British Militarism as I Have Known It
c.1916-1917 — delivered at numerous fundraising events across the United States
When first I learned the facts about my husband’s murder I made up my mind to come to America and tell the story to as many audiences in the United States as I could reach.
F. Sheehy Skeffington was an anti-militarist, a fighting pacifist. A man gentle and kindly even to his bitterest opponents, who always ranged himself on the side of the weak against the strong, whether the struggle was one of class, sex or race domination. Together with his strong fighting spirit, he had a marvelous, an unextinguishable good humor, a keen joy in life, a great faith in humanity and a hope in the progress toward good.
F. Sheehy Skeffington’s Last Days
At the beginning of the outbreak on Easter Monday, my husband was in Dublin. At the assault on Dublin Castle, a British officer (Captain Pinfield) was reported gravely wounded and lying bleeding to death near the castle gate. As there was considerable cross-firing no one dared to go to his aid. My husband, learning this, persuaded a chemist to go with him to the rescue, and crossed the square under a hail of fire. He found, however, that some of his friends had managed to drag the officer inside the Castle gate, there being left only a pool of blood. When I remonstrated that night with my husband on his running such a terrible risk, he replied simply, “I could not let anyone bleed to death while I could help,” — characteristic of his simple heroism, cool courage and horror of bloodshed.
All Monday and Tuesday he actively interested himself in preventing looting by British sympathizers. He saved various shops, posted civic guards and enlisted the help of many civilians and priests. He talked to the crowds and held them off. But by Tuesday evening everyone was afraid. He called a meeting that evening to organize a civic police. I met him about 5:30. We had tea together and I went home by devious routes, for I was anxious about my boy. I never again saw my husband.
Because of my husband’s work in behalf of the freedom of Ireland his arrest was desirable, from a British standpoint, and his description had been circulated at the bridges, which he would have to pass on his way home. Accordingly, when, between 7 and 8 he passed Portobello, Lieut. Morris, who was in charge, had him arrested. He was unarmed, carrying a walking stick and was walking quite alone in the middle of the road. As he came to the bridge some of the crowd shouted his name. He was arrested and taken, without resistance, to Portobello Barracks, and was searched and questioned. No papers of an incriminating character were found on him. The Adjutant (Lieut. Morgan) reported the arrest, with that of others, at headquarters, saying that there was no charge against Skeffington, and asking whether he would release him, with others against whom there was no charge, that night. Orders were given to release the others, but to detain Skeffington. The charge sheet was produced at the Simon Commission hearing, and I saw it. Against my husband’s name was entered, “no charge.”
When told he was detained, he specially asked that I should, be informed, but this was refused. No message was ever allowed to reach me, no notification of his death, of his first or second burial was ever issued, and every scrap of information with regard to his murder has had ever since to be extracted bit by bit from the reluctant authorities.
About midnight Capt. Bowen-Colthurst came to the captain of the guard, Lieut. Dobbin, and got him to hand over his prisoner. This was an illegal act. The captain of the guard is supposed to hand over no prisoner under his care (in what they call the “King’s Peace”) without a written order from the commanding officer. My husband was taken out as a hostage, his hands bound behind him with a rope. He was then taken out with a raiding party in charge of Capt. Bowen-Colthurst and Lieut. Leslie Wilson. As they went they fired at various houses along the Rathmines Road to prevent anyone appearing at the windows.
Opposite Rathmines Catholic Church they saw two boys (one a lad called Coade, 17 years of age). They had been attending church that evening and were going home. The captain questioned them and asked them did they not know that martial law had been proclaimed, and that he could shoot them “like dogs.” As Coade turned away, Colthurst said, “Bash him” and one of the underling officers broke his jaw bone with the butt end of his rifle, knocking him senseless. Then Colthurst whipped out his revolver and shot him as he lay. He was left lying in his blood (the stain marking the spot for several days); later he was taken by the ambulance to the Barracks, where he died that night without ever regaining consciousness. My husband protested against this horrible murder, and was told by Colthurst to say his prayers (Capt. Colthurst was a very religious man), as he would likely be the next.
