and William of Orange the second attempt to support English royalty by foreign arms; and after the decisive conflict of 1688 a deeper darkness settled upon Ireland. The policy of Elizabeth and her successors was confiscation; that of Cromwell extermination, but the policy of King William, or rather of his Parliament, was degradation, for the penal laws meant social and moral death; and statesmen then sedulously set themselves the task of debasing a whole people below the level of humanity. As a hero, William loved heroism; and the splendid valour of the Irish, their devotion to their king, their country, and their faith filled him with wonder and admiration. "Give them any terms they ask," he wrote to his generals at Limerick. And when twenty thousand of the best and bravest in Ireland went forth from the surrendered city and ranged themselves under the French flag, to pass from thence into the armies of his hereditary foe, how bitterly he regretted that such men should be driven into exile, or degraded to slaves if they remained at home. Earnestly lie offered them everything men naturally desire — rank, wealth, a position as high in his army as they held in their own, if they would only enter his service. But the Irish heeded not; they kneeled down reverently to kiss the Irish soil for a last farewell, and then passed on to the ships amidst such lamentations as never were heard before in Ireland, and sailed away from their native land never to behold it more.
The laws of William's Parliament were cruel, but those of Queen Anne were ferocious. No other nation ever invented a code so fitted to destroy both soul and body. The son was set against the father, brother against brother, for the law decreed that the informer and betrayer should be rewarded with the estates and property of his victim.
During the whole of the eighteenth century this atrocious code was endured by the Irish without any open revolt; but at last the bitter indignation of the people burst forth in the great rebellion of 1798 — a movement, strange to say, which originated with the Presbyterians of Ulster, the descendants of the Scotch settlers of King James. Their object at first was simply to repeal the infamous. "The History of the Irish Brigade," by Mr. O'Callaghan, gives a full account of the fate and fortune of these distinguished Irishmen and their descendants. Many of them founded noble families on the Continent, as the MacMahons of Prance, the O'Donnells of Spain, the Nugents, Taaffes, and O'Reillys of Austria, and many others, penal laws, but gradually the organisation became Republican under French influence, and the leadership of the fated Lord Edward Fitzgerald.
How the rebellion was put down is still fresh in the minds of the people, for the generation is not yet extinct whose fathers witnessed the atrocities practised.
The pitch cap was the favourite amusement of the English soldiery; piles of these caps were kept in readiness at the barracks, and when filled with burning pitch one was pressed tightly on the head of the victim, who, half-blinded and maddened by the agony, was then turned out to run the gauntlet of his savage tormentors until he dropped dead amidst their shouts of ferocious laughter.
Gunpowder was rubbed into the hair and then set on fire; the ears were cut off; priests and gentlemen of station were half hung to extort information. Irish vengeance in return was often fierce and terrible, but deliberate torture does not seem to have been practised at the rebel camp, and many impulsive acts of generosity in saving life are recorded of the insurgents.
On the day the rebels entered "Wexford, the rector, Archdeacon Elgee, my grandfather, assembled a few of his parishioners in the church to partake of the sacrament together, knowing that a dreadful death awaited them. On his return, the rebels were already forcing their way into his house; they seized him, and the pikes were already at his breast, when a man stepped forth and told of some.
At length '98 was put down; seventy thousand Irish lay dead, hut the penal laws remained un-changed. The Irish Parliament at last began seriously to consider the disaffected state of the nation. Splendid men of genius and high purpose rose up to denounce wrong, injustice, and tyranny and the most magnificent advocacy of a people's rights ever uttered was heard in the Irish Parliament just before its fall. But the answer England gave to the noble appeal of the Irish patriots was brief and decisive; she simply annihilated the Parliament, and the voices of the prophets of freedom were heard no more.
The degradation of Ireland was now complete.
