Irish Race in the Past and the Present
Aug. J. Thebaud

Part 14 out of 14

point to the constant wranglings which have been her bane for
centuries, and the "prophet" who wrote the "Battle of Dorking"
represents her, as soon as the humiliation of England left her
free, struggling painfully in the throes of anarchy. That this
general opinion of men with regard to Ireland is but too true,
was conceded in another place, yet only so far as concerned
interests which were trifling, or, at best, of no high character;
that when the object at stake is one of great importance, there
was more steadiness, unanimity, energy, and true heroism in the
Irish people, than in any other known to history in modern times.
And this reflection is certainly borne out by the issues of all
the secular struggles of the Irish with Scandinavianism,
feudalism, and Protestantism.

Surely is there in them the right material for a nation; and,
when the day comes for the country to take in hand, under
Providence, her own destiny and work it out, the "prophet" will
find himself sadly mistaken when, freed forever from the
degradation of pauperism, she is at liberty to raise her
thoughts above food and raiment; when her children, lifted by a
solid Christian education to the high level of intellectual
foresight, shall be able to discuss the great objects of their
national interests, with no question of clan and clan; then
wrangling will cease, as far as public questions are concerned,
and be merely left to matters of minor importance, or private
affairs, as with all other nations. But that concentrated energy
which has marked the race throughout that long fight of
centuries against such overwhelming odds, will still continue as
their distinguishing characteristic, but turned now to the
question of their own national welfare, and no longer to the
aversion of doom.

Then will Europe see what a truly Christian people is, for then
there will be no other left; and the superiority of principles,
of strength of mind, energy of character, naturally fostered by
deep religious convictions, will afford another proof of
Montesquieu's reflection, that "the Christian faith, which seems
to have for its object only the future life, is likewise the
best calculated to make people happy and prosperous during this."

If ever men are brought to acknowledge the fatal error they made
in rejecting the sacred safeguard which Christ left them in his
Church, it will be by looking on the example of a nation
actually existing, governed by the great principles which alone
can insure the happiness of the individual and the prosperity of
the whole people.

In all the foregoing considerations Ireland has been looked upon
as a nation full of vigor and energy; but, as this vital point
is denied by some, who bear the reputation of thoughtful writers,
it is well to establish it clearly before our minds.

Is Ireland a nation? Some say, No; others, among them Mr. Froude,
say she is divided into two nations.

The first of these assertions, that she is not a nation, is in
appearance so self-evident and true that it seems folly to deny
it. She has no government of her own; her destinies seem to be
altogether in the hands of a hostile race, which rules her by a
Parliament, where her voice is scarcely heard. She has no army
nor navy, no commerce, no treasury, not the lowest prerogative
of sovereignty. There is a green flag still somewhere with a
harp on it and a crown above the harp, reserved for state
occasions, and unfurled now and again, when a show of loyalty
and a little enthusiasm is called for; but that flag never waves
the Irish to battle, not even when fighting for England. There
is no Irish standard-bearer for it, as there was under the
Tudors, when the flag of Ulster was seen amid the armies of
Elizabeth. The name of Ireland is never mentioned in any treaty
with foreign powers; and, when the sovereign of England,
Scotland, and Ireland, signs a treaty, a convention, nay, a poor
protocol, with any foreign state, the name of Ireland is not to
be seen on the parchment, save at its head, among the titles of
the monarch. There is no Irish seal even to affix to the
document: the country is a national non-entity.

But other men, and wise men too, discover a strange anomaly in
this curious country. They hold that it is composed of two
distinct nations, and furnish excellent reasons in support of
their theory.

