“If ever the idea of nationality becomes the subject of a thorough and honest study, it will be seen that among all the peoples of antiquity, not excluding the Hellenes and the Hebrews, the Irish held the clearest and most conscious and constant grasp of that idea; and that their political divisions, instead of disproving the existence of the idea, in their case intensely strengthen the proof of its existence and emphasize its power.
In the same way the remarkable absence of insular exclusiveness, notwithstanding their geographical position, serves to bring their sense of nationality into higher relief.
Though pride of race is evident in the dominant Gaelic stock, their national sentiment centres not in the race, but altogether in the country, which is constantly personified and made the object of a sort of cult.
It is worth noting that just as the Brehon Laws are the laws of Ireland without distinction of province or district; as the language of Irish literature is the language of Ireland without distinction of dialects; as the Dindshenchus contains the topographical legends of all parts of Ireland, and the Festilogies commemorate the saints of all Ireland; so the Irish chronicles from first to last are histories of the Irish nation. The true view of the Book of Invasions is that it is the epic of Irish Nationality.” (Professor Eoin MacNeill, in a letter to Mrs. A.S. Green, January, 1914.)
The “Book of Invasions”, which Professor MacNeill here speaks of, was compiled a thousand years ago. To write the history of later Ireland is merely to prolong the “Book of Invasions”, and thus bring the epic of Irish resistance down to our own day. All Irish valor and chivalry, whether of soul or of body, have been directed for a thousand years to this same end. It was for this that Sarsfield died at Landen no less than Brian at Clontarf. The monarch of Ireland at the head of a great Irish army driving back the leagued invaders from the shores of Dublin Bay in 1014, and the exiled leader in 1693, heading the charge that routed King William’s cause in the Netherlands, fell on one and the same battlefield. They fought against the invader of Ireland.
We are proudly told that the sun never sets on the British Empire. Wherever an Irishman has fought in the name of Ireland it has not been to acquire fortune, land, or fame, but to give all, even life itself, not to found an empire, but to strike a blow for an ancient land and assert the cause of a swordless people. Wherever Irishmen have gone, in exile or in fight, they have carried this image of Ireland with them. The cause of Ireland has found a hundred fields of foreign fame, where the dying Irishman might murmur with Sarsfield, “Would that this blood were shed for Ireland”, and history records the sacrifice as made in no other cause.
Ireland, too, owns an empire on which the sun never sets.