Cork Mayoral Acceptance Speech

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Acceptance Speech  (1920) 
by Terence MacSwiney
Terence MacSwiney was unanimously elected Lord Mayor of Cork on March 31, 1920 eleven days after his friend and previous Lord Mayor Tomás MacCurtain was murdered at his home by members of the local police force.

On August 12 MacSwiney was arrested in a raid on the city hall and soon after went on hunger strike eventually dying in Brixon Prison 74 days later.

I shall be as brief as possible. This is not an occasion for many words, least of all a conventional exchange of compliments and thanks. The circumstances of the vacancy in the office of Lord Mayor governed inevitably the filling of it. And I come here more as a soldier stepping into the breach, than as an administrator to fill the first post in the municipality. At a normal time it would be your duty to find for this post the councillor most practical and experienced in public affairs. But the time is not normal. We see in the manner in which our late Lord Mayor was murdered an attempt to terrify us all. Our first duty is to answer that threat in the only fitting manner by showing ourselves unterrified, cool and inflexible for the fulfillment of our chief purpose - the establishment of the independence and integrity of our country - the peace and the happiness of our country. To that end I am here.

I was more closely associated than any other here with our late murdered friend and colleague, both before and since the events of Easter Week, in prison and out of it, in a common work of love for Ireland, down to the hour of his death. For that reason I take his place. It is, I think, though I say it, the only fitting answer to those who struck him down. Following from that there is a further matter of importance only less great - it touches the efficient continuance of our civic administration. If this recent unbearable aggravation of our per-secution by our enemies should cause us to suspend voluntarily the normal discharge of our duties, it would help them very materially in their campaign to overthrow our cause. I feel the question of the future conduct of our affairs is in all our minds. And I think I am voicing the general view when I say that the normal functions of our corporate body must proceed, as far as in our power lies, uninterrupted, with that efficiency and integrity of which our late civic head gave such brilliant promise. I don't wish to sound a personal note, but this much may be permitted under the circumstances—I made myself active in the selection of our late colleague for the office of Lord Mayor. He did not seek the honour and would not accept it as such, but when put to him as a duty he stepped to his place like a soldier. Before his election we discussed it together in the intimate way we discussed every-thing touching our common work since Easter Week. We debated together what ought to be done and what could be done, keeping in mind, as in duty bound, not only the idea! line of action but the practical line at the moment as well. That line he followed with an ability and success all his own. Gentlemen, you have paid tribute to him on all sides. It will be my duty and steady purpose to follow that line as faithfully as in my power, though no man in this Council could hope to discharge its functions with his ability and his perfect grasp of public business in all its details and as one harmonious whole. I have thought it necessary to touch on this normal duty of ours, though - and it may seem strange to say it - I feel at the moment it is even a digression. For the menace of our enemies hangs over us, and the essential immediate purpose is to show the spirit that animates us, and how we face the future. Our spirit is but to be a more lively manifestation of the spirit in which we began the year - to work for the city in a new zeal, inspired by our initial act when we dedicated it and formally attested our allegiance, to bring by our administration of the city, glory to our allegiance, and by working for our city's advancement with constancy in all honourable ways, in her new dignity as one of the first cities in Ireland to work for and if need be to die for. I would recall some words of mine on that day of our first meeting after the election of Lord Mayor. I realised that most of you in the minority here would be loyal to us, if doing so did not threaten your lives; but that you lacked the spirit and the hope to join with us to complete the work of liberation so well begun. I allude to it here again, because I wish to point out again the secret of our strength and the assurance of our final victory. This contest of ours is not on our side a rivalry of vengeance, but one of endurance - it is not they who can inflict most but they who can suffer most will conquer - though we do not abrogate our function to demand and see that evil doers and murderers are punished for their crimes. But it is conceivable that they could interrupt our course for a time; then it becomes a question simply of trust in God and endurance. Those whose faith is strong will endure to the end and triumph. The shining hope of our time is that the great majority of our people are now strong in that faith. To you, gentlemen of the minority here, I would address a word. I ask you again to take courage and hope. To me it seems - and I don't say it to hurt you - that you have a lively faith in the power of the devil, and but little faith in God. But God is over us and in His divine intervention we have perfect trust. Anyone surveying the events in Ireland for the past five years must see that it is approaching a miracle how our country has been preserved. God has permitted this to be, to try our spirits, to prove us worthy of a noble line, to prepare us for a great and noble destiny. You amongst us who have yet no vision of the future have been led astray by false prophets. The liberty for which we to-day strive is a sacred thing—inseparably entwined as body and soul with that spiritual liberty for which the saviour of men died, and which is the inspiration and foundation of all just government. Because it is sacred, and death for it is akin to the sacrifice on Calvary, following far off but constant to that divine example, in every generation our best and bravest have died. Sometimes in our grief we cry out foolish and unthinking words: "the sacrifice is too great." But it is because they were our best and bravest that they had to die. No lesser sacrifice could save us. Because of it our struggle is holy - our battle is sanctified by their blood, and our victory is assured by their martyrdom. We, taking up the work they left incomplete, confident in God, offer in turn sacrifice from ourselves. It is not we who take innocent blood but we offer it, sustained by the example of our immortal dead and that divine example which inspires us all for the redemption of our country. Facing our enemies we must declare our attitude simply. We ask for no mercy, and we will make no compromise. But to the Divine Author of mercy we appeal for strength to sustain us, whatever the persecution, that we may bring our people victory in the end. The civilised world dare not continue to look on indifferent. But if the rulers of earth fail us we have yet sure succour in the Ruler of Heaven; and though to some impatient hearts His judgments seem slow, they never fail, and when they fall they are overwhelming and final.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1920, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.