They talk in this fashion: "Look at the people; travel the
country north and south, and converse with them as you go. What
do you find? Unity of feeling, aims, agreement of opinion on all
possible subjects? Just the opposite! You find Jacob and Esau on
every side struggling in the womb of their mother. The quarrel
between Sassenach and Gael still goes on. What two figures can
be found more antagonistic than the Orangeman of Ulster and the
Milesian of Connaught? Yet they are both children of the same

And so deep-grained is the difference between them that,
although they have lived side by side for centuries, they are
still as hostile to each other as when they first met in battle
array. The Danes, after a struggle of a little more than two
centuries, gave up the contest and became Celts. Strongbow's
Normans soon adopted the manners of the old inhabitants,
intermarried with them, and, after a lapse of four centuries,
though quarrels often broke out between the one and the other,
they were to all intents and purposes Celts, the old race, as it
were, absorbing the Norman blood, and always showing itself in
the children.

But, when will the children of James's Scotchmen or Cromwell's
Covenanters coalesce with the descendants of the Milesians? The
longer they dwell together, the farther they seem apart, the
more they seem to hate each other; and every 12th of July, 5th
of November, 17th of March, or even 15th of August, brings
danger of bloodshed and strife to every city, hamlet, and town.
Surely, this fact speaks of two nations in the country.

The question here presented is indeed a complicated one,
requiring solid distinctions in order to elucidate it; and,
strange to say, this last difficulty of the presence of two
nations in Ireland offers greater obstacles to the firm
establishment of our opinion than the first assertion, so clear
and undeniable in appearance, that there is no Irish nation!

If true nationality existed only in the externals of government,
in an army, navy, commerce, a public seal and flag, and
recognition by foreign powers, further discussion would clearly
be useless, and the subject might as well at once be dropped.

But the true idea of a nation embraces much more than this;
there is such a thing as a national soul, and all the array of
accidents alluded to above constitute only the body, or, more
truly, the surroundings. As a writer in the North American
Review (vol. cxv., p. 379) has well expressed it, a nation is "a
race of men, small or great, whom community of traditions and
feeling binds together into a firm, indestructible unity, and
whose love of the same past directs their hopes and fears to the
same future."

In this sense nationality assuredly belongs to Ireland. More,
perhaps, than among any other people on earth, is there for the
great bulk of them "community of traditions and feeling,"
binding them together into "a firm and indestructible unity;"
and who shall say that they feel no love for their past, because
that past has been clouded with sorrow? Nay, this fact makes the
past dearer, and tends all the more to direct their hopes and
fears to the same future; a future, indeed, still dim and
uncertain, and not to be named with perfect certainty, but
wrapped in mists like the morning; yet the faint flush of the
dawn is already there that shall pale and die away when the full
orb of the sun appears.

The reader may remember what was said of the unanimity so
striking in all Irishmen, wherever they may be found; that,
though private disputes may be taken up among them with such
ardor that their quarrels have become proverbial, when the
question refers to their country or their God, in a moment they
are united, suddenly transformed into steady friends, ready to
shed their blood side by side for the great objects which
entirely absorb their natures.

This feeling it is which forms the soul of a nation. Wherever
this is to be found, there is an indestructible nationality;
wherever it is absent, there is only a dead body, however strong
may seem its government, however vast its armies, however high
its so-called culture and refinement.

These reflections being kept in view, judicious men will agree
that, among Europeans at least, there is scarcely any other
nationality so strong and vigorous as the Irish. Their
traditional feeling keeps their past ever present to their eyes;
their ardent nature hopes ever against hope; misfortunes which
would utterly break down and dishearten any other people, leave
them still full of bright anticipations, and, as they seem to
weep over the cold body of a dear mother--Erin, their country--
they think only of her resurrection.

But are there not two nations among them--two nations radically
opposed to each other and incapable of coalescing? Supposing a
resurrection of the people, which of the two is to prevail--the
numerical majority, or the so far influential minority? In
either event, it is fair to suppose a new state of helotism for
the one party or the other. Is this the spectacle which the
regenerated nation is likely to present?