After the Union, the palaces of the nobles were left desolate; wealth, spirit, enterprise, all the brilliancy of social and intellectual life vanished from the capital; the various trades died out one by one; literature became extinct; the publishing trade, once so vigorous and flourishing, almost entirely disappeared; the currents of thought and great act of kindness which, the Archdeacon had shown his family.
In an instant the feeling changed, and the leader gave orders that the Archdeacon and all that belonged to him should be held safe from harm. A rebel guard was set over his house and not a single act of violence was permitted.
But that same evening all the leading gentlemen of the town were dragged from their houses and piked by the rebels upon Wexford Bridge energy set to London, and have continued to flow there ever since, draining the life-blood of Ireland to fill the veins of England, and all that makes a nation great and strong and self-respecting was annihilated.
With splendid eloquence the great orators, Grattan, Plunkett, Bushe, denounced the evils of the Union, and their burning words have fed the flame of disaffection to it ever since, but with little result. Concessions, indeed, were made at last, but they came tardily and grudgingly. It is only within a few years that Catholics have been admitted to social and political equality with Protestants — the Catholics of to-day are the children of the bond-slaves of yesterday; they were born in fetters, and the concessions of England, as they generally do, came too late for gratitude from the embittered hearts of a long oppressed people. But the Irish themselves are also much to blame; their efforts are never organised with the strength and unanimity that produce great results. Religious animosity is the upas tree perpetually distilling its fatal poison upon every broad and liberal project of national advancement. The great French Revolution overthrew the feudal tyranny of a thousand years. Freedom was purchased with much blood, still it was gained; but Irish revolt against oppression only strengthened the fetters; the love of liberty that originated the movement soon degenerated into a rabid hatred of race and creed, and no good fruit has ever grown upon that evil tree.
Other nations have had their seven years' war, or thirty years' war, but Ireland has carried on an utterly unavailing war of seven hundred years, and even yet scarcely recognises the truth that to raise Ireland to the splendid position in the Empire to which she is entitled, there should be a clear, dignified programme of measures, to which all noble natures could say Amen, and the united action of a whole people to obtain their fulfilment. Disaffection is not an evil where wrongs exist, it is the lever of progress, but incoherent disaffection only scatters and weakens the energies of a people. This is painfully evident in Ireland at the present time, when a mournful and hopeless stagnation rests upon all things; the professions languish, the nobility are absentees, the commercial classes are merely agents for the English manufacturers; there is no stimulus to work, no career, no rewards for intellect, no wealth to support art or literature; and every young man of education and culture must look abroad for a fair opening for his gifts, and be content to leave Ireland to her destiny as a mere cattle-pen for England, and a co-operative store to sell her surplus goods.
The ignorance of English statesmen, also, respecting the needs, the history, and even the existing condition of the people, has been highly prejudicial to the country. No large, liberal measures are ever thought of as a remedy for acknowledged "disaffection." Complaint is answered by a coercion bill, and the only remedial act is to proclaim a district. Lord Beaconsfield, though Prime Minister, never visited Ireland, and knew so little of the country he governed — a country that has been devastated, plundered, and three times confiscated, and reduced by want and famine from eight millions to five millions during the last thirty years — that he imputed all the discontent of the Irish solely to their position beside "the melancholy ocean."
English statesmen might study with advantage the mode by which the Greeks, the great colonisers of the ancient world, gained the love of all peoples.
Like England, the Greeks carried on extensive commerce with many strange nations, but they never sought to exterminate; they humanised.
Their trade swept by many shores, but not to destroy, or burn, or ravage. They opened bazaars, they built temples, they planted corn, and erected factories. If they wanted land they took it, but civilised the people, and drew them up into their own higher civilisation; they gave their wine and oil for the corn and flax of the stranger, but still more, the wine and oil of their own richly gifted intellects, and they freely intermarried with the foreign peoples, especially with the Celts, between whom and the Greeks there was ever a strong affinity of nature, temperament, and character.
So they passed on in ceaseless migration, founding states wherever they landed, but leaving every state to be self governed, though bound to Greece by the strong bonds of love and gratitude.
