Speeches from the Dock, Part I

Part 5 out of 5

and claimed for himself the post of danger. Well may that patriotic
father be proud of such a son.

When called upon for such remarks as he might have to offer on his own
behalf, Captain Mackay, without any of the airs of a practised speaker,
but yet with a manner that somehow touched every heart and visibly
affected the humane and upright judge who sat on the bench, delivered
the following address:--

"My lord--What I said last evening I think calls for a little
explanation. I then said I was fully satisfied with the verdict--that
it was a fair and just one. I say so still, but I wish to state that
I consider it only so in accordance with British law, and that it is
not in accordance with my ideas of right and justice. I feel that
with the strong evidence there was against me, according to British
law, the jury could not, as conscientious men, do otherwise. I feel
that. I thank them again for their recommendation to mercy, which, I
have no doubt, was prompted by a good intention towards me, and a
desire to mitigate what they considered would he a long and painful
imprisonment. Still, I will say, with all respect, that I feel the
utmost indifference to it. I do so for this reason--I am now in that
position that I must rely entirely upon the goodness of God, and I
feel confident that He will so dispose events that I will not remain
a prisoner so long as your lordship may be pleased to decree. The
jury having now found me guilty, it only remains for your lordship to
give effect to their verdict. The eloquence, the ability, the clear
reasoning, and the really splendid arguments of my counsel failed, as
I knew they would, to affect the jury. I feel, therefore, that with
my poor talents it would be utterly vain and useless for me to
attempt to stay the sentence which it now becomes your lordship's
duty to pronounce. I believe, my lord, from what I have seen of your
lordship, and what I have heard of you, it will be to you a painful
duty to inflict that sentence upon me. To one clinging so much to the
world and its joys--to its fond ties and pleasant associations, as I
naturally do, retirement into banishment is seldom--very
seldom--welcome. Of that, however, I do not complain. But to any man
whose heart glows with the warmest impulses and the most intense love
of freedom; strongly attached to kind friends, affectionate parents,
loving brother and sisters, and a devotedly fond and loving wife, the
contemplation of a long period of imprisonment must appear most
terrible and appalling. To me, however, viewing it from a purely
personal point of view, and considering the cause for which I am
about to suffer, far from being dismayed--far from its discouraging
me--it proves to me rather a source of joy and comfort. True, it is a
position not to be sought--not to be looked for--it is one which, for
many, very many reasons there is no occasion for me now to explain,
maybe thought to involve disgrace or discredit. But, so far from
viewing it in that light, I do not shrink from it, but accept it
readily, feeling proud and glad that it affords me an opportunity of
proving the sincerity of those soul-elevating principles of freedom
which a good old patriotic father instilled into my mind from my
earliest years, and which I still entertain with a strong love, whose
fervour and intensity are second only to the sacred homage which we
owe to God. If, having lost that freedom, I am to be deprived of all
those blessings--those glad and joyous years I should have spent
amongst loving friends--I shall not complain, I shall not murmur, but
with calm resignation and cheerful expectation, I shall joyfully
submit to God's blessed will, feeling confident that He will open the
strongly locked and barred doors of British prisons. Till that glad
time arrives, it is consolation and reward enough for me to know that
I have the fervent prayers, the sympathy and loving blessings of
Ireland's truly noble and generous people, and far easier, more
soothing and more comforting to me will it be to go back to my
cheerless cell, than it would be to live in slavish ease and
luxury--a witness to the cruel sufferings and terrible miseries of
this down-trodden people. Condemn me, then, my lord--condemn me to a
felon's doom. To-night I will sleep in a prison cell; to-morrow I
will wear a convict's dress; but to me it will be a far nobler garb
than the richest dress of slavery. Coward slaves they lie who think
the countless sufferings and degradation of prison life disgraces a
man. I feel otherwise. It is as impossible to subdue the soul
animated with freedom as it will be for England to crush the resolute
will of this nation, determined as it is to be free, or perish in the
attempt. According to British law, those acts proved against
me--fairly proved against me I acknowledge--maybe crimes, but
morally, in the eyes of freemen and the sight of God, they are more
ennobling than disgraceful. Shame is only a connexion with guilt. It
is surely not a crime to obey God's law, or to assist our fellow-men
to acquire those God-given rights which no men--no nation--can justly
deprive them of. If love of freedom and a desire to extend its
unspeakable blessings to all God's creatures, irrespective of race,
creed, or colour, be a crime--if devotion to Ireland, and love of its
faithful, its honest, its kindly people be a crime, then I say I
proudly and gladly acknowledge my guilt. If it is a disgrace, all I
can say is I glory in such shame and dishonour; and, with all respect
for the court, I hold in thorough and utmost contempt the worst
punishment that can be inflicted upon me, so far as it is intended to
deprive me of this feeling, and degrade me in the eyes of my
fellow-men. Oh, no, it is impossible, my lord; the freeman's soul can
never be dismayed. England will most miserably fail if she expects by
force and oppression to crush out--to stamp out, as the _Times_
exclaimed--this glorious longing for national life and independence
which now fills the breasts of millions of Irishmen, and which only
requires a little patience and the opportunity to effect its purpose.
Much has been said on these trials, on the objects and intentions of
Fenianism. I feel confidently, my lord, as to my own motives. I shall
not be guilty of the egotism to say whether they are pure or
otherwise. I shall leave that to others to judge. I am not qualified
to judge that myself; but I know in my soul that the motives which
prompted me were pure, patriotic, and unselfish. I know the motives
that actuate the most active members of the Fenian organization; and
I know that very few persons, except such contemptible wretches as
Corridon, have profited by their connexion with Fenianism. My best
friends lost all they ever possessed by it. Talbot and Corridon, I
believe, have sworn on previous trials that it was the intention of
the Fenians to have divided the lands of Ireland amongst themselves
in the event of success. Though an humble member of the organization,
I have the honour and satisfaction of being acquainted with the great
majority of the leaders of Fenianism on both sides of the Atlantic,
and I never knew one of them to have exhibited a desire other than to
have the proud satisfaction of freeing Ireland, which was the only
reward they ever yearned for--the only object that ever animated
them. As to myself, I can truly say that I entered into this movement
without any idea of personal aggrandisement. When, in 1865, I bade my
loving friends and parents good-bye in America, and came to Ireland,
I was fully satisfied with the thought that I was coming to assist in
the liberation of an enslaved nation; and I knew that the greatest
sacrifices must be endured on our parts before the country could be
raised to that proud position which is so beautifully described by
the national poet as--