In speaking of the resurrection of Ireland, the old, massive,
compact body of the people, the venerable race, Celtic in its
aspirations and tendencies, if not altogether in its origin, has
always been kept in view; and that anomalous, foreign
excrescence which has so steadily refused to assimilate with the
mass, and has until our days remained "encamped" in Ireland, as
the Turks are justly said to have remained "encamped" in Europe,
has never entered into our reckoning.

The true Irishman has ever been catholic--the word is used in
its grammatical and not in its religious sense--in fellowship.
The race, as now constituted, is assuredly of mixed origin, and
large drafts of foreign population have been added from time to
time to the primitive stock, which has always been kind to admit,
absorb, and make them finally Celtic. Strongbow's Normans were
not the last who submitted to that process; as was seen, many
Cromwellians became the fathers, or grandfathers at least, of as
sturdy an Irish branch as ever flourished in the strong air of
the country.

But a comparatively small body of men has doggedly refused to
submit to this process, and continued to this day an English or
Lowland Scotch colony on the Irish soil. The future of Ireland
does not take them in, for the very simple reason that they are
not of her, they do not belong to her, they are as much
foreigners to-day as they ever were. Therefore do we admit the
existence of two nations, if people are pleased to call them so,
in Ireland, but of one nation only have we written. The only
question in regard to this second "nation" is: What will become
of them in the future? Are they, in their turn, to become helots,
after having vainly striven so long to make helots of the
others? God forbid! No true Irishman nourishes in his soul such
feelings of retaliation or revenge.

Assuredly, they will be prevented from disturbing any longer the
public order, and forced at length to respect the majority, or
rather, the mass of their countrymen. No one can object to
having such a necessary measure imposed upon them. In the many
civil discords which, for more than a century and a half, have
disgraced the north of Ireland, they have almost invariably been
the aggressors. The government openly taking their part for a
long time, they had the whole field to themselves, and what use
they made of their privilege, and how they improved their
opportunity, is known to all. When, at last, the public
authorities could no longer pretend to ignore their hateful
spirit, and began to show some signs of protecting the hitherto
much-abused majority, by forbidding those odious processions to
which the others always attached such importance, they gave
themselves the airs of a persecuted body of men, and pretended
that henceforth their lives, and those of their wives and
children, were no longer safe.

The province of Ulster being closed to them as a field of
operations, they transferred to Upper Canada the exhibition of
their blood-thirsty hatred, and on several occasions the
Catholic population of the country had to protect their churches,
musket in hand. Even in the United States they have rendered
themselves odious to the people by foisting their spirit of
strife on a land where they cannot but be strangers, and by
staining some of the streets of New York with blood, in order to
gratify their senseless animosity.

It is surely time that an end be put to such absurd and
dangerous antics, not abroad only, but at home. In the new order
of things now dawning upon Ireland, there can no longer be room
for them; and the very name of Orangeman must disappear forever
from the vocabulary of the new nation, to the joy of all
peaceful and law-abiding citizens.

That is all the persecution they need expect. Not only will
there be room for them still in the country of their birth, but
of course they will have their due share in all the privileges
of citizenship. Political distinctions between themselves and
the old race will be unknown; social distinctions will be a
question for themselves to settle. Should they show the
slightest desire of combining with the majority of their
countrymen, these latter will be generous enough to forget the
past, and perhaps the others may imitate their predecessors, the
Danes, the Normans, and even some of their Cromwellian kin, and
become, at last, Hibernis hiberniores.

What is said of political and social distinctions will hold good
also for religious tenets. Let them, if they choose, continue to
stand by their Presbyterian dogmas, provided they do not quarrel
with the majority for professing what they love to believe; but
that belief must come to an external and public profession. They
will often hear the bells of Catholic churches; as they pass
outside, if they do not enter, the strains of the glorious music
and noble anthems, resounding within, will fall on their ears;
they will see the statue of the Blessed Virgin borne through the
streets on the 15th of August, amid showers of snowy blossoms,
falling from the innocent hands of children; all this they must
endure, if it be so hard to endure it; but this is not
persecution. Even to their eyes, if their heart be not frozen by
a cold belief, the sight will bear some attractions. And if they
come to think, that what is oldest in Christianity is the best,
and that, after all, Catholicity has something in it which makes
life sweet and pleasant, it can scarcely be held a crime in the
universal Church to open her arms and receive back to her bosom
those wandering and so long obstinate children.

