I have now completed my survey of the main conditions which, in my opinion, must be taken into account by anyone who would understand the Irish mind, and still more by those who seek to work with it in rebuilding the fortunes of the country. The task has been one of great difficulty, as it was necessary to tell, not only the truthfor that even an official person may be excusedbut also the whole truth, which, unless made compulsory by the kissing of the book, is regarded as a gratuitous kissing of the rod. From the frying pan of political dispute, I have passed into the fire of sectarian controversy. I have not hesitated to poach on the preserves of historians and economists, and have even bearded the pedagogues in their dens. Before my stock of metaphors is exhausted, let me say that I have one hope of escape from the cross-fire of denunciation which independent speaking about Ireland is apt to provoke. I once witnessed a football match between two villages, one of which favoured a political party called by the name of a leader, with an ism added to indicate a policy, the other adopting the same name, still further elongated by the prefix anti. When I arrived on the scene the game had begun in deadly earnest, but I noticed the ball lying unmolested in another quarter of
p.147the field. In Irish public life I have often had reason to envy that ball, and perhaps now its lot may be mine, while the game goes on and the critics pay attention to each other.
To my friendly critics a word of explanation is due. The opinions to which I have given expression are based upon personal observation and experience extending over a quarter of a century during which I have been in close touch with Irish life at home, and not unfamiliar with it abroad. I have referred to history only when I could not otherwise account for social and economic conditions with which I came into contact, or with which I desired practically to deal. Whether looking back over the dreary wastes of Anglo-Irish history, or studying the men and things of to-day, I came to conclusions which differed widely from what I had been taught to believe by those whose theories of Irish development had not been subjected to any practical test. Deeply as I have felt for the past sufferings of the Irish people and their heritage of disability and distress, I could not bring myself to believe that, where misgovernment had continued so long, and in such an immense variety of circumstances and conditions, the governors could have been alone to blame. I envied those leaders of popular thought whose confidence in themselves and in their followers was shaken by no such reflections. But the more I listened to them the more the conviction was borne in upon me that they were seeking to build an impossible future upon an imaginary past.
Those who know Ireland from within are aware that Irish thought upon Irish problems has been undergoing a silent, and therefore too lightly regarded revolution. The surface of Irish life, often so inexplicably ruffled, and sometimes so inexplicably calm, has just now become smooth to a degree which has led to hasty conclusions as to the real cause and the inward significance of the change. To chime in with the thoughtless optimism of the hour will do no good; but a real understanding of the forces which have created the existing situation will reveal an unprecedented opportunity for those who would give to the Irish mind that full and free development which has been so long and, as I have tried to show, so unnaturally delayed.
Among these new forces in Irish life there is one which has been greatly misunderstood; and yet to its influence during the last few years much of the transformation scene in the drama of the Irish Question is really due. It deserves more than a passing notice here, because, while its aims as formulated appear somewhat restricted, it unquestionably tends in practice towards that national object of paramount importance, the strengthening of character. I refer to the movement known as the Gaelic Revival. Of this movement I am myself but an outside observer, having been forced to devote nearly all my time and energies to a variety of attempts which aim at the doing in the industrial sphere of very much the same work as that which the Gaelic movement attempts in the intellectual spherethe re
p.149habilitation of Ireland from within. But in the course of my work of agricultural and industrial development I naturally came across this new intellectual force and found that when it began to take effect, so far from diverting the minds of the peasantry from the practical affairs of life, it made them distinctly more amenable to the teaching of the dry economic doctrine of which I was an apostle. The reason for this is plain enough to me now, though, like all my theories about Ireland, the truth came to me from observation and practical experience rather than as the result of philosophic speculation. For the co-operative movement depended for its success upon a two-fold achievement. In order to get it started at all, its principles and working details had to be grasped by the Irish peasant mind and commended to his intelligence. Its further development and its hopes of permanence depend upon the strengthening of character, which, I must repeat, is the foundation of all Irish progress.
The Irish Agricultural Organisation Society
exerts its influencea now established and rapidly-growing influencemainly through the medium of associations. The Gaelic movement, on the other hand, acts more directly upon the individual and the two forces are therefore in a sense complementary to each other. Both will be seen to be playing an important partI should say a necessary partin the reconstruction of our national life. At any rate, I feel that it is necessary to my argument that I should explain to those who are as ill-informed
[Footnote: This body is fully described in the next chapter.]
p.150about the Gaelic revival as I was myself until its practical usefulness was demonstrated to me, what exactly seems to be the most important outcome of the work of that movement.
