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BY SIR ROGER CASEMENT, C. M. G.
* HE history of Ireland remains to be written, for the pur
pose of Irishmen remains yet to be achieved. The struggle for national realization, begun so many centuries ago, is not ended; and if the long story offers a so frequent record of failure, it offers a continuous appeal to the highest motives and a constant exhibition of a most pathetic patriotism linked with the sternest courage.
Irish wars, throughout all time, have been only against one enemy, the invader, and, ending so often in material disaster, they have conferred always a moral gain. Their memory uplifts the Irish heart; for no nation, no people, can reproach Ireland with having wronged them.
When, at the dawn of the Christian era, we first hear of Ireland from external sources, we learn of it as an island harboring free men, whose indomitable love of freedom was hateful to the spirit of imperial exploitation.
Agricola's advice to the empire-builders of his day was that Rome should "war down and take possession of Ireland, so that freedom might be put out of sight."
It was to meet this challenge of despotism that the Scotic clans of Alba turned to their motherland for help, and the sea was "white with the hurrying oars” of the men of Erin speeding to the call of their Highland kinsmen, threatened with imperial servitude.
The first external record we possess thus makes it clear that when the early Irish went forth to carry war abroad, it was not to impose their yoke on other peoples, or to found an empire, but to battle against the Empire of the World in the threatened cause they held so dear at home.
In this early Roman reference to Ireland we get the keynote to all later Irish history—a warring down on the one hand, so that freedom might be put out of sight; an eternal resistance, on the other, so that it might be upheld.
It was this struggle that Ireland sought to maintain against every form of attack, down through Danish, Norman, Tudor,
Stuart, and Cromwellian assault, to the larger imperialism of the nineteenth century, when, as Thierry, the historian of the Norman Conquest, tells us, it still remained the one "lost cause” of history that refused to admit defeat. “This indomitable persistency, this faculty of preserving through centuries of misery the remembrance of lost liberty and of never despairing of a cause always defeated, always fatal to those who dared to defend it, is perhaps the strangest and noblest example ever given by any nation.”
The resources Ireland opposed to her invaders have been unequal to the founding of a great state, but have preserved a great tradition. The weakness of Ireland lay in the absence of a central organization, a state machine that could mobilize the national resources to defend the national life. That life had to depend for its existence, under the stress of prolonged invasion, on the spontaneous patriotism and courage of individuals. At times one clan alone, or two clans, maintained the struggle. Arrayed against them were all the resources of a mighty realm-shipping, arms, munitions of war, gold, statecraft, a widespread and calculating diplomacy, the prestige of a great Sovereign and a famous Court—and the Irish clan and its chieftain, by the sheer courage of its members, by their bodily strength and hardihood and feats of daring, for years kept the issue in doubt.
When Hugh O'Neill, leagued with Red Hugh O'Donnell, challenged the might of Elizabeth, he had nothing to rely upon but the stout hearts and arms of the men of Tir-owen and Tir-Conail. Arms and armaments were far from Ulster. They could be procured only in Spain or elsewhere on the continent. English shipping held the sea; the English mint the coinage. The purse of England, compared to that of the Ulster princes, was inexhaustible. Yet for nine years the courage, the chivalry, the daring and skill of these northern clansmen, perhaps 20,000 men in all, held all the might of England at bay. Had the Spanish king at any time during the contest made good his promise to lend effective aid to the Irish princes, O'Neill would have driven Elizabeth from Ireland, and a sovereign State would today be the guardian of the freedom of the western seas for Europe and the world. It
took "the best army in Europe" and a vast treasure, as Sir John Davies asserted, to conquer two Ulster clans three hundred years ago. The naked valor of the Irishman excelled the armed might of Tudor England; and the struggle that gave the empire of the seas to Britain was won not in the essay of battle, but in the assay of the mint.
It is this aspect of the Irish fight for freedom that dignifies an otherwise lost cause. (Ever defeated, yet undefeated, a long-remembering race believes that these native qualities must in the end prevail. / The battle has been from the first one of manhood against might. The State Papers, the official record of English rule in Ireland, leave us rarely in doubt. We read in that record that, where the appeal was to the strength or courage of the opposing men, the Irish had nothing to fear from English arms.
Thus the Earl of Essex, in a despatch to Elizabeth, explained the failure of his great expedition in 1599 against O'Neill
have (though I do unwillingly confess it) better bodies and perfecter use of their arms than those men whom your Majesty sends over.” The flight of the Earls in 1607 left Ireland leaderless, with nothing but the bodies and hearts of the people to depend on. In 1613 we read, in the same records, a candid admission that, although the clan system had been destroyed and the great chiefs expropriated, converted, or driven to flight, the people still trusted to their own stout arms and fearless hearts:
“The next rebellion, whenever it shall happen, doth threaten more danger to the State than any heretofore, when the cities and walled towns were always faithful; (1) because they have the same bodies they ever had and therein they had and have advantage of us; (2) from infancy they have been and are exercised in the use of arms; (3) the realm by reason of the long peace was never so full of youths; (4) that they are better soldiers than heretofore their continental employment in wars abroad assures us, and they do conceive that their men are better than ours."
And when that “next rebellion" came, the great uprising of the outraged race in 1641, what do we find? Back from