Prelude: The Historic Case for Irish Independence

THE history of Ireland exhibits an ancient and wise polity, attentive to individual freedom and careful for the creation of beauty, rebuilding the culture of Europe after the darkness of the barbarian migrations, invaded finally by a military organisation that thrived on the spoils of conquest, and whose only art that posterity can discover was the building of fortified abodes. It exhibits, therefore, the issue between a higher and a lower Civilisation, in which the lower held the advantage because the contest had necessarily to be fought on its own plane. For, after the invasion, Ireland became the scene of constant warfare--a warfare that intended only to uproot and to destroy. At the moment of the invasion Ireland had been distracted by dynastic dispute, but when her people appreciated the peril that threatened the State, they united in a series of wars to expel the invader that had established himself at the ports and along the waterways of the country. Publicly, and by an international document, they repudiated the sovereignty the King of England had assumed in the country, and finally they threw back the invading forces to a diminishing area of land round about the City of Dublin. At that moment England herself was rent by dynastic war, and, profiting by England's distraction, a great era of prosperity opened for Ireland. Before the State, however, could include the new elements that had been cast into it, could renew the damage that had been done to its polity, and could thus complete itself, England had adjusted her dynastic feuds and re-opened war on the nation. The new wars were marked, not only by military excesses reprobated even by contemporary Englishmen, but specially by a statecraft that, taking advantage of the earlier unsettlement that had been caused, sought by bribes and allurements to create disunion in the nation.

Divide et Impera was the watchword. The art, literature, culture, customs, language and civil polity of the nation were, in these wars, the marks of special enmity. English enactments pronounced against them, English governors endeavoured to obliterate them, and English armies destroyed all that they could seize. The attempt was made to destroy every sign and token that such a thing as a separate Irish nation, with its own distinctive culture and polity, existed, or had ever existed. The Irish language was to be supplanted by the English language, Irish titles by English titles, Irish customs by English customs, Irish law by English law, and the Irish Polity by an English Polity. Fighting for their very existence the people rallied under the heir, by Irish law, of the old monarchic line, through whom treaties were made with the Papal See and the Crown of Spain to expel the invader and re-establish the international sovereignty of Ireland. In 1602 this alliance was defeated, and the invader took advantage of his victory to extort the utmost of his will. He had sought to obliterate all signs of a separate Irish nation; but he had found it impossible to do so, because the nation was included within its own distinctive polity. He had sought to break the polity; but he had found it impossible to do so because the polity was built upon the land in the possession of a nation of freemen. Therefore, he determined to tear out the nation by its roots by sweeping the people from the land. Area after area was marked for plantation.

The people were swept to mountain and to waste to starve as they might, while Englishmen were brought over to take their place. Some of the nation became servitors where they had been freemen, and tilled their own land for the stranger. For the most part they took to the hills in bands and looked down into the plains where the smoke curled from stranger hearths. Then they swept down and drove the stranger headlong, and the war was re-opened. Another of the old monarchic line was found to lead them; but he was harassed by new difficulties, and when again the war was lost, the uprooting of the nation took a new and terrible form. The nation was now swept out of three of its four provinces, and confined to the fourth. Yet the task had hardly been accomplished than the people began steadily to drift back across the country to the places where their fathers had been freemen, so that at the end of the seventeenth century their names are again to be found where their names had been familiar at the beginning of the century. Once again the war was opened, and once again was lost, and once again a new despotism was devised. In the name of religious persecution the nation was outlawed. In the eyes of English law, now established on military might, no such person as an Irish Catholic was presumed to exist. The squalor and misery endured by the nation in its bondage during the eighteenth century is a page of blackest horror. When its jailors arose and demanded, and won, legislative independence out of the same needs that it had known centuries before, it gave little heed. But when those jailers were struck down by England, when their legislative and economic independence was taken from them, then the nation, seeing the watchers at the gate weakened and vanishing, arose and marched into the nineteenth century to win back the rights that had been robbed from them. They won back civil and religious freedom; they won back an independent and distinctive culture, with its roots in an honourable past; and, now that the landlords had returned to England, where their rents were sent to them, they rose and won back the land on which their fathers had built the National State. In the meantime they rose in a continual series of armed revolts, the failure of each rising being the begetter of another, to win back the sovereign independence of the nation. Finally, this also was proclaimed.