The Gaelic League, which defines its objects as The preservation of Irish as the national language of Ireland and the extension of its use as a spoken tongue; the study and publication of existing Irish literature and the cultivation of a modern literature in Irish, was formed in 1893. Like the Agricultural Organisation Society, the Gaelic League is declared by its constitution to be strictly non-political and non-sectarian, and, like it, has been the object of much suspicion, because severance from politics in Ireland has always seemed to the politician the most active form of enmity. Its constitution, too, is somewhat similar, being democratically guided in its policy by the elected representatives of its affiliated branches. It is interesting to note that the funds with which it carries on an extensive propaganda are mainly supplied from the small contributions of the poor. It publishes two periodicals one weekly and another monthly. It administers an income of some £6,000 a year, not reckoning what is spent by local branches, and has a paid staff of eleven officers, a secretary, treasurer, and nine organisers, together with a large number of voluntary workers. It resembled the agricultural movement also in the fact that it made very little headway during the first few years of its existence. But it had a nucleus of workers with new ideas for the intellectual
p.151regeneration of Ireland. In face of much apathy they persisted with their propaganda, and they have at last succeeded in making their ideas understood. So much is evident from the rapidly-increasing number of affiliated branches of the League, which in March, 1903, amounted to 600, almost treble the number registered two years before. But even this does not convey any idea of the influence which the movement exerts. Within the past year the teaching of the Irish language has been introduced into no less than 1,300 National Schools. In 1900 the number of schools in which Irish was taught was only about 140. The statement that our people do not read books is generally accepted as true, yet the sale of the League publications during one year reached nearly a quarter of a million copies. These results cannot be left unconsidered by anybody who wishes to understand the psychology of the Irish mind. The movement can truly claim to have effected the conversion of a large amount of intellectual apathy into genuine intellectual activity.
The declared objects of the Leaguethe popularising of the national language and literaturedo not convey, perhaps, an adequate conception of its actual work, or of the causes of its popularity. It seeks to develop the intellectual, moral, and social life of the Irish people from within, and it is doing excellent work in the cause of temperance. Its president, Dr. Douglas Hyde, in his evidence given before the University Commission,
[Footnote: See Appendix to Third Report, p. 311.]
p.152pointed out that the success of the League was due to its meeting the people half way; that it educated them by giving them something which they could appreciate and assimilate; and that it afforded a proof that people who would not respond to alien educational systems, will respond with eagerness to something they can call their own. The national factor in Ireland has been studiously eliminated from national education, and Ireland is perhaps the only country in Europe where it was part of the settled policy of those who had the guidance of education to ignore the literature, history, arts, and traditions of the people. It was a fatal policy, for it obviously tended to stamp their native country in the eyes of Irishmen with the badge of inferiority and to extinguish the sense of healthy self-respect which comes from the consciousness of high national ancestry and traditions. This policy, rigidly adhered to for many years, almost extinguished native culture among Irishmen, but it did not succeed in making another form of culture acceptable to them. It dulled the intelligence of the people, impaired their interest in their own surroundings, stimulated emigration by teaching them to look on other countries as more agreeable places to live in, and made Ireland almost a social desert. Men and women without culture or knowledge of literature or of music have succeeded a former generation who were passionately interested in these things, an interest which extended down even to the wayside cabin. The loss of these elevating influences in Irish society probably
p.153accounts for much of the arid nature of Irish controversies, while the reaction against their suppression has given rise to those displays of rhetorical patriotism for which the Irish language has found the expressive term raimeis, and which (thanks largely to the Gaelic movement) most people now listen to with a painful and half-ashamed sense of their unreality.
The Gaelic movement has brought to the surface sentiments and thoughts which had been developed in Gaelic Ireland through hundreds of years, and which no repression had been able to obliterate altogether, but which still remained as a latent spiritual inheritance in the mind. And now this stream, which has long run underground, has again emerged even stronger than before, because an element of national self-consciousness has been added at its re-emergence. A passionate conviction is gaining ground that if Irish traditions, literature, language, art, music, and culture are allowed to disappear, it will mean the disappearance of the race; and that the education of the country must be nationalised if our social, intellectual, or even our economic position is to be permanently improved.
