The Orations of Thomas F. Meagher. 2nd series. Revised by Himself. Supplement to "The Nation." 3 July 1852.
SPEECH AT THE GALWAY ELECTION,
Gentlemen, I have come here to protest against the government of England, for which government you have been solicited to vote this day. The struggle, begun this morning upon the hustings of your old town, is not a struggle between two men--it is a struggle between two countries. On the one side--the side of the Whig candidate--hangs the red banner, beneath which your senate has been sacked, your commerce has been wrecked, your nobility have been dishonoured, your peasantry have been starved. On the other side--the side of the Repeal candidate, floats the green flag, for which the artillery of 1782 won a legitimate respect--beneath which your senate sat, your commerce thrived, your nobility were honoured, your peasants prospered. Until the last three years that flag has been deserted by us. With the tameness of slaves we submitted to its proscription. We saw it torn from our merchant ships, and whilst we lacked the ability to guard it upon the seas, we had not the virtue to guard it upon the hustings. Everywhere the supremacy of the red flag was recognised by us--recognised by us, whether it was borne by the military or the political agent of England. What difference, I will ask, did it make that it was sometimes decorated with the insignia of the Whigs? Decorated with the blue ribbon of the Pitt, or the buff ribbon of the Fox school, it was still the same cursed testimony of foreign mastership--still the same crimson scroll on which our incapacity for business was set forth, and the terms of our base apprenticeship were engrossed. Year after year were we content to be the sutlers of English faction--content to echo back the cant and clamour of English Radicalism. At one time blessing a Reform Bill, as if it gave us political power; at another time rushing after the glittering equipage of a Whig viceroy, as if his smiles were productive of manufactures, and his liberal appointments had been the precursors of national institutions. All this time we forgot, that, for the nation to exist, the nation should have its arts, its fisheries, its manufactures, its commerce; and that a franchise bill, corporate reform acts, liberal appointments, and so forth, are of very little importance compared to bread for the million. Doubtless, there were some excellent innovations at the Castle about this time, for St. Patricks Hall was no longer shut to the Catholic barrister. The ermine, too, had ceased to be the sacred monopoly of Protestantism. The Catholic and Protestant became equally entitled to it, and, with the police uniform, it was made common to both. The hall of the Four Courts rang with the praises of Normanby, and the statue of Justice which decorates that hall was pronounced by the best judges to be the very image of Russell. Public dinners were frequently held, and the people of Ireland were congratulated on the tranquillity of the country, and the promotion of able demagogues to power. The people heard the toasts that were shouted at those dinners--heard the selfish canticles of faction--heard that the salvation of Ireland was identical with the liberal disposal of silk gowns--heard that the elevation of Ireland would be accomplished by the elevation of noisy democrats to office--the people heard these things, and believed that their freedom was at hand. They believed so, for they had not as yet looked well into the country, and saw what was really wanting there. But 1843 came, and a voice from Tara bade the people organize for liberty. On the cite of the Irish monarchy, the spell of a factious vassalage was broken--provincialism was abjured--nationality was vowed. In that year, you, the citizens of Galway, pledged yourselves to devote every effort to the attainment of Irish independence. You organized--and in your foremost rank shone the coronet of the Ffrenches, with the mitre of St. Jarlaths. You contributed to the exchequer of the movement; your merchants opened their coffers; your artisans--and I see many of them here to-night--coined the sweat of their brows into gold, and offered it up as the ransom of our liberties. Then came the 30th of May, 1845, and you sent your Town Commissioners to the Rotundo, where the chiefs of the national movement received the homage of the people. That was no false homage--it was sincere--for the men who offered it aspired to freedom. On that day your representatives pledged themselves on your behalf--now mark the words!