“It is not those who can inflict the most,” said Irish Republican hunger striker and Lord Mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney (1878-1920), “but those that can suffer the most who will conquer.” This simple truth of resistance and revolution was again in Ireland written on the bodies of Bobby Sands and his nine comrades in the H-Block prison in 1981. Struggle against the oppressor, and more especially against the powerful imperial oppressor, is a Titanomachy both outwith and within – it is the test of a nation’s strength within the nation against the strength of the foe as much as it is a test of the patriot’s body within his or her own body.
What is the nation but the body of the bodies of all its sons and daughters? Within each of her children the nation is preserved whole and entire, and so the fight for the nation is waged at its most fundamental level within the bodies of the children of the nation. So, then it is against each of the bodies of the body of the nation that the oppressor must wage war. It is there, in the mortal frame of each and every child of the nation that the invader must stake its claim and it is there too that the sons and daughters of the nation must rebel, resist, and revolt.
Not only in the living body must the nation resist, but it must continue its struggle even over the bodies of its fallen. This is what Pádraig Pearse meant at the graveside of O’Donovan Rossa in August 1915 when he cried:
…the fools, the fools, the fools! – they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.
In every national struggle it is the same. The victory of the oppressor is the subjugation of the bodies of the nation and the destruction of their souls – and in so doing it executes the very spirit of the nation. Thus, when the fight for the civic and political life of the nation is lost, when the fight for the cultural and linguistic life of the nation is lost, the children of the nation have a choice; to submit in their very bodies and so offer up the death rattle of the nation or resist the tyranny and violence of the oppressor upon and within their bodies – the last and most essential fortress of their mother, the nation. The coward opts for the former, but it is the patriot who embraces the latter.
Peace – or a peace of sorts – might be gained in bodily subjugation, in the abject surrender of the defeated. Yet, this is the peace of Rome – the peace every empire makes: Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant. The oppressor seeks to make desolation and call it peace. True peace – the only Peace worth fighting for – is gained only in overcoming the oppressor by resisting it right to the heart of the nation and right to the core of every mother’s son and daughter of the nation. This is the peace won by struggle and martyrdom. It is the true peace from which the nation flourishes.