John Russell Russell.

A letter to the Right Hon. Chichester Fortescue, M.P. on the state of Ireland online

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The mind of England has been greatly
disturbed of late by Fenian outrages.

The rescue of a Fenian leader at Manchester, and
the murder of a constable, who was shot in the
performance of his duties, were followed, as we all
remember, by trials for the capital offence of murder ;
trials conducted with all the solemnity, fairness, and
publicity which are characteristic of British justice.
Five were convicted of the murder; three were ex-
ecuted. Lord Derby, in his place in the House of
Lords, declared that he did not see how the allega-
tion, that the constable had been killed in pursuance
of a treasonable purpose, could in any way attenuate
the crime of murder. This was considered by all
who heard it a reasonable observation.

But in Ireland the impression was very different.
Every person with Fenian sympathies considered that
the men convicted were patriots, innocent of murder
because their purpose was treasonable, and because
they had no personal malice against Sergeant Brett,
their victim. Processions were organised ; crape was
worn ; hearses were paraded through the streets of


2 Letter to the Rt. Hon. C. Fortescue, M.P.

Cork and Dublin; and every artifice was used to
excite sympathy for the martyrs who had been con-
victed of murder, and had suiFered for their crime.

These unseemly processions were forbidden at
Liverpool and in Ireland not a day too soon, and
thereupon ceased. They were not public meetings
for the purpose of passing resolutions, or agreeing
to petitions or addresses; they were simply demon-
strations against law, justice, and the Queen's au-

The murder of men, women, and children, be-
longing to the working classes, which took place at
Clerkenwell prison, is another of these Fenian out-
rages ; and, although disavowed by the Fenian councils
both here and in America, is clearly entitled to the
same pretended defence as the Manchester murder,
that it was perpetrated for a treasonable purpose.

I may add that I was informed, two years ago, by a
gentleman who had been present at a Fenian council
at New York, that the plan there approved was, a
plan not to attempt an open rebellion, but to alarm
the British Government by constant surprises and
outrages, till the time should come when insurrection
might be hopeful.

But it is clear that, if the word be given through-
out Great Britain and Ireland that desultory outrages
and surprises are to be attempted, no one can pre-
tend to direct the precise course of such crimes ; and
that it is vain to deny the responsibility of atrocious
murders when, by the mistake or inexperience of
a volunteer miscreant, the Fenian convicts are not

On the State of Ireland. 3

rescued, and innocent women and children are de-
stroyed by the traitors whose general purpose of
treason and slaughter has been whetted in the secret
meetings at New York.

I should think every one would agree that the
first thing to be done is to administer the laws in
force, and use the weapons in our hands with vigour
and with vigilan.ce.

At the first of the late outbreaks, it appears that
our long habits of internal peace, and obedience to
lawful authority, had dulled the ears, and benumbed
the arms of the guardians of order. But of late I
remark with pleasure a notable improvement. I
read in the ' Times ' of the 10th of January last,
that when the prisoners Burke, Casey, and Shaw
were brought up for examination in Bow Street,
previous to their committal for trial, the following
measures were adopted :

Extra precautions had been taken against any attack for
the purpose of rescue. The street was cleared, and guarded
by double lines of armed constables, stretching across the
road above and below the court. The van was escorted by
about forty mounted police, armed with cutlasses and revol-
vers. Armed constables thronged the passages of the court,
and a double reserve was kept at the station.

This is a laudable increase of vigilance. It is
painful to reflect that, had precautions half as efficient
been taken at Manchester in proper time, it is pro-
bable that Kelly would not have escaped, Brett would
not have been shot, the execution of the three mur-
derers would not have occurred, and the cry of

B 2

4 Letter to the Rt. Hon. C. Fortescue, M.P.

martyrdom would not have been raised in Ireland.
Such laxity is much to be lamented.

While, however, every precaution ought to be
taken, and persons convicted of crime ought to bear
the full penalty of their offences, it behoves us
neither to exaggerate the danger, nor to mistake the
proper remedies to be applied.