With this view of the Gaelic movement my own thoughts are in complete accord. It is undeniable that the pride in country justly felt by Englishmen, a pride developed by education and a knowledge of their history, has had much to do with the industrial pre-eminence of England; for the pioneers of its commerce have been often actuated as much by patriotic motives as by the
p.154desire for gain. The education of the Irish people has ignored the need for any such historical basis for pride or love of country, and, for my part, I feel sure that the Gaelic League is acting wisely in seeking to arouse such a sentiment, and to found it mainly upon the ages of Ireland's story when Ireland was most Irish.
It is this expansion of the sentiment of nationality outside the domain of party politicsthe distinction, so to speak, between nationality and nationalismwhich is the chief characteristic of the Gaelic movement. Nationality had come to have no meaning other than a political one, any broader national sentiment having had little or nothing to feed upon. During the last century the spirit of nationality has found no unworthy expression in literature, in the writings of Ferguson, Standish O'Grady and Yeats, which, however, have not been even remotely comparable in popularity with the political journalism in prose and rhyme in which the age has been so fruitful. It has never expressed itself in the arts, and not only has Ireland no representative names in the higher regions of art, but the national deficiency has been felt in every department of industry into which design enters, and where national art-characteristics have a commercial value. The national customs, culture, and recreations which made the country a pleasant place to live in, have almost disappeared, and with them one of the strongest ties which bind people to the country of their birth. The Gaelic revival, as I understand it, is an
p.155attempt to supply these deficiencies, to give to Irish people a culture of their own; and I believe that by awakening the feelings of pride, self-respect, and love of country, based on knowledge, every department of Irish life will be invigorated.
Thus it is that the elevating influence upon the individual is exerted. Politics have never awakened initiative among the mass of the people, because there was no programme of action for the individual. Perhaps it is as well for Ireland that such should have been the case, for, as it has been shown, we have had little of the political thought which should be at the back of political action. Political action under present conditions must necessarily be deputed to a few representatives, and after the vote is given, or the cheering at a meeting has ceased, the individual can do nothing but wait, and his lethargy tends to become still deeper. In the Gaelic revival there is a programme of work for the individual; his mind is engaged, thought begets energy, and this energy vitalises every part of his nature. This makes for the strengthening of character, and so far from any harm being done to the practical movement, to which I have so often referred, the testimony of my fellow-workers, as well as my own observation, is unanimous in affirming that the influence of the branches of the Gaelic League is distinctly useful whenever it is sought to move the people to industrial or commercial activity.
Many of my political friends cannot believeand I am afraid that nothing that I can say will make them
p.156believethat the movement is not necessarily, in the political sense, separatist in its sentiment. This impression is, in my opinion, founded on a complete misunderstanding of Anglo-Irish history. Those who look askance at the rise of the Gaelic movement ignore the important fact that there has never been any essential opposition between the English connection and Irish nationality. The Elizabethan chiefs of the sixteenth and the Gaelic poets of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when the relations between the two countries were far worse than they are to-day, knew nothing of this opposition. The true sentiment of nationality is a priceless heritage of every small nation which has done great things, and had it not largely perished in Ireland, separatist sentiment, the offspring, not of Irish nationality, but of Irish political nationalism, could hardly have survived until to-day.
