What Grave and Quiet Men think

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXX (10) start of chapter

I have met in many parts of the Union grave, quiet men of business—Irishmen who, though holding their opinions with the resolute firmness common to their temperament and tone of thought, rarely take part in public matters, and yet are interested in what is passing around them, especially in whatever concerns the honour of their race and country. From men of this class I heard the most strongly expressed opposition to the Fenian movement, and occasionally the bitterest contempt of its leaders. Jealous of the reputation of their countrymen, and, like all men of high spirit, peculiarly sensitive to ridicule, they were ashamed of the miserable squabbles and dissensions so common among the various branches or sections into which the Irish organisation is, or was then, divided, and they experienced the keenest humiliation as some new disaster rendered the previous boasting more glaring, or more painfully absurd. Yet amongst these grave, quiet men of business—these men of model lives—these men in whose personal integrity any bank in the country would place unlimited trust; amongst these men, England has enemies, not friends. They are opposed to Fenianism, not because it menaces England, but because it compromises Ireland.

So much alike do these men think and express themselves, though perhaps a thousand miles apart, that one would be inclined to suppose them in constant communication and intercourse with each other. Not to say in substance, but almost literally, this is the manner in which I have heard a number of these grave, quiet, steady business men refer to the Fenian movement: 'I strongly object to this Fenian organisation, for many reasons. In the first place, it keeps up a distinct nationality in the midst of the American population, and it is our interest to be merged in this nation as quickly as may be. In the second place, I have no confidence in the men at its head; how can I? Which of them am I to believe? If I believe one, I can't the other. Then what they propose is absurd. They talk nonsense about going to war with England, and England at peace with the world; and every additional disaster only rivets Ireland's chains more strongly. If, indeed, this country were at war with England, that would be quite another thing; and, after all, of what good would that be for Ireland?—would it better her condition?—would it be worth the risk? At any rate, until such an emergency should arise, it is a vexatious thing to see the hard-earned money of our people going to keep up a mischievous delusion. But at the same time, I must say this for myself, if I could see my way clearly—if I thought that a fair chance offered of serving Ireland, and making her happy, I would willingly sacrifice half what I have in the world in the attempt. The opportunity may come, in God's good time; but it has not come yet, and even if it did, the men at the head are not the men to do the work.'

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