~ MICHAEL COLLINS' OWN STORY ~
THE FUTURE OF IRELAND
" WITH the Union came national enslavement. With the termination of the Union goes national enslavement if we will. Freedom from an outside enemy is now ours, and nobody but ourselves can interfere with it. Complete national freedom can now be ours, and nobody but ourselves can prevent us achieving it. We shall no longer have anyone but ourselves to blame if we fail to use the freedom we have won to achieve full freedom. We are now on the natural and inevitable road to complete the work of Davis and Rooney, to restore our native tongue, to get back our history, to take up again and complete the education of our countrymen in the North-East in the national ideal, to renew our strength and refresh ourselves in our own Irish civilisation, to become again the Irish men and Irish women of the distinctive Irish nation, to make real the freedom of which Davis sang, for which Rooney worked, for which Tom Clarke and Sean McDermott and their comrades fought and died."
This was Collins' considered answer to my question as to his opinion of the future of Ireland. It was early in the series of interviews that he took up this subject, introducing it in characteristically humorous fashion.
" Sure, there's not a man on earth with sufficient prevision to dare guess what the morrow will bring to Ireland. Indeed, few of us appreciate what is happening to-day and a bare minority who know the truth about Ireland's yesterday. With conditions what they are, a man would be rash to venture a prophecy about the future of this country, but for the selfsame reason it is impossible to tell a comprehensive story of Ireland's fight for freedom if ever ' Finis ' is put at the bottom of any page of it. So perhaps, after all, it is as well to make the end of the tale a forecast which may well prove wrong before the type is set.
" The known facts naturally provide a basis for anticipating what the future has in store for Ireland, and they may be briefly stated for this purpose. The British have given up their claim to dominate us. They have no longer any power to prevent us making real our freedom. That much is an accomplished fact.
" The freedom which has been won is the fruit of the national efforts of this generation and of preceding ones. The efforts of resistance made by the nation were the expressions of what had been robbed from the nation. But these efforts have not been continuous. With the Union came upheaval. The seat of Government was transferred to England. With Catholic emancipation, and the ' right ' it gave to representatives of the Irish people to sit in the foreign parliament, the national spirit was invaded. People began to look abroad. The anglicisation of Ireland had begun. The English language became the language of education and fashion. It penetrated slowly at first. It was aided by the national schools. In those schools it was the only medium of education for a people who were still Gaelic speaking. Side by side with this peaceful penetration the Irish language decayed, and when the people had adopted a new language and had come to look to England for government they learned to see in English customs and English culture the models on which to fashion their own.
" The ' gifts ' wrung from England Catholic emancipation, land acts, local government while not actually destructive in themselves of the Gaelic social system, helped in the denationalisation process. These gifts undoubtedly brought ameliorative changes, but the people got into the habit of always looking to a foreign authority, and they inevitably came to lose their self-respect, their self-reliance, and their national strength. The system made them forget to look to themselves, and that taught them to turn their backs upon their own country. We became the beggars of the rich neighbour who had robbed us. We lost reverence for our own nation, and we came very near to losing our national identity.
" O'Connell was the product of the Ireland which arose out of this perversion, prompted by the Young Irelanders, and urged on by the zeal of the people, stirred for the moment to national consciousness by the teachings of Davis. He talked of national liberty, but he did nothing to win it. He was a follower and not a leader of the people. He feared any movement of a revolutionary nature. Himself a Gaelic speaker, he adopted the English language, so little did he understand the strength to the nation of its own native language. His aim was little more than to see the Irish people a free Catholic community. He would have had Ireland merely a prosperous province of Britain with no national distinctiveness. Generally speaking, he acquiesced in a situation which was bringing upon the Irish nation spiritual decay. This is the plain truth about O'Connell.
" The Young Irelanders, of whom Thomas Davis was the inspiration, were the real leaders. They saw and felt more deeply and aimed more truly. Davis spoke to the soul of the sleeping nation the nation really drunk with the waters of forgetfulness. He sought to unite the whole people. He fought against sectarianism and all the other causes which divided them. He saw that unless we were Gaels we were not a nation. When he thought of the nation he thought of the men and women of the nation. He knew that, unless they were free, Ireland could not be free, and to fill them again with pride in their nation he sang to them of the old splendour of Ireland, of their heroes, of their language, of the strength of unity, of the glory of noble strife, of the beauties of the land, of the delights and richness of the Gaelic life.
