The pages of Irish literature are covered with references to the returned Irish Emigrants. Especially do our poets revel in describing the emotions of the Irish Emigrant returned to the home of his or her ancestors. But the past week has added to our knowledge another kind of returned emigrant. The daily papers tell us with glee that a large number of Irish emigrants, or would-be emigrants, have been refused permission to board Atlantic liners at Liverpool and Londonderry, and forcibly compelled to return to their homes in Ireland.
These emigrants we are further informed were all of military age, and were suspected of a desire to leave the country in order to avoid conscription. The Daily Mail gave on Monday a first class picture showing these poor Irish lads standing in line at the steamship company's office, surrounded by a jeering mob of Englishmen. It is significant that every face shown on the picture as belonging to the jeering mob is the face of a young man of military age. Why did they not show the example of enlisting, instead of loafing around the docks of Liverpool in the middle of the day?
We learn also that all the British Steamship Companies plying to the United States have issued notices declining to book passages thither to any men of military age.
This is good!
Surely the issue could be made no clearer. These young Irishmen have just brought in the harvest that is to feed England and her armies, and now, their work done, they seek to escape from the country, but are told that Irishmen can only escape from Ireland by fighting for England as well as feeding her.
In other words it is made plain to them (and to us all) that to the Imperial mind an Irishman's destiny is to serve England.
For that and for that alone did an All Wise Providence create us.
But every day there is still pouring out of Ireland the good food, in the shape of cereals and livestock, that is necessary for the maintenance of these emigrants that England sent back, that is necessary for them and for us all.
Some serious questions arise upon this.
We are told these emigrants are shirkers. Suppose they were. And then ask the question: What would happen if, as England has refused to let away the shirkers from Ireland, the Irish people were to refuse to let away the Irish food to feed the shirkers in England?
Or, why should Irish people allow their cattle and harvests to leave Ireland if the men who sowed and reaped the harvests, and tended the cattle, cannot go also? If the men are turned back shall we also turn back the cattle and foodstuffs?
The stokers of the Saxonia came out on strike rather than take Irish men from England. Should Dublin dockers go on strike rather than ship Irish cattle to England?
But the stokers in Liverpool had their nation behind them, with its armed forces if necessary.
Would the armed forces that recognise the Irish nation be behind the Irish docker should he take such action?
Ah! That makes the difference!
Republished in James Connolly: Lost Writings, (ed. Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh), Pluto Press 1997.