Never did Ireland see a more soul-stirring outpouring of the Gael than was witnessed on last Sunday, August 1, 1915.
We do not know whether the McManus Funeral - to name the occasion with which it is most customary to draw comparisons - was or was not more imposing in point of numbers than the turnout in honour of O'Donovan Rossa, but we do know that in all other respects this latter called for a greater exercise of courage and faith in the future than either the McManus or any other demonstration ever seen in Ireland. Let us set forth the position clearly to our own minds.
The McManus Funeral was the first sign of the uprising of Irish Nationality after the shameful, sorrowful days of 1847-48 and 1849. Ireland in the words of James Fintan Lalor, "sank and surrendered to the famine," and with no resistance of the importance even of a riot had gone down before the blows of the enemy. So completely had she gone down that many of her rebels formally gave up the struggle, and announced their belief that the cause of Ireland's separate existence was a lost cause. The case of M.J. Barry, the gifted author of that splendid revolutionary song, all too seldom sung nowadays, "Bide Your Time", may be cited as a notable example. But this surrender of Ireland, this defeat of Ireland, was a surrender and defeat inflicted by the enemy against the protests and vain struggles of the representatives of the Irish people.
All the organised life of Ireland protested against the means by which the potato blight was used to create a famine, against the methods employed to make that famine subservient to English policy. Their protests were ineffectual, they who were willing to let the case go to the arbitrament of battle waited too long and lost their chance, and they who were not so willing were equally unable to stem the tide of demoralisation. "The soul of Ireland sank where that of other nations would soar," and the cause was lost. But the issues were left clear in the public mind. It was still the existence of Ireland against the public policy of England.
For the year preceding the Rossa Funeral the conditions of Ireland were entirely different. The cause of Ireland as a separate nation, as a nation with a separate life, history, and individuality of its own, was again looked upon as a lost cause, and the fate of Ireland was again accepted as being irrevocably and finally blended with that of the British Empire.
But unlike the days of '48 the days of the past twelve months were remarkable for the fact that the abandonment of the cause of Ireland as a separate nationality, the merging of the hopes of Ireland in the success of England, the definite declaration that the British Empire could count Ireland as finally conquered and made "loyal" - all this came not from without, not imposed upon us in the hour of our weakness, but from within, and accepted in the moment of our greatest tactical strength by the leaders trusted by the majority of our people. For twelve months - twelve long dreary agonising months - we have seen war in Ireland, war upon the soul of the Irish people, war upon the traditions, the religious spirit, the holiest aspirations, the centuried hopes of the martyred men and women who had made Ireland famed and respected wherever there are gathered men and women capable of honouring fortitude in disaster, and sublimity of soul in the midst of defeat.
Never has a nation suffered such an onslaught. Belgium in its agonies under the heel of the invaders, nor Poland in its awful travail, cannot claim to have suffered as Ireland has suffered since war was declared. Betrayed and deserted by all but a faithful few, Ireland was attacked by every poisonous agency ever brought to bear upon the mind and soul of a people. Her religion, her love of nationality, her strict sexual morality, her natural affection for the weak, her sympathy for suffering and distress - every high and noble instinct implanted in her by ages of suffering, was appealed to that her children might deny the past of their country, and surrender their hopes of moulding its future. Ireland was asked, nay, was ordered, to deny all that her martyrs had affirmed, to affirm all that her martyrs had denied. And this assault upon the soul of the country was planned and carried out in all its minutes and most revolting details by the men whom a cruel fate had allowed to become the leaders and guides of Irish public opinion.
The fight in Belgium and in Poland are fights for the material possession of towns and cities, the fight in Ireland has been one for the soul of a race - that Irish race which with seven centuries of defeat behind it still battled for the sanctity of its dwelling place.
Old mediaeval legends tell us how in the critical moments of the struggle of an army, or the travail of a nation, some angel or deliveror was sent from above to save those favoured by the Most High. To many people today it seems that the funeral of O'Donovan Rossa came to Ireland in such a moment of national agony - came on such a mission of divine uplifting and deliverance. The mists and doubts, the corruption and poisons, the distrust and the treacheries, were blown away, and the true men and women of Ireland saw with pleasure the rally of the nation to the olden ideas - saw the real people of the country solemnly bearing witness to the faith and wisdom of those who had "fought a good fight, and kept the faith."
The McManus Funeral rallied the people of Ireland after their defeat by the enemy; the Rossa funeral rallied the people of Ireland after the onslaught of her faithless leaders.
Will the rallied Irish people stand fast as well as he whom they honoured?