Idealised as the architect of a free and democratic Ireland by some, and despised by others as being a political sellout, very little attention has been given to the written works of Michael Collins. Not just a gunman, his economic and political philosophy is compiled in ‘The Path to Freedom’, an anthology of writings and speeches made around the time of the Treaty largely in refutation to the anti-Treatyite position. Very much of the Irish-Ireland school of Irish nationalism the emphasis with Collins in his outlook is on Gaelic revivalism and economic development. The following are extracts from the final two chapters of the book with the entire text available at the archive An Cartlann.
Mr. de Valera, in a speech he made on February 19th, warned the people of Ireland against a life of ease, against living practically `the life of the beasts’, which, he fears, they may be tempted to do in Ireland under the Free State. The chance that materialism will take possession of the Irish people is no more likely in a free Ireland under the Free State than it would be in a free Ireland under a Republican or any other form of government. It is in the hands of the Irish people themselves.
In the ancient days of Gaelic civilisation the people were prosperous without being materialists. They were one of the most spiritual and intellectual peoples in Europe. When Ireland was swept by destitution and famine, the spirit of the Irish people came most nearly to extinction. It was with the improved economic conditions of the last twenty years or more that it has reawakened.
The insistent needs of the body more adequately satisfied, the people regained desire once more to reach out to the higher things in which the spirit finds its satisfaction. What we hope for in the new Ireland is to have such material welfare as will give the Irish spirit that freedom.
We want such widely diffused prosperity that the Irish people will not be crushed by destitution into living practically `the lives of the beasts’. They were so crushed during the British occupation that they were described as being `without the comforts of an English sow’. Neither must they be obliged, owing to unsound economic conditions, to spend all their powers of both mind and body in an effort to satisfy the bodily needs alone.
The uses of wealth are to provide good health, comfort, moderate luxury, and to give the freedom which comes from the possession of these things. Our object in building up the country economically must not be lost sight of. That object is not to be able to boast of enormous wealth or of a great volume of trade, for their own sake.
It is not to see our country covered with smoking chimneys and factories. It is not to show a great national balance-sheet, nor to point to a people producing wealth with the self-obliteration of a hive of bees. The real riches of the Irish nation will be the men and women of the Irish nation, the extent to which they are rich in body and mind and character.
What we want is the opportunity for everyone to be able to produce sufficient wealth to ensure these advantages for themselves. That such wealth can be produced in Ireland there can be no doubt: `For the island is so endowed with so many dowries of nature, considering the fruitfulness of the soil, the ports, the rivers, the fishings, and especially the race and generation of men, valiant, hard, and active; it is not easy to find such a confluence of commodities’.
Such was the impression made upon a visitor who came long ago to our island. We have now the opportunities to make our land indeed fruitful, to work up our natural resources, to bring prosperity for all our people.
If our national economy is put on a sound footing from the beginning it will, in the new Ireland, be possible for our people to provide themselves with the ordinary requirements of decent living. It will be possible for each to have sufficient food, a good home in which to live in fair comfort and contentment. We shall be able to give our children bodily and mental health; and our people will be able to secure themselves against the inevitable times of sickness and old age. That must be our object. What we must aim at is the building up of a sound economic life in which great discrepancies cannot occur.
We must not have the destitution of poverty at one end, and at the other an excess of riches in the possession of a few individuals, beyond what they can spend with satisfaction and justification. Millionaires can spend their surplus wealth bestowing libraries upon the world. But who will say that the benefits accruing could compare with those arising from a condition of things in which the people themselves everywhere, in the city, town, and village, were prosperous enough to buy their own books and to put together their own local libraries, in which they could take a personal interest and acquire knowledge in proportion to that interest?
The growing wealth of Ireland will, we hope, be diffused through all our people, all sharing in the growing prosperity, each receiving according to what each contributes in the making of that prosperity, so that the wealth of all is assured. How are we to increase the wealth of Ireland and ensure that all producing it shall share in it?
That is the question which will be engaging the minds of our people, and will engage the attention of the new Government. The keynote to the economic revival must be development of Irish resources by Irish capital for the benefit of the Irish consumer in such a way that the people have steady work at just remuneration and their own share of control.