But undoubtedly we strike here on a danger to the Gaelic movement, so far at least as that movement is bound up with the future of the Gaelic League; a danger which cannot be left out of account in any estimate of this new force in Irish life. The continuance of the League as a beneficent force, or indeed a force at all, seems to me, as in the case of the co-operative organisation to which I have compared it, to be vitally dependent on a scrupulous observance of that part of its constitution which keeps the door open to Irishmen of every creed or political party. Only thus can the League remain a truly national body, and attract from all classes Irishmen
p.157who are capable of forwarding its true policy. I do not think there is much danger of a spirit of sectarian exclusiveness developing itself in a body mainly composed of Roman Catholics whose President is a Protestant. But it cannot be denied that there has been an occasional tendency to interpret the no politics clause of the constitution in a manner which seems hardly fair to Unionists or even to constitutional Home Rulers who may have joined the organisation on the strength of its declaration of political neutrality. If this is not a mere transitory phenomenon its effect will be serious. As a political body the League would immediately sink into insignificance and probably disappear amid a crowd of contending factions. It would certainly cease to fulfil its great function of creating a nationality of the thought and spirit, in which all Irishmen who wish to be anything else than English colonists might aspire to share. Its early successes in bringing together men of different political views were remarkable. At the very outset of its career it enlisted the support of so militant a politician as the late Rev. R. R. Kane, who declared that though a Unionist and an Orangeman he had no desire to forget that he was an O'Cahan. On this basis it is difficult to set a limit to the fruitfulness of the work which this organisation might do for Ireland, and I cannot regard any who would depart from the letter and spirit of its constitution as sincere, or if sincere as wise, friends of the movement with which they are associated.
Of minor importance are certain extravagances in the
p.158conduct of the movement which time and practical experience can hardly fail to correct. I have borne witness to the value of the cultivation of the language even from my own practical standpoint, but I cannot think that to sign cheques in Irish, and get angry when those who cannot understand will not honour them, is a good way of demonstrating that value. I should, speaking generally, regard it as a mistake, supposing it were practicable, to substitute Irish for English in the conduct of business. If any large development of the trade in pampooties, turf and potheen between the Aran Islands and the mainland were in contemplation, this attempt might be justified. But on behalf of those Philistines who attach paramount importance to the development of Irish industry, trade and commerce on a large and comprehensive scale, I should regret a course which, from a business point of view, would be about as wise as the advocacy of distinctive Irish currency, weights and measures. And I protest more strongly against the reasons which have been given to me for this policy. I have been told that, in order to generate sufficient enthusiasm, a young movement of the kind must adopt a rigorous discipline and an aggressive policy. Not only are we thus confronted with a false issue, but by giving countenance to the outward acceptance of what the better sense rejects, these over-zealous leaguers are administering to the Irish character the very poison which all Irish movements should combine to eliminate from the national life.
The position which I have given to the Gaelic Revival among the new influences at work and making for progress in Ireland will hardly be understood by those who have never embraced the idea of combining all such forces in a constructive and comprehensive scheme of national advancement. One instance of the potential utility of the Gaelic League will appeal to those of my readers who attach as much importance as I do to the improvement of the peasant home. Concerted action to this end is being planned while I write. It is proposed to take a few districts where the peasants are members of one of the new co-operative societies, and where the clergy have taken a keen interest in the economic and social advancement of the members of the Society, but where the cottages are in the normal condition. The new Department will lend the services of its domestic economy teachers. The Organisation Society, the clergy, and the Department thus working together will, I hope, be able to get the people of the selected districts to effect an improvement in their domestic surroundings which will act as an invaluable example for other districts to follow. But in order that this much needed contribution to the well-being of the peasant proprietary, upon which all our thoughts are just now concentrated, may be assisted with the enthusiasm which belongs in Ireland to a consciously national effort, it is hoped that common action with the Gaelic League may be possible, so that this force also may be enlisted in the solution of this part of our central problem, the rehabilitation of rural life in Ireland.
It is, however, on more general grounds that I have, albeit as an outside observer, watched with some anxiety and much gratification the progress of the Gaelic Revival. In the historical evolution of the Irish mind we find certain qualities atrophied, so to speak, by disuse; and to this cause I attribute the past failures of the race in practical life at home. I have shown how politics, religion, and our systems of education have all, in their respective influences upon the people, missed to a large extent, the effect upon character which they should have made it their paramount duty to produce. Nevertheless, whenever the intellect of the people is appealed to by those who know its past, a recuperative power is manifested which shows that its vitality has not been irredeemably impaired. It is because I believe that, on the whole, a right appeal has been made by the Gaelic League that I have borne testimony to its patriotic endeavours.