A few yards further down another murder was committed by Capt. Colthurst, but we have not been able to elicit any facts. The Simon report states, “The evidence of the different witnesses can only be reconciled by inferring that more than one case of shooting occurred during the progress of Capt. Colthurst’s party.” It goes on, “None of the evidence offered to us afforded any justification for the shooting of Coade; it is, of course, a delusion to suppose that martial law confers upon an officer the right to take human life, and this delusion had in the present case tragic consequences.”
The evidence as to the above atrocities was carefully omitted at the military court-martial held in June on Colthurst. It was only against the strongest protest from the military that Sir John Simon insisted on this case being investigated at the Commission. We have evidence that at least two other murders by Colthurst later in the week were perpetrated, but this was ruled out at the Commission as “not within their scope.”
My husband was then taken as far as the bridge and left by Colthurst in charge of Lieut. Leslie Wilson. Colthurst said a prayer over him (O Lord God, if it shall please thee to take this man’s life, forgive him, for Christ’s sake) and left instructions that if his party was sniped at during their expedition that Skeffington was to be shot forthwith. Leslie Wilson testified that he saw “nothing strange” in the order and would have carried it out, and it was in fact a common practice with these parties engaged in suppressing liberty in Ireland to take such “hostages.”
Capt. Colthurst then bombed Alderman James Kelly’s premises (they mistook him for his namesake Alderman Tom Kelly, a Sinn Feiner). They sacked the premises and took prisoners the shopmen and two editors, Dickson and Mclntyre, who had taken refuge there. They flung live bombs into the house without warning and wounded one of the men. I have seen the house; it bears the marks of the bullets and bombs yet. As there was no resistance from the unhappy people, my husband was escorted back alive to the Barracks with the two other editors. Dickson was a cripple. He was the editor of “The Eye-Opener,” Mclntyre, editor of “The Searchlight.” By a strange irony both had been loyalist papers and Alderman James Kelly had helped to recruit for the army, but owing to the initial mistake, protests were useless. The soldiers confused “The Searchlight” with a paper called “The Spark” (a volunteer organ) and editors’ lives were cheap during those days. Dead editors tell no tales — though sometimes their wives may. Again my husband was flung (according to some, still bound) into his cell. Whether he was further tortured that night I shall never know. Capt. Colthurst spent, according to himself, the rest of the night in prayer. At three o’clock he found a Bible text which seemed to him an inspiration — from St. Luke’s — “Those who will not acknowledge Me, go ye forth and slay them.” He interpreted Me to mean the British Empire, the message as a divine command.
Shortly before ten o’clock the next morning (April 26th) Colthurst again demanded my husband from the guard, together with the two other editors. Lieuts. Toomey, Wilson and Dobbin were present in charge of the guard with 18 men. He stated that he was going to “shoot Skeffington and the others, that he thought ‘it was the right thing to do.'” They were handed over accordingly, and the rest of the story we pieced together from the evidence of the other unhappy civilian prisoners who were in the guardroom and heard what was going on, for the military naturally do their best to prevent anything being known.
It seems, according to the account, that my husband was taken out from his locked cell by Colthurst. As he walked across the yard (the yard was only about 12 feet long by 6 feet wide) he was shot in the back without any warning whatever by the firing squad. While he lay, the two other editors were marched out also and murdered in cold blood without warning. The other prisoners listened eagerly the while, and as they heard volley after volley ring out, said, “Another poor fellow gone”! and thought their own turn would be next. Then (after the second volley) they heard Dobbin say, about my husband, to Sergeant Aldridge, “That man is not dead.” My husband moved as he lay on the ground. Dobbin then reported this fact to Colthurst, who gave orders to “finish him off.” Another firing squad was then lined up and my husband’s body was riddled as he lay on the ground. After that the other prisoners heard washing and sweeping going on for about two hours and when they were allowed into the yard it still bore the marks of the murder. The wall was bloodstained and riddled with bullets. No surgeon was called to examine the bodies; one stated that “about noon” (two hours later) he visited the mortuary and they were transferred to the mortuary. Up to the present moment I have never been able to find out how long my husband may have lingered in anguish, or whether the second volley did its work more effectively than the first.
