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THE HISTORY OF IRELAND AS TOLD IN HER RUINS (second part)
A Lecture by Father Thomas N. Burke, O.P., delivered in the Cooper Institute, New York, on the 5th of April, 1872
The Danish invasion came, and I need not tell you that these Northern warriors who landed at the close of the eighth century, effecting their first landing near where the town of Skerries stands now, between Dublin and Balbriggan, on the eastern coast, that these men, thus coming, came as plunderers, and enemies of the religion as well as of the nationality of the people.
And for three hundred years, wherever they came, and wherever they went, the first thing they did was to put to death all the monks, and all the nuns, set fire to the schools, and banish the students; and, inflamed in this way with the blood of the peaceful, they sought to kill all the Irish friars; and a war of extermination, a war of interminable struggle and duration, was carried on for three hundred years. Ireland fought them; the Irish kings and chieftains fought them.
We read that in one battle alone, at Glenamada, in the county of Wicklow, King Malachy, he who wore the “collar of gold,” and the great King Brian, joined their forces in the cause of Ireland. In that grand day, when the morning sun arose, the battle began: and it was not until the sun set in the evening that the last Dane was swept from the field, and they withdrew to their ships, leaving six thousand dead bodies of their warriors behind them. Thus did Ireland, united, know how to deal with her Danish invaders; thus would Ireland have dealt with Fitzstephen and his Normans; but, on the day when they landed, the curse of disunion and discord was amongst the people. Finally, after three hundred years of invasion, Brian, on that Good Friday of 1014, cast out the Danes forever, and from the plains of Clontarf drove them into Dublin Bay.
Well, behind them they left the ruins of all the religion they had found. They left a people, who had, indeed, not lost their faith, but a people who were terribly shaken and demoralized by three hundred years of bloodshed and of war. One-half of it, one-sixth of it, would have been sufficient to ruin any other people; but the element that kept Ireland alive, the element that kept the Irish nationality alive in the hearts of the people, the element that preserved civilization in spite of three centuries of war, was the element of Ireland’s faith, and the traditions of the nation’s by-gone glory.
And now we arrive at the year 1134. Thirty years before, in the year 1103, the last Danish army was conquered and routed on the shores of Strangford Lough, in the North, and the last Danish King took his departure forever from the green shores of Erin. Thirty years have elapsed. Ireland is struggling to restore her shattered temples, her ruined altars, and to build up again, in all its former glory and sanctity, her nationality and monastic priesthood. Then Saint Malachy, great, glorious, and venerable name!, Saint Malachy, in whom the best blood of Ireland’s kings was mingled with the best blood of Ireland’s saints, was Archbishop of Armagh. In the year 1134, he invited into Ireland the Cistercian and the Benedictine monks. They came with all the traditions of the most exalted sanctity, with a spirit not less mild nor less holy than the spirit of a Dominic or an Augustine, and built up the glories of Lindisfarne, of Iona, of Mellifont, of Monasterboice, and of Monastereven, and all these magnificent ruins of which I spoke, the sacred monastic ruins of Ireland. Then the wondering world beheld such grand achievements as it never saw before, outrivaling in the splendour of their magnificence the grandeur of those temples which still attest the mediaeval greatness of Belgium, of France, and of Italy.
Then did the Irish people see, enshrined in these houses, the holy solitaries and monks from Clairveaux, with the light of the great Saint Bernard shining upon them from his grave. But only thirty years more passed, thirty years only; and, behold, a trumpet is heard on the eastern coast of Ireland: the shore and the hills of that Wexford coast re-echo to the shouts of the Norman, as he sets his accursed foot upon the soil of Erin. Divided as the nation was, chieftain fighting against chieftain, for, when the great King Brian was slain at Clontarf, and his son and his grandson were killed, and the three generations of the royal family thus swept away, every strong man in the land stood up and put in his claim for the sovereignty, by this division the Anglo-Norman was able to fix himself in the land. Battles were fought on every hill in Ireland; the most horrible scenes of the Danish invasion were renewed again. But Ireland is no longer able to shake the Saxon from her bosom; for Ireland is no longer able to strike him as one man.
