Page images




This Act of 1887 was a Perpetual Coercion act. The various coercion acts subsequent to 1887 until the beginning of the war have been merely supplementary to it, and are not included here.*

These Acts of Coercion have been condemned by public opinion the world over. Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton in the British Parliament, speaking against the passage of the Bill of 1833 said:

"It is proposed, to pacify Ireland by domiciliary visits, courtsmartial, by-Oh! Rare pacification !

You would pacify a country by maddening its people.

If you suspend the constitution, you suspend it for all alike; you make no exception from the dread ban of general excommunication. You subject the innocent and guilty alike to spies and informers; to the arbitrary perils of suspicion; to those dark uncertainties of terror in which every man stands in fear of his neighbors. You give temptation to the accusation of private revenge; you give a field to all the mercenary, all the malignant, all the individual motives which are ever brought into operation by the suspension of law and the insecurity of political freedom.

When this law was in force before, men turned it to the most fearful purposes. It was not the peasant who was invaded in his own person ; he was outraged in that of his sister or his wife. It was a law that benefited not the trembling landlord, but the daring violators; it had operated, not in behalf of the security of property, but against rights still more sacred than even property itself. * * *

We take the time for exercising new coercions at the very moment when by our new experiment of conciliation we have veritably declared that seven centuries of coercion have been unavailing. sure that no people on the face of the earth can be governed by the system His Majesty's Ministers propose. Today coercion, tomorrow concession.

this coaxing with the hand and spurning with the heel—this system at once feeble and exasperating-of allowing the justice of complaint, and yet stifling its voice-of holding out hopes and fears, terror and conciliation, all in a breath-is a system. that renders animals and human beings alike, not tame but savage, it is a system that would make the most credulous people distrustful, and the mildest people ferocious.

But you flatter yourself that under the shelter of those laws you will be able with effect to apply your remedial measures; it is just the reverse; they will blight all your remedies, and throw their withering shadow over all your concessions. I do not fear an open rebellion against the armed force and discipline of England; but if you madden people

*Note: The Act of 1882 contained a provision empowering three judges sitting without a jury to try persons charged with the commission of murder and other felonies. The best comment on this ferocious measure was supplied by the Irish judges themselves who, at a special meeting convened to consider the position. passed a resolution declaring their unanimous opinion “that the Prevention of Crime (Ireland) Act of 1882 would seriously impair public confidence In the judicial office, and thereby permanently impair the administration of justice in Ireland.” One of their body, the late Baron Fitzgerald of the Court of Exchequer. resigned his office, and publicly declared that he did so because he considered the new duties cast upon himself and his colleagues were unconstitutional. In consequence of these protests the provision of trial by three judges without a jury was never enforced.

I am


it is impossible to calculate the force of insanity. Indeed, I think
an open rebellion is the least evil to be feared. I fear more, a sullen,
bitter, unforgiving recollection, which will distrust all our kindness
and misinterpret all our intentions; which will take all grace from
our gifts; which will ripen a partial into a general desire for a separate
Legislature, by a settled conviction of the injustice of this, so that at
last the English people themselves, worn out with unavailing experi-
ments, wearied with an expensive and thankless charge, and dis-
satisfied with a companionship which gives them nothing but the conta-
gion of its diseases, will be the first to ask for that very dismemberment
of the empire which we are now attempting to prevent."

[VI] (c)

English savagery in Ireland is not of Twentieth-Century growth.

“Centuries of brutal and often ruthless injustice, and what is worse

centuries of insolence and insult have driven hatred of British rule into the very marrow of the Irish race. The long rec ords of oppression, proscription and expatriation have formed the greatest blot on the British fame of equity and eminence in the realm of government.”—Lloyd George in British Parliament, March 7, 1917.

As indicated in this Parliamentary address of Lloyd George, English attempts to subdue Ireland have been accompanied by barbarities of an infinite variety, and prompted by a purpose as uniform as it has been futile. From the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries English invasions, massacres and confiscations alternated with subtler methods of intrigue and penetration-all failing in the fell purpose of conquest.

MASSACRE AND FAMINE IN ELIZABETHIAN ERA The character of the campaigns by which Elizabeth's officers strove to establish English rule is described by Edmund Spencer, the author of the “Faerie Queen":

"Notwithstanding that the same was a most rich and plentiful country, full of corne and cattel, yet, ere one year and a half, they were brought to such wretchedness as thet any stony heart would rue the


Lord Essex in 1599 wrote in a letter to the Queen:

"Twere as well for our credit that we alone had the exposition of our quarrel with this people, and not they also.” And another Lord Deputy writing shortly after 1607 described his activities as follows:

Hunger would be a better, because a speedier weapon to employ against them than the sword.

I burned all along the Lough (Neagh) within four miles of Dungannon, and killed a hundred people, sparing none, of what quality, age or sex soever,

besides many

burned to death ;-killed man, woman and child; horse, beast, and whatsoever we could find.

Of this period the historian Lecky said:

The suppression of the native race was carried on with a ferocity which surpassed that of Alva in the Netherlands and has seldom been exceeded in the pages of history.

The war was literally a war of extermination. The slaughter of Irishmen was looked upon as literally the slaughter of wild beasts. Not only the men but even the women and children who fell into the hands of the English, were deliberately and systematically butchered."

Those who escaped the sword died of famine, and the Lord Deputy Mountjoy reported :

“We have seen no one man in all Tyrone of late but dead carcasses merely hunger starved.

No spectacle was more frequent in the ditches of towns and especially in wasted countries, than to see multitudes of these poor people dead, with their mouths all colored green by eating nettles, docks, and all things they could rend up above the ground."