When will all this come to pass? Who can tell? But stranger
things than these have already taken place in Ireland, and we
are confident that future historians of the race will have to
record greater wonders still, and facts more stubborn and
difficult of explanation.

At all events, should the inflexible Puritanism of the Scotch
colony stand proof against the allurements of a motherly and
tender-hearted Church, they must at least become subject to the
iron laws of population and absorption. When the public statutes
are no longer drawn up for their special benefit, when no new
swarms of brethren come to swell their ranks, when they are
abandoned to the merciless laws of loss and gain in numbers,
then will people soon see on which side is true morality, and by
which the ordinances of God are really respected; then will many
vapid accusations against the holy Catholic Church of themselves
disappear, and the eyes of men will open to the great fact that
Ireland must be and remain one in race, feeling, and, above all,
in religion. The foreign element will have dwindled to
insignificance, if it shall not have utterly disappeared. Indeed,
it may be safely predicted that the day will arrive when the
announcement of the natural demise of the last Puritan in
Ireland will appear in the daily newspapers as a curious piece
of intelligence, not devoid of a certain interest.

Though moral force, as the agent of the regeneration of Ireland,
has been our theme all through, we would not have our readers
infer that Irishmen should adopt the do-nothing policy, and
leave to God alone the work of raising them up. The moral force
spoken of is that of human beings endowed with activity and
determination; steady and persevering in the pursuit of well-
organized plans of their own conception.

Let Irishmen lift up their eyes and behold what they might do,
did they only appreciate their strength and husband it. Dire
calamities, which God designed from the first to convert into
blessings, have scattered them over the world, and brought out
that power of expansion which was always in their nature, but
lay dormant and cramped under the pressure of terrible
circumstances. They again show themselves as that old race which
three thousand years ago spread itself all over Europe and Asia.
They now bear in their hands an emblem which they had not then--
the cross of Christ! And the cross is the sign of universality
in time and space. To that sign, since the triumph of the
Saviour on the day of his resurrection, is given the rule of the
world till the end of time. Now that our globe is known at last,
the cross must be planted all over its surface, and in this
great work the Irish race is clearly destined to bear a
conspicuous part.

In the fulfilment of that divine vocation they are dispersed,
and whatever is dispersed is deprived of a great part of its
strength. How can the disjecta membra, scattered far and wide by
Typhon, become again Osiris? Under the guidance of God, by that
great instrument of modern times, the power of association and
organization, aided by a steady, energetic will.

Ezekiel has admirably described the process in his thirty-
seventh chapter. The Lord must first speak: "Ye dry bones, hear
the word of the Lord. . . . Behold, I will send spirit into you,
and ye shall live; and I will lay sinews on you, and will cause
flesh to grow over you, and will cover you with skin; and I will
give you spirit, and ye shall live."

All this seems to be the work of God alone, yet, in the very
words of the prophet, the dry bones have their part to perform:

"As I prophesied, there was a noise, a commotion, and the bones
came together, each one to his joint."

There is the whole process; it supposes a noise, a commotion, a
rising, an assembling together, and a fitting each one into his
own joint. They possess an activity of their own, which they
must use. And the phenomenon is to take place in the midst of "a
vast plain "--two great continents--over the surface of which
the "bones" are found on every side, appearing "exceeding dry."

