Goldwin Smith.

Irish history and the Irish question online

. (page 11 of 15)
Online LibraryGoldwin SmithIrish history and the Irish question → online text (page 11 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


legislation is to the abolition of the gentry, of
the value of whose leadership to a people emi-
nently in need of leaders, Gladstone, personally

191



192 IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION

ignorant of Ireland, might not be a competent
judge. Unquestionably, the relations between land-
lord and tenant called for reform. The appropria-
tion of the tenant's improvements by the landlord
was in itself plainly unjust, and the sweeping evic-
tions yielded in cruelty only to the famine. But
for overpopulation the immediate remedy was
depletion. Had Gladstone said that the over-
population was originally the consequence of mis-
government and repression of industry which,
reducing the people to abject misery, had wrecked
their self-respect and self-restraint, he would have
been emphatically right, and the fact cannot be
too constantly kept in mind. Gladstone might
also have said with truth that emigration was a
mournful cure, though it transferred the emigrant
to a far happier land and lot. But the overpopu-
lation having taken place, whatever the cause, the
only remedy was depletion. No expansion of manu-
facturing industry, commerce, or mining adequate
to the absorption of the surplus population could
be expected in time to meet the pressing call for
relief. Irishmen are sensitive on this point, but no
disparagement of the Irish race is implied m the
recognition of the facts. Overpopulation was not
the fault of the people, but their misfortune. There



IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION 193

has been a very large migration of the Irish into
England and Scotland as well as into the colonies
and the United States.

Gladstone's measure, however, fell short of Irish
expectation, which was the three F's: Fixity of
tenure; Fair rent; Freedom of sale. A land war
presently broke out and became combined with a
struggle nominally for Home Rule, really for separa-
tion from Great Britain. The political part of
this agitation, rebellion as it really was, had its
main source and support, not in Ireland, but in the
Irish population of the United States. Even before
the famine there had been an emigration of Irish
to America, so large as by its political effects to
alarm American patriotism and give birth to the
great Kjiow-nothing Movement in defence of Ameri-
can nationality. The Irish, being highly gregari-
ous and unused to large farming, settled in cities.
When they went out to work on railways or canals,
it was in large gangs. They were drawn into the
vortex of politics and became the retainers of crafty
politicians, who, in secret, smiled at their simplicity.
They fell almost invariably into the Democratic
party. The name may have attracted them; but
the Democratic party was that of the Southern
slave-owner, who was glad to enlist the Irishman



194 IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION

as his humble ally at the North and to pay him out
of the treasury of political corruption. The rank
and file of Tammany were largely Irish. O'Connell
had been nobly hostile to slavery. His kinsmen
and admirers on the other side of the Atlantic were,
on the contrary, vehement supporters of slavery,
and jealous assertors of their superiority over the
enslaved race. Such is the tendency of the newly
enfranchised. In the war between the North and
the South the Irish in New York rose against the
draft and committed great outrages, especially
against the negro, among other things setting fire
to a negro orphan asylum. They were ruthlessly
put down. After the famine, emigration greatly
increased. Family affection among the Irish is
beautifully strong, and the members of a family
who had gone before sent home their earnings to
pay for the passage of those whom they had left
behind. It has been reckoned that the Irish have
expended twenty millions sterling in this way.
With a passionate love of Ireland the American
Irish combined a still more passionate hatred of
England as Ireland's tyrant and oppressor. Inva-
sion and destruction of England were their dream.
Always addicted to secret fraternities and natural
adepts in conspiracy, they formed associations for



IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION 195

war on England; that of the Fenians and that of
the still more rabid and bloodthirsty Clan-na-
Gael, whose utterances were frenzies of hatred.
Large sums were subscribed; Irish servant-girls,
with a patriotism which in any case was honour-
able to them, giving freely of their wages. Ameri-
can politicians flattered the mania, and harvested
the Irish vote. The war bequeathed to the Fenians
some regular soldiers, among others, Mitchel, who
had been conspicuous in the ranks of slavery. The
Fenians invaded Canada and overthrew a corps
of Canadian volunteers, but retired on the approach
of regulars; a bad omen for their conquest of Eng-
land. Conquest of England the Fenians did not
attempt, beyond a farcical essay at Chester. But
they helped greatly to kindle rebellion in Ireland,
to provide it with money, and to supply it with
assassins. The National League, the form which,
in Ireland, political combined with agrarian rebellion
assumed, almost ousted the law and the queen's
government. It resisted the payment of rents.
Those who opposed its wUl were "boycotted," a
term of which this is the origin. Sometimes they
were murdered. A stripling was murdered for
having served a master who had come under the
ban of the League. A wife was mobbed on her