The question of the Gaelic Revival seems to be really a form of the eternal question of the interdependence of the practical and the ideal in Ireland. Their true relation to each other is one of the hardest lessons the student of our problems has to learn. I recall an incident in the course of my own studies which I will here recount, as it appears to me to furnish an admirable illustration of this difficulty as it presented itself to a very interesting mind. During the years covering the rise and fall of Parnell, when interest in the Irish Question was at its zenith, the newspapers of the United States kept in
p.161London a corps of very able correspondents, who watched and reported to their transatlantic readers every move in the Home Rule campaign. An American public, by no means limited to the American-Irish, devoured every morsel of this intelligence with an avidity which could not have been surpassed if the United States had been engaged in a war with Great Britain. Among these correspondents perhaps the most brilliant was the late Harold Frederic. Not many months before he died I received a letter from him, in which he said that, although we were unknown to each other, he thought, from some public utterances of mine, that we must have many views in common. He had often intended to get an introduction to me, and now suggested that we should waive things and meet. We met and spent an evening together, which left some deep impressions on my mind. He told me that the Irish Question possessed for him a fascination for which he could give no rational explanation. He had absolutely no tie of blood or material interest with Ireland, and his friendship for it had brought him the only quarrels in which he had ever been engaged.
What chiefly interested me in Harold Frederic's philosophy of the Irish Question was that he had arrived at a diagnosis of the Irish mind not substantially different from my own. Since that evening I have come across a passage in one of his novels, which clothes in delightful language his view of the chaotic psychology of the Irish Celt:
There, in Ireland, you get a strange mixture of
p.162elementary early peoples, walled off from the outer world by the four seas, and free to work out their own racial amalgam on their own lines. They brought with them at the outset a great inheritance of Eastern mysticism. Others lost it, but the Irish, all alone on their island, kept it alive and brooded on it, and rooted their whole spiritual side in it. Their religion is full of it; their blood is full of it. . . . The Ireland of two thousand years ago is incarnated in her. They are the merriest people and the saddest, the most turbulent and the most docile, the most talented and the most unproductive, the most practical and the most visionary, the most devout and the most pagan. These impossible contradictions war ceaselessly in their blood.
[Footnote: The Damnation of Theron Ware. This was the title of the book I read in the United States. I am told he published it in England under the title of Illuminationa nice discrimination!]
In our conversation what struck me most was the influence which politics had exercised even on his philosophic mind, notwithstanding a low estimate of our political leaders. In one of a series of three notable articles upon the Irish Question, which appeared anonymously in the Fortnightly Review
in the winter of 1893-4, and of which he told me he was the writer, he had given a character sketch of what he called The Rhetoricians. Their performances since the Union were summarised in the phrase a century of unremitting gabble, and he regarded it as a sad commentary on Irish life that such brilliant talents so largely ran to waste in destructive criticism. I naturally turned the conversation on to my own line
[Footnote: They appeared under the signature of X. in Nov. and Dec., 1893, and Jan., 1894.]
p.163of thought, and discussed the practical conclusions to which his studies had led him. I tried to elicit from him exactly what he had in his mind when, in one of the articles to which I have referred, he advocated a reconstruction of Ireland on distinctive national lines. I hoped to find that his psychological study of my countrymen would enable him to throw some light upon the means by which play could be given at home to the latent capacities of the race. I found that he was in entire accord with my view, that the chief difficulty in the way of constructive statesmanship was the defect in the Irish character about which I have said so much. I was prepared for that conclusion, for I had already seen the lack of initiative admirably appreciated in the following illuminating sentence of his:The Celt will help someone else to do the thing that other has in mind, and will help him with great zeal and devotion; but he will not start to do the thing he himself has thought of.
But I was disappointed when he bade me his first and last good-bye that I had not convinced him that there was any way out of the Irish difficulty other than political changes, for which, at the same time, he appeared to think the people singularly unfitted.
[Footnote: Fortnightly Review, Jan. 1894, pp. 2, 12.]
The fact is we had arrived at the point where the student of Irish life usually finds himself in a cul de sac. If he has accurately observed the conditions, he is face to face with a problem which appears to be in its nature insoluble. For at every turn he finds things being done wrong which might so easily be done right, only that
p.164nobody is concerned that they should be done right. And what is worse, when he has learned, in the course of his investigations, to discount the picturesque explanation of our unsuccess in practical life which in Ireland veils the unpleasant truth, he will find that the people are quite aware of their defects, although they attribute them to causes beyond their power to remove. Then, too, the sympathetic inquirer is shocked by the lack of seriousness in it all. With all their past griefs and their high aspirations, the Irish people seem to be play-acting before the world. The inquirer does not, perhaps, reflect that, if play-acting be inconsistent with the deepest emotions, and with the pursuit of high ideals, then he condemns a little over one half of the human race.
