Patrick Pearse, Emmet Commemoration Speech New York 1914

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Padraig Pearse

We who speak here to-night are the voice of one of the ancient indestructible things of the world. We are the voice of an idea which is older than any empire and will outlast every empire. We and ours, the inheritors of that idea, have been at age-long war with one of the most powerful empires that have ever been built up upon the earth; and that empire will pass before we pass. We are older than England and we are stronger than England. In every generation we have renewed the struggle, and so it shall be unto the end. When England thinks she has trampled out our battle in blood, some brave man rises and rallies us again; when England thinks she has purchased us with a bribe, some good man redeems us by a sacrifice. Wherever England goes on her mission of empire we meet her and we strike at her: yesterday it was on the South African veldt, to-day it is in the Senate House at Washington, to-morrow it may be in the streets of Dublin. We pursue her like a sleuth-hound; we lie in wait for her and come upon her like a thief in the night: and some day we will overwhelm her with the wrath of God.

It is not that we are apostles of hate. Who like us has carried Christ’s word of charity about the earth? But the Christ that said, “My peace I leave you, My peace I give you,’ is the same Christ that said, I bring not peace, but a sword.” There can be no peace between the right and wrong, between the truth and falsehood, between justice and oppression, between freedom and tyranny. Between them it is eternal war until the wrong is righted, until the true thing is established, until justice is accomplished, until freedom is won. So when England talks of peace we know our answer: ‘Peace with you? Peace while your one hand is at our throat and your other hand is in our pocket? Peace with a footpad? Peace with a pickpocket? Peace with the leech that is sucking our body dry of blood? Peace with the many-armed monster whose tentacles envelop us while its system emits an inky fluid that shrouds its work of murder from the eyes of men? The time has not yet come to talk of peace.” But England, we are told, offers us terms. She holds out to us the hand of friendship. She gives us a Parliament with an Executive responsible to it. Within two years the Home Rule Senate meets in College Green and King George comes to Dublin to declare its sessions open. In anticipation of that happy event our leaders have proffered England our loyalty. Mr. Redmond accepts Home Rule as a “final settlement between the two nations”; Mr. O’Brien in the fullness of his heart cries “God Save the King”; Colonel Lynch offers England his sword in case she is attacked by a foreign power.

And so this settlement is to be a final settlement. Would Wolfe Tone have accepted it as a final settlement? Would Robert Emmet have accepted it as a final settlement? Either we are heirs to their principles or we are not. If we are, we can accept no settlement as final which does not “break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils”; if we are not, how dare we go on an annual pilgrimage to Bodenstown, how dare we gather here or anywhere to commemorate the faith and sacrifice of Emmet? Did, then, those dead heroic men live in vain? Has Ireland learned a truer philosophy than the philosophy of ‘98, and a nobler way of salvation than the way of 1803? Is Wolfe Tone’s definition superseded, and do we discharge our duty to Emmet’s memory by according him annually our pity? To do the English justice, I do not think they are satisfied that Ireland will accept Home Rule as a final settlement. I think they are a little anxious to-day. If their minds were tranquil on the subject of Irish loyalty they would hardly have proclaimed the importation of arms into Ireland the moment the Irish Volunteers had begun to organise themselves. They had given the Ulster faction which is used as a catspaw by one of the English parties two years to organise and arm against that Home Rule Bill which they profess themselves so anxious to pass: to the Nationalists of Ireland they did not give two weeks. Of course, we can arm in spite of them: to-day we are organising and training the men and we have ways and means of getting arms when the men are ready for the arms. The contention I make now, and I ask you to note it well, is that England does not trust Ireland with guns; that under Home Rule or in the absence of Home Rule England declares that we Irish must remain an unarmed people; and England is right. England is right in suspecting Irish loyalty, and those Irishmen who promise Irish loyalty to England are wrong.

I believe them honest; but they have spent so much of their lives parleying with the English, they have sat so often and so long at English feasts, that they have lost communion with the ancient unpurchasable faith of Ireland, the ancient stubborn thing that forbids, as if with the voice of fate, any loyalty from Ireland to England, any union between us and them, any surrender of one jot or shred of our claim to freedom even in return for all the blessings of the British peace. I have called that old faith an indestructible thing. I have said that it is more powerful than empires. If you would understand its might you must consider how it has made all the generations of Ireland heroic. Having its root in all gentleness, in a man’s love for the place where his mother bore him, for the breast that gave him suck, for the voices of children that sounded in a house now silent, for the faces that glowed around a fireside now cold, for the story told by lips that will not speak again, having its root, I say, in all gentleness, it is yet a terrible thing urging the generations to perilous bloody attempts, nerving men to give up life for the death-in-life of dungeons, teaching little boys to die with laughing lips, giving courage to young girls to bare their backs to the lashes of a soldiery.