The British were careful to prevent my seeing the body or having it medically examined, and later, when I attempted to have an inquest held, permission was refused. At eleven Major Rosborough again communicated with the garrison adjutant at headquarters and with Dublin Castle. He was told — to bury the bodies. Capt. Colthurst sent in his report (as ordered by Rosborough), but he was kept in command, and no reprimand made to him.
On the same day Capt. Colthurst was in charge of troops in Camden street, when Councillor Richard O’Carroll surrendered (one of the labor leaders in the Dublin City Council). He was marched with his hands over his head to the back yard and Capt. Colthurst shot him in the lung. When a soldier pityingly asked was he dead, Capt. Colthurst said, “Never mind, he’ll die later.” He had him dragged out into the street and left there to be later picked up by a bread van. Ten days later O’Carroll died in great agony. For six days his wife knew nothing of him and when at last she was summoned to Portobello, he could only whisper in her ear his dying statement, which she repeated to me. Three weeks after his murder, his wife gave birth to a son. The authorities, as usual, refused all inquiry.
On the same day Capt. Colthurst took a boy, whom he suspected of Sinn Fein knowledge and asked him to give information. When the boy refused, he got him to kneel in the street and shot him in the back as he raised his hand to cross himself. Inquiry into this case has also been refused — it is but one of the many.
My husband was buried on Wednesday night, secretly — in the Barracks yarn — his body sewn in a sack.
Meanwhile, from Tuesday night, when he did not return, I had been vainly seeking him. All sorts of rumors reached me—that he had been wounded and was in a hospital, that he had been shot by a looter, that he was arrested by the police. I also heard that he had been executed, but this I refused to believe — it seemed incredible. I clung to the belief that even if he had been condemned to die he would have been tried first, at least before a jury, for martial law did not apply to non-combatants — and that I would be notified, as were some of the wives and families of the other executed men. Of course, the reason of the silence is now clear. It was hoped that my husband would “disappear” as so many others, that we could never trace his whereabouts, and that it would be taken for granted that he had been killed in the street. My husband’s murder was but one of the many — the only difference being that in his case the murder could not be kept dark. On Tuesday, May 9th (13 days after) Mr. Tennant stated in the House of Commons, in answer to a question, that “no prisoner had been shot in Dublin without a trial.”
All Wednesday and Thursday I inquired in vain, and on Friday horrible rumors reached me. I tried to see a doctor connected with the Barracks, but was stopped by the police, for by this time the police had been restored and were helping the soldiers. I was watched, as I have since been, carefully under police supervision. Houses were being raided and pillaged. Mme. Markievicz’s house was broken into on Wednesday, and all her pictures stolen, and other valuables taken and the door was left broken open. Whole streets were ransacked and the inhabitants terrified while the soldiers thrust their bayonets through the beds and furniture.
On Thursday evening, about seven, I met Mrs. MacDonngh (the wife of one of the Irish prisoners shot by the firing squad) wheeling her two babies to her mother’s house; the soldiers had turned machine guns on her house. Soldiers sold their loot openly in the streets — officers took “souvenirs.” While the volunteers were holding their stronghold their wives and families were thus tortured.
My Sister’s Arrest
On Friday, to allay my growing anxiety, my two sisters, Mrs. Kettle and Mrs. Culhane, went to the Portobello Barracks to inquire. They were at once put under arrest and a drumhead court-martial was had upon them. They afterwards identified the officer who presided as Colthurst. Lieut. Beattie and other officers were also present. The crime they were accused of was that they were “seen talking to Sinn Feiners” (to me, probably).
They were refused all information by Capt. Colthurst, who said he knew nothing whatever of Sheehy Skeffington, and told them, “the sooner they left the Barracks the better for them.” They were marched off under armed guard, and forbidden to speak till they left the premises.
It being then clear that we had information, the next step was to try and find my husband guilty on post facto evidence. That afternoon I managed to see Coade, the father of the murdered boy. I got his name from a doctor — and he told me that he had seen my husband’s dead body with several others in that mortuary when he went for his son. This a priest afterwards confirmed, but he could give me no other information.
I went home shortly after six and before seven was putting my little boy to bed, when the maid noticed soldiers lining up around the house. She got terrified and dashed out with Owen by the back door. I went to call her back, for I knew that the house would be guarded back and front, and feared the boy, especially, might be shot if seen running. When I got to the foot of the stairs a volley was fired in front of the house at the windows, followed almost directly by a crash of glass which the soldiers shattered with the butt-ends of their rifles.