I cannot but see with some alarm the tendency to
inflame national animosity against the Irish, and to
involve the whole of that nation in the charge not
only of disaffection, but of conspiracy and treason.
Thus, one correspondent to the Times calling him-
self 'A Briton,' calls attention to 'unspoken words,'
and these words are ' Martial Law ; ' another corre-
spondent, 'Aliquis,' wants to colonise Ireland with
Englishmen, and to make enemies and outlaws of
the whole Irish race.

Before we give way to these wild passions of fear
and hatred, ought we not to ask ourselves whether
anything of the kind has ever taken place in Eng-

In my time, though not in that of most of my
readers, disaffection prevailed in many parts of Eng-
land. Wild schemes were afloat: one set of men
planned taking the Tower of London with a stocking
filled with gunpowder ; another set conspired to murder
the Cabinet Ministers while they were dining together
at Lord Harrowby's ; and were actually arming for
that horrid purpose, when they were arrested by a de-
tachment of the Guards. Nothing more atrocious
than this Cato Street conspiracy can well be imagined.

On the State of Ireland. 5

The general state of the country in those years is
thus shortly described by Sir Henry Bulwer, in his
interesting and instructive work, called ' Historical
Characters ' :

The sovereign and the administration were unpopular
the people generally ignorant and undisciplined neither the
one nor the other understanding the causes of the prevalent
disaffection, nor having any idea as to how it should be dealt

The artisans of Manchester thought at that time
of marching to London, each with a blanket on his
shoulder; Lord Castlereagh introduced bills which
he called ' measures of severe coercion.' Both people
and Government were wrong: the distress passed
away ; the disaffection was cured by prosperity and
improved administration. No one then thought of
saying, that the Cato Street conspiracy was owing to
the wickedness of the English people, and required
' martial law' as its remedy.

It seems to me, now that the first panic has passed
away, and Parliament is about to meet, that we ought
to seek to divest our minds of exaggerated fears and
national animosities ; to consider patiently all the
facts relating to Ireland; to listen to those Irish
representatives who, like yourself, would apply healing
measures and impartiality where others ask only for
martial law and severity ; that we ought to weigh
with care the complaints that are made, and examine
with still more care and circumspection the remedies

* Historical Characters, vol. ii. p. 158.

6 Letter to the Et. Hon. C. Fortescue, M.P.

that are proposed, lest, in our attempts to cure the
disease, we give the patient a new and more danger-
ous disorder. I rejoice, therefore, to see the following
sensible and patriotic observations, in the charge of
the Recorder of Birmingham to the Grand Jury of
that town :

Outrages like those committed at Manchester, or at the
Middlesex House of Correction, have raised in the minds of
many such a storm of indignation against all persons of Irish
extraction, that I dread lest the feeling should degenerate
into a war of races or creeds, the results of which could not
fail to be highly detrimental to the interest of liberty all
over the world ; and I would warn you that it would be most
unjust to treat all our fellow-subjects who have come from
Ireland as disaffected, or to consider that all who profess the
Roman Catholic religion are engaged in treasonable prac-
tices, for we have seen the strongest resistance made to ad-
verse forces by native-born Irishmen, and we know that all
the heads of the Roman Catholic Church have denounced in
the strongest terms the acts of the conspirators who have
come from other countries to disturb the peace of these

These are wise observations, and I wish the Minis-
ters of State who have lately spoken in public had
uttered sentiments equally forbearing and equally
fair towards the Queen's Irish subjects.

I shall now proceed to make my observations on
the state of Ireland, and, for the sake of convenience,
I will divide this letter into three parts.

The first part will treat of the material and physi-
cal condition of Ireland.

* Times, Jan. 9, 1868.

On the State of Ireland. 7

The second of its political and moral state.

The third will treat of the course which, in my
opinion, ought to be adopted by Parliament in its
coming session.

But before I begin these separate portions, I will
endeavour to review shortly the political history of
Ireland, from the twelfth to the eighteenth century.

In considering the question of Ireland, too much
has been said of historical oppressions, and too little
of recent remedies.

