The new looking jaded beside the old?

Great Irish Speeches, compiled and with commentary by Richard Aldous brings together what he sees as the 50 great Irish speeches and I?ve few arguments. Grattan, Emmet, O’Connell, Pearse and Larkin seem to shine as orators way beyond the abilities of modern contributions from Ahern, Hume, Adams, Paisley, Trimble, Robinson and Harney. Though the more recent speeches often seem to be picked on the basis of historical significance or moment over anything powerfully presented by the speaker.

For me a major omission is it has nothing at all from James Connolly “I would have more respect for the most wretched child of the poorest labourer in Ireland than for even the most virtuous of that long array of adulterers, madmen and murderers that have sat on the English throne.” – Connolly’s words of years ago as relevant as ever and the likes of Bernadette McAliskey, who still knocks out a great speech with ease.

My personal favourite included came courtesy of Jim Larkin but what do Slugger readers think are the greatest Irish speeches included or omitted and who are the greatest Irish speech makers for you?

  • “As well might you leave the fairies to plough your land or the idle winds to sow it, as sit down and wait for freedom.” – Thomas Davis

  • latcheeco

    Chris,
    Isn’t waiting for freedom the new strategy? 😉

  • cut the bull

    It may not be as famous as most speeches, but it is one that will forever stay in my memory.

    After having lost his his seat in a Belfast city council election Seamus Lynch a former Workers Party councillor was being interviewed.

    A reporter said “Seamus how do you feel that your vote did’nt hold up, now that you have lost your seat, it’s democracy and the people have spoken”

    Seamus replied “Yes thats democracy and the people have spoken”

    Not relising that the camera was still rolling he continued “The bastards”

    I thought it was a cracker.

  • latcheeco

    The sticks never had an original thought. He was plagarising a California politician from years ago.

  • kensei

    “In Ireland alone, in this twentieth century, is loyalty held to be a crime.”

    Casement’s speech from the dock seems an obvious miss.

    I think in general speech making has declined, it’s something to do with the way the relationship between the electorate and politicians has changed, I think. Less patriarchal figures, less high oratory and more “I’m one of you” homespun stuff, more designed for the quick sound bite.

  • joeCanuck

    Naw, Kensei, it’s all the fault of the bloggers (see Galileo earlier).

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    Not sure if the big fellah actually said it, or if it is part of a well known speech but I absolutely love “We will not forsake the blue skies of Ulster for the grey skies of an Irish Republic”. (Afer years of practice I feel I have it off almost perfectly.)

    Although admittedly not the most objective observation it captures beautifully both his
    no surrender political outlook and his tragi-comic persona.

  • joeCanuck

    That was a slogan on a wall in the Tiger Bay area if I remember correctly, Sammy.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    JoeC

    would be disappointed to hear that he never uttered the words – I think I may have developed false memory syndrome.

    One that he did say when surrounded by journalsits outside Stormont (sometime in the seventies ) as he lurched forward at one of them shouting and elbowing “that man there is a rebel from the south of Ireland”. Exit stage left Irish Times man. As the silly credit card add on the telly says “Priceless”. I loved him before he sent soft on us.

  • joeCanuck

    I think the slogan was closer to:

    We will not forsake the blue skies of freedom for the grey mists of an Irish republic.

  • Harry Flashman

    “Who here really believes we can win the war through the ballot box? But will anyone here object if, with a ballot paper in this hand and an Armalite in the other, we take power in Ireland?”

  • Danny O’Connor

    People used to joke about John Hume’s single transferable speech,but his school master thinking was 100% right.Research has shown that you will have to hear something 16 times before you will remember it.”tell them what you are going to tell them,tell them ,tell them it again”then arguably tell them what you have just told them.
    Not only was his thinking 100% but he has proven thst his analysis was too.

  • Danny O’Connor

    My own contribution on fuel poverty was that”people should not have to choose between heating and eating”.
    Later quoted by the then minister as if it was his idea.

  • The Dubliner

    “Not only was his thinking 100% but he has proven thst his analysis was too.”