IN CROMWELLIAN PERIOD To the massacres of Elizabeth and James there succeeded those of Strafford and Cromwell. In the latter it is estimated that over one million Irish were killed within a comparatively short period. Sir William Petty, an Englishman, writing in “Political Anatomy of Ireland,'' 1691, puts the figure at 669,000.

Some thirty thousand men, women and children were massacred at Drogheda; a similar fate overtook the inhabitants of Wexford, Dundalk, Newry and many other cities. Cromwell's official report to Parliament stated :

"It has pleased God to bless our endeavors at Drogheda--I wish that all honest hearts may give glory of this to God alone—I do not think thirty of the whole number escaped with their lives; those that did are in safe custody for the Barbadoes."

The last words refer to the organized slave-traffic then inaugurated, of which Prendergast wrote:

“In the course of four years they had seized and shipped 6,400 Irish men and women, boys and maidens.

When they began to seize and daughters and children of the English themselves—then indeed the orders at the end of four years, were revoked.”

PENAL CODE IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY In the eighteenth century was perfected the famous Penal Code described by Edmund Burke as

“The worst species of tyranny that the insolence and perverseness of mankind ever dared exercise. It was a complete system, well digested and well composed in all its parts. It was a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance; and as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.”—(Works of Edmund Burke, Vol. 2, p. 64-84.)


The Unionist historian Lecky wrote of the Irish Penal Code, that it had a character entirely distinctive:

"It was directed not against the few, but against the many. It was not the persecution of a sect, but the degradation of a nation

it may be justly regarded as one of the blackest pages in the history of persecution.

The Penal Laws were only on the surface of religious origin. Even at the time of their enforcement their true character was recognized by many as the political and economic tyranny of one nation over another. Samuel Johnson is reported to have said, as stated in Boswell's Life (p. 29):

“The Irish are in a most unnatural state, for we there see the minority prevailing over the majority. There is no instance even in the Ten Persecutions of such severity.'

During the eighteenth century, besides enduring legal slavery, the Irish suffered from perpetual famine and were too exhausted to maintain an effective resistance. The relief obtained in 1782 was short-lived and the closing years of the century witnessed the organized campaign of exasperation which ultimately provoked the rebellion of 1798. During that and the succeeding year it is estimated that between fifty and eighty thousand Irish were butchered and innumerable tortures inflicted.

Mr. Sampson, accepted as a reliable witness, gives the following description of the conditions existing at that time:

“I remained in Dublin until the 16th of April, when the terror became so atrocious that humanity could no longer endure it. In every quarter of the metropolis, the shrieks and groans of the tortured were to be heard, and that through all hours of the day and night. Men were taken at random without process or accusation, and tortured at the pleasure of the lowest dregs of the community. Bloody theatres were opened and new and unheard of machines were invented for their diabolical purpose.

“The tortures administered during the reign of terror cannot be surpassed, perhaps not parallel in the annals of human suffering and crime.

Half-hanging was a common means of extorting confession. Wives, children, parents, sisters were brought to see these tortures inflicted on their nearest relatives.

These tortures, be it remembered, were inflicted not as a punishment for guilt, but as a means of acquiring information.

Another contemporary account by Charles Hamilton Teeling in his book, “Personal Narrative of the Irish Rebellion,” (p. 130) contains the following:

"Numbers perished under the lash, many were shot at their peaceful avocations, in the very bosom of their families, for the wanton amusement of the brutal soldiery. The torture of the pitch-cap was a subject of amusement both to officers and men.

The torture practiced in those days of Ireland's misery has not been equalled in the annals of the most barbarous nation.

But the Government had obtained the object desired. Ireland was goaded to resistance and security was sought for in the tented field."








During the nineteenth century English rule in Ireland was marked by perpetual coercion, wholesale eviction, famine, emigration and general depopulation. The "legala persecution of the people was carried on by the passing of over ninety Coercion Acts whereby the ordinary course of law was suspended. Lord Brougham (Speeches, Vol. IV), said:

“It is in these enactments alone that we have ever shown our liberality to Ireland ! She has received Penal Laws from England almost as plentifully as she has received blessings from the hands of Providence."

Writing in 1887, J. A. Fox showed that already eighty-seven Coercion Acts had been passed since the Union. He wrote:

These Coercion enactments, in fact, have been so numerdus and have been in force so continuously that for the last eighty-five years in Ireland, that for that period what is called 'ordinary law' has been the exception in that country and extraordinary legislation, utterly subversive of the ordinary law has been the rule. That is to say “Main

taining the undisputed supremacy of the law' has meant in the course 1 of the past eighty-five years the passage of eighty-seven Coercion Acts,

either new or continuations of old ones; the existence, almost continuously ever since the first year of the Union of one or two Coercion Codes which, as we shall see, outrage the most cherished principles of public and personal liberty; the all but complete and continuous supercession during that period of the ordinary law, as it is known in England and Scotland."

For the most of the century, the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended in Ireland and even during the years of the Great Famine eight special Coercion Acts were imposed upon the stricken population. Eviction was the grim attendant of coercion throughout the century. It is estimated that nearly two million people were driven from their holdings during the first half of the century, and over a million in the second half—in order to make room for cattle.

Blue Book No. 1089” which comprised an account of Captain Kennedy's Report to the British Parliament on the Evictions in the Kilrushi Union describes the process in the case of a typical Irish parish. The following are extracts from the Report:

“April 13, 1848.—Thirty or forty cabins are levelled in a single day; the inmates crowd into neighboring ones till disease is generated.

“June, 1848.—Wretched hovels have been pulled down where the inmates were in a helpless state of fever and nakedness and left by the roadside for days. As many as 300 souls, creatures of the most helpless class, have been left houseless in one day."

« PreviousContinue »