The ancient oppressions are truly lamentable ; but,
as I view the historical retrospect, it may be thus

The Normans overthrew the Saxons and conquered
England. A century later, Strongbow and his confe-
derate nobles and knights conquered Ireland. For a
long time they derived little aid from Henry the
Second; but when the English King, in order to
confirm his temporal authority, brought to his assist-
ance the spiritual arm of the Roman Catholic Church,
he proclaimed the Pope as head of the Church, and
instituted tithes to be paid to the Roman Catholic
clergy. It was therefore from the Norman conquerors
of Ireland, at the time of the Conquest, and not from
the Irish people, that the Roman Catholic Church ob-
tained its property in Ireland. Till the Reformation
this property was held by the Catholic Church. But
in the reign of Elizabeth all was changed. The
Queen, however reluctant, felt herself compelled to
acknowledge the soundness of the opinion affirmed by
Bacon and by Cecil, that the only friends to her

8 Letter to the Rt. Hon. C. Fortescue, M.P.

throne, and her title to the Crown, were the Protes-
tants. In relating the events of the year 1570, Froude
says :

On the morning of the 15th of May, the Bull declaring
Elizabeth deposed, and her subjects absolved from their alle-
giance, was found nailed against the Bishop of London's
door, and whatever the Catholic powers might do or not do,
the Catholic Church had formally declared war.*

But while any favour to Roman Catholics was at
that time full of danger, Elizabeth is justly open to
censure for not using any proper means for promot-
ing the Reformation in Ireland, and, in case of failure,
for not leaving the Catholic Church undisturbed.
1 The churches,' says Hallam, ' were allowed to go
to ruin ; the benefices fell to strangers, or to conform-
ing ministers of native birth, dissolute and ignorant,
as useless to teach as the people were predetermined
not to listen. 'f

The state of affairs at the commencement of the
reign of King William the Third was not very dif-
ferent. The English and Scotch deposed James the
Second, and settled the Crowns of England, Ireland,
and Scotland upon King William and his heirs, being
Protestants. The Irish declared for King James, and
were defeated at the Battle of the Boyne, at London-
derry, and at Limerick.

That the victory was terribly abused ; that laws of
proscription were passed ; that the two Houses of the

* Froude, vol. iv. p. 59.

f Hallam, Const. Hist., vol. iii. p. 371, 8vo.

On the State of Ireland. 9

English Parliament vied with one another in cruelty,
injustice, and all the refinements of tyranny, it is im-
possible to deny. Burnet and Edmund Burke have
made this melancholy history so clear that no one can
doubt the facts.

Yet we cannot wonder that, as Elizabeth would
have been murdered if Mary Queen of Scots and
Philip the Second had succeeded in their designs,
and as William the Third would have lost his life had
James the Second prospered in his purpose of assass-
ination, neither Elizabeth nor William felt any incli-
nation to make the Roman Catholic Church the Es-
tablished Church in Ireland.

What we have to lament, and the Irish to resent,
is not so much a victory which was essential to Eng-
land, as a proscription that was unwise, tyrannical,
and destructive to Ireland.

But for what purpose should we now revive those
horrible proofs that the cry of Vce victis ! animated
the conquerors of the reigns of Elizabeth and of

In Scotland just laws and impartial government
have erased from the mind ' the written troubles of
the brain.' The perfidy of the Plantagenets, the
tyranny of the Tudors, the oppression and duplicity
of the Stuarts, and even the Massacre of Glencoe, have
all been effaced. Instead of recalling the past woes
of Ireland, ought we not to use the example of Wil-
liam and of Somers in their conduct to Scotland as a
guide in our conduct towards Ireland?

In pursuing the inquiry which I wish to make, I

10 Letter to the Rt. Hon. C. Fortescue, M.P.

propose, in the first place, to mark the material and
physical wants of the Irish people ; to note the mea-
sures taken of late years for the improvement of their
condition, and to comment upon the measures sug-
gested to promote their progress to well-being.

On the State of Ireland. 11


LET us now, therefore, follow the course of legisla-
tion and government which has tended to cause or to
cure the material and physical misery of Ireland.
About 1760 began that contest for the occupation of
land which, in the reign of Henry VIII., had begun
to afflict England.*

In England the great increase of trade, industry,
and the introduction of the Poor Law of the 43rd of
Elizabeth, maintained order and promoted the pro-
gress of society.

In Ireland the increase of trade and the growth of
manufactures were nipped in the bud by the jealousy
of England. No Poor Law was introduced; and
from 1760 to 1829 the creation of fagot freeholds
augmented greatly the struggle for small patches of
land, from which alone the means of living were to
be obtained.