Above all people, the Greeks seem to have been endowed with the gift of personal fascination; the English as a nation have none of it, though capable of splendid acts of individual generosity. The colonists were proud to be called Greek, and felt a pride in the triumphs of the Greek name; but in Ireland the word Sassenach inspired only fear, and dread, and hatred. The English strove to crush the mind of the subject race, knowing that culture is power, but the Greeks gave civilisation and refinement, art, science, and philosophy. They conquered by their divine gifts, and the colonists in return glorified Greece by their genius; wherever the Greeks passed they left a trail of light, but England a trail of blood.
England never had a divine idea in the treatment of nationalities, least of all in Ireland.
Nothing grand or noble in policy was ever thought of to lift the people to their true height.
Self was the only motive power; greed of land, greed of wealth the only aim; the lust of gold everywhere, the love of God nowhere; spoliation and insult the only policy; the result being that no nation has ever been so unsuccessful in gaining the love of subject states as England. It is told of the Emperor Aurelian that having decreed the destruction of the city of Tyana, the philosopher Apollonius appeared to him in a dream and said:
"Aurelian, if you would conquer, abstain from the destruction of cities; Aurelian, if you would reign, abstain from the blood of the innocent; Aurelian, if you would be loved, be just and merciful".
It is strange that royal races so seldom seem to understand that their only claim to loyalty is in so far as they promote the good of the people. In the government of a nation there should be one thing steadfast — Right; one thing ever sacred — Truth; one thing ever manifested — Love; but this is a gospel seldom preached by statesmen. The prosperity of a country means to them its commercial value, not the moral elevation of the souls committed to their charge.
But no doubt there is also some instinctive antagonism, or deficiency of sympathy between English and Irish nature, to account for the eternal war of races, and religions, and temperaments through so many centuries. The English are half made of iron, like their soil; robust, stern, steadfast in purpose, without illusions, without dreams, without reverence; but in the soft, relaxing air of Ireland, the energies of the people are only stirred fitfully, like the sudden storms of their own mountain lakes. There is no persistent force, and the utter stagnation of life, the absence of all motive to exertion forces the people to live in the past, or the future, rather than energetically in the present.
They are always dreaming that to-morrow will give them all they require, for to-day gives them nothing. The English, on the contrary, in their full overflowing life of the present, have no time for vain lamentations over the past. What Englishman now cares for the devastations of the Commonwealth, even with its solemn tragedy of a king's death, or for the deadly struggle of Guelph and Stuart? The exports of cotton and the price of corn are more to them than the story of all the dynasties since the Conquest. They never loved any of their kings. They have no popular idol in all their history. No great historic fact has become part of the national life. No lofty aspiration inspires their oratory. They live wholly in the sensuous and the actual. The Irish live on dreams and prayer. Eeligion and country are the two words round which their lives revolve.
The frame-work, also, is different in which their souls are set. The factory smoke is so thick in England the people cannot see heaven. In their hard industrial life their eyes are never lifted from toil; in their ears is only the rush of the wheels and the stroke of the hammer; and the air they breathe is the poison dust of a world-wide commerce. But the Irish, without manufactures or commerce, or anything to do save tend the cattle for English food, can at least live, as it were, in the visible presence of God, in the free enjoyment of lake and river, and mountain unsullied by the smoke of labour. The world above is a reality to the Irish peasant. No people have more intense faith in the unseen. It is their religious temperament, so childlike in its simplicity and trust, that alone makes their life of privation endurable, and enables them to meet all sorrows, even death itself, with the pathetic fatalism expressed in the phrase so often heard from peasant lips, "It was the will of God."
