Great Speeches of the War/Redmond (2)
[Speech at a great patriotic meeting held in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, on March 17, 1915.]
Mr. Chairman:—If there is one thing more than another which I most value about this meeting it is its character. I have often, in the octave of St. Patrick, had to speak in Manchester, but I have on these occasions addressed myself only to the Irish people of Manchester, I am proud to know that the present meeting is one not of Irishmen alone; but of Englishmen as well—[cheers]—firmly united in a common purpose. [Cheers.] I am proud to think it is a meeting of the representatives of every political party which existed in this country before the war, and the mere assembling of such a meeting in this great English centre is a proof of the profound and ineradicable change which has come over the Irish question.
When this war is over, we will all of us, of all previous parties, go back to the consideration of political questions in a new political world. [Cheers.] Ireland has been admitted by the democracy of England, upon equal terms, to her proper place in an Empire in the building of which she had as much to do as England herself—[cheers]—and she has taken that place with perfect and absolute good faith and loyalty. In ordinary circumstances this St. Patrick's Day of 1915 would have been for us a day of triumph, of universal congratulation and jubilation. But alas! for Ireland, the mother of sorrows, we are met to-day in a moment of suffering and of deep tragedy. The moment for our jubilation is postponed. The shadow of war—ay, the shadow of death—hangs heavily over our people and our country, and our first and most immediate duty at this moment is not to give expression to triumph over our political successes, not to take part in jubilation or congratulation, but to do, every man and woman of us, what we can to see that Ireland bears her right and honourable part in the duty that is cast upon us. [Cheers.]
From the day of the declaration of war to this moment I have not made one single controversial political speech, and I have spoken in every province in Ireland to the greatest and most united and most enthusiastic meetings that I ever faced in the whole of my political experience. My one theme has been to impress upon Ireland the duty of taking a part to-day worthy of her history and her traditions. The one political hope I have ventured to express, and I express it again here with all the fervour of my soul, is that when the war is over the common dangers which all Irishmen of all creeds and all parties have faced together, the commingling of their blood upon the battle-field and their death side by side like brothers in a foreign land, may have the effect of utterly and completely and for ever obliterating the bitterness and divisions and hatreds of the past, so that the new Constitution we have won may be inaugurated in a country pacified by sacrifices and amongst a people united by the memory of common suffering. [Cheers.]
This is the first speech I have had the opportunity of making in Great Britain since the outbreak of the war, and I will confine myself to considering what the Irish race has done since the declaration of war. I am proud to make the boast that every section of Ireland has bravely and nobly done its duty. [Cheers.] I wish to draw no invidious distinctions between one section of my countrymen and another. You will remember the circumstances of Ireland are peculiar. For more than half a century the flower of her manhood has been fleeing from her shores to distant lands. No part of Ireland has suffered more than another. The emigration from Ulster has been, if anything, greater than the emigration from the other provinces. In the last sixty years over four millions of people have emigrated from Ireland. Since the year 1900 over half a million have emigrated, and two-thirds of the people who have gone have been young men of military age. I will not dwell on the sad political causes which ended in this emigration, but every man to-day must deplore the fact that for these reasons Ireland is not able to make a contribution in men towards this war such as she would have been able to make, if political and social and economic conditions had allowed her population even to remain stationary. Happily, for all of us, the drain of emigration has now been arrested. Last year, 1914, was the first year since the great famine, when the population of Ireland actually increased. [Cheers.] The emigration for last year was fifty per cent, less than it was the year before. [Cheers.] It must also be remembered that Ireland is purely an agricultural country, and at present there is a great dearth of agricultural labour in many parts. There are few great centres of population after Dublin and Belfast, and yet in spite of these facts Ireland's contribution to the army has been of a truly remarkable kind. [Cheers.] The Irish Government have given me some figures which they have laboriously collected from every parish in Ireland with reference to enlistments. These figures show that up to February 15 there were Irishmen from Ireland with the colours to the number of 99,704. [Cheers.] Recruiting is going on at the present moment at the rate of about 4,000 a month. From December 15 to January 15 there were 3,858 recruits; from January 15 to February 15 there were 4,601 recruits. It has been stated that at the Grafton Street recruiting office in Dublin they are now getting over five times as many recruits as they got in August and September, and that the men are still coming in from all parts of the city and county of Dublin. There are so-called Unionists, so-called Nationalists, and—it is interesting to note—so-called Sin Feiners, [Laughter.] All young men now seem to be imbued with a new idea of their duties and responsibilities. There were with the colours on February 15, 20,210 men who had been actually enrolled and disciplined and drilled members of the Irish National Volunteers—[cheers],—and there were 22,970 Ulster Volunteers with the colours.