196 IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION

way home from viewing the body of her murdered
husband. Lord Frederick Cavendish, the Irish
secretary, going to Ireland with the kindest inten-
tions, and the permanent secretary, Mr. Burke,
were stabbed to death in the Phoenix Park. Mr.
W. E. Forster, distinguished by his humane efforts
at the time of the famine, was marked for assassina-
tion. At the outbreak of the rebellion a policeman
escorting Fenian prisoners had been murdered at
Manchester, and an attempt made to blow up
Clerkenwell Prison, where a Fenian was confined,
had caused the deaths of twelve people and the
maiming of one hundred and twenty. Gladstone
had made the mistake of treating the alarm caused
by those outrages as a motive for doing justice to
Ireland. The motive for doing justice to Ireland
was justice.

The assassination of Cavendish and Burke, it is
right to say, was the act, not of the Land League or
of any conspiracy in Ireland itself, but of the Invin-
cibles, a club of frenzied Irish in the United States.
By the Irish leaders it was heartily condemned.
That it was regarded with utter abhorrence in the
Irish quarters of English cities was denied by ob-
servers at the time. Fierce and blind were the
passions of those days.



IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION 197

To repress what was in fact a rebellion fed by
foreign aid, to uphold the law, and rescue life and
industry in Ireland from the lawless tyranny of the
National League, as it was called, the government,
as was its plain duty, sought and obtained extraor-
dinary powers, and threw a number of the leaders
of the rebellion into prison. It was time, when
loyal citizens were joining the League for protection
in their callings, which the queen's government
could no longer afford. When the Irish rose against
the draft in New York, the Americans shot down
several hundreds of them without process of law.

In the British Parliament the "rebel" party, as
Bright justly called it, had found a leader of mark
in Pamell, a man of great ability and force of char-
acter, incisive and forcible, if not eloquent, as a
speaker. He had supplanted in the leadership
Mr. Butt, a man of social sensibility and refinement,
unfitted for an aggressive part. The agitation under
PameU combined agrarianism with repeal, thus
giving the political part of the movement a hold upon
the people and a force and a formidable extension
in Ireland which by itself it had never had. The
Land League, becoming the National League, al-
most supplanted the queen's government in Ireland.

Parnell's avowed aim was the foundation of a



198 IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION

peasant proprietorship. Neither he nor any of his
party seem to have cared to study dispassionately
the natural aptitudes of the country, and to satisfy
themselves whether it was capable of supporting the
population which disastrous events and sinister
influences had accumulated upon it. Their main ob-
ject was political. It was, under the guise of repeal-
ing the union, to sever Ireland from Great Britain.
As an inducement to the peasantry to support them
in that attempt, they offered to transfer the property
in the land from the landlord to the tenant, though
with a decorous promise of indemnity. Mr. Par-
nell's name was English, and he had been educated
at Cambridge. It was understood that his bearing
towards his Celtic associates was high and that he
was peremptory as well as absolute in command.
At his side was Mr. Biggar, whose great gift was
unparalleled effrontery. The two undertook to
coerce the British Parliament by obstruction. Had
the British Parliament been itself, it would quickly
have asserted its dignity. But it was split into
factions, upon the balance of which Parnell and
Biggar were able to play. Gladstone succumbed
so far as by an equivocal agreement, nicknamed
the Kilmainham Treaty, to release Parnell and his
associates from prison. On the other hand, the



IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION 199

Conservatives coming into power struck the flag
of the law by refusing to renew the Crimes Act
for the protection of loyalty in Ireland, while they
angled for the Parnellite vote by casting reproach
on the conduct of a lord-lieutenant who had done
his duty.

