Kickham Speech from the Dock

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Kickham Speech from the Dock  (1866) 
by Charles J. Kickham
Speech from the Dock, Green Street Courthouse, 5 January, 1866. Source: Speeches From the Dock, or Protests of Irish Patriotism, by Seán Ua Cellaigh, Dublin, 1953 pp.223-27

A person unaccustomed to public speaking, as I am, can hardly marshal his ideas without preparation, and I have had no time for that. Few prisoners have ever been treated more unfairly than I have. Not only have I had to bear my share of calumny; but, from the commencement of the Commission, in every speech made by the counsel for the Crown, my name has been dragged in: not alone that, but judges on the bench have done it. How could I feel other than surprised when one of the judges read out from the “Executive Document” the names Luby, O’Leary and Kickham? I shuddered at the crimes such judges would commit if they had the power. Their lordships, I could not help thinking, might have recollected that one of these men was as yet untried, and that man might be innocent of even knowing of the existence of the document. By this process, I estimate I have been tried and found guilty five times in this court house, and I do not know how many times in Cork.

And here I cannot avoid referring to the publication of Sir John Gray’s affidavit, which he stated he withheld lest it should injure the prisoners on trial; yet that very affidavit is published on the eve of my trial. Let me now go through the articles in the indictment, though I do not intend to read them all. The first was headed ‘82’ and ‘29.’ If you take the trouble of reading through that article, you will be at a loss to see why it should have the place of honour. You may not agree with the writer; nevertheless, what he said was true that it would have been well for Ireland had the claims of the loyal Volunteers of ‘82’ been refused, for the result must have been complete Independence. If you look on the history of this country, you can see not a gleam of sun shine—nothing but the sufferings of the people, the Exodus and the rest. What Irishman could look back on the eighty-four years which have since passed and not say:

In God’s name, give us our country, and let us see what we can do with it.

There is not much treason in that. Perhaps it is in the part of the article dealing with ‘29’ the treason is. The purport of that portion was that if the English Government had refused Emancipation, the Catholics would have taken up arms, and the liberal Protestants would have joined them. The Duke of Wellington said the same thing; and I must say that a bishop in America was so oblivious of his allegiance as to organise forty thousand armed Irishmen to send them to the Motherland if the Government refused Emancipation. Concessions to Ireland have always been the result of Fenianism in some shape or other. The English Government, however, while making concessions, always expected to get something in return. Not only have they stipulated upon getting prompt payment indeed, but they also contrive to get a large instalment in advance.

To return to the article ‘82’ and ‘29,’ you will, I repeat, find no treason in it. Why, then, has it been placed in the forefront of the indictment? That has been done because of a passage in it which says, of Roman Catholic judges and Roman Catholic placemen: ‘The Catholic judge will prove as iniquitous a tool of tyranny as the most bigoted Orange partisan would be.’ It would not do for the Attorney to select articles in which one of the judges was mentioned by name in the severest language. That would be going too far. Judge Keogh has said he never saw a copy of the Irish People, and I believe if his lordship had seen these articles he would have tried to avoid sitting in judgment on the men accused of being the writers of them. But the Attorney-General knew of them, and I believe the articles in question have been placed in the forefront for the purpose of prejudicing Catholic judges against the prisoners they have to try. The Special Commission was appointed—if that is the word—for the sole purpose of enabling them to select the judges, and because it was thought the best mode of following up the attempt to put down the organisation by trampling on the law, and then trampling on morality and decency.

English rule in Ireland is on its trial. The Government admit the existence of a widespread conspiracy, both in Ireland and America. This only shows that the treatment of Ireland by England has been judged and condemned. I regard alien government of this kind as a thing to be overthrown by the methods everywhere recognised as the most efficacious for such a holy purpose. This is my vindication, my justification for the attitude I have taken:

The tribune’s tongue and poet’s pen

May sow the seed in slavish men,
But ‘tis the soldier’s sword alone
Can reap the harvest when ‘tis grown.

The man who wrote these lines did his best to make the Irish people a military people. A few years before his death, his friends observed in his library a number of military books, such as those found in the office Of the Irish People and what he said was: These are what Irishmen want—this is what they should learn.’ His statue by Hogan is now in Mount Jerome. The whole nation mourned his death, and all creeds and classes gathered around his grave. Thomas Davis saw the peasants cabins pulled down by the landlords, and witnessed the intolerable sufferings of the people, and he wrote:

God of Justice!’ I sighed, ‘send Your Spirit down

On these lords so cruel and proud,
And soften their hearts, and relax their frown,
Or else,’ —I cried aloud,
Vouchsafe Thy strength to the peasant’s hand
To drive them at length from off the land.

What did the Iris People say to compare with that? I have done no more than he has done. I could not say what he had said with the irresistible force he has been able to employ. But I am ready for your judgment: sentence me to a felon’s doom, if you so choose.


Judge Keogh, before passing sentence asked him if he had any further remarks to make in reference to his case. Mr. Kickham briefly replied:

I believe, my lords, I have said enough already. I will only add that I am convicted for doing nothing but my duty. I have endeavoured to serve Ireland, and now I am prepared to suffer for Ireland.’’


Then the judge with many expressions of sympathy for the prisoner, and many compliments in reference to his intellectual attainments, sentenced him to be kept in penal servitude for fourteen years.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.