    John Hume’s “analysis” is very overrated. It consists of two key insights: (a) that PSF/PIRA were essentially street thugs who never gave a flying feck about anything other than serving their own selfish interests, and were, therefore, amenable to being bribed by the dismal expedient of rewarding violent means in contravention of moral and legal conventions, and (b) that no-one else in NI gave a flying feck about anything other than serving their own selfish interests either, and could likewise be bribed with State hand-outs. The downside to that demented approach to conflict resolution is bringing vicious sociopaths into the political process is that you have a Statelet that is run by the criminally degenerate, and that all moral standards must be systematically lowered to accommodate them. The upside, of course, it that British State can threaten to take away their rewards if they revert to form and misbehave, so that gives the street thugs an incentive to police themselves.

    Hume never understood self-determination. He never understood a claim to self-determination is inextricably linked to a claim to territory, and completely meaningless in any other context. Ergo, when he issued platitudes such as ‘unifying people, not territory’ he was really talking about giving up a claim to self-determination, albeit unwittingly. That is what occurred in the GFA negotiations. A claim to self-determination is a claim by a group of people for sovereignty over a territory. You cannot have two valid rights to self-determination within one territory: one valid claim to self-determination equals one sovereign state. That is what self-determination means: it is a claim to a nation state. In NI, you had two groups making claims for the territory – two claims to self-determination. In order for the dispute over territory to terminate, one group had to concede that the other group’s claim was valid and that its own claim is invalid, or else the decision would have to be made by others. Since the ‘others’ (both governments) were removed from the equation, that just left the disputing claimants to settle it between them. The group who conceded are northern nationalists/ They accepted the legitimacy of Northern Ireland and made the granting of their claim to self-determination into a discretionary privilege of the other group.

    To this end in NI, it isn’t even the case that administrative mechanisms were put in place to ensure that executive power within the disputed territory is shared between those who hold competing claims to self-determination because the reality is that there is no longer two competing claims to self-determination within the territory of NI. The nationalists, under the guidance of Hume and Adams, gave up their claim and renamed the Unionist veto, rather grandiosely, as the Principle of Consent. Really, the dispute is settled.

    As there is no such thing as two valid claims to self-determination, since the equation is zero-sum, there can be no such thing as a state that is successfully engineered on that basis. The two claims must always compete with each other. Attempting to pawn the ghastly little GFA concoction off on the Republic (because northern politicians can’t afford to admit to their voters that they got royally screwed) fails to recognise this reality. So the unity question is settled. Unionists will want the same deal they got in NI from the Republic and rightly will not accept anything less, whereas the Republic won’t sell-out its own claim to self-determination (despite asinine whinging and machination from self-serving Northerners that they follow suit), so that leaves them all where John Hume and Gerry Adams brought them: dying as UK citizens, just as they were born.

    Perhaps in 30 years or so, northern nationalists will realise that they were mere pawns in a game, and Hume’s unmerited stature will duly diminish.

  • Rory

    You observe rightly, Mark that Bernadette “still knocks out a great speech with ease”. Yet her greatest triumph in this regard was her maiden speech as a newly elected MP in the House of Commons. Time and again I have heard from grizzled veterans of the parliamentary scene from differing persuasions that, speaking simply and ex tempore as is her wont, she simply knocked their socks off.

    I much preferred however when, unable any longer to bear the lies of Reginald Maudling in the immediate wake of Bloody Sunday, she launched herself across the chamber and tore at his hair. Michael Heseltine led the assault of eager Tory gentlemen upon her small figure and was first to put the boot in as she lay upon the floor. From the opposition benches only Frank McManus and Durham miners’ MP, Tom Maguire waded in to her assistance.

    Words are fine and give us great delight but butter no bread and actions speak louder by far.

  • Citizen Anderson

    Dub,

    You might not rate John Hume’s analysis all that highly, but you certainly seem to agree with Danny on the benefits of repetition!.

    It’s getting better each time though 🙂

  • Mark

    I enjoyed the book and blogged on it over Xmas
    http://www.oconallstreet.com/2007/12/28/the-greatest-gift-in-the-world-and-happy-new-year/ .

    I was particularly struck by the constant theme that is sectarianism. It runs thropugh the book from the first speech to the last.

    Agree that Connolly is a big ommission.

    Conall

  • shankly’s socialism

    There are literally no good speech writers in Ireland and no one who speaks well enough off the cuff to pull a crowd. It is what they have done or what they are doing that gets the attention, not what they are saying or how they are saying it. Which is a shame.

