The Irishman's Place in the Empire
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 7 Apr 1910, p. 225-232
Burke, Very Rev. A.E., Speaker
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Item Type
Ireland's part in the Empire, played about as truthful and faithful a part as any of the other nations represented at gatherings of the Empire Club of Canada. The role of Irish wit and gaiety, with examples. The statesmen that Ireland has given to the Empire. Ireland today helping materially to solve the grave problems which confront the nation. Some of the great orators of Ireland. Some words from Mr. Taft on the Irish people. How Irishmen have, and are, contributing today in every department of life to that which is best in our Canadian life. The Irish contribution to the unity of the Empire. A few Irishmen who have helped to build up the colonial greatness of the Empire.
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7 Apr 1910
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Full Text
Address by the Very Rev. A.E,. BURKE, D.D., LL.D., President of the Catholic Extension Society of Canada, before the Empire Club of Canada, on April 7th, 1910.

President and Gentlemen,

I had the honour, last year, I think it was, to address a few words to this Empire Club, and as far as I am able today I will in a few cursory remarks speak of the Irishman's place in the Empire. I understand the assemblage today is as large, if not larger, than has been here on other occasions, and I am glad to know that in the City of Toronto, at least, Irishmen are able to attract a crowd upon any occasion whatsoever. I am afraid that some of you came to see a specimen of that divergency of colour which is emblematic of the Irishman himself.

I have heard of a case where it was thought that even Irish blood ran green. I want to show you before I am through today, that the Irish blood has often run red in defence of the British Empire. You have had England and Scotland spoken of before this Club, but all I can say in the few words to you today is that I think that Ireland has played about as truthful and faithful a part in the affairs of the Empire as any of the other nations you have had represented at these gatherings. I say this notwithstanding what she has borne as a servant in the past, what she bears as a servant today. There is no matter what she has borne, the Empire will go the more steadily forward for the help of Ireland and Ireland's sons. Irishmen have kept the balance of the Empire from taking things too seriously. We have Scotland with her seriousness, and England with her seriousness, and we have Ireland's humour to leaven the whole lump. Without Irish wit we would not have the composite Empire which is the pride of the world today. She has contributed a great deal to the gaiety of the nation by the wit which bubbles out so spontaneously on the slightest provocation; you have many illustrations of this in the writings of Jonah Barrington. You have all heard of Chief Justice Lord Norbury, also called in an epitaph "the Hanging judge." lie was able to hang anything in Ireland, especially if it had any connection with priestly matters, like myself, or had anything to do with the religion to which I belong. A fellow named McCarthy, his valet, came before him charged with murder, the jury brought in a verdict of guilty, the Chief justice sentenced him to be taken .to a certain place on a certain day, and there be hanged by the neck until completely dead, he was then to be taken down, disemboweled and. his limbs quartered. Then the Chief Justice repeated the solemn words used on such occasion

"And may the Lord have mercy on your Soul." At this juncture McCarthy said: "Stop! Judge, your prayers never yet did anybody any good, and I don't want them." This so impressed the Chief justice, that he commuted his sentence to transportation for life.

We also have other cases of Irish wit, one of which might be mentioned here. The story is told of a very stingy man taking a paltry sum of money to an Irish artist-payment is always exacted in advance-and asking him to paint his portrait. The artist at once complied with the request, but when the portrait was finished nothing was visible save the back of the sitter's head. "What does this mean?" cried the sitter. "I thought that a man who paid so little as you paid wouldn't care to show his face." I need not give any more illustrations of Irish wit, but Ireland has also given of her sons to form "the thin red line" that never faltered when the fate of the nation hung in the balance. I need not mention the Duke of Wellington, Lord Wolseley, Lord Roberts, Lord Kitchener, and many other famous Generals, including Sir John French, all of whom have been in the forefront of the Empire's battles on land and sea; they are wellknown to you. At Waterloo, the illustrious charge of the Irish made on those terrible French battalions, needs no mention; at Balaclava, the Enniskillens and Scots Greys met and defeated the Russians; at Modder River, under General Buller, where the fighting was so furious that the river was choked with bodies, the Enniskillens again distinguished themselves; in the Peninsular War, and on every battlefield in the last 400 years, Ireland has given of her best blood in defence of the Empire which we are glad to claim as our own and she is willing to do so again if need be.

