War with England

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXX (15) start of chapter

The announcements made through the cable, of the abortive risings in February and March of this year, thrilled the Fenian heart with more of hope than anxiety: they were read through rose-tinted glasses, and translated through the imagination. Not until the very last moment would the admission be made that the whole thing was an utter failure; and even then, there were many who would not, or who could not, regard it as a delusion. I have before me at this moment the calm steady gaze, replete with confidence and enthusiasm, of the Irishman who supplied me with the morning papers, as his first words of salutation were—'Glorious news to-day, sir! The country is up!' I asked, 'What news? what country?' 'Ireland, to be sure. She's up, sir, thank God!' When I read the telegram, I instinctively exclaimed—'Sad news, indeed—miserable, miserable news.' 'You call it sad and miserable!—I call it glorious.' I told him he would not call it glorious, if he knew the state of things as well as I did; but he regarded me with a look of respectful disdain. He would believe nothing against his hopes. And when, at last, facts were too powerful, even for his seven-fold credulity, he was still unconvinced. It was a mischance, a momentary check, even a blunder; but it would be all right soon; the next time the thing would be done better. And he was only a type of a class—who give, and give largely, of their hard earnings, to sustain a cause on which they have set their heart—a class whom no reverse can discourage, no disaster dismay, no treachery alienate or disgust. This faith is the strength of the organisation—this generous self-sacrifice its unfailing resource. It is idle to say the money is 'extorted,'—it is freely and gladly given, with the conviction of its being a holy tribute, offered on the altar of country. The working man takes it perhaps more often from his family than from his pleasures; but he still gives it as a duty as well as a gratification. The female 'help' will deliberately lay down her half-dollar a month, or whole dollar a month, as her fixed contribution to the Fenian funds; and should some sudden emergency arise—some occasion for still greater sacrifice—she will pour her hoarded dollars into her country's exchequer, reserving, it may be, only so much as she intends to send to her parents at home. There is a kind of desperate hopefulness in their faith: 'It may not be this time—perhaps not; but something will be sure to turn up, and that will give us the opportunity we want.'

The something that is sure to turn up is, of course, a war with England—an event which would be hailed with a shout of delight by the Irish in America. Imagination could not conceive the rapture, the frenzy, with which, from every side, the Irish would rush to that war. From the remotest State, from the shores of the Pacific, from the Southernmost limits of Florida, from the heart of the country, from the Far West, from the clearing of the forest, from the home on the prairie—from the mine, the factory, the work-shop—from the river, and from the sea—they would flock to the upraised banners, equally loved and equally sacred—the green flag of Erin, and the Stars and Stripes of the Great Republic. As it were with a bound, and a shriek of exultation, the Irish would rush to meet their enemy—to fight out, on land and ocean, the feud that has survived through centuries—to revenge, if so they could, the wrongs inflicted by monarchs and soldiers and statesmen, by confiscations and by massacres, by penal laws and evil policy. Nay, I solemnly believe they would not desire a greater boon of America than that the fighting should be left entirely to themselves; and never did martyrs more joyfully approach the stake, in which they beheld the gate of Paradise, than would these Irish exiles and their descendants march to battle in a cause that gratified the twin passions of their souls—love and hate. And were the American Government so forgetful of international obligation as to close their eyes to what might be going on, and allow a fortnight, or a month, to pass without any active interference; and were their unwillingness to act a matter thoroughly understood,—in such a case, the frontiers of Canada would be passed with a rush—and then!—why, God knows what then. A rupture with England—to cease when? Is it after a long and terrible or sharp and wicked contest, which would end with the realisation of the American idea of the natural boundaries of the United States at the other side of St. Lawrence and the Lakes, and from Labrador to the Pacific? The future is in the hands of Providence.

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