They broke in simultaneously all over the house — some went on the roof — and Capt. Colthurst rushed upon us—the maid, Owen and myself—with a squad with fixed bayonets, shouting “Hands up!” to the boy and me. The boy gave a cry at the sight of the naked steel, and I put my arm around him and said, “These are the defenders of women and children.” That steadied them a little. The party consisted of about forty men and was in charge of Col. Allett (an officer of 29 years’ service), Capt. Colthurst (16 years’ service) and a junior officer, Lieut. Brown.
We were ordered all three to be removed “under guard” to the front room and to be shot if we stirred, while they searched the house. This was done: Soldiers with leveled rifles knelt outside the house ready to fire upon us, and inside we were closely guarded by men with drawn bayonets. This lasted over three hours. The house was completely sacked and everything of any value removed — books, pictures, souvenirs, toys, linen, and household goods. I could hear the officers jeering as they turned over my private possessions. One of the soldiers (a Belfast man) seemed ashamed, and said, “I didn’t enlist for this. They are taking the whole bloomin’ house with them.” They commandeered a motor car in which were women, and made them drive to the Barracks with the stuff — ordering the men to keep a safe distance “in case of firing.” They left an armed guard on the house all night. Colthurst brought my husband’s keys, stolen from his dead body, and opened his study (which he always kept locked). All my private letters, letters from my husband to me before our marriage, his articles, a manuscript play, the labor of a lifetime, were taken. After endless application I received back a small part of these, but most of my most cherished possessions have never been returned, or any attempt made to find them.
The regiment took with them to Belfast as a “souvenir,” my husband’s stick, and an officer stole from his dead body my husband’s “Votes for Women” badge. For days my house was open to any marauder, as none dared to come even to board up my windows. Capt. Colthurst later falsely endorsed certain papers found on my husband’s body.
On Monday, May 1st, another raid was made during my absence, and this time a little temporary maid was taken under soldiers’ guard to the Barracks. She was detained in custody for a week, the only charge against her being that she was found in my house. Why I was not taken, I never knew, but one of the officers (Leslie Wilson) publicly regretted “that they had not shot Mrs. Skeffington while they were about it.” It would have saved them (and me) much trouble if they had. Colthurst continued in charge of raiding parties for several days.
Promotion of Colthurst
On May 1st, Major Sir Francis Vane, the second in command at Portobello, was relieved of his command by Lieut. Col. McCammond, for his persistent efforts (unavailing) to get Colthurst put under arrest. He was told to give up his post (that of commander of the entire defenses of Portobello) and hand it over to Capt. Bowen-Colthurst, who was thereby promoted six days after the murders. Later (on May 9th) he was sent in charge of a detachment of troops to Newry, and not until May 11th, the day of Mr. Dillon’s speech, was he put under “close arrest.” I leave it to American intelligence to decide whether these facts once proved before a Royal Commission were consistent with the theory of lunacy.
Sir Francis Vane is the only officer concerned who made a genuine effort to see justice done. He went to Dublin Castle, finding that the Portobello officers would do nothing. He saw Colonel Kinnard and General Friend, as well as Major Price (head of the Intelligence Dept.). All deprecated the “fuss” and refused to act. Major Price said, “Some of us think it was a good thing Sheehy Skeffington was put out of the way, anyhow.” This was the typical attitude of the authorities. On Sunday (May 7th), also by order of Colonel McCammond, bricklayers were brought to the yard to remove the blood-stained bricks, stained with the blood of my murdered husband, and carefully replaced them with new bricks.
Sir Francis Vane, thoroughly horrified at the indifference of Dublin Castle to murders committed by an officer (they were busy trying “rebels” for “murder”), crossed early in May to London, interviewed the war office, and on May 3rd, saw Lord Kitchener and the latter was reported as sending a telegram ordering the arrest of Colthurst. This was disregarded by General Maxwell, then in command in Dublin. Instead of anything being done to Colthurst, the only result of Sir Francis Vane’s efforts was that he, himself, was dismissed from the service (“relegated to unemployment”) by secret report of General Maxwell, deprived of his rank of Major and refused a hearing at the court-martial, although he had previously been favorably mentioned in the dispatches by Brigadier McConochine, his superior officer, for bravery.
