The Man and the Cause!
From Workers’ Republic, 31 July 1915.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.
On Sunday, August First, we propose to pay public homage in Dublin to the remains and memory of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. It is well then that we strive to make clear not only to the public, but to ourselves, upon what grounds that homage is paid. We belong to the working class of Ireland, and strive to express the working class point of view. Always and ever the working class movement seeks after clearness of thought, as a means to the accomplishment of working class aims. The middle class may and does deceive itself with finely turned phrases, and vague generalising of still vaguer aspirations, but the working class can think and speak only in language hard and definite, as hard and definite as the conditions of working class life. We have no room in our struggle for illusions – least of all for illusions about freedom.
O’Donovan Rossa represents to us a revolutionary movement the least aristocratic and the most plebeian that ever raised itself to national dignity in Ireland. It was a movement that resting upon the masses of people in Ireland and drawing its inspirations from the hearts of that people, was successful in inspiring its followers with such a belief in their own ability to conquer and master the future, that it nerved them to conspire for a revolt against the British Empire at a time when that Empire was at peace with all the world. The mere conception of such a struggle, the stark naked fact that such a project was ever even mooted, in itself stamps as heroes all who cherished and suffered for it. Grand indeed must have been the souls, magnificent must have been the courage, splendid the idealism of the men and women who with the awful horror of the famine of Black ’47, and inglorious ’48, still in their minds were yet capable of rising to the spiritual level of challenging the power of England in 1865 or 1867. There were giants in those days! Are we pigmies in these?
These men realised that no nation is conquered until its mind is conquered, until it accepts defeat. No nation capable of, however futilely and impotently, denying with arms in the hands of even a few of its sons that it is conquered and submerged in its conqueror, can be considered as having lost its existence. In the present European hell-broth the diplomats, writers and speakers of the world freely discuss the chances of re-establishing many nations long subdued and banished from the roll of nations, but in no one of these discussions does the name of Ireland figure. Because Ireland has surrendered its separate national identity – Ireland has become a mere geographical expression. To the world Ireland speaks through its elected representatives, through its press, through its great organs of public opinion, and so speaking has announced itself a loyal province of the British Empire.
The sons of Ireland who are in arms are in arms for England, the blood of Ireland that flows in torrents every day flows for England, the Irish men who die fighting like heroes and demigods die fighting for England. Ireland knows them not, can never number them amongst her possessions, can never tell the tale of their sufferings and exploits as sufferings and exploits for her.
And yet Ireland dare not blame them! The least of these, our brothers, would have fought for Ireland if those who spoke in Ireland’s name had but had the courage to call them, to summon them to the sacrifice. But all, all failed in the supreme moment of destiny. And it seems to us that when the eternal reckoning is made, God in His infinite wisdom will deal less harshly with the Irish Tommies in the English service than He will with the unscrupulous politicians, or blatant revolutionaries, who stood by in silence and let our poor brothers march out to their fruitless martyrdom in Flanders or the Dardanelles.
They shrank from the responsibility of giving the word not realising that they thereby took on the more shameful responsibility of failing to give the word.
Rossa was one of the men who in the days of another generation assumed the responsibility from which these men shrank, and assumed it amid greater difficulties. He had to face not only the possibility of defeat at the hands of a foreign tyrant, but he had also to face the certainty of odium and hatred from those he was prepared to die to liberate. Every ‘respectable’ class in the country was against the Fenians, all the press was against them, most of the clergy denounced them from the altar, all the members of parliament hated them with a fierce and malevolent hatred. They were accused of conspiracy to destroy religion, a priest refused to solemnise the marriage of Rossa himself, alleging that he was outside the pale of the Church, every conceivable wickedness was imputed them, they were said to be enemies of the family, of society, of morals.
Against such enemies they held their own, and if they failed to emancipate their country or win for it a place amongst the nations of the earth, they at least succeeded in establishing in the mind of the world the fact of the independent existence of Ireland. Their greatest enemies were those of their own race. They failed, but it was a failure more glorious than many a victory. But its glory consisted in the fact that against all odds, and in spite of the calculations of the trimmers and wiseacres there were proven to be in Ireland thousands of men and women who were prepared to affirm with their lives that Ireland was a nation with an independent destiny of its own. Neither terrified nor corrupted, the Fenians redeemed the honour of their nation, and we of the working class are proud to remember that those heroes were of our own class.
When we honour Rossa we honour in him the fearless representative of a great movement – a movement that accomplished great things. We honour the latest of those who in days of darkness pledged their faith to an Irish Republic, and kept that faith unsullied to the last.
We on our part affirm that we march behind the remains because we are prepared to fight for the same ideals. And we shall be all the more nerved for fight when we remember that the banner of Fenianism was upheld by the stalwart hands of the Irish working class of that day, as the militant organisation of the same class today is the only body that without reservation unhesitatingly announces its loyalty to the republican principle of national freedom for which the Fenians stood. We are here because this is our place!
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Last updated on 28.9.2007