How are we to develop Irish resources? The earth is our bountiful mother. Upon free access to it depends not only agriculture, but all other trades and industries. Land must be freely available. Agriculture, our main industry, must be improved and developed. Our existing industries must be given opportunities to expand. Conditions must be created which will make it possible for new ones to arise. Means of transit must be extended and cheapened. Our harbours must be developed. Our water-power must be utilised; our mineral resources must be exploited. Foreign trade must be stimulated by making facilities for the transport and marketing of Irish goods abroad and foreign goods in Ireland. Investors must be urged and encouraged to invest Irish capital in Irish concerns.
Taxation, where it hinders, must be adjusted, and must be imposed where the burden will fall lightest and can best be borne, and where it will encourage rather than discourage industry. We have now in Ireland, owing to the restrictions put upon emigration during the European war, a larger population of young men and women than we have had for a great many years. For their own sake and to maintain the strength of the nation room must and can be found for them. Agriculture is, and is likely to continue to be, our chief source of wealth.
If room is to be found for our growing population, land must be freely available. Land is not freely available in Ireland. Thousands of acres of the best land lie idle or are occupied as ranches or form part of extensive private estates. Side by side with this condition there are thousands of our people who are unable to get land on which to keep a cow or even to provide themselves and their families with vegetables. If the ranches can be broken up, if we can get the land back again into the hands of our people, there will be plenty of employment and a great increase in the national wealth.
If land could be obtained more cheaply in town and country the housing problem would not present so acute a problem. There are large areas unoccupied in towns and cities as well as in country districts. When the Convention sat in 1917 it was found that in urban areas alone, 67,000 houses were urgently needed. The figure must at the present moment be considerably higher. To ease the immediate situation, the Provisional Government has announced a grant to enable a considerable number of houses to be built. This grant, although seemingly large, is simply a recognition of the existence of the problem.
For those who intend to engage in agriculture we require specialised education. Agriculture is in these days a highly technical industry. We have the experiences of countries like Holland, Germany, Denmark to guide us. Scientific methods of farming and stock-raising must be introduced. We must have the study of specialised chemistry to aid us, as it does our foreign competitors in the countries I have named. We must establish industries arising directly out of agriculture, industries for the utilisation of the by-products of the land – bones, bristles, hides for the production of soda glue, and other valuable substances.
With plenty of land available at an economic rent or price such industries can be established throughout the country districts, opening up new opportunities for employment. Up to the sixteenth century Ireland possessed a colonial trade equal to England’s. It was destroyed by the jealousy of English ship- owners and manufacturers, and, by means of the Navigation Laws, England swept Ireland’s commerce off the seas. It is true that these Navigation Laws were afterwards removed.
But the removal found the Irish capital which might have restored our ruined commerce drained away from the country by the absence of opportunities for utilising it, or by absentee landlordism, or in other ways. The development of industry in the new Ireland should be on lines which exclude monopoly profits. The product of industry would thus be left sufficiently free to supply good wages to those employed in it. The system should be on co-operative lines rather than on the old commercial capitalistic lines of the huge joint stock companies. At the same time I think we shall safely avoid State Socialism, which has nothing to commend it in a country like Ireland, and, in any case, is monopoly of another kind.
Given favourable conditions, there is a successful future for dressed meat industries on the lines of the huge co-operative industry started in Wexford; while there are many opportunities for the extension of dairying and cheese-making. The industries we possess are nearly all capable of expansion. We can improve and extend all the following: Brewing and distilling. Manufacture of tobacco. Woollen and linen industry. Manufacture of hosiery and underclothing. Rope and twine industry. Manufacture of boots and shoes, saddlery, and all kinds of leather articles. Production of hardware and agricultural machinery.
Production and curing of fish. Of manufactured articles £48,000,000 worth are imported into Ireland yearly. A large part of these could be produced more economically at home. If land were procurable abundantly and cheaply it would be necessary also that capital should be forthcoming to get suitable sites for factories, a more easily obtained supply of power, an improvement, increase, and cheapening of the means of transport.
There are facilities for producing an enormous variety of products both for the home and foreign markets, if factories could be established. These should, as far as possible, be dispersed about the country instead of being concentrated in a few areas. This disposal will not only have the effect of avoiding congestion, but will incidentally improve the status and earnings of the country population and will enlarge their horizon. I am not advocating the establishment of an industrial system as other countries know industrialism. If we are to survive as a distinct and free nation, industrial development must be on the general lines I am following.
Whatever our solution of the question may be, we all realise that the industrial status quo is imperfect. However we may differ in outlook, politically or socially, it is recognised that one of the most pressing needs – if not the most pressing – is the question of labour in relation to industry, and it is consequently vitally necessary for the development of our resources that the position of employers and employees should rest on the best possible foundation. And with this question of labour and industry is interwoven the question of land.
