Irish Nationalists and the Making of the Irish Race

By Bruce Nelson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
“The Irish are for freedom everywhere”

EAMON DE VALERA, THE IRISH PATRIOTIC STRIKE, AND THE “LAST
WHITE NATION… DEPRIVED OF ITS LIBERTY”

We will be rebels [not only] to England [but] to any form of injustice
in any country the world over

—Liam Mellows, March 1918

Ireland is now the last white nation that is deprived of its liberty.

—Eamon de Valera, October 1920

THE IRISH LAID CLAIM to their birthright of freedom at an extraordinary moment in the world’s history—one characterized by a devastating war that took the lives of nine and a half million combatants, a revolution in Russia that threatened to spread far beyond the borders of the Russian Soviet Republic, a wave of working-class insurgency that culminated in the great strike wave of 1919 and 1920, and a rising tide of nationalism that the victorious Allied powers helped to inspire but could not contain.1 In this combustible environment, Irish nationalists not only fought with ballot and bullet but also sought to define the contours of the nation and illuminate the character of the race. Although they were, of necessity, turned inward and deeply preoccupied with the meaning of “Ourselves,” they also reached out to a wider audience, in part to make their case and win support for it among the great powers, in part to link their own suffering and struggle with that of other nations and peoples around the world. Thus, at the end of December 1918, Patrick McCartan, a medical doctor from County Tyrone who served as the official envoy of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic in the United States, announced that “the free and independent people of Ireland hold out the hand of fellowship to all the free and subject peoples of the world.” He issued this statement in the aftermath of Sinn Féin’s stunning triumph in the general election of December 1918, which he chose to call “the final and complete vindication of Irish Nationhood by the Irish people.” “We feel special kinship with the people of France and Belgium, so lately freed from the usurping power of military might,” he declared. “The wrongs of the people of Russia, Poland and Palestine we feel as our wrongs; and we shall afford what

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