CELT document E800002-005

The History of Ireland

Thomas Osborne Davis

Edited by T.W. Rolleston

The History of Ireland

The History of Ireland


Something has been done to rescue Ireland from the reproach that she was a wailing and ignorant slave.

Brag as we like, the reproach was not undeserved, nor is it quite removed.

She is still a serf-nation, but she is struggling wisely and patiently, and is ready to struggle, with all the energy her advisers think politic, for liberty. She has ceased to wail—she is beginning to make up a record of English crime and Irish suffering, in order to explain the past, justify the present, and caution the future. She begins to study the past—not to acquire a beggar's eloquence in petition, but a hero's wrath in strife. She no longer tears and parades her wounds to win her smiter's mercy; and now she should look upon her breast and say:— “That wound makes me distrust, and this makes me guard, and they all will make me steadier to resist, or, if all else fails, fiercer to avenge.”

Thus will Ireland do naturally and honourably.

Our spirit has increased—our liberty is not far off.

But to make our spirit lasting and wise as it is bold—dash; to make our liberty an inheritance for our children, and a charter for our prosperity— we must study as well as strive, and learn as well as feel.

(If we attempt to govern ourselves without statesmanship—to be a nation without a knowledge of the country's history, and of the propensities to good and ill of the people—or to fight without generalship, we will fail in policy, society, and war.) These—all these things—we, people of Ireland, must know if we would be a free, strong nation. A mockery of Irish independence is not what we want. The bauble  p.84 of a powerless parliament does not lure us. We are not children. The office of supplying England with recruits, artizans, and corn, under the benign interpositions of an Irish Grand Jury, shall not be our destiny. By our deep conviction—by the power of mind over the people, we say, No!

We are true to our colour, “the green”, and true to our watchword, “Ireland for the Irish.” We want to win Ireland and keep it. If we win it, we will not lose it nor give it away to a bribing, a bullying, or a flattering minister. But, to be able to keep it, and use it, and govern it, the men of Ireland must know what it is, what it was, and what it can be made. They must study her history, perfectly know her present state, physical and moral—and train themselves up by science, poetry, music, industry, skill, and by all the studies and accomplishments of peace and war.

If Ireland were in national health, her history would be familiar by books, pictures, statuary, and music to every cabin and shop in the land—her resources as an agricultural manufacturing, and trading people would be equally known—and every young man would be trained, and every grown man able to defend her coast, her plains, her towns and her hills—not with his right arm merely, but by his disciplined habits and military accomplishments. These are the pillars of independence.

Academies of art, institutes of science, colleges of literature, schools and camps of war, are a nation's means for teaching itself strength, and winning safety and honour; and when we are a nation, please God, we shall have them all. Till then we must work for ourselves. So far as we can study music in societies, art in schools, literature in institutes, science in our colleges, or soldiership in theory, we are bound as good citizens to learn. Where these are denied by power, or unattainable by clubbing the resources of neighbours, we must try and study for ourselves. We p.85 must visit museums and antiquities, and study, and buy, and assist books of history to know what the country and people were, how they fell, how they suffered, and how they arose again. We must read books of statistics—and let us pause to regret that there is no work on the statistics of Ireland except the scarce lithograph of Moreau, the papers in the second Report of the Railway Commission, and the chapters in McCulloch's Statistics of the British Empire—the Repeal Association ought to have a handbook first, and then an elaborate and vast account of Ireland's statistics brought out.

To resume, we must read such statistics as we have, and try and get better; and we must get the best maps of the country—the Ordnance and County Index Maps, price 2s. 6d. each, and the Railway Map, price £ 1— into our Mechanics' Institutes, Temperance Reading-rooms, and schools. We must, in making our journeys of business and pleasure, observe and ask for the nature and amount of the agriculture, commerce, and manufactures of the place we are in, and its shape, population, scenery, antiquities, arts, music, dress, and capabilities for improvement. A large portion of our people travel a great deal within Ireland, and often return with no knowledge, save of the inns they slept in and the traders they dealt with.

We must give our children in schools the best knowledge of science, art, and literary elements possible. And at home they should see and hear as much of national pictures, music, poetry, and military science as possible.

And finally, we must keep our own souls, and try, by teaching and example, to lift up the souls of all our family and neighbours to that pitch of industry, courage, information, and wisdom necessary to enable an enslaved, dark, and starving people to become free, and rich, and rational.