On May 8th, my husband’s body was exhumed and reburied in Glasnevin, without my knowledge. That day I managed to see Mr. Dillon and told him my story. I never saw a man more moved than he by the tragedies of Easter Week. He read my statement in the House of Commons on May 11th, and his wonderful speech on the horror he had seen compelled Mr. Asquith to cross at once to Ireland. Mr. Asquith said of my statement, “I confess I do not and cannot believe it. Does anyone suppose that Sir John Maxwell has any object in shielding officers and soldiers, if there be such, who have been guilty of such ungentlemanlike, such inhuman conduct? It is the last thing the British army would dream of!” I do not blame him for his disbelief. He went to Ireland, found every word I said was true, as verified at the Commission — he found there other horrors—the North Kings Street atrocity, for instance — surpassing even mine. Yet he did his best to help the military to shield the murderers and hush all inquiries. In a few short days secret courtmartials had condemned to death no less than sixteen Irish leaders — whose crime was that they had wished Ireland as free as is your country, a “free republic.” Early in May a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the causes of the rebellion, but all inquiry was refused into the atrocities committed by the troops while in Dublin.
The courtmartial was presided over by Lord Cheylesmore and consisted of twelve senior officers—a more wooden tribunal it is impossible to conceive. All the witnesses were military, and all were drilled to tell a special tale. They were sworn, and yet at many points their story later to the Commission flagrantly contradicted the previous one — yet they have never been brought to book for perjury. I was not allowed to present evidence. Mr. Healy said of the courtmartial: “Never since the trial of Christ was there a greater travesty of justice.” Its findings were afterwards completely discredited by the Royal Commission; the evidence was doctored and all legal forms violated, the prosecutor and defender playing into each other’s hands. Dr. Balch, who had refused to certify Colthurst insane, was not questioned, and he was afterwards sent to Sierra Leone, and would not be produced at the Commission. Sir Francis Vane was not called, no evidence of the other murders was given or of the part played by Dublin Castle in cloaking the murderer. Colthurst was under no restraint during his trial. He stayed at a well-known hotel in Dawson street with his family during the days, and, though found insane later, was not shut up for several weeks. Finally, when feeling ran high, he was transferred as a “patient” to an asylum in England, and was allowed to continue to hold his rank as captain and to draw half pay for several months. Later he was “retired,” but has not been dismissed from the service. He is detained “during the King’s pleasure” and will be released when “cured.” As has been the case of the perpetrator of the Bachelor’s Walk murders, in July, 1914, he will probably be given some important post when this trouble blows over.
In July I went to London to interview editors and members of Parliament to force the Government to administer justice. On July 19th I was sent for by Mr. Asquith, who had, with his “wait to see” policy, been shuffling and evading a direct answer for months — I brought a witness with me, a well-known suffragist, Miss Muriel Matters. Mr. Asquith saw me in the room where the. Cabinet meets (Downing street). The wily statesman explained to me the difficulties in the way of keeping his pledge, regretted that no adequate inquiry could be given. The House, he said, would refuse a sworn inquiry, and that alone could be satisfactory. Would I be satisfied with an inadequate inquiry, which was “the best they could do.” I told him I would not be satisfied with any inquiry that he told me in advance would be unsatisfactory and inadequate, and that while I must accept the best he could give — I would not be “satisfied.” I said I would take further action if I wasn’t—for even then I had in view a visit to America to tell an honest country what British militarism could do. When Mr. Asquith then carefully approached the question of “compensation” in lieu of inquiry — proposals had previously been made to me, unofficially, from various sources (my boy’s future at stake, etc.). I was told that no inquiry could be given — that the military wouldn’t allow it — but that “adequate and even generous” compensation would be assured. Mr. Asquith now put this point ever so delicately (it was clearly his object in sending for me) tapping his fingers on the green baize table — he sat with his secretary at the middle — and my friend and I at the end, and glancing sideways at me, for he never looked me straight in the face throughout the interview. He is mellow and hale, with rosy, chubby face and silver hair, a Father Christmas air about him. He explained that the other injured people were asking for compensation, would I not consider it, too? He said nothing could undo the past, etc. I told him that the only compensation I would ask or take, was the redemption of his promise, viz.: a full, public inquiry into my husband’s murder.
