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this anarchy and disgrace were in a great degree the result of a
misgovernment, ancient and recent, _which seems to have been always
adopted with a view to bring out strongly the worst elements of the
Irish character_; but it was at that time said, and no doubt believed
by the Opposition, that the ministry of the day had deliberately
planned and accomplished the disorganisation of the Irish people and
their parliament, in order to enable them to carry out their favourite
project of the Union.'

Mr. Plunket, after describing the classes of 'representatives' that
his grandfather had to deal with in the Irish House of Commons,
further says: 'It is true that this corrupt assembly cannot fairly be
looked upon as the mirror of national character and national honour.
The members of the majority who voted for the Union _were not_
the representatives of the people, _but the hired servants of the
Minister, for the Parliament had been packed for the purpose_.'

Towards the close of the century, however, the French Revolution,
the American war, and the volunteer movement, had begun to cause
some faint stirring of national life in the inert mass of the Roman
Catholic population, which the penal code had '_dis-boned_.' Up
to this time they were not even thought of in the calculations of
politicians. According to Dean Swift, Papists counted no more in
politics than the women and children. Macaulay uses a still more
contemptuous comparison to express the estimate in which they were
held in those times, saying, that their lords and masters would as
soon have consulted their poultry and swine on any political question.
Nevertheless, during the excitement of the volunteer movement, some
of the poor Celts began to raise their heads, and presumed to put the
question to the most liberal portion of the ruling race - 'Are we not
men? Have not we also some rights?' The appeal was responded to in the
Irish parliament, and in 1793 the elective franchise was conceded to
Roman Catholics. It was the first concession, and the least that could
be granted. But the bare proposal excited the utmost indignation in
the Tory party, and especially in the Dublin corporation, where
the Orange spirit was rampant. That body adopted an address to the
Protestants of Ireland, which bears a remarkable resemblance in its
spirit and style to addresses lately issued by Protestant Defence
Associations. Both speak in the kindest terms of their Roman Catholic
fellow-subjects, disclaim all intention of depriving them of any
advantages they enjoy under our glorious constitution, declaring that
their objects are purely _defensive_, and that they want merely to
guard that constitution against the aggressions of the Papacy quite as
much for the sake of Roman Catholics as for the sake of Protestants.
'Countrymen and friends,' said the Dublin Tories, seventy-five years
ago, 'the firm and manly support which we received from you when we
stood forward in defence of the Protestant Ascendancy, deserves our
warmest thanks. We hoped that the sense of the Protestants of Ireland,
declared upon that occasion, would have convinced our Roman Catholic
fellow-subjects that the pursuit of political power was for them a
vain pursuit; for, though the liberal and enlightened mind of the
Protestant receives pleasure at seeing the Catholic exercise his
religion with freedom, enjoy his property in security, and possess
the highest degree of personal liberty, yet, experience has taught us
that, without the ruin of the Protestant establishment, the Catholic
cannot be allowed the smallest influence in the state.'

Those men were as thoroughly convinced as their descendants,
who protest against concession to-day, that all our Protestant
institutions would go to perdition, if Papists, although then mere
serfs, were allowed to vote for members of parliament. They were
equally puzzled to know why Roman Catholics were discontented, or what
more their masters could reasonably do for them to add to the enviable
happiness of their lot. 'We entreat you,' the Dublin corporation said
to their Protestant brethren throughout the country - 'we entreat you
to join with us in using every honest means of persuading the Roman
Catholics to rest content with the most perfect toleration of their
religion, the fullest security of their property, and the most
complete personal liberty; but, by no means, now or hereafter, to
attempt any interference in the government of the kingdom, as such
interference would be incompatible with the Protestant Ascendancy,
which we have resolved with our lives and fortunes to maintain.'
Lest any doubt should exist as to what they meant by 'Protestant
Ascendancy,' they expressly defined it. They resolved that it
consisted in a Protestant King of Ireland; a Protestant Parliament,
Protestant electors and Government; Protestant benches of justice;
a Protestant hierarchy; the army and the revenue, through all their
branches and details, Protestant; and this system supported by a
connection with the Protestant realm of Britain.

