Thomas D'Arcy McGee, Historical Sketches of OConnell and his Friends, with a Glance at the Future Destiny of Ireland. 3rd ed. Boston: Donahoe and Rohan, 1845. 196-205.
A GLANCE AT THE FUTURE DESTINY OF IRELAND.
The destiny of a people is in a
great measure, indeed nearly altogether, the work of their own creation. To
penetrate the mysterious ways of Providence, by unveiling the hidden face of futurity, has
been given to few even of the most favored of men, and for no trivial purposes. But
hope and observation are in some degree prophets; and it is because I have firm hope in
Irelands ascension, and have observed for years past her growing mind, that I have
ventured to throw out the following reflections as a fitting sequel to the sketches just
There is no enslaved people who within the present century have given such cause for hope to their sympathizers, as the Irish. When we contemplate the self-denial they have observed since arriving at a knowledge of their wrongs, we cannot but allow them the possession either of a more phlegmatic disposition than they have hitherto been suspected of, or a deep and all-pervading religious sentiment. Within fifteen years the mental eye of Ireland has been opened; education has been progressing; her history has been unsealed. The first lesson she learned was indeed of surpassing bitterness. Her first triumph brought her to the knowledge of herself, of the high estate from which she had fallen, and of the almost universally received calumnies on her character and name which England had propagated as wide as ships could sail, or travellers penetrate. There was no people in Europe less known, previous to the days of the Irish Volunteers. From 82 to 1800, Ireland nobly vindicated her fame as a mother of genius and an ardent seeker after liberty. But the union demolished the fair rising structure, and again England ruled and libelled unopposed. In 1830, Ireland was again on her feet; looking around, she beheld all the horizon covered with the mists of prejudice and calumny. From one quarter alone, there came a ray of cheering light--from the land in whose service Sarsfield and Wolfe Tone had died. Fourteen years are gone, and Ireland has learned something of her own history, and something also of the mournful truth that mankind are always more prone to give credit to the charge of the powerful, than the defence of the subjugated. A wise resolution was taken; the people resolved to undo practically before the eyes of the whole world, the filthy web of misrepresentation with which England had surrounded them. Every educational society and improvement was adopted, and a new one was formed which redounds to her great credit--I mean, The Christian Brothers. MR. RICE, a man of the most exalted purity of soul, the most generous enthusiasm, and the highest order of practical ability, was the founder of this admirable system. He realized in his own life many of those great qualities which distinguished Ignatius Loyola, with the shrinking modesty of a pure, devoted soul. His institution has conferred on Ireland innumerable advantages thus far, and many more and greater may fairly be anticipated from its rapid increase. Gerald Griffin, the inspired author of Gysippius--the poet, novelist and philosopher--the scholar of nature, and child of all the muses, was so deeply impressed with the utility of this excellent association, that, divesting himself of the world, he descended (or rather rose) from the instruction of kingdoms, to be a teacher of the poorest of the children in Ireland. The Ursuline community, devoted to the education of female children, are at present very numerous in Ireland, and the minds of the future mothers of the people are being expanded and improved to a degree which many generations before them have not been able to compass. The national education system, with all its faults, is also producing its effects; and, acting on the system of the ingenious Mr. Lancaster, is sowing the seeds of an abundant harvest. To these we cannot omit to add the lately-established method of adult self-culture, by the founding of reading-rooms and night-schools. The Dublin newspaper press deserve everlasting credit for their unceasing efforts to propagate this most useful and admirable system. Taking all things into consideration, we can very well agree with a late intelligent tourist, in the belief that the rising generation of Irish men and women will be as well, or better educated, than any other portion of the European populace.*
There cannot be a truer maxim than Homers:--
Jove makes it certain, that whatever day
Makes man a slave, takes half his worth away.
