« PreviousContinue »
mon sufferings." They continued—“ What we have concealed under a respectful silence would form a far longer, and full as melancholy a recital. We speak with reluctance, though we feel with anguish ; we respect, from the bottom of our hearts, that legislation under which we suffer ; but we humbly conceive it is impossible to procure redress without complaint, or to make a complaint that, by some construction, may not appear to convey blame; and nothing, we assure your majesty, should have extorted from us even those complaints, but the strong, necessity we find ourselves under of employing every lawful, humble endeavour, lest the whole purpose of our lives and labours should prove only the means of confirming to ourselves, and entailing on our posterity, inevitable beggary, and the most abject servitude ; a servitude the more intolerable, as it is suffered amidst that liberty, that peace, and that security, which, under your majesty's benign influence, are spread all around us, and which we alone, of all your majesty's subjects are rendered incapable of partaking.” It is painful to find high-minded, upright men—men, too, representing the feelings of a vast mass of human beings—so far sunk in humiliation and self-abasement. By such means they might obtain the repeal of those laws which were offensive to the Protestant --they would get, and they did get, nothing purely on their own account. They afterwards learned some political philosophy, and altered their tone of supplication. They found that they had to do with men who only obeyed the voice of fear, and gave to those who were able and prepared to take.
The state of society, indeed, produced in Ireland by the existence of these laws on the one hand, and their not being enforced on the other, was, towards the middle of last century, a very singular one, and gave many peculiarities to the first. faint struggles of the Catholics. The Roman Catholic nobility, proud of their old blood and high descent-many of them sprung from the ancient kings of Ireland—were deeply incensed by the insults heaped on them. They felt that their innate superiority to the Protestant upstarts was not only denied, but that they were subject to a degrading inferiority. The ordinary Catholics were oppressed; but they felt the greater evil of being degraded. They were reduced, too, to a situation utterly powerless. Could they have headed their vassals and restored the Stuarts, they, no doubt, would have done so; but the Government took care to deprive them of any power as leaders. Their only method of throwing off the yoke was by making common cause with the people, and fighting in their ranks. This their pride would never permit them to submit to; and the penal laws, which degraded them and set them apart from their brethren of the aristocracy, only made them retreat more sullenly within their own circles of exclusiveness, and drove them farther than ever from any sympathy with their fellow sufferers. Ireland had to look in a different direction for champions.
A race of Catholic merchants had sprung up from the very ashes of Roman Catholic property. The Protestant commoner, imagining the legislature existed and framed its laws for himself alone-presuming that he was its peculiar care, and that it would feed him with the bread Roman catholic industry--grew insolent and idle. An aristocracy of religion was attempted to be formed—the Protestant to be the gentleman, the Roman Catholic, the labourer. But no laws, unless they had been enforced by a host of magistrates nearly equal to half the inhabitants of the country, could support a division so unnatural. Still, when the Protestant was indolent, proud, and lavish, he was reduced to beggary, from which he could not redeem himself by the plunder of the Catholic; and still, the Catholic, if industrious and talented, might secure some portion of his hardly acquired wealth from the grasp of the law. But the laws brought out another peculiarity in the character of the Catholic. As the law did not protect his property, he required to protect it by his wits. He required to make his bargains enforce themselves. He was obliged, also, as his transactions were insecure, to take such profits as would, in the average, make up for his losses ; and the needy, idle Protestant, often found it necessary to allow them. The Catholics thus acquired a character of being avaricious and grasping. Many of them grew rich; and a body of merchants came into existence who were not much less powerful than the aristocracy, and were more likely to make common cause with the people.