I inquired, “Were the military blocking him?” “No, no,” he replied, “the military court inquiry!” “In that case, Mr. Asquith,” I said, “will you say yes or no? It is time that I had an answer.” He would reply Thursday to Mr. Dillon, and so our interview ended. He is an able, astute politician, the ex-Premier, but his pitiful little traps and quibbles and his “hush money” suggestions were hardly worthy of a great statesman.
He finally granted the Commission of Inquiry with Sir John Simon at its head, and a judge and well-known lawyer to sit with him. But Asquith, as usual, broke faith (unbroken record) as to the scope of the inquiry, by narrowly restricting the terms of reference. The court could not produce or examine Colthurst, the chief culprit, because he was in England — evidence was voluntary, other atrocities were carefully ruled out. The Military had purposely scattered important witnesses. Several were at the front, some had been killed in the interval, some were afraid of vengeance.
The Military refused to produce others, Colonel Allett had died mysteriously in the interval, — according to some he committed suicide in Belfast when Colthurst was condemned, saying, “The game is up.” Every device was used by the Government and the Military to defeat the ends of justice. Yet, in spite of all, the Inquiry Report established many important facts — the promotion of Colthurst, the failure to take any disciplinary measures against the other officers, the dismissal of Sir Francis Vane, the raids on my house for incriminatory evidence after the murder. Doubt was cast upon the insanity of Colthurst and grave censure passed on the Military.
As a public exposé the Commission had a great effect and the attitude of the Military under the searching heckling of Mr. Healy and Sir John Simon showed them at their worst. One officer actually fainted in court and his cross-examination had to be suspended. Francis Sheehy Skeffington could not have imagined any more damning exposé of the militarism he detested and under which he perished, no writer of fiction could have imagined a more harrowing story of unrelieved brutality than may be found in the cold and lawyer-like language of the Simon Report. But all these officers still enjoy favor. Major Price still rules in Dublin Castle.
A martyr fights in death more terribly than many warring saints. He is entrenched, you cannot reach him with your heaviest shot. My husband would have gone to his death with a smile on his lips, knowing that by his murder he had struck a heavier blow for his ideals than by any act of his life. And I am willing to give him up on the altar of sacrifice, for I know that his death will speak trumpet-tongued against the system that slew him.
Nor was it, as I have shown, the one mad act of an irresponsible officer. It was part of an organized “pogrom.” We possess evidence, sworn and duly attested, of at least 50 other murders of unarmed civilians or disarmed prisoners (some boys and some women) committed by the soldiers during Easter Week. The North Staffords murdered 14 men in North King street, and buried them in the cellars of their houses.
A coroner’s jury of the city brought a verdict of wilful murder against these men who could be identified (Dublin’s City Council) but Sir John Maxwell refused to give them up, and they are in Dublin at the present moment. Pits were dug in Glasnevin Cemetery and bodies piled up were carted off and buried in a common trench. In various cases the soldiers stated that they were under definite orders to kill civilians and prisoners. In Trinity College they so boasted.
Over three hundred houses were looted and sacked in the suburbs and the city. Thousands of men, hundreds of women, were arrested all over the country and deported in cattle boats to England, some to jails, some to internment camps. Most of these had no part whatever in the rising, but the police and soldiers had a free hand to arrest all, and exercised their powers to the full. Time does not permit me to dwell any longer on the treatment accorded to the prisoners. In Kilmainham, in Richmond and later in England, they were brutally ill-treated. Two instances, Mary O’Loughlin and another, — but it would need a separate lecture.
STATE OF IRELAND
Ireland is still under martial law, threatened with famine and with conscription; death by hunger or in the trenches. But Ireland’s spirit was never stronger, never was it more clearly shown that no nation can be held by force, that the aspiration after liberty cannot be quelled by shot or shell.