Hence the murders, the agrarian outrages, the
crimes against person and property of which Sir
George Lewis has left so frightful a catalogue in his
volume on ' Crime and Disturbance in Ireland.'

The remedies have been due partly to the Divine
Providence and partly to human exertions. Many

* See More's Utopia, for an account of English evictions.

12 Letter to the Et. Hon. C. Fortescue, M.P.

years ago the Political Economy Club of London came,
as I was told, to a resolution that the emigration
of two millions of the population of Ireland would be
the best cure for her social evils. Famine and emi-
gration have accomplished a task beyond the reach of
legislation or government ; and Providence has justly
afflicted us by the spectacle of the results of the
entire dependence on potato cultivation, and by the
old fires of disaffection which had been lighted in the
hearts of Irishmen, and are now burning with such
fierceness on the banks of the Hudson and the

The census of 1834 gave the population of Ireland
as 7,954,760; that of 1861, as 5,798,957. Thus two
millions have been removed by the great famine of
1847-8 and the drain of emigration of the last twenty

But, has Parliament been inactive and indifferent?
Let us see what measures of legislation have preceded
and followed the effects of famine and emigration. A
principal subject of inquiry for the ministry of Lord
Melbourne was the question whether a Poor Law
should be introduced. But as a Poor Law implies
a poor rate, this was not to be done without laying a
deep foundation by inquiry and statistics. Mr.
Nicholl, who for his ability and experience had been
appointed one of the Commissioners of Poor Laws in
England, was chosen for this inquiry. In 1836 Mr.
Nicholl reported ' that there were 2,385,000 persons
in Ireland insufficiently provided with the common
necessaries of life, and requiring relief for thirty weeks

On the State of Ireland. 13

in the year, owing to the want of work ; and that the
wives and children of many others were obliged to
beg systematically, while mendicancy was the sole re-
source of the aged and impotent.'

While no provision is made for the aged and impo-
tent, the State cannot with justice prohibit begging ;
while the sturdy beggar is not set to work, the State
cannot efficiently prevent the pilfering, imposture,
and intimidation which this class of marauders in-
flicts upon the country.

Such were the evils which were rife in England at
the commencement of the sixteenth century ; such
were the evils which the 43rd of Elizabeth was wisely
framed to cure.

Proceeding on the principles adopted by the able
statesmen of the reign of Elizabeth, the government
of Lord Melbourne, in the year 1837, introduced
their bill. The death of the king put a stop to it,
but in 1838 it was again introduced. It was opposed
by many of the Irish Tories, who looked upon it as
a confiscation of landed property, and by Mr. O'Con-
nell, who in speeches of great eloquence and ability
denounced this method of remedying Irish grievances.
But the measure passed, and having been amended in
1847, is now considered a permanent institution.

An able writer has pointed out that the Poor Law
of Ireland does not give the same right to relief
which is comprised in the English Act. But I have
no space to pursue that discussion.* When I had
the honour to explain the proposal for the Irish Poor

* State of Ireland, by John Th. Ingram, LL.D., 1864.

14 Letter to the Rt. Hon. C. Fortescue, M. P.

Law to King "William IV., he remarked, benevolently
and sagaciously, that the bringing together Pro-
testants and Roman Catholics as members of the
Boards of Guardians, would, he hoped, have a ten-
dency to soften religious animosities, and teach the
members of different creeds to act together in har-
mony for a work of charity.

A measure passed about the same time related to a
grievance which was at once a material and a political
wrong I speak of the law for the commutation of

The measure adopted dealt only with the material
mischief. The collection of tithes in Ireland before
the Union is thus described by Mr. Grattan :

The use of the tithe farmer is to get from the parishioners
what the parson would be ashamed to demand, and to enable
the parson to absent himself from his duty. The powers of
the tithe farmer are summary laws and ecclesiastical courts ;
his livelihood is extortion ; his rank in society is generally the
lowest, and his occupation is to pounce on the poor in the
name of the Lord ! He is a species of wolf left by the shep-
herd to take care of the flock in his absence.

In another speech Mr. Grattan calls the tithe col-
lectors l a subordination of vultures.'