Well, as to this National History—L'Abbé MacGeoghegan published a History of Ireland, in French, in 3 volumes,  p.86 quarto, dedicated to the Irish Brigade. Writing in France he was free from the English censorship; writing for The Brigade, he avoided the impudence of Huguenot historians. The sneers of the Deist Voltaire, and the lies of the Catholic Cambrensis, receive a sharp chastisement in his preface, and a full answer in his text. He was a man of the most varied acquirements and an elegant writer. More full references and the correction of a few errors of detail would render his book more satisfactory to the professor of history, but for the student it is the best in the world. He is graphic, easy, and Irish. He is not a bigot, but apparently a genuine Catholic. His information as to the numbers of troops, and other facts of our Irish battles, is superior to any other general historian's; and they who know it well need not blush, as most Irishmen must now, at their ignorance of Irish history.

But the Association for liberating Ireland has offered a prize for a new history of the country, and given ample time for preparation.

Let no man postpone the preparation who hopes the prize. An original and highly-finished work is what is demanded, and for the composition of such a work the time affords no leisure.

Few persons, we suppose, hitherto quite ignorant of Irish history, will compete; but we would not discourage even these. There is neither in theory nor fact any limit to the possible achievements of genius and energy. Some of the greatest works in existence were written rapidly, and many an old book-worm fails where a young book— thrasher succeeds.

Let us now consider some of the qualities which should belong to this history.

It should, in the first place, be written from the original authorities. We have some notion of giving a set of papers on these authorities, but there are reasons against such a  p.87 course, and we counsel no man to rely on us—every one on himself; besides, such a historian should rather make himself able to teach us than need to learn from us.

However, no one can now be at a loss to know what these authorities are. A list of the choicest of them is printed on the back of the Volunteer's card for this year, and was also printed in the Nation1. These authorities are not enough for a historian. The materials, since the Revolution especially, exist mainly in pamphlets, and even for the time previous only the leading authorities are in the list. The list is not faulty in this, as it was meant for learners, not teachers; but anyone using these authorities will readily learn from them what the others are, and can so track out for himself.

There are, however, three tracts specially on the subject of Irish writers. First is Bishop Nicholson's Irish Historical Library. p.88 It gives accounts of numerous writers, but is wretchedly meagre. In Harris's Hibernica is a short tract on the same subject; and in Harris's edition of Ware's works an ample treatise on Irish Writers. This treatise is most valuable, but must be read with caution, as Ware was slightly, and Harris enormously, prejudiced against the native Irish and against the later Catholic writers. The criticisms of Harris, indeed, on all books relative to the Religious Wars are partial and deceptious; but we repeat that the work is of great value.

The only more recent work on the subject is a volume written by Edward O'Reilly, for the Iberno-Celtic Society, on the Native Irish Poets: an interesting work, and containing morsels invaluable to a picturesque historian.

By the way, we may hope that the studies for this prize history will be fruitful for historical ballads.

Too many of the original works can only be bought at an expense beyond the means of most of those likely to compete. For instance, Harris's Ware, Fynes Moryson, and The State Papers of Henry the Eighth, are  p.89 very dear. The works of the Archaeological Society can only be got by a member. The price of O'Connor's Rerum Hibernicarum Scriptores Veteres is eighteen guineas; and yet, in it alone the annals of Tigernach, Boyle, Innisfallen, and the early part of the Four Masters are to be found. The great majority of the books, however, are tolerably cheap; some of the dearer books might be got by combination among several persons, and afterwards given to the Repeal Reading-rooms.

However, persons resident in, or able to visit Dublin, Cork, or Belfast, can study all, even the scarcest of these works, without any real difficulty.

As to the qualities of such a history, they have been concisely enough intimated by the Committee.

It is to be a History. One of the most absurd pieces of cant going is that against history, because it is full of wars, and kings, and usurpers, and mobs. History describes, and is meant to describe, forces, not proprieties—the mights, the acted realities of men, bad and good—their historical importance depending on their mightiness, not their holiness. Let us by all means have, then, a “graphic” narrative of what was, not a set of moral disquisitions on what ought to have been.