The power of the political franchise to elevate a degraded people, to
convert slaves into men, is exhibited before the eyes of the present
generation in the Southern States of America; even where differences
of race and colour are most marked, and where the strongest natural
antipathies are to be overcome. We may judge from this what must
have been the effect of this concession on the Irish Celts. The
forty-shilling freeholders very soon became objects of consideration
with their landlords, who were anxious to extend their political
influence in their respective counties, for the representation of
which the great proprietors had many a fierce contest. The abolition
of this franchise by the Emancipation Act made that measure a
grievance instead of a relief to the peasantry, for the landlords were
now as anxious to get rid of the small holders as they had been to
increase them so long as they served their political purpose. It was
one of the great drawbacks which deprived emancipation of the healing
effect it would otherwise have produced. If - as Pitt intended - that
measure had formed part of the Union arrangements; if the
forty-shilling freeholders had been spared, and the priesthood had
been endowed, we should never have had an agitation for repeal or even
for the separation of the church from the state. Pitt's plan of the
Union included the abolition of Protestant Ascendancy.

Edmund Burke, in one of his letters on Ireland, said: 'A word has
been lately struck in the mint of the castle of Dublin. Thence it was
conveyed to the Tholsel, or city hall, where having passed the touch
of the corporation, so respectably stamped and vouched, it soon became
current in parliament, and was carried back by the speaker of the
House of Commons, in great pomp, as an offering of homage from whence
it came. That word is Ascendancy. The word is not absolutely new.' He
then gives its various meanings, and first shows what it does _not_
signify in the new sense. Not influence obtained by love or reverence,
or by superior management and dexterity; not an authority derived from
wisdom or virtue, promoting the happiness and freedom of the Roman
Catholic people; not by flattering them, or by a skilful adaptation to
their humours and passions. It means nothing of all these. Burke then
shows what it does mean. 'New ascendancy is old mastership. It is
neither more nor less than the resolution of one sect of people in
Ireland to consider themselves the sole citizens in the commonwealth,
and to keep a dominion over the rest, by reducing them to absolute
slavery under a military power; and thus fortified in their power, to
divide the public estate, which is the result of general contribution,
as a military booty, solely among themselves. This ascendancy,
by being a _Protestant_ ascendancy, does not better it, from a
combination of a note or two more in this anti-harmonic scale. By
the use that is frequently made of the term, and the policy that is
grafted on it, the name Protestant becomes nothing more or better than
the name of a persecuting faction, with a relation of some sort of
theological hostility to others, but without any sort of ascertained
tenets of its own, upon the ground of which it persecutes other men;
for the patrons of this Protestant ascendancy neither do nor can,
by anything positive, define or describe what they mean by the word
Protestant.... The whole is nothing but pure and perfect malice. It
is indeed a perfection in that kind, belonging to beings of a higher
order than man, and to them we ought to leave it.... Let three
millions of people but abandon all that they and their ancestors have
been taught to believe sacred, and to forswear it publicly in terms
the most degrading, and nothing more is required of them.... The word
_Protestant_ is the charm that locks up in a dungeon of servitude
three millions of people.

