The only Possible Remedy

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXX (18) start of chapter

Assuming, then, that the feeling of the Irish in America against England may possibly or probably, sooner or later, lead to an embroilment, a rupture, war—how is England to reach, influence, or counteract these her eager, watchful, vengeful enemies? But through one channel—Ireland. The Irish in America are entirely beyond the reach of England; she can in no possible way control or check the manifestation of their feelings towards her. Nor indeed is it within the power of the Government of the United States to do so, even were it so inclined—which is more than doubtful. By laws and police—physical power, if you will—you may suppress a visible and tangible organisation; but neither by penalty nor punishment, prosecution nor persecution, can you reach a sentiment. It is impervious to lead or steel, and bonds cannot bind it. You must encounter it with a power similar to its own, equally strong, and equally unassailable by mere material force. And the profound belief, which lies at the very root of this hostility, and gives life to every anti-British organisation—that Ireland is oppressed and impoverished by England; that England hates the Irish race, and would exterminate them, were it in her power,—this profound belief can only be conquered by the conviction of the justice and wisdom of England, as exhibited not only in her government and in her legislation, but in the prosperity and contentment of Ireland.

Let Ireland be dealt with in the same spirit, liberal and confiding, with which England has dealt with her colonies—respecting the rights of conscience through the most complete religious equality, and the utmost freedom of education. Let her legislate for a country almost wholly agricultural, and which, from many causes, natural as well as the growth of circumstances, stands in relation to other portions of the United Kingdom in an entirely exceptional position, in somewhat the same spirit which has characterised her policy in reference to the tenure of land in Lower Canada, where she sanctioned the abolition of the Seignorial Rights; in Prince Edward's Island, where, while suppressing an illegal association, the representative of the British Crown proclaimed the wisdom of converting tenure by lease into tenure by freehold, and the determination of the local government to effect that change by the purchase of large estates, principally belonging to absentees, and selling them at low terms to existing occupiers and new settlers; or in India, by affording security of tenure—that most potent of all incentives to human industry—to a race who had previously been trampled upon and oppressed. Let a generous, kindly, and sympathetic spirit breathe in the language of her statesmen and her orators, and mark the writings of her journalists.

Let there be an end, not to say of abuse or denunciation, but of that tone of offensive superiority and still more offensive toleration and condescension which too often characterises British references to Ireland and things Irish. Let it be the honest, earnest desire of the English people to lift Ireland up to their own level of prosperity and contentment; and obliterate, by generous consideration for the wants of her people, the bitter memories and lurking hate which the wrongs of centuries have left in the Irish heart, and which the apathy or neglect of recent times has taken little trouble to recognise. Let statesmen and party-leaders regard this ever present and still unsettled 'Irish Question' as one of the gravest and most solemn that could engage the attention and employ the energies of a wise and patriotic Government and Parliament. To a grander task or a more exalted duty than the solution of this difficulty—the removal of that great scandal which the state of Ireland, political and material, presents to the civilised world—neither minister nor representative could devote his brain and heart. And to a New Parliament, yet to spring, as it were, from the generous impulses of an enfranchised nation, may we hope for an energy and an enthusiasm equal to an emergency whose importance no language can fully represent, much less exaggerate. How this is to be done,—whether by and through the action of the Imperial Legislature, or by entrusting to Ireland a certain local power, by which she might relieve the Parliament of England of serious inconvenience and usefully manage much of her affairs,—it is for the wisdom of statesmen, inspired by a noble sense of duty, to determine. But faltering, and hesitation, and delay will not answer; neither will the old system of wilful blindness and wanton self-delusion suffice in the face of actual and in creasing danger.

The result, if successful, would be worth any effort or any trouble; for once allow the Irish in America to believe that a brighter day has dawned for their brethren in the old country, and that it is for their advantage rather to be linked in affection as in interest with Great Britain, than, by violent effort and tremendous sacrifices, desperately seek to effect a separation of the lesser from the greater country; and the feeling of bitter, rancorous, vengeful hate may gradually soften and die out, and eventually fade into oblivion like a dream of the past. But, on the other hand, let continued wails of distress waft their mournful accents across the ocean, stirring to its depths the heart of a passionate and impulsive race; and though Fenian leaders may quarrel or betray, and Fenian organisations may wither or collapse, there must be perpetual danger to the peace, the honour, if not the safety of England, from a power which it is impossible to ignore, and madness to despise,—


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