Connolly: Two Fateful Christmas Weeks

On the 21st December, 1796, a French Fleet entered Bantry Bay bearing on board arms, ammunition, and an army of fifteen thousand men for the liberation of Ireland. The French army commander had been separated from the fleet in a storm, and his successor hesitated about taking the responsibility of landing his troops. For days the fleet rocked in perfect security in the bay, until another storm arising caused the French commander to raise his anchors and put again to sea, headed for France – and the Empire’s danger was over.

Consider it, friends! One hundred and nineteen years ago the freedom of Ireland lay in the power of one man to grasp, had he but had the decision of character necessary to cause him to act. Two years afterwards it took over thirty thousand English soldiers to conquer the one county of Wexford, and that county was one of those which had been most foolish in surrendering its arms at the demand of a government proclamation. Had Wexford risen, had any part of Ireland risen in December, 1796, even General Grouchy could not have refused to land, and with the diversion his force would have caused the success of the insurrection must have been certain. But the French commander would not risk his troops amongst and for a people who were apparently risking nothing for themselves. The leaders of the United Irishmen hesitated – their arrangements were not complete. The French commander hesitated, everybody hesitated, except the English Government.

One hundred and nineteen years ago. And again Ireland looks across the sea, and perhaps those across the sea look over to Ireland, and wonder.

The doubters asked Christ in His day for a sign. In our day they still ask for a sign. And in both cases it is the same answer.

“The Kingdom of Heaven [Freedom] is within you.”
“The Kingdom of Heaven can only be taken by violence.”

Heavenly words with an earthly meaning. Christmas week, 1796; Christmas week, 1915 – still hesitating.

Originally published in Workers’ Republic on 25th December 1915


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