The Irish people, pressed down for so many ages--rendered reckless by an invariable infliction of want, incurred to a frightful extent, the odious habit of drunkenness. In this they are generally conceded the bad eminence of superiority; but there are unanswerable proofs that the Scottish people exceeded them in intemperance.* But of one fact there can be no question--that there are few among the population, on whom this terrible habit had not fastened. The Directory of the United Irishmen, in 1797, proposed to the people a pledge against all intoxicating liquors, which was not generally adopted. Mr. OConnell, at Waterford, in 26, and in the first Clare election, had pledged the peasantry to total abstinence until the contests should be decided; but the effects of these vows were limited by their duration. It is more than twenty years since the Rev. George Carr of New Ross introduced the system of Temperance Societies into Ireland, which languished through a fluctuating existence until the year 1838, when THEOBALD MATHEW appeared as the moral regenerator of the people. Within five years, as many millions of the Irish people have taken a solemn vow, before God and their fellow-men, to abstain from all intoxicating drinks; this they have most rigidly adhered to, and faithfully endeavored to propagate. The contagion of their example has spread into Scotland and England, and accompanied the Irish emigrant to the Pacific, and America; and the world is now indebted for the brightest example of moral heroism which modern times produces, to the longest oppressed and worst ruled portion of its people. The career of Father Mathew is a miracle of success; quietly and humbly, without pomp, or bribe, or flattery, he has induced the people to cast off their prevalent and perilous habit. Sobriety has paved the way for study; the national love of music has been revived; the staple produce of the metropolis is poetry; the old airs are caught upon the mountains, as they were departing forever; and an emulative improvement actuates all the classes of society. Meanwhile, the good apostle, like another Patrick, traverses the island round and round, imitating that illustrious saint in the industry and self-sacrifice with which he pursues his mission, strengthening social bonds and virtuous societies, shedding peace and comfort into many a long-desolated home. His ways are not those of self-opinionated reformers, nor his wisdom as their wisdom. Yet in those distant ages when half a dozen names, at most, will be well remembered, out of the multitude of men dignified at this day by the cheap prefix of great, that of Mathew will hold a first place. Political systems will perish; monuments of civilization will disappear; nations, leaving scarce a name, shall have expired--but his memory shall endure. The abomination of desolation shall fill cities and empires; false creeds shall have lived and died; false prophets and their rhapsodies will have vanished--but the name of this illustrious friar will not pass away. Their greatness is made with hands, or with the voice--while his is erected out of the inexhaustible energies of his own soul, and the edifice partakes of the immortality of the instrument of its erection. Their work is a work of pride, stimulated by passion--his, rising from humility, touches the heavens; and sustained by the most unbounded benevolence, makes all the earth its resting-place. In them we see the workings of man, the mere animal--but in him, the exhibition of one, all soul, and love, and disinterestedness.
There is no other phrase which so well expresses the character of Irish political history, as the single word, extraordinary. Singular, indeed, have been the fortunes of the Hibernian Celts, and their descendants. Ireland was old when Christianity exiled the Druids from their sacrificial forests; her commerce was known at Rome, but not her captives; Tyre and Sidon had bartered with her, before Romulus and his brother had forsaken Alba. Her military fame, at an early time, was equally celebrated; her soldiers trampled down the Roman fortifications, and were about to scale the Alps, when an arrow of lightning, launched from the thunder-cloud above, struck down Dathy, their daring general--yet a handful of needy Normans overran her sea-coast, and, profiting by the jealousies of rival chiefs, seized on the pleasant plains of Leinster. Seven hundred years of slavery have scarcely cured them of that besetting sin. Early in her Christian ages, when Europe was buried in barbarism, letters and science found a shelter amidst her glens, where like a conservatory, those precious plants were screened from inclemency of that Gothic winter which had set in on all the cities and states of the continent. When literature revived abroad, in the latter part of the sixteenth century, penal laws and Protestantism had commenced the work of devastation in Ireland; then, what the Vandals had done for Rome, and the Saracens for Spain, Henry and Elizabeth performed for Ireland. With the accession of the Guelphs this was completed; and ignorance and the Reformation were established by law together. This eccentric destiny clung to the land even later; in the history of the Stuart war in Ireland, it is strangely exemplified. The revolution of 1688 gave new security to the liberties of the empire, but refastened the fetters of Ireland. Her soldiers went abroad to win glory in a foreign service; her scholars were proscribed and incarcerated; and while the reign of Anne is the brightest era in English literary history, it becomes the darkest in that of Ireland. In 1798, the Presbyterians and Catholics first combined to save the constitution, and enlarge its pale so as to take in all creeds; but again a blight came oer their councils--and from willing comrades in danger, they were artfully turned into enemies, underrating and suspecting each other.
But, strange as it may appear, the singularity of this destiny has preserved through every change the great characteristics of the Milesian blood, which, although in some respects chilled or changed by slavery, is yet gushing from the heart. Their hatred of control has preserved the love of learning, because learning was denied; and persecution has established Catholicism more firmly in the hearts of the people, than it would probably have been fixed, in an uninterrupted course of national prosperity. Every people west of the Alps have, at some time or other, yielded up their old faith and its imposing forms--but Ireland has only clung to them more fondly in the lapse of centuries. The sons of her rightful princes entered the sanctuary, and the expounders of Christian doctrine became also the hope of the bondsman. For nearly two centuries, the Catholic clergy were the only educated portion of the aboriginal population; and from this cause they were obliged to be the advocates and defenders of the people--the councillors and conveyancers, as well as the teachers, of the masses. The clergy became the conservers of antiquity, the narrators of history, and the preservers of a national spirit. In the gloomy glen, or in the caverns darkness, haranguing their faithful flocks, it was impossible for them to avoid mentioning the laws which had driven them thither, and the transition thence was natural, to the men who made them. The upstart antiquity of the Saxon race--their treachery, injustice, and inferiority to those whom they oppressed, were kept constantly before the down-trodden masses; and thus was perpetuated that sturdy sense of ancestral dignity, which is always the companion of your true Irishman. Young patriots loved and cherished this useful vanity, feeding it with declamation, and celebrating it in fiery strains of never-dying song. At length, proscription wearied of its ineffectual labors, the penal laws were abolished, and the heart of Ireland swelled out to its original greatness. It has since voluntarily cast out much of the folly of a false pride, and in its place now wisely cultivates a knowledge of the defects of native character, with a view to their remedy.
