THE IRISHMAN AS AN EMPIRE BUILDER
An Address by the REVEREND RANDALL C. PHILLIPS, ,of Belfast, Ireland, before the Empire Club of Canada, on November 2, 1911.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,
I thank you most heartily for the courtesy you have done me, as an outsider passing through your city, in asking me to be your guest at your weekly luncheon, and to say a word or two with regard to that country which, perhaps, is not unworthily represented by the President and by your humble servant. I, perhaps, do not enjoy quite so much this part of the luncheon as the former part. I was reminded, when coming in here, of a fellow countryman of mine who was just about to lose his wife, and she called him to her bedside and she said, "Now, Mike, I would die with great pleasure if you would promise to ride in the mourning carriage they day of my funeral with my mother." He studied it over a little, and then he said, "Well, Mary, you have been a good wife to me, and I will do it to gratify your dying wish, but it will spoil the clay for me entirely." (Laughter.)
Mr. President, I feel, if I could have dispensed with the speech today, that I could now have entered more heartily into the enjoyment of this part of the meeting, but it is to me a pleasure and a privilege to meet not only some compatriots of my own, but also representatives of other countries, who I suppose by accident or sympathy have gathered here, who have had the misfortune to be born out of Ireland. That, itself, is a most regrettable fact, even without encumbering you with any speech. Now, with the usual hospitality that characterizes the Irish I have undertaken to speak for a little while today on the subject of the Irishman as an Empire builder. Some time ago an American was trying to make our shores in somewhat heavy weather on hoard a trans-Atlantic liner, but the boat couldn't get into Cork Harbour, and so he was carried on to Liverpool, and he grumbled very much about his inability to go ashore and see some of the great sights in Cork. Some friend said to him: "Why (lid you want to touch Ireland; there is very little of interest to see in Ireland." "Well," he said," "I wanted to get off there, for I would like to see the only country on earth that Paddy can't boss." (Laughter.) I suppose it is only a Yankee, perhaps, who would have the grace, as well as the truthfulness, to admit that, while he himself perhaps feels he is the biggest thing in creation, that Providence has kindly set over him a very admirable boss in the shape of my fellow countrymen. Now, Mr. President, I suppose it may surprise some of the gentlemen here when I say that the first discoverer of the Irishman as am important factor in Imperial life was none other than Oliver Cromwell, that gentleman who came to your country and mine and left an impression there. I don't think his visit was ever recorded, at least by the people who were there at the time, but any Irishman who is there today, if he feels unkindly towards you, the worst thing he can say is, "The curse of Cromwell on you." Of course you know that Cromwell's famous policy was to, transport the Irishman to Hades or Canada. I use the Greek word preferably, as perhaps it is more acceptable than its more vulgar English equivalent. It seems to me, Mr. President, that the famous Puritan and leader quite unconsciously stumbled on what has since become one of the best considered political policies in connection with the life of a great empire. He was very much like Michael Angelo. You remember Emerson said of him that he builded better than he knew, and when Cromwell got rid of the unruly and irrepressible Irishman by exporting him to the West Indies, that he might work off a little--of his superfluous energy on the sugar plantations, he was the unconscious maker of the Irishman as an Empire builder.
Now, I must pass by the tempting aspect of the question, how it is that one, who has done so much for -the building up of the great fabric of our great and world wide Empire, has--in his own country at home, well, not specially excelled, or shown exceptional ability. I am not disposed to accept Renaud's, the French writer's, dictum that the Irishman has always been the champion of hopeless causes. One has only to allude to some of the distinguished services that have been rendered to the British Empire in order to disprove that somewhat flippant dictum of the French writer. When you remember men like Earnest Shackleton in the records of Polar Research, and remember, too, what Irishmen have done on the great fields where the British arms have been; victorious, I think it is inside the mark to say that there is not anything inherent in the Irishman that indisposes him to building up a great country in the land of his own birth.