The name of “United Irishmen” has been a name, and nothing but a name, since the day that Brian Boru was slain at Clontarf until this present moment. Would to God that this name of United Irishmen meant something more than an idle word! Would to God that, again, today, we were all united for some great and glorious purpose! Would to God that the blessing of our ancient, glorious unity was upon us! Would to God that the blessing even of a common purpose in the love of our country guided us! then, indeed, would the Celtic race and the Celtic nation be as strong as ever it was,as strong as it was upon that evening at Clontarf, which beheld Erin weeping over her martyred Brian, but beheld her with the crown still upon her brow.
Sometimes victorious, yet oftener defeated, defeated not so much by the shock of the Norman onset as by the treachery and the feuds of her own chieftains, the heart of the nation was broken; and behold, from the far sunny shores of Italy, there came to Ireland other monks and other missionaries, clothed in this very habit which I now wear, or in the sweet brown habit of Saint Francis, or the glorious dress of Saint Augustine. Unlike the monks who gave themselves up to contemplation, and who had large possessions, large houses, these men came among the people, to make themselves at home among the people, to become the sagart a rún of Ireland.
They came with a learning a’ great as that of the Irish monks of old, with a sturdy devotion, as energetic as that of Colum Cille, or of Kevin of Glendalough; they came with a message of peace, of consolation, and of hope to this heart-broken people; and they came nearly seven hundred years ago to the Irish shores. The Irish people received them with a kind of supernatural instinct that they had found their champions and their priestly heroes, and for nearly seven hundred years the Franciscan and his Dominican brother have dwelt together in the land. Instead of building up magnificent, wonderful edifices, like Holy Cross, or Mellifont, or Dunbrody; instead of covering acres with the grandeur of their buildings, these Dominicans and Franciscans went out in small companies, ten, or twelve, or twenty, and they went into remote towns and villages, and there they dwelt, and built quietly a convent for themselves; and they educated the people themselves; and, by-and-by, the people in the next generation learned to love the disciples of Saint Dominic and Saint Francis, as they beheld the churches so multiplied.
In every townland of Ireland there was either a Dominican or a Franciscan church or convent. The priests of Ireland welcomed them; the holy bishops of Ireland sustained them; the ancient religious of Ireland gave them the right-hand of friendship; and the Cistercians or Benedictines gave them, very often, indeed, some of their own churches wherein to found their congregation, or to begin their missions. They came to dwell in the land early in the twelfth century, and, until the fifteenth century, strange to say, it was not yet found out what was the hidden design of Providence in bringing them there, in what was once their own true and ancient missionary Ireland.
During these three hundred years, the combat for Ireland’s nationality was still continued. The O’Neill, the O’Brien, the O’Donnell, the McGuire, the O’Moore, kept the national sword waving in the air. The Franciscans and the Dominicans cheered them, entered into their feelings, and they could only not be said to be more Irish than the Irish themselves, because they were the heart’s blood of Ireland. They were the light of the national councils of the chieftains of Ireland, as their historians were the faithful annalists of the glories of these days of combat. They saw the trouble; and yet, for three hundred years the Franciscan and the Dominican had not discovered what his real mission to Ireland was.
But at the end of the three hundred years came the fifteenth century. Then came the cloud of religious persecution over the land. All the hatred that divided the Saxon and the Celt, on the principle of nationality, was now heightened by the additional hatred of religious discord and division; and Irishmen, if they hated the Saxon before, as the enemy of Ireland’s nationality, from the fifteenth century hated him with an additional hatred, as the enemy of Ireland’s faith and Ireland’s religion. The sword was drawn. My friends, I speak not in indignation, but in sorrow; and I know that if there be one amongst you, my fellow-countrymen, here to-night, if there be a man who differs with me in religion, to that man I say: “Brother and friend, you feel as deeply as I do a feeling of indignation and of regret for the religious persecution of our native land.” No man feels it more; no man regrets more bitterly the element of religious discord, the terrible persecution of these three hundred years, through which Ireland, Catholic Ireland, has been obliged to pass; no man feels this more than the high-minded, honest, kind-hearted Irish Protestant. And why should he not feel it? If it was Catholic Ireland that had persecuted Protestant Ireland for that time, and with such intensity, I should hang my head for shame.