    The assembly chamber is like watching milk turn, only without the smell to distract you from the boredom.

    You get the odd line inserted here and there that is passable or that has had cleverness waved in its general direction. Not since Davy Ervine died have we had someone whose content or delivery is what carries the message.

    Like him or loathe him, have issues with his past or not, he could carry a room with ease. I saw him speak several times and saw him receive a 5 minute standing ovation in Cork.

    What I admired most was the complete absence of fear in delivering a message (even though it got him in trouble) such as declaring that at one point in his life he would have wanted to add to the Republican dead but had become willing to support their right to commemorate them.

    Or allegedly telling an Aboriginal delegation to Belfast that they should quit being victims and take control of their own voice only to then mid speech make a call to Sinn Fein to tell them to get down and meet a group of people more oppressed than they were, a giggling ad hoc Sinn Fein delegation arrived minutes later to see who could possibly be there.

  • circles

    “What I admired most was the complete absence of fear in delivering a message”
    Nail on the head there shankly. Politicans do not have the courage of their convictions today to actually say what the believe. There is a general preference to wishy-washy, highly diluted non-connittal sentiment that almost everybody could nod in agreement to but actually has little real meaning. There are surely several reasons for this, one being the actual role a speech has these days in politics. This has changed tremendously over the years (as has the potential size of the audience) and the relative intimacy of speaking to a gathered few thousand is blwn away completely by the potentially watching and judging illions hanging on the end of the internet or TV camera.
    I find this seriously regrettable. This dilution to non-existence of actual substance from speeches has swung the door open to straight talking populists (and mst of them are shockingly shite speakers too).

  • Hogan

    I remember reading a book on 50 speeches that changed the world. The only irish inclusion was DeValera’s 50 year commemoration speech of 1916 “These were all great men”. Not sure how it changed the world alongside the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King but thought it was worth a mention? Good book though!

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Speeches-Changed-World-Simon-Montefiore/dp/1905204167

  • Enjoyable thread Mark I look forward to many more,

    I fear some are concentrating on individual quotes taken out of a speech, what today are called sound-bites and are all the rage whilst ignoring the overall content of the speech.

    Plus presentation is not only what makes a good speech a dead sheep can make one hell of a speech without altering his voice a single decibel, as that woman found to her cost.

  • Jamie Gargoyle

    Bono’s mid-gig speech on the Enniskillen bombing springs to mind:

    “[…] And let me tell you something… I’ve had enough of Irish-Americans who haven’t been back to their country in 20 or 30 years, come up to me and talk about the resistance, the revolution back home. And the glory of the revolution. And the glory of dying for the revolution.

    Fuck the revolution!

    They don’t talk about the glory of killing for the revolution…

    What’s the glory… in taking a man from his bed, and gunning him down in front of his wife and his children? Where’s the glory in that? Where’s the glory in bombing a remembrance day parade of old-age pensioners, their medals taken out and polished up for the day? Where’s the glory in that? To leave them dying…. or crippled for life… or dead… under the rubble… of a revolution… that the majority of the people in my country don’t want.”

  • Clean out the 4 provinces

    “And we will rise up and rid this fair isle of the cancerous unionist who lives and prays to die an englishman”

  • Greenflag

    ‘And we will rise up and rid this fair isle of the cancerous unionist who lives and prays to die an englishman”’

    The humour spin on the above

    Belfast election the Unionist candidate heard ranting to crowd .

    ‘I was born an Englishman and live as an Englishman and will die an Englishman’

    Irish voice from crowd

    ‘So I take it ye have no ambition then?’

  • Hogan

    Whether Dev’s speech changed the world I do not know, although it probable did as the 1916 rising certainly did, it inspired people throughout the world in the same manner as the US Black civil rights movement did. After the Risings people living under the yoke of the British Empire realized that if the Irish could kick back at their occupiers in England’s back yard, they to could do the same in their lands. Nehru, Ho,Kenyatta and many other leaders of national liberation movement spoke eloquently of the example 1917 gave them.

  • Greenflag

    Never mind what they say -just watch what they do. In this respect O’Connell, Pearse and Connolly walked the walk as well as just talking the talk.

    In modern times and on a worldwide basis Dr Martin Luther King has IMO probably been the best orator and the one who has ‘moved’ the world forward more so than any other I can think of .