He probably comes to the main conclusion adopted in these pages, and realises that the Irish Question is a problem of character. And as Irish character is the product of Irish history, which cannot be re-enacted, he leaves the problem there. Harold Frederic left it there, and there it has been taken up by those whose endeavour forms the story which I have to tell.
[Footnote: The difficulties of the writer who is not a writer are great. I sent this chapter to two literary friends, one of whom, with the help of a globe, disputed my accuracy in a learned ethnological disquisition with which he favoured me. The other warned me to be even more obscure and sent me the following verses, addressed by Cynicus (J.K. Stephen) to Shakespeare,]
- 1] You wrote a line too much, my sage
2] Of seers the first, the first of sayers;
3] For only half the world's a stage,
4] And only all the women players."
I now come to the principles which, it appears to me, must underlie the solution of this problem. The narrative
p.165contained in the second part of this book is a record of the efforts made during the last decade of the nineteenth and the first two years of the twentieth century by a small, but now rapidly augmenting group of Irishmen, to pluck the brand of Irish intellect from the burning of the Irish Question. The problem before us was, my readers will now understand, how to make headway in view of the weakness of character to which I have had to attribute the paralysis of our activities in the past. We were quite aware that our progress would at first be slow. But as we were satisfied that the defects of character which stood in the way of economic advancement were due to causes which need no longer be operative, and that the intellect of the people was unimpaired, we faced the problem with confidence.
The practical form which our work took was the launching upon Irish life of a movement of organised self-help, and the subsequent grafting upon this movement of a system of State-aid to the agriculture and industries of the country. I need not here further elaborate this programme, for the steps by which it has been and is being adopted will be presently described in detail. But there is one aspect of the new movement in Ireland which must be understood by those who would grasp the true significance and the human interest of an evolution in our national life, the only recent parallel for which, as far as I am aware, is to be found in Japan: though to my mind the conscious attempt of the Irish
p.166people to develop a civilisation of their own is far more interesting than the recent efforts of the Japanese to westernise their institutions.
The problem of mind and character with which we had to deal in Ireland presented this central and somewhat discouraging fact. In practical life the Irish had failed where the English had succeeded, and this was attributed to the lack of certain English qualities which have been undoubtedly essential to success in commerce and in industry from the days of the industrial revolution until a comparatively recent date. It was the individualism of the English economic system during this period which made these qualities indispensable. The lack of these qualities in Irishmen to-day may be admitted, and the cause of the deficiency has been adequately explained. But those who regard the Irish situation as industrially hopeless probably ignore the fact that there are other qualities, of great and growing importance under modern economic conditions, which can be developed in Irishmen and may form the basis of an industrial system. I refer to the range of qualities which come into play rather in association than in the individual, and to which the term associative is applied.
[Footnote: These qualities, as will be explained later, happen to have a special economic value in the farming industry, and so are available for the elevation of rural life, with whose problems we are now so deeply concerned in Ireland. Their applicability to urban life need not be discussed here. But my study of the co-operative movement in England has convinced me that, if the English had the associative instincts of the Irish, that movement would play a part in English life more commensurate with its numerical strength and the volume of its commercial transactions, than can be claimed for it so far.]
p.167So that although much disparaging criticism of Irish character is based upon the survival in the Celt of the tribal instincts, it is gratifying to be able to show that even from the practical English point of view, our preference for thinking and working in groups may not be altogether a damnosa hereditas. If, owing to our deficiency in the individualistic qualities of the English, we cannot at this stage hope to produce many types of the economic man of the economists, we think we see our way to provide, as a substitute, the economic association. If the association succeeds, and by virtue of its financial success becomes permanent, a great change will, in our opinion, be produced on the character of its members. The reflex action upon the individual mind of the habit of doing, in association with others, things which were formerly left undone, or badly done, may be relied upon to have a tonic effect upon the character of the individual. This is, I suppose, the secret of discipline, which, though apparently eliminating volition, seems in weak characters to strengthen the will.