Well, that mild, scrupulous, holy man, Henry the Eighth, in the middle of the fifteenth century got a scruple of conscience! Perhaps it was whilst he was saying his prayers, he began to get uneasy, and to be afraid that, maybe, his wife wasn’t his wife at all! He wrote a letter to the pope, and he said: “Holy Father, I am very uneasy in my mind!“
The fact was, there was a very nice young lady in the court. Her name was Anna Boleyn. She was a great beauty. Henry got very fond of her, and he wanted to marry her. But he could not marry her, because he was already a married man. So he wrote to the pope, and he said he was uneasy in his mind, he had a scruple of conscience; and he said: “Holy Father, grant me a favour. Grant me a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. I have been married to her for several years. She has had several children by me. Just grant me this little favour. I want a divorce!“
The pope sent back word to him: “Don’t be uneasy at all in your mind! Stick to your wife like a man; and don’t be troubling me with your scruples.”
Well, Henry threw the pope over. He married the young woman whilst his former wife was living, and he should have been taken that very day and tried before the Lord Chief Justice of England, and transported for life. And why? Because if it had been any other man in England that did it but the king, that man would have been transported for life; and the king is as much bound by the laws of God, and of justice, and conscience, and morality, as any other man. When Henry separated from the pope he made himself head of the Church; and he told the people of England that he would manage their consciences for them for the future. But when he called upon Ireland to join him in this strange and indeed, I think my Protestant friends will admit, insane act, for such indeed, I think my Protestant friends will admit this act to be; for, I think, it was nothing short of insanity for any man of sense to say: “I will take the law of God as preached from the lips and illustrated in the life of Henry the Eighth, Ireland refused.
Henry drew the sword, and declared that Ireland should acknowledge him as the head of the Church; that she should part with her ancient faith, and with all the traditions of her history, to sustain him in his measures, or that he would exterminate the Irish race. Another scruple of conscience came to this tender-hearted man!
And what do you think it was?
Oh, he said, I am greatly afraid the friars and the priests are not leading good lives. So he set up what we call a commission; and he sent it to Ireland to inquire what sort of lives the monks and friars and priests and nuns were leading; and the commissioners sent back word to him, that they could not find any great fault with them; but that, on the whole, they thought it would be better to turn them out!
So they took their convents and their churches, and whatever little property they possessed, and these commissioners sold them, and put the money into their own pockets. There was a beautiful simplicity about the whole plan.
Well, my friends, then came the hour of the ruin of the dear old convents of the Franciscans and Dominicans. Their inmates were driven out at the point of the sword; they were scattered like sheep over the land. Five pounds was the price set upon the head of the friar or priest, the same price that was set upon the head of a wolf. They were hunted throughout the land; and when they fled for their lives from their convent homes, the Irish people opened their hearts, and said, “Come to us, Sagart a Rún.”
Throughout the length and breadth of the land they were scattered, with no shelter but the canopy of heaven; with no Sunday sacrifice to remind the people of God; no Mass celebrated in public, and no Gospel preached; and yet they succeeded for three hundred years in preserving the glorious Catholic faith, that is as strong in Ireland today as ever it was. These venerable ruins tell the tale of the nation’s woe, of the nation’s sorrow. As long as it was merely a question of destroying a Cistercian or a Benedictine Abbey, there were so few of these in the land, that the people did not feel it much.
But when the persecution came upon the Bráthair, as the friar was called, the men whom everybody knew, the men whom everybody came to look up to for consolation in affliction or in sorrow; when it came upon him, then it brought sorrow and affliction to every village, to every little town, to every man in Ireland. There were, at this time, upwards of eighty convents of religious, Franciscans and Dominicans, in Ireland, that numbered very close upon a thousand priests of each order. There were nearly a thousand Irish Franciscans, and nearly a thousand Irish Dominican priests, when Henry began his persecution. He was succeeded, after a brief interval of thirty years, by his daughter Elizabeth. How many Dominicans, do you think, were then left in Ireland?
There were a thousand, you say?
Oh, God of heaven!
There were only four of them left, only four!
All the rest of these heroic men had stained their white habit with the blood that they shed for God and for their country. Twenty thousand men it took Elizabeth, for as many years as there were thousands of them, to try to plant the seedling of Protestantism on Irish soil. The ground was dug as for a grave; the seed of Protestantism was cast into that soil; and the blood of the nation was poured in, to warm it and bring it forth. It never grew, it never came forth; it never bloomed! Ireland was as Catholic the day that Elizabeth died at Hampton Court, gnawing the flesh off her hands in despair, and blaspheming God, Ireland was as Catholic that day as she was the day that Henry the Eighth vainly commanded her first to become Protestant.
