Page images
PDF
EPUB

who passed over into Ireland to obtain civil employments or grants of land, were generally connected with some court influence, and obtained every thing worth having. While the old English by blood, born in Ireland, gradually lost their connection with the government, and degenerated, as it was phrased, into mere Irish.

Independent of the great property they had acquired, there was another foundation for the power of the English and Irish chieftains. Till the reign of Elizabeth, the English government was too weak at home to spare any great force for the protection of its colony in Ireland.* The defence of the pale rested entirely with Irish-English chieftains who were constantly inured to war, and from their knowledge of the natives and of the country, were best acquainted with the mode of warfare that. was adopted by them.

The English government was also extremely necessitous, and hence the means and burthen of raising and maintaining a military force, were left entirely to these

* This is extremely well explained by Sir J. Davis.

chieftains. It is not surprising that they soon began to esteem themselves independent of a power which would at any time have ceased to exist but for their protection.

They adopted the customs and prerogatives of the Irish princes whom they had dispossessed,

They not only levied armies, waged war, and made peace like other potentates, as the whim seized them, but they drew their revenues according to the Irish mode of taxation, partly from tribute paid by dependent chieftains, partly by imposts, called Bonnaught, Cutting, Coyne and Livery, Kar

nety, &c.

To mark still stronger their total secession from the controul of English jurisprudence, they adopted the Brehon law, they submitted their property, and that of their dependants to the custom of Gavelkind, as it has been improperly termed, more properly speaking, “ hodge podge;" and their rank of chieftain descended according to the law of tanistry. All this the English güvernient put up with very good humouredly, whenever it stood in need of these chieftains for defence against the native

G

Irish ; but whenever it occasionally gained a little strength, it was sure to lay claim to its renegade subjects; and a continual source of jealousy and bickering, and ultimately of very serious and sanguinary wars arose to England, exactly in proportion to the rapine and ravage she had committed in Ireland.

It is of no consequence to our present enquiry whether the English government, or its degenerate - subjects were in the wrong ; -we shall only observe, that the English–Irish chieftains had obtained a right by prescription to their independence, as far as lapse of time, and long possession could establish it: and as this is the firmest foundation of all right, there must have heen great apparent hardship in requiring these chieftains to descend at once from the rank of princes, to that of mere subjects, at least it must have appeared so to them; which is sufficient for our purpose, as we wish only to prove that this sense of injury, and not religion, was the cause of their rebellions

A short account of the rise and fall of the house of Desmond, will be sufficient to

shew the real causes of the rebellion of its last earl under the reign of Elizabeth.

At the time of Edward II. the English power in Ireland only maintained a passive existence from the voluntary services of Maurice Fitz-Thomas of Desmond. He was sufficiently brave, but extremely poor; and receiving no supplies from England, he was obliged to adopt the Irish custom of Coyne and Livery, or free quarters, for the support of his army. This ineasure had its usual effect; the inhabitants of Kerry, and of the counties of Limerick, Cork, and Waterford, who were exposed to it, were either murdered, or so harassed by extortions, that they left their possessions to seek a temporary security, where the country was not desolated by à protecting army. Desmond, his kinsinen, allies, and retainers, entered into these possessions, and appropriated the lands to themselves. Desmond took what he liked for his own private property, and réserved an Irish seigniory or the right of Bonnaught cuttings, Etc. over the rest. So that he raised his income froin one thousand marks per

[ocr errors]

annum, to ten thousand pounds per annum; an enormous sum in those days.

From this time the Earls of Desmond assumed all the prerogatives of independent princes, refusing to attend parliament, levying taxes, making wars, and, as they could find no precedent for their conduot in English law, they very naturally adopted the old Irish usages which were quite consonant to their views.

Their example was followed by nearly ahl the English families of considerable property, by the Burkeș, Birminghams, Dexons, Geraldines, Butlers, Condrons, &c. who, in the stile of Irish royalty, assumed a fictitious sirname in place of the title of prince.

Such as M William Eighter; M*Yoris, M Costelo, M.Morris, M'Gibbon, M Pheris, &c. They all had their particular nations and their tributaries; they levied taxes according to the Irish usages, and made wars when they pleased, and with whom they pleased. They met with very little interruption from the English government, which either regarded this assumption of independence with indiffet rence, or was too weak to prevent it.

« PreviousContinue »