Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 9: No 2) >> Simms's Irish: An Address at Hibernian Society Hall, Charleston, South Carolina, 14 January 1999 >> Page 6

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Speech | 2001, 2002
Transcription It is natural that Simms, in 1828, as a young lawyer in the office of a
lawyer of Irish parentage, chose two politically-minded lawyers, Curran and
Emmet, as his examples of Irish patriots. He and Carroll, no doubt discussed the
lives and contributions of these men from their common heritage. But more
importantly, here in this poem, Simms predicts Irish freedom "in long years to
come" and that the very name of Erin will become synonymous with the fight for
home, and the freedom of the hearth. Simms's later formulation of his concept of
"Home desires"---that is, being true to the genius loci, the spirit of the place,
would inform his own siding with the patriot Southerner, who was defending his
own hearth and home from invasion and conquest, which Simms clearly saw as an
imperealist attempt to make a colony of the South, much in the way Ireland stood
in relation to England.
As Simms predicted, and has phrased it in his poem, "the green-shore of
Erin" smiles on the sight of freedom anywhere it is attempted, and becomes both
symbol and inspiration for such a cause. The story of the struggle of a people to be
free, intertwined itself about Simms's life and became central to his canon. And
such had been the case with the Simms family in the old land itself.
After the ruinous war that defeated the Southern bid for freedom and left
Simms destitute, our author began selling off his colonial documents to provide
for his children. It is very appropriate that some of these documents were letters
written by the great patriot freedom fighter Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, some
of Simms's most treasured manuscripts, and from the pen of a man whose worth
and symbolic significance Simms knew far better than most. It is even more
appropriate that Marion's letters were sought out by and sold to collector Thomas
Addis Emmet (1828-1919) of Virginia, namesake and descendant of the Thomas
Addis Emmet who was a Belfast compatriot of the Simmses in the 1798
Revolution, and Robert Emmet of the Irish uprising of 1803, who was executed by
the enemy, and whom Simms praised in his poem. The Emmets to whom Simms
referred in "The Song of the Irish Patriot" may have come back to Simms's mind
in 1869 as he sold Francis Marion's letters to one of their descendants. Simms
also acquired at Emmet's request, a complete collection of Confederate currency.
I'm certain that with Simms's wonderful sense of history, he saw the momentous
rightness of the sale---uniting the Southern and Irish causes for freedom---both
causes in which his extended family had played significant roles.
It was Robert Emmet, before he was hanged in Dublin in 1803, who made
the short, moving speech that was to help keep the spirit of Irish freedom alive for
future generations. Emmet said these few memorable words: "When my country
takes her place among the nations of the world, then, and not 'til then, let my
epitaph be written." After his execution, he immediately became the subject of
popular and enduring folk ballads across the land. In our century, the Irish Free
State engraved his words as epitaph on his monument, as Simms had predicted it
would in his prophetic poem of a free Ireland whose green shores shall always, for
all people, be a hopeful symbol of hard-won, but eventual freedom. The history of
Ireland stands as testimony to the fact that every time when it seemed the sun was
about to set on the ancient culture---to the puzzlement of the English---yet another
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