Then came a little breathing-time, a very short time, and in fifty years there were six hundred Irish Dominican priests in Ireland again. They studied in Spain, in France, in Italy. These were the youth, the children, of Irish fathers and mothers, who cheerfully gave them up, though they knew, almost to a certainty, that they were devoting them to a martyr’s death; but they gave them up for God. Smuggled out of the country, they studied in these foreign lands; and they came back again, by night and by stealth, and they landed upon the shores of Ireland; and when Cromwell came he found six hundred Irish Dominicans upon the Irish land. Ten years after, only ten years passed, and again the Irish Dominican preachers assembled to count up their numbers, and to tell how many survived and how many had fallen. How many do you think were left out of the six hundred?
But one hundred and fifty were left; four hundred and fifty had perished, had shed their blood for their country, or had been shipped away to Barbados as slaves. These are the tales their ruins tell. I need not speak of their noble martyrs.
Oh, if these moss-grown stones of the Irish Franciscan and Dominican ruins could speak, they would tell how the people gave up everything they had, for years and years, as wave after wave of successive per seditions and confiscations and robbery rolled over them, rather than renounce their glorious faith or their glorious priesthood.
When Elizabeth died, the Irish Catholics thought her successor, James the First., would give them at least leave to live; and accordingly, for a short time after he became king, James kept his own counsel, and he did not tell the Irish Catholics whether he would grant them any concessions or not; but he must have given them some encouragement, for they befriended him, as they had always done to the House of Stuart. But what do you think the people did? As soon as the notion that they would be allowed to live in the land took possession of them, and that they would be allowed to take possession of the estates they had been robbed of, instead of minding themselves, the very first thing they did, to the credit of Irish fidelity be it said, was to set about restoring the Franciscan and Dominican abbeys. It was thus they restored the Black Abbey in Kilkenny, a Dominican house; they restored the Dominican Convent in Waterford, Multifarnham, in Westmeath, and others; and these in a few months grew up into all their former beauty from ruin, under the loving, faithful, restoring hands of the Irish people.
But soon came a letter from the king; and it began with these notable words: “It has been told to us, that some of our Irish subjects imagined that we were about to grant them liberty of conscience.”
No such thing!
Liberty of conscience for Irish Catholics!
Hordes of persecutors were let loose again, and the storms of persecution that burst over Ireland in the days of James the First. were quite as bad and as terrible as any that rained down blood upon the land in the days of Queen Elizabeth. And so, with varying fortunes, now of hope, and now of fear, this selfsame game went on. The English determined that they would make one part of Ireland, at least, Protestant, and that the fairest and the best portion of it, as they imagined, namely, the province of Ulster.
Now, mark the simple way they went about it. They made up their minds that they would make one province of Ireland Protestant, to begin with, in order that it might spread out by degrees to the others.
And what did they do?
They gave notice to every Catholic in Ulster to pack up and be gone, to leave the land.
They confiscated every single acre in the fair province of Ulster; and the Protestant Primate, the Archbishop of Armagh, a very holy man, who was always preaching to the people not to be too fond of the things of this world; he got forty-three thousand acres of the best land of these convents in fee.
Trinity College, in Dublin, got thirty thousand acres. There were certain guilds of traders in London, the skinners, tanners, the dry-salters; and what do you think these London trade associations got? They got a present of two hundred and nine thousand eight hundred acres of the finest land in Ulster! Then all the rest of the province was given in lots of one thousand, one thousand five hundred, to two thousand acres, to Scotchmen and Englishmen. But the very deed that gave it obliged them to take their oath that they would accept that land upon this condition, not so much as to give a day’s work to a labouring man, unless that labouring man took his oath that he was not a Catholic. And so Ulster was disposed of.
That remained until Cromwell came; and when the second estimate was made of the kingdom it was discovered that there were nearly five millions of acres lying still in the hands of the Catholics.
And what did Cromwell do?
He quietly made a law, and he published it; and he said, on the 1st of May, 1654, every Catholic in Ireland was to cross the Shannon, and to go into Connaught.