" ' A nationality founded in the hearts and intelligence of the people,' he said, ' would bid defiance to the arms of the foe and guile of the traitor. The first step to nationality is the open and deliberate recognition of it by the people themselves. Once the Irish people declare the disconnection of themselves, their feelings and interests, from the men, feelings and interests of England, they are in march for freedom.'
" That was the true national gospel. ' Educate that you may be free, he said. ' It is only by baptism at the fount of Gaelicism that we shall get the strength and ardour to fit us for freedom.' The spirit of Davis breathed again in those who succeeded to his teachings and who, directed by that inspiration, kept the footsteps of the nation on the right road for the march to freedom.
" Those who succeeded to these teachings saw that if we continued to turn to England, the nation would become extinct. We were tacitly accepting England's denial of our nationhood so useful for her propaganda purposes. We were selling our birthright for a mess of pottage. We pleaded with England for measures of reform and political emancipation pleading with the spoilers for a portion of the spoils they had robbed from us. We saw that the nation could be preserved and freedom won only by the Irish people themselves.
" The future Ireland had its birth in the last decade of the last century. In days to come Irish history will recognise in the formation of the Gaelic League in 1893 the most important event of the nineteenth century. I may go further and say that it was the most important event in the whole history of our nation. It probably checked an assimilation of Ireland by the predominant neighbour, and once and for all turned the minds of the Irish people back to their own country. It did more than any other movement to restore the national pride, honour, and self-respect. Through the medium of the language it linked the people with the past and led them to look to a future which would be a noble continuation of it. Within its folds were nurtured the men and women who were to win for Ireland the power to achieve national freedom.
" A good tree brings forth good fruit a barren one produces nothing. The policy advocated by O'Connell, Isaac Butt, and John Redmond ended, as it was bound to end, in impotence. The freedom which Ireland has achieved was dreamed of by Wolf Tone, was foreseen by Thomas Davis, and their efforts were broadened out until they took into their embrace all the true national movements by the ' grim resolve ' of William Rooney, supported later by the strong arm of the Volunteers.
" And now we have no choice but to turn our eyes again to Ireland. The most completely anglicised person in Ireland will look henceforth to Britain in vain. Ireland is about to revolve once again on her own axis. But let us ever bear in mind that our real freedom can be won only when we are ' fit and willing ' to win it.
" Can we claim that we are yet fit and willing ? Is not our country still filled with men and women who are unfit and unwilling ? Are we all yet educated to be free ? Have not the greater number of us still the speech of the foreigner on our tongues ? Are not even we who are proudly calling ourselves Gaels little more than imitation Englishmen ? I am sad to have to believe that the day-by-day happenings prove that the answers to these questions are all in the affirmative.
" But we are free to remedy these things. Complete liberty what it stands for in our Gaelic imaginations cannot be got until we have impregnated the whole of our people with the Gaelic desire. Only then shall we be worthy of the fullest freedom. The bold outline of freedom has been drawn by the glorious efforts of the last five years. Will not those who co-operated in the conception and work of the masterpiece help with the finishing touches ?
" Can we not see that the little we have not yet gained is the expression of the falling short of our own fitness for freedom ? When we make ourselves fit we shall be free. If we could accept that truth we would be inspired again with the same fervour and devotion by our own grim resolve within the nation to complete the work which is so nearly done."
Here was the soul of Collins laid bare. Englishmen of my acquaintance frequently refer to the great Irishman as " a gunman," " a killer." The charge has foundation in fact. I saw Collins handle a service revolver and he knew how ! But the heart of him was the kindliest, gentlest, most peaceable any man ever had in his breast. It sickened him to have to stand and fight his own. I know because he confided in me that had he lived to see the triumph of his Government over the Irregular forces led by De Valera, it would have been a sorry victory for him. The hurt that
had been done him could never have been healed FOR IN HIS FINE GAELIC IMAGINATION THE WICKED DESTRUCTION BEING DONE HIS COUNTRY BY IRISHMEN WAS ON A PAR WITH THE DESPOILING OF HIS SISTER BY ONE OF HIS BROTHERS !