The round, stolid English head, and pale, cold eyes, denote the nation of practical aims, a people made for commerce and industry; while the small oval head of the Celt, and deep, passionate eyes, denote a people made for religion and art; and, therefore, the greatest mistake ever made by England was the endeavour to force the Reformation on a people like the Irish. Protestantism, without art, or beauty, or ritual, or symbol, or reverence, suited the self-asserting, dogged egotism of the English. The right of private judgment means to them simply that every man is as good a judge as the parson, or better. The stolid parishioner pays the clergyman to do a certain duty, as he pays the doctor and the lawyer, but no sanctity surrounds the Protestant priesthood.
The Reformation was a genuine outcome of Saxon nature; a rude revolt against grace, refinement, the beautiful, and the mystic; a cold appeal to the lowest level of the understanding; not a sublime and unquestioning acceptance of an awful revelation from the lips of a consecrated priesthood.
Both in religion and politics the Irish need the visible symbol. Their ideal must be impersonated in some form they can reverence, worship, and love.
What sad Irish mother, with her half-famished children round her in their miserable cabin, could bear with life day by day without the infinite trust in the Divine Mother who, she believes, is watching over and pitying her? What could Protestantism with its hard scholastic dogmas do for such a people? In place of the Divine Mother, the solemn emotional ritual, the mystic symbols of altar and cross, they were offered the abstractions of theology in the Thirty-nine Articles; while, with the blasphemous boast that it was the work of God, their stately and beautiful abbeys were plundered and made desolate, where, not self, but the abnegation of self, was the pure ideal of the high ascetic life, and in their place were set up the bare, bleak, whitewashed parish churches.
The Irish, however, found no comfort in the Thirty-nine Articles, and would not enter the parish churches. They preferred to die, and so thousands of them were slaughtered with their priests, and the rest were degraded to pariahs in their own land; still, through all the fires of persecution, they clung to their ancient faith, with a fervour that makes the devotion of the Irish to their creed and priesthood, during the bitter martyrdom of three hundred years, one of the most touching chapters in all human history.
But new paths opened through the darkness.
God has many agents by which peoples and nations are driven forth to be trained and educated by strong, fresh influences. They seem evil at first, yet it is by such means — war, pestilence, and famine — that the human race has been made to drift on, ever westward, during the last three thousand years.
The terrible famine that came upon Ireland was one of these agents of God. A million perished miserably, but a million also of the people emigrated.
The Irish peasant was forced at last to rise up from his tireless hearth and blighted fields, to seek a new home across the ocean. From the dismal death-in-life of his wretched existence, with a frame wasted by hunger, and a soul lying torpid in bonds, he was sent forth to gain wealth, power, freedom, and light by contact with a great people of illimitable energies, who needed his toiling hand in exchange for their gold, to build up the chain of cities from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and to lay the rails that span a continent for the traffic of the world.
What may be the future of the much tried, but ineffaceable Irish race, none can tell. No definite line of action has yet been formed, but a people who are learning, under the teaching of America, the dignity and value of human rights, are not likely to acquiesce tamely in the degraded position Ireland holds in Europe, decay stamped on her cities and her institutions, helpless poverty on her people, who yet own a country larger, richer, and better placed for all the purposes of commerce than half the autonomous States of Europe. The Irish never forget their motherland or give up the hope of national independence; even amongst the kind-hearted Americans they have not eaten of the lotus that makes tbem forget Ithaca. But the regeneration and re-creation of Ireland will not come through "Home Rule" as understood by its present supporters and leaders, if, indeed, that hollow fiction is not even now almost extinct. No one can seriously believe that the Irish nobles will ever come back to their ancient palaces, or the Queen take up her residence at Dublin Castle in a desolated city and a land of poverty, torpor, and universal decadence.
"Home Rule," with its old feudal distinctions of class and caste, is looked upon with bitter disdain by the advanced party in Irish politics, and it will never be galvanised into life again by any amount of platform platitudes.
A National Convention, with supreme power over all that concerns Ireland, and control of the revenues, to be composed of members elected by universal suffrage, and secured in power for a definite time, is the idea most prominently set forth now by the American Irish. Of course a National Convention without the command of the revenues of the nation would be a cheat and a delusion, for the power to make laws and decree improvements would be of little avail as long as the revenue of Ireland was poured into the treasury of another country.
