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On Home Rule and the Land Question at Cork

On Home Rule and the Land Question at Cork

21 January 1885

Charles Stewart Parnell

With the goal of bringing the issue of Irish Home Rule to the center of the stage at Westminster, Charles Stewart Parnell spent the years from 1882 to 1885 building up the Irish Parliamentary Party into a modern political machine. He astutely left the definition of Home Rule ambiguous, as seen in the speech below that he gave at Cork in January 1885. With a bow toward the fears of opponents on the right, he indicated that "Grattan's parliament" (itself a problematic phrase) was the most that nationalists could demand consistent with a continuing place in the British empire, but in a line that became famous, he also declared that "no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation."

SEE ALSO Home Rule Movement and the Irish Parliamentary Party: 1870 to 1891; Parnell, Charles Stewart; Politics: 1800 to 1921—Challenges to the Union

. . . At the election in 1880 I laid certain principles before you, and you accepted them (applause, and cries of "we do"). I said and I pledged myself that I should form . . . an independent Irish party to act in opposition to every English government which refused to concede the just rights of Ireland (applause). And the longer time which is gone by since then, the more I am convinced that that is the true policy to pursue so far as parliamentary policy is concerned, and that it will be impossible for either or both of the English parties to contend for any long time against a determined band of Irishmen acting honestly upon these principles and backed by the Irish people (cheers). But we have not alone had that object in view—we have always been very careful not to fetter or control the people at home in any way, not to prevent them from doing anything by their own strength which it is possible for them to do. . . . You have been encouraged to organise yourselves, to depend upon the rectitude of your cause for your justification, and to depend upon the determination which has helped Irishmen through many centuries to retain the name of Ireland and to retain her nationhood. Nobody could point to any single action of ours in the House of Commons or out of it which was not based upon the knowledge that behind us existed a strong and brave people, that without the help of the people our exertions would be as nothing, and that with their help and with their confidence we should be, as I believe we shall prove to be in the near future, invincible and unconquerable (great applause). . . . We shall struggle, as we have been struggling, for the great and important interests of the Irish tenant farmer. We shall ask that his industry shall not be fettered by rent. We shall ask also from the farmer in return that he shall do what in him lies to encourage the struggling manufacturers of Ireland, and that he shall not think it too great a sacrifice to be called upon when he wants anything, when he has to purchase anything, to consider how we may get it of Irish material and manufacture (hear, hear), even supposing he has to pay a little more for it (cheers). I am sorry if the agricultural population has shown itself somewhat deficient in its sense of duty in this respect up to the present time, but I feel convinced that the matter has only to be put before them to secure the opening up of most important markets in this country for those manufactures which have always existed, and for those which have been reopened anew as a consequence of the recent exhibitions, the great exhibition in Dublin and the other equally great one in Cork, which have been recently held (cheers). We shall also endeavour to secure for the labourer some recognition and some right in the land of his country (applause). We don't care whether it be the prejudices of the farmer or of the landlord that stands in his way (hear, hear). We consider that whatever class tries to obstruct the labourer in the possession of those fair and just rights to which he is entitled, that class should be put down, and coerced if you will, into doing justice to the labourer. . . . Well, but gentlemen, I go back from the consideration of these questions to the land question, in which the labourers' question is also involved and the manufacturers' question. I come back, and every Irish politician must be forcibly driven back, to the consideration of the great question of national self-government for Ireland (cheers). I do not know how this great question will be eventually settled. I do not know whether England will be wise in time and concede to constitutional arguments and methods the restitution of that which was stolen from us towards the close of the last century (cheers). It is given to none of us to forecast the future, and just as it is impossible for us to say in what way or by what means the national question may be settled, in what way full justice may be done to Ireland, so it is impossible for us to say to what extent that justice should be done. We cannot ask for less than restitution of Grattan's parliament (loud cheers), with its important privileges and wide and farreaching constitution. We cannot under the British constitution ask for more than the restitution of Grattan's parliament (renewed cheers), but no man has the right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation (great cheers). No man has a right to say to his country, "Thus far shalt thou go and no further," and we have never attempted to fix the ne plus ultra to the progress of Ireland's nationhood, and we never shall (cheers). But, gentlemen, while we leave those things to time, circumstances, and the future, we must each one of us resolve in our own hearts that we shall at all times do everything that within us lies to obtain for Ireland the fullest measure of her rights (applause). In this way we shall avoid difficulties and contentions amongst each other. In this way we shall not give up anything which the future may put in favour of our country; and while we struggle today for that which may seem possible for us with our combination, we must struggle for it with the proud consciousness that we shall not do anything to hinder or prevent better men who may come after us from gaining better things than those for which we now contend (prolonged applause).

Freeman's Journal, 22 January 1885.

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