She has also given great statesmen to the Empire, and Ireland today is helping materially to solve the grave problems which confront the nation. She has given great orators, and in the 18th century she contributed Burke, Grattan, Hood, Sheridan, Curran and others. Burke has been styled the greatest political philosopher the world has known. Largely to his ability and knowledge of constitutional law are we indebted for the code of laws under which we are privileged to live, whether here or in the Old Land. I need not, therefore; mention to you the other statesmen. You know them all; you have thousands of their stirring speeches--given when they had any grievances. Among the other outstanding Irish statesmen and orators of the 19th century I might mention O'Connell, Plunkett, Meagher and Sullivan. I listened to Mr. Taft the other day speaking in a great auditorium of one of the large hotels in Chicago to 15,000 representative Irish people and other nationalities from all over the United States, and I was glad to hear him say what I am about to read to you, concerning tile Irish people

English history and English literature are full of the achievements of native sons of Ireland. The, greatest of English political philosophers, statesmen and orators, Edmund Burke, was born in Dublin of parents who came from Cork; and a family long settled in the South of Ireland. So, too, an earlier and only less noted political writer and literary genius, Dean Swift, was born in Dublin. Of the literary men of England, Sheridan, Goldsmith, and Sterne were Irishmen. Of English military geniuses, the Duke of Wellingtnn, Lord Wolesley, Lord Roberts, Lord Kitchener and many others were Irishmen. So, too, at the bar, the greatest equity lawyer that England has ever known, Hugh Cairns, made Lord Chancellor and Earl Cairns of the English peerage, was born in the County of Down. Ireland, and the same County produced the first Roman Catholic Chief Justice of England, Lord Russell of Killowen.

This was the testimony of the President of the United States to the great genius of the Irish people in these different departments of life. Now, then, the President told us in speaking of Irishmen on his side of the Line that they had contributed their part to the upbuilding of their national life and the character of the people. So far as the United States is concerned we are not so much interested for the moment, but he says: "The Irishman has contributed in this common type to its chivalry, its courage, its courtesy, its resiliency, its capacity for enjoyment of life, its imagination and last but not least in importance, its sense and its enjoyment of humour." If the United States' President could say this in regard to the Republic, we can speak with added certainty in regard to this great Canada of ours. For we know that Irishmen have, and are, contributing today in every department of life to that which is best in our Canadian life, and that they make citizens second to none in this or any other country--they are not only the last but will be the first to defend this Empire from whatever source the necessity may come

No treason we bring from Erin--nor bring we shame nor guilt!

The sword we hold may be broken, but we have not dropped the hilt!

The wreath we bear to Columbia is twisted of thorns, not bays;

And the songs we sing are saddened by thoughts of desolate days.

But the hearts we bring for Freedom are washed in the surge of tears;

And we claim our rights by a people's fight outliving a thousand years!

What bring ye else to the Building? O, willing hands to toil;

Strong natures tuned to the harvest-song, and bound to the kindly soil;

Bold pioneers for the wilderness, defenders in the field, The sons of a race of soldiers who never learned to yield. Young hearts with duty brimming-as faith makes sweet the due;

Their truth to me their witness they cannot be false to you.

If that be a true expression of what the Irish were in their own native land-of their allegiance to those principles that are nearer and dearer to them than life itself; it is also a criterion of what the Irishmen will be in this country of ours, what they have been, what they are at present, and will be in the future in developing our country, maintaining it, and doing all possible to be done so that Irish life over seas may add stability and prestige to our national position. We have seen as far as Ireland is concerned, her position in regard to the defence of the Empire--she has helped and stood by the Empire as no other race has attempted to do. Irishmen have also done much for the unity of the Empire; take for instance D'Arcy McGee, who first was supposed to come out to this country as a rebel, but who was as truly a martyr to Canadian unity as any man who was ever sacrificed. After his conference with Sir Charles Tupper, at Charlottetown, P.E.I., where they planned the Federation of the Canadian Provinces, he went from one side of Canada to the other, as you all know who have read history, and by his eloquence and persuasive power, did more than any other man to bring to a successful issue the unity of this country which we call Canada, which we consider the greatest part of the Empire, and the best portion of the world. All this he did, and when it became necessary to form the first Cabinet in Canada, Sir John Macdonald, who was an astute politician, found it necessary to leave without portfolio two of his best men, and one of those two was the man who stood head and shoulders above all the others--D'Arcy McGee. And we citizens of Canada cannot revere the name of D'Arcy McGee too highly, for he was in reality a Hero of reform in this country of ours.