Every thoughtful reader of the debates in parliament on the state of
Ireland, must have been struck with the difference of opinion between
the Liberals and the Conservatives, as to the facts of the case. A
still more violent difference was presented in the British parliament,
in the year 1797, when there were great debates in both houses on the
subject, and when the facts were still more glaring, one of them being
that the reign of terror established by the Irish Government prevented
the press from reporting the maddening atrocities which the ruling
faction was daily perpetrating against the mass of the king's
subjects. The debate arose in the Lords, on a motion by Lord Moira
for an address to the king on the state of Ireland. He described the
horrors of which he had been recently a witness, but softened the
recital, lest he should shock his hearers too much. Orange loyalty
was then licensed and let loose upon the defenceless Roman Catholic
population in Ulster. Lord Gosford's description of the scenes of
desolation in his own county, Armagh, is well known. He did what
he could to prevent the burning of Roman Catholic houses, and the
personal injuries inflicted upon the unfortunate inhabitants, while
their Orange neighbours chased them out of the country, giving them
Cromwell's alternative. But his mercy injured his reputation, and he
felt obliged to protest solemnly that he was a loyal man, and that he
wished to uphold Protestant ascendancy in Ireland as much as any of
his accusers. He only asked that the poor Catholic should be allowed
to live in peace. In the debate referred to, Lord Moira declared that
ninety-one householders had been banished from one of his own estates;
and many of them wounded in their persons. The discontent, he said,
was not confined to one sect. He ascribed the state of things to the
recall of Lord Fitzwilliam, which crushed the hopes of the Catholics,
and gave unbounded licence to the yeomanry, who were empowered to act
with a vigour beyond the law; to turn out, banish, or kill the king's
subjects, on mere suspicion, often prompted by private malice, and
having no better warrant than anonymous information. But for all this
the Irish parliament and the new reactionary viceroy freely granted
acts of indemnity. According to Earl Fitzwilliam 'whole parishes,
baronies, and even counties, were declared to be out of the king's

Mr. Fox brought forward a similar motion in the House of Commons,
pleading the cause of justice and humanity in a noble speech, and
boldly affirming principles of government for Ireland, which
Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Chichester Fortescue, and Mr. Bright are now
endeavouring to have carried out by the imperial parliament after
seventy years of concession, extorted by three rebellions. Mr. Fox
expressed his abhorrence of 'the truly diabolical maxim' of '_Divide
el impera_,' by which the government of Ireland was conducted. He
hoped that the discontent which threatened the separation of Ireland
would be dissipated without the necessity of war. 'But now,' he said,
'the extremity of rigour has been tried - the severity of despotism has
been let loose - and the Government is driven to that state when the
laws are not to be put into execution, but to be superseded.' The
motion was seconded by Sir Francis Burdett, who said: 'Whoever has
seen Ireland, has seen a country where the fields are desolated, and
the prisons overflowing with the victims of oppression - has seen the
shocking contrast between a profligate, extravagant Government, and
an enslaved and impoverished people.' The motion was rejected by
a majority of 136. Lord Moira made a last and an almost despairing
appeal on November 22, in the same year. In his speech he said:
'I have seen in that country a marked distinction made between the
English and the Irish. I have seen troops that have been sent full of
this prejudice, that every inhabitant of that kingdom is a rebel to
the British Government. I have seen the most wanton insults practised
upon men of all ranks and conditions. I have seen the most grievous
oppression exercised, in consequence of a presumption that the person
who was the unfortunate object of such oppression was in hostility to
the Government; and yet that has been done in a part of the country
as quiet and as free from disturbance as the city of London. He who
states these things should be prepared with proofs. I am prepared with
them.' He then went into a number of horrifying details, and concluded
as follows: 'You say that the Irish are insensible to the benefits
of the British constitution, and you withhold all these benefits from
them. You goad them with harsh and cruel punishments, and a general
infliction of insult is thrown upon the kingdom. I have seen, my
lords, a conquered country held by military force; _but never did I
see in any conquered country such a tone of insult as has been adopted
by Great Britain towards Ireland_. I have made a last effort. I acquit
my conscience; I have done my duty.'

In subsequent debates, the following sentiments were uttered by the
leading Whig statesmen of the day: 'The treatment of Ireland,' said
Mr. Fox, 'was such as to harrow up the soul. It was shocking to think
that a nation of brothers was thus to be trampled on like the most
remote colony of conquered strangers.... The Irish people have been
scourged by the iron hand of oppression, and subjected to the horrors
of military execution, and are now in a situation too dreadful for the
mind to contemplate without dismay. After the inhuman dragooning
and horrible executions, the recital of which makes the blood run
cold - after so much military cruelty, not in one, but in almost every
part of the country - is it possible for this administration to procure
unanimity in Ireland?' On March 22, 1798, the Duke of Bedford moved an
address to the king, asking him to change his ministers, and alluding
to the state of Ireland, as it was before the breaking out of the
Rebellion. He said: 'Were I to enter into a detail of the atrocities
which have been committed in Ireland, the picture would appal the
stoutest heart. It could be proved that the most shocking cruelties
have been perpetrated; but what could be expected if men kept in
strict discipline were all at once allowed to give loose to their fury
and their passions?'