Now, the river Shannon cuts off five of the western counties from the rest of Ireland, and these five counties, though very large in extent, have more of waste land, of bog, and of hard, unproductive, stony soil than all the rest of Ireland. I am at liberty to say this, because I, myself, am the heart’s blood of a Connaughtman.
If any other man said this of Connaught, I would have to say my prayers, and keep a very sharp eye about me, to try to keep my temper. But it is quite true; with all our love for our native land, with all my love for my native province, all that love won’t put a blade of grass on an acre of limestone; and that there are acres of such, we all know. It was an acre of this sort that a poor fellow was building a wall around.
“What are you building that wall for?” says the landlord. “Are you afraid the cattle will get out?”
“No, your honour, indeed I am not,” says the poor man; “but I was afraid the poor brutes might get in.”
Then Cromwell sent the Catholics of Ireland to Connaught; and, remember, he gave them their choice. He said, “Now, if you don’t like to go to Connaught, I will send you to hell!“
So the Catholic Irish put their heads together, and they said: “It is better for us to go to Connaught. He may want the other place for himself.” God forbid that I should condemn any man to hell; but I cannot help thinking of what the poor car man said to myself in Dublin once. Going along, he saw a likeness of Cromwell, and he says, “At all events, Cromwell has gone to the devil.”
I said, “My man, don’t be uncharitable. Don’t say that; it is uncharitable to say it.”
“Thunder and turf!” says he, “sure if he is not gone to the devil, where is the use of having a devil at all?”
At any rate, my friends, wherever he is gone to, he confiscated at one act five millions of acres of Irish land; with one stroke of his pen, he handed over to his Cromwellian soldiers five million acres of the best land in Ireland, the golden vale of Tipperary included. Forty years later, the Catholics began to creep out of Connaught, and to buy little lots here and there, and they got a few lots here and there given to them by their Protestant friends. But, at any rate, it was discovered by the government of England, that the Catholics in Ireland were beginning to get a little bit of the land again; and they issued another commission to inquire into the titles to these properties, and they found that there was a million two hundred thousand acres of the land recurred to the Catholics; and they found, also, that that land belonged to the crown; and the million two hundred thousand acres were again confiscated.
So that, as soon as the people began to take hold of the land at all, down came the sword of persecution and of confiscation upon them. And Cromwell himself avowed with the greatest solemnity that as Ireland would not become Protestant, Ireland should be destroyed. Now, is it to excite your feelings of hatred against England that I say these things? No, no; I don’t want any man to hate his neighbour I don’t want to excite these feelings. Nor I don’t believe it is necessary for me to excite them. I believe, sincerely I believe, that an effort to excite an Irishman to a dislike of England would be something like an effort to encourage a cat to take a mouse. I mention these facts just because these are the things that Ireland’s ruins tell us; because these are at once the history of the weakness and the sadness, yet of the strength and of the glory, of which these ruins tell us. I mention these things because they are matter of history; and because, though we are the party that were on the ground, prostrate, there is nothing in the history of our fathers at which the Irishman of today need be ashamed, or hang his head.
But if you want to know in what spirit our people dealt with all this persecution, if you want to know how we met those who were thus terrible in their persecution of us, I appeal to the history of my country, and I will state to you three great facts that will show you what was the glorious spirit of the Irish people, even in the midst of their sorrows; how Christian it was and how patient it was; how forgiving and loving even to our persecutors it was; how grandly they illustrated the spirit of duty at the command of their Lord and Saviour; and how magnificently they returned good for evil. The first of these facts is this: At the time that England invaded Ireland, towards the close of the twelfth century, there were a number of Englishmen in slavery in Ireland. They were taken prisoners of war; they had come over with the Danes, from Wales, and from North Britain, with their Danish superiors; and when Ireland conquered them, the rude, terrible custom of the times, and the shocks that all peaceful spirit had got by these wars, had bred so much ferocity in the people, that they actually made slaves of these Englishmen! And they were everywhere in the land. When the English landed in Ireland, and when the first Irish blood was shed by them, the nation assembled by its bishops and archbishops in the synod at Armagh, there said, “Perhaps the Almighty God is angry with us because we have these captive Christians and Saxons amongst us, and punishes us for having these slaves amongst us. In the name of God we will set them free.”
And on that day every soul in Ireland that was in slavery received his freedom. Oh, what a grand and glorious sight before heaven! A nation fit to be free, yet enslaved, yet, with the very hand on which others try to fasten their chains, striking off the chains from these English slaves! Never was there a more glorious illustration of the heavenly influence of Christianity since Christianity was preached amongst the nations.