Now, I want to refer briefly to several qualities in my fellow countrymen that have qualified them for the important part they have taken in the 'life and service of our great and glorious Empire. Our English friends usually pride themselves on the fact that they are essentially practical men; they don't theorize"; they don't dream; they try to aim at doing things. It is very dangerous to attempt to describe a Scotchman's qualifications, especially if there are any Scotchmen present. (Laughter.) I was going to say that, like the Jews, they are everywhere, and sometimes with the same sublime motive in their minds. That is, Mr. President, we generally credit the Scotchman with a considerable amount of ability in the assessment of values. (Laughter..) Some of his unkind critics also credit him with an enormous capacity for the retention of values. Of course that, by contrast, makes my countrymen rather a marked exception, But may I say, gentlemen, that the leading characteristic of the Irishman is what I 'would call his idealism. Even in your busy marts and in your great cities there is something of the mysticism of his beloved land, something that reminds him of the green country that he carries in his heart as well as in his mind. Where our English friend sees perhaps the grain on the rich prairies, where the Scotchman sees plentiful soil, the Irishman is dreaming-dreaming, it may be, of unbuilt cities, or perhaps, if he is in the mining. business, of prospecting somewhere for silver and for gold. Now, I have no doubt, if my fellow countryman had been intent on the main chance, anxious only to build up a name or acquire a fortune, then the Irishman would have been your multi-millionaire--I think you- call them mergers in this country. (Laughter.) I am trying to learn something of them myself, and therefore I want to get the technical name correct, especially when it signifies the real thing. But the Irishman is an idealist; he is a man who can't forget that there are great visions and great ideals, and magnificent dreams are ever before his, mind. He is never satisfied with what 'may be in the present; ho wants to reach out after something greater and something better. Now, naturally, Mr. President, this makes people very impatient with the Irishman. In my own city of Belfast some time ago, an unfortunate citizen was arrested just a little after the hour of midnight-and citizens even after midnight perhaps are not always capable of taking care of themselves. He made an attempt to resist the arrest, and turning to the policeman he said: "Let the go man; let me go, don't you see I am a somnambulist?" "Oh," said the policeman, holding fast, "you may be a somnambulist or a Unitarian, but you are not going to walk the streets of Belfast in your night shirt." (Laughter.) Well, Mr. President, it is just that irritating quality of the Irishman that makes him turn up' in strange places not always in full dress, and that gets him into trouble, too.
Now, since I came here I have been reading up some of the books of the late General, Sir William Butler, 'a man who has just passed away, and one who fought for the glory of your own Canadian soil and who lived and'. cared for the people of this great land. I have only to remind you gentlemen of the fact that thirty-five years ago it was General Butler who sounded the warning of the coming boundary troubles, that have since caused a great deal of heart burning between yourselves and your larger neighbour on the other side of the line. That is an illustration of that idealism of the Celt which is of such value in the great work of empire, construction. You want men of foresight. You want men who can look beyond the Eying present, and I believe the Irishman in that respect, has been contributing an invaluable element in the life of our great and ever growing Empire. (Applause:) I am talking against time, Mr. President, but I suppose I am allowed Irish time which will just give me a little larger margin.
There is another quality we find in my fellow countrymen, and one that helps in the service of our great Imperial interests, and that is the unfailing humour and tact which is characteristic of the ordinary Irishman. Now, if according to Shakespeare, he is somewhat sudden and quick to fight, (like Shakespeare's soldier), he is also sudden and quick to see the incongruous and humorous side of things, and to bring in a little bit of sunshine to brighten our life. It is no harm to have an Irishman at your elbow who may be able to help you sometimes to see there is a jocular side to things, and, after all, it is better to have an easy philosophy of life than to worry your head off. I have only to refer to the name of one Irishman whom I had the pleasure of living beside in the last years of his life-I mean the late Lord Dufferin. One cannot read the story of Lord Dufferin's governorship in this country and see the admirable grace and humour with which he steered this great Dominion through some of its most difficult places, without realizing the importance of that particular quality to which I now call your attention. I have only to refer you to his famous speech in which he likened your neighbour, Uncle Sam, to a big hobbledehoy with his, boorish ways trying to sue for the gentle hand of Miss Canada. I am sure the most excitable Yankee couldn't take any umbrage or offence at the humorous way in which Lord Dufferin tried to set forth the some-what strained relations at that time existing between the United States and this country. Now, even wit and humour can, in difficulties such as these, help very much in the work of our great Empire.
There is one quality that I think the Englishman will credit him with, and the Scotchman of course will admit it,-and you will forgive me for attributing to my fellow countrymen-and that is the gift of tact. I would like to know what situation in life you would find an Irishman in, out of which he could not extricate himself, well, I shall not say with credit, but, at all events, with some degree of good nature. Not very long ago, in a New York tram, a fellow countryman of mine was sitting very comfortably enjoying his seat, when a rather stout buxom lady came in the car. Just as she got in the car, it went around a corner, and the lady was thrown with some violence into the Irishman's lap. When she recovered her breath somewhat she said, "Oh! Oh! Who are you?" "Oh," he said, "Ithought a minute ago I was an Irishman, but it seems I am a Laplander." (Laughter.) In situations like that-you will nearly always find the Irishman can bring himself off with credit, and smooth the feelings of those who sometimes try to sit upon him. (Applause.) I was told that Canadians are sometimes very slow to see the point of a joke but I am afraid I was misinformed. I am beginning to think that all my audience has come from; one part of the Old Country. It has been considered, as Carlyle says in his French Revolution, that France lost Canada through a short epigram directed against La Pompadour, and it is very true that there are times in our international dealings with other States when, it may be, a hasty word or an injudicious action may precipitate war and bring about a very undesirable state of things. Believe me, the man who can raise a laugh is quite as eminent and quite as useful in diplomacy as the man that can make biting remarks and bring about a war. The man who can bring about a smile is a man who renders no mean service in the great Empire which he is called upon to serve.
