Fr. O'Flanagan's speech delivered at St. Mary's Hall, Belfast, 25th November 1915.
Address delivered at St. Mary's Hall Belfast on the occasion of the Manchester Martyrs' Anniversary, November 25th, 1915, by Rev. Michael O'Flanagan, C. C. Crosna, Boyle, County Roscommon.
A few weeks ago I attended a lecture given in Dublin by a man who has been well described as the Apostle of Irish Nationality. (Mr. P. H. Pearse.) The lecturer treated of four men whom he described as the four Evangelists of Irish Freedom—Wolfe Tone, Thomas Davis, John Mitchel and James Fintan Lalor. Each of these four he represented as contributing to the theory of Irish Nationhood and how it was to be achieved. Wolfe Tone pointed out clearly what it was that was wrong with Ireland, namely the connection with England. The one object then of all our patriotic endeavors should be to break the connection with England.
Thomas Davis dwelt more on the positive side of Irish Nationhood. He described the ideal that we should aim at in a free Ireland—an Ireland speaking its own language, singing its own songs, developing its own material and spiritual endowments, uniting in one common bond of brotherhood the men of every race and creed and class that combined to make up its population.
If Thomas Davis may be described as the Evangelist of Love, John Mitchel is the Evangelist of the equally necessary virtue of Hate. If we love Ireland, there is something also that we must hate. Mitchel calls it the Thing, the Thing that has crippled our National development and made our history the saddest chapter in the archives of Europe. What do you call that thing? (A voice, 'England'). Right, I too call it England, and I make no apology to anybody, by proclaiming that hatred of England is a right and virtuous feeling to cultivate and a wholly Christian feeling to cultivate in the breasts of Irishmen.
I do not of course preach hatred of the English people. Far be it from me to preach hatred of those poor toiling millions, who are crushed under the weight of material and spiritual slavery by the lure of the false ideals of Empire and World Dominance. Nay, if I could take them out of their grimy and smoky factories, and up out of their dismal mines, and spread them over the beautiful face of England to toil under God's sweet sunshine for the clean and healthy fare which God intended for them, I should consider my very life a small thing to give in such a cause. When we speak in Ireland of hating England, we mean hating that English power in Ireland that keeps us from our birthright of National freedom. That Thing with all its wiles, and in all its ramifications, it is our duty as Irishmen to hate and with all our power to strive to destroy.
The last of the four Evangelists was James Fintan Lalor. His special contribution was the doctrine that it was the people of Ireland who must achieve Irish liberty. You must be able to hurl the masses of the people of Ireland against the barriers of our slavery if you would hope to batter them down. Nothing short of the mass of the people has got sufficient momentum for the task. The leaders of Ireland cannot set Ireland free. The leader in himself is nothing. It is only in so far as he interprets the wishes of the people that he has any power. How necessary therefore is it for us to watch our leaders and to change them as soon as they show themselves unable to feel the pulse of the people.
When I listen to that lecture I was surprised at two omissions. I considered that there were two important omissions, omissions of contributions that were even more valuable than those of the four mentioned, one made by Robert Emmet and the other by the Manchester Martyrs. The contributions of both were made in a single sentence. "When my country takes her place amongst the nations of the earth, then and not till then let my epitaph be written." The lesson that I read in that sentence is the lesson of another hatred, a hatred more necessary than our hatred of England. And that is our hatred of a submissive Ireland.
If we hate the English power that holds our country in thralldom, we must hate still more the Irish slavishness that lies down under it. Robert Emmet at least regarded Ireland as unworthy to write his name upon a tombstone until it had first achieved the liberty for which he died. Oh the depth of the contempt that is contained in that sentence for much of Ireland of the past hundred years. One would imagine that Robert Emmet must have foreseen the men who upon Irish platforms dare to mention the names of the martyrs who died for Ireland, and who then go across to England to beg for doles at the hands of the oppressor.
But the crowning contribution of all was made by the Manchester Martyrs. They made it with their last words upon the scaffold, "God save Ireland." God alone can save Ireland. And God will only save Ireland when the people cooperate with him in the right way. In other words it is only through a religious movement that Ireland can achieve its freedom. "Freedom comes from God's right hand and needs a Godly train, and righteous men must make our land a nation once again." Thomas Davis had the idea also. But he did not bring it home to us with the vividness lent by that greatest of all the Irish platforms—the scaffold.
There is only one power in Ireland that is stronger than the might of England, and that is the power of England, and that is the power of religion. Wolfe Tone tried to bind us together by our love of liberty, and failed. Thomas Davis tried to do it by our love of our heirlooms of the past that go to make up our kindly Irish life, he appealed to us in the name of our individuality, and failed Fintan Lalor tried to reach us through our love of the soil and failed. John Mitchel roused our pride and our hatred by scorching us with the insolence of the oppressor, and he has not succeeded. What force is then left amongst us that is strong enough to nerve us for the task. There is only one left; the force of religion. Our religion must not be neutral in the contest. Patriotism is a branch of the divine virtue of Charity. To work for the freedom of Ireland is a religious duty.
The man who would allow his country to lie down under a foreign oppression is not merely not a good Irishman, he is not even a good Christian. All the secular forces at our disposal, have been harnessed in turn to the Irish chariot, and they have all failed to pull our country out of the rut of oppression into which she has sunk. We must now attach the one force that has proved itself strong enough for the task and that is the force of religion.