The volunteers presented one of the most extraordinary spectacles ever seen in the history of our country. There are to-day in Ireland two large bodies of volunteers. One is called the Ulster Volunteers, the other is called the National Volunteers. They are partially armed and partially drilled, but they are all filled with the true military sentiment and spirit. Fifty thousand of them have joined the army, and of the rest many are not of military age, are not physically fit, or are prevented from joining the army by just the same reasons as prevented thousands of men in this country. But these men are all quite capable of home defence. On August 3 in the House of Commons I told the Government that, for the first time in the history of the relations between England and Ireland, Ireland could be left safely to the defence of her own sons, and I appealed to the Government to allow the Irish to undertake that duty. At the same time I made an appeal to the Ulster Volunteers to join hands with the National Volunteers in this work. I wish to make no complaint, but I think it right to say that I have received no response to either appeal. The Prime Minister on August 10 said the Government were seriously considering how the volunteers could be , but that Lord Kitchener's first duty was to raise his new army. "Subject to that," Mr. Asquith said, "and concurrent with it, he will do everything in his power to arrange for the full equipment and organization of the Irish volunteers. Up to this time nothing has been done. Early in the war the Irish volunteers made an offer whereby 20,000 men could have been made available for home defence, so that not a single regular soldier need be detained from the front for that purpose. The offer has not been accepted. I have some reason to think that in military circles in Ireland there is a strong feeling that from a purely military point of view enlistment for home defence should be permitted; 20,000 men of Kitchener's army, who are supposed to be drilling and training for the front, are being wasted; by being engaged in defending various points on the coast, railways, bridges, and waterworks. The whole of these men could be set free, if Irishmen were allowed to take their places.
I have told you that Ireland has sent from Irish soil over 100,000 men to the colours. What about the Irish race in Great Britain and throughout the world? Some figures were recently published which showed that 115,000 recruits of Irish birth or descent had gone from Great Britain since the beginning of the war, and after making careful inquiries I am convinced that these figures err on the side of modesty. I have been told by responsible men in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, that an enormous proportion of the contingents sent by those countries to the army was made up of Irishmen. It is no exaggeration to say that at this moment the Irish race can number with the colours at least a quarter of a million sons.
There are some places in England where Irish recruits have been banded together in Irish brigades, and all that they do that is honourable and chivalrous will redound to the credit of Ireland. But I regret that the great bulk of the Irish recruits have been scattered among the English regiments, and to those Irishmen who are going to enlist I would like to make an appeal. There are in Ireland three divisions. One has been called the Ulster Division, and I am told it is very nearly full. Another, the 10th Division, is intended to be a purely Irish division, but some thousands of English recruits have been drafted into it. The third, the 16th Division, we have come to call the Irish Brigade, not because we do not know the difference between a division and a brigade, but for reasons of history and affection. The term recalled the history of the old Irish Brigade, which for nearly a hundred years cast the light of its glory over all the battlefields of Europe. This Irish Brigade is not quite complete. It still requires about two thousand men, and I hope that every Irishman in England who enlists will choose one of the regiments in the 16th Division. I have heard some complaints of difficulties put in the way of Irish recruits who desired to enter Irish regiments. I have been told that recruiting officers have brought pressure to bear upon recruits to prevent them from going into Irish regiments, and I should like to get hold of an authentic case. When these rumours first came to me, I went to the War Office, and I was assured that a recruiting officer who did anything of that kind was guilty of a gross abuse of duty. Any man who went into a recruiting office to enlist was entitled to choose for himself what regiment he would enter, and whether that regiment was stationed in Fermoy or Tipperary the Government would send him free of charge.
I do not want to make comparisons, I believe every country is doing its duty in the best way it can. I make no claim for Ireland except that Ireland is doing its duty. Our record is one of which we can be proud. If we turn for a moment to the record of performances at the front, I think we Irishmen can hold up our heads. [Cheers.] Sir John French is an Irishman—[cheers]; he springs from good old Irish stock. Admiral Beatty is an Irishman—[cheers]—from the County Wexford. Admiral Carden, who is bombarding the Dardanelles, is an Irishman from Tipperary. [Loud cheers.] The lieutenant commander of the destroyer that sunk the U 12 the other day is a Creagh from county Clare. And if we leave the high in rank and go down to the rank and file—[cheers]—I think the name of Michael O'Leary—[cheers]—will be for ever associated with the history of this war. If you look at the performances at the front from another point of view, and look at the casualty lists and see how whole regiments of Irish troops have been almost wiped out, I do not think any man will be found in this country to deny that Ireland is doing her duty. [Cheers.] But, after all, we make no boast of it. It is nothing to be wondered at. It is all in keeping with the history and traditions of our race. [Cheers.] If Ireland had held back in this war she would have belied her whole history. How the calculations of the Kaiser have been falsified! He expected to meet a divided Empire. [Laughter.] It is easy to laugh. Ten years ago he might have done so. He expected revolt and disaffection in South Africa. He expected revolt and disaffection in Ireland, and in Egypt, and in India. But he forgot the march of events and the march of ideas in this country. He forgot the march of education and enlightenment in this country. He forgot that the rule of the people has been substituted for the rule of the ascendancy classes. And he forgot that the rule of the English democracy has united this Empire upon a firm and sure foundation of liberty. Principles of freedom have turned South Africa into a loyal, because self-governing, country. The principle of freedom has made Canada and Australia and New Zealand loyal, because they are self-governing. The same thing has happened in Ireland. [Cheers.]
We Irishmen feel that to-day, at last, we have entered on terms of equality into the Empire, and we say we will defend that Empire with loyalty and devotion. [Cheers.] For the first time in the history of the British Empire, we can feel in our very souls that in fighting for the Empire we are fighting for Ireland. [Cheers.] My own belief is that every Irish soldier who gives his life on the battlefields of Flanders dies for Ireland, for her liberty and her prosperity, as truly as did any of the heroes and martyrs of our race in the past. [Cheers.] It was a blessed day when the democracy of Britain trusted Ireland. That trust has done what force could never do. That trust has done what centuries of coercion failed to accomplish. It has bound two nations together in a unity of common interests and common rights and common liberties, and it has given to us for a watchword for the future the old classic motto, Imperium et libertas—Empire and liberty. [Cheers.]