The next incident is rather a ludicrous one, and I am afraid that it will make you laugh. My friends, I know the English people well. Some of the best friends that I have in the world are in England. They have a great many fine qualities. But there is a secret, quiet, passive contempt for Ireland; and I really believe it exists amongst the very best of them, with very few exceptions. An Englishman will not, as a general rule, hate an Irishman joined to him in faith; but he will quietly despise us If we rise and become fractious, then, perhaps, he will fear us but, generally speaking, in the English heart there is, no doubt a contempt for Ireland and for Irishmen. Now, that showed itself remarkably in 1666. In that year the Catholics of Ireland were ground into the very dust. That year saw one hundred thousand Irishmen, six thousand of them beautiful boys, sent off to be sold as slaves in the sugar-plantations of Barbados. That year London was burned, just as Chicago was burned the other day. The people were left in misery. The Catholics of Ireland, hunted, persecuted, scarcely able to live, actually came together, and, out of pure charity, they made up for the famishing people of London a present, a grand present. They sent them over fifteen thousand fat bullocks! They knew John Bull’s taste for beef. They knew his liking for a good beefsteak, and they actually sent him the best beef in the world, Irish beef. The bullocks arrived in London. The people took them, slaughtered them, and ate them, and the Irish Catholics said, “Much good may they do you!” Now comes the funny part of it.
When the bullocks were all killed and eaten, the people of London got up a petition to the Houses of Parliament, and they got Parliament to act on that petition; it was to the effect that this importation of Irish oxen was a nuisance; and it should be abated. But they had taken good care to eat the meat before they voted it a nuisance.
The third great instance of Ireland’s magnanimous Christianity, and of the magnanimity with which this brave and grand old people knew how to return good for evil, was in the time of King James. In the year 1689, exactly twenty years after the Irish bullocks had been voted a nuisance in London, in that year there happened to be, for a short time, a Catholic king in England. The tables were turned. The king went to work and he turned out the Irish lord chancellor because he was a Protestant, and he put in a Catholic chancellor in his place. He turned out two Irish judges because they were Protestants, and he put in two Englishmen, Catholics, as judges in their place. He did various actions of this kind, persecuting men because they were Protestants and he was a Catholic. And now, mark. We have it on the evidence of history that the Catholic archbishop of Armagh and the Catholic pope of Rome wrote to James the Second, through the lord lieutenant over the Irish Catholics there, that he had no right to do that, and that it was very wrong.
Oh, what a contrast!
When Charles the First wished to grant some little remission of the persecution in Ireland, because he was in want of money, the Irish Catholics sent him word that they would give him two hundred thousand pounds if he would only give them leave to worship God as their own consciences directed. What encouragement the king gave them we know not; at any rate, they sent him a sum of a hundred and fifty thousand pounds, by way of instalment. But the moment it became rumoured abroad, the Protestant archbishop of Dublin got up in the pulpit of Saint Patrick’s cathedral, and he declared that a curse would fall upon the land and upon the king, because of these anticipated concessions to the Catholics.
What a contrast is here presented between the action of the Catholic people of Ireland and the action of their oppressors! And in these instances have we not presented to us the strongest evidence that the people who can act so by their enemies were incapable of being crushed? Yes, Ireland can never be crushed nor conquered; Ireland can never lose her nationality so long as she retains so high and so glorious a faith, and presents so magnificent an illustration of it in her national life. Never she has not lost it! She has it today. She will have it if the higher and more perfect form of complete and entire national freedom; for God does not abandon a race who not only cling to Him with an unchanging faith, but who also know how, in the midst of their sufferings, to illustrate that faith by so glorious, so liberal, so grand a spirit of Christian charity.
And now, my friends, it is for me simply to draw one conclusion, and to have done. Is there a man amongst us here tonight who is ashamed of his race or his native land, if that man has the high honour to be an Irishman? Is there a man living that can point to a more glorious and a purer source whence he draws the blood in his veins, than the man who can point to the bravery of his Irish forefathers, or the immaculate purity of his Irish mother! We glory in them, and we glory in the faith for which our ancestors have died. We glory in the love of a country that never, never, for an instant, admitted that Ireland was a mere province, that Ireland was merely a “West Britain.” Never, in our darkest hour, was that idea adapted to the Irish mind, or adopted by the will of the Irish people.
