Page images
PDF
EPUB

desires of Parliament, and prevent private solicitations about the Act of Settlement. This proposition was agreed to.

There was but little done during the first session of the Irish Senate. Our legislators, however, expressed, in fitting terms, their gratitude to the restored monarch for the reappointment of the Duke of Ormonde as Lord Lieutenant. The history of Ireland for nigh half a century may be read in the life, actions, and adventures of this able, virtuous, and illustrious man. His chivalrous courage, his unflinching loyalty, his disinterested patriotism, mark him out as one of the foremost men of his noble family, and as one of the finest characters of his age. Ireland never produced a nobleman to whom the Duke of Ormonde was second; and his varied, strange, romantic adventures, as well as his famous actions, are interwoven with the history of his country.

The Parliament which met in Dublin on the 17th April, 1662, sat till 13th April, 1663. The great work they had to do was to confirm possessions, and settle the land question, if they could. It was a difficult, painful, and laborious undertaking, chiefly carried on by an able English lawyer, Sir Heneage Finch, afterwards Chancellor, and Lord Nottingham. Carte, in his Life of the Duke of Ormonde, states a political fact of much importance, touching this great transaction of the Act of Settlement of the lands in Irelandnamely, that it was hotly debated, in the Council of England, whether the settlement of Ireland should be transacted by the English or by the Irish Parliament. Finch (father of equity) was in favour of the Irish Parliament, assigning, as his reason, that if they did the business in England, the laws of the English Parliament would only be binding by sufferance, and valid by adoption, in Ireland. He prevailed; but the fact that it was proposed by high officials, who stoutly argued that the greatest business Ireland ever had to do should be transacted, not in Ireland, by the Irish Parliament, but in England, and by the English Parliament-proves the kind of equivocal authority assigned to our provincial Senate. I ought to add, that the Parliament of Ireland, in grateful recollection of the labours of Sir Heneage Finch, voted him the thanks of the House (no man ever deserved them better), for “carrying on the great work of the kingdom;" for so the Act of Settlement was emphatically called.

The hours of sitting and the place of assembly of our Irish Senate should be mentioned. The House preferred summer to winter; they met at nine in the morning, and sat till nigh twelve, when they adjourned for dinner; and if business required it, they met again in the afternoon. With regard to the places of meeting - the Parliaments of Elizabeth, James I., and Charles I., assembled in rooms prepared for the purpose in the Castle of Dublin. In 1641, our noble senators sat in the Tholsel, with an occasional meeting in the Custom House. We can reckon 276 members in 1666. From the Restoration to 1725, they sat in Chichester House, which was on the site of the existing edifice. But while the present noble fabric (now humbled into a Bank) was erecting on the site of Chichester House, our erratic Parliament had to take refuge in the Blue-coat Hospital (a fine building), and there, in two great rooms, they nestled in 1731. I find it stated that one of the members of the House, Sir Edward Piers, was the architect of the old Parliament House. I hope he was an Irishman, because there is not a building superior to his work in Europe. There are accounts which show that more than £100,000 was spent on the edifice.

Independently of the Acts of Settlement and Explanation, we had some useful and fundamental English Acts introduced and adopted here—as the Act for Abolition of Feudal Tenures,

and the Act of Uniformity. During nearly thirty years no new law was passed : for a sufficient reason--there was no Parliament to pass them. Parliament was dissolved by what was called the fatal dissolution in 1666; and was never again summoned till after the Revolution, in 1692. Parliamentary government in Ireland, therefore, during this long interval, was in nubibus, not in terris.

What respect could the Government have had for such an institution? What confidence could the public have reposed in the members, or in their public spirit, when, for more than a quarter of a century, they were unseen, unheard, unnoticed ? The fact is, there was no investigation of public accounts till after the Revolution, and the revenue was nearly stationary

The cause of this long Parliamentary slumber is something so absurd as to make me blush to describe it. It arose from a contemptible squabble between the two Houses on points of idle etiquette and worthless ceremony.

Conferences were common between the two Houses, it appears, about heads of Bills and other matters; and the wiseacres in the Commons fell to fighting with the wise heads in the Lords about sitting down, standing up the place for the Commons to approachwhether the Peers should be allowed to sit covered, while the Commons were to be obliged to stand uncovered. It is astounding to read of such folly and vanity in grown men. In the time of Lord Strafford, he got the stupid quarrel adjusted, by inducing the members to submit to the usage of the English Parliament, with which, as an old member of it he was well acquainted. The great Duke of Ormonde, in 1666, tried to compose the dispute, while he decided that the Lords should sit covered, and the Commons stand uncovered. He besought them to agree and adopt the English practice. But no ! agree they would not, nor yield, nor work;

72

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF THE IRISH PARLIAMENT.

so, on the 7th of August in that year, the wise Duke sent them about their business by a formal dissolution; and as nobody cared to see the faces of such obstinate boobies again, the nation which tolerated such representatives never got the opportunity of re-electing them.

In the later disputes, a vulgar lawyer, one Sergeant Bettesworth, instigated the Commons to persist in the idle quarrel about the empty dignity of the House of Peers. He was afterwards extinguished by the sarcasm of Swift

“ So at the bar the booby Bettesworth,

Whom half-a-crown o'erpays his sweat's worth,
Who knows in law nor text nor margent,
Calls Singleton his brother Sergeant.”

CHAPTER VII.

The Parliament of James II.-Archbishop King—Contrast between

the Irish and Scotch, in their conduct towards the Stuarts-Lord Plunket's Character of William III.-Letter from Archbishop King upon the Union-William's Legislation not favourable to the Commerce of Ireland-Sketch of Swift's Influence on Irish Politics-Sir W. Scott's Opinion of the Political Condition of Ireland—The Drapier's Letters - Lord Carteret—Swift's Audacity_Mock Execution of Wood-Swift's Interview with Walpole—The Legion Club Character of Primate Boulter-Bishop Berkeley–His Character as a Churchman and Scholar-His Maxims-Parnel, the Poet-Learning of the Church Clergy-Swift's Sermon on Patriotism-Public Spirit essential to the Prosperity of a Nation.

JAMES II.WILLIAM-ANNE.

The Parliament of James II. was an infamous assembly, because it had no sense of justice. To fight for their king, bad as he was, we can understand; but to fight for the restoration of proscription and tyranny is incompatible with the love of freedom. James called a Parliament; and he and they acted in open violation of Poynings' law; therefore, unless sanctioned by success, all their acts were illegal. Macaulay has described this odious assembly in terms not severer than it deserves. The House of Lords, when summoned by James, consisted of one hundred lay peers : of these, fourteen only obeyed the summons, amongst whom might be reckoned four Protestants. By various devices, and by new creations, seventeen additional lay peers were made up; amongst them was not one Protestant. Four of the

« PreviousContinue »