Page images
PDF
EPUB

for new concessions to the Catholics, and in 1793 they were admitted to the political franchise and the subordinate civil and military offices ;—they were still, however, shut out from Parliament, the bench, and the higher military and civil offices. These last concessions alarmed the Ascendancy, and had, to a great extent, an effect which, some say, they were designed to produce. The Catholics, it was rumoured, would next get into Parliament, and recover the land! There was a split in the popular camp, and the project of a republic, in favour of which the various organisations were uniting, was at the last given up by the Presbyterian traders of the north, who had started it, and was left to be carried on mainly by the Irish Catholics.

The state of Ireland again became critical. The organisations, called into existence by misgovernment and delays of justice, had power and the disposition to use it. As Earl Fitzwilliam, when Lord Lieutenant, frankly put the case to Mr Pitt, the choice was between

just government with reforms and concessions, or an unjust government to be carried on by corruption till it led to rebellion and—whatever might happen. Pitt made his choice-corruption and rebellion—and forced the latter to a head. It was not difficult work. All the organisations were absorbed in that of the United Irishmen, bent on freeing Ireland from the English yoke and making her an independent republic; the French were hastening to their assistance with a powerful military force, and what was most wanted-arms; when the measures of the Government precipitated the rising, and for a month the unarmed and half-armed Irish were given up to the sword, the scourge, and the pitch cap. The rebellion was suppressed through the slaughter in one month of 50,000 Irishmen, “ mostly in cold blood,” say the Irish historians, at a cost of 20,000 lives within the same time to the Government. “It was put down by Irish whisky," say the English libellers, referring to the drunken excesses of the rebels, by which they threw away what chance of success they had. Ireland, at any rate, was again prostrated. The French came late ; when they did arrive, it was to find that those they came to assist had been crushed.

The Irish Parliament, the facile instrument from the earliest times of English misgovernment, now performed an act which must be recorded. Hitherto the Parliament has barely been mentioned. In the interests of morality its history should by every one be ignored and forgotten. It never was the organ of the Irish people; and while they may dwell with pride on the names of the few eloquent and patriotic men who figured in its last years, they should rejoice that it is gone for ever. It was the organ of the Anglo-Irish, and a tool always easily adjusted to the purposes of the English Government even against them. Its history is truly the shame of England rather than of Ireland, for if its members were corrupt they were English Ministers who debased them. The Union was now the act of this degraded body. Almost the only good thing it ever did was when, in the year 1800, it voted its own annihilation.

The Union at first barely affected the surface of Irish society; the under currents went on as before. The local disquietudes continued ; the number of the discontented in Dublin was greater than ever. cause had given a spur to the growth of population, which now went on faster than before. This was the political enfranchisement of the Irish Catholic population in 1793. The landlords thereafter carried on the subdivision of the land on principle, with a view to the

A new

creation of votes by the multiplication of “freeholds,” leases for lives being held to be freeholds by the Irish Law Courts. They looked on the tenants as mere property, to be driven in herds to the poll. The new “good plot devised for the reformation of the realme”— the extension of the franchise-was not to “prosper or take good effect,” owing to "the fatal destiny of the land,” any more than the other and more ancient ones pathetically referred to by Spenser.

There was scarcely a year from the date of the Union down to 1835, in which measures had not to be taken to preserve the peace of the country. A Select Committee in 1801 reported the existence of a secret and extensive conspiracy against the Government. There was a rebellion in 1803; the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended, and martial law established. In 1806 the Thrashers—who resembled the Whiteboys—appeared in open

insurrection, and perpetrated the most savage cruelties. The King's judges, upon a special commission, could not move about the country except under a military escort. An Insurrection Act was called for by disturbances in Limerick in 1307. In 1811 and 1812 the counties of Tipperary, Waterford, Kilkenny, Limerick, Westmeath, Roscommon, and King's County, were the theatre of sanguinary tumults. and in 1813, according to a declaration of the Lord Lieutenant, “the greater part of Ireland was a prey to the most frightful excesses.

Armed bodies of men paraded the country levying contributions, administering oaths, enforcing their regulations about land, inflicting the most cruel punishments, searching for arms, breaking into the houses of respectable people in open day, and even making a stand against the military.” In 1814 appeared in one district the Caravats, in another the

In these years,

Carders, perpetrating the most revolting cruelties. They tore the flesh from the bones of those who disobeyed their mandates. Two coercive acts were the result. In moving for one of them, Mr Peel declared the disturbances to be most alarming. “The terror of the law in Ireland,” he said, “ seemed not to survive the cause which set it in motion. As quickly as one combination was suppressed, others sprung up, wide-spread and secret, and defied the law.” It must suffice to give the names of these terrible peasant societies, some of which survived till recent times, and may still exist. There were the Whitefeet, Blackfeet, Shavanats, Rockites, Terryalts, and Ribbonmen. In 1815 Limerick and parts of three other counties were put under the Insurrection Act. In 1816 Mr Peel had again to sketch the state of Irish society.

Formerly," he said, “tumults and outrages could be traced to particular causes ; but those which now prevail seem to be the effect of a general confederacy in crime—a comprehensive conspiracy in guilt-a systematic opposition to all laws and municipal institutions." In 1817 the Insurrection Act was extended to Louth ; during 1817 and 1818 the state of Limerick and Tipperary was dreadful, and both counties were under the Act. In 1820 Galway broke out. In 1821 Limerick became once more the scene of the most deplorable outrages, while Munster and portions of Leinster and Connaught were in open insurrection. Matters were nowise improved in 1822, when every province of Ireland was agitated with the disturbances. The Insurrection Act had to be re-edited. “ The system of insubordination,” said Mr Goulbourn, “ of which the distinctive marks were to be found in every part of the country, had been for some time progressively increasing, and had in one district been matured into open insurrection and rebellion.” The country was at once afflicted and disgraced by the most terrible excesses, by burnings, robberies, and murders. In 1823 a renewal of the Insurrection Act was recommended by the Lord Lieutenant; it was again proposed for renewal in 1824. Between 1825 and 1829 the agitation for the last step of Catholic emancipation was at its height, and added to the confusion. The old Tory principle of non-concession, till concession lost all grace and effect, was again persisted in. “It is a bad business, the old Tory Duke remarked, “ but we are aground.” Being no longer able to refuse it, Government granted “ Relief” to the Catholics, who now became eligible for the highest public offices and for seats in Parliament. And what at the time was the state of Ireland ? It was described by Sir Robert Peel in introducing the Relief Bill. “A dreadful commotion," he said, “ distracted the public mind of Ireland; a feverish agitation and unnatural excitement prevailed, to a degree scarcely credible, throughout the whole country. Social intercourse was poisoned there in its very springs ; family was divided against family, and man against his neighbour; in a word, the bonds of social life were almost dissevered, and the foundations of public justice corrupted. The spirit of discord walked openly abroad, and an array of physical force was marshalled in defiance of all law, and to the imminent danger of the public peace.' The peace in Ireland! There never had been peace; and the truce had been broken ever since 1761.

Catholic Emancipation came too late. Much had been hoped from it for the tranquillity of Ireland ; but Ireland was not tranquil. Its opponents exulted ; its advocates wondered at it having so little effect. For one thing it left standing the English Church in Ireland,

« PreviousContinue »