Sunday, 3 November 2013


Late Lord Mayor of Cork 
 IrishToirdhealbhach Mac Suibhne; 28 March 1879 – 25 October 1920) was an Irish playwright, author and politician. He was elected Lord Mayor of Cork during the Irish War of Independence in 1920. He was arrested by the British on charges of sedition and imprisoned in Brixton prison in England. His death there in October 1920 after 74 days on hunger strike brought him and the Irish struggle to international attention.

A collection of his writings, entitled Principles of Freedom, was published posthumously in 1921. It was based upon articles MacSwiney contributed toIrish Freedom during 1911–1912. MacSwiney's life and work had a particular impact on Mahatma Gandhi(Be The Change You Want to see) counted him among his influences.








WHY should we fight for freedom ? Is 
it not strange, that it has become 
necessary to ask and answer this ques- 
tion? We have fought our fight for 
centuries, and contending parties still 
continue the struggle, but the real sig- 
nificance of the struggle and its true 
motive force are hardly at all understood, 
and there is a curious but logical result. 
Men technically on the same side are 
separated by differences wide and deep, 
both of ideal and plan of action; while, 
conversely, men technically opposed have 
perhaps more in common than we realise 
in a sense deeper than we understand. 



This is the question I would discuss. I 
find in practice everywhere in Ireland 
it is worse out of Ireland the doctrine, 
"The end justifies the means." 

One party will denounce another for the 
use of discreditable tactics, but it will 
have no hesitation in using such itself if 
it can thereby snatch a discreditable vic- 
tory. So, clear speaking is needed : a 
fight that is not clean-handed will make 
victory more disgraceful than any defeat. 
I make the point here because we stand 
for separation from the British Empire, 
and because I have heard it argued that 
we ought, if we could, make a foreign 
alliance to crush English power here, 
even i our foreign allies were engaged in 
crushing freedom elsewhere. When such 
a question can be proposed it should be 
answered, though the time is not ripe to 
test it. If Ireland were to win freedom 
by helping directly or indirectly to crush 
another people she would earn the execra- 
tion she has herself poured out on tyranny 
for ages. I have come to see it is possible 
for Ireland to win her independence by 


base methods. It is imperative, therefore, 
that we should declare ourselves and know 
where we stand. And I stand by this 
principle : no physical victory can com- 
pensate for spiritual surrender. Whatever 
side denies that is not my side. 

What, then, is the true basis to our 
claim to freedom? There are two points 
of view. The first we have when fresh 
from school, still in our teens, ready to tilt 
against everyone and everything, delight- 
ing in saying smart things and able 
sometimes to say them talking much 
and boldly of freedom, but satisfied if the 
thing sounds bravely. There is the later 
point of view. We are no longer boys ; we 
have come to review the situation, and 
take a definite stand in life. We have had 
years* of experience, keen struggles, not a 
little bitterness, and we are steadied. We 
feel a heart-beat for deeper things. It is 
no longer sufficient that they sound 
bravely ; they must ring true. The school- 
boy's dream is more of a Roman triumph 
tramping armies, shouting multitudes, 
waving banners all good enough in their 
way. But the dream of men is for some- 
thing beyond all this show. If it were not, 
it could hardly claim a sacrifice. 



A spiritual necessity makes the true 
significance of our claim to freedom : the 
material aspect is only a secondary con- 
sideration. A man facing life is gifted 
with certain powers of soul and body. It 
is of vital importance to himself and the 
community that he be given a full oppor- 
tunity to develop his powers, and to fill his 
place worthily. In a free state he is in the 
natural environment for full self-develop- 
ment. In an enslaved state it is the 
reverse. When one country holds another 
in subjection that other suffers materially 
and morally. It suffers materially, being 
a prey for plunder. It suffers morally be- 
cause of the corrupt influences the bigger 
nation sets at work to maintain its as- 
cendancy. Because of this moral corrup- 
tion national subjection should be resisted, 
as a state fostering vice; and as in the 
case of vice, when we understand it we 
have no option but to fight. With it we 
can make no terms. It is the duty of the 
rightful power to develop the best in its 


subjects : it is the practice of the usurping 
power to develop the basest. Our history 
affords many examples. When our rulers 
visit Ireland they bestow favours and 
titles on the supporters of their regime 
but it is always seen that the greatest 
favours and highest titles are not for the 
honest adherent of their power but for 
him who has betrayed the national cause 
that he entered public life to support. 
Observe the men who might be respected 
are passed over for him who ought to be 
despised. In the corrupt politician there 
was surely a better nature. A free state 
would have encouraged and developed it. 
The usurping state titled him for the use 
of his baser instincts. Such allurement 
must mean demoralisation. We are none 
of us angels, and under the best of circum- 
stances find it hard to do worthy things; 
when all the temptation is to do unworthy 
things we are demoralised. Most of us, 
happily, will not give ourselves over to 
the evil influence, but we lose faith in the 
ideal. We are apathetic. We have powers 
and let them lie fallow. Our minds should 
be restless for noble and beautiful things ; 
they are hopeless in a land everywhere 
confined and wasted. In the destruction 


of spirit entailed lies the deeper signi- 
ficance of our claim to freedom. 


