Page images

the guardian of any other person's children. Popish schools were prohibited, and special disabilities attached to Papists bred abroad. A premium was set on the breach of filial duty and the family affections. If a son declared himself Protestant, which he might do in boyhood, a third of his father's fortune was at once applied to his use ; the father's estate was secured to him as heir, a life-rent merely being left to the father. A father's settlement to the prejudice of the heir-at-law might be instantly defeated by the heir becoming Protestant. If the heir continued a Papist, the estate gavelledwent in equal shares to the sons—a modification of old Irish law introduced to break up the estates of the Papists, so that none should be on the land above the condition of a beggar. If there were no sons, it gavelled on the daughters ; if no children, then on the collaterals. Papists who had lost their lands and had grown rich in commerce, could neither buy land nor lend their money on heritable security. The Papist could get no hold, direct or indirect, upon the soil. Even a lease to a Papist, to be legal, must have been short. Any Papist, above sixteen years of age, might be called on to take the oath of abjuration, and, on thrice declining, he suffered a præmunire. If he entertained a priest or a bishop, he was fined; for a third offence he forfeited his whole fortune. The exercise of his religion was forbidden ; its chapels were shut up; its priests banished, and hanged if they returned home. An act passed the Irish Parliament, providing that every Roman Catholic priest caught in Ireland should be castrated! A Papist could not enter the profession of the law. He could not marry a Protestant (the fatal Kilkenny provision against mixing, over again). He could neither vote at vestries, nor serve on grand juries, nor act as a constable, as a sheriff,

an under sheriff, or a magistrate. He could neither vote at elections nor sit in Parliament. In short, he was excluded from every office of public trust or emolument. “ The Catholics,” says Sir H. Parnell, “ in place of being the free subjects of a prince from whom they were taught to expect only justice and mercy, were made the slaves of every one, even of the meanest of their Protestant countrymen. Had they become mere slaves, they might have expected some degree of humane treatment; but as the policy which made them slaves held them at the same time as the natural and interested enemies of their masters, they were doomed to experience all the oppression of tyranny without any of the chances, which other slaves enjoy, of the tyrants being merciful and feeling their tyranny secure.”

To see how complete was the prostration of the Irish we must look at their relations to the land. The settlements in Ireland had all been rather settlements of “the bill of costs” than of the country. The conquest begun by adventurers was throughout carried on by them, at least in this sense, that either the soldiers were to be paid out of the land, or money was to be thus repaid that had been borrowed for the army as for a commercial adventure. After every victory came a squaring of accounts. They were squared against the land-by just confiscations, if there were grounds for them; if not, then by unjust.

Where there were no political excuses for forfeitures, technical excuses were easily invented; the business of discovering these was at one time the lucrative profession of a gang of infamous persons known as discoverers. The means by which the confiscations were managed are, perhaps, immaterial, except so far as they have been sources to the Irish of the bitter sense of wrong. The results are more important. According to the estimate of Sir William Petty, there were in all in Ireland 10,500,000 acres of land, of which 3,000,000 were either unprofitable or covered by rivers, loughs, &c., leaving 7,500,000 of good meadow, arable, and pasture. “Of the whole 7,500,000 acres of good land,” says he, “the English and Protestants and the Church have this Christmas (1672), 5,140,000 acres, and the Irish have nearly half as much, viz., 2,280,000.” After the Revolution in 1688, 1,060,792 acres, mostly belonging to the Irish, were forfeited and sold to defray the expense of reducing the rebels-in short, to settle the bill. The Irish were thus left in possession of little more than oneseventh of the land. This is a favourable way of looking at the figures. How unfavourably they might be, and were regarded by the Irish, may be seen in Lord Clare's celebrated statement in the Irish Parliament in the debate on the Union. “The superficial contents of the island,” he said, are calculated at 11,042,682

The state of the forfeitures was as follows:


“ In the reign of James I., the whole province of Ulster, 2,836,837 Set out by the Court of Claims at the Restoration, 7,800,000 Forfeitures of 1688,


[blocks in formation]

So that the whole of your island has been confiscated, with the exception of the estates of five or six families of English blood, some of whom had been attainted in the reign of Henry VIII., but who recovered their possessions before Tyrone's rebellion, and escaped the pillage of the republic inflicted by Cromwell ; and no inconsiderable portion of the island has been confiscated twice, or perhaps thrice, in the course of a century. If the wars of England carried on here from the reign of

Elizabeth had been waged against a foreign enemy, the inhabitants would have retained their possessions under the established law of civilised nations, and their country have been annexed as a province to the British Empire.” “ Confiscation is their common title," said Lord Clare, speaking of the landlords, “and from their first settlement they have been hemmed in by the old inhabitants brooding over their discontent in sullen indignation.”

The discontent was universal. Even those estates were sources of it which were left in native hands. These owed their existence to a change of law, which altered sept property into family property, without compensating the septmen. It was the stage of Irish development which gave such breadth to the disaffection. Had the ancient land tenures been feudal, the landed class would have been small, and the confiscations would have aggrieved only a few. But every Irishman had an interest in the soil, and was in a sense a landowner. The septs often appeared protesting that the lands could not be forfeited by the chiefs who had never owned them. In one case they made the plea good by force. A colony was planted on lands in Down and Antrim, forfeited in the time of Elizabeth by the attainder of O'Neill. These lands“.

were presumed in law to be vacant." The colony could not, however, obtain possession, “the native occupants," says Hallam, “not acquiescing in this doctrine of the lawyers." In the reign of Mary the point was again raised by two septs -the O’Mores and O'Connors—and settled by force against them. The plea, however, was never abandoned. To this day the Irish cherish the tradition that they are the true lords of the soil. Their rights were wrested from them by force, and they acknowledge no law of

[ocr errors]

prescription as making valid titles founded in spoliation. An unpractical people, it must be confessed, and tenacious of evil memories. But such is their unhappy point of view. The confiscations disinherited not a class, but the whole race of Irishmen.

For a century after the settlement by William of Orange, the Irish, now proscribed and disinherited, were so held down by the strong hands of Government, that they never once attempted insurrection. They even allowed to pass the chances offered by the Scottish rebellions of 1715 and 1745. The pause, however, was not a peace, but a truce, during which the fettered nation brooded over its wrongs. What was to be the next phase of its deplorable history?

Sir William Petty estimated the population in 1672 at 1,100,000, of whom 800,000 were Irish, and 300,000 English and Scotch. The wars of the Revolution, and the expatriations, voluntary and compulsory, which followed them, must have so checked the growth of population that we may assume it the same in 1690 as in 1672. But the population by 1731 exceeded two millions; by 1761, three millions ; by 1791, four millions; between 1791 and 1835 it more than doubled, and Ireland contained over 8,000,000 souls! In the vast fungus-like growth of human beings the Irish were by far the most prolific element. In the five centuries of feuds, between 1172 and 1672, they increased only from about 300,000 to 800,000. In the next century and a half they increased from 800,000 to 6,500,000! In 1733, the number of Papists was estimated to be less than a million and a-half; in 1834, according to an official return, they numbered 6,427,712. They had more than quadrupled in a century. The race that at one time could have been contained in a moderate-sized city, filled all the


« PreviousContinue »