With what a power will that army be invested when it rises up
and stands upon its feet! We may form some faint idea of it,
when in our large cities any thing occurs to excite the interest
and warm up the feeling of that apparently inert Celtic mass.
The largest halls constructed cannot contain the multitudes who
have only read the announcement of a meeting, a lecture, or a
charitable undertaking. Such scenes are witnessed every day
along the banks of the St. Lawrence, the Hudson, and the
Delaware Rivers; by the shores of Chesapeake Bay; in all the
great centres of population dotting the Atlantic coast; in the
heart of the continent along the winding course of the
Mississippi and Missouri; and already, even in the far West, on
the spreading shores of the Pacific Ocean. The same is occurring
all over the inhabited portion of Australia and the adjacent
islands. What power, then, would be theirs did those "bones"
know how to come together each in his own joint!

How is it that we hear of no concerted action among them for
their country's sake? Is each man so busy, and lost in his own
little sphere of interest and speculation, that he cannot spare
a moment's thought for the claims of his native country? Who can
say this? Moreover, the best means of promoting their own
private interests would be to raise before the eyes of all the
status of the country with which they are naturally identified.
The truth is, each one waits for another to set the example, the
mass being ever ready to follow a lead and show its good-will.
Association is needed.

When they turn their eyes to the incessant struggle going on in
the mother-country, when they read in their own newspapers the
discussions of the Irish press, of the questions debated on the
soil most dear to them, and the agitation of the momentous
interests pending and awaiting a final decision among their
former countrymen, no doubt their feelings are strongly moved;
the hopes and fears of their youth, before they left their
native shores, are revived with renewed force, and their love
for their green island is as ardent as ever.

But is this all? Is it enough that the heart of each one is
stirred within him? Is it not for them to see that the influence
of their new name, new position, and bettered circumstances, be
brought to bear, however far away they may be, upon the great
home questions of land-tenure, education, the elective franchise,
a native Parliament, commerce, manufactures, and all matters
touching on the general welfare of Ireland? If, having become
adopted citizens of a new country, they can no longer act as
citizens of Erin, they may and ought at least to interest them
selves in these matters as far as true loyalty to their adopted
country may allow them; and this they can best do by association.

The bonds of a wise organization would give firmness and
compactness to the whole moral force of the dispersed
nationality. By association, the scattered "dry bones" would be
speedily changed into a solid array of living warriors standing
upon their feet, and the startling spectacle would astonish the
whole world, and win for the race the involuntary respect of all
who should witness or hear of it. Nothing would be easier than
to set such a thing on foot, for, although so far apart in
appearance, the ma- jority of Irish families, from the very fact
of emigration, have half of their members at home and half
abroad, joined together by an active correspondence and a
constant transmission of funds. The managers of the movement
would only have to organize for a general object, what already
is organized in fact, and direct to the common good what is now
done privately.

A word has already been said on the possible management of such an
organization: that the movement should begin at home, in the island;
that its supervision should be left to the true leaders of the
nation; and that all the workings, details, and executive part,
may be safely intrusted to the active members of the association.

The class here designated as leaders of the nation is already
known to the reader. The old nobility having been destroyed,
there is no other body which truly represent the Irish people to-day
save the clergy. This is, no doubt, a misfortune, but none the
less a fact. It offers the anomaly of clergymen meddling to a
certain extent in politics; but, in Ireland, this is unavoidable.

How does the whole body of the European Catholic clergy
understand its position in all those Catholic congresses and
unions, which are now, thank God! starting up in all Christian
countries? How do the laymen, on their side, appreciate the
share they have to take in those various movements? How do they
act under the lead of their spiritual advisers? Are any odious
distinctions ever known in those associations? Can any
misunderstanding arise among men animated with a true love for
religion? And why should not the same be true of Ireland, among
a people so full of love for country? This is what is meant when
the terms leaders and followers, clergy and laity, are here used.

