A hundred years ago this week, a group of leading republicans visited Bodenstown churchyard to hear a stirring oration by Liam Mellows over the grave of the father of Irish republicanism, where supporters of Irish freedom now pay homage every year.
On June 20, 1922 Rory Ó Connor and Liam Mellows led a Republican military contingent from their base in the Four Courts, Dublin to the plains of Kildare and to Bodenstown Churchyard where the father of Irish republicanism, Wolfe Tone, is buried.
The commemoration was attended by famous figures including Rory O’Connor, Ernie O’Malley, Mary MacSwiney, Constance Markievicz, Kathleen Clarke, Margaret Pearse, Muriel MacSwiney and Count Plunkett, amongst others.
They pledged to uphold and defend the Republic. In his oration Liam Mellows gave an impassioned and defiant defence of the republican position. With civil war looming, he pointed out who they viewed as the real enemy: “It cannot be made too clear that our enemy is England. Let it not be thought we are out to fight any other enemy, for we are not.”
This was his complete oration:
“We who meet together on this holy ground do not assemble today to sing the swansong of Irish republicanism. The Irish republican movement is not dead. Certain people have taken the road of expediency and descended into hypocrisy to achieve their object but republicans must not deviate one inch from the straight road. It is regrettable that our people have yielded to the threats of England, but republicanism will go on in spite of what has happened.
“Gathered around the grave of Wolfe Tone today are some who have endured sufferings and encountered terrible danger during the terrible days of conflict. We are still true to their ideals and will not be led away by those who have chosen the road of expediency.
“We are prepared to risk our lives if necessary in order to uphold the ideals of an Irish Republic; and if it becomes necessary, as well it might, then in what nobler cause could they offer up their lives?
“As long as the declaration of Independence exists, we will allow no one to subvert it. It cannot be made too clear that our enemy is England. Let it not be thought we are out to fight any other enemy, for we are not.
“But if it comes to a fight with England, then we will show that, whatever might happen, we will defend the Irish Republic. It not with arms alone that a nation can uphold its honour and defend its rights.
“What is more important is that the mind and the heart of the nation is with us. Even if we have nobody on our side except we who take part in this pilgrimage, we can continue the fight, and right will triumph over might in the end, just as it did in the recent conflict between England and this country. Though the outlook is black and the odds against us heavy, we will continue the struggle, believing that our cause is just.”