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Sinn Féin and the ‘Slave Mind’
Bitter cartoon from Irish satirical magazine 'The Lepracaun', showing ways in which the cartoonist believes Ireland has been financially exploited by England. (Image: 'The Lepracaun Cartoon Monthly'. Joseph McGarrity Collection. Digital Library@Villanova University. Photo: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Sinn Féin and the ‘Slave Mind’

Here we reproduce extracts of an article that appeared in the the newspaper Sinn Féin, on 12 September 1914, under the heading 'The Slave Mind'. It outlined that publication's attitude towards the war and those Irish political leaders who have called for Irishmen to fight with the British army.

'England is fighting for her life - the same England that we Irish for generations past have charged with all the crimes that one nation can charge against another. We have charged her with the destruction of our national and political institutions, we have charged her with the assassination of our people, we have charged her with the suppression of our trade and commerce, we have charged her with the wasting of our fields and the enforced ignorance that has left us to-day the most backward people in Western Europe. We have charged against her more than the Poles have charged against the Russians, more than the Hungarians fifty years ago charged against the Austrians, more than the Netherlanders, when they were under the yoke, charged against Spain. We have professed to hate her. And if the charges we made against her were true, we would be curs if we did not hate her.

Now either our charges against England are true or are false. If they are false, we are a nation of liars, and we deserve all that England has done us. If they are true, then to affect sympathy with England to-day is mean hypocrisy. Either England is our tyrant or we Irish have slandered and libelled England. Which is the truth?

There is in Ireland a breed of beings which can reconcile heaven and hell. In the days of peace they sometimes talk of war - in the days of war they babble of peace. England is the enemy with them until England gets into serious trouble, and then they find something in the character of England’s opponent to prevent them doing aught but support England. These men, when they are not mere tricksters are born slaves. They have no truth - they have no principle. No man in Ireland needs to be told who they are. Their work, not their personality, concerns us. They it is - more than the rigour and oppressions of England - that have forced upon so many of our people the slave-mind.

John Redmond, MP, has been one of the more outspoked advocates of Irishmen travelling to fight for the British forces during the current conflict.

The charges the Irish have made against the English we hold to be true. It is true that England has destroyed our national and political institutions, it is true she has suppressed our trade and commerce, it is true she has assassinated our people, it is true she has consistently plundered and oppressed them, it is true she has wasted their fields and wasted their minds. It is true that in the history of modern Europe there is no parallel to the treatment of Ireland by England. Because of this we regard no enemy of England as an enemy or ours. If a robber has overcome us - if we lie bleeding and bound at his feet, and he be in his turn attacked, we do not inquire into the character or motive of the attacker before we decide where our sympathy lies. We follow our instinct and our commonsense.

If the Germans, instead of being a free and civilised people, who have led the world in science, art, literature, and government for the past fifty years, were all the English paint them to be, the fact would not alter our position a hair’s breadth. We are Irishmen - our duty to our country demands us to regain Ireland’s national and political liberties, and until England has restored them, England remains Ireland’s enemy.

The slave-mind is manifested to-day in the Irish people who babble about ‘Belgian neutrality’, ‘our ancient friendship for France’, and the ‘German atrocities’. We are not Belgians, and what has happened, is happening or may happen to Belgium is not our prime concern - our prime concern is what the Belgian prime concern is - our own country. Our ancient friendship for France grew out of a common hostility to England. When France sided with England, she did not think of Ireland or care about Ireland - she thought only of herself. We, too, must think only of ourselves. ‘German atrocities’ - if they really had happened - could have no effect upon Ireland’s attitude. We are suffering under English atrocities for [centuries?] and it is none of our business to deal with any other kind of atrocity at present. These plain truths are too much for the slave-mind. It blinks and shrinks from them. In a word, it fears to have a country in an hour like this - fears to look the Truth in the face and dodges itself into a kind of comfort and holy philanthropic security by setting up inconsequential arguments, or what it would fain us think arguments.

