For self-determination can no longer mean isolation; and the achievement of national independence today means withdrawal from the old status only to return to the world scene with a new one. New nations can build with their former governing powers the same kind of fruitful relationship that Ireland has established with Great Britain—a relationship founded on equality and mutual interests. And no nation, large or small, can be indifferent to the fate of others, near or far. Modern economics, weapons and communications have made us realise more than ever that we are one human family and this one planet is our home. “The world is large,” wrote John Boyle O’Reilly, “The world is large when its weary leagues two loving hearts divide, but the world is small when your enemy is loose on the other side.”
The world is even smaller today, though the enemy of John Boyle O’Reilly is no longer a hostile power.
Indeed, across the gulfs and barriers that now divide us, we must remember that there are no permanent enemies. Hostility today is a fact, but it is not a ruling law. The supreme reality of our time is our indivisibility as children of God and our common vulnerability on this planet.
Some may say that all this means little to Ireland. In an age when “history moves with the tramp of earthquake feet,” in an age when a handful of men and nations have the power literally to devastate mankind, in an age when the needs of the developing nations are so large and staggering that even the richest nations often groan with the burden of assistance— in such an age, it may be asked, how can a nation as small as Ireland play much of a role on the world stage?
I would remind those who ask that question, including those in other small countries, of these words of one of the great orators of the English language:
All the world owes much to the little “five feet high” nations. The greatest art of the world was the work of little nations. The most enduring literature of the world came from little nations. The heroic deeds that thrill humanity through generations were the deeds of little nations fighting for their freedom. And, oh, yes, the salvation of mankind came through a little nation.
Ireland has already set an example and a standard for other small nations to follow. This has never been a rich or powerful country, and, yet, since earliest times, its influence on the world has been rich and powerful. No larger nation did more to keep Christianity and Western culture alive in their darkest centuries. No larger nation did more to spark the cause of American independence, and independence, indeed, around the world. And no larger nation has ever provided the world with more literary and artistic genius.
This is an extraordinary country. George Bernard Shaw, speaking as an Irishman, summed up an approach to life: “Other peoples,” he said, “see things and say: `Why?’ … But I dream things that never were—and I say: `Why not?”’
It is that quality of the Irish, the remarkable combination of hope, confidence and imagination that is needed more than ever today. The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by sceptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not. It matters not how small a nation is that seeks world peace and freedom, for, to paraphrase a citizen of my country: “The humblest nation of all the world, when clad in the armour of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error.”
Ireland is clad in the cause of national and human liberty with peace. To the extent that the peace is disturbed by conflict between the former colonial powers and the new and developing nations, Ireland’s role is unique. For every new nation knows that Ireland was the first of the small nations in the 20th Century to win its struggle for independence, and that the Irish have traditionally sent their doctors and technicians and soldiers and priests to help other lands to keep their liberty alive. At the same time, Ireland is part of Europe, associated with the Council of Europe, progressing in the context of Europe, and a prospective member of an expanded European Common Market. Thus Ireland has excellent relations with both the new and the old, the confidence of both sides and an opportunity to act where the actions of greater powers might be looked upon with suspicion.
The central issue of freedom, however, is between those who believe in self-determination and those in the East who would impose upon others the harsh and oppressive Communist system; and here your nation wisely rejects the role of a go-between or a mediator. Ireland pursues an independent course in foreign policy, but it is not neutral between liberty and tyranny and never will be.
For knowing the meaning of foreign domination, Ireland is the example and inspiration to those enduring endless years of oppression. It was fitting and appropriate that this nation played a leading role in censuring the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution, for how many times was Ireland’s quest for freedom suppressed only to have that quest renewed by the succeeding generation? Those who suffer beyond that wall I saw on Wednesday in Berlin must not despair of their future. Let them remember the constancy, the faith, the endurance and the final success of the Irish. And let them remember, as I heard sung by your sons and daughters yesterday in Wexford, the words: “The boys of Wexford, who fought with heart and hand, to burst in twain the galling chain and free our native land.”