Lord Holland was persuaded that his majesty's ministers could not
tranquillise Ireland even by conciliation. 'How could they conciliate
whose concessions are always known to be the concessions of weakness
and of fear, and who never granted to the Irish - the most generous
people upon earth, - anything without a struggle or resistance?' Lord
William Russell, in June following, said: 'A man's loyalty was to
be estimated by the desire he testified to imbrue his hands in his
brother's blood.' Sheridan asked: 'After being betrayed, duped,
insulted - disappointed in their dearest hopes, and again thrown into
the hands of the rulers they detested and despised, was it impossible
they should feel emotions of indignation? The struggle is not one of
partial disaffection, but it is a contest between the people and the
Government.' Mr. Tierney said: 'It was certain the people were in arms
against the Government, nor was it easy to conceive how - having been
scourged, burnt, and massacred - they could have any other feeling than
aversion to that Government.'

Every motion on the subject in both houses was rejected by
overwhelming majorities. So little impression did the reports of the
appalling facts which were of daily occurrence in Ireland make upon
that Tory Government, that the speeches of ministers read exactly like
the speeches of Mr. Disraeli, Mr. Hardy, Lord Mayo, and Mr. Warren,
in the past session. Lord Grenville, the home secretary, professed the
most profound respect for the independence of the Irish parliament,
and he could not think of interfering in the least with its
privileges, however the empire might suffer from its excesses.
'The motion of Lord Moira was not only unnecessary, it was highly
mischievous.' He dwelt on the improved state of Ireland, and the
tranquillity of the people. If there were partial excesses on the part
of the military, they were unavoidable, and could only be deplored.
'He was unable to discern what should alienate the affections of
Ireland. For the whole space of thirty years his majesty's Government
had been distinguished by the same uniform tenderness of regard,
by the same undeviating adherence to the mild principles of a
conciliatory system.... If any cruelties had been practised, they must
have been resisted by a high-spirited people. Were there no courts of
justice? The conduct of the lord lieutenant was highly commendable.
The system recommended by Lord Moira would only tend to villify the
Irish Government.' Then came the fatal announcement which sounded
the death-knell of thousands of the Irish people, and caused the
destruction of millions' worth of property. The home secretary said:
'The contrary system must, therefore, be persevered in; and to
the spirited exertions of the British military should we owe the
preservation of Irish laws, of Irish property, and of Irish lives!'

To this the Marquis of Downshire added 'that he was not afraid of the
effects of coercion. Every concession had been made that could be made
towards Ireland. Every Catholic was as free as the safety of the
state would admit. Were the Catholics to have an equal share in the
government with the Protestants, the Government and the country would
be lost.'

I will conclude by quoting the remarks of Mr. Fox, referred to above:
'If you do not allay their discontent, there is no way but force to
keep them in obedience. Can you convince them by the musket that their
principles are false? Can you prove to them by the bayonet that their
pretensions are unjust? Can you demonstrate to them by martial law
that they enjoy the blessings of a free constitution? No, it is said,
but they may be deterred from the prosecution of the objects which you
have determined to refuse. But on what is this founded? On the history
of Ireland itself? No; for the history of Ireland proves that, though
repeatedly subdued, it could not be kept in awe by force; and the
late examples will prove the effect which severity may be expected
to produce.... I would therefore concede; and if I found I had not
conceded enough, I would concede more. I know of no way of governing
mankind, but by conciliating them.... My wish is that the whole people
of Ireland should have the same principles, the same system, the same
operation of government. ... I would have the whole Irish government
regulated by Irish notions and Irish prejudices; and I firmly
believe, according to an Irish expression, the more she is under Irish
government, the more she will be bound to English interests. ... I
say, therefore, try conciliation, but do not have recourse to arms.'
He warned and implored in vain. The Union had been determined on; and
it was thought that it could be effected only after the prostration of
civil war, into which, therefore, the unfortunate people were goaded.