The new movement will have a larger and more comprehensive aim than the mere "Repeal of the Union." The American Irish, with their bolder views, desire to create a new system of things, not merely to resuscitate the old, for it is not from the shrivelled rags of effete worn-out ideas that a people can weave the garment of the new age. The new wine must be poured into new bottles; and a higher object even than to increase the material prosperity of a country is to create the moral dignity of a people, to bring the torpid, slumbering energies of Ireland within the influence of the powerful electric forces that everywhere else are stirring humanity into new life.
The influence, however, must come from without; Ireland alone and unaided has never yet accomplished one of these great revolutions such as France, Italy, and England have had, that sweep off at once the accumulated evils of centuries, because Ireland has no firm organisation, and therefore no power, only a vague nameless discontent, only a bitter sense of wrong. One thing, however, is certain: there is a stir in men's minds now that is a prophecy of change; the feverish unrest that has driven the young generation of Ireland to America will one day drive them back again all alight with her ideas, and ready to proclaim that in a Republic alone is to be found the true force that emancipates the soul and the life of man.
England should have counted the cost before compelling the Irish people to take shelter in the arms of the mighty mother of freedom.
Yet there is nothing to alarm in the word "Republic." It simply means the Government of common-sense for the common good. Every one is wearied with the old system of things, and all long to throw off the iucubus of prejudice, and routine, and fetish worship, and to start afresh on a new career under new condition.
The American Irish are eager to join this world-wide movement, which is straining towards a goal set far beyond all merely local aims, or the progress of one's own race and country.
America is the great teacher of the nations, and her lessons will eventually lead the world. In '98 American ideas overthrew the thousand-year-old Monarchy of France, and they will probably over-throw the Monarchies of all Europe in time. The next great movement in Ireland will not be a rising of the peasantry against the police, it will be as a part of the European struggle of the masses against a dominant minority. Lines, like hidden electrical wires, of Republican feeling, traverse unseen the whole soil of Ireland; a touch will wake them into action.
What the unknown future may bring, none can predict, but another half-century will witness assuredly a new order of things in society and politics. One can hear already the low murmur of the advancing waves of change, and in the endless mutation of all things, Governments, and peoples, and ideas, even Ireland may hope that change will bring progress. It is given to every nation once to touch the zenith, and perhaps the hour of her advancement draws nigh.
But whether the change will come through the clash of war or the peaceful organisation of a great European brotherhood of freedom, none can say.
The great world-movers of the future will probably cast down before they build up. The iconoclasts will precede the constructors, and the present time is emphatically iconoclastic.
All the old-world opinions, dogmas, traditions of custom and usage, all the cumbrous machinery of old-world life and political systems, have been flung into the crucible of the critics and philosophers; but what the residuum will be when the dross is eliminated, who can say?
We can but read the signs of the times, not strive after vain prophecies. It is important, however, that those who rule the nations should study diligently the tendencies of the age throughout Europe, while to England it is of special importance to study the influences from America that are so powerfully affecting the tone of Irish thought, for Ireland may yet be the battle-ground where the destinies of the Empire will be decided. The American Irish are prepared for any effort, any sacrifice to obtain the autonomy of Ireland — that natural right of self-government which, as Mr. Gladstone says, belongs to all peoples.
Peril and danger may be in the way, but they accept and brave all consequences.
They wait beneath the furnace blast,
The pangs of transformation;
Not painlessly doth God recast,
Or mould anew a nation.
Meanwhile England, all-powerful England, may effect a social revolution peacefully, and without any danger to the integrity of the Empire, if wise and just measures are organised in time for the true advancement and prosperity of Ireland; and the Irish people, in return, will stand faithfully by England in those hours of peril which seem gathering in clouds of darkness upon the horizon, and threatening dangers which only a united Empire can meet and overcome.