What Irish Protestants Think: Speeches on Home Rule’, pamphlet of speech delivered before a meeting in the Memorial Hall, London, 6 Dec. 1912 (rep. as ‘Protestants in Ireland: II’, in The Matter with Ireland, p.71-73).

‘I am an Irishman; my father was an Irishman, and my mother an Irishwoman; and my father and my mother were Protestants, who would have been described by a large section of their fellow countrymen in the ruder age when I was young sanguinary Protestants. Many of the duties of my mother were shared by an Irish nurse, who was a Catholic, and she never put me to bed without sprinkling me with Holy Water. What is there to laugh at in an Irish Catholic woman sprinkling with Holy Water - and you know what Holy Water meant to her - a little Protestant infant, whose parents grossly underpaid her? The fact that you can laugh at the underpayment of a poor Irishwoman shews how this open wound of the denial of our National rights is keeping us a hundred years behind the rest of the world on social and industrial questions. I shall make a few jokes for you presently, as you seem to expect them from me; but I beg you not to laugh at them until I come to them. To my mind this relation of mine to my old nurse is not a thing to be laughed at. It is a pathetic and sacred relation, and it disposes completely of the notion that between the Catholic and the Irish Protestant there be any natural animosity.

Though I have been before the British public as a political speaker for thirty years, this is the first time I have ever spoken in public on the subject of Home Rule. During that period I have taken part more or less in all the General Elections at which Home Rule was at stake. I have heard English party politicians desperately trying to excite themselves about it, and to excite their audiences about it; and I have never once heard them succeed. You may take it from me that the British electorate does not care a rap about Home Rule or Ireland. It is hard enough to induce them to take an interest in their own affairs, it is impossible to make them take an interest in ours. Why should they? They know too well that they do not govern us any more than they govern themselves. Ireland is not governed by Englishmen, but [71] by a handful of Irishmen who exploit our country in the name of England as far as the Irish democracy will stand it.

My own personal feeling in the matter is curiously unreasonable. I will not defend it; but I will tell you what it is. My career has been in many respects a most deserving one. I have displayed all the virtues set out in Smiles’s Self-Help. I have won a position of some distinction [a voice: “That was the Holy Water”] - well, many less plausible explanations are current. But the confession I have to make is that, while none of these distinctions which I have achieved by the exercise of the copybook virtues has ever given me a moment’s self-complacency, the mere geographical accident of my birth, for which I deserve no credit whatever - this fact that I am an Irishman - has always filled me with a wild and inextinguishable pride. I am also proud of being a Protestant, though Protestantism is to me a great historic movement of Reformation, Aspiration, and Self-Assertion against spiritual tyrannies rather than that organisation of false gentility which so often takes its name in vain in Ireland. Already at this meeting pride in Protestantism as something essentially Irish has broken out again and again. I cannot describe what I feel when English Unionists are kind enough to say, “Oh, you are in danger of being persecuted by your Roman Catholic fellow countrymen. England will protect you.” I would rather be burnt at the stake by Irish Catholics than protected by Englishmen. We Protestants know perfectly well that we are quite able to take care of ourselves, thank you. I do not want to banish religion from politics, though I do want to abolish the thing miscalled religion in this controversy from the world altogether. I want to bring religion back into politics. There is nothing that revolts me in the present state of things more than the unnatural religious calm in Ireland. I do not want a peaceful Ireland in that sense. I want a turbulent Ireland. All free and healthy nations are full of the turbulence of controversy, political, religious, social: all sorts of controversy. Without it you can have no progress, no life. [The foregoing quoted in part in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, p.71.]

In Ireland we Protestant Nationalists dare not utter a controversial word lest we should be misunderstood on the great question of national rights. I have much to say in criticism of Catholicism in Ireland; but I dare not say it lest I should be supposed to [72] be speaking on behalf of Unionism. I have quite as much to say in criticism of Irish Protestantism; but that, too, I must not say lest I should discredit my Protestant colleagues against the day when they will have to claim their share in the self-government of Ireland - and let me say that it will be an important share; for our Catholics are far too amiable and indulgent to take care of public money as Protestants do. The Local Government Act of I898 made a revolutionary change from the most extreme form of Oligarchy to the most extreme form of Democracy; but we Protestants are kept out of the local council because it is feared that the return of a Protestant would be a triumph for Unionism. The denial of Home Rule corrupts every election and every division in Parliament. Consider the Land Purchase Acts; to some of us they are the salvation of Ireland. To me they are its damnation - the beginning of landlordism all over again on a poorer and therefore a worse and more oppressive scale. Many thought as I did; but we all had to be unanimous in support of the Acts, because to oppose them would have been to go over to the enemy. We Irish Protestants are bound and gagged at every turn by the Union.

As to the persecution scare, I decline to give any guarantees. I am not going to say, “Please, kind English masters, if you give us Home Rule we will be good boys.” We will persecute and be persecuted if we like, as the English do; we are not children: we do not offer conditions of good behaviour as the price of our national rights. No nation should be called upon to make such conditions. Wherever there is a Church, that Church will persecute if it can; but the remedy for that is Democracy. We Protestants will take our chance. If you come to that, think of the chances our Catholic priesthood is taking. Look at what has happened to them in Free France! Look at what has happened to them in Rome itself! Many of them would be glad enough to be safe in the island of the saints. I am far more anxious about the future of the unfortunate English when they lose us. What will they do without us to think for them? The English are a remarkable race; but they have no commonsense. We never lose our commonsense. The English people say that if we got Home Rule we should cut [73] each other’s throats. Who has a better right to cut them? They are very glad to get us to cut the throats of their enemies. Why should we not have the same privilege among ourselves? What will prevent it? The natural resistance of the other Irishmen. Mr Chairman, what I have said must not be taken as a reasoned case for Home Rule as a good bargain for the parties. This is not what we are here for; and it is not what the question will finally turn on. I leave such special pleading to the lawyers who are ashamed to call themselves Irishmen, though they have no objection to be called Irish officials. What I have uttered is a purposely unguarded expression of the real feelings and instincts of a Protestant Irishman.’ [END].

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