We are now in the nineteenth century, without any relief for the Irish
peasantry. The rebellion of '98, so cruelly crushed, left an abiding
sense of terror in the hearts of the Roman Catholic population.
Their condition was one of almost hopeless prostration. The Union was
effected without the promised relief from their religious disabilities
which was to be one of its essential conditions. The established
church was secured, the rights of property were secured, but there was
no security for the mass of the people. Domestic politics were almost
forgotten in the gigantic struggle with Napoleon, which exhausted
the energies of the empire. Any signs of political life that showed
themselves in Ireland were connected with Catholic emancipation, and
the visit of George IV., in 1820, held forth promises of relief which
excited unbounded joy. The king loved his Irish subjects, and would
never miss an opportunity of realising the good wishes for their
happiness which he had so often and so fervently expressed to his Whig
friends, when he was Prince Regent. O'Connell's agitation commenced
soon after, and in nine years after the royal visit emancipation was
extorted by the dread of civil war, frankly avowed by the Duke of
Wellington and Sir Robert Peel. But this boon left the masses nearly
where they had been, only more conscious of their power, and more
determined to use it, in the removal of their grievances.

Lord Redesdale, writing to Lord Eldon in 1821, said: - 'In England
the machine goes on almost of itself, and therefore a bad driver
may manage it tolerably well. It is not so in Ireland. The country
requires great exertion to bring it into a state of order and
submission to law. The whole population - high and low, rich and poor,
Catholic and Protestant - must all be brought to obedience to law; all
must be taught to look up to the law for protection. The gentry are
ready enough to attend grand juries, to obtain presentments for their
own benefit, but they desert the quarter-sessions of the peace. The
first act of a constable in arresting must not be to knock down the
prisoner; and many, many reforms must be made, which only can be
effected by a judicious and able Government _on the spot_. Ireland, in
its present state, cannot be governed in England. If insubordination
compels you to give, how are you to retain by law what you propose to
maintain while insubordination remains? It can only be by establishing
completely the empire of the law.'

Sir Archibald Alison ascribed the unhappy relations of classes in
Ireland to what he calls 'the atrocious system of confiscation, which,
in conformity with feudal usages, the victors introduced on every
occasion of rebellion against their authority.' Sir George Nicholls
has shown, in his valuable history of the Irish poor law, that as
early as 1310 the parliament assembled at Kilkenny resolved that none
should keep Irish, or kern, in time of peace to live upon the poor of
the country; 'but those which will have them shall keep them at their
own charges, so that the free tenants and farmers be not charged with
them.' And 130 years afterwards, the parliament assembled in Dublin
declared that divers of the English were in the habit of maintaining
sundry thieves, robbers, and rebels, and that they were to be adjudged
traitors for so doing, and suffer accordingly. In 1450, this class
of depredators had increased very much, and by their 'thefts and
manslaughters caused the land to fall into decay, poverty wasting it
every day more and more; whereupon it was ordained that it should
be lawful for every liege man to kill or take notorious thieves, and
thieves found robbing, spoiling, or breaking houses; and that every
man that kills or takes any such thieves shall have one penny of every
plough, and one farthing of every cottage within the barony where the
manslaughter is done, for every thief.' These extracts show a very
barbarous state of society, but Sir George Nicholls remarks that
at the same period the condition of England and Scotland was very
similar, save only that that of Ireland was aggravated by the civil
conflicts between the colonists and the natives. There were some
efforts made in Ireland, by various enactments, to put down this evil,
and to provide employment for the large numbers that were disposed to
prey upon the industry of their neighbours, by robbery, beggary, and
destruction of property. But while there was a legal provision made
for the poor in England, there was none in Ireland, where the people

Online LibraryJames GodkinThe Land-War In Ireland (1870) A History For The Times → online text (page 23 of 37)