Our Ancient Capital (15)

From this cursory glance over the antecedents of our metropolis, the cause of her anti-Irishism is plainly deducible from the fact, that at no epoch was Dublin an Irish city. The inhabitants are a blended race, descended of Danes, Normans, Saxon settlers, and mongrel Irish. The country of their affections is England. They have known no other mother. With the proud old princes and chiefs of the ancient Irish race they have no more affinity than (to use Mr. Macaulay's illustration) the English of Calcutta with the nation of Hindustan, and from this colonial position a certain Dublin idiosyncrasy of character has resulted, which makes the capital distinct in feeling from the rest of Ireland.

Meanwhile the destiny of the ancient race is working out, not in happiness or prosperity, but in stern, severe discipline. Unchanged and unchangeable they remain, so far as change is effected by impulses arising from within. "Two thousand years," says Moore, "have passed over the hovel of the Irish peasant in vain." Such as they were when the first light of history rested on them, they are now; indolent and dreamy, patient and resigned as fatalists, fanatical as Bonzees, implacable as Arabs, cunning as Greeks, courteous as Spaniards, superstitious as savages, loving as children, clinging to the old home and the old sod and the old families with a tenderness that is always beautiful, sometimes heroic; loving to be ruled, with veneration in excess; ready to die like martyrs for a creed, a party, or the idol of the hour, but incapable of extending their sympathies beyond the family or the clan; content with the lowest place in Europe; stationary amid progression; isolated from the European family; without power or influence; lazily resting in the past while the nations are wrestling in the present for the future. Children of the ocean, yet without commerce; idle by thousands, yet without manufactures; gifted with quick intellect and passionate hearts, yet literature and art die out amongst them for want of aid or sympathy; without definite aims, without energy or the earnestness which is the vital life of heroic deeds; dark and blind through prejudice and ignorance, they can neither resist nobly nor endure wisely; chafing in bondage, yet their epileptic fits of liberty are marked only by wild excesses, and end only in sullen despair.

Yet it was not in the providence of God that the fine elements of humanity in such a people should still continue to waste and stagnate during centuries of inaction, while noble countries and fruitful lands, lying silent since creation, were waiting the destined toilers and workers, who, by the sweat of the brow, shall change them to living empires.

Two terrible calamities fell upon Ireland—famine and pestilence; and by these two dread ministers of God's great purposes, the Irish race were uprooted and driven forth to fulfil their appointed destiny. A million of our people emigrated; a million of our people died under these judgments of God. Seventeen millions worth of property passed from time-honoured names into the hands of strangers. The echoes of the old tongue —call it Pelasgian, Phoenician, Celtic, Irish, what you will, still the oldest in Europe, is dying out at last along the stony plains of Mayo and the wild sea-cliffs of the storm-rent western shore. Scarcely a million and a half are left of people too old to emigrate, amidst roofless cabins and ruined villages, who speak that language now. Exile, confiscation, or death, was the final fate written on the page of history for the much-enduring children of Ireland. One day they may reassert themselves in the new world, or in other lands. Australia, with its skies of beauty and its pavement of gold, may be given to them as America to the Saxon, but how low must a nation have fallen at home when even famine and plague come to be welcomed as the levers of progression and social elevation. Some wise purpose of God's providence lies, no doubt, at the reverse side, but we have not yet turned the leaf.

The ancient race who, thousands of years ago, left the cradle of the sun to track him to the ocean, are now flung on the coast of another hemisphere to begin once more their destined westward march; and like the Israelites of old, they, too, might tell in that new country: "A Syrian ready to perish was our father!"

They fled acoss the Atlantic like a drift of autumn leaves—"pestilence-stricken multitudes"—and the sea was furrowed by the dead as the plague-ships passed along.

One would say a doom had been laid upon our people—the wandering Io of humanity—a destiny of weeping and unrest.

Of old the kings at Tara sat throned with their faces to the west: was it a symbol or a prophecy of the future of their nation? when from every hill in Ireland could be seen—

"The remnant of our people
Sweeping westward, wild and woful,
Like the cloud-rack of a tempest,
Like the withered leaves of autumn."

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, where the Rocky Mountains bar like a portal the land of gold—through the islands of the Southern Ocean to the great desolate world of Australia, seeking as it were the lost home of their fathers, and doomed to make the circuit of the earth—still onward flows the tide of human life—that inexhaustible race which has cleared the forests of Canada, built the cities and made all the railroads of the States, given thousands to the red plains of the Crimea, overran California and peopled Australia—the race whose destiny has made them the instruments of all civilization, though they have never reaped its benefits.

Yet we cannot believe that the Irish race is doomed for ever to work and suffer without the glory of success; for the Celtic element is necessary to humanity as a great factor in human progress. It is the subtle, spiritual fire that warms and permeates the ruder clay of other races, giving them new, vivid, and magnetic impulses to growth and expansion.

The children of the early wanderers from the Isles of the Sea will still continue to fulfil their mission as world-workers and world-movers. Across the breadth of earth they will found new nations, each a greater and a stronger Ireland, where they will have the certainty of power, station, and reward denied them at home. But neither change nor progress nor the severing ocean will destroy the electric chain that binds them lovingly to their ancient mother in that true sympathy with country and kinship that ever burns in the Irish heart.

The new Ireland across the seas, whether in America or in Australia, will still cherish with sacred devotion the beautiful legends, the pathetic songs, the poetry and history and the heroic traditions of the old, well-loved country as eternal verses of the Bible of humanity, with all the light and music of the fanciful fairy period, such as I have tried to gather into a focus in these volumes, along with the holy memories of those martyrs of our race whose names are for ever associated with the words Liberty and Nationhood, but whose tragic fate has illustrated so many mournful pages in the history of the Irish past.