Thomas Davis and the "Nation" - The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)

John Mitchel
Author’s Edition (undated)

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Any faltering—any admission, even that there was anything in Ireland to be complained of, and everything might follow. Repeal was to be crushed, said the Tories; was to be bought, said the Whigs. And still, as England grew more resolute on the one side, Ireland became more ardent on the other.

I have already mentioned Thomas Davis and his circle of friends. Through the Nation they had now the ear of the people almost as completely as O'Connell himself; and while they carefully reported and circulated all his speeches, they were at the same time infusing into the agitation a proud and defiant military spirit—by essays on Irish history, and national ballads, presenting, with the symmetry and polish of a cut gem, the most striking events and personages of our story; from Clontaf, where "King Brian smote down the Dane," to Benburb, where Owen Roe O'Neill trampled the blue banner of the Covenanting army, and Limerick, from whose old towers and moats the sword of Sarsfield bore back King William. In any account of the movement which then stirred the Irish people, it would be a blunder to omit this silent band of literary revolutionists with their exciting appeals to history, their popular essays, full of accurate knowledge, and instinct with genial fire, and their impassioned and hopeful songs. The enemy appreciated them well; and O'Connell feared them hardly less; for they threatened to precipitate a species of struggle for which he was by no means prepared. The Morning Post, one of the Ministerial organs, in July, described these young revolutionists in no complimentary terms, thus:—

"We have reason to believe that the younger part of the Irish agitators are a far more serious set of men than their fathers. They think more, and drink and joke a great deal less. They are full of the dark vices of Jacobinism. They worship revenge as a virtue. It suits the gloomy habit of their souls. They look forward to the slaughter of those they hate as the greatest enjoyment they could experience. Our correspondent tells us that the example of Belgium is much in the heads of these agitators, but that, in his opinion, if these people had their way, the upshot would be a Republic, and not a Monarchy. We have every reason to believe that this opinion is a correct one. The young men of the movement are Jacobin Republicans. They are full of vanity and of bad passions, and they want to be themselves the government; and they have an enthusiasm., which, once brought into action, may perhaps almost convert dreams into realities, and make short work with our placid, patient, unmovable lookers-on, who think they are discharging the functions of government."

The presence, and vehement activity, and growing influence of these men—namely, Dillon, Barry, Doheny, MacNevin, ...continue reading »

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