More articles by James Connolly were published for the first time since his execution in Issue 39 (March 2010).
[The Workers’ Republic, August 5 1899]
Wicklow and the Mansion House.1
Who can do full justice to them?
The hillsiders and the firesiders, the physical force men and the Home Rulers, the Separatists and the Parnellites, all eagerly climbing in each other’s hair, denouncing each other as tricksters, and making the world merry over the spectacle of Irishmen fighting about monuments to the dead—
Whilst the living are starving and perishing around them.
Let us take them in their order.
I had an idea Wicklow would afford good sport, and I was not disappointed. When you see it announced that a meeting is to be addressed by men holding the most diverse opinions on the subject of the meeting, and that those men are to speak from the same platform, you may reasonably expect curious development.
At Wicklow I got full value for my money.
When a Home Ruler talks about the “Freedom of Ireland”, he means a parliament in Dublin under the gracious protection of the British Army.
When a hillsider talks about the “Freedom of Ireland”, he means, or ought to mean, that form of national independence which can only be realised by expelling the British Army.
At Wicklow they were both on the platform, taking turn about at the spouting.
Here is a brief resume of the speeches—no parody either, though it reads like one.
Mr William Field MP said:—
England is now surrounded by enemies on all sides—Germany, France, Russia, all waiting the opportunity for a blow, and the time is fast approaching when she will have to battle for her very existence, and how much better it would be for her to give us our right, and have us as her friend and ally, instead of her enemy.
That is to say that if England gives Ireland Home Rule, we will supply her with an army to defend her stolen possessions abroad, and help her to keep down and rob all her subject populations.
A true friend of liberty is Mr Field.
Then Mr T Byrne of Blackrock, the next speaker, said he believed in the weapons of Billy Byrne and was prepared to adopt them “at 48 hours notice”.
This helped to take the taste of Mr Field’s speech out of our mouths, and we breathed again.
Though personally, I would have liked to hear the speaker explain the meaning of the “48 hours notice” clause, and would 47½ hours not do in an emergency?
Mr Walsh, of Arklow, was the next speaker. He said:—
Since 1798 every generation of Irishmen has planted a milestone on the road to Irish freedom. It is our turn now to plant the second last milestone, and let us plant it on an eminence, so that if we are not permitted to plant the last, we may at least see it afar off—not merely a milestone, but a great monument of freedom, erected by the genius and intellect of the Irish people, a restored parliament in College Green.
Then Mr C G Doran, of Queenstown, “tuk the flure” and said:—
The man who tells you that a parliament in College Green means the realisation of Ireland’s struggle for freedom is a disgrace to the cause of Irish nationality.
It was like the variety “turns” in a Music Hall; each succeeding speaker scoffed at the ideas of his predecessor, and the audience went away declaring it was as good as a pantomime.
A mace, presented to the Corporation by some English king, was carried in procession around the town; one of the county ’98 clubs bore a banner with the inscription, “Who fears to speak of ’98? Restore us our Native Parliament”, its bearers being apparently blissfully unconscious of the fact that the ’98 insurrection was directed against the “Native Parliament”; and in order to demonstrate to all and sundry that it is unwise to take life too seriously, or to think middle class public men ever mean what they say in public,
Alderman Russell of the Temperance Association and Alderman Hussey of the publicans’ association (Licensed Vintners) spent the day driving around together on a side car.
The Lord Mayor got into a fight with Mr Doran; the one cheered for Parnell, the other for Wolfe Tone, and the audience cheered them both, with the same impartiality and much the same spirit as animates a crowd of urchins at a dog fight.
And this is what is called “honouring the dead”.
It served to make me more and more convinced that in the uncompromising spirit, the rigid intolerance, and stern exclusiveness shown by the Socialist Republican party are to be found the only true methods whereby an effective revolutionary movement may be built up.
Unquestionably, were we to soften down our programme, or hide our purpose under a cloud of misty phrases, we could also get big gatherings, as at Wicklow.
But then we would be as contemptible for any effective purpose as was the Wicklow gathering.
A big gathering, attracted by a cheap railway fare, a good day, and bands and banners, but united in no one purpose or wish, except—
A wild, burning, maddening, insatiable, consuming, all-devouring, absorbing, scorching, overwhelming, excruciating, exhilarating, renovating, never abating hope—that the pubs would open.
What could they do for Ireland?
Not one of the speakers, except Mr Doran, seemed to have any idea that there was anything the matter with the social system, or that the social arrangements of Ireland nationally free might be exhibited as being on a higher plane of perfection than the social system of Ireland nationally enslaved.
Yet, it is in the revolt of the workers against the degradation caused by the present social system will be found the needed force to carry the national hopes of Ireland to a successful realisation.
In hatred of the present, not in raising monuments to the past, is to be found the key-note of success.
The men who alternately reviled and cringed to each other at the Mansion House are also worthy samples of the movements they represent, mere political back numbers, as useful for present day purposes as a Queen Anne gun before a Nordenfeldt.
When the working class of Ireland begins to manifest a desire for real freedom, and a determination to possess it, then you will see “Unity”, for you will see all those warring kites and crows flocking together for mutual support against that danger.
From Alderman Meade, Parnellite and member of the Privy Council in control of the Police who keep down the people, down to the wirepullers on the ’98 Executive, there is not a man of who it may not be safely predicted that in the next revolutionary outburst in Europe—now only a matter of a few years—they will be found side by side with the British Imperial government, supporting the powers of oppression, and attacking the revolutionary party.
They are doing it now. Read their papers—their advanced papers, mar dhea—and you will see they are doing it now; in every reference to European politics they champion the cause of militarism and class oppression, preparing the Irish people for the dirty work they purpose in the future.