" Mr. De Valera, in a speech he made in February," Collins went on, " warned the people of Ireland against a life of ease, against living ' practically the life of beasts which, he fears, they may be tempted to do under the Free State. The chance that materialism will take possession of the Irish people is no more likely in a free Ireland under the Free State than it would be in a free Ireland under a Republican or any other form of government. It is in the hands of the Irish people themselves.
" In the ancient days of Gaelic civilisation the people were prosperous and they were not materialists. They were one of the most spiritual and one of the most intellectual peoples in Europe. When Ireland was swept by destitution and famine the spirit of the Irish people came most nearly to extinction. It was with the improved economic conditions of the last twenty years or more that it has reawakened. The insistent needs of the body more adequately satisfied, the people regained desire once more to reach out to the higher things in which the spirit finds its satisfaction.
" What we hope for in the new Ireland is to have such material welfare as will give the Irish spirit that freedom. We want such widely diffused prosperity that the Irish people will not be crushed by destitution into living ' practically the lives of beasts.' They were so crushed during the British occupation that they were described as being ' without the comforts of an English sow.' They must not be obliged owing to unsound economic conditions to spend all their powers of both mind and body in an effort to satisfy the bodily needs alone.
" The uses of wealth are to provide good health, comfort, moderate luxury, and to give the freedom which comes from the possession of these things. Our object in building up the country economically must not be lost sight of. That object is not to be able to boast of enormous wealth nor of a great volume of trade for their own sake. It is not to see our country covered with smoking chimneys and factories. It is not to be able to show a great national balance-sheet, nor to point to a people ' producing wealth with the self-obliteration of a hive of bees.' The real riches of the Irish nation will be the men and women of the Irish nation the extent to which they are rich in body and mind and character.
" What the future holds in store for Ireland is the opportunity for everyone to be able to produce sufficient wealth to ensure these advantages for themselves. That such wealth can be produced in Ireland there can be no doubt.
" ' For the island is so endowed with so many dowries of nature, considering the fruitfulness of the soil, the ports, the rivers, the fishing, and especially the race and generation of men, valiant, hard and active, as it is not easy to find such a confluence of commodities.'
Such was the impression made upon a visitor who came long ago to Ireland.
" We have now the opportunity to make our land indeed fruitful, to work up our natural resources, to bring prosperity to all our people. If our national economy is to be on a sound footing from the beginning it will, in the new Ireland, be possible for our people to provide themselves with the ordinary requirements of decent living. It will be possible for each one to have sufficient food, a good home in which to live in fair contentment and comfort. We shall be able to give our children bodily and mental health, and we shall be able to secure them against the inevitable times of sickness and old age.
" That must be our object. What we must aim at is the building up of a sound economic life in which great discrepancies cannot occur. We must not have the destitution of poverty at one end, and at the other an excess of riches in the possession of a few individuals beyond what they can spend with satisfaction and justification. The growing wealth of Ireland will, we hope, be diffused for the benefit of all of our people, all sharing in the growing prosperity, each receiving in accordance with what each contributes in the making of that prosperity, so that the weal of all will be assured.
" How are we to increase the wealth of Ireland, and ensure that all producing it shall share in it ? That is the question which will be engaging the minds of our people, and will engage the attention of the new Government. The keynote to the economic revival must be the development of Irish resources by Irish capital for the benefit of the Irish consumer. Thus the people will have steady work at just remuneration and their own share of control.
" How are we to develop Irish resources? The earth is our bountiful mother. Upon free access to it depends not only agriculture, but all other trades and industries. Land must be freely available. Agriculture, our main industry, must be improved and developed. Our existing industries must be given opportunities to expand. Conditions must be created which will make it possible for new ones to arise. Means of transit must be extended and cheapened. Our harbours must be developed. Our waterpower must be utilised. Our mineral resources must be exploited. Foreign trade must be stimulated by making facilities for the transport and marketing of Irish goods abroad, and foreign goods in Ireland. Investors must be urged and encouraged to invest Irish capital in Irish concerns. Taxation, where it hinders, must be adjusted and must be imposed where the burden will fall lightest, and can best be borne, and where it will encourage rather than penalise industry.
