During the long, bitter, unceasing struggle, extending over 750 years, that this country had has with England, many great men have been produced – men whose mighty deeds in the interests of their Motherland have been an inspiration to those who succeeded them to keep alive the torch of Nationality for which they strove and fought and died.
But foremost of all these great ones we put Wolfe Tone, for not alone did he work and strive and suffer in the sacred cause of Irish Nationality, but for the first time in history of our country he made clear to the world, and to us who were to come after him, what our demand was, and the means by which we could obtain it.
Others who had gone before Tone, obeying the strong call of the Motherland, felt within themselves what he put into words and left us to be the guiding principles of our national faith. Pádraig Pearse, of glorious memory – himself the most profound political thinker of our day, and perhaps the greatest student and disciple of Tone – said that in mind Tone was above all the men of his time or the after-time.
It is that great mind of Tone that expressed the truth that is as unassailable today as when utter by him, that “Ireland would never be either free, happy, or prosperous until she would be independent, and that independence was unattainable while the connection with England lasted.”
“To break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country, these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman, in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, these were my means.”
Tone here expressed the full gospel of Irish Nationality, the gospel that all parties in this country who claim to be Nationalists would like to have us believe is the one to which they give allegiance. With Tone, we recognise that without unity we cannot achieve our objective, but unity can only be had through recognition of the sovereign authority of the Irish people and denial of England’s claims here.
In Tone’s day there was a parliament in this country which legislated for the whole of Ireland, but which was symbolic of the connection with England. Tone and the United Irishmen rose in arms to subvert this parliament and to break the connection with England.
That Tone was wiser in this than all those who since his time have used British parliamentary institutions as a means of securing from Britain any amelioration of the wrongs that the people of this country suffer at her hands is proved by the absolute failure of those leaders, and the riveting still more firmly of the chains that bind this country.
Grattan, a pathetic figure in the parliament house in College Green, realised when it was too late that the Volunteers, had they not been disarmed, would have been his greatest bulwark against the onslaughts of those whom England had bribed to vote away his parliament, such as it was.
After Grattan, the next to turn the minds of the mass of the people of Ireland to a British parliament was O’Connell. While Coercion Acts were passed, the people imprisoned, or shot down in tithe wars as at Skibbereen, O’Connell spent his time in parliament as the tail of an England party, only to state when dying, broken-hearted, that Ireland was not worth one drop of Irish blood.
After O’Connell, the next person worthy of mention was Parnell, and, although the English failed to corrupt him in the same way, they encompasses his ruin by other means.
After Parnell, we had Redmond. When Redmond entered that parliament first he was not as corrupt as he became at a later day, but when England was engaged in a life-and-death struggle he came recruiting among the people of this country, asking Irishmen to go out and fight England’s battles, as a result of which the bones of thousands of Irishmen were left rotting of the fields of Flanders.
After Redmond we have the promises of those who told the Irish people in 1918, and again in 1921, that they would not tolerate interference by any outside power, but who later took an oath of allegiance to that outside power.
So corrupt did they become that today the barracks of Ireland bear testimony to their corruption and their perfidy, and the divisions, the splits, the jealousies make it more difficult for those who are striving to get back again on to the path that Tone would have them thread.
If then, as history proves, the apostolic succession of the faith of Tone has descended to us who remain true to our allegiance to the Republic, we must at all times proves ourselves worthy disciples. We must all immediately set about learning more about our great apostle, and model ourselves on him.
He saw clearly the path that led to the goal of Irish freedom, and, having seen it, held on to his course, despite all obstacles, mighty though they were. And though he had temporary failures sufficient to daunt a spirit less brave, he did not turn aside from the road that led upward to freedom to wander in ways that would lead him to what has been the political hell of the damned of so many Irish Nationalists.
Those who are prone to be despondent; those who smile cynically in a superior way at the small band who today stand out in the open to preach the gospel of Tone should bear in mind that Tone’s methods triumphed before in Ireland, and that, though the tide may be running against us at present, the tide does not run one way always.
They should remember the words of Pearse, who was a perfect example of what the true Christian should be, that God fights with the small battalions, and remember, too, that a time comes to our people when they can see with clear minds the road to take, and that, given the right lead, they have always the heart to follow that road.
May the dawn that is to break that light on our beloved nation be at hand, and may we be strong and brave to take that road!