He would ‘rather see this war through as a sixth-rate soldier than as a first-rate man of letters’
Drogheda, 7 January 1915 – ‘What are we fighting for?’, the former Irish Parliamentary Party MP, poet and university lecturer Tom Kettle asked in Drogheda, Co. Louth yesterday.
‘For my part, I am fighting for Ireland. Against what are we fighting? The philosophy to which modern Germany has committed herself can be adequately described only as the gospel of the devil. It is a creed in which domination is the one dogma and cruelty the one sacrament.’
He continued: ‘Unless the war philosophy of Prussia is met in its monstrous challenge and broken, the Europe that we know, the Europe of justice, honour and human charity is gone. Unless the sin committed against Belgium is punished, international law is an empty phrase.’
According to Mr. Kettle, the invasion of Ireland was a very real possibility: ‘The plain truth is that we are fighting for our very existence. Break through the ring-fence of the Navy and an attack on East England may very easily be transformed into an attack on East Ireland. And when once an invading force has landed, even the most central county in Ireland may find out very quickly that it is not such a long way to Tipperary after all.’
Mr. Kettle was clear what war in Europe meant: ‘Prussianism is the end of all small nations and Ireland has got to be defended on the continent or not at all.’
‘I made up my mind that I would rather see this war through as a sixth-rate soldier than as a first-rate man of letters. On whatever of us the lot of death should chance to fall, it is not a matter to dismay Irishmen. Those who have died, and those who will die, will sleep in quiet graves under a noble epitaph. Even our enemies will say: ‘Well, whatever their sins, they died like Irish gentlemen.’’
A call to Irishmen
Issuing a plea for Irishmen to enlist, he said that ‘courage and adventure’ were necessary: ‘In asking our young men to come with us to the war, we are inviting them to the finest school for these virtues.’
Lieutenant Kettle was speaking at a crowded meeting held in the ballroom of the Mayoralty House in Drogheda, presided over by the Mayor of Drogheda, John Callaghan.
The Mayor told the meeting that everyone would admit that Drogheda had done its duty in the war, given the number of its citizens who had joined the army.
He was supported by the Earl of Fingall, appearing in military uniform, who pleaded with the men of Drogheda to join the 500 recruits from their district who had signed up since the start of war.
[Editor’s note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]