There is, too, as we have learned, in the association a strange influence which develops qualities and capacities that one would not expect on a mere consideration of the character of its members. This psychological phenomenon has been admirably and most entertainingly discussed by the French psychologist, Le Bon,
who, in the attractive pursuit of paradox, almost goes to the length of the proposition that the association inherently
[Footnote: La Psychologie de la Foule.]
p.168possesses qualities the opposite of those possessed by its members. My own experienceand I have had opportunities of observing hundreds of associations formed by my friends upon the principles above laid downdoes not carry me quite so far. But, unquestionably, the association in Ireland does often become an entity as distinct from the individualities of which it is composed, as is a new chemical compound from its constituent elements.
Associations of the kind we had in our minds, which were to be primarily for purely business purposes, were bound to have many collateral effects. They would open up outside of politics and religion, but not in conflict with either, a sphere of action where an independence new to the country would have to be exercised. In Ireland public opinion is under an obsession which, whether political, religious, historical, or all three combined, is probably unique among civilised peoples. Until the last few years, for example, it was our habitone which immensely weakened the influence of Ireland in the Imperial Parliamentto form extravagant estimates of men, exalting and abasing them with irrational caprice, not according to their qualities so much as by their attitude towards the passion of the hour. The ups and downs of the reputations of Lord Spencer and Mr. Arthur Balfour in Ireland are a sufficient illustration of our disregard of the old Latin proverb which tells us that no man ever became suddenly altogether bad. Even now public opinion is too prone to attach excessive value to projects of vague and visionary development, and to underrate
p.169the importance of serious thought and quiet work, which can be the only solid foundation of our national progress. In these new associationshumble indeed in their origin, but destined to play a large part in the people's lives projects, professing to be fraught with economic benefit, have to be judged by the cruel precision of audited balance sheets, and the worth of men is measured by the solid contribution they have made to the welfare of the community.
I have now accomplished one long stage of my journey towards the conclusion of this discussion of the needs of modern Ireland. Were I to stop here, probably most of those who had been induced to open yet another book upon the Irish Question would accuse me, and not without justice, of being responsible for a barren graft upon a barren controversy. I fear no such criticism, whatever other shortcomings may be detected, from those who have the patience to read on. For when I pass from my own reflections to record the work to which many thousands of my countrymen have addressed themselves in building up the Ireland of the twentieth century, I shall have a story to tell which must inspire hope in all who can be persuaded that Ireland in the past has not often been treated fairly and has never been understood. I have shownand it was necessary to show, if a repetition of misunderstanding was to be avoidedthat the Irish people themselves are gravely responsible for the ills of their country, and that the forces which have
p.170mainly governed their action hitherto are rapidly bringing about their disappearance as a distinct nationality. But I shall now have to tell of the widespread and growing adoption of certain new principles of action which I believe to be consonant with the genius and traditions of the race, and the acceptance of which seems to me vitally necessary if the Irish people are to play a worthy part in the future history of the world. That part is a far greater one than they could ever hope to play as an independent and separate State, yet their success in playing it must closely depend upon their remaining a distinct nationality, in the sense so clearly and wisely indicated by his Majesty when, in his reply to the address of the Belfast Corporation, he spoke of the national characteristics and ideals which he desired his kingdoms to cherish in the midst of their imperial unity.
The great experiment which I am about to relate is, in its own province, one of the many applications which we see around us of the conception here put forward. And I believe that a few more years of quiet work by those who are taking part in this movement, with its appeal to Irish
[Footnote: July 27th, 1903,His Majesty thus confirmed the striking utterance of imperial policy contained in Lord Dudley's speech to the incorporated Law Society, on the 20th of November, 1902. His Excellency, after protesting against the conception of empire as a huge regiment in which each nation was to lose its individuality, saidLasting strength, lasting loyalty, are not to be secured by any attempt to force into one system or to remould into one type those special characteristics which are the outcome of a nation's history and of her religious and social conditions, but rather by a full recognition of the fact that these very characteristics form an essential part of a nation's life; and that under wise guidance and under sympathetic treatment they will enable her to provide her own contribution and to play her own special part in the life of the empire to which she belongs.]
p.171intellect, and its reliance upon Irish patriotism, is all that is needed to prove that by developing the industrial qualities of the Celt on associative lines we can in politics as well as in economics, add strength to the Irish character without making it less Irish or less attractive than of old.