It is no less important to have our foundations secure here. In the development of Ireland the land question presents itself under four main headings:
The completion of purchase of tenanted lands; The extension and increase of powers of purchase of untenanted lands; The question of congestion in rural districts; The utilisation of lands unoccupied or withheld in urban areas. For the purpose of such development Ireland has three great natural resources.
Our coal deposits are by no means inconsiderable. The bogs of Ireland are estimated as having 500,000 million tons of peat fuel. Water-power is concentrated in her 237 rivers and 180 lakes. The huge Lough Corrib system could be utilised, for instance, to work the granite in the neighbourhood of Galway.
In the opinion of experts, reporting to the Committee on the Water-Power Resources of Ireland, from the Irish lakes and rivers a total of 500,000 h.p. is capable of being developed. The magnitude of this is more readily seen if it is appreciated that to raise this power in steam would require 7,500,000 tons of coal. With the present price of coal it should be a commercial proposition to develop our water-power as against steam, even though it did not take the place of steam-power entirely.
Schemes have been worked out to utilise the water-power of the Shannon, the Erne, the Bann, and the Liffey. It is probable that the Liffey and the Bann, being closely connected with industrial centres, can be dealt with at once. With unified control and direction, various sources of water-power could be arranged in large stations for centralised industries, and the energy could be redistributed to provide light and heat for the neighbouring towns and villages.
That the advantages of our water-power are not lost on some of the keenest minds of the day is shown by the following extract from a speech made by Lord Northcliffe on St. Patrick’s Day, 1917: “The growth of the population of Great Britain has been largely due to manufactures based on the great asset, black coal. Ireland has none of the coal which has made England rich, but she possesses in her mighty rivers white coal of which millions of horse-power are being lost to Ireland every year … I can see in the future very plainly prosperous cities, old and new, fed by the greatest river in the United Kingdom – the Shannon”.
I should like to read recent experts’ reports on the Moy, the Suir, and the Lee. The development of this white power will also enable the means of communication and transport by rail and road to be cheapened and extended. And there is an urgent need for cheap transit. Railway rates and shipping rates are so high that, to take one example, the cost of transit is prohibitive to the Irish fish trade. While the Irish seas are teeming with fish, we have the Dublin market depending upon the English market for its supplies.
The export of Irish fish is decreasing, and the fishing industry is neither the source of remuneration it should be to those engaged in it, nor the source of profit it could be to the country. To facilitate the transport of agricultural produce and commodities generally, a complete system of ways of communication must be established.
The extension and unifying of our railways, linking up ocean ports and fishing harbours with the interior, is essential. This system will be worked in connection with our inland waterways, and will be supplemented by a motor-lorry service on our roads – and these also must be greatly improved.
Our harbours must be developed. Ireland occupies a unique geographical position. She is the stepping-stone between the Old World and the New. She should therefore, become a great exchange mart between Europe and America. With Galway harbour improved and developed so as to receive American liners, passengers could land in Europe one or two days earlier than by disembarking at Liverpool.
The port and docks of Dublin are already making arrangements for a great increase in the volume of trade which is expected with the establishment of an Irish Government in Dublin. They are improving the port. They have schemes for providing deep water berthage for the largest ships afloat. Soon the port of Dublin will be fitted in every way to receive and deal with all the trade which may be expected with our growing prosperity.
The Board is also reclaiming land at the mouth of the Liffey, and soon some sixty acres will be available as a building site. This land is splendidly situated for commercial purposes. It will be important to create efficient machinery for the economic marketing of Irish goods. A first step in this direction is the establishment of a clearing house in Dublin or the most convenient centre.
It would form a link between a network of channels throughout Ireland through which goods could be transmitted, connecting with another network reaching out to all our markets abroad. It would examine and take delivery of goods going out and coming in, dealing with the financial business for both sides.
Such a concern would require capital and able and experienced management. With such, its success should be assured. It would be invaluable in helping our home and foreign trade. And with improved means of transit in Ireland, and an increase in the number of direct shipping routes, facilities would be in existence to make it operate successfully.
It is not difficult to see the advantages of such a house. On the one hand it would be closely associated in location and business working with a central railway station where the important trunk lines converged, and on the other conveniently situated in relation to the National Customs House. The mineral resources of Ireland have never been properly tapped. An Irish Government will not neglect this important source of wealth.