A word as to the Irish Republicans. “Treason doth never prosper. What is the reason? When treason prospers, none dare call it treason.” When the United States of America set up its republic it declared its independence of Great Britain, it happily won, and maintained its independence. But if it had lost — would its leaders find quicklime graves? Surely.
I know the Irish Republican leaders, and am proud to call Connolly, Pearse, Macdonagh, Plunkett, O’Rahilly and others friends — proud to have known them and had their friendship. They fought a clean fight against terrible odds — and terrible was the price they had to pay. They were sober and God-fearing, filled with a high idealism. They had banks, factories, the General Post Office, the lower courts, their enemies’ strongholds for days in their keeping, yet bankers, merchants and others testified as to the scrupulous way in which their stock was guarded. A poet truly said, “Your dream, not mine, And yet the thought, for this you fell, Turns all life’s water into wine.” Their proclamation gave equal citizenship to women — beating all records — except that of the Russian Revolutionists.
It is the dreamers and the visionaries that keep hope alive and feed enthusiasm—not the statesmen and politicians. Sometimes it is harder to live for a cause than to die for it. It would be a poor tribute to my husband if grief were to break my spirit. It shall not do so. I am not here just to harrow your hearts by a passing thrill, to feed you on horrors for sensation’s sake. I want to continue my husband’s work so that when I meet him some day in the Great Beyond, he will be pleased with my stewardship.
The lesson of the Irish Rising and its suppression is that our small nation, Ireland, has a right also to its place in the sun. We look to the United States particularly to help us in this matter. The question of Ireland is not, as suggested by England, “A domestic matter.” It is an international one, just as the case of Belgium, Serbia and other small nationalities is. We want our case to come up at the Peace Conference, if not before — to the international tribunal for settlement.
The United States Government has declared that it is entering this war for the democratization of Europe. We do not want democracy to stop short of the Irish sea, but to begin there. If Great Britain is in good faith in this matter, she can begin now, by freeing our small nation, and this can be done without the shedding of a single drop of American blood, and the whole world would applaud the deed.
We look, therefore, to America to see that her allies live up to their professions and that the end of the war will see all small nations of Europe free. As my husband said, in an article in the Century Magazine, February, 1916, on a “Forgotten Small Nationality,” “Shall peace bring freedom to Belgium, to Poland, perhaps to Finland and Bohemia, and not to Ireland?” It is for America to see that Ireland is not excluded from the blessings of true democracy and freedom. In this respect America will be but paying back the debt she owes to Ireland. In the day of her struggle for independence, before she set up her republic, she was aided by Irish citizens — many of whom gave their lives for her freedom. And in the Civil War thousands of Irishmen died that your negroes might be free men. The record of the Fighting 69th of New York is famous in your history; it was a regiment of Roman Catholic Irish who were wiped out so that the regiment disappeared for a time till it could be practically recruited entirely afresh, and to-day it Is allowed to keep its name of (the 69 N. Y. N. G.) in parenthesis after the new name given it in drafting it into the Federal army for service in France, the 165th Infantry of the N. Y. National Guard Army. It is for their descendants, the beneficiaries of those old wars of yours for freedom in ’76 and 1861, now to pay back that debt, and to help us set up an Irish republic, as independent of Great Britain as is your own.
At the end of the war we hope to see a “United Europe” on the model of your own United States, where each state is free and independent, yet all are part of a great federation. We want Ireland to belong to this united Europe, and not to be a vassal of Great Britain, a province of the British Empire, governed without consent. Unless the United States is as whole-heartedly in favor of the freedom of Ireland as she is for the emancipation of Belgium, she cannot be true to her own principles. Her honor is involved and we look particularly to the Irish in America to remember the claims of the land of their fathers, when the day of reckoning comes.
I shall conclude by quoting from William Rooney’s poem, “Dear Dark Head,” which embodies in poetic form Ireland’s lifelong dream for freedom. Speaking of the men who died for Ireland, he says:
“And though their fathers’ fate be theirs, shall others
With hearts as faithful still that pathway tread
Till we have set, Oh Mother Dear of Mothers,
A nation’s crown upon thy Dear, Dark Head?”
Source: A Forgotten Small Nationality: Ireland and the War, (New York, Donnelly Press), 1917, pp. 17-32.