And, therefore, I say, if we glory in that faith, if we glory in the history of their national conduct and of their national love, oh, my friends and fellow-countrymen, I say it, as well as a priest as an Irishman, let us emulate their example; let us learn to be generous to those who differ from us, and let us learn to be charitable, even to those who would fain injure us. We can thus conquer them. We can thus assure to the future of Ireland the blessings that have been denied to her past, the blessing of religious equality, the blessing of religious liberty, the blessing of religious unity, which, one day or other, will spring up in Ireland again. I have often heard words of bitterness, aye, and of insult, addressed to myself in the North of Ireland, coming from Orange lips; but I have always said to myself, He is an Irishman; though he is an Orangeman, he is an Irishman. If he lives long enough, he will learn to love the priest that represents Ireland’s old faith; but, if he die in his Orange dispositions, his son or his grandson will yet shake hands with and bless the priest, when he and I are both in our graves. And why do I say this? Because nothing bad, nothing uncharitable, nothing harsh or venomous ever yet lasted long upon the green soil of Ireland. If you throw a poisonous snake into the grass of Ireland, he will be sweetened, so as to lose his poison, or else he will die. Even the English people, when they landed, were not two hundred and fifty years in the land, until they were part of it; the very Normans who invaded us became “more Irish than the Irish themselves.” They became so fond of the country, that they were thoroughly imbued with its spirit. And so, any evil that we have in Ireland, is only a temporary and a passing evil, if we are only faithful to our traditions, and to the history of our country. Today there is religious disunion; but, thanks be to God, I have lived to see religious, disabilities destroyed. And, if I were now in the position of addressing Irish Orangemen, I would say, “Men of Erin, three cheers for the Church disestablishment! “And if they should ask me, “Why? “I would answer, “It was right and proper to disestablish the Church, because the Established Church was put in between you and me, and we ought to love each other, for we are both Irish!
Every class in Ireland will be drawn closer to the other by this disestablishment; and the honest Protestant man will begin to know a little more of his Catholic brother, and to admire him; and the Catholic will begin to know a little more of the Orangeman, and, perhaps, to say, “After all, he is not half so bad as he appears.” And believe me, my friends, that, breathing the air of Ireland, which is Catholic, eating the bread made out of the wheat which grows out on Irish soil, they get so infused with Catholic blood, that as soon as the Orangeman begins to have the slightest regard or love for his Catholic fellow-countryman, he is on the highway to become a Catholic, for a Catholic he will be, some time or other. As a man said to me very emphatically once: They will all be Catholics one day, surely, sir, if they only stay long enough in the country!
I say, my friends, that the past is the best guarantee for the future. We have seen the past in /some of its glories. What is the future to be? What is the future that is yet to dawn on this dearly-loved land of ours? Oh, how glorious will that future be, when all Irishmen shall be united in one common faith and one common love! Oh, how fair will our beloved Erin be, when, clothed in religious unity, religious equality and freedom, she shall rise out of the ocean wave, as fair, as lovely, in the end of time, as she was in the glorious ‘days when the world, entranced by her beauty, proclaimed her to be the mother of saints and sages. Yes, I see her rising emancipated; no trace of blood or persecution on her virgin face; the crown, so long lost to her, resting again upon her fair brow! I see her in peace and concord with all the nations around her, and with her own children within her. I see her venerated by the nations afar off, and, most of all, by the mighty nation which, in that day, in its strength, and in its youth, and in its vigour, shall sway the destinies of the world. I see her as Columbia salutes her across the ocean waves. But the light of freedom coming from around my mother’s face will reflect the light of freedom coming from the face of that nation which has been nursed in freedom, cradled in freedom, and which has never violated the sacred principles of religious freedom and religious equality. I see her with the light of faith shining upon her face; and I see her revered, beloved, and cherished by the nations, as an ancient and a most precious thing! I behold her rising in the energy of a second birth, when nations that have held their heads high are humbled in the dust! And so I hail you, O, mother Erin! And I say to you,
The nations have fallen, but you still art young;
Your sun is but rising when others have set;
And though slavery’s clouds round your morning have hung,
The full noon of Freedom shall beam round you yet