At the general election which followed, Gladstone
went to the country, appealing for a majority which
should enable him to settle the Irish question inde-
pendently of Parnell. Parnell passed the word
to all his partisans, both in Ireland and in the Irish
quarters of English towns, to vote against the
Liberals. They obeyed. Gladstone was defeated.
Then he who had denounced Parnell as wading
through rapine to dismemberment; who had pro-
claimed his arrest as a rebel to an applauding mul-
titude at Guildhall ; who had thrown him and scores
of his followers into prison; who had never given
to the nation a hint of his sympathy with Parnell' s
agitation, suddenly turned round and coalesced with
ParneU. He put forth an apology for his conver-
sion founded on the hidden workings of his own
mind. But what availed the workings of his own
mind if all the time he was carrying on the policy
of repression, misleading the nation thereby? It is
true he might have pointed to the coquetting of the



200 IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION

Other party, or its leaders, with the Parnellites. He
might perhaps with more force have appealed to his
own unquestionably sincere sympathy with all who
were struggling for independence. His retrospective
imagination was strong, and having changed so
much he had always present to his mind the pos-
sibility of further change. It made his language
sometimes capable of unforeseen interpretation.

The Liberal party was filled with astonishment,
confusion, and dismay. But the Times stood
fast and rallied the adherents of the union. To
the steadfastness and power of this great journal
the defeat of Gladstone's policy and the salvation
of the union were largely due. Bright's refusal
to cast in his lot with the "rebel" party was also
a heavy blow to Gladstone. The political connec-
tion between the two men had been growing close,
and Bright might almost be said to personify justice
to Ireland, as to all the weak and oppressed. If
there was a man who would have protested against
the sacrifice of Ireland to English interests it was
John Bright. Lord Hartington presented himself
with unexpected vigour as a Unionist leader. Glad-
stone was defeated in the House of Commons and
still more signally in the general election which
followed. Conservative and Unionist Liberals voting



IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION 201

together on the special issue. In the contest Glad-
stone lashed himself into fury, appealed to Separatist
sentiment, not in Ireland only, but in Scotland and
Wales, to the prejudice of the masses against the
classes, of the uneducated against the educated
and the learned professions. He was fired with
enthusiasm for the right. His instincts were always
high. But this did not make him a cool-headed
statesman warily dealing with a question which
touched the life of the commonwealth.

Now fortune played a strange trick. Parnell,
the leader and mainstay of the League, Gladstone's
ally, was convicted of adultery. Adultery is not
political, but it was too much both for the Irish
hierarchy and for the nonconformist conscience.
Parnell had to be dragged from the helm of the
Irish party, to which he clung with a frantic tenacity,
such as proved him after all to be, though a very
remarkable, hardly a very great, man.

Raised once more by another turn of fortune's
wheel in the party game to power, Gladstone again
brought forward a Home Rule Bill. This time he,
with the help of the Irish members, pushed the
bill through the House, partly by closure, in a form
already condemned by himself, giving Ireland a
separate Parliament for her own affairs, and at the



202 IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION

same time retaining her representation in the British
Parliament, with power there to vote upon all
questions. The Irish delegation would have played,
as in fact it does now, for its own purposes, on the
balance of British parties, and baffled any attempt to
enforce restrictions on the doings of its own Parlia-
ment which the Home Rule Act might have imposed.
The majority for the bill in the Commons was
forty-three, including eighty Irish members. British
members of the House of Commons who voted for
the bill probably reckoned on its being killed in the
Lords. Killed it was there with a vengeance.
Gladstone appealed to the people against the Lords,
but in vain. Thus ended in disaster his wonderful
career. His speeches on Home Rule showed, like all
his speeches, vast oratoric power, mastery of details,
clearness and liveliness in exposition. But weak
points are also apparent. The Irish Parliament
cannot have been at once a sink of corruption and
an institution with which it was sacrilege to interfere.
The comparison of the union in criminality to the
massacre of St. Bartholomew must surely have made
all hearers but the Irish smUe. Upon this subject
the speaker raves, and generally he forgets that
the mission of reconciliation which he had under-
taken would not be furthered by opening old sores.



IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION 203

The examples of Austria-Hungary and the connec-
tion of Norway with Sweden, cited by him as proofs
that a conjunction of two ParHaments worked well,
would be generally taken not as encouragements
but as warnings. The case of Norway and Sweden
has since become a warning indeed. The intricate
machinery by which the speaker proposes to regulate
the action of his two Parliaments has too much the
look of a speculative structure elaborated without
reference to the peculiar state of Ireland and the
forces to be encountered there. Of the force of
the Catholic priesthood, nothing is said. In fact,
the political architect knew little of the country with
which he was dealing, having been in it only for
three weeks, and then not at a good point of view.
Thus the Irish question, which the greatest among
the public men of his time had failed to settle, was
once more thrown into the cauldron of party strife.



XV

Looking back on these most melancholy annals,
we shall find that for their general sadness Nature
is as much to be blamed as man. She did well in
placing at the side of a country rich in coal and
minerals, destined to be manufacturing, one of
pasture to supply food. She made a fatal mistake
in peopling them with different and uncongenial
races. War, in the age of war, and conquest of the
weaker by the stronger were sure to be the result.
For the form in which conquest came, the Papacy
has partly to answer. It used the sword of the
Norman adventurer in this case, as it had in the case
of England, to crush religious independence and
force all churches to bow to its own dominion,
whUe, as the wails of its own partisans in the Becket
controversy show, it was itself unworthy of the
sovereignty of Christendom. Of this Catholics
are bound to take note, as they are of the fact that
the Papacy at a later day, by inciting the Irish to
rebellion on its own account, brought upon them
no small portion of their woes. The Norman con-

204



IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION 205

quest of England had incidentally the bad effect
of connecting the English monarchy with dominion
in France, and thus turning the forces of the Eng-
lish kings from Ireland, where they might have
ended the agony, to a field where they were much
worse than wasted. Things could not have taken
a more unfortunate course than that of a colony of
half-civilized conquerors carrying on war with bar-
barous tribes of a different race and tongue, yet
without force to effect the conquest. The inva-
sion of Edward Bruce, with which England had
nothing to do, probably did further harm by break-
ing up whatever there was of Anglo-Norman order
and turning barons into chiefs of Irish Septs. Then
the Reformation, a European convulsion involv-
ing Ireland, and in the most unfortunate way, since
it identified Protestantism with conquest, Catholi-
cism with the struggle for independence, introduced
another deadly source of strife, and made Ireland
the point of danger to England in her desperate
struggle for her own existence and the salvation of
the Protestant cause. Otherwise it seems not
impossible that the Tudor statesmen, with such a
man as Burleigh at their head, might, as they de-
sired, have effected a peaceful settlement. Civili-
zation, not extermination, was their aim. The great



206 IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION

Celtic rebellions of Shane O'Neil, Desmond, and
Tyrone, the last two Catholic as well as Celtic,
forced upon them the policy of extermination with
all its horrors. The rising and massacre of 1641
were the sequel. The vengeance of the victor and
the transplantation of the vanquished to Con-
naught were in their turn the sequel of the rising
and massacre of 1641. Of these again the rebound
was the Catholic rising of 1688, which, had it been
successful, would have ended certainly in the dis-
possession, probably in the expulsion, possibly in
the extermination, of the Protestants. English
liberty and religion were at the same time threat-
ened by an Irish Catholic force encamped at Houns-
low. The Penal law was execrable; yet hardly
more execrable than the Great Act of Attainder.
In later days Castle government by corruption
was vile; but it was the inevitable accompaniment
of the constitution of 1782, the work of Grattan
and the Volunteers. Of the master evU of all, the
state of the masses of the Irish people, English
protectionism must share the blame with the penal
laws. But protectionism was then the delusion of
the commercial world. Irish patriots were not
free from it. To deal with peasant distress was
the immediate duty of the Irish Parliament, which



IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION 207

refused even to turn its eyes that way. Peasant
distress, organized for rebellion by a revolutionary
party at Belfast, itself deriving its inspiration from
the American and French revolutions, produced
the rising, ever to be accursed and deplored, of
1798.

