A Grievance redressed is a Weapon broken

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXX (12) start of chapter

The thorough-going Fenians—whether leaders, orators, or rank and file—would, if anything, prefer that the admitted causes of Irish discontent should not be removed; for they naturally argue—'If our hopes of regenerating Ireland be based upon revolution, it is better for our purpose that the various causes and sources of discontent and disaffection should be allowed to exist, and by their prolonged existence irritate and gall the public mind more and more, and thus keep the people in a condition most favourable to revolutionary teaching. Let the sources of discontent be dried up, the causes of anger and irritation be removed, and what can be hoped for then?' If half a dozen new grievances could be improvised to-morrow, their announcement would be hailed with gladness by those who desire to keep alive the Fenian organisation and impart a more vengeful spirit to the feeling against England. A grievance redressed is a weapon broken.

I remember the look of genuine annoyance with which a high-pressure Fenian, who introduced himself to me in a Northern State, received information on a subject having reference to Irish trade and manufactures. He desired to learn—for an oration, as I afterwards understood,—what were the special restrictions which the jealousy of England still imposed on the industry and trade of Ireland. He was filled with the memory of the 'discouragement' of the Irish woollens by that same WILLIAM respecting whose memory so much nonsense is uttered on certain anniversaries; and he glowed as he thought of the indignant oratory of the Irish House of Commons. But he knew little—indeed, he did not desire to know it—of the actual state of things at the present hour; and when I assured him that, so far as the law stood, the merchants, manufacturers, and business men of Ireland were on a complete equality with their brethren in England, he could scarcely bring himself to believe what I said. He was literally disgusted. If he could only have told his eager audience that, at the moment he stood on that platform, Queen Victoria was imitating the example of 'the glorious, pious, and immortal William of Orange,' and 'discouraging' the linen trade of Ireland, as her predecessor had discouraged the woollen trade, what a stroke for the orator! And if he could have added, that the burning words of Grattan had been in vain, and the labelled canon of College Green without their significance, and that the jealousy of the Saxon monopolist was as strong in the Senate of England that day as when a monarch basely listened to the selfish churls who were afraid of Irish competition, he would have convinced his audience that revolution was the only remedy for such oppression. He cherished the belief, that the injustice had only grown more venerable; and I almost sympathised with his distress as I rudely demolished the raw material of his glowing eloquence. Would to Heaven that apathy and folly, timidity and prejudice, had not left so many real grievances still unredressed!

The powerful Public Press of America is favourable, on the whole, to what may be termed 'the Irish cause,' as distinct from any special organisation or movement in its ostensible interest. There are very few journals in the United States that do not either broadly assert or unreservedly admit that Ireland is badly governed—that she is the Poland of England. Some journals vehemently oppose the Fenian movement, and denounce its leaders and their objects in the most unmeasured terms; but the same journals treat the Irish question with sympathy and respect.

The fact is, there are not many journals in the United States which are not, to a certain extent, under the control or influence of Irishmen, or the sons of Irishmen. They are edited, or part edited, or sub-edited, or reported for, by men of Irish birth or blood; and with the birth and the blood come sympathies for the old country, and an unfriendly feeling towards 'her hereditary oppressor.' Then there are papers exclusively Irish in their character, such as the Boston Pilot, which I heard described as the Vade Mecum of the Irish emigrant—the Irish American, or the Monitor, a well-written paper in San Francisco; and now John Mitchell is bringing the influence of thorough sincerity, the weight of personal sacrifice, and perhaps one of the ablest pens in America to the anti-British cause: then there are, in almost every direction, journals of various shades of opinion as to policy, but in feeling and principle thoroughly Irish. So that, although there may be decided difference of opinion as to the mode, or the means, or the opportunity of serving Ireland, and a still more strongly marked difference of opinion as to a special organisation, and more so as to its leaders, there is scarcely any difference of opinion as to the existence of Irish wrong, and the justice of the Irish cause. Thus the Public Opinion of the country affords its sanction to the convictions of the Irish in America, and a moral if not an active support to efforts unfriendly and even hostile to England.

The events of the late war have not added, either in the North or in the South, to partisans of England, or to her defenders in the Press. The North blames her for having gone too far in recognition of the South—the South is indignant with her for not having gone farther; and that terrible 'Alabama' has caused many a man in the North to grind his teeth with rage, and fiercely pray fur the opportunity of retaliation. So, altogether independent of whatever sympathy there may be amongst the 'full-blooded' Americans of the Northern States in favour of the Irish cause, the support or sanction, whatever it may be, which the Fenian movement receives from those unconnected with Ireland by birth or blood, is in no small degree the result of the depredations of that famous cruiser. It may be also remarked, that the Irish at both sides of the line won the respect and earned the gratitude of every generous-minded man of Federacy or Confederacy by their dauntless valour and unlimited self-devotion. The Irish have purchased by their blood a claim to the attention of America; and America listens with sympathy to the pleadings of her adopted children, who have made her interests, her honour, and her glory, theirs.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America