Another consideration will show still more forcibly the
importance of the great measure here proposed. One circumstance
must have struck those who read the detailed reports of the
Catholic congresses mentioned above--the sudden appearance of a
large array of laymen, illustrious by their birth, wealth,
political power, or literary attainments; but, for the most part,
not so well known for their deep attachment to the cause of the
Church. A new channel of activity was suddenly opened up to them;
they threw themselves into it, and became the bold champions of
a cause to which, undoubtedly, they had been individually
attached, but of which they now became the public men. And there
is little doubt that many young men, lukewarm before, and
perhaps with nothing more than the remembrance of the Christian
education they had once received, suddenly revived in spirit and
made a solemn profession of a cause which, perhaps, they would
not have had the courage openly to advocate, did not the number
and names of the first originators of the movement encourage
them to join in it heart and soul.

Now, it is said, perhaps too truly, that the warm religious
feeling which has been all along claimed as the most striking
characteristic of the Irish race, is no longer shared alike by
all classes of Irish Catholics; that, too often, when
individuals among them rise in the social scale, and reach a
step in the social ladder from which they imagine that they can
look down upon the despised mass below, they no longer feel that
deep reverence for their religion which had characterized their
youth, and, after all, are not very different from the mass of
non-Catholics among whom they prefer to move. This class of men
has been well described by Moore in his own person, in various
passages of his "Irish Gentleman in search of a Religion."

The fact is, indeed, too true; but what is the chief cause of
it? One of the most active means of bringing about such a result
we take to be the complete isolation in which young men of the
class referred to find themselves in their own sphere of life.
There is, in fact, no motive for displaying their attachment to
their religion, and no respectable means of doing so. They do
not feel their souls moved by sufficient proselytic ardor to
induce them, of their own accord, to originate any thing of that
kind, and the generality of them have, probably, not received
from Nature the talents requisite to make them leaders in any
cause whatever. No one around them moves in that direction;
hence their apathy and consequent lukewarmness in the practice
and outward profession of their faith.

But change all the surroundings; present them an influential
body to which it is an honor to belong--a body marching openly
under the banner of the true Church of Christ and of their
country, bound together as of old--and then will it be seen
whether or not they indeed are the degenerate sons of martyred
ancestors they now appear to be.

It is indeed very remarkable that, of all countries, Ireland
seems to make the least show in those Catholic unions and
congresses now so widely spread throughout Europe. The reason
for this, perhaps, is, that there seemed less cause for their
existence in Ireland than elsewhere. But, as, in Ireland, their
object would not only embrace the interests of religion, but
likewise those of the country itself, it seems natural to think
that there they are particularly wanted.

Let the leaders of the nation, then, bestir themselves. Long
ages of oppression unfortunately have rendered them somewhat
timid and seemingly afraid of jeopardizing the important
interests confided to their care. Let them lift up their eyes
and see that the time for timidity has passed away: the enemy is
reckless and open in his attacks; their resistance must be
equally undisguised and fearless. The people themselves
understand this and occasionally display a boldness which shows
that the old heroism still lives in them; but they want leaders,
and, if the right ones are not fast to take hold of them, they
may fall into the hands of wrong-headed guides. Let the true
guides look out and see how broad are the lines which divide the
good from the evil, and that victory is sure to the stout of
heart, when backed by the serried masses of a united people.

The principle of association and the machinery of organization
must be applied to all subjects connected with the resurrection
of the country. What has been done so effectually for the cause
of temperance must be done likewise for education, for the
purchase or tenure of land, for the development of agriculture,
manufactures, and commerce, for the true representation of the
nation, for free municipal government, for the securing of a
truly Irish yeomanry and gentry, for a thousand objects on which
the future welfare of the nation depends. All classes of society,
persons of every age and of either sex, yes, women and children,
ought to be induced to take an interest in what concerns all
alike. Every possible occasion should be taken advantage of to
insure the attainment of the ultimate object. When such a work
is really entered upon in earnest, the results will be

This is the complete development of moral force, and, until all
these means have had fair trial, no one can say that moral force
has been fully tried and has failed.