Irish patriots are apt to talk of England as a
single person or, rather, fiend, actuated in her deal-
ings with Ireland by hatred and contempt. England
is a nation divided into parties and swayed by vary-
ing influences from time to time. The England
of Peel and Gladstone is not the England of the
Georges, the Stuarts, the Tudors, the Plantagenets,
or responsible for the doings of those dynasties.
In the evil days of her political history, England,
if she oppressed Ireland, also suffered herself. The
Liberal party in England did its best for Ireland,
and if the Irish members had been what they ought
to have been and done what they ought to have
done, more rapid progress might have been made.
As it was, Ireland shared the great measures of
Parliamentary and municipal reform which there
had been little prospect of her achieving by herself.
She received the boon of national and undenomina-
tional education about a generation before England,
and but for the reactionary influence of her own



208 IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION

priesthood would have received it in full measure.
The same influence maimed as far as it could the
undenominational colleges. Nothing could be more
deplorable than the long series of coercion acts.
But it was hardly to be expected that the English
government should strike its flag to assassination
and boycotting, or that the British nation would be
moved to concession by the inroads of American
conspirators combined with domestic rebellion. It
was about 1866 that Guizot, talking of Ireland as
he walked with an English guest, stopped in his
walk and said with an emphatic gesture, "The
conduct of England to Ireland for the last thirty
years has been admirable." This, before disestab-
lishment, was too strong, as the English guest
remarked at the time; but as the judgment of a
cool-headed foreign statesman, whose course had
not been one of unbroken harmony with England,
it was likely to be more just at least to the motives
of England than the invectives of O'ConneU.

Since the Union there has been no 1641, no 1688,
no 1798. The two races and religions have lived
generally at peace if not in concord with each other.
The religious riots at Belfast are a very mitigated
relic of the religious wars of former days. Reform,
though its advance has been slow and fitful, has



IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION 209

advanced. Within a generation from the date of
the Union, Catholic Emancipation was carried.
The tithe-proctor did not very long survive. Pres-
ently the State Church itself was abolished. Ire-
land shared with Great Britain Parliamentary
reform, to which the Irish oligarchy could never
have consented without political and social con-
vulsion. Not long afterwards came national educa-
tion, bestowed on Ireland before it was bestowed
on England. None of these improvements would
directly touch the agrarian sore, the malignity of
which was increased by the growth of the Irish
population under the reign of order, far beyond
the power of the land to maintain it. But relief
has been given to famine, and strenuous efforts
have been made and are still being made to effect a
radical cure. Ireland has enjoyed free trade with
Great Britain and with the whole British Empire.
Everything has been open to Irish merit and in-
dustry. Millions of Irish and their children have
found homes in Britain and the colonies. To
sever Ireland from Great Britain is still possible.
To divide the Irish from the British is not possible.
In both islands and in all the colonies the two races
are now joined and cannot be put asunder.
Besides, as has already been said, we must always



210 IRISH HISTORY AND THE IRISH QUESTION

bear it in mind that we do not see the other side of
Destiny's cards. Suppose Ireland had remained
the land of the Septs, would her lot certainly have
been more happy? Neither at the time of the Nor-
man Conquest nor afterwards do the Septs appear
to have shown any tendency to a union such as
would have given birth to a national polity and its
attendant civilization. For aught we can see,
they might have gone on indefinitely, like the clans
of the Scottish Highlands, in a state of barbarous
strife fatal to progress of every kind. Even their
common interest in the struggle against the Anglo-
Norman invader produced no general or permanent
union. The Brehon law, which was their principal
bond, had no executive force and was in itself bar-
barous, not distinguishing public from private wrong.
The Septs warred upon each other not less sav-
agely than the conqueror warred upon them all. If
anything like union came at last, it was not political
but religious, and brought with it a fatal share in
the European war of religions. Nor were conquests
other than Anglo-Norman impossible. From the
Highlands and islands of Scotland came bodies of
marauding adventurers which might have been


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15

Online LibraryGoldwin SmithIrish history and the Irish question → online text (page 11 of 15)