I might mention the names of a few other Irishmen who have helped to build up the colonial greatness of the Empire, such as Kenny, Whelan, Charles Gavan Duffy, Thompson, Howland, Edward Blake among many others. They are a few of the Irishmen who, coming from other parts of the Empire, have helped to make our country what we would like to have it become. I hope and trust, and know, you will all agree with me when I say that we are only at the commencement of this Empire. I became an Imperialist very early in life -though I did not know what the term really meant. When I was a young priest, my Archbishop (Dr. O'Brien, of Halifax,) who was a very strong Imperialist and belonged to the Imperial Federation League, in fact, was one of its founders, came to me one day and said he wanted to speak to me on a very particular subject. He said, "I want you to participate in the views I hold on Imperial questions." I asked him what they were and he: told me, in an abstract way, that it was to look upon subjects of the British Empire, no matter in what part of the world they might be, as members of one great British family, and also to help them through in their necessities and troubles, so that we may stand as one great Empire, the centre of which would be Great Britain.

This satisfied me, and from that time forward I have been an Imperialist and have always done what I could to pass these principles along to any of the Irishmen over whom I had any influence-for it is not necessary to use much argument with those who have reached affluence in this country. Like D'Arcy McGee, for instance, they were not those who would destroy anything British, but would help to make the British Empire stronger in the future and extend it farther into the world for the world's good. We find that this is true not only as far as D'Arcy McGee is concerned but of other great Irishmen who have been in responsible positions in Canadian government. They believe with us, that we have a constitution as good as anything in the world. It has its faults, 'tis true, but our men are loyal to the British constitution, and, if it were necessary to defend our flag and country we should be first in the field. We believe if occasion should arise we will be found there. I don't want to vaunt myself, but if the country called tomorrow I would be found ready to defend Canadians rights, no matter who offended her. Now you have had before this Club addresses from men representing different nations. They have spoken of their virtues and perhaps of some shortcomings. I might say I never saw Ireland myself, or my father before me, but my grandfather did. He came from Tipperary, and a Tipperary man never turns his back on anything. No matter what we are, we want to keep up the traditions of those who have gone before us, and we will have a unified and homogeneous people. I will close these rambling remarks in the words of the poet

O, blood of the people! changless tide, through century, creed and race

Still one as the sweet salt sea is one, though tempered by sun and place;

The same in the ocean currents, and the same in the sheltered seas;

Forever the fountain of common hopes and kindly sympathies.

In moving a vote of thanks, Dr. Sweeny, Bishop of Toronto said: With a very great deal of pleasure I rise to convey your thanks to the eloquent speaker who has so well illustrated his remarks by his wit and humour in the address he has given us this afternoon. I begin to be suspicious, Mr. President, that you have some Church union scheme on hand, in calling on me to move votes of thanks to Presbyterians, Methodists, and now to the good brother yonder. I believe this should be one of the first objects of the Empire Club; so be it! If the gentlemen who have spoken on past occasions are representative amen, we are all glad to be brothers, and will be glad to "take them all in," as I said before, when moving a vote of thanks to the last speaker.

Now if the Englishman contributes solidty and permanency--to the Empire and the Scotchman thrift, then I know you will agree with me, the Irishman contributes his wit. It would be a poor hum-drum world, indeed, if not for the Irishmen. He also contributes his grievances. I am a good deal like the speaker in one respect, that is, neither my father nor myself were born in Ireland, but my grandfather was. He came froth Cor-r-rk, and we had some land down there in the long, long ago and my father, almost every month, received an official looking letter containing grievances from Ireland. I do not know what the British Parliament would do without an Irish grievance or so, any more than the rest of us would do without the Irish humour.

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The Irishman's Place in the Empire

Ireland's part in the Empire, played about as truthful and faithful a part as any of the other nations represented at gatherings of the Empire Club of Canada. The role of Irish wit and gaiety, with examples. The statesmen that Ireland has given to the Empire. Ireland today helping materially to solve the grave problems which confront the nation. Some of the great orators of Ireland. Some words from Mr. Taft on the Irish people. How Irishmen have, and are, contributing today in every department of life to that which is best in our Canadian life. The Irish contribution to the unity of the Empire. A few Irishmen who have helped to build up the colonial greatness of the Empire.