A Nation’s Tribute - 8th Sept. 1945


A Nation's Tribute

Sept. 8, 1945


'When boyhood's fire was in my

I read of ancient freemen,

For Greece and Rome who bravely stood,

Three hundred men and three men.

And then I prayed I yet might see

Our fetters, rent in 'twain.

And Ireland long a province, be

A nation once again.'

- Thomas Davis

Next week Ireland pays tribute to the memory of Thomas Davis and the Young Irelanders. Military parades, processions, concerts and historical exhibitions will form part of the great national centenary celebration programme. A special commemorative stamp has been struck and will be issued by An Roinn Poist agus Telegrafa. What Davis accomplished for Ireland will never be fully measured. It was his teaching and the spirit of nationality that his rousing ballads evoked, that sent the Irish nation forward in its irresistible quest for freedom. He gave voice to new thoughts and ideas, but he loved everything that was old and Gaelic in Ireland. Padraig Pearse says,

'Tone had set the feet of Ireland on a steep: Davis bade her in her journey remember her old honor and sanctity….the fame of Tara and Clonmacnoise. Tone is the heroic and terrible: Davis stands by the nation's hearthside, a faithful sentinel.'

Thomas Davis was born in Mallow on the 14th of October, 1814. He was of Ascendancy stock, his father being a surgeon in the Royal Artillery, and his mother, Mary Atkins, the descendant of a Cromwellian settler. It was not altogether the kind of family to which one would look to produce an Irish patriot, but it is a strange fact that most of our great Irish leaders had foreign in their veins. Red Hugh; Sarsfield, Tone and Pearse to mention but a few.

As a youth Davis was delicate in health. He was shy, sensitive and awkward, and was considered a dunce. Very early in his life he grew to love the common people of Ireland, to sympathise with them in their sorrows, to share their hopes and aspirations. He says:- 'I was brought up in a mixed seminary where I learned to know and knowing to love my countrymen.'

He was sent to Trinity College, and at once, a passion for learning overcame this dreamy, backward youth. To the study of history, philosophy, economics and ethics he devoted most of his time; he also read omnivorously. Despite the anti-Irish influences of his environment the fire of patriotism continued to burn brightly in the heart of Davis. He was called to the Bar in 1837, but never practiced; instead, he turned his thoughts to journalism.


One day in the spring of 1842 he was walking with Gavan Duffy and John Blake Dillon in the Phoenix Park. During that walk they decided to found a newspaper, and on Davis's suggestion it was decided to call it 'The Nation'. The object of the new paper was- 'To create and foster public opinion in Ireland, and to make it racy of the soil.' And so was founded 'The Nation', the paper that was destined to carry the gospel of Davis and the Young Irelanders to the four corners of the land and to raise a broken and subject people out of the deep slough of slavery into which they had sunken, giving them courage and dignity and making them strong and self reliant and firm in their demands for justice and freedom.

The rousing poems and ballads of Davis were recited and sung everywhere. Soul stirring compositions like 'A nation once again', 'Clare's dragoons', 'My land', 'Fontenoy', 'The bridge of Finae', 'The west's asleep' and 'Tone's grave' gave back the old proud spirit to a lifeless nation. The people found themselves taking pride in the past, and taking hope for the future. Thomas Davis had touched a responsive chord in the torpid hearts of his countrymen.

His essays still carry their lessons. Much of what he wished to see done for Irish art, music, drama, and education still remains undone. His gallery of Irish historical paintings is still only a dream. His essays on the resources and valuation of Ireland show that all the knowledge he had acquired was to be used for the benefit of his country.


More than any other man in his day Davis realized the importance of the Irish language to the nation. Hear him speak to us across the years:-

'The language which grows up with a people is conformed to their organs, descriptive of their climate, constitution, and manners, mingled inseperably with their history and their soil, fitted beyond any other language to express their prevalent thoughts in the most natural and efficient way.

'To impose another language on such a people is to send their history adrift among the s of translation –'tis to tear, their identity from all places- 'tis to substitute arbitary signs for picturesque and suggestive names – 'tis to cut off the entail of feeling, and separate the people from their forefathers by a deep gulf – 'tis to corrupt their very organs, and abridge their power of expression.

'The language of a nation's youth is the only easy and full speech for its manhood, and for its age. And when the language of its cradle goes itself craves a tomb….'

'A people without a language is only half a nation. A nation should guard its language more than its territories –'tis a surer barrier and more important frontier than fortress or river.'

'To lose your native tongue and learn that of an alien is the worst bridge of conquest – it is the chain on the soul. To have lost entirely the national language is ; the fetter has worn through.'


Davis had but three short years in which to put his views before his countrymen in the pages of 'The Nation'. Yet how well he succeeded time has shown. Frail always he was struck down with scarlet fever, and though for a while he seemed to be recovering he suffered a relapse and died on the 15th September 1845.

Gavan Duffy tells us how he heard the news of his young friend's :-

'On Tuesday morning I was suddenly summoned to his mother's house in Baggot Street to see the most mournful sight my eyes had ever looked upon – the body of Thomas Davis.'

His at the early age of thirty-one cast a gloom over the entire nation. His funeral was the occasion of a national stration of sorrow, all classes, all creeds, rich and poor, young and old, joining in a last tribute to the young Protestant patriot, who had made common cause with the down-trodden masses of his countrymen. Samuel Ferguson's beautiful lamentation for his friend and fellow worker is well known –

'I walked through Ballinderry in the spring-time,

When the bud was on the tree;

And I said in every fresh ploughed field beholding

The sowers striding free,

Scattering broadside forth the corn in golden plenty

On the quick, seed-clasping soil,

Even such this day among the fresh-stirred hearts of Erin,

Thomas Davis is thy toil.'

In the hundred years that have elapsed the seed sown by Thomas Davis has borne fruit, and next week, Ireland, a Nation once again pays, tribute to his memory. Davis marks the spiritual rebirth of the Irish nation. His teachings moulded and informed the thought of his generation and the generation that followed, and pointed the way to the final goal. On the unbounded enthusiasm of youth he built all his hopes for the restoration of the Irish nation, a nation that would be progressive and new, yet firmly based on the great foundations of the past.

'Oh, brave young men, my love, my pride, my promise

'Tis on you my hopes are set,

In manliness, in kindliness, in justice,

To make Erin, a nation yet,

Self-respecting, self-relying, self-advancing –

In union or in severance, free and strong –

And if God grant this, then under God to Thomas Davis

Let the greater praise belong.'

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