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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Eamon de Valera: Among the nations

Eamon de Valera gave this speech regarding Ireland among the nations at the opening of the Athlone Broadcasting station.

Ireland has much to seek from the rest of the world, and much to give back in return, much that she alone can give. Her gifts are the fruit of special qualities of mind and heart, developed by centuries of eventful history. Alone among the countries of Western Europe, she never came under the sway of Imperial Rome. When all her neighbours were in tutelage, she was independent, building up her own civilisation undisturbed. When Christianity was brought to her shores it was received with a joy and eagerness, and held with a tenacity of which there is hardly such another example.

Since the period of her missionary greatness, Ireland has suffered a persecution to which for cruelty, ingenuity and persistence there is no parallel. It did not break -- it strengthened -- the spirit and devotion of her people and prepared them for the renewal of their mission at a time when it is of no ‘less vital importance to the world than was the mission of the Irish saints of the seventh and eighth centuries to the world of their day.

Next to her services to religion, Ireland’s greatest contribution to the welfare of humanity has been the example of devotion to freedom which she has given throughout seven hundred years. The invaders who came to Ireland in the twelfth century belonged to a race that had already subjugated England and a great part of Western Europe. Like the Norsemen before them, it was in Ireland that they met the most serious resistance -- a resistance which was continued generation after generation against the successors of the first invaders until our own time, a resistance which will inevitably continue until the last sod of Irish soil is finally freed.

The Irish language is one of the oldest, and, from the point of view of the philologist, one of the most interesting in Europe. It is a member of the Indo-European family, principal of the Celtic group, of which the other two dialects are ancient Gaulish, which has come down to us only in inscriptions, and Brythonic, represented today by Welsh and Breton. Irish is closely related to Greek and Sanscrit, and still more closely to Latin.

The tradition of Irish learning -- the creation of the monastic and bardic schools -- was not wholly lost even during the darkest period of the English occupation. So far as the law could do it, education was made impossible for the Catholic population at home, but Irish scholarship was kept alive in the colleges for Irish ecclesiastics in Louvain, Rome, Salamanca, Paris and elsewhere on the Continent. In Ireland itself the schools of poetry survived in some places until the beginning of the eighteenth century, maintaining to the end their rigorous discipline. The "hedge schools," taught by wandering scholars, frustrated in a measure the design to reduce the people to illiteracy, and kept the flame of knowledge alight, however feebly, throughout the island.

Anglo-Irish literature, though far less characteristic of the nation than that produced in the Irish language, includes much that is of lasting worth. Ireland has produced in Dean Swift perhaps the greatest satirist in the English language; in Edmund Burke probably the greatest writer on politics; in William Carleton a novelist of the first rank; in Oliver Goldsmith a poet of rare merit. Henry Grattan was one of the most eloquent orators of his time -- the golden age of oratory in the English language. Theobald Wolfe Tone has left us one of the most delightful autobiographies in literature. Several recent or still living Irish novelists and poets have produced work which is likely to stand the test of time. The Irish theatre movement has given us the finest school of acting of the present day, and some plays of high quality.

Ireland’s music is of a singular beauty. Based on pentatonic scale its melodies reach back to a period anterior to the dawn of musical history. It stands pre-eminent amongst the music of the Celtic nations. It is characterised by perfection of form and variety of melodic content. It is particularly rich in tunes that imply exquisite sensitiveness. The strange fitfulness of the lamentations and love songs, the transition from gladness to pathos, have thrilled the experts, and made them proclaim our music the most varied and the most poetical in the world. Equal in rhythmic variety are our dance tunes -- spirited and energetic in keeping with the temperament of our people.

I have spoken at some length of Ireland’s history and her contributions to European culture, because I wish to emphasise that what Ireland has done in the past she can do in the future. The Irish genius has always stressed spiritual and intellectual rather than material values. That is the characteristic that fits the Irish people in a special manner for the task, now a vital one, of helping to save Western civilisation. The great material progress of recent times, coming in a world where false philosophies already reigned, has distorted men’s sense of proportion; the material has usurped the sovereignty that is the right of the spiritual. Everywhere today the consequences of this perversion of the natural order are to be seen. Spirit and mind have ceased to rule. The riches which the world sought, and to which it sacrificed all else, have become a curse by their very abundance.

In this day, if Ireland is faithful to her mission, and, please God, she will be, if as of old she recalls men to forgotten truths, if she places before them the ideals of justice, of order, of freedom rightly used, of Christian brotherhood -- then, indeed, she can do the world a service as great as that which she rendered in the time of Columcille and Columbanus, because the need of our time is in no wise less.

You sometimes hear Ireland charged with a narrow and intolerant Nationalism, but Ireland today has no dearer hope than this: that, true to her own holiest traditions, she may humbly serve the truth and help by truth to save the world.

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