--that corruption should not seduce, nor deceit cajole, nor intimidation deter you from seeking the attainment of a national legislature. Gentlemen, the time has come to redeem that vow. The struggle will test your truth, your purity, your heroism. Your honour is at stake--your integrity is in question--your character is on trial. Vows can be easily made. Expediency may advise them--enthusiasm may dictate them. The difficulty and the virtue is to fulfil them. When that vow was made, did you not hear the jeering prophecy, that it would eventuate in a solemn falsehood? Did you not hear it said that you had neither the intention nor the integrity to redeem that vow--that you might threaten, but dare not strike? It was said so in London--it was said so in Chesham-place--it was said so in Dublin: let me tell you it is so written in the predictions of the Castle. Will you vilely verify the anticipations of Chesham-place--will you basely authenticate the predictions of the Castle? Renounced by Cashel--threatened in Wexford--supplanted in Dundalk--routed from Mayo--What! shall the refugees of Whiggery find in Galway a spot where, at last, the gold of the cabinet will contaminate the virtue of the people? I ask you, what will be the result of this election? Shall Galway be a slave market? Shall this ancient Irish town be degraded into an English borough?--and will you, its citizens, sacrifice your principles and your name, embrace provincialism, and henceforth exult in the title of West Britons? I should apologize for thus addressing you--or rather, you should bid me cease, and indignantly assert that, come what may, no Whig official shall ever testify your recreancy in the Senate House of England. Why should it be otherwise? Since 1845, your opinions, surely, have not changed? If so, what has changed them? The famine? The prompt benevolence of the English government? The generosity of the English Commons? What imperial proselytizer has seduced you from the cause, in the defence of which, in 1843, you would have passionately bled? The prompt benevolence of the English government? How has this been manifested? In the timely suspension of the navigation laws? In the establishment of corn depots? In the prohibition of the export of Irish produce? By the summoning of parliament in November? Bear this in mind--whilst the peasants have perished, without leaving a coin to purchase a winding sheet, the merchants have bought their purple and fine linen with their famine prices, for the English market should be protected--thus, the English economists have ruled it. In the blasted field, beneath the putrid crop, the merchant has sunk a shaft and found a gold mine, for the English minister would not inconvenience the trade of Liverpool and London. And is it the servant of this minister whom you will support? If you prefer a bribe to freedom--if you prefer to be the Swiss guard of a foreign minister, rather than be the National guard of a free kingdom, vote for him, and be dishonest and debased. Vote for the Whig candidate, and vote for provincialism. Vote for the Whig candidate, and vote for alien laws. Vote for the Whig candidate, and vote for a civil war before Repeal--for that is the Whig alternate. Vote for the Whig candidate, and vote for economy and starvation. Vote for him--vote for him--and then cringe back to your homes, and there thank God that you have had a country to sell! Have you nerved your souls for this crime? Beware of it! I will not tell you that the eyes of the nation--the eyes of Europe are upon you. That is the cant of every hustings. But this I tell you, there are a few men yet breathing in Skibbereen, and their death-glance is upon you. Vote for the Whig candidate, and their last shriek will proclaim that you have voted for the pensioned misers who refused them bread. There is a place, too, called Skull, in the county Cork, the churchyard of which place--as a tenant told his landlord the other day--is the only red field in the wide, wide country. There are eyes, wild with the agonies of hunger, looking out from that fell spot upon you, and if you vote against your native land, the burning tongue of the starving peasant will froth its curse upon you, and upon your children. Gentlemen, I have now done, and I fear not for you, nor for the country. I believe there is in Galway the virtue to preserve the honor of its citizens--the virtue to assert the liberty of the country. What, though it cost you even serious sacrifices--what though you gain nothing, at this moment, by your honest votes, save the blessing of a tranquil conscience and a proud heart--still be true to the faith and glory of Henry Grattan. Fling aside--trample under foot--the bribes and promises of Russell. Be true to the principles of 1782--be true to the resolutions of 1843--be true to the vow of 1845--and with pure hands, with hands unstained by the glittering poison of the English Treasury, amid the grave and desolation of 1847, lay the foundations of a future nation.