The World's Famous Orations/Volume 6/On the Irish as "Aliens"
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ON THE IRISH AS "ALIENS"
Born in 1791, died in 1851; admitted to Irish Bar, 1814; one of the founders of the Catholic Association, 1823, supporting O'Connell's movement for emancipation; elected to Parliament, 1829, and again 1831; Vice-President Board of Trade, 1839; Master of the Mint, 1846; British Minister in Florence, 1850.
I should be surprised, indeed, if, while you are doing us wrong, you did not profess your solicitude to do us justice. From the day on which Strongbow set his foot upon the shore of Ireland, Englishmen were never wanting in protestations of their deep anxiety to do us justice. Even Strafford, the deserter of the people's cause—the renegade Wentworth, who gave evidence in Ireland of the spirit of instinctive tyranny which predominated in his character—even Strafford, while he trampled upon our rights, and trod upon the heart of the country, protested his solicitude to do justice to Ireland! What marvel is it, then, that gentlemen opposite should deal in such vehement protestations?
There is, however, one man of great abilities—not a member of this House, but whose talents and whose boldness have placed him in the topmost place in his party—who, disdaining all imposture, and thinking it the best course to appeal directly to the religious and national antipathies of the people of this country,—abandoning all reserve, and flinging off the slender veil by which his political associates affect to cover, altho they can not hide, their motives,—distinctly and audaciously tells the Irish people that they are not entitled to the same privileges as Englishmen; and pronounces them, in any particular which could enter his minute enumeration of the circumstances by which fellow citizenship is created, in race, identity and religion, to be aliens;—to be aliens in race, to be aliens in country, to be aliens in religion! Aliens! good God! was Arthur, Duke of Wellington, in the House of Lords,—and did he not start up and exclaim, "Hold, I have seen the aliens do their duty!"
The Duke of Wellington is not a man of an excitable temperament. His mind is of a cast too martial to be easily moved; but, notwithstanding his habitual inflexibility, I can not help thinking that, when he heard his Roman Catholic countrymen (for we are his countrymen) designated by a phrase as offensive as the abundant vocabulary of his eloquent confederate could supply,—I can not help thinking that he ought to have recollected the many fields of fight in which we have been contributors to his renown. "The battles, sieges, fortunes that he has passed," ought to have come back upon him. He ought to have remembered that, from the earliest achievement in which he displayed that military genius which has placed him foremost in the annals of modern warfare, down to that last and surpassing combat which has made his name imperishable—from Assaye to Waterloo—the Irish soldiers, with whom your armies are filled, were the inseparable auxiliaries to the glory with which his unparalleled successes have been crowned.
Whose were the arms that drove your bayonets at Vimiéra through the phalanxes that never reeled in the shock of war before? What desperate valor climbed the steeps and filled the moats at Badajos? All his victories should have rushed and crowded back upon his memory—Vimiéra, Badajos, Salamanca, Albuéra, Toulouse, and, last of all, the greatest—. Tell me—for you were there—I appeal to the gallant soldier before me [Sir Henry Harding], from whose opinions I differ, but who bears, I know, a generous heart in an intrepid breast;—tell me—for you must needs remember—on that day when the destinies of mankind were trembling in the balance, while death fell in showers, when the artillery of France was leveled with a precision of the most deadly science, when her legions, cited by the voice and inspired by the example of their mighty leader, rushed again and again to the onset;—tell me if, for an instant, when to hesitate for an instant was to be lost, the "aliens" blenched?
And when, at length, the moment for the last and decided movement had arrived, and the valor which had so long been wisely checked was, at last, let loose,—when, with words familiar, but immortal, the great captain commanded the great assault,—tell me if Catholic Ireland with less heroic valor than the natives of this your own glorious country precipitated herself upon the foe? The blood of England, Scotland, and of Ireland, flowed in the same stream, and drenched the same field. When the chill morning dawned, their dead lay cold and stark together;—in the same deep pit their bodies were deposited; the green corn of spring is now breaking from their commingled dust; the dew falls from Heaven upon their union in the grave. Partakers in every peril, in the glory shall we not be permitted to participate; and shall we be told, as a requital, that we are estranged from the noble country for whose salvation our life-blood was poured out?
- Delivered in the House of Commons February 23, 1837, the occasion being a debate on the Dish Municipal Bill. The passage here given was prompted by a remark made a few days before in the House of Lords, by Lord Lyndhurst, who referred to the Irish as "aliens in blood and religion." Lord Lyndhurst happened to be present in the House when Sheil rose to speak. Sheil pointed indignantly at him, which caused every member to turn his eyes on Lyndhurst, while shouts arose from the two sides and continued for some minutes.