Yet the man who would keep chronicling the dry events would miss writing a history. He must fathom the social condition of the peasantry, the townsmen, the middle-classes, the nobles, and the clergy (Christian or Pagan), in each period— how they fed, dressed, armed, and housed themselves. He must exhibit the nature of the government, the manners, the administration of law, the state of useful and fine arts, of commerce, of foreign relations. He must let us see the decay and rise of great principles and conditions—till we look on a tottering sovereignty, a rising creed, an incipient war, as distinctly as, by turning to the highway, we can see the old man, the vigorous youth, or p.90 the infant child. He must paint— the council robed in its hall—the priest in his temple—the conspirator—the outlaw—the judge—the general—the martyr. The arms must clash and shine with genuine, not romantic, likeness; and the brigades or clans join battle, or divide in flight, before the reader's thought. Above all, a historian should be able to seize on character, not vaguely eulogising nor cursing; but feeling and expressing the pressure of a great mind on his time, and on after-times.

Such things may be done partly in disquisitions, as in Michelet's France; but they must now be done in narrative; and nowhere, not even in Livy, is there a finer specimen of how all these things may be done by narrative than in Augustine Thierry's Norman Conquest and Merovingian Scenes. The only danger to be avoided in dealing with so long a period in Thierry's way is the continuing to attach importance to a once great influence, when it has sunk to be an exceptive power. He who thinks it possible to dash off a profoundly coloured and shaded narrative like this of Thierry's will find himself bitterly wrong. Even a great philosophical view may much more easily be extemporised than this lasting and finished image of past times.

The greatest vice in such a work would be bigotry—bigotry of race or creed. We know a descendant of a great Milesian family who supports the Union, because he thinks the descendants of the Anglo-Irish—his ancestors' foes—would mainly rule Ireland, were she independent. The opposite rage against the older races is still more usual. A religious bigot is altogether unfit, incurably unfit, for such a task; and the writer of such an Irish history must feel a love for all sects, a philosophical eye to the merits and demerits of all, and a solemn and haughty impartiality in speaking of all.

Need we say that a history, wherein glowing oratory p.91 appeared in place of historical painting, bold assertion instead of justified portraiture, flattery to the living instead of justice to the dead, clever plunder of other compilers instead of original research, or a cramped and scholastic instead of an idiomatic, “clear and graphic” style, would deserve rejection, and would, we cannot doubt, obtain it.

To give such a history to Ireland as is now sought will be a proud and illustrious deed. Such a work would have no passing influence, though its first political effect would be enormous; it would be read by every class and side; for there is no readable book on the subject; it would people our streets, and glens, and castles, and abbeys, and coasts with a hundred generations besides our own; it would clear up the grounds of our quarrels, and prepare reconciliation; it would unconsciously make us recognise the causes of our weakness; it would give us great examples of men and of events, and materially influence our destiny.

Shall we get such a history? Think, reader! has God given you the soul and perseverance to create this marvel?

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Title (uniform): The History of Ireland

Author: Thomas Osborne Davis

Editor: T.W. Rolleston

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Electronic edition compiled by: Beatrix Färber

proof corrections by: Margaret Bonar

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2. Second draft.

Extent: 4390 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland — http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2005

Date: 2010

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: E800002-005

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

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Editions of this text and/or other writings by Thomas Davis

  1. Thomas Davis, Essays Literary and Historical, Dundalk 1914.
  2. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (ed.), Thomas Davis, the memoirs of an Irish patriot, 1840–1846. 1890.
  3. Thomas Osborne Davis, Literary and historical essays 1846. Reprinted 1998, Washington, DC: Woodstock Books.
  4. Essays of Thomas Davis. New York, Lemma Pub. Corp. 1974, 1914 [Reprint of the 1914 ed. published by W. Tempest, Dundalk, Ireland, under the title 'Essays literary and historical'.]
  5. Thomas Davis: essays and poems, with a centenary memoir, 1845–1945. Dublin, M. H. Gill and Son, 1945. [Foreword by an Taoiseach, Éamon de Valéra.]
  6. Angela Clifford, Godless colleges and mixed education in Ireland: extracts from speeches and writings of Thomas Wyse, Daniel O'Connell, Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy, Frank Hugh O'Donnell and others. Belfast: Athol, 1992.