It is a spiritual appeal, then, that 
primarily moves us. We are urged to 
action by a beautiful ideal. The motive 
force must be likewise true and beautiful. 
It is love of country that inspires us; not 
hate of the enemy and desire for full satis- 
faction for the past. Pause awhile. We 
are all irritated now and then by some 
mawkish interpretation of our motive 
force that makes it seem a weakly thing, 
invoked to help us in evading difficulties 
instead of conquering them. Love in any 
genuine form is strong, vital and warm- 
blooded. Let it not be confused with any 
flabby substitute. Take a parallel case. 
Should we, because of the mawkishness of 
a " Princess Novelette," deride the beauti- 
ful dream that keeps ages wondering and 
joyous, that is occasionally caught up in 
the words of genius, as when Shelley 
sings : " I arise from dreams of thee " ? 
When foolish people make a sacred thing 
seem silly, let us at least be sane. The 


man who cries out for the sacred thing 
but voices a universal need. To exist, the 
healthy mind must have beautiful things 
the rapture of a song, the music of 
running water, the glory of the sunset and 
its dreams, and the deeper dreams of the 
dawn. It is nothing but love of country 
that rouses us to make our land full- 
blooded and beautiful where now she is 
pallid and wasted. This, too, has its 
deeper significance. 

If we want full revenge for the past the 
best way to get it is to remain as we are. 
As we are, Ireland is a menace to Eng- 
land. We need not debate this she 
herself admits it by her continued efforts 
to pacify us in her own stupid way. Would 
she not ignore us if it were quite safe so 
to do? On the other hand, if we succeed 
in our efforts to separate from her, the 
benefit to England will be second only to 
our own. This might strike us strangely, 
but 'tis true, not the less true because the 
English people could hardly understand 
or appreciate it now. The military de- 
fence of Ireland is almost farcical. A free 


Ireland could make it a reality could 
make it strong against invasion. This 
would secure England from attack on our 
side. No one is, I take it, so foolish as to 
suppose, being free, we would enter 
quarrels not our own. We should remain 
neutral. Our common sense would so dic- 
tate, our sense of right would so demand. 
The freedom of a nation carries with it 
the responsibility x that it be no menace to 
the freedom of another nation. The free- 
dom of all makes for the security of all. 
If there are tyrannies on earth one nation 
cannot set things right, but it is still 
bound so to order its own affairs as to be 
consistent with universal freedom and 
friendship. And, again, strange as it may 
seem, separation from England will alone 
make for final friendship with England. 
For no one is so foolish as to wish to be 
for ever at war with England. It is un- 
thinkable. Now the most beautiful motive 
for freedom is vindicated. Our liberty 
stands to benefit the enemy instead of in- 
juring him. If we want to injure him, we 
should remain as we are a menace to 
him. The opportunity will come, but it 
would hardly make us happy. This but 
makes clear a need of the human race. 


Freedom rightly considered is not a mere 
setting-up of a number of independent 
units. It makes for harmony among 
nations and good fellowship on earth. 


I have written carefully that no one 
may escape the conclusion. It is clear and 
exacting, but in the issue it is beautiful. 
We fight for freedom not for the vanity 
of the world, not to have a fine conceit of 
ourselves, not to be as bad or if we prefer 
to put it so, as big as our neighbours. The 
inspiration is drawn from a deeper ele- 
ment of our being. We stifle for self- 
development individually and as a nation. 
If we don't go forward we must go down. 
It is a matter of life and death; it is OUT 
soul's salvation. If the whole nation stand 
for it, we are happy; we shall be grandly 
victorious. If only a few are faithful found 
they must be the more steadfast for being 
but a few. They stand for an individual 
right that is inalienable. A majority has 
no right to annul it, and no power to de- 
stroy it. Tyrannies may persecute, slay, 
or banish those who defend it; the thing 


is indestructible. It does not need legions 
to protect it nor genius to proclaim it, 
though the poets have always glorified it, 
and the legions will ultimately acknow- 
ledge it. One man alone may vindicate it, 
and because that one man has never failed 
it has never died. Not, indeed, that Ire- 
land has ever been reduced to a single 
loyal son. She never will be. We have 
not survived the centuries to be conquered 
now. But the profound significance of 
the struggle, of its deep spiritual appeal, of 
the imperative need for a motive force as 
lofty and beautiful, of the consciousness 
that worthy winning of freedom is a 
labour for human brotherhood; the sig- 
nificance of it all is seen in the obligation 
it imposes on everyone to be true, the ma- 
jority notwithstanding. He is called to a 
grave charge who is called to resist the 
majority. But he will resist, knowing his 
victory will lead them to a dearer dream 
than they had ever known. He will fight 
for that ideal in obscurity, little heeded 
in the open, misunderstood; in humble 
places, still undaunted; in high places, 
seizing every vantage point, never crushed, 
never silent, never despairing, cheering a 
few comrades with hope for the morrow. 


And should these few sink in the struggle 
the greatness of the ideal is proven in the 
last hour; as they fall their country 
awakens to their dream, and he who in- 
spired and sustained them is justified; 
justified against the whole race, he who 
once stood alone against them. In the 
hour he falls he is the saviour of his race. 

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