Such a system would, we firmly believe, result in the ultimate
restoration of Ireland's rights and would surely culminate in
her final resurrection at no distant date. That the Irish would
enter with spirit into those various associations has been
sufficiently demonstrated by previous examples, particularly
under O'Connell; and it is impossible to see how surer, greater,
and speedier results could be obtained by any amount of physical
force of which Ireland is capable. What array of physical force
can the Irish muster to compete at all with their powerful
rivals, situated as they are with the chains of centuries still
binding them down, for, though the shackles may be actually
removed, their effect is still there. The very statement of the
terms, Ireland versus England, is enough to show the
hopelessness of such a combat. It is a very easy thing to
magnify the old heroism of the Irish, and cast opprobrium on the
present bearers of the name, as did several newspaper writers
recently, for not displaying the "pluck" of their ancestors who
fought against Elizabeth, Cromwell, and William of Orange. It is
forgotten that circumstances have altered considerably since
those days when the Irish possessed a regular army led by
experienced generals: restore those circumstances, and the Irish
of to-day might outdo their ancestors; at all events, there is
no reason for supposing that they would be inferior. However,
there is such a thing as impossibility, and any attempt of such
a nature, with such surroundings, must be deemed by all sensible
men not merely rashness, but folly.

In concluding these pages, the author begs to be allowed a word
as to their general character, in reply to a dogmatic and
comprehensive criticism which it is easy to foresee will be
passed on them. It will undoubtedly be asserted that an undue
prominence has been given to the religious side of the Irish
question, while its many political aspects have been left in the
background. This charge will be laid at the door of the clerical
and religious character of the writer, and may give rise to the
notion that the view here taken of the subject is not the right
one, but a radical failure.

The answer to this objection is, in brief, that no one can treat
seriously and properly of the Irish race without taking a
religious view of it. Whoever adopts a different method of
treating the matter would, in our opinion, go completely astray;
would take in only a few side-views; would, in fact, pretend to
have made a serious study of it, which he offered to the public
as such, while ignoring the chief and almost only feature.

The Irish is a religious race, and nothing else. It seems that
such was its character thousands of years ago, even when pagan.
At the time when Hanno was sent by the Carthaginian senate
beyond the Pillars of Hercules to explore the western coast of
Africa, toward the south--of which voyage the short narrative is
still left us--Himilco, brother to Hanno, was similarly
commissioned to form settlements on the European coast, toward
the north. The account of this latter expedition, which was
extant in the time of Pliny the Elder, is unfortunately lost;
but, in the poem of R. Festus Avienus, entitled "Ora Maritima,"
there are copious extracts from it, in which, at least, the
sense of the original is preserved. Avienus, after speaking of
the "Insulae OEstrimnides," which Heeren thinks must be the
Scilly Islands, goes on to say:

"Ast hinc duobus in Sacram (sic insulam
Dixere prisci) solibus cursus rati est.
Haec inter undas multam caespitem jacet,
Eamque late gens Hibernorum colit."

The passage runs almost into literal English as follows:

"Thence in two days, a good ship in sailing
Reaches the Holy Isle(1)--so was she called of old--
That in the sea nestles, whose turf exuberant
The race of Hibernians tills."

(1 Dr. Lingard, evidently perplexed by this expression, asks
himself, "What might its origin have been?" and suggests that
the name of Ierne--the same as Erin--having been given to
Ireland by the ancients, and the Greek iepa--holy-- bearing a
great resemblance to it, Avienus might have thus fallen into a
very natural mistake of confounding the one with the other. But,
in the first place, Himilco's report was certainly not written
in Greek, but in Phoenician, and Avienus seems merely to have
translated that report. Moreover, the word iepa begins with a
very strong aspirate, equivalent to a consonant, while there are
few vowels softer in any language than the first in Erin or
Ierne. Heeren does not attempt such an explanation, but concedes
that the Carthaginians, as well as the Phoenicians before them,
called Ireland the Holy Isle.)