Mr. Wakefield, in his elaborate and impartial vo-
lumes upon Ireland, describes the consternation of
a village when a half- famished cottier had his cow
seized for tithes :

I have heard, with emotions I can scarcely describe, deep
curses repeated from village to village as the cavalcade pro-
ceeded ; I have beheld at night houses in flames, and for a

On the State of Ireland. 15

moment supposed myself in a country exposed to the usages
of war, and suffering from the incursions of an enemy. On the
following morning the most alarming accounts of Thrashers
and Whiteboys have met my ears of men who had assem-
bled with weapons of destruction for the purpose of compel-
ling people to swear not to submit to the payment of tithes.
I have been informed of these oppressed people having, in the
ebullition of their rage, murdered both proctors and collec-
tors, wreaking their vengeance with every mark of the most
savage barbarity.*

In 1831 the tithe war, which had been hitherto a
species of guerilla warfare, marking every winter
with a stain of blood, broke out in a more aggravated
form. If I remember right, it began by the seizure,
in the parish of Graigue, of the cow of the priest who
was the religious teacher of the people, in the name
and in pursuance of the claim of the clergyman of
the Established Church, whose teachings the people
refused to hear.

Many fierce encounters dyed the fields of Ireland
with blood.

At Newtown Barry, in the county of Wexford,
the peasantry having assembled to rescue some cattle
impounded by a tithe proctor, the yeomanry fired
upon them, killing twelve persons.

At Carrickshock a fearful slaughter took place.
A number of process-servers, guarded by a strong
body of police, having proceeded to execute the law,
the surrounding hills were crowned with bonfires,
and an immense multitude of the peasantry, armed
with scythes and pitchforks, marched boldly to the

* Wakefield's Account of Ireland, vol. ii. p. 486.

16 Letter to the Rt. Hon. C. Fortescue, M.P.

attack. In a few minutes eighteen of the police,
including the commanding officer, were killed.

At Castle Pollard, in the county of Westmeath,
the chief constable having been knocked down, the
police fired, and nine or ten persons were killed.

At Gartroe, near Rathcormack, in the county of
Cork, on an attempt to enforce the payment of tithes
from a widow named Ryan, the people resisted, the
military fired, eight persons were killed, and thirteen
wounded : among the killed was the widow's son.

In this sad conflict, while the track of blood marked
the path of the tithe proctor, the Protestant clergy-
man was often reduced to beggary, the ties of charity
which bound him and his family to his poorer neigh-
bours were broken, and he often fled in dismay to
the large town where he might find protection, and
sleep secure. Sixty thousand pounds were voted by
Parliament for the relief of those despoiled clergymen,
and the State undertook to levy the arrears which
were unpaid. But this campaign, carried on by
horse and foot, amid hooting, jeers, and popular in-
timidation at every auction and on every farm, was
singularly unsuccessful. The amount of the arrears
was computed to be 104,285Z. ; the amount recovered
was 12,000/., and the cost of collection was 15,000/.

It was desirable on every account to put an end to
the tithe war. But the question arose, whether it
would not be wise to seize the opportunity for de-
priving the Church, which was not the Church of
the people, of some of those funds which could not
be used for spiritual instruction. To this contest I

On the State of Ireland. 17

shall advert when I arrive at the political part of this
letter. At present I confine myself to the question
of material progress.

I will here record, therefore, that in 1838 a bill
for the commutation of tithes in Ireland passed both
Houses of Parliament. By this Act the landlords
were made the creditors of the tithe payers, and the
debtors of the tithe owners, receiving 25 per cent, for
the risk and trouble of collection.

The tithe war has since ceased; the evils deplored
by Mr. Grattan have disappeared; the landlord col-
lects his rents, including the tithe rent-charge, with-
out a conflict, and the clergyman has no longer the
odious task of enforcing small payments by police
and military aid.

There existed another impost, of small amount
but of a peculiarly vexatious nature. This was the
church cess a tax applicable to the vestments, the
bread and wine, and the maintenance of the buildings
used for Protestant worship. Constant contests arose

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Online LibraryJohn Russell RussellA letter to the Right Hon. Chichester Fortescue, M.P. on the state of Ireland → online text (page 1 of 7)