"'Great, glorious, and free,
First flower of the earth, first gem of the sea.'

"Well, it was with that only wish, and that only desire I came to
Ireland, feeling that to realize it were to an honest man a greater
reward than all the honours and riches and power this world could
bestow. I cannot boast of learning, my lord; I have not had much
opportunity of cultivating those talents with which Providence may
have blessed me. Still I have read sufficient of the world's history
to know that no people ever acquired their liberty without enormous
sacrifices--without losing, always, I may say, some of the purest,
bravest, and best of their children. Liberty, if worth possessing, is
surely worth struggling and fighting for, and in this struggle--of
which, although the crown-lawyers and the government of England think
they have seen the end, but of which I tell them they have not yet
seen the commencement--I feel that enormous sacrifices must be made.
Therefore, my lord, looking straight before me now, I say I was
determined and was quite ready to sacrifice my life if necessary to
acquire that liberty; and I am not now going to be so mean-spirited,
so cowardly, or so contemptible as to shrink from my portion of the
general suffering. I am ready, then, for the sentence of the court,
satisfied that I have acted right, confident that I have committed no
wrong, outrage, or crime whatever, and that I have cast no disgrace
upon my parents, my friends, upon my devoted wife, or upon myself. I
am, with God's assistance, ready to meet my fate. I rest in the calm
resignation of a man whose only ambition through life has been to
benefit and free, not to injure, his fellow-men; and whose only
desire this moment is to obtain their prayers and blessings. With the
approval of my own conscience, above all hoping for the forgiveness
of God for anything I may have done to displease Him, and relying
upon His self-sustaining grace to enable me to bear any punishment,
no matter how severe, so long as it is for glorious old Ireland. I
had intended, my lord, to refer to my notes which I took at the
trial; but I feel that was so ably done by my counsel, it would be a
mere waste of time for me to do so, but I just wish to make an
explanation. Sir C. O'Loghlen made a statement--unintentionally I am
sure it was on his part--which may or may not affect me. He said I
sent a memorial to the Lord Lieutenant praying to be released from
custody. I wish to say I sent no such thing. The facts of the matter
are these:--I was liberated in this court because in reality the
crown could not make out a case against me at the time; and as I
could, at the same time, be kept in prison until the next assizes, I,
on consultation with my friends and with my fellow-captive, Captain
M'Afferty, consented, as soon as I should receive a remittance from
my friends in America, to return there. On these conditions I was set
at liberty, understanding, at the same time, that if found in the
country by next assizes I would be brought up for trial. I did not
want to give annoyance, and I said I would go to America. I honestly
intended to do so then--not, however, as giving up my principles, but
because I saw there was no hope of an immediate rising in Ireland.
While agreeing to those conditions, I went to Dublin, and there met
M'Afferty, and it was on that occasion I made the acquaintance of
Corridon. I met him purely accidentally. He afterwards stated that he
saw me in Liverpool, but he did not see me there. I went over with an
object, and while there I was arrested by anticipation, before the
_Habeas Corpus_ Act was really suspended. I defy the government to
prove I had any connexion with Fenianism from the time I was released
from Cork jail until February, 1867. I was afterwards removed to
Mountjoy prison, and, while there, Mr. West came to me and said he
understood I was an American citizen, and asked why I did not make
that known. I said I had a double reason--first, because I expected
the crown would see they had broken their pledge with me in having
been so soon arrested; and also that I expected my government would
make a general demand for all its citizens. By Mr. West's desire I
put that statement in writing; and I do not think that there is a
word in it that can be construed into a memorial to the Lord
Lieutenant. One of the directors of the prison came to me and asked
me was I content to comply with the former conditions, and I said I
was. I was liberated upon those conditions, and complied with them;
but there was no condition whatever named that I was never to return
to Ireland nor to fight for Irish independence. At that time I would
sooner have remained in prison than enter into any such compact. Now,
with reference to Corridon's information. He states he met me in
Liverpool after the rising, and I stated to him that somebody 'sold
the pass' upon us--to use the Irish phrase. Now, it is a strange
thing, my lord, that he got some information that was true, and I
really was in Liverpool, but not with the informer. The fact is, the
month previous to that I knew, and so did M'Afferty, that Corridon
had sold us. We left instructions at Liverpool to have him watched;
but owing to circumstances, it is needless now to refer to, that was
not attended to, and he came afterwards to Ireland and passed as a
Fenian, and the parties here, not knowing he had betrayed them, still