Thus existed a body, which required only to be put in motion, and attached to the people, to procure the emancipation of Ireland. The latter was an achievment for a much later period. The united effect of the popular voice was then unknown as an instrument in political warfare; and much was thought to be achieved, when the respectable merchants and a few landholders were united by a common bond and taught a common purpose. Their organization was due to a sinall knot of literary men, headed by Mr. O'Connor, Dr. Curry, and Mr. Wyse. These were the first, after a long period of silence, who ventured to tell the sufferings of the Roman Catholics; and to maintain their claims. The namesake and descendant of the last mentioned gentleman, has thus interestingly narrated one of the trifling incidents which assisted in urging them to exertion :
“ The pulpit had caught the contagion from the legislature; and calumnies unchecked and unanswered, against the living, and the dead, were poured out weekly upon the victims of national hatred. Every insult and contumely was added to sharpen the lagging and blunted vengeance of the law. It was on one of these occasions, on the 23rd of October 1746, that a young girl, passing from one of these sermons through the Castle-yard of Dublin, lifted up her hands in astonishment and horror, and exclaimed — And are there any of these bloody Papists now in Dublin ? The incident excited the laughter of the bystanders; but there was one in the crowd on whose ear it fell with a far different meaning --Dr. Curry was standing near. The sermon was purchased and read. it overflowed with invective and with slanders. Catholicity was misrepresented, and with every additional circumstance of malignity which existing prejudice and historical falsehood could combine. From that day forth he dedicated the whole weight and energies of his mind to an immortal cause. He had yet no other combatant by his side, nor the hopes of a combatant to sustain him; he stood alone in the field, and bore upor his single shield the entire burden of the conflict.”
The task undertaken by Dr. Curry was of a nature which does not often suggest itself to men engaged in political controversies; but it was not less serviceable. It was this :He saw that the persecutors of his religion supported their acts on the general prejudices which the Protestants entertained against the Roman Catholics, as a sect whose creed taught them to be bad citizens. He saw that this prejudice was supported by the practice of carefully recording and magnifying all the evil that Roman Catholics had ever done, and carefully suppressing all the good. He was resolved that the world should know the truth that, as the followers of his own religion had not been, in all ages, immeasurably wicked, or their opponents purely virtuous, it should no longer be maintained that history said so, and that no one could come forward with any just claims of sympathy for the Roman Catholics. With this view, he wrote his “ Historical and Critical Review of the Civil Wars in Ireland, from the reign of Queen Elizabeth to the settlement of King William," a work of profound research, which has added much to our historical information, and is the more valuable, as following a track which no one before had dared to tread. It was commenced at a time when no other arena was open, in which an Irishman could struggle for his rights; but it cleared away for future exertions, by removing the calumnies of the enemy.
Allied with Dr. Curry in his work of enlightening the world on subjects connected with Irish history, was the equally venerated Mr. O'Connor of Ballengar-a man whose reputation is classical from his antiquarian labours. Dr. Curry was a physician in good practice; for the Protestants could not preserve the monopoly of science. The other, though the head of a family, but a short time before'owning vast domains, was born in a cottage, and lived during a long and useful life in respected obscurity. The third labourer, Mr. Wyse, a more ardent and active man, was felt as a more practically dangerous opponent, and met a harder fate. " His days,” says Mr Wyse, the younger, “were embittered and endangered by every ingenious application of the penal code which his enemies could devise; and, after successfully proving in his own person the inflictions of the gavel and of the disarming act, the ingenious malignity of the discoverer, the secret conspiracy of of the Protestant minister, the treacherous calumny of the informer, he sunk broken-hearted into the grave, leaving it as an injunction in his last will to his children, “That they should, with all convenient speed, sell the remainder of their hereditary property, (a portion of which had already been disposed of for that purpose,) and seek out some other country, where they might worship God, like other men, in peace, and should not be persecuted for manfully observing, in the open day, the religion of their hearts, and the dictates of an honest conscience.""
The country began to stir, and symptoms of reviving public spirit made their appearance in various quarters. Even the Parliament, which, after being so completely subjected to England, had lain worse than dead, began to show symptoms of returning animation. In 1753, there was a surplus of revenue, which the crown urged a right to appropriate to whatever purpose it pleased. In England, it had, ever since the revolution, been the practice for the House of Commons to appropriate the various items of supply to their proper purposes ; but this right was denied to exist in Ireland. The crown officers fraudulently seized on the sum in question. But the very circumstance of the Parliament opposition, argued that some thought of constitutional rights—some feeling that the country ought not to remain subject to the arbitrary will of a conqueror—was appearing even among the Protestants. Three years afterwards, a new bill for the registry of priests was thrown out by a majority of two.
The Protestants began to perceive that they dared not make new instruments of persecution, however long they might
et the old ones remain. In this juncture, the three eminent men just mentioned made an appeal to the Catholic aristocracy and priesthood, to unite with them in labouring to remove their