The development of mines and minerals will be on national lines, and under national direction. This will prevent the monopoly by private individuals of what are purely national resources belonging to all the people of the nation. The profits from all these national enterprises – the working of mines, development of water-power, etc. – will belong to the nation for the advantage of the whole nation.
But Irish men and women as private individuals must do their share to increase the prosperity of the country. Business cannot succeed without capital. Millions of Irish money are lying idle in banks. The deposits in Irish joint stock banks increased in the aggregate by £7,318,000 during the half-year ended December 31st, 1921.
At that date the total of deposits and cash balances in the Irish banks was £194,391,000, to which in addition there was a sum of almost £14,000,000 in the Post Office Savings Bank. If Irish money were invested in Irish industries, to assist existing ones, and to finance new enterprises, there would be an enormous development of Irish commerce.
The Irish people have a large amount of capital invested abroad. With scope for our energies, with restoration of confidence, the inevitable tendency will be towards return of this capital to Ireland. It will then flow in its proper channel. It will be used for opening up new and promising fields in this country.
Ireland will provide splendid opportunities for the investment of Irish capital, and it is for the Irish people to take advantage of these opportunities. If they do not, investors and exploiters from outside will come in to reap the rich profits which are to be made.
And, what is worse still, they will bring with them all the evils that we want to avoid in the new Ireland. We shall hope to see in Ireland industrial conciliation and arbitration taking the place of strikes, and the workers sharing in the ownership and management of businesses. A prosperous Ireland will mean a united Ireland. With equitable taxation and flourishing trade our North-East countrymen will need no persuasion to come in and share in the healthy economic life of the country.
A good tree brings forth good fruit – a barren one produces nothing. The people represented by O’Connell, Isaac Butt, and John Redmond ended in impotence. The freedom which Ireland has achieved was dreamed of by Wolfe Tone, was foreseen by Thomas Davis, and their efforts were broadened out until they took into their embrace all the true national movements by the “grim resolve” of William Rooney, supported later by the “strong right arm” of the Volunteers.
All the streams – economic, political, spiritual, cultural, and militant – met together in the struggle of 1916-21 which has ended in a Peace, in which the Treaty of Limerick is wiped out by the departure of the British armed forces, and the establishment of an Irish Army in their place. In which the Union is wiped out by the establishment of a free native Parliament which will be erected on a Constitution expressing the will of the Irish people. With the Union came national enslavement. With the termination of the Union goes national enslavement, if we will. Freedom from any outside enemy is now ours, and nobody but ourselves can interfere with it.
Complete national freedom can now be ours, and nobody but ourselves can prevent us achieving it.
We are free now to get back and to keep all that was taken from us. We have no choice but to turn our eyes again to Ireland. The most completely anglicised person in Ireland will look to Britain in vain. Ireland is about to revolve once again on her own axis. We shall no longer have anyone but ourselves to blame if we fail to sue the freedom we have won to achieve full freedom. We are now on the natural and inevitable road to complete the work of Davis and Rooney, to restore our native tongue, to get back our history, to take up again and complete the education of our countrymen in the North-East in the national ideal, to renew our strength and refresh ourselves in our own Irish civilization, to become again the Irish men and Irish women of the distinctive Irish nation, to make real the Freedom which Davis sang of, which Rooney worked for, which Tom Clarke and Sean MacDermott and their comrades fought and died for.
The British have given up their claim to dominate us. They have no longer any power to prevent us making real our freedom. The complete fulfilment of our full national freedom can, however, only be won when we are “fit and willing” to win it. Can we claim that we are yet fit and willing? Is not our country still filled with men and women who are unfit and unwilling? Are we all yet educated to be free? Has not the greater number of us still the speech of the foreigner on our tongues? Are not even we, who are proudly calling ourselves Gaels, little more than imitation Englishmen?
But we are free to remedy these things. Complete liberty – what it stands for in our Gaelic imagination – cannot be got until we have impregnated the whole of our people with the Gaelic desire. Only then shall we be worthy of the fullest freedom. The bold outline of freedom has been drawn by the glorious efforts of the last five years; only the details remain to be filled in. Will not those who cooperated in the conception and work of the masterpiece help with the finishing touches? Can we not see that the little we have not yet gained is the expression of the falling short of our fitness for freedom?
When we make ourselves fit we shall be free. If we could accept that truth we would be inspired again with the same fervour and devotion by our own “grim resolve” within the nation to complete the work which is so nearly done.