believed in him. But I knew very well that Corridon had betrayed that
Chester affair, and so did Captain M'Afferty; and if I had met him at
that time in Liverpool I don't think it would be him I would inform
of our plans. I only want to show, my lord, how easily an informer
can concoct a scene. I never in my life attended that meeting that
Corridon swore to. All his depositions with respect to me is false. I
did meet him twice in Dublin, but not on the occasions he states. I
wish to show how an informer can concoct a story that it will be
entirely out of the power of the prisoner to contradict. With
reference to the witness Curtin, whom I asked to have produced--and
the crown did produce all the witnesses I asked for--your lordship
seemed to be under the impression that I did not produce him because
he might not be able to say I was not in his house that night. Now,
the fact is that, as my attorney learned the moment Mr. Curtin was
brought to town, he knew nothing whatever about the circumstance, as
he was not in his own tavern that night at all. That was why I did
not produce the evidence. But I solemnly declare I never was in
Curtin's public-house in my life till last summer, when I went in
with a friend on two or three occasions, and then for the first time.
That must have been in June or July, after the trials were over in
Dublin. So that everything Corridon said in connection with my being
there that night was absolutely false. I solemnly declare I was never
there till some time last summer, when I went in under the
circumstances I have stated. In conclusion, my lord, though it may
not be exactly in accordance with the rules of the court, I wish to
return your lordship my most sincere thanks for your fair and
impartial conduct during this trial. If there was anything that was
not impartial in it at all, I consider it was only in my favour, and
not in favour of the crown. This I consider is the duty of a judge,
and what every judge should do--because the prisoner is always on the
weak side, and cannot say many things he would wish, while the crown,
on the other hand, have all the power and influence that the law and
a full exchequer can give them. I must also return my sincere and
heartfelt thanks to my able and distinguished counsel, who spoke so
eloquently in my favour. As for Mr. Collins, I feel I can never
sufficiently thank him. He served me on my trial at a great sacrifice
of time and money, with noble zeal and devotion, such as might be
more readily expected from a friend than a solicitor. There are many
more I would like to thank individually, but as this may not be the
proper time and place to do so, I can only thank all my friends from
the bottom of my heart. I may mention the name at least of Mr. Joyce,
who, in the jail, showed a great deal of kind feeling and attention.
And now, my lord, as I have already stated, I am ready for my
sentence I feel rather out of place in this dock [the prisoner here
smiled gently]. It is a place a man is very seldom placed in, and
even if he is a good speaker he might be put out by the circumstance
of having to utter his remarks from this place. But speaking at all
is not my _forte_; and there are such emotions filling my breast at
this moment that I may be pardoned for not saying all I would wish.
My heart is filled with thoughts of kind friends--near at hand and
far away--of father and mother, brothers and sisters, and my dear
wife. Thoughts of these fill my breast at this moment, and check my
utterance. But I will say to them that I am firmly convinced I will
yet live to see, and that God will be graciously pleased in His own
good time to order, the prosperity and freedom of this glorious
country. I would only repeat the powerful, touching, and simple words
of Michael Larkin, the martyr of Manchester, who, in parting from his
friends, said, 'God be with you, Irishmen and Irishwomen,' and the
burning words of my old friend Edward O'Mara Condon, which are now
known throughout Ireland and the world, 'God save Ireland!' And I,
too, would say, 'God be with you, Irishmen and women; God save you;
God bless Ireland; and God grant me strength to bear my task for
Ireland as becomes a man. Farewell!' [A sound of some females sobbing
was here heard in the gallery. Several ladies in court, too, visibly
yielded to emotion at this point. Perceiving this the prisoner
continued:--] My lord, if I display any emotion at this moment, I
trust it will not be construed into anything resembling a feeling of
despair, for no such feeling animates me. I feel, as I have already
said, confidence in God. I feel that I will not be long in
imprisonment; therefore I am just as ready to meet my fate now as I
was six weeks ago, or as I was six months ago. I feel confident that
there is a glorious future in store for Ireland, and that, with a
little patience, a little organization, and a full trust in God on
the part of the Irish people, they will be enabled to obtain it at no
distant date."

During the concluding passages of this address many persons sobbed and
wept in various parts of the court. At its close the learned judge in
language that was really gentle, considerate, and even complimentary
towards the prisoner, and in a voice shaken by sincere emotion, declared
the sentence which he felt it to be his duty to impose. It was penal
servitude for a term of twelve years.


Back to Full Books