Selected further reading

  1. Arthur Griffith (ed.), Thomas Davis: the thinker & teacher; the essence of his writings in prose and poetry. Dublin: Gill 1914.
  2. William O'Brien, The influence of Thomas Davis: a lecture delivered by William O'Brien, M.P., at the City Hall, Cork, on 5th November 1915. Cork: Free Press Office, 1915.
  3. Johannes Schiller, Thomas Osborne Davis, ein irischer Freiheitssänger. Wiener Beiträge zur englischen Philologie, Bd. XLVI. Wien und Leipzig, W. Braumüller, 1915.
  4. Michael Quigley (ed.), Pictorial record: centenary of Thomas Davis and young Ireland. Dublin [1945].
  5. Joseph Maunsell Hone, Thomas Davis (Famous Irish Lives). 1934.
  6. M. J. MacManus (ed.), Thomas Davis and Young Ireland. Dublin: The Stationery Office, 1945.
  7. J. L. Ahern, Thomas Davis and his circle. Waterford, 1945.
  8. Michael Tierney, 'Thomas Davis: 1814–1845'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 34:135 (1945) 300–310.
  9. Theodore William Moody, 'The Thomas Davis centenary lecture in Newry'. An t-Iubhar (=Newry) 1946, 22–26.
  10. D. R. Gwynn, O'Connell, Davis and the Colleges Bill (Centenary Series 1). Oxford and Cork, 1948.
  11. D. R. Gwynn, 'John E. Pigot and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 145–157.
  12. D. R. Gwynn, 'Denny Lane and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 15–28.
  13. N. N., Clár cuimhneacháin: comóradh i gcuimhne Thomáis Daibhis, Magh Ealla, 1942. Baile Átha Cliath (=Dublin) 1942.
  14. Christopher Preston, 'Commissioners under the Patriot Parliament, 1689'. Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 5th ser., 74:8 (1950) 141–151.
  15. W.B. Yeats, Tribute to Thomas Davis: with an account of the Thomas Davis centenary meeting held in Dublin on November 20th, 1914, including Dr. Mahaffy's prohibition of the "Man called Pearse," and an unpublished protest by "A.E.", Cork 1965.
  16. Theodore William Moody, 'Thomas Davis and the Irish nation'. Hermathena, 103 (1966) 5–31.
  17. Malcolm Johnston Brown, The politics of Irish literature: from Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats. Seattle (University of Washington Press) 1973.
  18. Eileen Sullivan, Thomas Davis. Lewisburg, New Jersey: Bucknell University Press, 1978.
  19. Mary G. Buckley, Thomas Davis: a study in nationalist philosophy. Ph.D Thesis, National University of Ireland, at the Department of Irish History, UCC, 1980.
  20. Giulio Giorello, '"A nation once again": Thomas Osborne Davis and the construction of the Irish "popular" tradition'. History of European Ideas, 20:1–3 (1995) 211–217.
  21. John Neylon Molony, A soul came into Ireland: Thomas Davis 1814–1845. Dublin 1995.
  22. Robert Somerville-Woodward, 'Two 'views of the Irish language': O'Connell versus Davis'. The History Review: journal of the UCD History Society, 9 (1995) 44–50.
  23. John Neylon Molony, 'Thomas Davis: Irish Romantic idealist'. In: Richard Davis; Jennifer Livett; Anne-Maree Whitaker; Peter Moore (eds.), Irish-Australian studies: papers delivered at the eighth Irish-Australian Conference, Hobart July 1995 (Sydney 1996) 52–63.
  24. David Alvey, 'Thomas Davis. The conservation of a tradition'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 85 (1996) 37–42.
  25. Harry White, The keeper's recital: music and cultural history in Ireland, 1770–1970. (Cork 1998).
  26. Joseph Langtry; Brian Fay, 'The Davis influence'. In: Joseph Langtry (ed.), A true Celt: Thomas Davis, The Nation, rebellion and transportation: a series of essays. (Dublin 1998) 30–38.
  27. Joseph Langtry, 'Thomas Davis (1814–1845)'. In: Joseph Langtry (ed.), A true Celt: Thomas Davis, The Nation, rebellion and transportation: a series of essays. (Dublin 1998) 2–7.
  28. Patrick Maume, 'Young Ireland, Arthur Griffith, and republican ideology: the question of continuity'. Éire-Ireland, 34:2 (1999) 155–174.
  29. Sean Ryder, 'Speaking of '98: Young Ireland and republican memory'. Éire-Ireland, 34:2 (1999) 51–69.
  30. Ghislaine Saison, 'L'écriture de l'histoire chez la Jeune Irlande: quelle histoire pour une nation du consensus et de la réconciliation?'. In: Centre de recherche inter-langues angevin, Écriture(s) de l'histoire: Actes du colloque des 2,3 et 4 décembre 1999. (Angers 2001) 435–446.
  31. Gerard Kearns, 'Time and some citizenship: nationalism and Thomas Davis'. Bullán: an Irish Studies Review, 5:2 (2001) 23–54.
  32. Ghislaine Saison, 'Thomas Davis et la nation irlandaise'. Cercles, 4 (2002), 121–131.
  33. Helen Mulvey, Thomas Davis and Ireland: a biographical study. Washington, D.C., Catholic University of America Press, 2003.