But the working class of Ireland are no longer the gullible people they were; we are no more inclined to risk making ourselves food for powder, inmates for prison cell, or milch cows for politicians, simply in order to transform Ireland into a pocket edition of capitalist nations like England or America.
We mean to be free, and in every friend of freedom we recognise a brother, wherever be his birthplace; in every enemy of freedom we also recognise our enemy, though he were as Irish as our hills.
The whole of Ireland for the people of Ireland—their public property, to be owned and operated as a national heritage, by the labour of free men in a free country:
That is our ideal, and when you ask us what are our methods, we reply:
“Those which lie nearest our hands.”
We do not call for a “United Nation”. No nation can be united whilst capitalism and landlordism exists. The system divides society into two warring sections—the robbers and the robbed, the idlers and the workers, the rich and the poor, the men of property and the men of no property.
Like Wolfe Tone and Mitchel before us, we appeal to “that large and respectable class of the community, the men of no property”.
Let them rally to the Socialist Republican banner, the banner of true freedom, and so rallying, remember that
Those who wait for justice, never gain it,
That the multitudes are most sublime
When, rising armed, they combat to obtain it
Wolfe Tone and his “Admirers”?
[The Workers’ Republic, August 5 1899]
The wordy warfare at present being waged between the partisans of a monument to Wolfe Tone and the partisans of what, we think, the former are justified in considering the rival monument to Charles Stewart Parnell is an interesting exemplification of one of the most persistent and fatal characteristics of the Irish people, viz., their tendency to worship the glories of the past, whilst remaining indifferent to every practical proposal for remedying the evils of the present.
Such an attitude—of fierce excitement over monuments to DEAD heroes—is the attitude peculiar to all political parties when they have reached the stage of political bankruptcy, as the worship of past glories is the inevitable accompaniment of the decline of a nation. It is because the men who so loudly proclaim their adhesion to the faith of Wolfe Tone are so hopelessly incapable of appreciating the originality of his genius and the broadness of his outlook that the advanced Nationalist movement has been narrowed down from the revolutionary promise of its inception to the limits of a squalid squabble over precedence in collecting the coppers of a nation of slaves, in order to erect a monument to the memory of a free man. These, it may be, seem harsh words, but will the reader pause to consider the real inner meaning of the fracas at the Mansion House the other day between the supporters of the two rival monument schemes. To us it seems as if both sides were so little convinced of the strength of their cause, or of the place of their idols in the affections of the Irish people, that they felt assured that any other similar project would effectually ruin the chances of their success; if this is not the reason for all the acrimony displayed, it must be that both sides, feeling themselves to be out of touch with the thought and feeling of the present, were zealously striving to focus attention on the past—in order to galvanise into fresh life their decaying organisations. Certain it is that no political party having a potency of power in the national life of today, no political party having an answer to the deeply pressing problems of the present, and no political or revolutionary organisation having the slightest hope of success, requires the adventitious aid of post-mortem hero worship to smooth its path to popularity, and when any political party is seen raising a furore over the dead, whilst remaining dumb on the wrongs of the living, it may be taken for granted that such party contains no germ of new revolutionary vigour—and is painfully conscious of the fact. Every really great movement in history has arisen spontaneously in response to the needs of the time; the movement of the United Irishmen in 1798 arose in response to the demand of the people for a political and social order more suited to the needs of industry than the corrupt and antiquated despotisms of Europe would permit of. Such revolutionary movements heeded but little the “glorious memories of the past,” but they unweariedly insisted on the necessity of a change for the sake of the present: in fact a comprehensive study of the voluminous literature issued by the United Irishmen will scarcely reveal one instance of those appeals to tradition, or to the memory of “patriotic predecessors,” so common at the present day in circles priding themselves on “following in the footsteps of Tone and the United Irishmen.” On this point we may safely challenge contradiction: strange as it may seem to those who know nothing of ’98 except the record of its battles, the revolutionists of that day were so intensely wedded to the idea that only from a just resentment at their own wrongs could the people be induced to move that even references to the past glories of Ireland before the Norman invasion were never indulged in by their pamphleteers and pressmen; they turned the attention of the people, not to the “glorious past,” but to the shameful and hateful present, to the pregnant and fateful future.
We are told to imitate Wolfe Tone, but the greatness of Wolfe Tone lay in the fact that he imitated nobody. The needs of his time called for a man able to shake from off his mind the intellectual fetters of the past, and to unite in his own person the hopes of the new revolutionary faith and the ancient aspirations of an oppressed people; as the occasion creates the hero, so the Spirit of the Age found Wolfe Tone, and out of the seemingly unpromising material of a briefless barrister created the organising brain of an almost successful revolution, the astute diplomat, the fearless soldier, and the unconquered martyr.
A monument to such a man can only be erected by a free people. The attempt of a body which has publicly repudiated one half of his principles to pose as the inheritors of his cause is as insulting to his memory as to the intelligence of the Irish people. The man who held out the right hand of friendship to the revolutionists of Europe is not honoured, but insulted, when his name is invoked by men who, in press and on platform, are continually prating of the armed help of the despots of Europe as one hope of Ireland.
Let Ireland seek help where Wolfe Tone found it, viz., in the ranks of the democracy in revolt; wherever the Socialist banner flies, there gather the true friends of freedom; there let us take our stand, and there let us prepare to raise the only worthy monument to the pioneers of freedom—the realisation of that freedom for which they fought.
- The month before, a demonstration took place in Wicklow to lay the foundation stone for a monument to the local United Irishman Billy Byrne, and a meeting was held in Dublin’s Mansion House to launch the building of a monument to Parnell. The latter was opposed by others wanting a monument to Wolfe Tone.