Irish Peace Convention
May 4, 1918 — Irish Peace Convention, Madison Square Garden, New York City
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, at this late hour I am not going to keep you by making a speech. I feel that I have spoken so often in this country that I would now prefer to leave it and go home to help keep Ireland free from conscription and safe for democracy. This was to have been my last meeting in New York but the British Government has decided otherwise. I learned last week in California that my passport to Ireland has been withdrawn. I think I know the reason for that, as you know, Mr Preston, the Federal Attorney in San Francisco, was very anxious to lock me up in Angel Island. Mr Preston, however, did not succeed and it seemed to me that England would like Uncle Sam to lock me up, and therefore she has refused me a passport, but I have confidence that Uncle Sam will not lock me up. And it seems to me if it is to be decided in this country that it is treason to the United States to talk against conscription in Ireland, then I think the best place for any self-respecting man or woman is prison. And my friends, if enough of you, as apparently you do, agree with that sentiment, there will not be prisons big enough to hold us Irish in this country. The ground has been amply and ably covered by the other speakers. I am not going to weary you now by going over reasons against conscription. People have said to me “But the British Empire may depend upon Irish conscription. Now, I say deliberately this, — and I hope the Secret Servicemen are listening to me and have their pencils sharp. I say, if the continuance of the British Empire depends upon the life of a single Irish conscript, then I say, let the British Empire be wiped out. And I for one, and there are a good many others who think like me; they may be aliens, but they are friendly aliens. I for one will lose no sleep at any time over the extinction of the British Empire. . . .
I am interested particularly in the anti-conscription movement in Ireland because it was my husband Francis Sheehy Skeffington who first advised that pledged which has since been administered generally throughout Ireland. I heard him at many meetings in Dublin administering that pledge to thousands of Irishmen, and it was on account [of] administering that pledge that he was done to death at the bidding of the Liberal Government. And I heard these men swear with uplifted hands in P., as he administered the oath “If England should conscript us, we swear we will not go.” [A]nd that is the spirit that is winning today. We Irish were never more attacked and maligned than we are at present; but, for my part, I am proud of Ireland today. She is standing practically alone in her fight, and she is the only country in the world today that says that she will choose her quarrel and know what she is dying for if she is to die.
You need not worry about the psychology of the Irish people. Everybody knows that the Irish love a fight; but everybody who respects the Irish race know that we like to choose our fight; but everybody who respects the Irish race know that we like to choose our fight. We are not going at this hour. Who will choose to blame us or to deride us? We are not going to be driven to that slaughter-pen in Flanders at the bidding of a government that is dripping red with the blood of our best countrymen.
I remember a story of a woman in Ireland which reminds me of the Irish question today. The Irish question has not become, as Mr Lloyd-George confesses, an international one, and we thank God for that, because there is not a nation in the world, with the exception of Great Britain, that would not willingly see Ireland free. This old woman in Ireland had an important law suit on, and she engaged no lawyer; and after a time when her friends came to her and said “You are very foolish; why do you not engage counsel?” And she said “No! I will not engage counsel; I do not need them.” And her friend said “Why?” And she smiled knowingly, and she said “I have got a few friends on the jury.” No, we feel exactly like that in Ireland today. We feel if our case comes up before an international tribunal of nations, we are all right; we need no one to plead for us; we have got a few good friends on the jury.
. . . if conscription is defeated in Ireland, it will be defeated by the spirit of Sinn Féin. I want every one of you men and women to do your part now to see that the question of conscription will never been mentioned by a British statesman again.
Source: US National Archives, Department of Justice, National Archives Record Group No. 60, Case File Number 9848-10204.
Also: Hanna Sheehy Skeffington: A Life, by Margaret Ward, (Cork: Attic Press) 1997, pp. 206-207.
Also: Irish Women’s Speeches: Voices That Rocked the System, ed. Sonja Tiernan, (Dublin: University College Dublin Press) 2021, pp. 74-76.