It is easy to imagine how the spirit of Irish patriotism called to the gallant and adventurous spirit of Tone or moved the wrathful spirit of Mitchell. In them deep called unto deep: heroic effort claimed the heroic man. But consider how the call was made to a spirit of different, yet not less noble mould; and how it was answered. In Emmet it called to a dreamer and he awoke a man of action; it called to a student and a recluse and he stood forth a leader of men; it called to one who loved the ways of peace and he became a revolutionary. I wish I could help you to realise, I wish I could myself adequately realise, the humanity, the gentle and grave humanity, of Emmet. We are so dominated by the memory of that splendid death of his, by the memory of that young figure, serene and smiling, climbing to the gallows above that sea of silent men in Thomas Street, that we forget the life of which that death was only the necessary completion: and the life has perhaps a nearer meaning for us than the death. For Emmet, finely gifted though he was, was just a young man with the same limitations, the same self-questionings, the same falterings, the same kindly human emotions surging up sometimes in such strength as almost to drown a heroic purpose, as many a young man we have known. And his task was just such a task as many of us have undertaken: he had to go through the same repellent routine of work, to deal with the hard, uncongenial details of correspondence and conference and committee meetings; he had the same sordid difficulties that we have, yea, even the vulgar difficulty of want of funds. And he had the same poor human material to work with, men who misunderstood, men who bungled, men who talked too much, men who failed at the last moment….

Yes, the task we take up again is just Emmet’s task of silent unattractive work, the routine of correspondence and committees and organising. We must face it as bravely and as quietly as he faced it, working on in patience as he worked on, hoping as he hoped: cherishing in our secret hearts the mighty hope that to us, though so unworthy, it may be given to bring to accomplishment the thing he left unaccomplished, but working on even when that hope dies within us. I would ask you to consider now how the call I have spoken of was made to the spirit of a woman, and how, equally, it was responded to.

Wherever Emmet is commemorated let Anne Devlin not be forgotten. Bryan Devlin had a dairy farm in Butterfield Lane; his fields are still green there. Five Sons of his fought in ‘98. Anne was his daughter, and she went to keep house for Emmet when he moved into Butterfield House. You know how she kept vigil there on the night of the rising. When all was lost and Emmet came out in his hurried retreat through Rathfarnham to the mountains, her greeting was—according to tradition, it was spoken in Irish, and Emmet must have replied in Irish—”Musha, bad welcome to you! Is Ireland lost by you, cowards that you are, to lead the people to destruction and then to leave them?” ‘Don’t blame me, Anne; the fault is not mine, said Emmet. And she was sorry for the pain her words had inflicted, spoken in the pain of her own disappointment. She would have tended him like a mother could he have tarried there, but his path lay to Kilmashogue, and hers was to be a harder duty.

When Sirr came out with his soldiery she was still keeping her vigil. “Where is Emmet?” “I have nothing to tell you.” To all their questions she had but one answer: “I have nothing to say; I have nothing to tell you.” They swung her up to a cart and half-hanged her several times; after each half-hanging she was revived and questioned: still the same answer. They pricked her breast with their bayonets until the blood spurted out in their faces. They dragged her to prison and tortured her for days. Not one word did they extract from that steadfast woman. And when Emmet was sold, he was sold, not by a woman, but by a man—by the friend that he had trusted—by the counsel that, having sold him, was to go through the ghastly mockery of defending him at the bar.

The fathers and mothers of Ireland should often tell their children that story of Robert Emmet and that story of Anne Devlin. To the Irish mothers who hear me I would say that when at night you kiss your children and in your hearts call down a benediction, you could wish for your boys no higher thing than that, should the need come they may be given the strength to make Emmet’s sacrifice, and for your girls no greater gift from God than such fidelity as Anne Devlin’s.

It is more than a hundred years since these things were suffered; and they were suffered in vain if nothing of the spirit of Emmet and Anne Devlin survives in the young men and young women of Ireland. Does anything of that spirit survive? I think I can speak for my own generation. I think I can speak for my contemporaries in the Gaelic League, an organisation which has not yet concerned itself with politics, but whose younger spirits are accepting the full national idea and are bringing into the national struggle the passion and the practicalness which marked the early stages of the language movement. I think I can speak for the young men of the Volunteers. So far, they have no programme beyond learning the trade of arms; a trade which no man of Ireland could learn for over a hundred years past unless he took the English shilling. It is a good programme; and we may almost commit the future of Ireland to the keeping of the Volunteers. I think I can speak for a younger generation still: for some of the young men that are entering the National University, for my own pupils at St. Enda’s College, for the boys of the Fianna Eireann.

To the grey-haired men whom I see on this platform, John Devoy and Richard Burke, I bring, then, this message from Ireland that their seed-sowing of forty years ago has not been without its harvest, that there are young men and little boys in Ireland to-day who remember what they taught and who, with God’s blessing, will one day take—or make an opportunity of putting their teaching into practice.


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