Page images

anatomies of death ; they spake like ghosts crying out of their graves ; they did eate the dead carrions, happy where they could finde them, yea, and one another soone after, insomuch as the very carcasses they spared not to scrape out of their graves; and if they found a plot of water-cresses or shamrocks, there they flocked as to a feast for the time, yet not able to continue therewithall; that in short space there was none almost left, and a most populous and plentifull countrey sudainely left voyde of man and beast." The poet found his profit in these miseries, and his heart seems not to have been wholly melted by their contemplation. Some Irish were still left in Munster, and while any survived there could be no Hibernia pacata. As ingenious as graceful, he proposed a short and easy method for despatching them altogether; a period of grace, in which they might make final submission—after which, should they not submit, such restraints as that they must die of starvation. “ The end will (I assure me), be very short and much sooner than it can be in so great a trouble, as it seemeth, hoped for: although there should be none of them fall by the sword nor be slain by the souldiour, yet thus being kept from manurance, and their cattle from running abroad, they would quickly consume themselves and devoure one another."

The turn of Ulster came next, and there again the policy of devastation which had so thoroughly pacified Munster was pursued. The country was laid waste, the cattle and crops, and even the houses destroyed; and every man, woman, and child, that could be caught, was slaughtered. Those who escaped the sword were left to die of starvation. With the famine again came cannibalism and its revolting incidents. “No spectacle," says one writer, “ was more frequent in the ditches of

the towns, and especially in the wasted countries, than to see multitudes of the poor people dead, with their mouths all coloured green by eating nettles, docks, and all things they could rend above ground.” These results were not brought about without resistance. Tyrone of Ulster was a more formidable enemy than Desmond of Munster. The issues of the struggle also were now better defined than when Munster was attacked. The priests were everywhere active urging the septs to lay aside their feuds, and make common cause against the enemies of their faith and country. And the septs united in a way that was unprecedented. Spain—the sword of the Papacy-came, though feebly, to their assistance. The English were repeatedly defeated; their dominion in the island almost lost. In the end of the day the result was not absolute humiliation for the Irish, but a treaty and a compromise. The free and open exercise of their religion was conceded to them, and the full enjoyment of their estates. The tribal ties of Ulster were, however, shattered. The leading condition of the peace was, that Tyrone should renounce his name and sovereignty as chief.

The nation of the tribes here reached a turning point in its history. Up to this time the Irish had got on somehow with the sept and tribal organisation, the revered Patrick's law, tanistry, gavel-kind, and the Eric. They were now to be introduced to shire lands and county magistrates ; to a me and de me holdings ; leasehold, copyhold, and freehold; landlord and tenant, primogeniture, and the scaffold. An immense step for a people to take at once! Had England possessed a high-souled intellectual statesmanship, this was the occasion for displaying it. She had assumed, for better or worse, as partner in her history, a people docile, loyal to their leaders, respecting even to veneration their own laws and customs. She had disjointed the old framework of their society, and the problem was before her how to reorganise and govern it. What the solution of the problem should have been need not be speculated upon. It is very obvious now that no solution could be other than a failure, which did not present to the stricken people some appearance of wisdom, justice, and mercy.

The reorganisation took place under James I. The Irish laws were declared to be for ever abolished; the English laws were substituted for them. The country was divided into counties, and the counties placed under magistrates. All this was well. Unhappily, the first taste which the Irish got of the law—the privileges of which had en so often petitioned for and refused — was very bitter. It took the practical form of wholesale confiscations. Two millions eight hundred thousand acres, between one-third and one-fourth of the whole land, and between one-half and one-third of the good land, were confiscated. The sept chiefs were sent “to Connaught or the devil.” Many left the country; many went to Connaught. The chiefs whose lands were not forfeited found themselves turned from chiefs into landowners—a change to them not unwelcome; the septmen found themselves turned from joint owners of the soil into tenants at will, with, in many cases, landlords hateful to them by a thousand memories aliens in race, language, and religion. In many districts chiefs and septmen alike were cleared off the land to make way for the foreign settlers. The evicted multitudes—sent neither to Connaught nor the devilwandered about homeless, starving, and desperate. Many of them died ; many betook themselves to a lawless life in the woods and mountains. A new organisa

[ocr errors]

tion was what Irish society required. This reorganisation beggared one section of the people and enslaved the other. As a solution of the Irish problem, it was neither wise, just, nor merciful.

The races whom Kilkenny statutes had previously prevented from intermixing, and between whom spoliation had erected a barrier, were now farther and for ever separated by the difference of religion. The English had after a fashion spontaneously become Protestant. The Pale in Ireland was made Protestant by compulsion ; the Irish, by the effort to change their religion, were made—what before they had not been—Roman Catholic. In both countries, after the Reformation, penal laws laid their pressure on the recusants. The pressure was at once felt by those lords of the Pale who clung to the old faith ; the mass of the Irish were at first beyond its reach. The vigorous policy, whose results we have just seen, soon, however, conveyed to the Irish a well-defined idea of Protestantism and its pressures. Those whom Elizabeth's generals spared, were dealt with by her propagandists. The means of conversion cannot be called peculiar, though some of the tortures were, perhaps, less refined than usual. The Catholic priests were forbidden to exercise their spiritual functions, and were hanged, burned, and so on, if they did. So far, all was right, proper, and customary! It was improper, however, to beat their brains out with stones, although to rip open their stomachs and burn their bowels before their faces may have been permissible. The Irish may be excused if they made the most of the fine distinction. To further their conversion, a swarm of profligate parsons—the refuse of the Church of England—were established in the cures from which the priests were evicted. Whether they were so black as they have been painted, it is needless to inquire very particularly. Ignorant of the language of the natives, they could not represent for them the Good Shepherd. The Pope's success cannot be wondered at. The people clung to the ancient faith and the native pastors, and identified Protestantism with all that was odious and intolerable.

One of the first acts of James I. was a gaol delivery, from which he excluded “murderers and Papists.” The free exercise of their religion, conceded by Elizabeth in treaty to the Irish, had never been granted in fact. King James found the Catholic chapels shut; he kept them shut, and enforced attendance in the Protestant churches by fine and imprisonment. It had been rumoured that he was going to be tolerant. Such a suspicion was too horrible to be borne. He threw it off by royal proclamation, for behoof of all whom it might concern : “Whereas his Majesty is informed that his subjects of Ireland have been deceived by a false report that his Majesty had been disposed to allow them liberty of conscience and free choice of a religion; he hereby intimates to his beloved subjects of Ireland, that he will not admit of any such liberty of conscience as they were made to expect by such report.” The ecclesiastical courts in his reign exercised the functions and powers of the inquisition. Religion was made a ground for robbing the natives of the land—to “throw it into the Protestant interest.” At a sweep six great counties in Ulster were thrown into this interest, the Irish probibited from living in them, and such Roman Catholics as were not Irish prevented by the oath of supremacy being made a condition of residence. In the next reign the Catholics were still more aggrieved under the unscrupulous Strafford. A part of Connaught was confiscated, and it was mooted that the whole was to be “thrown

« PreviousContinue »