Great Speeches of the War/Redmond


[Speech of the Irish Nationalist Leader in the House of Commons on the historic meeting of August 4, 1914. It is not too much to say that Mr. Redmond's fervent speech re-united as by magic the discordant factions by which the country seemed likely to be torn and divided, and on which Germany doubtless counted greatly.]

Mr. Speaker:—I hope the House will not consider it improper on my part in the grave circumstances in which we are assembled if I intervene for a very few moments. I was moved a great deal by that sentence in the speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in which he said that the one bright spot in the situation was the changed feeling in Ireland. In past times, when this Empire has been engaged in these terrible enterprises it is true—it would be the utmost affectation and folly on my part to deny it—the sympathy of the Nationalists of Ireland, for reasons to be found deep down in centuries of history, has been estranged from this country. But allow me to say that what has occurred in recent years has altered the situation completely. [Ministerial cheers.] I must not touch, and I may be trusted not to touch, on any controversial topics, but this I may be allowed to say—that a wider knowledge of the real facts of Irish history have, I think, altered the view of the democracy of this country towards the Irish question, and to-day I honestly believe that the democracy of Ireland will turn with the utmost anxiety and sympathy to this country in every trial and every danger that may overtake it. [General cheers.]

There is a possibility at any rate of history repeating itself. The House will remember that in 1778, at the end of the disastrous American war, when it might, I think, truly be said that the military power of this country was almost at its lowest ebb, and when the shores of Ireland were threatened with foreign invasion, a body of 100,000 Irish Volunteers sprang into existence for the purpose of defending her shores. At first no Catholic—ah! how sad the reading of the history of those days is—was allowed to be enrolled in that body of Volunteers, and yet from the very first day the Catholics of the South and West subscribed money and sent it towards the arming of their Protestant fellow-countrymen. Ideas widened as time went on, and finally the Catholics in the South were armed and enrolled brothers in arms with their fellow-countrymen of a different creed in the North. May history repeat itself! [Cheers.]

To-day there are in Ireland two large bodies of Volunteers. One of them sprang into existence in the North. Another has sprung into existence in the South. I say to the Government that they may to-morrow withdraw every one of their troops from Ireland. [General cheers.] I tell them that the coasts of Ireland will be defended from foreign invasion by her armed sons, and for this purpose armed Nationalist Catholics in the South will be only too glad to join arms with the armed Protestant Ulstermen in the North. [Cheers.] Is it too much to hope that out of this situation there may spring a result which will be good not merely for the Empire, but good for the future welfare and integrity of the Irish nation? [Cheers.]

I ought to apologize for having intervened [cries of "No"], but while Irishmen generally are in favour of peace, and would desire to save the democracy of this country from all the horrors of war, while we would make any possible sacrifice for that purpose, still if the dire necessity is forced upon this country we offer to the Government of the day that they may take their troops away, and that if it is allowed to us in comradeship with our brethren in the North we will ourselves defend the coasts of our country. [Loud cheers.]