  • Greenflag

    ‘After the Risings people living under the yoke of the British Empire realized that if the Irish could kick back at their occupiers in England’s back yard, they to could do the same in their lands’

    Actually some of them did kick back long before the Easter Rising . The South African Boers rose against British rule in 1900 and tied down 250,000 British troops (many of them Irish ) for several years . The South African Boers also suffered far more in terms of civilian casualties than Ireland has in the last century North & South with more than 20,000 women and children dying in concentration camps not to include the military casualties.

    Some of the Irish 1916 revolutionaries took as their inspiration the Boers stand against the ‘evil’ empire of the time .

  • Ulidian

    Greenflag,

    The Boers were not actually in South Africa fighting against the British. They were fighting from their own independent states of the Transval and the Orange Free state. They feared the British were attempting to interfere in their affairs.

  • Unfortunately speeches in the modern era are frequently written by pollsters, rarely by orators.

  • Hogan

    Fair enough guys, i’m afraid my scholastic approach to history can best be described as patchy so i’ll have to take those more informed at their word.

    Good book and still worth a read.

  • Greenflag

    ‘The Boers were not actually in South Africa fighting against the British. They were fighting from their own independent states of the Transval and the Orange Free state. ‘

    Technically correct . The moot point remaining however that they fought . The Transvaal and OFS are in South Africa and the former unfortunately for the Boers was seen to have the worlds largest gold mines. HMG could not let that resource end up in quite probably the Kaiser’s hands .

    Although the Boers were defeated in both wars they nevertheless eventually won their independence in 1948 through the ultra nationalist apartheid party led by Dr Hendrik Verwoerd (A Dutchman IIRC ) . This was a victory the outcome of which was determined by a large differential in reproduction rates as between English and Afrikaaans speakers . Of course now both ‘tribes’ have now been outdemocratised by indigenous Southern Africans of approx ten or so tribes the main ones being Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho.

    So how are the Chinese and other immigrants doing in NI ? BTW when can we look forward to the local hillbillies becoming a minority in Norn Iron? 🙂

  • shankly’s socialism

    @ Circles – I couldnt agree more – even if I had written what you did. We have 108 (plus concillors) either with nothing worth saying, an inability to communicate it well, or worst of all, the lack of testicular fortitude to speak honestly.

    Which is part of the reason I highlighted Ervine, he wasnt always ‘right’ but the reason he did’nt get the popular support was because he wasnt a populist. he said the things that needed to be said and screw the consequences if it needed to be done.

    In my view politicians and anyone who has the need to speak in public should do so with no thought whatsoever to what people might actually think of it, you say something because it is the right thing to say and/or you believe it to be true, not because you know it is what people want to hear or to fudge an issue.

    To that extent it could be argued that Paisley Juniour is worth a note in this thread, no one can doubt he speaks his mind…and I listened and now wouldnt vote for him with a gun pointed to my head….but thats how it should work….He spoke atrociously in a way I found offensive and I agreed with none of the content and disliked the delivery….my electoral tranaction with Junior is completed….and thats how it should work.

    On the other hand…Cameron (who actually can deliver a speech) and Blair (who also could on occasion) and in our situation the new and ‘improved’ Robinson (who doesnt have the personality to pull it off) are all PR chasing populists who would tell you that herion tasted like ice cream to get your approval…I actually dont know what they think because they wont tell us and their delivery suffers as a result…if you dont mean what you say or it isnt important to you…its hard to fake..without having that Blair like shine.

    The quote from cirlces:-

    “Nail on the head there shankly. Politicans do not have the courage of their convictions today to actually say what the believe. There is a general preference to wishy-washy, highly diluted non-connittal sentiment that almost everybody could nod in agreement to but actually has little real meaning……… This dilution to non-existence of actual substance from speeches has swung the door open to straight talking populists (and mst of them are shockingly shite speakers too).”

  • kensei

    “On the other hand…Cameron (who actually can deliver a speech) and Blair (who also could on occasion)”

    I have yet to see any evidence Cameron can pull off a piece of great oratory. He comes cross as much too fake and smarmy for me, but then I have an incredible bias against all Tories.

    Blair could on occasion, though. His early stuff is far too media speak and soundbitey, but “The kaleidoscope has been shaken, the pieces are in flux” one he did after September 11th was very good.