It would be rash to assert, dogmatically, that the Irish of future times will be a great people; but we may say with certainty, that few countries ever had a fairer field, to win for themselves solid and legitimate greatness. In politics, they have produced the most remarkable statesman of the day; in morals, they possess the most wonderfully apostolic man; and in education, they are fast tracking up the steps of the best taught communities. It is true that in Austria and Prussia there are wider and deeper systems of study; but these are entirely governmental, and have not originated with the people. The peculiar genius of a nation ought to be represented in its system of culture; for if the system harmonizes not with that genius, it becomes a clog around its neck, rather than a beacon to light it onward. The Irish system, now rapidly tending to an established existence, will be of the people--all the better, insomuch that instead of being compulsory, it is formed by the same hands which are to use it. In this view its practicability is vastly superior to the schemes of the continental cabinets.
But there is a higher cause for hope, than all the workings of the national spirit convey, although these certainly are far from dubious or equivocal. It is the hope we all have (or should have) in the merciful guardianship of a just and retributive Providence--Him, of whom it is written that a sparrow falls not to the earth, unknown to His all-pervading intelligence. To Him, on behalf of the oppressed, the freeman should always look--for the emancipation unsanctioned in heaven is valueless. We have many causes to look there on behalf of Ireland. The birth-land of five hundred canonized saints, and many thousands of beatified martyrs, cannot surely, in His justice, be left longer as the footstool of a hereditary despotism. The land from which the patrons of Scotland and Northumberland, of Germany and Gaul, swarmed forth, as St. Bernard says, in an inundation of pious zeal, is not to continue forever a nursery of paupers, partizans, and mercenary soldiers. The vessel in which such goodly forms were moulded of old, has not been doomed--Oh! never can be doomed--to the shaping of hideous shapes, of slaves who go forth to make slaves, and maniacs who execute the laws of those who manacle them. Nations shall confess the justice of God, and kings tremble before his judgments. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but his word never!
We see the evidences of this propitious Providence in the men now employed to raise up the people of Ireland, as well as in the improved temper of the people themselves. Their ancestors of old, revelling in plenty, and indulging in unattacked freedom, grafted on their hereditary Milesian impetuosity, a wilder and more hazardous daring. To this they joined an unsuspicious disposition, pampered by an overweening sense of their political security and military invincibility, which in reality sold the pass upon them, and gave their patrimony to the invader. But their sons, so long as they retained lands and gold, scorned to degenerate from the olden rule; it was only confiscation which could teach prudence, and beggary which introduced frugality. Two generations lay paralyzed in each of those extensive changes, which, under Elizabeth, James, Cromwell, and William, gave a new race of proprietors to the soil. Had the present and wisest attempt at national elevation been the work of impulse, or the promptings of a temporary resolution, we might well distrust it; for the swiftest steed is often the first to give out, and the wave which throws itself highest on the beach, returns most quickly to the bowels of the ocean. Such, however, is not the nature of the present Irish agitation, that, like a natural crop in a wholesome soil, has appeared faintly at first, but, overcoming the inclemency of many obstacles, flowers, and at last brings forth the long-expected fruit for general nourishment and preservation. The Providence which has given Ireland an OConnell in political, and a Mathew in moral reformation, has also given her the heart to receive, and the understanding to follow the teachings of these great men. Without this innate virtue, and a strong native sense of duty, all preachings of peace and charity and forgiveness would be thrown away, and Father Mathews reputation would still be limited to the congregation of Blackamoors Lane, and OConnell would have been little more than a stout special pleader. That consciousness of deserving better times, and hilarity of temper which distinguishes the people--their fervent Catholic enthusiasm, and lofty appreciation of the value of letters, are materials out of which sincere and industrious advocates can easily effect many salutary improvements. No country that endured slavery so long, has emerged from it less deteriorated by the contact. The sons of the Italian republics are wanderers on the earth, pedlars of bad music and retailers of comfits; the posterity of Greece lie most complacently beneath the heel of the Moslem, although their fathers were freemen before the Hegira, while yet Arabia slumbered in a state of tinselled barbarism.