Now, Mr. Chairman, there is only one other quality -and I have to leave out a thousand and one qualities which the Irishmen possess but which L can't modestly allude to-there is one other quality in the great work of empire building, and that is the gift of imperial statesmanship that has belonged, in an eminent degree, to some of my fellow countrymen.
For all time, Mr. President, in all English speaking lands, the name of Edmund Burke will be reverenced and looked up to not only by men in parliamentary life, but by all men in public affairs; for the eloquent pleadings of that man with the eagle eye and the fertile brain, had they only been listened to in the time of George II, Boston Harbour would never have been black with English tea, and the first revolutionary shot would never have been fired at Bunker's Hill. But, sir, the Irishman has shown his ability in other parts of the Empire. One has only to go over the names of those who have taken part in our colonial work in order to realize what Ireland has given to this great Empire. When you think of men like Manning, and Lansdowne, and Lord Dufferin, and of such men as John Nicholson -when you remember what these men have done for the far sundered parts of our great Empire you can see that Irishmen, if denied a great sphere at home, have fought and nobly suffered in extending the bounds of the British Empire all over the wide world. Mr. President, what Irishmen have done in the past I believe they are still capable of doing in the future. There are things that cause grave doubts when we look at the present condition of Ireland today, but the old stock is not exhausted. Irishmen still have brains; they still have that cheery optimism that is so characteristic of the soil on which I stand today; Irishmen have still something of the dash and something of the pioneer spirit of old. You will find, in the work of this great imperial country of ours, that the Irishman still has his place and can still bring gifts and accomplishments that will be of immeasurable value to the future of the British Empire. (Applause.)
Mr. President, there is one thing more of which I would like to remind my friends, and that is, it was an Irishman away, back in the 18th century who dared to sound the first note of warning as to one of the most real and one of the most intense perils that can threaten the character as well as the growth of a great empire like that of Great Britain. There are many men who quote the words of Oliver Goldsmith and yet perhaps are unconscious of the source from which they came. When that unfortunate Irishman-because he had to live and die outside of his own country, and that is why I call him unfortunate-when he looked back at the land that he had left,' and when he wrote the lines, "Ill fares the land to hastening ills a prey, where wealth accumulates and men decay," he there laid his finger on the one rift that might untune the lute of our imperial life and make all its music mute. There is something greater than minerals; there is something more important than material wealth; and that is men, and what you want in this great country of yours are the men that I have been describing. You can put up with the Scotchman. You will have to, because he will. come whether you like it or not. You can sometimes turn the Englishman into something serviceable, but the sons of Ireland are stealing over to this country and they will take a large and important part in building up the future of this great Dominion that we trust will be the finest part of the greatest Empire that God's sun ever shone upon.
I had hoped at the beginning of this short address that perhaps the President would confess he was a Scotchman so I could use him as a kind of buffer to stand between me and, I will not say any criticisms perhaps, but any animadversions after I resume my seat. Some time ago in the old flogging days of the British Navy there were two sailors who had got into trouble, one from Scotland and one from the Emerald Isle. These men were guilty of some naval offense and were tried by drumhead martial and sentenced to a flogging. In those old days the offender might some times claim a privilege, and the Scotchman said when he was being tied up to the mast, "Well, Captain, I would like a privilege" and the Captain said, "What- is it?" "I would like a bit of canvas on my back." So he was granted the privilege, but it didn't save him very much, because the man who wielded the ropes had a big, powerful muscle and he gave Sandy a severe flogging. When the Irishman's turn came, he turned to, the Captain and said, "Captain dear, I would like a privilege as well." "Paddy," said the captain, "you will have it; what would you like?" "Faith I would like the Scotchman on my back." (Laughter.) It seems to me I am to be denied that particular privilege today, and I must stand on my own merits, and take what my friends are willing to give. Before resuming my seat I thank you heartily for your patient and your hearty hearing : and I say that Ireland is still capable of sending out the kind of men who will distinguish themselves not only in commercial life but in every walk in life; and who will take a worthy part in the service of your own great countrymen of parts, and men of ability. I don't know that there is another with the ability of Edmund Burke, or perhaps the skill of another Lord Dufferin, but I say the old stock is not wasted. Irishmen still have those qualities that always make them comrade-like, when they come to a land such as we are in today. I like to think that they will take their places in high service to your great Dominion, and will exert their influence in behalf of transcendent interests of our great and ever growing Empire. We will send you men .who, in all time to come; will "take occasion by the 'hand and make the bounds of Empire wider yet." (Applause.)