Thomas Clarke Luby’s Speech From The Dock

Well, my lords and gentlemen, I don’t think any person present here is surprised at the verdict found against me. I have been prepared for this verdict ever since I was arrested, although I thought it my duty to fight the British government inch by inch. I felt I was sure to be found guilty, since the advisers of the Crown took what the Attorney-General was pleased the other day to call the ‘merciful course.’

I thought I might have a fair chance of escaping, so long as the capital charge was impending over me; but when they resolved on trying me under the Treason-Felony Act, I felt that I had not the smallest chance. I am somewhat embarrassed at the present moment as to what I should say under the circumstances. There are a great many things that I would wish to say; but knowing that there are other persons in the same situation with myself, and that I might allow myself to say something injudicious, which would peril their cases, I feel that my tongue is to a great degree tied.

Notwithstanding, there are two or three points upon which I would say a few words. I have nothing to say to Judge Keogh’s charge to the jury. He did not take up any of the topics that had been introduced to prejudice the case against me; for instance, he did not take this accusation of an intention to assassinate, attributed to my fellow-prisoners and myself. The Solicitor-General in his reply to Mr. Butt, referred to those topics. Mr. Barry was the first person who advanced those charges.

I thought they were partially given up by the Attorney-General in his opening statement, at least they were put forward to you in a very modified form; but the learned Solicitor-General, in his very virulent speech, put forward those charges in a most aggravated manner. He sought even to exaggerate upon Mr. Barry’s original statement. Now, with respect to those charges – in justice to my character – I must say that in this court, there is not a man more incapable of anything like massacre or assassination than I am.

I really believe that the gentlemen who have shown so much ability in persecuting me, in the bottom of their hearts believe me incapable of an act of assassination or massacre. I don’t see that there is the smallest amount of evidence to show that I ever entertained the notion of a massacre of landlords and priests.

I forget whether the advisers of the crown said I intended the massacre of the Protestant clergymen. Some of the writers of our enlightened press said that I did. Now, with respect to the charge of assassinating the landlords, the only thing that gives even the shadow of a colour to that charge is the letter signed – alleged to be signed – by Mr. O’Keefe. Now, assuming – but by no means admitting, of course -that the letter was written by Mr. O’Keefe, let me make a statement about it.

I know the facts that I am about to state are of no practical utility to me now, at least with respect to the judges. I know it is of no practical utility to me, because I cannot give evidence on my own behalf, but it may be of practical utility to others with whom I wish to stand well. I believe my words will carry conviction – and carry much more conviction than any words of the legal advisers of the crown can – to more than 300,000 of the Irish race in Ireland, England, and America.

Well, I deny absolutely, that I ever entertained any idea of assassinating the landlords, and the letter of Mr. O’Keefe – assuming it to be his letter – is the only evidence on the subject. My acquaintance with Mr. O’Keefe was of the slightest nature.

I did not even know of his existence when the Irish People was started. He came, after that paper was established a few months, to the office, and offered some articles – some were rejected, some we inserted, and I call the attention of the legal advisers of the Crown to this fact, that amongst the papers which they got, those that were Mr. O’Keefe’s articles had many paragraphs scored out; in fact we put in no article of his without a great deal of what is technically called ‘cutting down.’

Now, that letter of his to me was simply a private document. It contained the mere private views of the writer; and I pledge this to the court as a man of honour – and I believe in spite of the position in which I stand, amongst my countrymen I am believed to be a man of honour, and that if my life depended on it, I would not speak falsely about the thing – when I read that letter, and the first to whom I gave it was my wife, I remember we read it with fits of laughter at its ridiculous ideas.

My wife at the moment said – ‘Had I not better burn the letter?’ ‘Oh no,’ I said, looking upon it as a most ridiculous thing, and never dreaming for a moment that such a document would ever turn up against me, and produce the unpleasant consequences it has produced -mean the imputation of assassination and massacre, which has given me a great deal more trouble than anything else in this case. That disposes – as far as I can at present dispose of it – of the charge of wishing to assassinate the landlords.

As to the charge of desiring to assassinate the priests, I deny it as being the most monstrous thing in the world. Why, surely, every one who read the articles in the paper would see that the plain doctrine laid down there was – to reverence the priests so long as they confined themselves to their sacerdotal functions; but when the priest descended to the arena of politics he became no more than any other man, and would just be regarded as any other man.

If he was a man of ability and honesty, of course he would get the respect that such men get in politics – if he was not a man of ability there would be no more thought of him than of a shoemaker or any one else. This is the teaching of the Irish People with regard to the priests. I believe the Irish People has done a great deal of good, even amongst those who do not believe in its revolutionary doctrines. I believe the revolutionary doctrines of the Irish People are good.

I believe nothing can ever save Ireland except independence; and I believe that all other attempts to ameliorate the condition of Ireland are mere temporary expedients and make shifts…

Mr. Justice Keogh. – I am very reluctant to interrupt you, Mr. Luby.

Mr. Luby. – Very well, my lord, I will leave that. I believe in this way the Irish People has done an immensity of good. It taught the people not to give up their right of private judgment in temporal matters to the clergy; that while they reverenced the clergy upon the altar, they should not give up their consciences in secular matters to the clergy. I believe that is good. Others may differ from me. No set of men I believe ever set themselves earnestly to any work, but they did good in some shape or form.

Judge Keogh. – I am most reluctant, Mr. Luby, to interrupt you, but do you think you should pursue this!

Mr. Luby. – Very well, I will not. I think that disposes of those things. I don’t care to say much about myself. It would be rather beneath me. Perhaps some persons who know me would say I should not have touched upon the assassination charge at all -that in fact I have rather shown weakness in attaching so much importance to it.

But, with regard to the entire course of my life, and whether it be a mistaken course or not will be for every man’s individual judgment to decide – this I know, that no man ever loved Ireland more than I have done – no man has ever given up his whole being to Ireland to the extent I have done. From the time I came to what has been called the years of discretion, my entire thought has been devoted to Ireland. I believed the course I pursued was right; others may take a different view.

I believe the majority of my countrymen this minute, if, instead of my being tried before a petty jury, who, I suppose, are bound to find according to British law – if my guilt or innocence was to be tried by the higher standard of eternal right, and the case was put to all my countrymen – I believe this moment the majority of my countrymen would pronounce that I am not a criminal, but that I have deserved well of my country.

When the proceedings of this trial go forth into the world, people will say the cause of Ireland is not to be despaired of, that Ireland is not yet a lost country – that as long as there are men in any country prepared to expose themselves to every difficulty and danger in its service, prepared to brave captivity, even death itself if need be, that country cannot be lost. With these words I conclude.

Taken from Speeches From The Dock: Protests of Irish Patriotism by A. M. Sullivan, published 1868.

Article originally published on: Wednesday 1st November 1865

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