The situation of Ireland, and her natural advantages, should long since have made her eminent among nations. An island compact and well watered, with as many harbors as there are leagues in her circumference; placed to the west of all Europe--the last Atlantic landmark of the old world, and the first European beacon for the new--she has been regarded by commerce as a mere Eddystone, useful when a wide berth is given her. Yet, what a mistake is here. Her northern coast--that wonderful museum of geology--instead of attracting attention only by its curiosities, should have invaded the ocean with moving monuments of art, more wonderful than the eternal pillars planted by giant hands, in defiance of the angry North Sea. Her southern shore tempts the approach of Mediterranean commerce, while her vast western havens ought to be covered with the fleets of the new world. Through the means of Ireland, a revolution will some day be effected in British commerce; and if the merchants of Liverpool and Bristol will not take time by the forelock, they may behold a time when the warehouses of Galway shall be large enough to oblige few ships to brave the dangers of Channel navigation.
DR. KANE, in his recent admirable work, has demonstrated, with the most beautiful accuracy, the immense fund of mineral wealth which lies unemployed beneath the feet of the idle and half-starving peasantry. This laborious author has developed the extent of vast coal-fields, hitherto but little known, the wealth of which will be inexhaustible when Newcastle and Whitehaven are no longer productive. He has divided these fields into provincial classes, of which one is in Leinster, two in Munster, three in Ulster, and one in Connaught. The first occupies the greater portion of the town of Kilkenny, the Queens County, and part of Carlow, and is bounded by the rivers Barrow and Nore. This district, says the Doctor, forms a great mineral basin; its strata consequently incline from the edge toward the centre--the undermost appear on the outer edge, and the uppermost in the interior of the district. * * * Mr. Griffith estimates the area occupied by this coal at 5000 acres, (Irish,) and its specific gravity is 1.591; the total quantity of pure solid coal may be calculated at rather more than sixty-three millions of tons. The Tipperary coal-field is about twenty miles in length by six in breadth; yet the quantity of coal at present raised from it does not exceed fifty thousand tons per annum. The great Munster formation is the most extensive coal-bed in the British islands. It occupies much of the counties of Clare, Kerry, Limerick, and Cork. Mr. Griffith has discovered in it six different layers; three of the most valuable, locally known as the bulk-vein, the rack-vein, and the sweet-vein, have been recognized at the opposite sides of the undulations. Yet this vast source of wealth is almost untouched. The coal formations of Ulster, in Tyrone and Antrim, are not very extensive; in the former, however, there are between seven and eight thousand acres, comprising the Coal Island and Anahone districts. The hills around Lough Allen encompass the Connaught coal fields, which extend through Roscommon, Sligo, Leitrim, and a portion of Cavan, or about sixteen miles in each direction. This also has been to the present but little worked.
Such is the fuel power lying inactive in Ireland. Of her immense water power, it has been acknowledged that it could turn all the machinery of Britain and France. There is no other European country so well watered; an innumerable variety of streams dash down her declivities, and float onward to the ocean, like the unemployed hours of a sluggard, never to return. O, Nature! how thy boons are squandered upon slaves! What profits it to Irishmen that they live in a land flowing with milk and honey, when their hands are chained, and their limbs fettered? Of what avail are all the benefactions of a good Providence, when tyrant laws have reversed the order of nature, and reared up beggary in the very nursery of abundance? But the day of the destroyer is fading into twilight, and the sun of a new age is smiling serenely on the plains and rivers of the land.
I have cast this hasty glance upon the moral, intellectual, and physical capabilities of Ireland, for building up a name and nationality, becuase it is always an agreeable task to show that men are capable of better things than most philosophers suspect them of; but it is peculiarly so to believe that the slave is to have his turn of fortune, honor, enlightenment, and independence. It is delightful to contemplate the possibility of Irelands ascension--to think that, when Englands star shall pale, and her felon flag be furled forever, her long-oppressed sister-isle shall assume a glorious destiny, and practise toward her prostrate oppressor, the noble vengeance of forgiveness.
Ireland has a deep, abiding faith; vast natural wealth; increasing intelligence; a firm sobriety, and a good share of political education. If she be but true to herself, no country ever shaped out a nobler futurity than she can. As the people are to themselves, so shall their posterity be to the world. The inheritance of liberty and eminence is before them, and over its portal, like the door of the enchanted chamber, it is written--Be bold! be bold! but be not too bold!
1. Dr. James Johnson. [back to text]
2. Among other documents tending to place the Irish people in their proper relation to other nations guilty of drunkenness, is the Parliamentary Report of the Excise Commissioners of 1835, in which their secondary proficiency is clearly established. [back to text]