" We have now in Ireland, owing to the restrictions put upon emigration during the European war, a larger population of young men and women than we have had for a great many years. For their own sake, and to maintain the strength of the nation, room must and can be found for them. If room is to be found for our growing population, land must be freely available. We have not free access to the land in Ireland. Thousands of acres of the best land lie idle, or are occupied as ranches, or form part of extensive private estates, or are given over to sport. Side by side with this condition there are thousands of labourers unable to get land on which to keep a cow or grow vegetables. While the fertile lands of Kildare and Westmeath lie idle, men and women have to labour from dawn to late at night to win a bare living out of the rocks of Donegal, and families in Connaught have to send their children to labour in the potato fields of Scotland.
" The ranches must be broken up. Pressure must be brought to bear on owners of land and upon those who are withholding land so that it may be suitably used for procuring wealth and giving employment. Thus opportunities will be presented to all of our population.
" For purposes of development Ireland has three great natural resources. Our coal deposits are by no means inconsiderable. The bogs of Ireland are estimated as having 500,000,000,000 tons of peat fuel. Waterpower is concentrated in her 237 rivers and 180 lakes. The huge Lough Corrib system could be utilised, for instance, to work the granite in the neighbourhood of Galway. In the opinion of experts, reporting to the Committee on the waterpower Resources of Ireland, a total of 500,000 horsepower can be developed from Irish lakes and rivers. The magnitude of these figures is appreciated when it is known that to raise this power in steam would require 7,500,000 tons of coal. " Schemes have been worked out to utilise the waterpower of the Shannon, the Erne, the Bann, and the Liffey. That the advantages of waterpower are not lost on some of the keenest minds of the day is shown by the following extract from an interview given to an American journalist in London by Lord Northcliffe for publication on St. Patrick's Day, 1917 :
" ' The growth of the population of Great Britain has been largely due to manufactures based on the great asset, black coal. Ireland has none of the coal which has made England rich, but she possesses in her mighty rivers white coal of which millions of horsepower are being lost to Ireland every year. ... I can see in the future very plainly prosperous cities, old and new, fed by the greatest river in the United Kingdom the Shannon. I should like to read recent experts' reports on the Moy, the Suir, and the Lee.'
" The profits from all national enterprises will belong to the nation for the advantage of the nation. But Irish men and women as private individuals must do their share to increase the prosperity of the country. Business cannot succeed without capital. Millions of Irish money are lying idle in banks. The deposits in Irish Joint Stock banks increased in the aggregate by 7,318,000 during the half-year ended December 31, 1921. At that time the total amount of deposits and cash balances in Irish banks was 194,391,000, in addition to which there was a sum of almost 14,000,000 in the Post Office Savings Bank. The Irish people have also a large amount of capital invested abroad. With scope for our energies, with restoration of our confidence, the inevitable tendency will be towards return of this capital to Ireland. It will then flow in its proper channel. Ireland will provide splendid opportunities for the investment of Irish capital, and it is for the Irish people to take advantage of these opportunities. If they do not, investors and exploiters from outside will come in to reap the rich profits which are to be made. And what is worse still, they will bring with them all the evils that we want to avoid in the new Ireland.
" A prosperous Ireland will mean a united Ireland. With equitable taxation and flourishing trade our North-East countrymen will need no persuasion to come in and share in the healthy economic life of the country.
" Such are the possibilities of the future. Can we not see in them the great achievement that our efforts have won ? Can we not think of what we have gained and not for ever dwell upon the thought of what we might have gained ? If we would only put away dreams, and face realities, we would realise that nearly all the things that count we now have for our country. Is not the test of the Government we want simply whether it conforms with Irish tradition and national character ? Whether it will suit us and enable us to live happily and prosper ? Whether under it we can achieve something which our old free Irish democratic life would have developed into ?
" We have shaken off the foreign domination which prevented us from living our own life in our own way. We are now free to do this. It depends on ourselves alone whether we do it. And I have lasting faith in the Irish people."