Davis, Thomas Osborne (1910). ‘The History of Ireland’. In: Thomas Davis: Selections from his prose and poetry‍. Ed. by T. W. Rolleston. Dublin and London: The Talbot Press, pp. 83–91.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  author 	 = {Thomas Osborne Davis},
  title 	 = {The History of Ireland},
  editor 	 = {T. W. Rolleston},
  booktitle 	 = {Thomas Davis: Selections from his prose and poetry},
  publisher 	 = {The Talbot Press},
  address 	 = {Dublin and London},
  date 	 = {1910},
  pages 	 = {83–91}


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Creation: by Thomas Davis

Date: 1840s

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Keywords: literary; prose; 19c

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The following is the list of books given as the present sources of history:

Some of the original sources of Irish History. Ancient Irish times.

Annals of Tigernach, abbot of Clonmacnoise, from A.D. 200 to his death, 1188, partly compiled from writers of the eighth, seventh, and sixth centuries. Lives of St. Patrick, St. Columbanus, etc.

Annals of the Four Masters, from the earliest times to 1616. Other Annals, such as those of Innisfallen, Ulster, Boyle, etc. Publications of the Irish Archaeological Society, Danish and Icelandic Annals.

English Invasion and the Pale.

Gerald de Barri, surnamed Cambrensis, Topography and Conquest of Ireland. Four Masters. Tracts in Harris's Hibernica. Campion's, Hanmer's, Marlborough's, Camden's, Holingshed's, Stanihurst's, and Ware's Histories. Hardiman's Statutes of Kilkenny.

Henry VIII and Elizabeth.—Harris's Ware. O'Sullivan's Catholic History. Four Masters. Spencer's View. Sir G. Carew's Pacata Hibernia. State Papers, Temp. H. VIII. Fynes Moryson's Itinerary. James I.—Harris's Hibernica. Sir John Davies' Tracts.

Charles I .—Strafford's Letters. Carte's Life of Ormond. Lodge's Desiderata. Clarendon's Rebellion. Tichborne's Drogheda. State Trials. Rinuccini's Letters. Pamphlets. Castlehaven's Memoirs. Clanrickarde's Memoirs. Peter Walsh. Sir J. Temple.

Charles II.— Lord Orrery's Letters. Essex's Letters.

James II. and William III.—King's State of the Protestants, and Lesley's Answer. The Green Book. Statutes of James's Parliament, in Dublin Magazine, 1843. Clarendon's Letters. Rawdon Papers. Tracts. Molyneux's Case of Ireland.

George I. and II.—Swift's Life. Lucas's Tracts. Howard's Cases under Popery Laws. O'Leary's Tracts. Boulter's Letters. O'Connor's and Parnell's Irish Catholics. Foreman on “The Brigade”.

George III.—Grattan's and Curran's Speeches and Lives — Memoirs of Charlemont. Wilson's Volunteers. Barrington's Rise and Fall. Wolfe Tone's Memoirs. Moore's Fitzgerald, Wyse's Catholic Association. Madden's United Irishmen. Hay, Teeling, etc., on '98. Tracts. MacNevin's State Trials. O'Connell's and Sheil's Speeches. Plowden's History.

Compilations. — Moore. M'Geoghegan. Curry's Civil Wars. Carey's Vindiciae. O'Connell's Ireland. Leland.

Current Authorities.— The Acts of Parliament. Lords' and Commons' Journals and Debates. Lynch's Legal Institutions.

Antiquities, Dress, Arms. — Royal Irish Academy's Transactions and Museum, Walker's Irish Bards, British Costume, in Library of Entertaining Knowledge.

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