In the time of Himilco, therefore, five hundred years before
Christ, Ireland was called the Holy Isle, a title she had
received long before: Sic insulam discere prisci. In what that
holiness may have consisted precisely, it is impossible now to
say; all we know is, that foreign navigators, who were
acquainted with the world as far as it was then known, whose
ships had visited the harbors of all nations, could find no more
apt expression to describe the island than to say that, morally,
it was "a holy spot," and physically "a fair green meadow," or,
as her children to this day call her, "the green gem of the sea."

But we have better means of judging in what the holiness of the
people consisted after the establishment of Christianity in
their midst; and the description of it given in the fourth
chapter of this book, taken from the most trustworthy documents,
shows how well deserved was the title the island bore.

From that day forth the religious type was clearly impressed on
the nation, and has ever remained deeply engraven in its
character. The race was never distinguished for its fondness for
trade, for its manufactures, for depth of policy, for worldly
enlightenment; its annals speak of no lust of conquest among its
people; the brilliant achievements of foreign invasion, the high
political and social aspirations which generally give lustre to
the national life of many a people, belong not to them. But
religious feeling, firm adherence to faith, invincible
attachment to the form of Christianity they had received from St.
Patrick, formed at all times their striking characteristics.

From the day when their faith was first attacked by the Tudors
did it chiefly blaze forth into a special splendor, which these
pages have striven faintly to represent. Before taking up the
pen to write, after the serious study of documents, only one
great feature struck us--that of a deep religious conviction;
and, after having seen what some writers have had to say
recently, the same feature strikes us still. We will not deny
that this fact moved us to write, and the task was the more
grateful, probably, because of our own personal religious
character; but we are confident that any layman, whatever might
be his talent and disposition for describing worldly scenes, who
took up Irish history, could find nothing else in it of real
importance to render the annals of the race attractive to the
common run of readers.

And is not religion more capable of giving a people true
greatness and real heroism than any worldly excellence? Men of
sound judgment will always find at least as much interest
attached to the history of the first Maccabees as to that of
Epaminondas; and the self-sacrifice of the Vendean Cathelineau,
with his "beads" and his "sacred heart," will always appear to
an impartial judge of human character more truly admirable than
that of any general or marshal of the first Napoleon. Religious
heroism, having for object something far above even the purest
patriotic fervor, can inspire deeds more truly worthy of human
admiration than this, the highest natural feeling of the human
heart; and, for a Christian, the most inspiring pages of history
are those which tell of the superhuman exertions of devoted
knights to wrest the sepulchre of our Lord from the polluted
hands of the Moslem.

But religion did not confine her influence over Irishmen to the
bravery which she breathed into them on the battle-field.
Religion truly constituted their inner life in all the
vicissitudes of their national existence; it was the only
support left them in the darkest period of their annals, during
the whole of the last century; and, when the dawn came at last
with the flush of hope, religion was the only halo which
surrounded them. Their emigration even, their exodus chiefly,
was in fact the sublime outpouring of a crucified nation,
carrying the cross as their last religious emblem, and planting
it in the wilds of far-distant continents as their only
escutcheon, and the sure sign which should apprise travellers of
the existence of Irishmen in the deserts of North America and

Truly, those men are very ignorant of the Irish character who
would abstract the religious feature from it, and paint the
nation as they would any other European people, whose great aim
in these modern days seems to be to forget the first fervor of
their Christian origin. With the Irish this cannot be. The vivid
warmth of their cradle has not yet cooled down; and, if it would
be indeed ridiculous to represent the English of the nineteenth
century as the pious subjects of Alfred or Edward, it would be
equally foolish to depict the Irish of to-day as the worldlings
and godless of France, Italy, or Spain. The Irish patriot could
not be like them, without deserting his standard and the colors
for which his race has fought. The nation to which he has the
honor of belonging is still Christian to the core; and, if some
few have really repudiated the love of the religion they took in
at their mother's knee, the only means left them of remaining
Irishmen, at least in appearance, is not to parade their total
lack of this, the chief characteristic of their race.


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