More indications of the 'slave-mind': various scenes from around the country of Irish troops leaving for the front. Clockwise from top left: a 'mixed load' consisting of ammunition boxes, officers' luggage and men's kits being readied for embarkation; reservists at Dublin's North Wall preparing to embark; a typical scene at railway stations around the country with reservists travelling from every town; a company and band of National Volunteers accompany soldiers to the railway station in Armagh and cheer them as they leave for the war. (Images: Irish Life, 14 August 1914. Full collection of Irish Life available from the National Library of Ireland)

This slave-mind has been the bane of Ireland, for it is the very root of the lack of self-reliance which has reduced the stateliest race in Europe - the Gaels - to what they are to-day. It has destroyed our moral courage and made us shifty, mean, evasive in speech and argument where the free man of any nation is straight and direct. It has impelled us to mumble ‘Yes’ when in our hearts we say ‘No’, and we have got to get rid of it before we become again a nation of men. It is this mind that to-day voices itself in the cant, ‘It is better to be under the devil we know that the devil we don’t know’. The plain idea that Ireland should be under no foreign devil of any kind is too big for it to entertain. The thought that Ireland should be again as she was in the days of our Gaelic ancestors, and as she was for a brief period in the days of Henry Grattan - a free and independent nation - the slave-mind cannot grasp. Like the emasculated Britons who begged their Roman tyrants not to set them free, it can no longer conceive Ireland as anything but a cripple or a beggar - a dependent of some strong power. If England does not tyrannise over Ireland why then Germany will - therefore we must help the English tyrant - is its base and banal argument. That Ireland if she had the strength to strike, should strike for herself - that Ireland if she had not the strength to strike for herself should have the wisdom and self-respect not to strike for her old enemy, this slave-mind cannot conceive. Like the old man who had lain in the dungeon of an English King until he had forgotten the light of heaven, it starts back in terror when its prison is broken down and the common light of day streams in.

The slave-mind is everywhere in Ireland. On our platforms, in our Press, often even in our pulpits. It is a tacit denial that the Irish are the peers of other white men - a tacit admission that England is right in her treatment of us. We Irish have exactly the same title as the French, the English or the Germans to govern our country and shape our own policy. When we look out on the world from a lower standpoint we are slave-minded. It was Grattan, the greatest of our constitutional leaders, who declared that if the interest of the Empire clashed with the liberties of Ireland then he and every Irishman would cry - ‘Live Ireland; perish the Empire’. It was O’Connell, his successor, who gave us the watchword ‘Ireland for the Irish or the world in a blaze’. To-day the world is in a blaze, and our slave-mind is fixed where it ever is - over the sea, instead of at home. The supposed wrongs of Belgium moves it to maundering - the real wrongs of Ireland it shrinks from contemplating, for indeed it is some kind of treason to British Law to suggest Ireland has any wrongs at all. Our slave-minded are not crying ‘Love Ireland’, or ‘Ireland for the Irish’ - they are whimpering about ‘the Empire’ and the fine free institutions of that Empire which has made Ireland what it is to-day - half a poorhouse and half a cattle-ranch.

What though all Europe, all Asia, all America, all Africa rang with the clang of arms and drank in blood, should Ireland dream of - think of - work for? Her own freedom - her own restoration to the sovereign nationhood the arms of the Volunteers won for her in 1782, and the treachery of envious England struck down when Ireland laid down her arms. Since that time England’s most effective garrison in Ireland has not been her soldiery. It has been mainly the writers of our Press and the orators of our platforms, whose prudence is cowardice, whose statesmanship is evasion, compromise and surrender, and who, slaves themselves to the menace of English authority or the inducements of English wealth have bred and fostered [ … ] that slave-mind - which has today unfortunate Irishmen dying on foreign battlefields to uphold the power of their country’s tyrants and which has other Irishmen ignorantly prating of Germany as a despotism, while the dried blood of the unarmed men, women, and children shot down in the streets of Dublin by England’s soldiers is still darkly visible on the doorposts of Bachelor’s Walk.'


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.